By Nick Martinez
It seems nowadays that true bell cow running backs are becoming an endangered species. Backs like Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley are part of the few that remain, getting every opportunity they can to thrive in the backfield. Some come and go, but very few remain. Here are a couple backs to look for next season that could lose work and their title of a bell cow back.
Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman – Finishing as the number one scoring running back last season, Devonta Freeman literally came out of nowhere. Blowing his career highs out of the water, the Falcons running back rushed for over 1,000 yards, scoring 11 times on the ground while adding 578 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. I am here to personally guarantee that there is no way, no how, Freeman repeats as the top scoring running back. Freeman was clearly out of gas toward the end of the season. Through Weeks 2-7, he rushed for 603 yards and 10 touchdowns. From Week 8 on, he rushed for 435 yards with four touchdowns. Freeman’s 4.0 YPC was also ranked 32nd in the league. The Falcons understand that in order to keep Freeman fresher than last year, they’ll have to limit his 337 touches from last season.
Enter Tevin Coleman to pick up the slack. Drafted by the team to be the workhorse running back, Coleman was projected to be just that entering the 2015 season. Coleman quickly lost his job after a rib injury in Week 2. Before Freeman exploded in Week 3 against the Cowboys, the backs were at pretty much even split with Coleman 29 to Freeman’s 22. He showed he could carry the load when he filled in for Freeman in Week 12, rushing 18 times for 110 yards. Despite catching 2 passes, last season, coming out of college Coleman was known for being able to become a receiver out of the backfield. Early reports from camp are that the Falcons in fact want to reduce Freeman’s workload and that they want the two backs to “compete.” Freeman could still very well finish in the top 10, but those expecting to him to finish close to the top should lower their expectations.
Matt Forte/Bilal Powell – Those who read my late round running back steals article know my love for Bilal Powell, but it’s starting to get some traction. The latest reports out of camp are that Matt Forte will get “plenty of rest” over the course of the upcoming season. ESPN also reported the Jets to use a “time-share system.” The writing is on the wall for Forte to disappoint fantasy owners for one of the first times in his career. Since 2008, the former Tulane running back has been a flat out stud. Rushing for over 900 yards in 7 of his last 8 seasons, the Bears ran their offense through him where he shared the ball with no one. I’m going to warn you, Forte will not pay off for his ADP. First, he’s 30, the age of death. Second, he’s coming off career lows in Chicago. Third, his work will get cut into. The reports mentioned above only put it in stone that Forte is not that workhouse he once was.
Along with Forte, Powell and Khiry Robinson will tote the rock for the team this season. Powell will be used mainly in the passing game and will provide great value in PPR. Robinson will hopefully be used mostly to run out the clock and give the top two backs a rest. There is however one situation that would make all three backs very frustrating. If Forte plays first and second down, Powell is strictly used in the passing game, and Robinson is used as the goal line back, owners could be in trouble. It’s clear we won’t be seeing nearly the amount of work that Forte has had the last 8 seasons and owners should prepare for disappoint them if they draft him as a top-15 running back.
Ezekiel Elliot/Every other Cowboy running back – This next player might be a little tricky as we don’t exactly know how much work rookie Ezekiel Elliot will get during the year. Some reports stated that Elliot could finish with 280-300 carries, but he also started OTAs behind Darren McFadden. I don’t believe Elliot will be the bell cow running back he’s being drafted to be purely based on the amount of running backs the Cowboys have. McFadden finished the year as a successful fantasy back, rushing for at least 90 yards in 7 of his last 11 games. Recovering from a broken elbow, McFadden is expected to be back during preseason. Alfred Morris is also in the mix, coming over from the Washington Redskins.
When I’m drafting in the first round, I lean toward safety and Elliot is far from it. If the other running backs weren’t enough to worry about, he is facing domestic abuse allegations. He states that he is innocent, but the NFL doesn’t take these issues lightly. He also wasn’t drafted with the same praise as someone like Todd Gurley. Gurley came into an offense with very little competition where they knew they would rely on him significantly. If he doesn’t get suspended, I am still worried that his potential workload could be cut into. Could he be worth the upside? Sure. Best offensive line in football, extremely successful in college, the numbers add up. But as I stated, I don’t take risks in the first round and suggest to you to stay away from Elliot as long as he carries that hefty price tag.