It’s time to rank running backs, arguably the most frustrating position in fantasy football. With the exception of a few players, the days of the “workhorse back” are gone, and what we’ve been left with is an annoyingly hard to predict “running back by committee” scenario. We’ve all been there, you’re player drives his team down the field, breaking off a couple of big runs in the process. Then when it’s time to punch in the touchdown for a big payoff, the back up running back, or in some cases, the “goal line back” comes in and steals it.
It’s flat out irritating, and unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more common. In some cases, a fantasy owner is left in the unenviable position of having to burn a roster spot to draft two members of the same backfield. The New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals are the two teams that jump to mind immediately.
Barring injury, the Patriots are possibly the hardest team to predict, in terms of running back usage, but the Bengals aren’t far behind. From the days of the “Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen games” in New England. To the more recent days of Cincinnati running backs, Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill, dipping into each other’s fantasy value, the running back position has transformed into a cluttered mess. A cluttered mess that I get to rank! So let’s get to it!
15. Matt Forte
Forte will turn 32 during the 2017 season, but a handful of backs, including Forte, have proven that age is just a number. He’s no longer the elite player he once was, but he’s still an effective option to have at the #2 RB position, or flex. Last season Forte totaled over 1000 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 813 yards, and 7 touchdowns, while racking up 263 receiving yards, and 1 touchdown through the air. He scored a total of 183.6 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. If Collin Kaepernick finds himself starting for the New York Jets at any point this season, the added threat of a mobile QB could open up some more room for Forte to operate.
Where I’d draft him: 5th round. Forte is no longer the consistent scorer he once was. He’s also no longer on a proficient offense like he was in Chicago, but he’s going to have some pretty big games this season. It’s getting harder to predict when the big games will come nowadays, but the potential is still there.
14. Carlos Hyde
Carlos Hyde was a standout talent coming out of Ohio State, and, at times, he’s shown glimpses of amazing ability. Unfortunately, Hyde has also been injury prone during his 3 years as a pro. He tore his MCL in week 16 of last season, but not before rushing for 988 yards, 6 touchdowns, and scoring 192.1 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. If he can manage to stay on the field this season, new 49ers Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan might have a “workhorse back” on his hands. That’s proven to be a big “if” though.
Where I’d draft him: 4th or 5th round. Carlos Hyde can definitely be frustrating to own at times. He can put up duds in favorable match ups, but he can also go over 100 yards rushing, and 2 touchdowns at any time. If you can pair him with a consistent RB #1, Hyde might just be what wins you a couple of games.
13. Leonard Fournette
I’m excited about Fournette’s rookie season. His college career didn’t end the way he wanted it to. He had an injury plagued 2016 season and failed to get over 1000 yards rushing for the first time in his college career. I think Fournette will channel his disappointment, and bounce back with a great rookie campaign. The Jaguars’ backfield is a bit crowded with TJ Yeldon, and Chris Ivory also there, but I believe Fournette will separate himself more and more as the season goes on.
Where I’d draft him: 4th round. You might be able to get him later in some drafts but starting RB’s don’t usually last long. If Fournette is sitting there, pick him up. He should be in line for a big season.
12. Lamar Miller
I wasn’t big on Miller heading into last season, but he proved he can be valuable. Last year Miller rushed for 1,073, and 5 touchdowns. He also had 1 touchdown, and 188 receiving yards, for a total of 191.1 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. If DeShaun Watson ends up being the starting QB for the Texans, I can see Miller taking full advantage of the open running lanes his presence should create.
Where I’d take him: 3rd or 4th round. He has better value in the 4th round, but he might not last until then. Last season, the Texans weren’t exactly setting the world on fire on offense, but Miller still produced. He’s had a bit of an injury history too, but if healthy he could easily be a top 10 back.
11. Latavius Murray
Murray traded in his eye patch for a set of Viking horns, and I like the move. Last season Murray played in 14 games and managed to rush for 788 yards, and a staggering 12 touchdowns. He also added 264 yards through the air for a total of 208.2 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. The NFC north has historically been a run heavy division, and that could be great news for Murray owners.
Where I’d draft him: 2nd or 3rd round. The Vikings’ offensive line struggled last season, and Jerick McKinnon will certainly cut into some of his snaps, but I think Murray will still put up the numbers. He’s going to be a great #2 RB, and even a borderline #1 RB.
10. Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley. Todd, Todd, Todd. Unfortunately, Gurley didn’t live up to expectations last season rushing for only 885 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Gurly did add a new dimension to his game though, becoming a receiving threat for the Rams last season. He hauled in 43 receptions for 327 yards, and totaled 198.2 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. That’s a disappointing season for a guy that was taken top 5 overall in some drafts. He could bounce back, but I’d stay away.
Where I’d draft him: 2nd or 3rd round. The Rams didn’t exactly do much to inspire hope for the upcoming season. A repeat of last year is definitely a possibility for Gurly. The talent is there, but sadly that’s pretty much the only talent on the Rams’ roster, and the other team knows that too.
9. Marshawn Lynch
The return of “Beast Mode!” This might not go as great, but I’m being optimistic. The Raiders have a super talented offense, and if Lynch has anything left in the tank, he could put this team over the top. Lynch obviously didn’t play last season, and his 2015 season was injury plagued, so it’s been a while since we’ve really seen him play. It could backfire. But taking Lynch could also be crazy enough to pay off big.
