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 the fantasy landscape has certainly changed over the years, the idea that a team cannot make a serious run for a championship without a solid stable of backs remains one of the truest statements we can make. What can be debated is what strategy yields the best season long team.
One of the oldest fantasy strategy stems from a time when securing two bell cow running backs was the key to a championship team. Fast forward a decade or two, and there’s even fewer elite backs than there were in the heyday making RB/RB strategies a little less necessary but no less effective when done right.
The idea is that, with a relatively shallow pool of top tier backs, securing two of them gives you a notable advantage over every team you play as 99.9% of formats force two backs to start every week. Drafting early gives you an advantage by securing one of the elite backs at the top of the position, but drafting late secures you two RB1’s with this strategy.
A few possible pairings would be as follows:
- Early Pick: Elliott/Gurley/Bell with Mixon/McCaffrey/McKinnon
- The simple fact that your three highest ranked players are the ones we’ve named further emphasizes the need for a 2nd high end back.
- Middle Pick: Barkley/Kamara/Fournette with Cook/Howard/Freeman
- This is where you see the strategy work the best, in my opinion, as you’ve secured two RB2’s and only have a handful of picks before you can fill your top receiver position.
- Late Pick: A combination of Fournette, Hunt, Gordon, and Cook
- We’d argue that drafting near the turn in the first is the position least shackled to rankings. With a long wait before round 3, we suggest taking the two backs who you feel have the best chance at being a top back. If you like Mixon better than Hunt or Gordon, by all means grab him.
The strategy is a sound one, and one that has produced numerous fantasy winners, but it does present it’s own difficulties. By skipping the receiver position, you do weaken yourself against teams that diversify. There’s something to be said about “owning” a position, but with players likely to elevate beyond their draft price, it’s a risk that’s easy to swallow.
One of the more difficult draft strategies, the ZeroRB strategy (and it’s many hybrids) argue that the middle and late tiers at the RB position feature the highest value. Building up elite talent at WR early and often adding a TE and QB first, a true ZeroRB team would select it’s first back in the 6th round or later. Here’s a list of the types of backs you’d be targeting in those middle rounds to fill out your roster.
- 6th: Rashaad Penny, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones
- 7th: Marshawn Lynch, Dion Lewis, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead
- 8th: Kerryon Johnson, Marlon Mack, Tevin Coleman, Carlos Hyde
- 9th: Jamaal Williams, Isaiah Crowell, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson
It may be terrifying to go into week one with a RB group of Royce Freeman, Rex Burkhead, Kerryon Johnson, and Jamaal Williams, but you’d also have 4 likely starters despite having waited until those middle rounds that no one wants to draft in.
The idea that pairing those 4 backs (and 2 more later round backs like Chris Carson, Peyton Barber, Chris Thompson, or Doug Martin) with three top 15 WRs is why the ZeroRB strategy has taken on so many band-wagoners in the past few years. If you’re comfortable identifying talent in those late rounds, this is a very viable strategy… if not, skip it all together.
Alternating; RB/WR or WR/RB
Depending on where you’re drafting, this is a strategy that both makes sense, but also sets you up with a weaker roster as you’re conceding both the WR and the RB position to teams who drafted strong at either position. That’s not to say it’s not a viable way to build your roster, but it would require a sound understanding of ADP data and how your league drafts.
Before I make it sound all doom and gloom, this is closer to how I draft than either of the back to back strategies. My personal preference is to draft my highest ranked player in the first four rounds, either RB or WR… and there’s a reason for that. Much like Bill Belichik drafts the best available vs to fill a need, there’s value in grabbing both positions if you can get a player who may have fallen to your 2nd pick.
Players who may fall into this category are guys like Julio Jones or Odell Beckham for wide outs, or Melvin Gordon or Leonard Fournette. If those guys are shunned by your fellow owners, don’t skip them just to stick to your WR/WR
Back when I started playing Fantasy Football in the early aughts, the landscape was very different. With bell cow running backs being the crowning jewels of fantasy championships everywhere, it was important to secure a handcuff or two lest you be left with a dreaded committee back.
Flash forward 15 years and the fantasy community rarely discusses the “hand cuff” anymore.
