8 Running Back Battles to Watch

Sunday, Jul 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET

With the importance of the running back position to your fantasy team, there are several positional battles that we're looking forward to watching as training camps get ready to open up. We don't draft in July and for good reason. The starting RB job for some teams won't be determined for several weeks yet. Things will change between now and September 10th, but here's who we plan on keeping our eyes on for those starting jobs.

Fantasy Football Running Backs

Dallas Cowboys

The showdown here is really between Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden. The winner gets the privilege of running behind what is arguably one of the best offensive lines in all of the NFL. The consensus on Fantasy Football Nerd is that Randle will get the starting gig as evidenced by his 27th-ranking on our standard scoring list. McFadden is looking up at him from the 42nd spot. Even with limited playing time last year, Randle made the most of each of his 51 opportunities averaging 6.7 yards per carry versus McFadden's paltry 3.4 yards per carry. With a more effective line to run behind, we expect RunDMC's YPC to increase, but with the cloud of injury potential circling overhead, McFadden is not likely to get the starting nod.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Joseph Randle

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This battle really boils down to the lesser of two evils between Doug Martin and Charles Sims. Drafting the Muscle Hamster the last two seasons didn't make any fantasy owner a happy fantasy owner. In fact, Martin rushed for 504 yards more in his rookie season than he did the last two years…combined. He caught twice as many balls in his rookie year than the last two years...combined. To say he was a disappointment would be an understatement, which is why we're surprised to see him as the starter during Tampa Bay's OTAs. The Buc's offensive line is not particularly good as evidenced by the paltry 2.8 yards per carry that Sims pounded out in 8 games last season. Neither guy is an enticing fantasy option which is reflected in their 35th and 36th rankings on FFN.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Doug Martin

Atlanta Falcons

The departure of Steven Jackson has left an opening for either Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman to emerge as the starter in Atlanta. We believe that Freeman will eventually get the starting gig once August is over, but the FFN rankings don't reflect that as Coleman is currently ranked 29th ahead of Freeman's 37th spot. In a more limited role last season, Freeman managed just 248 yards on 65 carries (3.8 ypc) and only saw the end zone twice (1 rushing, 1 receiving score). The Falcons didn't draft Coleman in the 3rd round for no reason though. He has the potential to see more snaps but he'll need to work on his pass protection first.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Devonta Freeman

Detroit Lions

Reggie Bush is now in San Francisco leaving Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, and Ameer Abdullah competing for the top spot in that Detroit backfield. Bell has the experience but he also has health concerns. The team has voiced its concerns about his health and even went so far as to say that they expect Bell and Abdullah to be a “one-two punch” giving every indication that the Lions intend to employ a running back by committee approach. We picture a similar situation in Detroit as Carolina has done the past few years with Stewart and Williams. Abdullah has an opportunity here with the start of camps to really separate himself from the pack and that's what we're going to be watching for. He has the potential to be a healthy Jahvid Best, and if he can show the Lions staff that he can be that dependable, explosive back on first and second down, he has the potential to knock Bell out of the top spot. Riddick meanwhile has shown that his strength lies more in the passing game than in the rushing attack, but even that is
on limited production (34 receptions on 50 targets versus just 20 rush attempts last season). Bell currently leads the pack as the 24th-ranked RB on FFN with Abdullah close behind at 31 and Riddick at 67. We'll see what happens during camp though.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Ameer Abdullah

Cleveland Browns

This should actually be one of the more interesting running back battles to watch. We think that Duke Johnson has the most potential out of the contenders for the #1 spot, but Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West aren't going to be that easy to put away. Crowell comes in at #32 in the FFN rankings with Johnson close behind at #40 and West at #51. While Johnson comes in with production question marks, we pretty much know what we're getting with Crowell and West. Isaiah rushed for 607 yards on 148 attempts last season (4.1 yard avg) while West rushed for 673 yards on 171 attempts (3.9 yard avg). From a production perspective, both of these guys are essentially even. A lot can change over the next few weeks, but unless Johnson can show the Browns why they spent a 3rd-round pick on him, we're going to have to go with the presumed starter...for now.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Isaiah Crowell

New York Jets

The Jets have a crowded backfield today and there's little reason to expect them to hold onto all five contenders throughout the season. The competition between Chris Ivory (FFN ranking #34), Stevan Ridley (FFN ranking #59), Daryl Richardson (FFN ranking #115), Bilal Powell (FFN ranking #81), and Zac Stacy (FFN ranking #73) will be fun to watch, but we believe that the only guy worth having on our fantasy teams from this group is Ivory. The rankings would seem to agree with us. Ridley would be an interesting case and perhaps poses the most challenge to Ivory's starting job, but that really depends upon how healthy he is after both ACL and MCL surgery. Stacy, Powell, and Richardson have all had high expectations placed upon them in the past and met those expectations with disappointment and failure. Barring injury or the winds of chance blowing over MetLife Stadium, this is Ivory's job to lose.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Chris Ivory

Oakland Raiders

The competition in Oakland is between incumbent Latavius Murray and freshly-traded Roy Helu and Trent Richardson. First things first, T-Rich shouldn't be on your team - plain and simple. His 75th-ranked spot on FFN is indicative of what the industry thinks of his potential. He reminds us of another Raiders player JaMarcus Russell in that the hype never really matched reality. For us, the real battle here will be between Murray and Helu. Helu averaged 4.4 yards per carry while in Washington and tacked on 73 receptions in his final two seasons there. While less involved in the passing attack, Murray averaged 5.2 yards per carry for Oakland last season. Both backs can certainly get it done, but Murray has the upside as demonstrated by his #18 ranking on FFN versus Helu's 60th-ranked spot. Murray will likely be an RB2 on most fantasy teams this year but look for Helu to work in on third downs.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Latavius Murray

New York Giants

We expect the Giants to be a tougher team this year. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. were one of the most dominant duos of the second half of last season. Victor Cruz is returning and Larry Donnell has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. The receiving corp is pretty solid which has us looking at the backfield and the competition between Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams. Vereen has been a plus to PPR owners the past few years in New England with 99 receptions over the past two seasons. Williams likely won't be much of a contender as shown by his 49th-ranked spot on FFN; however, Jennings (ranked 30th) and Vereen (ranked 33rd) are very much in contention.

If we're drafting today, we're taking: Rashad Jennings

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