Eric Decker and David Harris were cut as a result of the Jets rebuilding. If it wasn’t for that fact that Forte gets paid whether the Jets cut him or not, he might have also been one of the casualties. Bilal Powell outperformed Matt Forte last year, and some of that was because Powell was a change of pace for Forte at the beginning of the year. However, in the last four games of the year when Forte went down, Powell proved that he could carry the load. In those games, he averaged 5 yards per carry and 5.5 catches a game. Powell had 58 catches on the year compared to Forte’s 30, so in PPR, expect Powell to have some real value.
Last year, Forte was the 1a, but we should expect Powell to assume that role. We should expect the Jets to be in a lot of negative game scripts, and Powell to be on the field for most of that. Not only that, I would expect him to get a much bigger percentage of the rushing attempts that he received last year; he averaged 5.5 yards per carry for the year compared to Forte’s 3.7. Forte is 31 years old, and will turn 32 in December. This is around the time that most running backs fall off, and Forte didn’t look like his former self last year. The Jets coaching staff, organization, and teammates really like the younger Powell as a talent and constantly rave about him. I do expect Forte to get some work, but I think Powell’s workload is a bit more guaranteed at this point. He’s going in the 6th round in PPR around guys like Eddie Lacy, Blount, Woodhead, and Dalvin Cook. I think he’ll be on the field enough to warrant a pick over those guys.
Adrian Peterson is on a great offense. He’s not on the Vikings anymore, where teams are stacking the box because the passing game is non-existent. He’s on the Saints, where teams are more worried about Drew Brees airing it out over their heads. The safeties are back, the linebackers are back, and in that type of situation Adrian Peterson can completely take over this backfield. Mark Ingram is a good running back in my opinion. However, Sean Payton doesn’t seem to agree. There seems to be some real tension between these two guys, and it might stem from a perception of Ingram being more about himself than the team. We saw what happened Brandin Cooks after he voiced his displeasure last season. Gone. We also saw what happened with Ingram fumbled in the first quarter against the Seahawks last year. He was pulled from the game, and Hightower replaced him. Ingram also lost a fumble the week before. However, he’s just not a fumbler. This was the first time in his career where he lost two fumbles in the same season.
Hightower isn’t as talented as Ingram, but he still played over Ingram the rest of the year, and it ended up mostly a split. With Peterson in the lineup, there’s a clear talent difference between him and Ingram. I can see Ingram spelling Peterson here and there as the 2 in a 1-2 punch, but Peterson will have some real value in this high-powered offense. The Saints have had the most red zone scoring attempts in the NFL last year, and Peterson knows a thing or two about finding the end zone. He’s not done yet. In the early 4th round, he’s a great value around guys like Carlos Hyde, Eddie Lacy, and Doug Martin.
Joe Mixon was drafted by the Bengals in the 2nd round amidst a ton of controversy involving the now rookie RB. Many NFL teams wouldn’t take a chance on Mixon because of his off-the-field incident(s), but the Bengals did. They were desperate. Marvin Lewis needs to save his job. They have a QB in Andy Dalton and can have a decent passing attack with AJ Green, rookie John Ross, Tyler Boyd, Brandon Lafell and Tyler Eifert. The only thing that was lacking was their running game. Jeremy Hill has played poorly the last two years, averaging 3.7 yards per carry throughout, and Gio Bernard tore his ACL and might not be back for the beginning of the season. There are even talks that the Bengals might hold him out for a few games. This seems very similar to the Dion Lewis situation last year in New England, where we all considered drafting Lewis, but he ended up not being a factor the whole year. James White took the opportunity, ran with it, and secured his role. I believe that Joe Mixon will do the same.
Mixon is the real deal. He’s a patient running back who can do it all. He has speed, elusiveness, can catch the ball easily, and is great in the open field. If he gets an opportunity in this offense, he can run with it. He’s really only competing with Jeremy Hill at this point. If he outperforms Hill in the preseason and beginning of the season, expect Mixon to get even more opportunity at the expense of Hill. Marvin Lewis needs to win games this year, and he’s going to make the risk of drafting Mixon pay off. Lewis usually doesn’t like to play rookies, but when Jeremy Hill was playing well his rookie year, Lewis let him run free. And since Mixon has hands too, he’ll get third downs as well. I’ll take a potential 3-down RB in the 4th round of the draft. I might have to wait a bit before he secures that role, but I believe he can do it by midseason.
