RB Position Battles (08/04/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
NFL Camp Competition – which running backs will start for the Cowboys, Rams and Browns?

In the lead up to the release of our 2015 NFL Preview we look at some of the most interesting position battles occurring at training camps around the league. We've looked at quarterbacks, now it's running backs.

The 2015 NFL Preview will be available on August 6th.

Dallas Cowboys

DeMarco Murray, the Offensive Player of the Year, in an unprecedented move, was allowed to leave in free agency. Dallas, with the best offensive line in the league, isn't overly concerned about being able to replace the All-Pro running back. The Cowboys are banking on their line, plus a combination of Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden to pick up the slack left behind by Murray – who won the NFL's rushing title a year ago.

Hopes are high for Randle. In limited touches last year, the third-year back averaged 6.7 yards per carry. According to Randle, DeMarco Murray left a lot of meat on the bone last year. If Randle can avoid off the field incidents he will the starter in Week 1. Dunbar figures to factor into the passing game and McFadden is already injured – last year was the first season he played all 16 games.

If Randle gets the touches, Dallas could produce another top-ten fantasy back. If not, it'll be running back roulette in the lone star state for fantasy owners.

St. Louis Rams

There are two promising young backs on St. Louis' roster, one (Todd Gurley) isn't healthy enough to play and the other (Tre Mason) isn't getting any attention. In each of the past two seasons, the Rams have had a rookie lead the team in rushing (Zac Stacy in 2013, Mason in 2014). Could Gurley make it a third straight year?

The Rams used the tenth pick in this year's draft to take Gurley but the Georgia product is still recovering from an ACL injury. This potentially opens the door for Mason who led the Rams in rushing yards (765), yards per carry (4.3) and total touchdowns (5) last season. Unfortunately for Mason, Head Coach Jeff Fisher called Gurley the running back of the future – it's just a matter of when the future starts.

We expect both backs to produce when they get playing time. If you combined their projected totals, they would be the highest scoring running back in fantasy. Separately, Gurley ranks 20th and Mason 33rd among backs. For fantasy owners, it could be frustrating to own any members of the Rams backfield.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns' offense is expected to be run-oriented in the fall. A two-man backfield has become a three-man committee. Second year running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell will be joined by third round draft pick Duke Johnson.

Crowell didn't lead Cleveland in carries or yards last season but he is currently No. 1 on the depth chart. It'll be difficult for either West (calf cramps) or Johnson (hamstring) to supplant Crowell as both are dealing with injuries early in camp.

Crowell will be the primary back and Johnson projects to be the team's third-down specialist, specifically in passing situations. There could be less playing time this year for West and if Johnson excels with his touches, the rookie could siphon carries from Crowell.