I like to write an article every year about my thoughts on selecting a handcuff or skipping one all together. The thought process behind the decision is an interesting one, and it’s worth discussing with drafts firmly on the horizon.
An Argument Against
If you’re new to the Dr. Fantasy blog, I’d first like to welcome you, and second like to let you in on a little secret: I never handcuff.
While that statement may “scream” hyperbole, it’s mostly true. Unless a player provides me with more value than other players in a particular tier, then I don’t see the value in drafting said player. Targeting the handcuff for Todd Gurley (John Kelly), Le’Veon Bell (James Conner), David Johnson (Chase Edwards), or Zeke Elliott (Rod Smith) is a wasted pick in my opinion.
Last year’s injury to David Johnson shines a light on why this strategy doesn’t typically work. Chris Johnson and Kerwynn Williams were popular handcuff/adds but following Johnson’s injury, the Cardinals went out and acquired Adrian Peterson to infuse some life into a backfield that was suddenly struggling. By the end of the year, no one proved to be worth a roster spot for more than a week or two at a time. Instead, that roster spot would have been better spent on a back who already owned a share of it’s backfield like James White or Chris Thompson.
An Argument For
Now this may seem like a thin argument, but there are a few scenarios in which I could see myself targeting a handcuff. In most cases it’s a reaction to the draft, as being forced to draft Lamar Miller makes it easy to lock up D’Onta Foreman later in the draft.
Of course, as a cop out, he’s one of my break out targets to begin with, but this strategy works with a lot of middle tier backs. Selecting Kenneth Dixon to pair with Alex Collins, or Corey Clement to go with Jay Ajayi are low risk plays that mitigate the effects of a starter losing his job due to inefficiency rather than injury.
Don’t discount what a player like Chris Thompson or Dion Lewis can do as well given how many time’s they’ll touch the football regardless of whether the “lead back” is healthy. If adding one of them means having a 3 down back should an injury occur, then this method of handcuffing I can get behind.
If you’re going to handcuff, don’t just throw darts at guys you wouldn’t roster even if they won the job. Like Chris Johnson last year showed; getting playing time doesn’t automatically make a player worth owning.
I’d rather use the waiver to fill the bottom of my roster than hoping Rod Smith gets a chance to touch the football 20 times a game; it’s far more conducive to a successful squad.
It’s that time of year again folks; Mock Time! Sure, I may have been mocking for weeks now, but as last years fantasy owners wake from their off season hibernation, the lobbies are really filling up! If you’re like me, then you know how valuable mocking can be when setting your expectations.
Tonight I jumped into an 12 team standard mock and was pleasantly surprised by the crowd; most people stayed in and drafted. Over the course of 16 rounds we battled for pretend domination, and below are my thoughts on the draft. Dr. Fantasy selected 7th overall.
Right out of the gates we saw the draft stray from the normal expert projections with Odell Beckham being selected as the first wide out off the board at the 3rd overall spot. I may not have made the pick myself with Brown available, but we here at the Dr’s office preach “get your guy” so grabbing Odell at three is far from egregious. Saquon fell to me at 7, so I was excited to secure my bell cow back. Overall, there weren’t many surprises as all of these names deserved to be selected in the first round.
Best Pick: Leonard Fournette – Knowing the format can be all the difference between a contender and a pretender. In standard leagues, Fournette is a top 5 back in my opinion, and snagging him 10th is a steal.
The second round saw a few more deviations from the norm as Carson Wentz wins the dubious distinction of being the first pick that I don’t agree with. While I like his talent, he’s not a better fantasy option than Rodgers, Wilson, or Newton… and that’s not even taking into account that his season ended on a major injury. For my selection, grabbing a guy who could be a top 3 wideout at 18th overall is a steal. With Brett Hundley as his QB, Adams turned in a WR1 stat line. With Rodgers, his ceiling is as the WR1.
Best Pick: Devonta Freeman doesn’t get a lot of love these days, but he is still the lead back in what should be a top 10 offense again this year. Tevin Coleman will command passing downs again, but this is a standard league and Freeman should be a back end RB1 in 2018.
It was in round 3 that things got a little funny as “Team DM” selected his 2nd QB (Aaron Rodgers). I can only imagine this was an “auto pick” accident. Beyond that we had most of our high ceiling, low floor players start to trickle off the board. In true Dr. Fantasy fashion, we took a stab at a guy who could either see 350 touches or somehow play his way off my roster in Joe Mixon. I love his talent, but I hate the Bengals… not my favorite pick but Diggs (my original target) was sniped just one pick ahead.
