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2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

9 Productive Running Back Platoons To Target

running back platoons
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

The Running Back Platoons article is one of my favorites to write every pre-season. It always brings me back to the fateful day that me and my father-in-law started both Joique Bell and Reggie Bust (instead of trying to guess which one would have a big day) to win our big league’s Fantasy Super Bowl.

That is what the running back platoons are all about: eliminating as much guesswork as possible. Even the most astute football minds and insiders with the most scooped information cannot predict what will happen over an NFL season. So why should we try to accomplish this fateful endeavor?

Now getting a backfield where you start both of the guys every week is the dream. It is not always the outcome. However what is the outcome is assuring you of a Top-25 scoring running back.

Last year, of the 11 backfields I recommended, nine gave you a Top-25 back. This is where the naysayers and pessimists say, “Well there are only 32 teams so Top 25 is not that good!” To that, I say the value with which these backs were obtained is where you gain an advantage.

There were some of the guys mentioned that were mid-round picks with ADP’s of 41, 46, 49 and 60. I’m not going to say I re-invented the wheel with those. However, I also told you to target guys with ADP’s of 73, 114, 119, 131, and 148. The latter group’s finish at the position in total points: 7th, 9th, 14th, 25th, and 24th respectively.

None of those guys in the second group were taken as Top-25, most as even Top-40 backs. But, by cornering the market on the individual backfields you assured yourself that you had a reliable starter.

Running Back Platoons

All of the following data is with PPR scoring and the Average Draft Position off of from 8/28/17.

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Bell Cows

With the utter failure of the majority of Zero-RB Theorists’ drafts last year, it seemed like the workhorse, the 3-down back was taking over the nation like the recent solar eclipse. However, I still see just eight backfields with this type of running back.

Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams, Miami, and Pittsburgh all have a set lead back in place. Nevertheless, these backfields yield seven of the first 10 running backs taken on average.

An eighth workhorse is the ever-talked about Ezekiel Elliott, current holder of a 6-game suspension. I have already talked about how his suspension affects my Single-RB drafting theory for this season. The short: I think his suspension gets reduced to 3 or 4 games and he is still worthy of a higher pick.

There are seven other backfields with a semi-lead guy in place, but too many question marks. Tampa Bay has Doug Martin but he is facing a three-game suspension. Jacquizz Rodgers should fill in nicely, but the future after the suspension is too uncertain. The Raiders brought Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, but his 100%-going-to-get-touches back-up is a toss-up between DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

Lamar Miller figures to be a lead back in Houston, but D’Onta Foreman is lurking despite a DUI charge. I think Leonard Fournette will become a lead back, but he is already being slowed by injuries after saying how “easy” the NFL is.

Carlos Hyde is set to be the lead back, but for the umpteenth straight year (or it at least feels that way) I have absolutely zero confidence in him. Ty Montgomery figures to be a somewhat lead back in Green Bay, but he has still played the position for less than a year. Jamaal Williams is a possibility but I think the lead back might not even be on the roster right now.

Lastly, Indianapolis has Frank Gore as its lead back. While he is probably closer to the top group as far as statistical floor and touch percentage, he is well past 30 years old at this point. With no clear successor, I would still take Gore at his currently under-valued ADP but it is not exactly one of the running back platoons.


Messy Situations

Then, there are the messier situations. While these might yield a good Fantasy running back, there is too much unknown and too many possible players to waste draft capital.

New England has four different backs that could lead them in scoring and I would not blink an eye. The Broncos seemed like they had a nice duo with C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker, but DeAngelo Henderson is throwing a wrench in those plans.

Word out of Washington is that Robert Kelley will be the lead back, but Chris Thompson and Semarje Perine are not going anywhere. Dalvin Cook is the new flavor of the week after a strong performance last weekend, but I could still see Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon getting their fair share of touches.

Seattle is interesting as I do not think Eddie Lacy will bring much value. Thomas Rawls, going in the double-digit rounds now, is probably the best value and C.J. Prosise is a strong PPR play.

