All-purpose dynamo Christian McCaffrey leads a loaded group of ball carriers in 2016
When it comes to college fantasy football running back options for the 2016 season, everyone knows the names Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, to name a few. But don’t forget about guys from non-Power Five conferences like Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey or Elijah McGuire from Lousiana-Lafayette when you are drafting your team.
Athlon Sports is here to help you prepare for the upcoming college fantasy football draft season with our positional rankings. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these positional rankings.
Passing Yards, 25 yards = 1 point
Passing TD = 4 points
Rushing Yards, 10 yards = 1 point
Rushing TDs = 6 points
Receptions = 0.5 points per reception
Receiving Yards, 10 yards = 1 point
Receiving TDs = 6 points
2016 College Fantasy Football RB Rankings
1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
What doesn’t this guy do? Last year the Heisman Trophy runner-up amassed 2,019 rushing yards, has 45 receptions for 645 yards, accumulated more than 1,100 return yards and scored a total of 15 touchdowns. McCaffrey set the NCAA single-season all-purpose mark with 3,864 total yards, while breaking Stanford’s rushing record in the process. So how does one improve upon such a remarkable year? Many are projecting an increase in rushing touchdowns for McCaffrey following the graduation of short-yardage specialist Remound Wright, who had 13 TDs on the ground last season. Even a slight bump in rushing TDs separates McCaffrey from the pack as the top running back in college fantasy football in 2016.
2. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
At this point in time last season, we were still unsure as to who would be the new starting running back for Boise State following Jay Ajayi’s graduation. McNichols quickly put those question marks to rest, rushing for 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with 51 catches and another six scores. In fact, McNichols accounted for at least one rushing touchdown in every game that he played in, and multiple TDs in all but just two. Even coming close to last year’s numbers solidifies him as the No. 2 fantasy running back in college football in PPR leagues.
3. Leonard Fournette, LSU
The only thing keeping Fournette out of the top spot is how little he is used in the passing game in comparison to both McCaffrey and McNichols. It is conceivable that Fournette will surpass both in rushing yards and touchdowns, but in any PPR league, he will not rack up those additional reception points. There also is plenty of intrigue surrounding back Derrius Guice, who could see his workload increase after averaging 8.5 yards per carry as a freshman. Even so, Fournette should reach 2,000 total yards and account for 20 touchdowns with relative ease.
4. Elijah Hood, North Carolina
After finishing fourth on the team in rushing as a freshman, Hood burst onto the fantasy scene in his second year, rushing for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns. With the departure of Marquise Williams (13 rushing TDs in 2015) at quarterback, there could be even more opportunities for Hood to find the end zone this fall. New starter Mitch Trubisky is not the runner that Williams was, which should mean more red zone work for Hood, resulting in a boost in TD totals. Not to mention North Carolina returns four starters along the offensive line, forming one of the better units in the ACC, if not the nation.
5. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
There is no doubt that Cook is one of the top two or three running backs in the entire country, along with McCaffrey and Fournette. So why is he at No. 5 for fantasy? For one, while Cook is a capable receiver out of the backfield, his receptions totals do not match some of the players ranked above him. Secondly, backup Jacques Patrick looked fully capable in his limited action last season of handling an increased workload, and it would not be a surprise to see him get more carries as a sophomore. That said, Cook’s 1,600-yard/16-TD projection is likely his floor and he could very well finish higher in the ranks by season’s end.
6. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Oregon has now had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine consecutive seasons and 2016 will be no different with Freeman returning for his junior season. What will be different, however, is the makeup of the offensive line, which is replacing three starters, as well as who will be handing the ball off to Freeman, as the Ducks will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. Will these changes and question marks hurt Freeman’s production in 2016? Matching last year’s total of 1,836 yards rushing may be a stretch, but Freeman is one of the most complete backs in the country and his numbers shouldn’t see a dramatic dip… if at all.
7. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Is there a more unheralded player in the country other than Pumphrey? The senior has literally been the Aztecs’ offense for the last two years, rushing for 3,520 rushing yards and scoring 40 total touchdowns (37 rushing) during that span. The only real concern here is workload, as Pumphrey has accumulated 711 carries over the last three years, so it would be understandable if the coaching staff limits his touches early to keep him fresh for later in the season. Pumphrey probably won’t repeat the 300 carries he got in 2015, but will remain the sole focus of the offense and should come close to last year’s rushing totals.