Where I’d draft him: 2nd round. Like I said above, this could backfire on you. There’s a possibility that Lynch doesn’t have it anymore, and that he resembles former great Maurice Jones-Drew when he wore the Silver and Grey. If you’re a risk taker, Lynch could be your guy.
8. Jay Ajayi
I was a skeptic of Ajayi last season. I thought he’d eventually fizzle out, but he was a solid back all year. Last season Ajayi rushed for 1,272 yards, and 8 touchdowns, for 215.3 total fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. Adam Gase likes sticking to one RB for the most part and entering the season that’ll be Ajayi. That makes him very valuable.
Where I’d draft him: 2nd round. Ajayi might have just been a one-year apparition, but if he follows up his 2016 season he could be a #1 RB, and even sneak into the top 5 by the end of the year. He had some game changing performances last season, and a few more could be coming this year.
7. Jordan Howard
I’m not a big fan of the Bear’s offense, but Howard is the exception. Last season he rushed for 1,313 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He also added 419 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns through the air, totaling 230.1 fantasy points, per ESPN scoring. The Bears are going to need to run the ball early and often to be able to win games this year, and that’s great news for Howard and his owners. I’m excited about his season.
Where I’d draft him: 1st or 2nd round. You could get lucky and get him in the 2nd round, but he’ll go in the 1st in most drafts. A starting RB who’s going to get a lot of volume. That’s music to any fantasy owner’s ears. Draft him early, and watch the points roll in.
6. Melvin Gordon
There’s a chance you got Melvin Gordon in the 3rd or 4th round last year. That won’t happen this year. Not after Gordon rushed for 997 yards, and 10 touchdowns, last season. He also added 419 yards, and 2 touchdowns through the air, totaling 250.6 fantasy points, per ESPN scoring. Danny Woodhead’s departure will only serve to keep Gordon’s touches healthy. He will be a #1 running back option this season for sure.
Where I’d draft him: 1st round. Melvin Gordon was a dual threat, and a touchdown machine last season. Sadly, his owner’s lost him in the playoffs. I see him picking right back up where he left off. Be happy if u get him.
5. LeSean McCoy
I was pretty low on “Shady” going into last season. I thought the hamstrings would be a bigger issue. They did bother him all season, but they didn’t stop him from rushing for 1,267 yards, and 13 touchdowns. He also had 356 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown, totaling 298.3 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. With his “elite” status still intact, McCoy will look to keep the train rolling. Another top 5 season is likely coming.
Where I’d draft him: 1st round. McCoy has been an elite fantasy option basically his whole career, and don’t see that changing this year. When you start drafting running backs in the 1st round, you might want to consider a handcuff, but McCoy is as solid as they come.
4. Devonta Freeman
I’ve never been a big believer in Freeman, but even I can’t deny the talent anymore. Last season he rushed for 1,079 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He added 462 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns, for a total of 284.1 fantasy points. All that came while sharing a substantial amount of carries with Tevin Coleman. Freeman missed the end of the SuperBowl, and I think he’s going to be out for blood this season. Making him a superb fantasy RB for all owner’s.
Where I’d take him: Top 10 overall. Freeman will likely still share carries with Coleman this season, but they both proved last year that there are enough carries in Atlanta to go around. Freeman will be a beast all season long. I strongly suggest drafting him.
3. Ezekiel Elliott
Elliot was a flashback to the glory days of fantasy running backs last season. The rookie rushed for a league leading 1,631 yards, and an amazing 15 touchdowns. He added 363 receiving yards, and 1 touchdown through the air, totaling 325.4 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. Eliott might face a suspension to start the season, but if your team can stay alive until he gets back, he’s worth it. I hate the Cowboys, but I’d be ecstatic to own Elliot.
Where I’d draft him: Top 10. Eliott is a once in a generation type talent like Adrian Peterson, and LaDainian Tomlinson, before him. If he’s there take him and be happy. The suspension might be an issue, but he’s still worth the pick, especially with that offensive line to run behind.
2. David Johnson
Last season I had the chance to draft either Johnson or Todd Gurley. I chose Gurly, and I regret it every single day! Last season Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and scored a whopping 16 touchdowns. He added an impressive 879 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns, for a total of 407.8 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. The Cardinals’ offense might be in store for a bounce back season, and that could just mean more scoring opportunities for Johnson. He’s well worth an early pick.
Where I’d draft him. Top 5. Johnson could have easily been #1 on this list, it’s honestly all about preference. Johnson is going to get the ball plenty in Arizona, and with his type of talent, that’s going to equal huge fantasy days. If I got the chance to draft Johnson, I’d right my wrong, and take him.
1. Le’Veon Bell
I owned Bell his rookie season, and I haven’t been able to land him since, but I wish I had. Despite missing 4 games last season, due to suspension, Bell rushed for 1,268 and 7 touchdowns. Always an elite receiving option, Bell added 616 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns, totaling 317.4 fantasy points, per ESPN standard scoring. This guy is the definition of a stud running back. Despite the awesome numbers last year, Bell could’ve actually scored even more had DeAngelo Williams not stolen a few scores.
Where I’d draft him: #1 overall. Elite running backs are an endangered species in fantasy football, and although they can be frustrating, the right one can be worth his weight in gold. I consider Bell to be the best running back in the league, and I consider him to be on the best offense in the league as well. All signs point to him being the top back in the game this season. I’d want him over any other running back.
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