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Three early-round running backs you should avoid

Let’s not forget about Jay Ajayi’s knee...

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve got hold-outs, we’ve got franchise tags, we’ve got every coach in the NFL talking about how they want to play more physical, PLAY (insert sub-500 team name here) FOOTBALL!! Most importantly, we have actual football just on the horizon (the Hall of Fame scrimmage kicks off the the season, tonight!).

And so, it’s time to talk fantasy busts. Here’s a look a few early-round running backs you should give your league-mates the pleasure of drafting.

Jay Ajayi - Miami Dolphins

Ajayi didn’t fall to the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft because of questions about his talent or an off field incident. Ajayi fell well past his projected draft slot due to serious concerns about a ‘bone on bone’ situation with his knee.

Through his second year, AJayi has been healthy, though. After being a coach’s-decision scratch in Week 1, and after finally passing an ailing Arian Foster on the depth chart, Ajayi showed all doubters he could handle the NFL-workhorse role.

The 2nd-year man handed in three 200+ yard games (2 against Buffalo, 1 against a Steelers team who was manhandled after losing Ben Roethlisberger to injury). However, outside of those 200+ rushing yard efforts, Ajayi rushed for 100+ yards only once more (against the Jets… the Jets). Anyone rushing for 200+ yards three times is special, but let’s take a look at that end of year schedule for the Dolphins.

After the Week 11 bye, Miami plays at New England Patriots, hosts the Denver Broncos and Patriots, and then finish the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15 and 16) on the road against Buffalo then Kansas City.

If Ajayi’s knee makes it to the end of the season, you still may end up riding that stud running back right out of the playoffs. Look to pick up Jordan Howard, DeMarco Murray, or pick up falling wide receiver value before queuing up Jay this year.

Leonard Fournette - Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags have been vocal about wanting to run the football, be physical, and play stiff defense this year.

If that refrain sounds familiar, it’s be because that is what we heard last year after the Jaguars signed Chris Ivory… and the year before when they drafted TJ Yeldon with the 3rd pick in 2nd round of the NFL Draft.

It may also sound familiar because that is what every “we always pick in the top 10 in the draft” team says they want to do every offseason. Everyone wants to run the ball and play good defense!

The problem with the Jags, is that the Jags are a bad at football.

I understand the rookie love. It's hard to forget the season we just watched from last year’s top-5 running back pick Ezekiel Elliott. But we can’t forget Zeke went to a Cowboys team that finished 9th in rushing yards per game the year before. The ‘Boys’ squeezed five 100 yard games out of Darren McFadden (and a 99 yard effort). McFadden and the Cowboys managed this with Romo only really playing in 4 games. Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore were under center for the remaining 12 games. Last but not least, going into the 2016 draft, it was widely believed the Cowboys had the best offensive line in football. Turns out, the crowd was right.

Last year the Jaguars had one 100 yard rusher. They finished 22nd in the league in rushing, and even the most optimistic Jag supporters peg the o-line as middle of the road. Fournette may go on to have an amazing career, but save yourself a huge headache, pass on him this year.

If you’ve got rookie fever that can’t be ignored, go ahead and take the rookie RB who will finish with the most fantasy points in all formats this year: Joe Mixon.

Mike Gillislee - The New England Fighting Belichicks

In the 5-6th round, it may not be fair to call any pick a bust, but as a public service… let’s talk about Mike Gillislee.

Last year everyone missed on LeGarrette Blount because OF COURSE EVERYONE MISSED ON BLOUNT, HE WAS A RUNNING BACK FOR THE PATRIOTS!

Ladies, fellas, everyone else, have you forgotten how frustrating it is to play start/sit all year with a New England Patriots running back?

Belichick and the Pats are known to unexpectedly feature a different running back (or pass catcher for that matter), throwing off their opponents’ defensive gameplans and sinking fantasy owners weekly matchups.

Take a look at the number of touches, yards, and touchdowns for the leading rusher for the past few years for New England’s leading rusher:

  • 2015: LeGarrette Blount - 165 ATT / 703 YDS / 6 TDS
  • 2014: Jonas Gray - 89 ATT / 412 YDS / 5 TDS
  • 2014: Shane Vereen - 96 ATT / 391 YDS / 2 TDS
  • 2014: Stevan Ridley - 94 ATT / 340 YDS / 2 TDS
  • 2013: Stevan Ridley - 178 ATT / 773 YDS / 7 TDS
  • 2013: LeGarrette Blount - 153 ATT / 772 YDS / 7 TDS
  • 2012: Stevan Ridley - 290 ATT / 1,263 YDS / 12 TDS
  • 2011: BenJarvus Green-Ellis - 181 ATT / 667 YDS / 11 TDS

Now remember the other backs who will be sharing the backfield with Gillislee:

  • The Pats gave Dion Lewis a 2-year extension in 2015, before he tore his ACL, back when he showed us all he had the lightning quicks and soft hands to be a truly great new-school-NFL receiving back.
  • A standout in limited action in Cincinnati, Rex Burkhead can pass protect, run inside, and he’s no slouch as a receiver out of the backfield.
  • James White, did you catch the Super Bowl?

Gillislee looked great in limited action for the Buffalo Bills last year. He’s a good back. No doubt, the world exists where Gillislee could get 250 carries. But when you can grab guys like Spencer Ware, Emmanuel Sanders, or even Danny Woodhead (in PPR) at about the same spot in the draft, you can pass on the most expensive Patriots RB.