Last week, we started with the Quarterback fantasy rankings. Now, it’s on to the Running Backs. Just like before, I built team-wide projections with passing and rushing stats, and then divided up those projections based on the individual players, coaching tendencies, past performance, age, etc. My rankings are then put in tiers. They don’t strictly follow the numerical projections, though they are close. At running back, this tends to be because, while some players may have a higher expected performance, they may not have the upside. One example would be a “handcuff” who doesn’t play much unless the starter gets hurt, but could put up big numbers if that opportunity developed.
Here are my tiers:
There is an argument to be made for David Johnson as the #1 RB in a PPR format: he plays in an explosive offense, will get a ton of catches, and is a dynamic player who should have numerous red zone chances. I’ll still give a slight nod to Todd Gurley when on the clock, because he is an absolute stud. Both second-year players should be the top choices off the board.
It’s hard to come in to a better situation than Ezekiel Elliott, a top 5 pick who goes to probably the best offensive line in the league. I anticipate the Cowboys will be run-heavy to preserve Romo, and Elliott will get plenty of chances.
Yes, LeVeon Bell is suspended for 4 games. They are, at least, the first 4, and you get to replace him in your lineup, so on a per-game basis he is a top 5 pick.
Devonta Freeman shot out of the gates last year, with 9 rushing touchdowns in the first 6 games. He led the league … with 11, by season’s end. This ranking assumes he will be somewhere between the crazy touchdown rate early and the slump scoring late.
While I’m often skeptical of “athlete is in the best shape of his life” talk before the season, because it is a dime a dozen, I’m buying Eddie Lacy having a rebound season after looking much better throughout the offseason, following a lost season where he let his weight balloon.
Tier 3 contains other backs who should be the clear focal point of their offense. However, they may have some concerns, ranging from age (Forte), quarterback play (Anderson and Hyde), or lack of proven track record (Rawls and Murray).
LeSean McCoy leads the group, coming into his age 28 season in Buffalo. Doug Martin follows, and Martin would be higher except for Charles Sims being a pretty good option as well. Carlos Hyde struggled with injuries last year, but has the upside to put up a big year. Thomas Rawls should be the man in Seattle, and that’s been a pretty good gig.
This is really Tier 3B and still comprises running backs that should be considered fantasy starters. It includes more specialists and top end platoon backs, including potential PPR monsters Dion Lewis and Duke Johnson.
[UPDATE: In light of the Dion Lewis news of needing a 2nd surgery, and likely missing about half the season and starting on the PUP list, these rankings have been updated, and he has been downgraded. He is now a late round flier given the uncertainty that he may return. James White gets a bump as a receiving back, and should now be considered part of Tier 5]
These are your flex plays, a mix of platoon backs, aging backs, and receivers. Can Danny Woodhead do it again? He had a ridiculous 80 catches and scored 9 total touchdowns a year ago. It’s a make-or-break sophomore year for Abdullah in Detroit. Arian Foster will try to make his come back in Miami.
The starters, and platoon guys that should get close to half the touches if the starter is healthy, are gone, with one exception. Why is LeGarrette Blount so low? First, in PPR, he won’t get catches. Second, he would rank higher in best ball, but most of his value is getting that 3 TD performance? He would be more valuable in a “best ball” format.
Three rookies have that upside to put up big numbers: Prosise in Seattle, Henry in Tennessee, and Washington in Oakland. Other rookies in this group include Kenneth Dixon, Jordan Howard, Devontae Booker, Keith Marshall, and Tyler Ervin.
Here are the full stat projections used in these rankings.