Best Pick: I can’t say enough about Stefon Diggs and his undeniable talent. While Thielen was certainly a breakout performer (one that I was all over in 2017), he’s prime for regression and his draft price doesn’t give him much room for error. Diggs, on the other hand, has a real chance to put up spectacular numbers with the strong armed Cousins throwing him the football.
For years now, the trend has been to see the best of the rookie running backs start to pop up in round 4. With Guice and Penny, you have two rookies that should walk onto the field in their first NFL start as the top dog in each respective backfields. Selecting them here is akin to Kareem Hunt last year, and could be a great source of fantasy points. Unfortunatey for me, with both off the board, I was left grabbing the only wide out left that has the pedigree and opportunity to finish as a WR1. I don’t think Cooper’s 2017 was as destructive for his prospects going forward, but there is certainly cause for concern.
Best Pick: I wrote an article recently about how Demaryius Thomas may be the most underrated receiver coming off the board in the first 5 rounds. I’m sticking by that analysis. With a massive target share and a declining Emmanuel Sanders ensuring at least 140 targets, his floor his higher than all but a handful of the receivers in his tier.
Guys started taking chances in the 5th round (ignoring Team DM and his obviously silly selections), and it’s becoming clear this is one of those “Championship Winner” rounds in 2018. The running backs pool is slim pickin’s and a few of these selections likely caused their owners a bit of pain when making them. The Golden Tate selection did the same for me as I’ve been critical of his inconsistency. It’ll require a lot of week to week management to maximize his potential as he typically turns in “bust” weeks about 30-40% of the time.
Best Pick: Team Anderson did it to me again but selecting one of Dr. Fantasy’s favorite breakout candidates one pick prior. Corey Davis, the former 5th overall pick for Tennessee, never got it going last year as he and Mariota struggled to play healthy with each other. With no such concerns going into 2018, his talent should see him take a leap at the position.
In the 6th round, it’s important to target players who provide a larger opportunity for touches or targets. Seeing both Engram and Clay go before Jimmy Graham was quizzical for me as neither figures to see as high a percentage of scoring opportunities as Graham will. Of course, Engram’s got the talent to be a top 5 TE, but with so many weapons being added to the offense in New York, it’s going to be difficult to repeat those gaudy numbers he produced as a rookie.
Best Pick: I’ll have to give myself a little bit of love for the Pierre Garcon pick. While it was commented that Garcon was selected a little early, I maintain that he’s being severly undervalued by the fantasy community in 2018. In the 8 games he started, Garcon was targeted an average of 8.3 times per game, good for a 134 over a 16 game season. With Garoppolo, he may see even more.
If we played out this league, I’d argue this would be our “wish I had a mulligan” round as a lot of drafters were left taking players who offer a mediocre return on their investment. The RB and WR positions were pretty picked over at this point, and unless you really loved a player here, grabbing a 2nd tier TE or top tier QB was the better play.
Best Pick: With some owners making funny picks (read: Team DM), it’s amazing that Russell Wilson fell to the 7th round. As a threat to be the QB1 every year, he deserves to be selected along side Aaron Rodgers as the only two “Draft Early” QBs. I love his talent, and an effective run game should protect him from undue injury risks.
It’s only natural that after a disappointing round 7 that a run on excellent, underrated receivers and running backs would help the draft get back on track. Neither Burkhead nor Williams figures to be a traditional “bell cow” back, but the opportunity to be a large part of a top 3 offense means huge value as we approach the tail end of the “starter quality” backs pool. Likewise, my selection of Jamison Crowder came down to adding yet another high volume breakout candidate as he becomes Alex Smith’s favorite target. His ability to get separation should lead to a massive campaign.
Best Pick: With Jarvis Landry gone and Ryan Tannehill resuming his job as the starting QB in Miami, Parker should see a giant uptick in targets this season. It’s a safe bet in the 8th to grab a player with a solid floor, and Parker’s is one of the last guys left that I’m comfortable starting nearly every week.
