We’re pushing through into the regular season this week and a lot of you are drafting; it’s time to post our final pre-season tiers for each position. It’s going to be a busy Sunday as we push to publish the remaining positional tiers!
- Todd Gurley
- Ezekiel Elliott
- David Johnson
- Le’Veon Bell
You know what you’re getting if you target any of these guys in the first few picks of the draft. All four of these backs are threats for 2,000 total yards, and in PPR leagues they all should finish at or near the top of the positional rankings at seasons end. If you’re concerned about Bell or Johnson due to injury or hold out, you shouldn’t be. Generational talent always finds a way to shine.
GREAT PLAYER Tier
- Saquon Barkley
- Melvin Gordon
- Leonard Fournette
- Dalvin Cook
- Alvin Kamara
- Kareem Hunt
- Devonta Freeman
There’s a simple euphemism we use when ranking our running backs; opportunity + talent = production. What all of these names have is gobs of both. While they may be missing the outrageous three down usage the names in the “Elite” tier, they all figure to feature heavily as their teams lead back.
VERY GOOD Tier
- Joe Mixon
- Jordan Howard
- Christian McCaffrey
- Alex Collins
- Lamar Miller
- Derrick Henry
- LeSean McCoy
- Royce Freeman
- Kenyan Drake
At this point, you may start fielding questions about players ability to play all three downs. Whether you’re concerned about Jordan Howard in the passing game or Christian McCaffrey on early downs, there are legitimate reasons you may not take these guys ahead of the aforementioned tiered players. If you’re drafting wide outs early, though, these guys do have the kind of ceiling that makes them worth locking up if you’re light at the position.
- Jay Ajayi
- Mark Ingram
- Marlon Mack
- Jamaal Williams
- Sony Michel
- Carlos Hyde
- Tevin Coleman
- Kerryon Johnson
- Rex Burkhead
- Marshawn Lynch
- Chris Carson
- Dion Lewis
If you’re hitching your wagon to one of these players as your top back, you’re either gambling on a ZeroRB strategy or you’re in trouble. There’s plenty of value here, and most of these players are available in the middle rounds, but there’s a lot of risk associated. This is where the dinged up, the third down specialists, and the suspended backs reside. Draft for the upside, but have a backup plan if you’re not deep at the position.
BACKUPS and PRAYERS Tier
- Rashaad Penny
- Isaiah Crowell
- Adrian Peterson
- Alfred Morris
- Chris Thompson
- Tarik Cohen
- Duke Johnson
- Aaron Jones
- LeGarrette Blount
- Matt Brieda
- Theo Riddick
- Ronald Jones
I won’t go so far as to say these guys don’t have some upside, but they are your depth and roster pieces if you’ve drafted properly. A lot of these guys fill a roll on their respective teams that may not expand, so using them in your flex spot or on bye’s should be the plan. Of course, there are a few young players and suspended backs who could steal a larger time share, but should be viewed with tempered expectations prior to the season.
DEEP DRAFT Tier
- Latavius Murray
- Doug Martin
- C.J. Anderson
- Peyton Barber
- Corey Clement
- Kalen Ballage
- Jordan Wilkins
- Nick Chubb
- James White
- Nyheim Hines
- Jeremy Hill
As a bonus, this tier is a group of backs worth targeting as late round fliers or handcuffs in deeper formats. Much like Alvin Kamara last year, there’s a handful of young backs and backs on new teams who may carve out a larger role once the season starts. It’s more likely they’re waiver adds in standard formats, but for those in keeper leagues or deeper dynasty formats, these are guys to look at.
While week 1 featured several stellar performances by high-profile rookies, it also featured some dream killer injuries along the way. I’ll be brief, but below are the highlights of the Fantasy Seasons kickoff week.
Rookie Running Backs Shine
The incoming group got off to a blazing start in the NFL opener in New England as Kareem Hunt stepped into the void following Spencer Ware’s injury and dropped almost 250 total yards and three touchdowns. His 41 points in standard leagues paced the NFL.
Also turning in solid performances were Leonard Fournette (124 yards, TD) and Dalvin Cook (137 total yards), Deshone Kizer (239 total yards, 1 Passing and 1 Rushing TD) , Tarik Cohen (110,1 TD), Kenny Golloday (69 yards, 2 TD), Cooper Kupp (76 yards, 1 TD) and Corey Coleman (53 yards, 1 TD).
