There are a few ways to identify players who will either get a reduced workload or lose their starting running back role completely. It could stem from bad performance, not having a wow factor (teams want playmakers), too much talent below them on depth chart, they don’t fit the offense as well, or the team doesn’t trust them. Not to say that the following running backs are definitely going to lose their job, but we have to be aware of where it’s possible and keep the new names in our minds as the season progresses. Here are a few candidates that fit that mold going into 2017.
Spencer Ware – Kareem Hunt
In the Chiefs’ offense, the primary running back has to be able to run and catch. Spencer Ware averaged about 15 carries (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and a couple of catches per game last year. He did pretty well in the passing game, averaging a very healthy 13.55 yards per reception. However, the Chiefs traded up in the 3rd round this year to draft Kareem Hunt, who has a ton of talent and is very capable of being a 3-down running back. There are a few notable 3rd round running backs who have proved themselves lately: David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, and Tevin Coleman to name a few, so we have to take Hunt seriously. When you look at Ware, talent isn’t jumping off the screen at you, he didn’t have that second gear of speed, and he just didn’t do anything that special last year. Andy Reid likes playmakers at that running back spot like he had in Jamaal Charles and Lesean McCoy. That’s a recipe for a possible change in the running back pecking order. I don’t think we should be thinking about drafting Hunt at this point unless we see that he’s taking first team reps in training camp and preseason. If he isn’t, I wouldn’t draft him; I would wait to see if Ware starts underperforming before I try to pick him Hunt off of waivers.
Carlos Hyde – Tim Hightower, Joe Williams, Kapri Bibbs
Carlos Hyde is a good running back. It’s just hard for him to stay on the field, and he hasn’t been able to produce much in the passing game. On a team who is constantly down and trying to catch up, he only had 27 catches last year. Hyde did a much better job staying on the field last year, but still missed a couple of games in the middle of the season, but then tore his MCL in Week 16. Tim Hightower, Joe Williams, and Kapri Bibbs will compete to be behind Hyde, and depending on if Hyde is able to stay on the field, one of them could possibly take over. The 49ers traded for Bibbs, drafted Williams in the 4th round, and signed Hightower in free agency; that means they were all desired by this regime. I’m avoiding this backfield completely. Even if Joe Williams supplants Hyde, it would only be for early downs, and the early down RB for the 49ers doesn’t intrigue me that much when we know that they will be trailing for most of the season. It’s hard to tell who the 3rd down running back will be if Hyde goes down. Avoid in the draft. Let training camp, preseason, and the early season activity let you decide who to pick up on waivers.
Ty Montgomery – Jamaal Williams
Montgomery’s pass-catching talent coming out of the backfield in this high-powered offense is very intriguing, giving him a early 4th round ADP. However, the Packers did select running backs Jamaal Williams at the end of the 4th round and Aaron Jones at the end of the 5th. They clearly wanted to at least compliment Montgomery in the backfield, and knew that he couldn’t handle the full load. As capable as he is in the passing game, we can be somewhat assured that he at least has a role on third down, but the early downs remain a question. With Williams’ power running style, we can totally see him being a guy who can take that role, or at least split it. Aaron Jones can also fill in a change of pace guy who can certainly have a role. I can’t see Montgomery being an every down back, and I think his ADP reflects that. We just don’t know what his role will be in this offense with capable running backs on the team. We only saw him doing what he did last year in the absence of good running back talent once Lacy went down, so be aware of that when drafting him.
CJ Anderson – Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker
We’ve been wanting to anoint CJ Anderson the workhorse running back on the Broncos for a while now. When he was with Peyton Manning, he had a great end to the season, and since then he’s been plagued with injuries and could never work his way back to that workhorse role. Now he’s healthy, but he has to contend with Jamaal Charles potentially being healthy, and Devontae Booker’s potential improvement in his second year. It seems as though the best that could happen is a timeshare, and the worse that can happen is Charles taking over for Anderson, and Booker splitting the rest of the work with him. As training camp comes, we will get a better idea of Charles’ workload and if Anderson still appears to get the lion’s share of the carries. There’s also a possibility of Jamaal Charles not being what he used to be, resulting in him being cut from the team or used as a part-time player. We’ll have no idea until training camp and preseason. It’s just very hard to say that CJ Anderson is the guy in Denver.
Mark Ingram – Adrian Peterson
Getting your job taken from you by an aging running back isn’t the norm, but at 32 years old, Adrian Peterson still has the potential to take the job from Mark Ingram. Ingram seems to be in Sean Payton’s doghouse, so if Peterson performs even close to what he’s been known to do, it’ll be easy for Payton to justify a change of guard. What isn’t justified to me is to say that Peterson’s career is done. He only had 37 carries last year that didn’t go so well behind a horrible offensive line on a team which just lost its starting QB, which resulted in facing a stacked box. That was a sentence full, but needless to say, not the perfect conditions. This is a guy who ran for almost 1500 yards in 2015. I can’t let 37 carries in 2016 with a low yards per carry make me believe that Adrian Peterson, one of the best running backs of our generation, is done. He very well can be, but he has a great opportunity in this high-powered offense to take advantage of his opportunity, and I’ll pick him every time to seize it. I don’t see Ingram being the guy this year on early downs.
Rob Kelley – Samaje Perine
Rob Kelley was an undrafted free agent, who didn’t do anything special last year. He was at the right place at the right time. Matt Jones wasn’t getting it done, and Kelley got the job done, but nothing more. He doesn’t create for himself, but will keep the pile moving forward. Kelley also had a horrible 40 time and cone drill time, and we can see how that translates to the field. I think Kelley was more of an opportunist in a highly potent offense. The Redskins drafted Samaje Perine in the 4th round, and he’s a guy who’s also powerful but can finish runs with more authority and has better speed. He’s not that elusive, but he can do work within the tackles and break it to the second level. Perine has soft hands, so he can even catch some passes as well. We know that Kelley cannot catch. Perine’s talent level is a notch above Kelley’s, and I think it’s just a matter of time before Perine becomes the starter in Washington.
Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard – Joe Mixon
Jeremy Hill had two bad seasons in a row, and Gio Bernard is coming off an ACL tear that might cause him to miss the first few games of the season. This leaves the door wide open for Joe Mixon to come in and be an every-down back. He certainly has the talent and if given the opportunity, can be a major part of this offense. Hill has had the same amount of attempts the last three years: 222, 223, and 222. How interesting is that? Anyway, if Mixon were to get those numbers, combined with Gio-level receptions (40-50 receptions), he could be a monster fantasy producer. If Mixon produces with that early season opportunity, it’ll be hard to take him off the field for a guy who didn’t produce the last few years and a guy who they want to take it slow with because of him coming back from a knee injury.