What an amazing group of running backs we have to start the 2016 season, and this list certainly leaves off plenty of talented players. After really looking at the crop we have this year, there’s reason to believe each of the top four running backs listed below could end up as the top guy at this position. The season is creeping up on us fast, so let’s get right into it…
1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford – McCaffrey is my 2016 Heisman trophy winner, so I must have him ranked at the top spot here. He’s explosive (see the 2015 Rose Bowl), has great hands, and subsequently sees plenty of touches per game. With Remound Wright gone (oh thank you Lord), and Barry Sanders Jr. transferring to Oklahoma State, there’s no reason for McCaffrey to see as little goal-line touches in 2016. He’s the guy I’m grabbing first of all running backs in season long drafts.
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU – Fournette is about as safe as they come in this draft. He generated a ridiculous 48% of offensive touchdowns for LSU this past season and learned how to catch the ball out of the backfield as well. His schedule and pace is going to be tougher in the SEC, but there’s no reason he doesn’t run for another 20+ touchdowns and 1,700 yards at the very least.
3. Dalvin Cook, FSU – Cook got banged up at times in 2015, but still managed 1,691 rushing yards, 24 receptions, and 20 total touchdowns (41% of offensive touchdowns). It’s hard to predict injuries, but if he stays healthy all season long, he should easily compete for the top spot. Jacques Patrick and Mario Pender are nipping at his heels, but Cook should easily continue to generate 21 touches per game like he did in 2015.
4. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State – McNichols was as impressive as they come during his sophomore season, recording 26 touchdowns in 2015. While his usage numbers around the goal line were a big reason why, he struggled to put up an impressive YPC number (5.6 isn’t all that great for an elite fantasy RB). He only played in 12 games, but he still managed all those touchdowns plus 51 catches. McNichols added weight from freshman to sophomore year, and if he can learn how to use his body and quickness this offseason then he could easily compete for the top spot.
5. Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU – While Pumphrey’s usage is off the charts (24 touches per game), his upside is surprisingly limited. The lack of tempo really hurts Pumphrey’s ability to find the end zone. Sure, he scored 19 times in 2015, but many of the running backs around him in these rankings did the same or better on way less touches. You’re drafting him because of his high floor, not his upside, but there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s rushed for 1,653 and 1,867 yards plus 20 totals touchdowns in each of the last two seasons.
6. Royce Freeman, Oregon – When you look up the definition of the word “safe,” you’re going to find the definition of the word safe. You’re not going to find a picture of Royce Freeman, but you should (damn you Webster!). In this Oregon offense, I don’t care who is the quarterback. You’re going to end with 1,300+ rushing yards and 15+ touchdowns as long as you’re this talented. The mix of talent around him, high-tempo, and now another brand new quarterback should guarantee him these kinds of numbers.
7. Elijah McGuire, UL Lafayette – We’re all still waiting for that huge breakout season from McGuire and if it’s ever going to happen it’s this season (obviously, he’s a senior!). He’s got himself a better quarterback situation in 2016, and is still the lone back. We saw him carry a heavy load at times last season (games of 27 and 28 carries), and it’s those kinds of numbers we’re going to need if he’s going to emerge as a top five running back. For now, I’ll rank him here and be called a crazy fan boy.
8. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma – There aren’t many times where being one of two great running backs can work, but it actually did at the end of 2015 for Perine. It took him a while to get going last season, but it wasn’t because of touches. He struggled over his first six games, even though he had games of 16, 22, and 23 carries. Joe Mixon will “steal” touches in 2016, but Perine is the bigger back that is basically guaranteed at least one touchdown a game. When this ball got rolling last season, he generated 13 touchdowns over his last seven games.
9. Nick Chubb, UGA/James Connor, Pitt – Call it a courtesy ranking, but we just don’t know what we’re going to get out of these two guys. Chubb is coming off knee surgery, while Connor is currently battling Hodgkin lymphoma. When these two are healthy, they’re among the top five at this position, but we’re just not sure what we’re going to get at this point.
10. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee – What’s not to like about Jalen Hurd? He averaged 23 touches per game in 2015, has his talented quarterback (Dobbs) returning, and is 6’4 240, but doesn’t run like it. Hurd found pay dirt 14 times in 2015 adding 22 receptions, and 1,288 rushing yards. Sure, Alvin Kamara limits his upside, but Hurd is a super safe running back in this offense and weak division (SEC East).