So you’re not completely sold on the whole “Zero RB” fantasy football draft strategy and you really want a stud running back to complement the stud wide receiver you already selected in the first round.
Related: Running Back Tiers and Rankings
So it’s now your pick and you want to pick the back who the biggest upside. Is that Lamar Miller or Devonta Freeman? Maybe you think Doug Martin can match his numbers from last year or that Eddie Lacy is due for a huge bounce-back year? And don’t forget about Mark Ingram, if he can stay healthy.
Let’s examine each back on a case-by-case basis.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
So by now everyone and their grandmother knows that Miller was underutilized by the Miami Dolphins and that he couldn’t wait to jump ship to the Houston Texans for a boatload of money this offseason ($26 million over four years).
Miller is the perfect fit for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s run-first system. The Texans led the NFL in rushing attempts in 2014 and finished fifth last season. Miami on the other hand, was No. 22 two seasons ago and last in rush attempts in ’15.
Despite his lack of touches in Miami, Miller still finished as the No. 9 running back in standard leagues in 2014 with 216 carries for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns and 38 catches for 275 yards and a score. He was sixth last year after running for 872 yards (on 194 carries) and eight touchdowns, while adding another 397 yards (on 47 catches) and two scores as a receiver.
Now comes the super fun part – playing with numbers. Last year, Miller had 63 percent of Miami's 310 carries, and he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown once every 24 attempts.
Now if you put him on the Texans last year based on their 472 rush attempts, Miller's production rates would have translated to 1,337 yards and 12 touchdowns. That would have placed him behind only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin in yards and ahead of all running backs in rushing touchdowns.
That doesn’t even take into account Miller’s receiving skills, as there is no doubt he is going to be a focal point on screens and the inevitable Brock Osweiler checkdown.
Miller is as safe a pick in the second round as there is.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
If someone told you at the beginning of last season that Freeman was going to lead all running backs in fantasy scoring (in PPR), you would have thought that person to be crazy. Hopefully that person also bought a lottery ticket, because they were right on.
Freeman wasn’t even being drafted in many leagues as teammate Tevin Coleman was the uber-hot rookie running back that everyone wanted.
Then Coleman got hurt and allowed Freeman to take over as the primary back and ran with the job. He finished the season with 1,634 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. There was a four-week span (from Weeks 3-7) where Freeman was easily the best fantasy player. In those four weeks he scored nine touchdowns.
But as the season progressed, Freeman seemed to slow down. He only managed to score four more touchdowns as his overall production dipped significantly during the last five weeks of the season.
Even though he was still averaging close to 20 carries per game, Freeman managed just 58.4 yards rushing over his last five games, as he gained a meager 3.04 yards per carry. In other words, when those fantasy owners needed Freeman the most, to help them get into or advance in the fantasy playoffs, he did not get the job done.
Freeman probably isn’t as bad as those last five games would make you believe, but he also isn’t anywhere near as good as that four-game span where he scored nine touchdowns.
To make things worse is that the news coming out of Falcons camp that they want to keep Freeman “fresh” by reducing his touches and getting Coleman more involved in the offense.
Put it all together and Freeman is due for some serious regression and isn’t worth a second-round investment.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
“Fat” Eddie killed many fantasy teams last year and left a really bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, so much so that many have sworn to never draft him again. That is great news as heading into 2016 there is plenty of value to be had in Lacy (if you believe in P90X).
It appears that the Packers have finally gotten through to Lacy this offseason, although the fact that this is a contract year probably has something to do with the renewed commitment too. Lacy re-dedicated himself this offseason and thanks to the fitness program P90X, he has lost a considerable amount of weight.
What does that mean for fantasy owners? Hopefully this will help unleash the slimmer, quicker, more nimble version of Lacy, the one that is able to stay on the field longer and get back to the productive player he was just two seasons ago.
Don’t forget that Lacy plays for one of the best offenses in football that will have leading receiver Jordy Nelson back on the field.
Lacy had his best year in 2014 when he had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards (1, 139 rushing and 427 receiving) and scored 14 total touchdowns.
If he really is committed to being the best he can be, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lacy beats his 2014 numbers. Either that or he becomes the next Trent Richardson.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin was another major fantasy surprise of the 2015 season, but the good kind. Many had written the 2012 first-round pick off and were waiting to draft him as their RB3 last year. Who could blame them considering that after a stellar rookie year (1,454 yards rushing, 11 TDs), Martin’s production fell off a cliff in 2013 and ’14, during which he managed a total of 950 yards rushing and three touchdowns in two seasons.
But last year Martin came storming back (in a contract year – cough, cough – Eddie Lacy) and rushed for 1,402 yards (second in NFL) and six touchdowns and even contributed 271 receiving yards and another score.
Now armed with a new contract, Martin is out to prove that last year was not a fluke, except that it might be.
You can’t ignore Martin’s injury history of 2013 and ‘14 (but who doesn’t get injured in the NFL, right?). You also can’t ignore the fact that the Buccaneers seem poised to hand the reins of the offense over to 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston and move into the new pass-first era of the NFL, which will diminish Martin’s touches.
Plus, Charles Sims is still around and there are those out there who feel that Sims is the better back suited for the Buccaneers’ style of offense, as he’s adept as a receiver out of the backfield and also averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season.
Martin should still be good, but he isn’t going to replicate his 2015 numbers. If you’re debating selecting Martin in Round 2 or another wide receiver (Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffery), go with the wideout and thank me later.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Right now Ingram is being drafted as the 11th running back selected at the tail end of Round 2 and most of that has to do with two things.
One, he plays on the New Orleans Saints, one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, and two, that after catching only 53 balls through his first four seasons, he posted 50 receptions last year.
There really isn’t anything not to like about Ingram’s 2016 fantasy outlook as he is rather consistent. Over the past two years he has averaged about 4.5 yards per carry and seven touchdowns. Throw in the fact that he doesn’t really face any real competition (no offense, Tim Hightower/C.J. Spiller) and you really can’t go wrong with Ingram as your RB1. This is especially true if you have already drafted two of the top 15-20 wide receivers.
Of course it’s not all gravy for Ingram. He’s injured a lot. He’s only played a full 16-game season once in his five-year career and until Drew Brees proves otherwise, the Saints are a pass-first team, which limits Ingram’s touches. He’s just not going to run the ball 300 times a year or even 250 for that matter, so that limits his ceiling.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.