I’ll be looking at a small handful of teams and players each week throughout the 2016 season and charting stats, usage, and Fantasy Football roster trends (e.g. Adds/Drops) to determine who across the position may be worth a look, or can be considered dead wood.
DeAngelo Williams – Perhaps this is an obvious call, and that’s why the RotoExperts team pays me the big, big bucks. But, when you can get a clear-cut RB1 for 25 percent of the Fantasy regular season in the sixth round, you have to do it. Williams had an unbelievable 2015 – a renaissance of sorts – in the Iron City after Le’Veon Bell missed a total of 11 games because of suspension and injury. In fact, only four running backs 32 or older have ever run for more yards in a season (he ran for 907) in the past 25 years. The Steelers offense has been prolific when unleashed, and I expect that to continue this season. Williams gets a cushy schedule with games at D.C., the Bengals at home, and then at Philadelphia. The Steelers coaches are going to ride him ‘til the wheels fall off, and so should you. I expect 16 touches or more each game, and Williams could easily top 100 yards in two of those games. Williams had over 1,200 total yards and 11 touchdowns last year at 32 years old, and I think, for at least the month of September, he’s going to light opponents up brighter than the candles on his birthday cake. (The joke is that he’s long in the tooth in running back years despite being just 33 years old in real life.)
David Johnson – Johnson vs. Todd Gurley is actually a compelling debate for who is more deserving of the first RB taken title. No one will deny Gurley is an incredibly gifted athlete, and I would guess you’d be in pretty good shape if you ended up with either of these two on your roster. That being said, I’ll talk about David Johnson because I think he ends up having the better year out of the two second-year men. With Coach Bruce Arians stating early on that he’s “earned the right” to be their bell cow, and GM Steve Keim saying he’s the best receiving back in the NFL, the expectations for Johnson are sky high heading into the season. After topping 1,000 total yards and scoring 12 total touchdowns, it’s deserving praise and pressure on the young back. With Chris Johnson in the rearview, and no one else in Arizona likely to challenge him, it’s Johnson’s show and he should be able to star ably. The price is astronomical, so there is no way you’re getting him right now. But if he’s on your team, congratulations. You’ve done good.
Carlos Hyde – Hyde and seek, seek and destroy, destroy the opposition. That’s the train of thought I’m on when I think of what is possible for the real Carlos Danger in 2016. The 49ers have a pretty weak roster as it is, and their running back platoon will strike fear into the hearts of very few opponents. Once he’s cleared and ready to rock after suffering a concussion in a pre-season game, I’m all-in on Hyde this season. He set a goal of 1,500 rushing yards for himself this year, and if the Niners’ O-line can regain their form as bullies from 3-4 years ago, it’s entirely possible. Personally, I think he ends up closer to 1,150-1,250 and a ceiling of around 11 touchdowns, but I’ll take that from a guy who I can draft in the fourth round. Hyde is an RB2 with clear RB1 upside because of opportunity and talent – remember, before his season was derailed by injury last year, Hyde was averaging over 4.0 YPC, and had a terrific Week 1, rumbling for 168 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. The 49ers get Anthony Davis back at tackle, and the hope is that Chip Kelly can work his system around the talent he has, rather than vice versa. Look for Hyde to be fed the ball early and often, and quickly become a high-volume RB2 capable of outscoring each and every running back drafted before him on average this season.
Jamaal Charles – As the nearly 30-year old Charles recovers from injuries sustained in 2015 (torn ACL), it was revealed on Monday that it would “be a stretch” for him to suit up against the division rival Chargers on Sunday. Enter the committee led by Spencer Ware, whom I believe will wrest away control of this backfield by season’s end. Ware had a nice season last year, racking up over 400 yards along the way. The most eye-popping stat was that he scored six touchdowns on 72 carries, or once every 12 totes. Sure, you could make the case he’s from the LenDale White school of Goal Line Backs, but that would be short-sighted. Ware averaged 5.6 YPC in 2015, proving he’s got the muscle to fight in the trenches, and the wheels to mosey in open space. At just 24, he’s got some major upside and should benefit greatly from Ol’ Man Charles’ not-so-speedy recovery. Add Ware across all formats if he’s on the waiver wire at this point.
Matt Forte – The Jets have become somewhat synonymous with trotting out re-treads in their backfield and hoping that they spend the summer in Hempstead rooming with Doctor Emmett Brown, and get rides to practice each morning from him. They had some success with it when Curtis Martin came to town, or even Thomas Jones. Not so much with Ladanian Tomlinson, though. Forte might be heading toward the same bucket as the latter, not the former. He has been nursing injuries all preseason and it would appear that Bilal Powell – who has looked very capable in his appearances this summer as well as during the 2015 campaign – stands a very good chance of earning his way to a 50/50 split within the first 4-5 weeks. Does this mean you should ditch Forte? Nah. But if he has 2-3 good games (read: 15-plus touches for over 120 total yards) I would have no problem selling high on him. Remember Chris Johnson’s start of 2015? Surprisingly effective featuring a few vintage CJ2K-type games. Do you remember his last three contests before the broken leg cut his year short? Putrid, pedestrian, comatose. Forte will not stand up to the test of a whole season, especially for a team like the Jets whose bread has generally been buttered by the running game of late. Could he top 800 yards rushing? Yeah, he could. Could he just as easily miss a handful of games, or end up in quicksand because of overuse early? I think so. If you can ride him to some early wins, and then trade him for up-and-coming talent like Kenneth Dixon, Duke Johnson, or the man we’ll be discussing next, I would do it in a heartbeat. Handcuff with Powell if you haven’t already, because this backfield is headed toward Splitsville, population: Two.
Thomas Rawls – Rawls was a darling last season when he came on in a big way after spelling Marshawn Lynch when Beastmode started to look like Bustmode. In each of the four games Seattle rolled with Rawls for 19 carries or more, he scored. He had four games of 100-plus yards, two of which he rumbled for more than 160 yards. And one of those games, he ran for 209. The kid has skills, and Coach Pete Carroll says he wants him to “carry the ball quite a bit,” but the fear is his ankle is not ready yet. He’s trending down now, but as they say about the stock market, when everyone else is selling, you should start buying. This is a great opportunity to buy relatively low on a back with a Sistine Chapel-like ceiling. Christine Michael may very well lead in carries Week 1, possibly beyond that to Weeks 2 or 3. But Rawls will come back strong after his ankle is fully healed, and has a great chance to be the cornerstone of a still very good Seattle offense. If a skittish owner is worried about this week’s report on Rawls, go get him. Offer someone like Frank Gore, Chris Ivory, or Danny Woodhead with the sales pitch they’re all likely to contribute right now and throughout the season as opposed to not being ready for a week or a few, and perhaps you’ll strike a deal. My prediction is that, over the last 10 weeks of the season, Rawls will be a Top-3 back, and will be a major factor in deciding who gets crowned champion of your league at season’s end.