The Eagles and Giants both have muddled backfields at this point and I am probably staying away from all parties involved.


Top 9 Running Back Platoons

Honorable Mention: Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray (ADP- 13) and Derrick Henry (ADP- 90)

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I leave this in the honorable mention category not because the situation is worse than the following nine backfields, but more because it is stuck in no-man’s land as far as what to call it. I mean, DeMarco performs like a lead back finishing fifth at the position in points.

At the same time, I think Henry will tilt the timeshare in his favor at some point either this year or next. He had a better touchdown rate and yards per carry than Murray while facing the third highest percentage of average defenders in the box in the league. He scored almost eleven PPR points a game over the last five games of the year and caught every pass thrown towards him.

So I will just leave this as an honorable mention. I would definitely advise a person drafting Murray to target Henry as DeMarco is not exactly a 16-game a year type of player.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon (ADP – 40), Giovani Bernard (ADP – 141) and Jeremy Hill (ADP – 150)

The Bengals’ platoon of Bernard and Hill was my top pick going into last season because they were a safe bet but I jinxed the hell out of them by saying they always stay healthy. Gio tore his ACL in Week 11 last season and they are seen as busts.

However, my biggest point was that they get you over 25 points per game on average with the two of them. Bernard averaged over 12 PPR points in the games he played last year and Hill scored 12.5 PPR points per game in the contests he started and finished. So they were right on their four-year average, injuries just derailed them.

The only reason they are at the end of the list is the addition of Joe Mixon. Mixon is seen as the lead of the committee at this point, as can be seen by his severely inflated ADP. At the beginning of Round 4 I might go a different route, but if Mixon slips to the fifth or sixth round, I will then look to scoop up Gio and Hill late.

8. Kansas City Chiefs: Kareem Hunt (ADP – 68) and Charcandrick West (ADP – 291)

So with the Spencer Ware news, this changes the Chiefs’ platoon a bit. However, the logic behind the ranking stays the same. Now the ADP really does not mean much as I have seen Hunt go in the first three rounds now. I do not think he just suddenly becomes a 300-plus touch player. West will get touches.

Since Andy Reid became an offensive coordinator and into his head coaching jobs, here is the lead back’s Fantasy ranking at the position if he played at least 12 games: 7, 1, 14 (in 12 games), 2, 3, 8, 1, 6, 10, 7, 15, 15, 10, and 3. That’s an average finish of just over seventh.

Sure, he’s had Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy so it has helped this status. But he has also done it with Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook who neither had any success without Reid at the helm. Either way, I want the lead Chiefs’ back as part of my running back platoons.

7. New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram (ADP – 54) and Adrian Peterson (ADP – 73)

I almost wrote this before the pre-season and I am really glad our insightful editors held me back. I would not have had the Saints’ pairing on my list because their early ADP was extremely too high. Now, I feel like the ADP for both players is in a sweet spot of value.

I think both Ingram and Peterson will have their shining moments this season and they might arguably be the safest bet to start both on your roster at the same time. They are in the most prolific offense over the past decade and Sean Payton has shown he can produce two Fantasy Starting running backs before.

The injury risk is there with AP, but that is the beauty of the running back platoons. If Peterson goes down, Ingram immediately is a high-end RB1.

6. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey (ADP – 26) and Jonathan Stewart (ADP – 117)

This is a tough platoon to rank. While I think the production will be as good as almost any of the other running back platoons, the price on McCaffrey is getting a little rich.

The rookie has shown flashes of brilliance already, though, and he, by all means, could deserve this lofty positioning. If I can get him at the Round 3/4 turn, then it makes the pairing more ideal. I am still worried about Cam Newton vulturing touchdowns, but I think Stewart will have enough early down work for both players to be Fantasy viable.

5. New York Jets: Bilal Powell (ADP – 59) and Matt Forte (ADP – 114)

In my recent post about how team wins affect Fantasy production, I noted that bad teams can produce good Fantasy running backs, just not normally more than one. The Jets were the exception to that rule and they will have their work cut out for them again.

