Wk 12 Report: RB Changing of the Guard 2015

This post is meaningful for both contenders and those who are looking to next year alike.  Everyone who plays fantasy football knows that the NFL is the most volatile league in terms of positional stability, especially at all positions aside from Quarterback.  

Just take a look at who the consensus first round targets were this year, and look where they are at.  LeSean McCoy looks like he forgot how to be an elite RB, O-Line concerns not withstanding.  Adrien Petersen might not play football ever again, and if he does he certainly won't have the situation he had in Minnesota.  Marshawn Lynch is likely out in Seattle after this season and it his very little to do with his performance.  And any of the elite WRs who were first round gambles...Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green all have battled injuries that have sapped their performance this year.  

The point is clear, you need to keep roster flexibility which in Dynasty Owner means trying to keep salary cap space and flexibility.  And after that, you need to start watching roster trends in the last part of the current season as those will certainly dictate who has the advantage going into next season's drafts.  Now is the time your when your 2015 Draft prep starts, regardless of how you are fairing this season.  

Changing of the Guard:  Running Back

The most volatile position by far is Running Back and always has been.  The physical demands of the position are such that the average RB career only lasts about 4 years, but nowadays it seems like there are even fewer instances of decade-long dominance like we saw out of recent RBs like LaDanian Thomlinson and Marshal Faulk.  

So here are 5 Running Back situations that have done a complete 180 since the start of the regular season, and what those changes might mean going into next season's draft.

1). Cleveland Browns

First, Ben Tate was signed in the offseason to lead the Browns rushing game in a very run-focused offense making him a late 2nd/early 3rd round target in many drafts.  He started the season looking well suited for the first 4 games but then for some reason started running like he had a piano on his back.  It became clear to everyone, coaching staff included, that the Browns two rookie running backs (Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West) were far more explosive and effective options.  Tate was released last week and now we'll really get to see what those rookies can do, Crowell especially.  

Next Season: Crowell appears to have the inside track on being the feature back, as he's the superior combination of power & speed and has averaged an impressive 4.6 yards per carry so far in 2014.  West will likely be involved and makes for a good handcuff candidate and both RBs are plenty affordable.  Crowell (UDFA) has a dream contract scenario making the $500k league minimum for the next 2 seasons and West makes a measly $650k for the next 3 after this season.  

2). Seattle Seahawks

It's frustrating for Lynch owners to see how effective he is in the running game in Seattle and know that he's almost certain to be gone if reports are to be believed.  But if reports are true, he has been an absolute cancer in the locker room all season and his discontent with Seattle coaches and management are proving to be more than he's worth.  No doubt the eagerness to unleash ultra-talented 2nd round draft pick Christian Michael is driving the divide between Lynch and his coaching staff and front office.  Lynch could certainly land a feature back role next year, but he is getting old by RB standards (29) and has a big contract ($7.5MM) to boot.  

Next Season:  Seattle has to finally see what they have in Christine Michael, as he's been a training camp and practice team all-star for 2 years now.   For Dynasty Owners who have patiently stashed Michael for the last couple of years, he could pay off huge with an average salary of only $850k for the next 2 years.  Robert Turbin might eat into his playing time at first, but if Michael is as good as he's shown in practice he'll be the primary RB1 very quickly in 2015.  

3). Denver Broncos

When Knowshon Moreno moved onto Miami the plan in the Bronco backfield looked pretty straightforward as Monty Ball was set to be the feature back in an offense that should have yielded great RB production.  But Ball came out and struggled (averaging only 3.1 yards per carry) and then got hurt and that opened the door for explosive Ronnie Hillman to show that he might be the RB of the future in Denver despite his diminutive size.  In his 3 opportunities as the feature back he had 2 100 yard games and averaged over 5 yards per carry during that stretch.  

Next Season:   We expect Ronnie Hillman to emerge as the lead RB in the high octane Denver offense and that's great news for Dynasty Owners who were lucky enough to grab him off waivers.  He has a $750k yearly cap number for next season and could emerge as a fantastic duel threat option out of the backfield on the best offense in football.  

4). Cincinnati Bengals

As is the case in Denver, an injury to the incumbent starter opened the door for the backup to shine, and shine Jeremy Hill did.  In his 3 games as the sole RB in the Bengals backfield he averaged an absurd 5.5 yards per carry and twice topped the 150 yards rushing mark.  He has arguably been the best RB in football the last 3 weeks.  

That is a real problem for Gio Bernard and his fantasy owners.  While Gio himself showed flashes of brilliance early in the season, Hill is much more the prototypical back as he is 6'1 and 238 lbs but elusive and explosive to boot.

Next Season: It looks like owners who spent a high pick on Gio and were looking brilliant early in the season got the rug pulled out from under them.  You simply can't keep an RB like Hill off the field, and this is heading toward an even time-share nightmare scenario for both players.  If you are drafting in a new league next year, Hill is the target as he's much more likely to hold up and stand alone in that offense.  If he gets the chance to be the only RB, he'll be a top-end play every week at a very cap friendly $900k per year for the next 3 seasons.  This is why you always cross your fingers on draft day that the team your stud RB plays for doesn't draft an RB in the first or second round.  

5).  Minnesota Vikings

What a wild ride Vikings RB owners have been on this season.  First, our apologies if you drafted Adrien Petersen - it's tough to have a season (and possibly) career derailed for off-season issues like that.  Backup Matt Asiasta had a decent stretch but Jerick McKinnon has come in and shined.  He's averaging 5.0 yards per carry and is a legitimate threat out of the backfield, he was looking like he had a clear path to becoming the RB of the future in Minnesota.  But then they put the waiver claim on Ben Tate, and now the situation is cloudy again.  Sure, Tate could prove to be no threat at all if he runs like he has the last month in Cleveland, but it sends the signal that the Vikings aren't sold on McKinnon for some reason.  

Next Season:  We get the feeling the Vikings are a candidate to use a high draft pick on a RB in next season's draft.  They need to distance themselves from the Petersen situation and start all over at the position.  We would like to see them give McKinnon that shot as we think he's earned it but they might feel he's too small to be the feature guy in that offense.  They have been spoiled by Petersen for the past several years and might try to hit a home run on a guy like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon who has the size and speed combo that all teams dream about in their feature back.