Major Injury Woes
The injury to David Johnson (dislocated wrist) was a huge blow to fantasy teams as Johnson was, for all intents and purposes, the #1 pick in fantasy this year. At this point he’s expected to miss 8-12 weeks which would put his return right at the fantasy playoffs with no promises on what he may be able to produce.
Also injured: Allen Robinson (ACL injury, placed on IR), Danny Woodhead (Hamstring Injury, no timetable), Kevin White (Shoulder Injury, placed on IR).
Struggling to Get Going
While there were many players who surprised in week one, the more important story line are the players who failed to meet expectations.
Tom Brady: Brady’s value skyrocketed in the preseason thanks to a strong supporting cast, but an 8 point week 1 in a blowout loss against KC was not what owners were hoping for.
Russell Wilson: This was supposed to be a bounce back year for Russell but less than 200 yards against a GB defense that wasn’t the stingiest last year was awful for the former top 5 QB.
Le’Veon Bell: While David Johnson had an uninspiring week one prior to his injury, Bell had a disastrous one. 47 total yards and a 3.2 YPC line isn’t good enough for a player many believed was the best player in fantasy.
Joe Mixon: Maybe it’s not fair to read into his first NFL action, but Mixon’s opening stat line was borderline embarrassing as he managed only 9 yards on 8 carries. After a strong preseason saw Mixon jump up rankings, this should temper the expectations surrounding him for a bit.
Adrian Peterson: While I wasn’t very high on him coming into the season simply because of the crowd already in the NO backfield, I didn’t expect him to struggle in the run game to the tune of 6 carries for 18 yards. While Mark Ingram wasn’t impressive either, it appears that Peterson will play third fiddle to Ingram and rookie back Alvin Kamara going forward.
Brandon Marshall: With OBJ missing Sunday nights game, many expected Marshall to be heavily targeted, but he turned in a dud with only one reception on the final drive of the game.
Jamison Crowder: A popular preseason pick to elevate his game, Crowder’s struggles in week one may have been because Cousins couldn’t seem to hit open receivers. Still, it’s not encouraging going forward.
Martavis Bryant: It shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Bryant hadn’t played much football in the past two years, but his 2 catches for 14 yards certainly contributed to fantasy losses in week 1.
Joe Mixon, RB – CIN: With only one pre-season week in the books, any and all observation must be taken with a grain of salt, but Mixon certainly impressed in his NFL debut, rushing 6 times for 31 yards and hauling in one reception for 11 more. Mixon’s draft position has been slowly climbing as the hype machine gets louder, but a few more performances like this and the fears surrounding Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill’s presence on the roster will lose their weight.
Andrew Luck, QB – IND: The news out of Indianapolis is that Luck will be ready “around” the time of the season opener. This situation is sticky at best, considering that Luck is still being drafted as high as the #4 QB. Forecasting a QB’s effectiveness following his return from a lengthy recovery like Luck’s is difficult but I’ve already dropped Luck to #9 on my QB rankings as I anticipate some rust as he works his way back to game shape. If Luck misses any significant time, it could be even worse for owners who invested in him earlier in the preseason on the promises of Jim Irsay and the Colts front office.
Jordan Matthews, WR – BUF: Newly acquired wide out Jordan Matthews found himself injured following his very first Bills practice with what the team is reporting as a chip fracture in his sternum. At this point, he’s been labelled as week to week which makes for a messy situation as Matthews has to still learn the offense and his new role. While he may return from this injury quickly, it’s important to note that Zay Jones could very likely lead the passing game early on, and can be had for next to nothing at the end of drafts. If you’re high on Matthews in the Bills offense, just understand it could be a while before he pays off on the score sheet.
Alfred Morris, RB – DAL: Most (myself included) looked at Darren McFadden as the obvious stand in for Ezekiel Elliott’s 6 game suspension, but after a fine performance from the once-starter Morris, the waters are certainly muddied. I’m not suggestion that a single pre-season game would change the entire outlook on the Dallas backfield, but it’s far from the realm of possibility that Morris at least steals enough carries from McFadden to render either of them a flex starter at best. If I were forced to bet on either of them getting the bulk of the carries for 6 weeks, it’s still on McFadden, but I’d monitor the situation if you’re a Zeke owner who’s keen on snagging his handcuff.
