Fantasy owners are heartbroken every year by the bell-cow running back they drafted in the first round. Injures, chemistry issues, Father Time, getting lost in a committee backfield, or even weight issues are all examples of what can bring your highly coveted draft pick down. To make sure you are drafting the best available, below are four running backs who owners should avoid in early rounds.
Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette’s placement on my list has more to do with my lack of trust in the Jaguars than an indictment on his game. The LSU standout continually had me in awe during his three years dominating the SEC for the Tigers. I look forward to watching him in the NFL, but being drafted by Jacksonville isn’t the best situation to be in. The team hasn’t had a winning season since 2007.
Being drafted No. 4 overall puts a target on your back where a certain level of production is expected. He will immediately become one of the highest-paid running backs in the league despite not playing a snap in the NFL. Fournette has all the talent in the world to live up to the hype. It is up to the Jaguars and Doug Marrone to put him in positions to succeed and not run him right up the middle every play. Jacksonville’s inconsistency at quarterback and offensive line makes me hesitant to target Fournette in early rounds.
Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
Howard became the focal point of the Bears offense last season after taking the starting running back job from Jeremy Langford. The former Hoosier ran for over 1,300 yards in his rookie campaign with Chicago behind an above average offensive line. He will look to duplicate those numbers in 2017, but I think he will have a hard time doing so.
Howard will enter the season as the No. 1 back, but last year’s opening day starter Langford will be back at 100 percent and his pass-catching ability will likely earn him some third-down touches. Teams will be keying on the Bears running game because that will put more pressure on their two new quarterbacks to make tough decisions. Howard will see a large volume of touches, but I think he will be less effective due to the amount of game planning teams will be doing for him. I would not draft him with a first-round pick.
Jay Ajayi – Miami Dolphins
Jay Ajayi took over the Dolphins running back job after the first few games last season and did not look back. He was very impressive running behind a below-average offensive line that the Dolphins did nothing to address this offseason. They actually traded away one of their starting tackles, Branden Albert, to the Jaguars for Julius Thomas. Ajayi will face the fourth-toughest schedule among fantasy running backs, according to FantasyPros.com. I was a skeptic of last season’s breakout, and the Dolphins not reinforcing the offensive line doesn’t give me any extra faith in Ajayi.
Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
Ingram’s placement on the list is less of an indictment on his play and hinges more upon the signing of Adrian Peterson. The Saints use multiple running backs in their offense with Ingram getting the lion’s share over the last couple of years. Last year he had around 250 touches compared to Tim Hightower’s 150. Peterson and Hightower shouldn’t be in the same sentence, and that is why I think Ingram’s production will go down. Expect more of a 50/50 split in the 2017 Saints backfield and for Ingram to go from a borderline RB1 to more of a RB2/Flex option.