Way Too Early 2017 Breakouts - Running Back

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This year's Super Bowl hasn't even happened yet but that doesn't mean we're not still starving for more fantasy.

The best way to satiate that craving is to get a head start on prepping for 2017. With running back being the most fluid position of them all, it's probably the best place to start.

Obviously these names are all subject to change based on the NFL draft, free agent signings, trades, cuts, and everything in between. Nevertheless, here are some names you should keep in the back of your mind as potential breakout candidates for 2017.

Editor's note: Purchase any NFL Lineup Optimizer pass (including daily DFS cheat sheets), and you also get access to NBA and NHL Optimizers and DFS cheat sheets.

 

Running Backs To Monitor for 2017

Bilal Powell - (RB, NYJ)

Perhaps the most obvious name of the bunch, Bilal Powell had a solid 2016 campaign even with Matt Forte as the starter. In fact, the only real difference between the two was Forte getting the edge in touchdowns at seven to Powell's three. Powell, however, had a greater presence in the passing game. Throw in two games of over 100 rushing yards over the last four weeks and Powell had himself a severely underrated year. Believe it or not, this was a lot closer to a timeshare than you'd think.

Basing future fantasy success on recency bias can backfire so it's always wiser to too look ahead rather than behind. Matt Forte is already 31 years old, three years older than Bilal Powell. For as tough of a competitor as he is, Forte's days as a lead back are numbered. Now would be the right time to bet on that happening. Even if it ends up being a similar split, there's a good chance Powell ends up as the "starter" based on age, health, and production.

The other key aspect to keep in mind is that Forte is a "big name." Forte will almost certainly go higher than Powell in most fantasy drafts. That alone makes Powell a hot commodity since he'll have better draft day value. Expect the Jets to limit Forte's touches in 2017, leaving plenty of room for Bilal Powell to assume a larger workload.

 

Paul Perkins - (RB, NYG)

Our second running back located in New York is that of Paul Perkins on the Giants. I don't think I've ever seen this before but over the last seven weeks of the 2016 season, Perkins had his yardage total increase in each game. Here are his totals through those last seven outings: 16, 29, 38, 45, 56, 68, 102. That's pretty impressive to me, especially on a team that rotates its running backs at will.

It's not exactly a science but ending the year on a high note is always a plus. The downside on Perkins is that he didn't have any rushing touchdowns on the year, essentially rendering him irrelevant for fantasy. That being said, the Giants don't really have anyone else of value. Rashad Jennings has been a bust since joining the team, Shane Vereen can't stay healthy, and Bobby Rainey simply isn't an every down back. If not Perkins, who?

A few things have to happen in order for Perkins to get a crack at the starting gig. First, the Giants need to depart with at least one of their other three rushers. To be honest, that's virtually a guarantee given the circumstances. Once that's done, they need to stop diddling around and commit to one guy rather than a make-shift committee. I'm not confident that happens but for fantasy purposes I'm willing to take a chance on Paul Perkins. He has a legit shot at being a starting running back which holds value in itself. He won't come at a high price either so he warrants your offseason attention.

 

Dion Lewis - (RB, NE)

Now a full season removed from ACL surgery, Dion Lewis is going to ride the hype train all the way through the offseason. Forget the fact that he was having an awesome 2015 prior to tearing his knee up, his dismantling of the Houston Texans will stay fresh in everyone's mind. Unfortunately, the downside of any potential breakout here is the fact that Lewis plays for a team that is impossible to read in regard to workloads. Oh, and, LeGarrette Blount is still hanging around.

Blount's presence is the biggest roadblock standing in Lewis' way of being a fantasy star. He has the talent to be a star fantasy RB and is now healthy enough to rely on. But if the Patriots are going to keep Blount around, you can't exactly draft Dion Lewis as a sure fire starter. Instead, you're going to have to take him as a flex play/RB3 and hope for the best. That doesn't mean he's worse off than the other names on this list by any means. It just so happens his situation is murkier.

All that said, Blount is already 30 years old. It's not like this is a Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman situation where there are two young stallions. Blount is old enough to warrant a changing of the guard and 2017 could easily be the year of Dion Lewis.

 

Ameer Abdullah - (RB, DET)

Our last name on the list is the riskiest of the bunch yet there's a chance he's also the most forgotten. Plagued by a foot injury that ended his season in September, Abdullah went from sleeper to a wasted draft pick at the drop of a hat. For some added confusion, the Lions are going to head into 2017 with several different options at running back.

Everyone knows that when healthy, Theo Riddick is the most reliable back in Detroit, particularly in PPR. Then there was the slow-moving hype train that was Dwayne Washington. Lastly, Zach Zenner started turning heads when it mattered most. That leaves Abdullah the farthest away from recent memory and that's honestly a good thing for fantasy. He'll likely come at a supremely low cost, making his upside that much more enticing. Besides, it's not like he had some career-threatening ailment that will bleed into next season anyway.

If you were a believer in Abdullah as a sleeper prior to 2016 there's no reason to back off of that stance for 2017. The only thing that's changed is that other backs on his team have become names worth mentioning yet none of them have had significant fantasy success.

 

More Sleepers & Draft Values


Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!