Over the next few days, we here at Dr. Fantasy will take a closer look at each skill position and where the best value is as you prepare for your drafts.
While the classic RB / RB draft strategy has long since gone the way of the dodo, this year is a perfect example of how snagging an elite back early will save you headaches down the road as the questions surrounding the mid tier backs all come with some concern. (these tiers are mostly applicable for re-draft leagues so don’t freak when you see a suspended player far below their actual value)
Elite Tier (1)
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
- Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
- LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
The role of three down back in the NFL has become increasingly rare, and these three guys will be called upon to lead their respective teams on both the ground and through the air. While standard scoring formats may close the gap, these three guys should be the first three RB’s picked.
Very Good Tier (2)
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
- Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
- Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
- DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
- Jay Ajayi – Miami Dolphins
Any one of these guys could elevate their game to Elite status but a few questions remain for each of them. Most of them suffer from a lack of sample size. I’d bet Todd Gurley falls in drafts this year due to his dismal 2016 campaign and I’d argue he may be the best value in the rounds 3-5 depending on your league. Jay Ajayi on the other hand is riding high on the back of his 2016 statistics despite the evidence that he’s a boom or bust player who’s three 200 yard games masked lengthy stretches of inefficiency.
Decent Tier (3)
- Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
- Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
- Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
- Carlos Hyde – San Fransisco 49ers
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
- Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
- Spencer Ware – Kansas City
- Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
- C.J. Anderson – Denver Broncos
- Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesotta Vikings
- Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons
- Eddie Lacy – Seattle Seahawks
While you may not enjoy drafting in this tier, the fact remains that getting the guy who’ll dominate touches is never a bad thing. Even for rookies like Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook the question is only how effective will they be with the ball because they were drafted to be workhorses. Ezekiel Elliott certainly an elite talent in this league, but he’s slated to miss 6 games due to suspension and with the bye week coming in week 6, Elliott won’t suit up until week 8 effectively costing you 50% of the fantasy season – in re-draft leagues I don’t touch Elliott until round 4 or later (assuming he’s there at all)
Make a Prayer Tier (4)
- Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts
- Ameer Abdullah – Detroit Lions
- Bilal Powell – New York Jets
- Paul Perkins – New York Giants
- Ty Montgomery – Green Bay Packers
- Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- LeGarrette Blount – Philadelphia Eagles
- Theo Riddick – Detroit Lions
- Danny Woodhead – Baltimore Ravens
- Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins
- Terrence West – Baltimore Ravens
- Adrian Peterson – New Orleans Saints
- Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
- Robert Kelley – Washington Redskins
- Matt Forte – New York Jets
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Here is your reward for drafting with a ZeroRB strategy… a combination of backs from this tier. I’m not hitching my wagon to any of these players as a RB2 yet you’ll likely see at least one or two teams you draft with end up here. Sure, if you ignore injury histories, Ameer Abdullah and Danny Woodhead offer fantastic value as odds on favorites to contribute significantly (albeit in very different ways) to their offenses. But the questions surrounding backs like Ty Montgomery who had only two games with 15 touches, are enough to force me into drafting backs early.
Worth a Flyer
- Duke Johnson Jr – Cleveland Browns
- C.J. Prosise – Seattle Seahawks
- James White – New England Patriots
- Jeremy Hill – Cincinatti Bengals
- Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers
- Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers
- Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
- Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
- Joe Williams – San Fransisco 49ers
- Jamaal Charles – Denver Broncos
- Rex Burkhead – New England Patriot
If you do wait on backs, there’s several in this tier who offer fantastic upside at a very low cost. Jamaal Williams will have every chance to steal the job from Ty Montgomery this off season, and if the Packers value his pass blocking skills (which in that offense I can’t see how they won’t) I could see Williams stealing significant time share in that backfield. Rex Burkhead is another intriguing back that can be had at the end of drafts as he’s closing in on Mike Gillislee for early down work due to the later’s inability to get on the field. James white will dominate 3rd downs so it’s a committee to watch going into the season.
While some will argue that there is great value in loading up on WR’s early in the draft, I’d say it’s just the opposite after reviewing the RB tiers. There’s questions swirling in each tier beyond the top and I’d argue grabbing your favorite low risk RB as early as you dare.
2017 Running Back Rankings
Updated June 27th, 2017
Not much changed in the top 10 with only minor changes coming as a result of some consistency research. I’ve added 10 more to the list to even out the rankings as a top 50. We’ll add more next time.