8. Corey Clement, Wisconsin
There were sky-high expectations for Clement last season with Melvin Gordon out of the picture, but injuries limited the junior to just four games. Also contributing to Wisconsin’s unusually low rushing numbers was an out-of-sorts offensive line that was breaking in three new starters and wound up using seven different combinations during the season. Four starters return up front in 2016 and Clement is now fully healed from the sports hernia injury that hampered him last season. We should see the old Wisconsin rushing attack regain its form this year and Clement will be leading the way.
9. Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss produced two 1,000-yard backs in 2015 with both Smith and Jalen Richard topping that mark, combining for more than 2,200 yards and 24 touchdowns. With Richard now graduated, Smith assumes the role of lead back and likely sees a boost in production by default, though there is still plenty of backfield depth remaining in Patrick Brooks and George Payne. Smith also finished fourth on the team in catches with 49 for 515 yards and three scores – increasing his value in PPR leagues immensely.
10. Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette
McGuire did not take off the way many expected last season, rushing for just 1,058 yards in his first year as the No. 1 back. Poor quarterback play contributed to this, as the Ragin’ Cajun signal-callers combined to throw just 13 touchdowns, limiting McGuire’s big plays due to increased attention paid to him by defenses. Better play from the quarterback position should alleviate some of the defensive attention away from McGuire, allowing for improved numbers.
11. Larry Rose III, New Mexico State
Rose doesn’t get much recognition due in large part to New Mexico State not being very good, but in fantasy football, he is a household name. The senior back was named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 after rushing for 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns – all with very little help from his supporting cast as the Aggies rotated three quarterbacks during the season. With improved play from everyone surrounding him, we could see an even better Rose in 2016.
12. Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Even with his quarterback getting more than 200 carries, Gallman was still able to top 1,500 yards on the ground, including 100-yard rushing performances in nine out of the 14 games he played. Clemson brings back one of the top offensive lines in the nation and multiple deep threats on the outside to keep defenses from stacking the box, meaning plenty of holes for Gallman to run through again in 2016.
13. Myles Gaskin, Washington
Gaskin closed the regular season on a tear with three consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and then capped off his freshman year with 181 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Miss in the bowl victory. Gaskin wound up setting the school rushing record for a freshman with 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns, and is one of the reasons why expectations are through the roof for Washington in 2016.
14. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
There was concern heading into last year that Hurd’s numbers would be limited due to the presence of former Alabama transfer Alvin Kamara as the primary backup. The opposite occurred, though, as Hurd’s rushing totals increased significantly, finishing with 1,288 yards rushing and 12 scores, while also adding 22 receptions. With four starters back along an experienced offensive line, the Volunteers should have one of the top rushing attacks in all of college football with Hurd leading the way.
15. Matt Breida, Georgia Southern
New head coach Tyson Summers announced soon after he was hired that he would continue to run the same triple-option offense installed by his predecessor Willie Fritz. That’s a wise decision from the first-year head coach considering the Eagles have led the nation in rushing each of the past two seasons with Breida doing most of the damage. The senior has rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns the past two seasons and there are no signs of him slowing down in the near future.
16. Marlon Mack, South Florida
South Florida will be one of the trendy teams heading into 2016, and Mack is a big reason why. Mack followed up a 1,000-yard freshman campaign with nearly 1,400 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore, breaking the USF single-season rushing record. The Bulls need to replace three starters along the offensive front, but were in the same situation last season and look what Mack was able to accomplish. The threat of Quinton Flowers at quarterback should be able to keep defenses from loading the box with nine-man fronts as well.
17. Joel Bouagnon, Northern Illinois
Bouagnon was not expected to rank this high, but we still do not know the status of talented backup Jordan Huff for next season as he is not listed on the roster. If Huff is not on the team, the bulk of the carries will fall on the shoulders of Bouagnon, who has proven to be more than capable of handling the workload, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns the past two seasons.
18. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
The concern prior to last season was that we could see a dip in production from Perine with the presence of Joe Mixon, and that prediction came to reality as his numbers dropped by nearly 400 rushing yards and five touchdowns. That said, Perine’s “down” season ended with 1,349 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns even with Mixon stealing away a good chunk of his carries. Perine has proven to be a workhorse in his first two years and will be one again in 2016.
19. Brian Hill, Wyoming
Never heard of Hill? Well get to know him because is one of the better backs in all of college football after finishing eighth in the country with 1,631 rushing yards last season. What is keeping him from being higher on this list is the low touchdown total (6), but don’t blame him for that, as he had little to no help from the rest of the Wyoming offense last year. Better play from the supporting cast should help Hill become a household name in 2016.
