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Fantasy Football 2017: Ranking the Running Backs

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Fantasy Football 2017: Ranking the Running Backs

Last week, I rolled out my Fantasy Football QB Rankings, so now it’s time to take a look at the running backs.

It would be pointless to write about the importance of running backs in fantasy; but here are some tips to consider when drafting the position:

1) Follow the volume – volume almost always trumps talent. Joe Mixon might be more talented than Melvin Gordon, but Mixon has to compete with two veterans for touches; whereas Gordon is the unquestioned workhorse for the Chargers.

2) What does the rest of the offense look like – If a team’s two best offensive players are the running back and Kenny Britt, there’s a good chance that running back will struggle. Pay attention to the guys up front; they’re a pretty big deal in the running game. Very few backs can overcome bad offensive lines.

3) Consistency – Lamar Miller’s final stat line from last year wasn’t terrible, but he was painfully inconsistent. Jay Ajayi’s season consisted of four big games and a whole bunch of paltry ones. Mark Ingram had some massive performances, but was very pedestrian otherwise. These sort of players can be extraordinarily frustrating to own because it’s not always easy to forecast the commendable performances.

4) Beware of investing an early round pick in a player who does not have a defined role – Joe Mixon has an ADP of 37.8 and he has to compete with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. The upside is there, but his path to touches is very murky at this point.

5) Handcuffs are rarely worth it – there are two instances where it’s worth investing in a handcuff: the first is when the handcuff has standalone value (I.e. Tevin Coleman), and the second is when the handcuff will definitively be “the guy” if the starter goes down (I.e. Derrick Henry).

These rankings are compiled for half PPR leagues; though if a running back’s ranking would change significantly if it were either standard or full PPR, I’ll include a blurb on that. (My rankings are based off a model I created that takes into account a player's talent, situation, injury history, schedule, consistency, ceiling/floor, and predicted regression).

Tier 1

1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: 1.0)*

2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 2.0)

Not much needs to be said about these two. I prefer Johnson to Bell because he has the easier schedule.

Tier 2

3. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 5.2)

4. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears (ADP: 13.6)

5. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 8.6)

6. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 8.4)

7. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 11.6)

I had Shady in a tier of his own until they traded Watkins; I think defenses can zero in on him a bit more now. Nonetheless, he’s in line for a monster year if he stays healthy. I’ve seen a lot of Howard-Gurley year-2 comparisons, but the Bears have the best interior offensive line in the league; so I’m not too concerned about last year’s second-leading rusher. Gordon is inefficient and somewhat TD-dependent, but who else do the Chargers have and where are those touchdowns going to go? I don’t foresee much change there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Freeman is making me feel uneasy; but he has finished first and sixth at his position over the last two season. I’d invest in Tevin Coleman if I drafted him. Murray was great last year but he had his worst three games over his final five. I don’t anticipate Murray playing all 16 games, so handcuff him with Derrick Henry.

Tier 3

8. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 20.6)

9. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: 20.2)

10. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 14.8)

Fournette is one of my fantasy crushes if he stays healthy this year; I’d have him in the top five if his quarterback wasn’t Blake Bortles. I think Trent Richardson’s rookie season is his floor and his ceiling is what Alfred Morris did as a rookie. The additions of Andrew Whitworth and Sammy Watkins, as well as the coaching change, could be what Gurley needs to get him back into the top 10. Ajayi has the most bust potential of any top 10 running back. Half of his production last year came in three games against bad defenses; that’s a warning sign. Nevertheless, he’s still worth a gamble in the top 20 picks due to his workload.

Tier 4

11. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 13.8)

12. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 41.4)

13. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders (ADP: 25.2)

14. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (ADP: 27.0)

15. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 30.0)

16. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions (ADP: 69.4)

Elliott is the clear RB3 when on the field, but as of now, he’ll miss seven games this season (six from suspension + bye). You’d have to have an excellent team in order to overcome that if you select him early. Cook is an immensely talented runner who will get a substantial workload behind a lousy offensive line. Lynch will likely get Latavius Murray’s workload in Oakland, which should be enough to propel him to a top 15 finish (even at the age of 31). Miller should continue to see heavy usage, and he came along a bit as the season went on last year. McCaffrey gets a bump in full PPR leagues, but his ceiling is capped by Jonathan Stewart. Abdullah looked like he was in store for a breakout season last year before suffering a season-ending injury in week 2. I think he’ll break out this season.

Tier 5

17. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (ADP: 49.6)

18. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 29.8)

19. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 38.4)

20. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers (ADP: 47.6)

21. Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: 44.2)

Anderson had more than 15 points in three of his seven games last year. Denver’s offensive line should be much improved. He could be in for a big year if he’s given a majority of the touches in that backfield. Crowell is being over-drafted for a guy who’s an average talent on a bad team. I like Hyde, but can’t rank him any higher due to his schedule and lack of talent surrounding him. Montgomery will likely be more valuable to the Packers than to fantasy teams. He gets a bump in full PPR leagues, but expecting him to be anything more than a mid-level RB2 is unrealistic. Ware had more than 19 points in three of his first six games, but he slowed down as the season progressed. Kareem Hunt is pushing him for touches, but Ware should still see the rock at least 15 times a game.