I’m not thrilled with my pick in the 9th, but with my roster super heavy at the wide receiver position, it was time to take a back that has a chance to be a true lead back in the NFL in D’Onta Foreman. While he’s no safe bet coming off that rupture achilles, I love his talent and Houston is desperate to fill that lead back role as Lamar Miller continues to decline.
Best Pick: There’s a few really good picks in this round, but Marlon Mack at 100 overall is criminal, as stealing a starting NFL running back in a round that featured 5 other backs who currently sit 2nd on their depth charts could the pick that puts a team over the top. Ignore those that are arguing against Mack as the Indy offense will look very different this year should Luck start (as we expect).
It was another tough break as my plan to secure Ty Montgomery fell through just before the clock turned to my pick. I’m pleased, though, with the consolation prize as Kirk Cousin’s off season failed to produce much change in his average draft position. While he’s not someone who will challenge Rodgers and Wilson in the ELITE tier, he has the goods to finish as a top 5 QB. It’s interesting that Dez Bryant went here, as well, given that as we approach the season he’s still not signed. While I believe Bryant could offer a team in need some valuable red zone help, he’s likely not going to have enough time to integrate himself in an offense, leaving owners scrambling to replace him when it comes time to drop dead weight.
Best Pick: It’s dangerous selecting a Patriots running back, but James White is by far the most consistent. At this point, the passing down back has the kind of sample size that should alleviate fears, yet one of the few backs to see consistent top 5 targets over the last few years is still going far too late in drafts. With no Dion Lewis in New England, he’s a threat to lead all backs not named Johnson or Bell in passing down targets.
In 12 team leagues, missing out at the running back position will leave you in the position I found myself in; tossing darts at high upside back ups and handcuffs in order to supplement an uninspiring unit. Gio Bernard represents a pure handcuff for Mixon, and could be used as a waiver dump should a player arise that I’m interested in. Should Mixon get hurt or lose ground early, I think Bernard has the kind of talent that will keep me from losing too much ground.
Best Pick: I put too much faith in the ADP data to secure me CJ Anderson in the next round as he dropped about 6 picks before I was planning on grabbing him. It’s clear that Carolina doesn’t plan on using McCaffrey on first and second downs as much as we’d like, and Anderson figures to be an underrated bench player in standard leagues.
Our first Jimmy G sighting! It’s all excitement these days in San Francisco, but it’s Patrick Mahomes who excites me in this block of picks. With one of the best skill position groups on the field, the 2nd year Kansas City signal caller should have every opportunity to capitalize on an offense that somehow helped Alex Smith finish as the QB4 last year. Unfortunately for me, I was left throwing darts at the RB position, and Chris Carson is a flyer at best. The Seattle Seahawks back up running back may have a hard time taking the job from Rashaad Penny, but has the talent to run away with it if he does.
Best Pick: His injury history is undeniable, but Tyler Eifert represents the unique situation that his talent and opportunity trump and risk of injury. At 144, and well behind far less talented backs, he will be a steal (when he plays) for whatever team has him.
More running backs, are you surprised? I’ll be honest, though, and say I just really dislike this pick. Had I the chance to do it over, I’d have grabbed DJ Moore and hunted the waiver wire for a 5th running back. Instead, I have Wilkins, who’s best suited as a handcuff for Marlon Mack. I’m not convinced Nyheim Hines is a three down player, so only Mack stands between Wilkins and a surprise arrival as a starting NFL RB.
Best Pick: I say it year in and year out; wait on a QB. Selecting last year’s QB4 all the way at pick 156 is proof that this strategy works, and works well. While there’s certainly value in trotting out Russell Wilson every week, it’s just as valuable to pair Alex Smith with a player like Brandin Cooks (similar draft price to Wilson).
At this point, teams are taking backups and flyers, and my selection of Doug Martin checks off all the boxes. We all know that Marshawn Lynch is well past his prime, and with Oakland promising to run the football this year, Martin could be the surprise recipient of coach Gruden’s plan to roll back the clock.
Best Pick: I can’t decide between Michael Gallup and Jordan Matthews, so I’ll take the easy way out and say both. With Gallup, the chance to inherit the targets vacated by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are enticing, and I personally don’t think Hurns is a true NFL #1WR. Matthews, on the other hand, profiles as the kind of player Tom Brady turns into a super star. Sure handed with crisp route running skills, the slot receiver will have every opportunity to become one of Brady’s favorite targets while Julien Edelman sits for a PED suspension. Even when he comes back, the 32 year old Edeleman is no safe bet to be the same player he was in years past.