20. Jahad Thomas, Temple
Thomas broke out last year with four 100-yard rushing performances in his first six games, but then seemingly wore down during the second half. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry over his last eight games. With more depth behind him this season, Thomas should be able to stay fresher over the course of the year, and will likely match last season’s totals of nearly 1,300 yards on the ground.
21. Matt Dayes, NC State
Dayes was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season in 2015 before injury struck and ended his year after just eight games. Now fully healthy, and with the quarterback position in a state of flux for NC State, Dayes will be leaned on heavily, and should become the Wolfpack’s first 1,000-yard back since 2002.
22. Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Lawry did not take off in his sophomore season like most expected him to, struggling with fumbles and injuries the second half of last year, but he was still able to rush for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns. Old Dominion won’t have to lean on the rushing attack as much in 2016 with the quarterback position in a much better spot, but Lawry should be able to match last year’s numbers with ease as the offensive system has become much more run-oriented since the days of Taylor Heinicke.
23. Kareem Hunt, Toledo
Hunt missed four games last season – two for suspension and two due to injury – but did top 100 yards rushing in four out of the last five games to finish just short of 1,000 yards. Toledo lost up-and-coming head coach Matt Campbell, but the offense is expected to remain the same under former offensive coordinator Jason Candle. With less uncertainty surrounding the offensive line this year (four starters back), Hunt should have his best season as a senior, provided he stays healthy enough for a full season – something he has been unable to do the last two years.
24. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Barkley has quickly become the face of the program at Penn State with the departure of quarterback Christian Hackenberg. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Barkley also broke the school’s freshman rushing record with 1,076 yards on the ground last season. Big things are expected of him in 2016 with a new Oregon-style spread offense being implemented and four starters back along the offensive line.
25. Devine Redding, Indiana
Despite playing second fiddle to Jordan Howard last season, Redding was able to amass more than 1,000 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. With Howard out of the picture, Redding will be the primary ball carrier this fall and the senior should see a significant boost in his production as he runs behind one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten.
26. Anthony Wales, Western Kentucky
There could be a wrench thrown into the mix towards the middle of the season if/when former starter Leon Allen returns to the lineup as he continues to recover from the devastating knee injury he suffered last September. As of now, Allen won’t be ready for the start of the year, leaving the job in the hands of Wales, who is a talented runner in his own right, rushing for more than 1,000 yards last year. The senior running back also is used heavily in the passing game, which helps his fantasy value.
27. Marcus Cox, Appalachian State
Head coach Scott Satterfield mentioned prior to last season that he wanted to cut back on the workload of his star running back. However, that didn’t necessarily happen as Cox finished with just 12 fewer carries than he had in 2014. I do expect Cox to get less work this season, if anything because of the development of sophomore backup Jalin Moore, who averaged more than seven yards per carry in 2015. We potentially could see both backs top 1,000 yards this fall.
28. Alex Gardner, FIU
Gardner does not put up overwhelming rushing numbers – just 760 yards in 2016 – but his work in the passing game is why the ranking is so high for the junior running back. Gardner had a team-high 60 receptions last season, good for second among running backs sitting only behind Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell. He is a must-have in any PPR league at the position.
29. Demario Richard, Arizona State
Richard had a superb sophomore season, rushing for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns despite splitting carries with backup Kalen Ballage. Richard also played a role in the passing game, adding in 31 receptions for 303 yards and three scores. With the Sun Devils breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, expect head coach Todd Graham to lean on the ground game early and often.
30. Justin Stockton, Texas Tech
Stockton accounted for 11 total touchdowns as the backup to DeAndre Washington in 2015, and will now move into a starting role with his predecessor off to the NFL. Until Washington, Texas Tech didn’t have a 1,000 yards rusher from 1999-2013. I fully expect Stockton to make it three seasons in a row this fall.
31. Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
32. Jovon Robinson, Auburn
33. Arkeel Newsome, Connecticut
34. James Butler, Nevada
35. Markell Jones, Purdue
36. Taquan Mizzell, Virginia
37. Nick Wilson, Arizona
38. Justin Jackson, Northwestern
39. Aaron Jones, UTEP
40. Mike Warren, Iowa State
41. Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
42. Marquis Young, UMass
43. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
44. Nick Chubb, Georgia
45. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
46. Shock Linwood, Baylor
47. Shannon Brooks, Minnesota
48. Jarveon Williams, UTSA
49. Xavier Jones, SMU
50. Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.