Tier 6

22. Bilal Powell, New York Jets (ADP: 69.0)

23. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 37.8)

24. Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 83.4)

25. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 51.0)

26. Paul Perkins, New York Giants (ADP: 78.8)

27. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 78.4)

Powell and Woodhead get big bumps in full PPR leagues. It’s hard to trust players on terrible teams, but Powell was superb at times last year and he’s in line for a bigger workload this year. Mixon’s ADP is too high for a player who might not even get 10 touches a game. He’s a top 25 back purely out of upside. Woodhead should get all the third down snaps in Baltimore as well as some goal-line work; he’s a rock-solid RB2 in PPR leagues. Like Mixon, Ingram is a good player in a bad situation; it’s hard to trust him with AP and Alvin Kamara in that backfield. Perkins isn’t especially talented, but he has some upside due to his role and other talent around him. Martin is just one year removed from a top-3 finish at his position, and has reportedly looked “impressive” this offseason. He could be a steal if he gets the starting job back after his three-game suspension.

Tier 7

28. LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 67.2)

29. Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 79.2)

30. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 86.8)

31. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 76.6)

Blount should stay relevant due to goal-line work. Though that backfield is a mess right now, Lacy wasn’t paid $4 million plus to ride the bench; if he can get the starting job, he has top 12 upside. Henry is too talented to be on the bench all year; and he’s just a DeMarco injury away from being a top 7 back. Gore is bound to decline at age 34.

Tier 8

32. Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 107.0)

33. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 65.2)

34. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 105.2)

35. Robert Kelley, Washington Redskins (ADP: 91.4)

36. Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 119.4)

West should get the early-down work in Baltimore; his value is higher in standard leagues. I’m predicting a substantial touchdown regression from Coleman as long as Freeman is healthy. He gets a bump in PPR leagues, but his ADP of 65.2 is too high. Stewart is the NFC’s version of Terrance West. Kelley is the starter in Washington (for now), but I’m not sure how long he can keep that job. His value is higher in standard league. Rawls is in a similar situation as Kelley; except that he has to compete for touches with two talented backs in Lacy and C.J. Prosise.

Tier 9: AKA “The Patriots”

37. Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions (ADP: 108.2)

38. Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots (ADP: 186.8)

39. Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots (ADP: 64.0)

40. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: 101.0)

41. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 176.0)

42. Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 130.6)

43. C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 128.8)

44. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 176.5)

45. James White, New England Patriots (ADP: 132.2)

If you can figure out which one of the 36 New England running backs will be the primary back on a weekly basis, please leave the Powerball numbers in the comments as well. Riddick, Bernard, Johnson, Prosise and White all get significant bumps in PPR leagues. Mack is worth a flyer late in the draft due to Gore’s age and inefficiency.

Tier 10: AKA “The old and injured club”

46. Matt Forte, New York Jets (ADP: 111.6)

47. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 70.4)

48. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 153.2)

49. Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 121.2)

Forte and Sproles might have some value in PPR leagues. Peterson only has value in time-travel leagues; his 70.4 ADP is absurd. McFadden will have value for the first six games if Elliott’s suspension is upheld and he beats out Alfred Morris for the job.

Tier 11

50. Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 118.2)

51. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 195.2)

52. Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins (ADP: 112.6)

53. Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 141.2)

54. Robert Turbin, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 214.8)

55. Shane Vereen, New York Giants (ADP: 217.0)

56. Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 206.7)

57. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 136.2)

58. DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders (ADP: 204.0

59. Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (ADP: 139.4)

60. Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 162.8)

61. T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 218.3)

62. Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 160.6)

63. Tim Hightower, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 245.5)

64. Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (ADP: 181.8)

65. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 207.8)

66. De’Angelo Henderson, Denver Broncos (ADP: 211.0)

67. Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders (ADP: 211.8)

68. Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins (ADP: 213.3)

69. Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos (ADP: 138.2)

70. Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 198.6)


Tier 12: AKA “Tim Tebow has a higher ADP than you even though he plays a different sport”

71. Alfred Blue, Houston Texans (ADP: 303.0)



*The avreage draft position is the Fantasypros composite of 4 major fantasy sources.


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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (2) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

GBPDAN1's picture

I hope the O-line starts run blocking better then what they have shown this preseason. I also hope Bulaga's injury today isn't serious! Murphy will have to start this Saturday ( NOT SPRIGGS PLEASE) if Bulaga can't go. The Packer better have help for Murphy when he's up against V. Miller. Pull Rodgers early!

Elisha Twerski's picture

We should know more about Bulaga's status soon enough. I think it's too early to give up on Spriggs. I can't envision the Packers putting Rodgers in a position to get hurt.

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