Not much to talk about here as D/ST and Kickers are the bulk of the picks. Tucker is the kind of kicker I like to have every year; he’s as consistent as they get.
Best Pick: I’ve been bullish on Mitch Trubisky all off season, and as my QB19 (and rising) he’s likely to out perform a handful of the QB’s selected before him. He’s equipped with a borderline elite talent in Allen Robinson, a very talented rookie in Anthony Miller, and a backfield that should protect him from having to do too much too soon. In the second to last round you can’t do much better.
This is where you really reach into your bag of tricks if you’re not drafting a defense or kicker. The now-sober Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is our Mr. Irrelevent (we don’t count kickers here at the Dr’s Office), and profiles as one of the true breakout candidates at the TE position.
Best Pick: If you gathered from the brevity of the previous sentence that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was my favorite pick in the last round, then kudos. A lot has been said about his talent, and the truth is that we’ve never even really seen him at 100%. After battling substance abuse issues, ASJ made the effort to get sober and has rededicated his life to football. I’m expecting big things from the new Jaguars’ Tight End.
My Final Roster
- QB: Kirk Cousins
- RB: Saquon Barkley, Joe Mixon, D’Onta Foreman, Gio Bernard, Chris Carson, Jordan Wilkins, Doug Martin
- WR: Davante Adams, Amari Cooper, Golden Tate, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder
- TE: Greg Olsen
- D/ST: Bears D
- Kicker: Justin Tucker
This isn’t the strongest mock I’ve had, but I only know one way to draft; like I’m trying to win the league. With so many of my targets disappearing just before my picks, I was left piecing together a mediocre backfield that I’m hoping features one or two breakouts. I don’t recommend drafting seven running backs either, but if you find yourself lagging behind at the position, it’s important to remember that two of them are wholly expendable. I want to secure a solid backup for Olsen given his age and the mileage, and I want to re-evaluate early on with the “back ups” as they shouldn’t stay on my roster longer than they need to be.
If there’s any advice I can give you going into your own twelve team drafts, it’s to not panic. A quick glance around the league leaves me with the impression that too many unproven commodities are being drafted too early. Leagues are never won at the draft – their won by expert management over the course of a long fantasy season.
A big thank you to the several mockers who stuck around and made this draft fun and insightful. As always, mock often, and enjoy the 2018 season!
9. Houston Texans
The Texan’s playoff hopes were dashed the moment the team announced budding superstar Deshaun Watson would miss the remainder of the 2017 season with a non-contact ACL tear. What we were witnessing up until that point was nothing sort of miraculous, and the lack of a larger sample size has led many pundits to argue the pro’s and con’s a little more loudly than for some other players.
Players Worth Drafting: DeAndre Hopkins (ADP 8), Deshaun Watson (ADP 45), Lamar Miller (ADP 73), Will Fuller (ADP 79), D’Onta Foreman (ADP 115)
While DeAndre Hopkins is one of the safest bets in any league format, predicting how much regression to expect for Watson is the hardest thing to do. As others have been so quick to point out, Watson’s 2017 pace had him finishing with just under 500 attempts, which when accounting for regression should scare those who are willing to draft him early. The same can be said for Will Fuller who’s ceiling may be sky high, but his bust weeks could be more numerous than other guys in his draft area.
Deep Sleeper: One of my favorite sleepers last year, D’Onta Foreman was hit with the injury bug as well, rupturing his achilles to end his season. While he certainly flashed at times, his usage remained inconsistent despite Lamar Miller’s numerous ailments. I expect that at some point this season Foreman should gain at least a split in the carries, if not a larger time share than that. Blessed with three down talent, he’s one opportunity away from stealing the full time gig.
8. New Orleans Saints
A perennial powerhouse when it comes to churning out fantasy studs, New Orleans looks poised to do so again this year with 2nd year back Alvin Kamara ready to take a larger portion of the offense on, especially in the absence of Ingram who will serve a suspension to start the year. As always, this team goes as far as Drew Brees takes them, and the consistency remains despite his advanced age.
