As we continue our list of fantasy football”s top 101 PPR players of 2017 we get a couple of running backs on the fringe of RB1 status.
If an owner can draft a RB1 outside of rounds 1-2, her/his team will typically be in excellent shape. Finding that type of value can instantly make a team into a contender. Just ask the owners who drafted DeMarco Murray and/or Melvin Gordon last year.
In today’s list, we find two players who could easily finish the season as a top-10 running back. Heck, one of them was a top-10 running back in 2015 and the other was a top-14 running back just last year. Which one of the two running backs do I project to have a better season in 2017?
To be clear, the top 101 PPR players are for re-draft leagues only. Here’s a look at players ranked No. 32-30:
Oct 25, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) runs into the end zone for a one yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated Cleveland 24-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
32. Todd Gurley, RB – Los Angeles Rams
As a rookie in 2015, Rams running back Todd Gurley immediately made an impact on the fantasy football community. Gurley finished as the 9th PPR running back despite missing two games. On a per-game basis, he averaged just as many fantasy points as Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing in 2015. Unfortunately, Gurley’s results in 2016 weren’t so positive.
Despite playing all 16 games and getting an extra 71 touches compared to 2015, Gurley finished as the 15th PPR running back. He averaged less than 10 fantasy points per week. Going into 2017 owners want to know if Gurley is going to look like the guy we saw in 2015 or 2016.
What Gurley has working in his favor is the the Rams finally fired Jeff Fisher and hired Sean McVay to be the team’s new head coach. McVay spent the last three seasons as the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator. The team also hired Matt Lafleur as the team’s new offensive coordinator after he spent the last two seasons as the Falcons quarterback’s coach. In 2016, both the Redskins and Falcons finished top-three in the NFL in total offense.
Hiring two young offensive minded coaches should help a Rams team that finished dead-last in total offense last year. Yet, I’m not 100 percent convinced Gurley will be the beast we saw as a rookie. The team’s starting quarterback Jared Goff looked completely overwhelmed during his seven starts as a rookie last season. If he doesn’t improve, Gurley will continue to see stacked boxes all season long. Also, the team brought in pass-catching specialist Lance Dunbar.
During McVay’s time in Washington, he leaned heavily on running back Chris Thompson to be the team’s third-down running back. In 2015, Thompson led all Washington running backs with 35 receptions and led them once again in 2016 with 49 receptions. If Dunbar fills the role Thompson had with the Redskins, Gurley might only average 1-2 receptions per game. What Gurley has working in his his favor is he should see 275-300 total touches. That type of volume is hard to ignore in fantasy football.
Oct 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate (15) celebrates after a reception against the Chicago Bears in a NFL game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
31. Golden Tate, WR – Detroit Lions
It’s players like Golden Tate which make the PPR setting in fantasy football so much fun. Since signing with the Lions in 2014, Tate has had three straight seasons with 128+ targets and 90+ receptions. Last season he got off to a slow start with only 17 receptions over the first five games. In Weeks 1-5 he was the 75th ranked wide receiver. After that, Tate was one of the best fantasy wide receivers.
Over the final 11 games, Tate averaged nearly seven receptions a game. Between Weeks 6-17, Tate was the seventh best PPR wide receiver. Going into 2017, the Lions offense will virtually look the same. They bring back the same quarterback in Matthew Stafford and the same offensive coordinator in Jim Bob Cooter. Therefore, I expect similar results. With the team not re-signing Anquan Boldin and his eight touchdown receptions from a season ago, Tate has a good chance of surpassing his 2016 touchdown total (4), this season.
Dec 24, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
30. Isaiah Crowell, RB – Cleveland Browns
Last season Browns running back Isaiah Crowell finished as the 14th PPR running back. He set career highs in rushing attempts (198), rushing yards (952), targets (52) and receptions (40). Heading into 2017, I’d be surprised he didn’t surpass those totals.
The Cleveland Browns smartly decided to upgrade their offensive line by adding J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Between Weeks 1-8, Pro Football Focus graded Tretter out as the fifth-best center in the NFL. Pro Football Focus also ranked Zeitler as the 23rd best offensive lineman in 2016. These additions to an already respectable offensive line could give the Browns a top-10 offensive line this year.
Another factor working in Crowell’s favor is he should see more carries in 2017. Cleveland Browns writer Scott Petrak reported Browns head coach Hue Jackson intends to run the ball more this season. So basically Crowell will see more carries behind a better offensive line after finishing 2016 as the 14th PPR running back.