- David Johnson, ARI (E)
- Le’Veon Bell, PIT (E)
- Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (E)
- LeSean McCoy, BUF (E)
- Jordan Howard, CHI (+1)
- Devonta Freeman, ATL (-1)
- Melvin Gordon, LAC (+1)
- DeMarco Murray, TEN (-1)
- Jay Ajayi, MIA (E)
- Todd Gurley, LAR (E)
- Lamar Miller, HOU (E)
- Carlos Hyde, SF (E)
- Leonard Fournette, JAC (E)
- Marshawn Lynch, OAK (+1)
- Isaiah Crowell, CLE (-1)
- C.J. Anderson, DEN (+1)
- Spencer Ware, KC (+2)
- Christian McCaffrey, CAR (-2)
- Mark Ingram, NO (-1)
- Joe Mixon, CIN (+1)
- Ameer Abdullah, DET (+3)
- Eddie Lacy, SEA (-2)
- Frank Gore, IND (+2)
- Tevin Coleman, ATL (-2)
- Ty Montgomery, GB (-2)
- LeGarrette Blount, PHI (+2)
- Dalvin Cook, MIN (-1)
- Mike Gillislee, NE (-1)
- Paul Perkins, NYG (+1)
- Doug Martin, TB (+3)
- Robert Kelley, WAS (E)
- Bilal Powell, NYJ (-3)
- Samaje Perine, WAS (+2)
- Danny Woodhead, BAL (-2)
- Theo Riddick, DET (+2)
- Matt Forte, NYJ (+3)
- Adrian Peterson, NO (+3)
- Latavius Murray, MIN (-2)
- Duke Johnson, CLE (+5)
- Jonathan Stewart, CAR (-6)
- Jeremy Hill, CIN (+5)
- C.J. Prosise, SEA (-1)
- Jamaal Charles, DEN (+2)
- Kenneth Dixon, BAL (-2)
- Terrance West, BAL (+4)
- Derrick Henry, TEN (-8)
- Jamaal Williams, GB (+5)
- Kareem Hunt, KC (-5)
- James White, NE (+2)
- Ryan Mathews, PHI (+6)
The NFC West has undergone major changes in terms of success. With the 49ers looking to enter a multiyear depression and the Rams still struggling to get out of their own, it’s up to the Cardinals and Seahawks to bring respect to the West.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jimmy Graham (TE6), Russell Wilson (QB8), Doug Baldwin (WR11), Eddie Lacy (RB20), C.J. Prosise (RB41), Thomas Rawls (RB48), Tyler Lockett (WR59)
Synopsis – The Seahawks will go only as far as Russell Wilson will take them, and an effective run game will go a long way in keeping him healthy. With Prosise and Rawls proving to be injuried or ineffiecient, the Hawks added Eddie Lacy who hopes to bounce back with the new club. Doug Baldwin should garner the bulk of Wilsons attention between the 20’s but Jimmy Graham finally achieved symbiosis in Seattle and can be relied upon as a top 5 TE again.
San Fransisco 49ers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carlos Hyde (RB12), Vance McDonald (TE29), Brian Hoyer (QB32), C.J.Beathard (QB39), Pierre Garcon (WR39), Joe Williams (RB54), Jeremy Kerley (WR80)
Synopsis – Barring a miracle, this San Fransisco team is looking like an abject disaster. Brian Hoyer as a starting QB isn’t the worst thing that could happen to this team, but between Pierre Garcon and Jeremy Kerley, there isn’t much to work with in this offene. McDonald may be a servicable backup TE but only Carlos Hyde is worth investing in as he proved last year he can be effective despite a crumbling organization around him.
Los Angeles Rams
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jared Goff (QB31), Todd Gurley (RB10), Robert Woods (WR60), Tavon Austin (WR73), Cooper Kupp (WR74), Tyler Higbee (TE27)
Synopsis – Things went sideway on the Rams last year as Gurley faced too many stacked boxes to show the burst we expected of him. With Goff likely to start this year, no one knows if they’ll actually be improved or not, but Gurley should still garner attention thanks to the high volume of carries. Robert Woods will outperform Tavon Austin, but not by much, with Tyler Higbee being the true sleeper candidate on a roster devoid of much fantasy bright spots.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Palmer (QB23), David Johnson (RB1), Larry Fitzgerald (WR26), John Brown (WR48), J.J. Nelson (WR63), Jermaine Gresham (TE36)
Synopsis – David Johnson returns as my number one fantasy player this year, and this season could be the perfect record breaking scenario following the obvious decline to aging Carson Palmer and the lack of weapons not named Larry Fitzgerald to compete with. John Brown is an underwhelming option and J.J. Nelson has more questions than answers. This is David Johnson’s team.
- Adrian Peterson – Peterson is still the king and will be until the numbers say otherwise. 1700 total yars and 11 TD’s and enough in the passing game to plant him at the top even in PPR leagues, he’s the most likely of the top 10 to finish the season atop the most volitile position in Fantasy Football.
