The running back position seems to have lost its premier status. How else do we explain that there are many running backs on cheap contracts, even though they are productive? Furthermore, there are still very good running backs on the market that have not been signed. Perhaps the free agents are holding out for more money and teams just do not want to meet these demans. After all, the NFL has transformed into a passing league, so can you really blame general managers for not wanting to give out big dollars to a back? Remember when quarterbacks throwing for 4,000 yards was a huge deal? Now, it seems like it is a must for all quarterbacks, given the state of the league. This just shows running backs are not considered as valuable.
Nonetheless, I personally still feel the running back position is vital for a team to go deep into the playoffs. A good running game sets up the play action and forces defenses to stay honest. Running backs are also capable of picking up the slack if the passing game is not working. This year, I think we will continue to see many running backs post over 1,000 yards rushing. We will also see big names that we are used to seeing rack up the yardage fail to do so. This article will predict eight running backs that will pass 1,000 rushing yards and seven that will not.
17 Will - Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley had a very difficult season. He failed to rush for 90 yards in any game and had a very poor 3.2 yards per carry for the season. Gurley only scored 6 touchdowns. You get where I am going with this, Gurley played awful last year.
However, there is no way Gurley is as bad as he looked last season. I am going to put most of his struggles in the "sophomore slump" category. Also, it is not like Gurley received a ton of help from his teammates and coaching staff. The quarterback play was very bad all year for Rams, and so was the offensive line. Add in the fact that Jeff Fisher, a very overrated coach, was the coach of the team for most of the year and Gurley gets a pass. Overall, with new coaches and probable improvement from Jared Goff, I am expecting Gurley to return to his 2015 form, where had over 1,100 yards rushing.
15 Won't - Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi had a terrific run last year. Anyone that can rush for 200 yards three times in one season, including back to back games has talent. Ajayi was a huge part of the Miami Dolphins turnaround last season and a big reason they made it to the post-season as a Wildcard with a couple of huge games. Also, remember Ajayi is also only 23 years old.
So you may be asking yourself why I do not think Ajayi will rush for 1,000 yards in 2017. For one, look at Ajayis numbers other than the 200 yard rushing games. There were many games where he had 60 or less rushing yards on an average of less than three yards per carry. The consistency is just not there yet. Secondly, I think that it will be very difficult for him to rush for 200 yard games again, because teams will be more ready for him. Ajayi may prove me wrong, but I just do not see it yet.
14 Will - Robert Kelley
The choice of Robert Kelley may surprise some people, especially people that did not follow the Washington Redskins last season. However, I am telling you that Kelley has some remarkable skills. The only reason he went undrafted was because he had some off the field issues in college and the Redskins were able to steal him as an undrafted signing.
Kelley single handedly saved the Redskins running game last year. He almost never puts is team in a hole because it seems like he gets two to three yards on a carry minimum, even if there is nowhere to go. He also is very good at dragging defenders with him in the open field. In total, Kelley really only started nine games last season, but was still able to rush for over 700 yards. I see 1,000 plus coming next year.
13 Won't - Frank Gore
By running back standards, Frank Gore should be considered a legend. The man defines consistency and he is been able to delay father time. Most running backs fall off a cliff at the age of around 30, but not Gore. Gore is now 33 years old, but somehow he has continued to be Mr. Reliable, even when he has played on some bad teams. Since becoming a starter, Gore has rushed for 1,000 yards or more nine times in his career.
Regardless of all of these amazing accomplishments, I expect Gore to finally slow down next season. How much longer can the guy delay father time? I still expect Gore to be a useful player, but I just do not think he will be able to workhorse anymore. He may now be better suited for 150 carries a season compared to 250.
11 Will - Marshawn Lynch
I know Marshawn Lynch has not officially returned to the NFL yet, but he is fully expected to, as he's already agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders. It's now a question of facilitating a trade from Seattle to Oakland. When Lynch initially retired, part of me felt that it was too soon and he would eventually be back in the NFL.
When Lynch does return, I think he will have a great year, especially if he plays for the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have a great offensive line and they will make things much easier for Lynch, in comparison to running behind a poor offensive line in his last couple of seasons in Seattle. Lynch will also be well rested after taking the last couple of years off, which is a huge deal for older running backs. Finally, I think the Raiders are going to ease Derek Carr back into the mix by running the ball as often as they can. Lynch will prove that is he still one of the games better running backs.
10 Won't - LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount is the perfect example of decreased value for running backs around the league. The man fits into what the Patriots do perfectly. He understands that there are some games where he will not get as many carries, and there are some games where he will get 30 plus. In 2016, he rushed for over 1,100 yards and had 18 touchdowns. Despite this, the Patriots and other teams around the league have not stepped up to reward him with a big money contract, even if it's for one or two years. Running backs are just not as valuable now.
I must say, I understand why teams will not give him a big dollar contract. Blount is now the dreaded 30, can most likely be replaced in the draft, and as a result teams will not want to pay him big. I also think Blount is due for a step back in 2017. He will not reach 1,000 yards again and will go back closer to his career averages of 700. He stepped up big last year, but I just do not see it again.
9 Will - Melvin Gordon
Melvin Gordon came oh so close to his first 1,000 yard rushing season in 2016. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in the late part of the season and missed the last few games of the regular season. Gordon probably could have come back, but the Chargers smartly held him out, as they were out of playoff contention already.
I only see Gordon improving from his 997 rushing total in 2016. The Chargers have tried to make some moves to improve their offensive line, which will benefit Gordon greatly. In addition, we will see some receivers return back to action for the Chargers, which will open up the field for Gordon. Teams will not be able to load the box, unless they are okay with Rivers tearing them apart. Overall, I think Gordon will go for over 1,100 yards next year.
