It’s that wonderful time of year again when we can finally start getting back into football and prepping for the upcoming fantasy season.
Heading into the 2016 season there are many fantasy puzzles that need to be solved and if you just so happen to have a mid-round pick in the first round of your draft and haven’t sold your soul to the “zero RB” strategy and decide you want to take a running back, you are going to have a very tough decision to make – Toddy Gurley or David Johnson or Adrian Peterson?
As expected, Le’Veon Bell is usually the first RB taken in almost all drafts, whether that’s standard or PPR, although the news that came out on July 22 of him facing a possible four-game suspension could change that line of thinking. Ignoring that possibility for now, Todd Gurley is generally the second RB taken, followed by Johnson and Peterson or vice versa, at least for standard leagues. In PPR leagues Johnson has the advantage over Peterson because of his big-play potential as a receiver out of the backfield.
Right now, Gurley has an average ADP (Average Draft Position) of fourth overall, Peterson is going sixth overall and Johnson finds himself going seventh – in standard leagues.
What’s interesting is that Gurley is still being drafted ahead of Johnson in PPR leagues where Gurley is going fifth overall and Johnson is seventh overall, while Peterson is going ninth according to Fantasy Pros, which combines the ADP from a variety of sites like ESPN, CBS, Yahoo!, FFC, MFL etc.
So which RB should you draft once Bell is off of the board? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each player before coming to a decision.
PROS: Quickly name another running back on the Los Angeles Rams’ roster? (It’s still weird typing Los Angeles Rams instead of St. Louis Rams.) Now that you’ve had time to think about it, some of you may have had to do a quick Google search, while others may have easily said Tre Mason because they had Mason on their fantasy team last year and watched him average a pathetic 2.3 fantasy points per game. Right now it’s Benny Cunningham sitting second on the RB depth chart for the Rams, just in case you were wondering.
Gurley, on the other hand, is coming off a season where he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year, led all rookies with 1,106 yards rushing, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He even added 21 catches for 188 yards.
Gurley IS the Rams’ offense. If the Rams are going to do anything this year, it will be because of Gurley.
He should easily see 20-plus touches per game and will see his role in the passing game increase this season. A 1,300-yard rushing, 400-yard receiving with more than 12 total touchdowns is certainly not out of reach.
CONS: Quickly name two wide receivers on the Rams? Yeah, that’s not easy either. There’s Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt and a whole bunch of other guys. There is no one that strikes fear into the game plans of opposing defenses.
Then there’s the fact that the Rams will be breaking in a rookie quarterback in Jared Goff, who will be facing a ton of pressure after being the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft and leading a team that is finally back in Los Angeles.
Oh and the Rams’ offense was terrible last year. They only ran 920 plays all year and averaged only 5.2 yards per play. They also managed to score just 17.5 points per game, good for 29th in the league.
The only real difference between the 2015 Rams and the 2016 Rams (other than where they’ll play) on offense, is Goff is expected to be under center.
While Goff is an improvement over Case Keenum, he won’t stop opposing defenses from stacking the box and doing everything possible to make sure that Gurley doesn’t beat them.
Gurley is great, but can he be that good?
PROS: Heading into the 2015 season there were rumblings that the best running back to come out of the 2015 draft was Johnson, who was taken in the third round (86th overall) by the Cardinals.
Through training camp and into the early parts of the season, those rumblings grew louder and louder, but Johnson couldn’t see the field because head coach Bruce Arians likes his veteran guys and was going to run Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington out there until their legs fell off.
Then, finally in Week 13, David Johnson got his chance and instantly entered fantasy football lore as many lucky fantasy owners rode him to fantasy glory.
Johnson finished as the No. 7 fantasy running back in standard leagues with 125 carries for 584 yards and eight touchdowns and 36 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns. That’s good for 18.2 fantasy points per game in standard leagues (way higher in PPR) and he did it in only five games.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Cardinals project to be one of the best offenses in the league with Carson Palmer leading a passing attack featuring wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown.
Johnson shouldn’t see many eight-man boxes and figures to have plenty of open space to work with in the flat, which makes him a stud in PPR leagues.
Getting 1,100 rushing yards with 60-plus catches for more than 600 yards and double-digit touchdowns seems pretty attainable for Johnson in 2016.
CONS: If Johnson is going to be the “bell cow” that Arians says he will be in 2016, why did the Cardinals re-sign Chris Johnson? Plus, Ellington, everyone’s supposed breakout fantasy star of 2014 and ‘15, is still on the team.
There also are consistent rumors floating around that David Johnson might not be the true feature back that we’re hoping him to be.
Darren Urban, who writes for azcardinals.com, is on record as stating that he believes that “there will be a place” for each of the teams three running backs and that both Chris Johnson and Ellington will be parts of the offense.
Other reports out there suggest that David Johnson might only see 60 percent of the team’s snaps, leaving 30 percent for Chris Johnson and 10 percent for Ellington.
This might sound crazy, but where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and never forget that Arians puts all his trust in his veteran players.
PROS: Is there anyone more consistent on a year-to-year basis than Peterson? When he’s on the field and plays more than 14 games a season, he’s averaged 1,232 yards per season. What’s even more amazing is his touchdown production. In an era where the NFL is making it easier and easier for teams to pass the ball and scoring touchdowns is very tough to predict, Peterson has visited the end zone on average 12 times per season.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Vikings are looking like a very good team, one that should mount a stern defense of its NFC North crown. The only way that is going to happen is for Peterson to once again dominate, at the tender age of 31.
The Vikings are not going to let Teddy Bridgewater air it out. Instead they prefer to manage the clock with Peterson to minimize the chances of Bridgewater making a mistake and allow their defense to control the game.
This means that Peterson is in line for another 300-plus carries and should provide his usual scoring output of around 12 total touchdowns, if not more.
CONS: No matter how great Peterson is, he cannot defeat father time. Running backs that struggle once they turn 30 is no a stereotype, it’s a real thing.
It’s true that Peterson defeated father time last year, but even the greats hit the wall, and it usually isn’t gentle. Look at Emmitt Smith and LaDanian Tomlinson as examples.
There is no doubt that Peterson is going to start off strong, but the question is how will he finish when you need him the most as you make a push for the fantasy playoffs and then during those playoffs at the tail end of the regular season?
The Vikings are on record stating that they need to give backup Jerick McKinnon more reps to help ease Peterson’s workload. Remember the Vikings don’t care about your fantasy championship; they want a strong and healthy Peterson come NFL playoff time.
Cutting it down from three to two is easy. Peterson has been great, and could have one more great year in him, but while he has a decent floor, his ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Johnson’s or Gurley’s.
So who should you choose between Gurley and Johnson?
It’s really, really close.
I’m taking Johnson over Gurley in every draft I’m in, if that’s the position I’m in (especially PPR).
While Gurley might turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime type player, he doesn’t have the supporting cast around him like Johnson does to help him.
Need more? Fine. How about the fact that while Gurley will be more involved in the passing game this season, he’s more of a two-down back while Johnson is a complete three-down back which provides him with far more fantasy scoring opportunities.
The last point I want to make is that Gurley is a two-down back on a team that is projected to not even get to .500. That means that they are going to be playing from behind a lot, which means the ball will be taken out of his hands.
Johnson on the other hand can keep playing as the Cardinals are a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year.
In the end, the difference between the two might be 10 total fantasy points, but remember that every point counts and you only have to win by 0.1 points (if you’re league does decimals) and Johnson provides you with the best opportunity to win each week.
— 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.