Last year was generally a terrible year for running backs in fantasy football. With some big names now on new teams or now retired, who are going to be the top fantasy producing running backs in 2016? Let's analyze five running backs with big expectations as well as a sleeper RB with the potential to have big fantasy impact this coming season.
5. Thomas Rawls SEA
Rawls was a beast in the stat sheets in the absence of Marshawn Lynch last season, averaging almost 16 fantasy points per game. He also averaged 117.6 scrimmage yards with five touchdowns in his seven starts. With Lynch now out of the picture, Rawls will have huge upside in a run-based Seattle offense as the clear lead back.
4. Todd Gurley LA
Gurley didn't start his first NFL game until Week 4, which makes his 1,106 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and 187.4 fantasy points even more impressive during his rookie year. Gurley is a superstar in the making, but unfortunately for him, the Rams offense is in limbo. The QB position is up in the air, and the offense in general doesn't scare anyone.
3. Le'Veon Bell PIT
Bell's spot in this list is mainly because the status of his knee injury from last season is still unknown. If he is able to return to form, he could easily be #1 on this list. However, history shows (with the exception of Adrian Peterson) that a player coming back from a major knee injury is not quite the same player the season following their injury. Bell may be hesitant to trust his knee when making cuts, especially in the beginning of the season. Expectations for Bell should be tempered this season, but he could surprise us and be back to elite form to start the season.
2. Adrian Peterson MIN
Peterson is 31, and he's had over 2,300 career regular-season carries in the NFL. The typical RB would be considered past his prime and certainly not a top 5 RB. With that said, the typical rules of an older running back don't apply to Peterson, who defies expectations. There's no reason to expect anyone but Peterson to be the centerpiece of Minnesota's offense. Even at 31, he is far and away the best offensive weapon they have.
1. David Johnson ARI
Some would argue that Johnson shouldn't be first in this list. Well, here are a few points as to why he's ranked #1 on this list. As far as running back career arcs go, Johnson is in the prime of his career. This will be his second season, so he is still young but also has a year of NFL experience under his belt. He is the bell-cow running back for one of the top offenses in the league. The Cardinals offensive line was ranked 4th in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus and third according to Football Outsiders. Touchdowns are crucial to fantasy success and Johnson scored 50% of Arizona's 16 rushing touchdowns in 2015. Last year, some of the premier running backs were decimated by injury (see Le'Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles). Johnson has been virtually injury free throughout his career, which includes 991 carries over four years of college and his rookie NFL campaign. 2016 should be a big year for David Johnson.
Sleeper: Jeremy Langford CHI
With Matt Forte now with the Jets, Langford will be the new feature back in Chicago. Forte is a special talent, but expect Langford to put up similar stats in 2016 as Forte did over the years. He will be a nice steal in fantasy drafts.