8 Won't - Devonta Freeman
I lost all respect for Devonta Freeman when he decided to open his mouth about his contract situation right before the Super Bowl. Why would he want to create a distraction for his team right before the biggest game of their lives? Add in the fact he was a major part of the collapse by missing a key block, and Atlanta should be done with Freeman.
This is not to say Freeman is not talented, because he is. He has the ability to run between the tackles and on the outside. He is also a threat out of the backfield for catching passes. However, I do not expect him to hit the 1,000 rushing yard mark in 2017. The Falcons likely know that they are going to lose Freeman next offseason and are going to start relying on other options more like Tevin Coleman. Overall, Freeman will be probably still be a big piece for the Falcons in 2017, but I just do not expect him to hit 1,000 yards rushing.
7 Will - Jordan Howard
Jordan Howard came on out of nowhere last year. He was one of the few bright spots for a brutal Chicago Bears team. It was hard not to be impressed with how Howard came in and took the starting running back job. In his first five games, Howard rushed for over 100 yards three times, forcing the Bears to keep him as a starter. He also had a dominant performance against one of the league's top run defenses in Minnesota. It was impressive to watch Howard because he does not have the best cutting ability for a running back, but his rugged style that allows him to run through contact more than makes up for it.
Overall, I expect Howard to pick up right where he left off when the 2017 season starts. The quarterback play is not that great in Chicago still, so the Bears will be relying a whole lot on Howard.
6 Won't - DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray proved that he is still a great running back in 2016. Murray helped the Titans have a dominant year on the ground, but I am not expecting Murray to carry this impressive season over. There a couple of reasons I do not think Murray will rush for 1,000 yards or more in 2017. Firstly, the Titans have a great backup in Derrick Henry. I am expecting Henry to get more touches, which obviously will have an impact on Murray's numbers. Like McCoy, Murray is not getting younger and it would be smart for the Titans to keep him fresh throughout the year. With a good back up running back, it is the perfect scenario.
In addition, I think that Marcus Mariota is going to take another big step in his development in 2017. This will mean that the Titans will run the ball less and again, Murray will be impacted. Overall, Murray will still have a big impact, just not as much as he did in 2016.
5 Will - David Johnson
After I saw David Johnson get carted off during the 2016 season, I immediately began to think that Johnson would not be worth my top fantasy pick in 2017. However, Bruce Arians has stated that Johnson did not need surgery and the injury was not as serious as initially thought. Therefore, I am expecting Johnson to continue to be his dominant self in 2017.
Overall, there are not many running backs with the versatility of Johnson. He can rush and catch the ball out of the backfield. If not for the aforementioned injury in the season finale, Johnson would have been the first running back in NFL history to reach at least 100 yards in every game. Just think about how impressive that is for a second. In the end, I do not expect Johnson to match his dominance from 2016, but he will still rush for well over 1,000 yards.
4 Won't - LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy is still one of the best and most versatile running backs in the league. Therefore, a lot of this prediction has to do with the assumption that Mike Gillislee is staying in Buffalo. McCoy is not getting any younger (will be 29 by the time next season starts) and Gillislee has proven he is very capable in the backfield. Thus, I am expecting the Bills to try and keep McCoy fresh for the latter stages of the season. This means more of the workload will go to Gillislee and as a result, McCoy will take a hit to his personal numbers.
Do not believe me? Remember, Gillislee had 5.7 yards per carry last season. It would be foolish of Buffalo to not use him as much as possible next year, so that when the games do matter at the end of the season, McCoy will be fresh.
3 Will - Le'Veon Bell
The one concern I have with Le'Veon Bell is his availability. He has only played all 16 games once in his four year career. Whether it is due to suspension, or injury, Bell has become a bit of a liability in that regard. However, when Bell is on the field, he is probably the best running back in the game. Rushing for 1,000 yards is basically guaranteed for him, when available. I expect Bell to continue this dominance into 2017 and so should everybody else.
Overall, having a weapon like Bell is huge for an aging quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben is no longer required to carry the team and if he is struggling he can just hand the ball to Bell. My prediction is that Bell will have 1,500 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving in 2017.
2 Won't - Adrian Peterson
The longer Adrian Peterson waits to sign with a team, the more he is hurting himself. All of the teams that are a good fit for Peterson will have already filled out their roster in other ways. As a result, it will be harder for Peterson to sign with a team that allows him to be an effective runner at an older age. In my opinion, Peterson should have just taken the pay cut and stayed in Minnesota. No other team is going to treat Peterson the way Minnesota did. I also do not see Peterson being a workhorse for many other teams like he was in Minnesota.
Overall, on the field, I expect Peterson to take a decline, regardless of the team he plays for. He is 32 years old and has sustained a couple of major injuries. I know he is a workout warrior, but the position he plays takes so much of a beating that I see it hard for him to continue to dominate. I can see Peterson being good for a team like the Patriots, where we will not be needed every game, but not as a workhorse.
1 Will - Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott is just starting his dominant career. A mere 1,000 yards rushing will be a cakewalk for him, unless of course he goes down with an injury. Elliott will only be 22 years old when the 2017 NFL season starts and he is still going to be running behind a pretty good offensive line. Add in the fact that the Cowboys have some pretty good receiving threats in Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten, and it will be hard for teams to solely focus on stopping Elliott. Even if teams do decide to load the box against the Cowboys, Elliott is one of those rare talents where it will not matter. He is going to find a way to pick up the yardage and be productive regardless of what you do.
Overall, I predict Elliott to stay around 1,600 rushing yards next season. Where I do see improvement from Elliott is in the receiving game.