With Giovani Bernard’s knee surgery taking longer than expected to recover, the news out of Cincinatti is that he may be questionable for week 1 (possibly beyond that). Joe Mixon figures to be the starter on day one, so Bernard was little more than a flex option in deeper leagues and for PPR formats, but this news seriously impacts his value.
If Hill can compliment Mixon, then expect the Bengals to take their time with Bernard. Temper expectations going into your draft, and pending a miraculous recovery, draft Bernard as a late round flier only.
After looking at the middle round gems for QB’s, we turn our attention to the muddled mess that is the middle to late round “committee” backs. While studs like David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot will dominate the backfield touches for their respective teams, there are plenty of potential stars slogging through the expanded depth charts of “RB by Committee” coaches.
New England Patriots: There’s little doubt to the risk one assumes when drafting a NE running back. Gillislee projects to man the bulk of the running downs, but White is my early pick for passing downs (Lewis and Burkhead will likely battle for the last roster spot). Back to draft: Mike Gillislee
Cincinatti Bengals: Despite the addition of Joe Mixon at the draft, the Bengals have bucked conventional wisdom and rolled with a mostly effective committee over the last two years. With Bernard and Hill still on the roster, none of the three can be counted on to have an early fantasy impact. Back to Draft: Joe Mixon
Cleveland Browns: While the jury was out prior to last season on whether Duke Johnson could steam meaningful touches from the Crow, the biggest question mark this year is do they remain in a nearly 50/50 split? Crowell is likely to man the bulk of the rushes but Johnson is more than effective with the rock (4.9 ypc and 55 receptions for 500 yards). Your leagues format should dictate who you draft – Standard Scoring, Crowell – PPR, Johnson Jr.
Philadelphia Eagles: If the waters were muddled enough last year with both RBs often on the sidelines with injuries, the Eagles have added short yardage specialist LeGarrett Blount to the fold. Don’t expect 300 carries from the plodding back either, but he should syphon the bulk of the goal line carries effectively ending Ryan Mathews as a fringe RB1/RB2. Sproles will still garner some attention in PPR leagues, but even then he’ll cede some 3rd down touches to Dalton Pumphrey. Back to Draft: LeGarrett Blount
Seattle Seahawks: While things look a bit more stable with the addition of former stud Eddie Lacy, the talent of Rawls and Prosise behind him on the depth chart mean that Seattle will offer a short leash on Lacy’s tenure as the lead back. If he struggles early, Prosise will likely get the first shot at the lead role but his health could impact as well. Back to Draft: Eddie Lacy
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags drafted Yeldon and added Ivory in an attempt to add both a dynamic between the 20’s RB and a head down goal line back. The addition of Fournette could make both obsolete as the massive rookie has both the speed and size to play three downs. Still, if the rookie finds a lack of footing in the NFL, Yeldon could still steal a chunk of carries.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos seem to make things interesting every year. First it was Montee Ball and whatever other bum he was fighting for time with, then it was he and Anderson, then Anderson and Booker. To make matters worse, the Broncos took a flier on the ultra talented (and oft-injured) Jamaal Charles. By all reports he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but it’ll take a rough patch early for Anderson to really lose out on touches.
Detroit Lions: Abdullah missed all of last season to injury but the Lions front office is saying they expect the young back to return at the top of the depth chart. He has the goods, but with Riddick eating away at the passing downs, there is a risk of a true two headed committee in Detroit.
Minnesota Vikings: When AP finally left town, the Vikings shelled out 15 million to land the athletically gifted Latavius Murray out of Oakland. Then, to make us all wonder aloud what the heck is going on, they trade up to select potential superstar RB Dalvin Cook in the draft. I would expect that the supremely talented Cook shows up atop the depth chart early, but with Murray waiting in the wings it could be a while before he really sees meaningful fantasy touches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any committee list isn’t complete until you discuss whether or not the Muscle Hamster can retain his tenuous hold on the starts role in Tampa Bay. Charles Sims (like Theo Riddick) is an obvious bet to see a lot of third down work, so Martin will have to have a monster year again to remain relevant as a RB1/RB2.