RB Target/Touch Regression for 2016 (Fantasy Football)
This is part three of my 2016 target regression series, you can find my WR regression candidates here, and my TE regression list can be found here. The following RBs are prime candidates for target/touch regression for the upcoming season.
Ronnie Hillman (DEN) – RB62, OVR No. 198
I’m starting off with a fairly easy one here. Hillman took advantage of C.J. Anderson’s disappointing start to post a solid overall season last year, totaling 231 touches (207 rushes, 24 receptions) while falling just shy of 1,000 total yards. Anderson re-emerged toward the end of the season and took over through the Super Bowl run while Hillman seemed to fade. Anderson seems locked in as the top back in a Denver offense that will rely heavily on the rushing attack this season.
During the offseason, the Broncos added another RB to the backfield in rookie Devontae Booker. The battle Hillman faces in training camp likely isn’t for the starting role, but rather for a backup role with Booker and Juwan Thompson.
Hillman is now dealing with a back issue as well. His odds of getting cut from the Broncos are looking better than matching his touches from last season.
Frank Gore (IND) – RB24, OVR No. 61
Gore has been consistent over the last five years, not missing a game since 2010. Last year he had 294 touches (260 carries, 34 receptions) and scraped up a total of 1,234 yards.
He failed to top 100 yards rushing in any game, and had only one game where his total yardage reached the century mark. While the entire offense struggled and injuries to QB Andrew Luck may have factored in the lack of an explosive running game, the fact is that Gore is nothing more than a grinder who has limited upside at the age of 33.
The Colts want to manage the amount of work Gore receives this season. They also plan on utilizing a three-wide set as a base formation this season in hopes of better utilizing the playmakers at the WR position. A greater amount of three-wide sets may elevate undrafted RB rookie Josh Ferguson into a steady role in the offense, he fits the mold of a pass-catching back proven by his receiving prowess at the University of Illinois.
Adding to his potential role this season is the fact that Colts owner Jim Irsay and head coach Chuck Pagano have voiced their excitement about having him on the team. With only Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman to leapfrog for a backup/third-down role, he is a likely candidate to take away some of the workload from Gore this season. The days of Gore being the bell cow of an offense are in the rear-view mirror, and with a more potent passing game and a shared role in the backfield, his touches are headed down this season.
Devonta Freeman (ATL) – RB9, OVR No. 20
Freeman entered last season as a backup RB on the Falcons but then finished as the top-ranked RB with an impressive 337 touches (263 carries, 73 receptions). Freeman has all the makings of a one-hit wonder, as fellow RB Tevin Coleman looks to be slated in for a bigger role this season.
Freeman had a huge start to the season but fizzled down the stretch, averaging a paltry 3.25 yards per carry (YPC) during his last eight starts. He did remain active in the passing game and will likely continue to be the lead pass-catcher out of the backfield, but his workload will certainly be cut as the Falcons expressed a desire to involve Coleman more.
Falcons RB coach Bobby Turner compared the two backs while expressing the plan to use Coleman more frequently and the only clear difference between the two is the speed of Coleman. Freeman has held onto the ball better than Coleman, and that may be the one thing that gives him the nod over Coleman as the main back at the moment. If Coleman can establish better ball security and shake the injury bug that slowed his rookie season,
Freeman will see his touches reduced in a big way. Therefore Freeman is a big risk for any fantasy owner taking him at his current ADP.
Adrian Peterson (MIN) – RB3, OVR No. 6
Peterson had another nice season last year, posting the second-best fantasy season among RBs. He was heavily used, posting a league-leading 357 touches (327 carries, 30 receptions).
While he has proven himself to be super-human at times as far as performance and ability to recover from injury, at some point age and workload will eventually win, and he’ll start slowing down, and he has started this training camp already a little banged up with a gimpy hamstring. He sees little usage in training camp and should be fine for the regular season, but the Vikings may make an effort to keep him fresh throughout the season and lessen the workload.
Peterson did see a dip in production at the end of the year last season. Through week 12 he was averaging 4.91 YPC, but from week 13 on (six games including the Vikings lone playoff game) he averaged just 3.23 YPC. Could this be the beginning stages of his decline, or did he just face superior defenses against an overmatched offensive line? He did line up against some solid run defenses, including Seattle twice, and the Vikings offensive line certainly was depleted at times and has been re-loaded entering this season. But he was unable to take over games like he had in the past, and he very well may have entered the downward side of his career.
Backup RB Jerick McKinnon will likely see more action in 2016, and in his previous two seasons, he has meshed much better with QB Teddy Bridgewater than Peterson has. McKinnon has proven to be a capable back whenever called upon, and while Peterson struggled at the end of the year, McKinnon averaged 6.3 YPC over the final three games of the season. Peterson has yet to adapt to running out of the shotgun, and Bridgewater seems to run the offense more efficiently while working out of the shotgun.
How long will the Vikings cater to the short-term needs of Peterson instead of the long-term benefits of handing the offensive reigns completely to Bridgwater? The Vikings clearly need to be more balanced on offense; they ranked 28th in overall offense last year while depending mainly on Peterson. The Vikings appear more poised to have an effective passing attack with the addition of rookie WR Laquon Treadwell and with Stefon Diggs emerging as a legitimate receiving threat.
The growth of the passing game and the effectiveness of McKinnon should eliminate the need to rely so heavily on Peterson. He is clearly still an RB1 talent, but the usage should drop to around 300 total touches.
Latavius Murray (OAK) – RB17, OVR No. 41
Murray narrowly missed 1,300 total yards last season as he eclipsed 300 total touches (266 carries, 41 receptions). He finished third in the league with the 266 carries but lacked the excitement that the top fantasy RBs provided last season. Whether it was poor line play or just Murray being inefficient, he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per reception, numbers that aren’t exactly a glowing endorsement for continued high usage.
While Murray should likely hang on to most of the first and second-down work, rookie DeAndre Washington could step into the third-down role in the offense as the prime pass-catching RB, and he also can pound the ball inside. Washington’s skill-set makes for a nice pairing with Murray, who is more of a home-run, all-or-nothing kind of back who struggled with consistency last season.
The offensive line appears to be much improved, and Murray should benefit from Washington coming in and taking some of the work off his shoulders. The Oakland passing game has high expectations that may also take away some of Murray’s touches. QB Derek Carr is capable of carrying the load through the air each week with three capable WRs and a quality TE, and now the addition of Washington as a weapon out of the backfield as well.
While he will remain the top option in what should be an improved rushing attack, Murray will likely see a decreased workload. While the number of his touches may be headed down, the potential for increased efficiency looks likely, and he should be a solid RB2 this season.