With Super Bowl 50 looming, we are reminded that football season is coming to a close. The dust has yet to begin collecting on this season’s trophies, but a lot of fantasy owners already have their eyes set on next season. Much of the 2016 NFL landscape is still to be determined, and plenty of high-caliber tailbacks could be finding new teams by next year. However, I will attempt to rank the Top 10 Fantasy running backs for 2016, and also offer up possible landing spots for those that happen to be impending free agents.
Way Too Early Top 10 Fantasy Running Backs for 2016
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears?
Matt Forte has been nothing less than stellar in his eight seasons with the Bears, but it looks like his time in Chicago may be over. In 13 games this past season, Forte rushed for 898 yards on 218 carries and scored four times on the ground, while tacking on 389 yards and three touchdowns on 44 catches. I’m a huge believer in the talent. Even at age 30, (31 next December) I believe that Forte has at least another good season in him. He has yet to post a season with less than 1,100 total yards from scrimmage. Forte has shown he can handle being involved in the passing game, which will enable him to stay on the field for all downs and distances. Intriguing landing spots for Forte are: Chicago, New York (NYJ), Tennessee, Dallas, Houston, Washington, Miami, and New England.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Since taking the starting gig in week 13, David Johnson tallied 756 yards on 90 carries, and added 216 yards on 17 catches. I want to preface my next statement by saying I do think David Johnson is a talented running back. He’s shown good speed and versatility in lining up as a receiver from time-to-time. But make no mistake; most of Johnson’s success is a product of Arizona’s high-powered offense. Even the artist formally known as CJ2K was able to temporarily rejuvenate his career in Arizona this season. I bring that up because if Carson Palmer decides to hang it up after this postseason run, I think Johnson’s case for the top ten goes with him.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
The muscle hamster was able to return to his rookie form in 2015, churning out 1,402 yards on 288 carries (bested by only Adrian Peterson) and added 271 yards through the air on 33 catches. Martin is a free agent this offseason and unlike the aforementioned Forte, the “Dougernaut” has time on his side. This automatically suggests that Martin will come with a higher price tag. For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to assume Martin is staying in Tampa. It’s easy to see why Martin would be in my top ten after finishing third overall in standard, non-PPR leagues. In fact, most would probably wonder why he isn’t higher on the list. I will concede that Martin could finish much higher, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that we see the Doug Martin of 2013 and 2014, or that Charles Sims carves out a bigger role in the offense if the Bucs decide to go more pass-heavy. Possible landing spots include, but are not limited to: Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Dallas, Miami, New York (NYG or NYJ), or Houston.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins?
Miller quietly turned in the sixth best fantasy season by a running back last year while rushing for 872 yards on 194 carries, and adding 397 yards on 47 receptions. Miller’s finish is slightly inflated due to the amount of injuries there were to the position in 2015, but hey, kudos to him for being on the field. He had very similar output in 2014, when he rushed for almost 1,100 yards and had 275 through the air. The biggest reason he is on this list is his pass-catching ability. Miller accounted for the third most receptions among the top 15 fantasy running backs last year. With new head coach Adam Gase and his offense’s tendency to throw to the running back, I think his pass catching ability will be a huge key to his success. That is of course assuming that Miller stays in Miami, as he is another running back that is a free agent this offseason. The Dolphins spent a draft pick on Jay Ajayi last season, so Gase and Co. might think Ajayi is their feature back next season. Possible landing spots for Miller are: Miami, Tennessee, Dallas, New York (NYJ or NYG), or Houston.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
In an injury-riddled 2015, Shady still put up 895 yards on 203 carries and added another 292 yards through the air on 32 catches. McCoy only managed to play in 12 games this season, but that doesn’t hurt his stock in my eyes. The Bills don’t even try to hide the fact that they want to run the ball, and McCoy is the only back on the roster that can do any pass catching outside of Mike Gillislee. McCoy loses some touches to Karlos Williams, but there’s plenty to go around. The amount of opportunity that is available to McCoy gives him the potential to be the number one running back in fantasy next year. His only obstacle is his health, in my opinion. However, you should own Williams if you own McCoy to protect yourself.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