With the team letting their top receiver (Brandon Marshall) go, trading their second-best receiver (Eric Decker) and their third-best receiver (Quincy Enunwa) out for the season, there will be plenty of targets for the two Jets’ backs. Now will those targets be catchable is another story.

If the quarterback play can just be atrocious and not God awful, then these two backs can approach their Top-20 finishes from last season. If whoever is the unlucky one to start at quarterback for this tanking franchise is as bad as advertised, then this could be an all-time putrid offense. I will still take the gamble for Round 6 and Round 10 picks.

4. Cleveland Browns: Isaiah Crowell (ADP – 32) and Duke Johnson (ADP – 98)

I think we have reached the point of the running back platoons where all of the last four pairings can be started together. Isaiah Crowell had a break-out year last season when he finally got the chance to showcase a lead-back type of workload.

Johnson took a step backward in overall production, but he did show a better ability at running the ball with almost five yards per carry. Hue Jackson has said he will use both in a new commitment to the running game. And Jackson was the man behind the best running back platoon of the past few years in Cincinnati.

I had these two in the fourth spot two years ago, before downgrading them to seventh last year. When Jackson says he will try to shorten games as much as possible and take the ball out of his quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible I think he means it. I can see both backs get 250 touches this year.

3. Baltimore Ravens: Danny Woodhead (ADP – 61) and Terrance West (ADP – 99)

Once again, this is an example of how different this article would have looked four weeks ago. With Kenneth Dixon now out for the year, this has become a two-headed monster as opposed to the crowded backfield it was before.

I had my reservations about the 32-year old Woodhead coming back from a serious injury. However, he does only have 770 career touches on his ledger at this point. In a similar pound/air situation as the previous of the running back platoons. Woodhead should get 65-plus catches while West carries the ball 225-plus times.

Even better for the Ravens duo is the schedule. They have one of the easier overall schedules for running backs. In the Fantasy playoffs, it’s even better with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis in Weeks 14-16.

2. Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah (ADP – 63) and Theo Riddick (ADP – 79)

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I just can’t help it; I have a soft spot for the Lions’ running back platoons. In my defense, Detroit and Matthew Stafford consistently have a solid Fantasy running back. The problem is they always get hurt.

The lowest point total for the top-scoring Detroit back last season in a game: 8.4. If you just take the lead back in each game, the Detroit RB scored 233 PPR points. That would have been ninth among all backs. This also isn’t a “hot hand” or “which one will” situation. I would argue that the top-ranked back for the week was the leading scorer. Except, of course, in a case of injury during the game.

Now we cannot predict injuries, which have plagued the duo mentioned above. But when one of those two started and finished the game last season, he averaged 16.03 PPR points per game. That would be RB7 overall. If these two are healthy, you will get an elite RB1 at the cost of a back-end Flex/bench player.

1. Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman (ADP – 9) and Tevin Coleman (ADP – 67)

I was hesitant to include the Falcons’ pair in my running back platoons because Freeman’s ADP is so high. However, I just can’t leave the best platoon in the league off my list.

You have the sixth and 19th highest scoring backs from last season in PPR. There is a “PPR-only” stigma on Tevin Coleman. He actually was better (RB18) in non-PPR formats last season.

They return in the same offense with the same quarterback and mostly the same offensive line. Their Fantasy playoff schedule includes New Orleans’ terrible defense. TWICE.

Yes, I know that there will be regression with the whole Atlanta offense. And I know that Tevin Coleman’s touchdown rate is unsustainable. I also know that he will get more overall touches as the Falcons will not want to wear Devonta Freeman out (668 combined touches the past two seasons). This team has a different mindset now: win the Super Bowl. Last year, they seemed a little happy to be there; otherwise, you do NOT give up a 28-3 lead.

I think this year’s team will be more focused. While their overall offense will not be as prolific, it will still be a Top 5 unit in the league. I want all of that offense I can get, starting with the best of the running back platoons.

That’s it for this year’s edition of the Running Back Platoons! Check out our draft kit below or head to the Draft Wizard for a mock!

2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
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