Trying to predict the Patriots running back who will provide the most value is more than tough. With Lagarette Blount last year, it was easy. We knew what his role was and he did it well. The Pats gave him a ton of goal line opportunities, and he did his job, just what Belichick wants. However, with a new stable of RBs this year, there are a few different scenarios that could play out. James White had significant playing time last year, but his production wasn’t consistent enough to be startable. He had his games, but you likely didn’t start him. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead are the two running backs that are competing for that between the tackles role. Burkhead is actually more well-rounded, and he has more experience catching the ball. Gillislee and Burkhead were Football Outsiders’ #1 and #2 most efficient running backs last year, respectively.
Mike Gillislee is the favorite amongst the running backs to have the most value. He was very efficient behind Lesean McCoy the last two years, averaging 5.7 yards per carry over that time. He’s much more suited to be the in-between tackles runner and the running back to have the most similar role to Blount’s. If Gillislee gets the type of workload Blount received and got most of the goal line carries, he can have serious fantasy value and RB1 upside. However, Belichick only likes to run the ball when he knows the defense can’t stop it. If he faces a tough run defense, he goes more finesse and puts more pass-catching backs out there.
Since the Patriots offense has the ability to rack up points in the first half, they can also rack up rushing yards in the second half to run the clock out. Here are the defenses he faces the first 8 weeks of the season: Chiefs, Saints, Texans, Panthers, Bucs, Jets, Falcons, Chargers. 5 or 6 of those teams aren’t the easiest to run on, so we can’t necessarily expect Gillislee to come out of the gate on fire. In the 4th round, he’s a bit of a risk, so I say stay away. Julian Edelman, Donte Moncrief, Larry Fitzgerald are going around him in standard, and Stefon Diggs, Paul Perkins, Frank Gore, and Theo Riddick are going around him in PPR. Those are tough names to pass for someone who might be one of three or four running backs to get a piece of the action in New England, he might not be start-worthy every week. The Blount role could easily be split between him and Burkhead. Gillislee could be the winner of this backfield, but not by much and also might not give you the confidence of being able to start him each week.
I have a feeling Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon are going to be battling all year for early down duties. At the end of last year, they were still splitting carries. The number I’m interested in though, is the number of targets Flacco gave them. They each combined for 86 targets from Flacco and they did okay with that. They both had about an equal level of opportunity in the passing game. Now with Danny Woodhead in the fold, I think there will be a clear role carved out of the offense for him. Woodhead is always the forgotten guy in drafts, but we could always count on him to give us those filler points when we need it. He’s a great guy to have on your bench, as long as you know what you have. He’s a PPR running back who won’t rack up the rushing yards, but he can rack up yards through the air and possibly be used around the red zone in passing situations.
Early indication from OTAs are that Flacco is peppering Woodhead with targets and Woodhead is catching everything. It seems like these two are building a rapport. I would watch the preseason games very closely to see how they use Woodhead. We all assume that Dixon will get most of the work because he’s young and could be their future running back. However, If West and Dixon take away from each other, you’ll never know who to start and you might not be comfortable starting either. Dixon is supposed to be able to take over pass-catching duties at some point, but with Woodhead on the team, there’s no reason not to have the pass-catching and pass-protection abilities of Woodhead on the field, especially on third down. Dixon and Woodhead are both going in the 8th round, and it seems appropriate. However, I wouldn’t draft Woodhead over guys like Samaje Perine or Pierre Garcon, who currently have similar ADPs. Perine potentially being the early down back in a great offense is too much upside to leave on the table (we’ll see how camp and preseason goes), and Garcon being the #1 receiver along with the likelihood of Hoyer giving him 10+ targets a game is intriguing.