- Todd Gurley – He average more per touch than anyone not named Doug Martin (that carried the ball a significant amount). With a new QB in rookie Jared Goff, it will be interesting to see what he’ll do with more informed defensive schemes. I expect he’ll be just fine, but don’t be surprised if he has stretches where he disappears.
- Jamaal Charles – Every year he could be number one, but his injury history isn’t promising. If there was ever a handcuff candidate, it’s the ultra talented Jamaal Charles.
- Lamar Miller – I’m firmly on the hype bandwagon surrounding Millers move to Houston. A team that knows how to run the football will use him as their bellcow… a rarity in the NFL these days. It’s not a stretch to see him approach the league lead in combined yards by the end of the year.
- David Johnson – Carson Palmer was healthy all last year, and Johnson emerged as the Cardinals lead back. Now he has to prove it as the starter that it wasn’t just flash and smoke. If healthy, he’ll be a top 5 back.
- Le’Veon Bell – The only back in the Gurly/Peterson level of fantasy production, Bell did his owners a disservice by being suspended to start the year a second season in a row. Even missing 4 games, he’s nearly a top 5 RB.
- Mark Ingram – Will he be 100% to start the season? Who knows, but the New Orleans offense will put up points, and Ingram has proven that he can do what the coaches ask of him in both the run and the pass game.
- LeSean McCoy – Is Reggie bush an insurance policy or motivation? There’s some question marks with McCoy, and adding Bush to the backfield added just one more to consider when making that late 2nd round RB pick.
- Doug Martin – I feel like I’m being a bit harsh with the “Muscle Hamster” – after all he put up a top 3 season last year. But he’s always been mercurial and he’s just as likely to return to earth as he is to continue at the top of the position.
- Eddie Lacy – I haven’t seen a lot of lists that have Lacy in their top ten, and I can say honestly that I’m excited about getting him later in drafts than he should be going. Lacy clearly heard the chatter surrounding his awful season last year, and he’s put the work in over the offseaon to come into camp ready to go. If it’s one thing Mike McCarthy is, he’s loyal to the players who do what the team asks. Green Bay is still a top 5 offense, and Lacy is likely to get the bulk of the work early on to see if he’s indeed the same player they thought he was when they drafted him.
Missed the cut
Ezekial Elliott (I don’t care that Dallas has the best O-line in football, he’s done nothing at the NFL level to justify a top 10 pick), Devonta Freeman (Whether or not he’ll put it together for 16 strong games remain to be seen. Freeman is gifted and could be a steal if he gets it together), Latavius Murray (A monster, Murray touched the football more than all but a handful of NFL backs. He’s likely to get even better as the youthful offense in Oakland gels) Thomas Rawls (This is a player I’m intrigued by. He’s quietly accepted the mantel from the departing Beast Mode, and we all know how stubborn Pete Carroll is. They’ll run the ball a ton and he’ll have a chance to put up huge numbers if he can run the offense beside Russell Wilson).
It’s a simple fact that today’s NFL features a large number of teams that have shifted philosophies away from three down backs and towards a two or three back committee. This fact impacts fantasy preperation in two different ways: 1. It adds value to players like Marshawn Lynch who will dominate the touches in the backfield and 2. it creates a shroud of mystery around backfields with two good or great backs.
If you’re smart (lucky) enough to sift through the conjecture and select a back that emerges from a committee to workhorse (eg. Lamar Miller over Knowshon Moreno in 2014, or Moreno over Montee Ball in 2013) then you’ll avoid the fantasy pit that can suck your whole team in if you’re wrong. You can mitigate this risk by correctly evaluation these situation and valuing backs correctly.
Committee’s to Avoid
Cincinnati Bengals: Much like last years pre-season hype surrounding Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hills usurping of the throne has created a false sense of security in the Bengals backfield. If you look at the fantasy performance, Hill bested Bernard in Yards (1100 to 650) but he scored at roughly the same clip, only cresting 15 points a handful of times in PPR formats and averaging less than .05 points better per touch than Bernard. If you think the Bengals are going to just hand over the reigns to Hill you’d be wrong. Bernard will still be a big part of the offense, and may actually carry better value in PPR leagues due to his 3rd down ability. The chance for him to steal the starting job back from Hill is very real, so this is a backfield I’m staying away from at all costs if I can.
Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington had a rough year, but much of that could be attributed to the overall inconsistency in Arizona’s offense last year. The problem for Ellington is that they added RB David Johnson in the draft who should push Ellington for starting time and will likely eat into his production. Ellington was nothing to write home about without a young stud waiting in the wings and I’d argue that his value takes a steeper hit this year with a player who could potentially replace him as the starting RB.
Detroit Lions: One of the more underrated draft selections, Ameer Abdullah may not be running Joique Bell off the field, but his ability should keep Bell from being the defacto guy on all three downs in Detroit. A team that likes to throw the ball, there may not be as many touches for Bell to retain his value, causing me to avoid him at his current ADP.
