Every fantasy football player is looking to find the next Jordan Howard, that late round selection from the NFL draft that under the right circumstances can become an integral part of a winning fantasy football team. Howard was a top 30 most winningest player from a season ago (you can check out the full list here) and underlined the importance of being able to find rookies that have found landing spots where production can be found, especially at the running back position. Running back is the lifeblood of any fantasy football contender and one of the most injury prone positions, so being able to find one that could bring consistent value either late in your draft or on the waiver wire can be a big time boost.
This season there are a variety of running backs that were drafted in the 4th round or later that should prove to be either every week starters or players that will have value at some point during the upcoming fantasy season. Some of these players will be falling into great situations and others are just too talented to be on the bench for the entire year. I’ll break down a few of these potential contributors for the 2017 fantasy football season.
Samaje Perine Washington Redskins
Selected with the 7th pick in the fourth round of last month’s NFL draft, Perine has the quickest path to NFL production of any late round rookie running back. The Redskins’ offensive line graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ best from a season ago (7th) and has a young core to go along with bookend LT Trent Williams. There should be a re-emphasis on the running game in Washington after losing both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, leaving QB Kirk Cousins with unproven second year WR Josh Doctson, slot man Jamison Crowder and the oft-injured Jordan Reed as his main pass catchers. Of course there still is “Fat” Rob Kelley currently penciled in as the starter in Washington, but that is written in pencil for a reason.
Perine is a superior version of Rob Kelley in nearly every way. He was tops at the NFL combine in the bench press among RBs with 30 reps. Sitting at 235 pounds, Perine was the “thunder” to Joe Mixon’s “lightning” in Oklahoma, but there was production to go around. Perine finished his college career with three consecutive 1000 yard rushing seasons, scoring at least 10 times on the ground in each season. He also added in at least 10 receptions in each season. Perine is going to get downhill and downhill quickly in the Washington offense. He will be a decisive and strong, one cut runner. Don’t expect to see a ton of wiggle in his game, but there won’t be too many safeties lining up to get in his way once Perine hits the second level. I won’t be surprised if he takes over the starting job in training camp and becomes a top 60 pick in upcoming fantasy drafts.
Joe Williams San Francisco 49ers
There were rumblings before the NFL draft that the 49ers had soured on current starter Carlos Hyde due to his inability to stay on the field over the last few seasons. Couple that with the fact that new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan saying that he would have lost sleep at night without Joe Williams on his team and you have a recipe for some immediate production. How immediate will depend on Hyde’s ability to stay on the field and how quickly Williams can learn the 49ers playbook. Williams’ story is interesting as he left Utah during the first part of the 2016 season only to return with a vengeance. In Williams last 9 games, he ran for over 100 yards in 8 of those and over 149 in those 8 games. He even ran for 332 yards on 29 carries against UCLA in October of 2016.
He’s a quicker and more explosive back than Carlos Hyde, running a 4.41 40 yard dash and a 20 yard shuttle in 4.19 seconds and that speed shows on film on numerous occasions. Williams has the potential to be in a Tevin Coleman type role for the 49ers this upcoming season and a good complement to what Hyde can do between the tackles. I believe he will develop into Hyde’s handcuff in 2017 (he should be able to beat out veteran Tim Hightower for those duties) and will be worth a late round selection in upcoming drafts with upside to be a flex play.
Jamaal Williams Green Bay Packers
There are some that feel that the Packers’ 5th round selection, Aaron Jones, will end up as the top talent in Green Bay, but Williams is the player for me. He’s not going to blow you away with athleticism (4.65 40 yard dash and a 7.25 3 Cone drill time at the combine), however, Williams knows how to run the football. You watch his game and it’s reminiscent of those pounding runners like Stephen Davis from recent history. He’s a smart runner between the tackles, falling forward while taking on contact and getting the most out of his attempts.
The only player standing in his way from on field production is Ty Montgomery, a converted WR who admittedly played well down the stretch for the Packers. Montgomery has great hands out of the backfield, but also lacked the power to score near the goal line, something Green Bay fans haven’t seen after years of Eddie Lacy barreling over and through defenders into the end zone. Williams will need to develop his receiving skills to be the full-time caddy for Aaron Rodgers, but he does have an understanding of pass protection, which should keep him on the field early and often. Williams has 10 TD upside this year if he does in fact become the Packers short yardage/goal line back and the opportunity for more if he can develop his game further. He does not have the balance of Lacy or the hands of Lacy as of yet, but he also doesn’t have the weight issues. Williams could easily be an every week starter in standard scoring leagues by midway through the 2017 fantasy season.
Jeremy McNichols Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The issues of Doug Martin have been well documented over the past few months, and with Martin set to already miss the first 3 games of the 2017 season due to a suspension, someone will have to pick up the slack in Tampa Bay. We’ve seen Charles Sims given the reigns in the past and fall flat. He could be and potentially should be relegated to the 3rd down back duties due to him being so fragile and ineffective. The largest barrier for McNichols and substantial playing time could be Jacquizz Rodgers, who in limited duty was very effective for the Bucs in 2016. He was so effective that the Bucs decided to give him a 2 year extension. The battle should be on during training camp to see who will be Martin’s backup once he returns and gets the first shot at production in the 2017 season.
The reason I’m leaning towards McNichols is just how productive he was during his time at Boise St. His redshirt was removed halfway through his freshman season, even though Jay Ajayi was leading that backfield and McNichols saw some time as a pass catcher (15-155-1 in 9 games). Once Ajayi left for the NFL, McNichols totaled over 3000 yards rushing and 900 yards receiving in 2 seasons as the lead back at Boise State. On top of that, McNichols has a nose for the endzone (he scored 53, yes 53 TDs in those 2 seasons). Obviously he won’t have that kind of success, but he can shoulder a full game’s workload just like fellow Boise State Bronco, Doug Martin did for the Bucs for the previous few seasons. McNichols would be a late round draft pick (Round 10+) and depending on Martin’s situation, could turn into an every week starter for your fantasy team.