After a disappointing end to his season in week 5 when he tore his ACL, fantasy owners were left wondering what Jamaal Charles has left in the tank. Charles is recovering from a gruesome knee injury and coming up on age 30, which is typically the beginning of the downturn for NFL running backs. But let’s not overthink this one. JC is one year removed from a season in which he tallied 1,000 yards on the ground and almost 300 through the air while tacking on nine touchdowns, as well as finishing among the top ten fantasy running backs. With Charles, you’re getting one of the best backs in the league that is also the focal point of his offense. Jamaal Charles is a freak athlete and he will be just fine. When the 2016 draft rolls around, if Charles is still on the board, don’t hesitate to take him. Charcandrick West is the most likely handcuff here, as he was the first to get a crack at the starting gig when Charles went down in 2015.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
What was sure to be an impressive campaign by the former Heisman Trophy winner was cut short by a torn rotator cuff in week 12. Despite only playing in 12 games, Ingram was still able to accumulate 769 yards on 166 carries. Perhaps more impressive was Ingram’s emergence in the Saints’ passing game, adding another 405 yards on 50 receptions. With Ingram’s newfound ability as a pass catcher, it appears as though C.J. Spiller is on the way out in “The Big Easy,” leaving only Khiry Robinson to threaten Ingram’s workload. There were plenty of touchdowns to go around this past season, as Saints running backs combined to score 15 touchdowns on the ground and another three through the air. Ingram would have finished easily in the top five at the position if he had remained healthy. If you draft Ingram, make sure and handcuff him with Khiry Robinson.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley is the new face of L.A. football, and perhaps the best up-and-coming running back in the league. Gurley’s name is consistently uttered in the same breath as Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles, and has drawn some comparisons to Adrian Peterson. Gurley displayed tremendous promise in his rookie season, and ran for 1,106 yards on 229 carries despite only starting in 12 games. Gurley wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game (188 yards on 21 catches), although he could easily become a dual threat with the freakish, athletic ability that he possesses. Gurley is one of the safest bets there is at this position with his ability and no other running backs to threaten his workload. I can virtually guarantee that TGII will be among the top ten fantasy running backs in 2016.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite having his 2015 campaign cut short by a torn MCL and PCL in week eight, Lev Bell still managed to gain 556 yards on the ground and 136 through the air in just six games this season. In 2014, Bell showed just how dominant he can be when he accumulated a ridiculous 2,215 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns. Bell finished second and ten points behind Demarco Murray in 2014 season, but would have outscored this 2015’s fantasy points leader, Devonta Freeman, by 42 points. Bell is the feature back on arguably the best offense in football, and has nobody behind him on the depth chart that will threaten his workload. The only thing that can come between Bell and rising back into the top ten among fantasy running backs is his recovery. At this time, it’s unclear how long it will be until he is able to return to the field, so if Bell has to miss some games, that will obviously hurt his fantasy stock. I would recommend having DeAngelo Williams on your roster as a handcuff to be safe. Luckily for us, most drafts are still months away and there will be plenty of updates on his rehab. However, if Bell was definitely healthy on opening day, he would be my number one running back all day long. Speaking of “All Day”…
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
The number one running back in our top ten fantasy running backs for 2016: Adrian Peterson. At this point, I think we can all agree that “All Day” is one of the all-time greats. Another year, another rushing title for Peterson as he collected 1,485 yards on 327 carries. The only real threat to Peterson is his age, as he turns 31 in March, but Peterson is an exception to most rules and I will assume this one too. He came back from what was supposed to be a career-altering injury only to lead the league in rushing. I don’t think he slows down anytime soon and Peterson is my early favorite to win the rushing title in 2016. Peterson is one of the few, true workhorses there are in the NFL and perhaps the safest of all running backs. If you’re on the clock and Peterson is on the board, select him and reap the benefits.