Tennessee Titans: Bishop Sankey was a huge disappointment for fantasy owners who drafted him last year after being the first back selected in the NFL draft. He struggled to find holes and never really live up to the pre-season hype. The Titans went out and revamped each of their skill positions, adding Marcus Mariota, David Cobb, and Dorial Green-Beckham signaling a shift in offense. Sankey’s underwhelming performance and questions around his ability to transition to the NFL game could open the door early for Cobb to steal the starting spot. I would avoid Sankey in drafts and maybe look at Cobb late if he falls far enough.
New York Jets: This team seems to be a mess in the backfield every year. The experiment to add Chris Johnson did nothing to foster competition, and Chris Ivory plodded off with the starting role. Despite having a solid yet unspectacular year, the Jets showed they have little faith in him by adding cast off’s Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy to compete. All three are capable NFL backs, but none of them are three down workhorses. If Ridley can hold on to the football, he may have the best chance to steal the bulk of the carries, but this is a committee I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
With the 2015 NFL draft complete, and exciting young players folding into NFL rosters, it’s time to take a look at what the new fantasy landscape looks like.
To assess these players and their impact on their new teams, it’s essential to understand who is in front of them on the organizational depth chart. Will they supplant the incumbent starter? How many touches should they see? Lets take a look at where our top offensive prospects landed.
Todd Gurley / St. Louis Rams : If you’re a Zac Stacy fan, this one stings. Gurley should be eased into the starting role due to his recent injury status, but come playoff time it’s likely he’ll have taken over the bulk of the playing time from Stacy. The Rams threw 3 of their first 5 picks at offensive line players, so a renewed focus on a running game to balance with new starting QB in Nick Foles could mean moderate fantasy relevance for Gurley.
Melvin Gordon / San Diego Chargers : This was a uniquely perfect landing spot for the speedy Gordon. His ability to play on passing downs means he should have an immediate impact for fantasy owners willing to draft him. In PPR leagues his value jumps as San Diego has shown a willingness to use it’s backs in the passing game. With the departure of Ryan Mathews, Gordon slide into the starting roll week 1.
T J Yeldon / Jacksonville Jaguars : Yeldon has elite speed, and shows a lot of promise, but has a spotty history in terms of in the field health. Toby Gerhart is not the answer so expect the Jag’s to give Yeldon the chance to win the spot out of camp.
Ameer Abdulah / Detroit Lions : Great speed, and can be an asset in the running game, but has been labelled as a player who puts the ball on the ground. In my opinion, he’s not a threat to eat into Joquie Bell’s touches too much; view as a late round flier, and only if you think Bell may get dinged up.
Tevin Coleman / Atlanta Falcons : Billed as an extremely violent, top speed type player, Coleman could very well impress and steal the job from under Devonta Freemans nose. Freeman has not shown he can be healthy enough to hold the reigns on the starting spot, so Coleman could be a candidate to slide in drafts and still take the bulk of his teams carries.
Duke Johnson / Cleveland Browns : Drafted by the mess that is the Cleveland Browns, Johnson has the tools to be a good passing down back, but has quite an uphill climb with Isaiah Cromwell and Terrance West ahead of him. The only saving grace is that Cleveland experimented in the backfield frequently after Ben Tate flamed out. If Cromwell or West struggle early, Johnson could find himself on the field.
David Johnson / Arizona Cardinals : A big, physical back, Johnson has great hands and can catch the ball too. His skill set has been compared to that of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. More importanty, the underwhelming Andre Ellington sits in front of him on the depth chart. They should compliment each other early on, but if Johnson impresses, could take the reigns later in the season.
Matt Jones / Washington Redskins : Matt Jones is a big boy, and runs like it too. Unfortunately, he sits behind Alfred Morris. He’s unlikely to have much fantasy relevance unless Morris misses a big chunk of time.
Jay Ajayi / Miami Dolphins: Ajayi has one of the best skillsets in the draft, but concerns about his knee injury saw him fall to the Dolphins in the 5th round. Reports of his knee have been said to be greatly exagerated, and if healthy, Ajayi could be a gem in an offense that showed commitment to getting it’s RB’s involved. This could mean Miller’s time in Miami is numbered.
David Cobb – RB / Tennesse Titans : Cobb was an under the radar favorite of pundits and draft experts. More of a compact power runner, Cobb finds himself only slightly behind incumbent starter Bishop Sankey. Sankey failed to impress in his rookie year, but the question remains how much of that can be attributed to an awful passing game? Cobb will have opportunities to steal the job with rookie QB Marcus Mariotta taking over the reigns, but it’s Sankey’s job to lose (for now).