Players Worth Drafting: Alvin Kamara (ADP 6), Michael Thomas (ADP 16), Mark Ingram (ADP 57), Drew Brees (ADP 75), Ted Ginn Jr. (ADP 156), Cameron Meredith (ADP 168), Ben Watson (ADP 182)
Still one of my favorite fantasy commodities, Michael Thomas should return as a fantasy stud, even with Cameron Meredith brought in to bolster this offense. Expecting this team to run the football as much as it did last year would be a bit foolish given the explosiveness this team features in the passing game. Expect a bit of a down turn in Ingram’s usage when he returns from his suspension.
Deep Sleeper: Before the season, I was hyper critical of Ted Ginn’s one dimensional game, and while he was successful last year, Cameron Meredith was brought in to provide a more traditional number two option in the passing game. While his health will certainly be in question, the talent that had him one of the trendier picks prior to his season ending injury in 2017 remains. With an elite QB throwing him the football, he’s a safe bet to out perform his ADP.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Is it any surprise that, despite the issues with depth, a team featuring two of the top five players on the planet would finish as a top 10 ranked fantasy juggernaut? We all know what Bell and Brown bring to the table, and Ben Roethlisberger should continue to be boring but reliable. It’s the rest of the offense that presents the biggest risk as well as opportunity.
Players Worth Drafting: Le’Veon Bell (ADP 1), Antonio Brown (ADP 5), Juju Smith-Schuster (ADP 44), Ben Roethlisberger (ADP 89), Vance McDonald (ADP 169), James Washington (ADP 192)
with Bell threatening to hold out for much of the preseason, the question becomes how quickly will he hit the ground running? I doubt there will be much of an impact; this team and it’s offense hasn’t changed much in the last few years, and Bell’s talent trumps any other circumstance. The passing game does have a huge hole at tight end, though, with neither Jesse James or Vance McDonald being worth drafting in almost any format.
Deep Sleeper: This roster consists of a mostly top-heavy spread of talent, so choosing a deep sleeper is difficult. If you’re like me, and the issues surrounding Bell concern you, it’s not hard to see the value in his backup; James Conner. Already, rumblings about how well Conner has looked in off season programs have been surfacing, so either the Steelers are trying to motivate Bell or their preparing for life without him. Either way, any back with the kind of volume a Pittsburgh back has is worth a flier in case Conner sees extended time on the field.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
A breakout year across the board, the Chiefs cut bait with former first overall pick Alex Smith and instead are going to roll with Pat Mahomes as their young gunslinger of the future. Gifted with a monster arm, Mahomes may be better suited for this offense than his predecessor, especially given the addition of Sammy Watkins.
Players Worth Drafting: Kareem Hunt (ADP 10), Travis Kelce (ADP 26), Tyreek Hill (ADP 27), Sammy Watkins (ADP 74), Patrick Mahomes (ADP 113)
With so much speed and so many weapons, it’d be important to caution anyone about over drafting Kareem Hunt. Despite his massive numbers in his rookie year, consistency was never a given, and with Spencer Ware returning to the fold and Charcandarick West still on the squad, it’ll be difficult for Hunt to return with the volume he had last year. Getting a piece of the Chiefs offense may seem like a good idea, but only at the right price.
Deep Sleeper: The fact that Spencer Ware isn’t on anyone’s radar this off season speaks to the impressive nature of Kareen Hunts 2017 season. What it doesn’t account for is that Ware looked might impressive himself when he had the starting gig down the stretch in 2016. What should start as some kind of committee, there’s no way to discount the player that Ware is. While I doubt Hunt falters enough for Ware to take over 100%, any struggle should give Ware time on the field. Should he prove himself, Ware would be a steal in that offense.
5. Carolina Panthers
So I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong about Christian McCaffrey when I tried to talk folks out of drafting him. What I’m not wrong about is the effect C.J. Anderson’s arrival will have on his rushing statistics. When the team brought him in to replace the departed James Stewart, it signaled that McCaffrey would not inherit the first and second downs like many expected.
Players Worth Drafting: Christian McCaffrey (ADP 20), Greg Olsen (ADP 54), Cam Newton (ADP 60), Devin Funchess (ADP 81), C.J. Anderson (ADP 138), D.J. Moore (ADP 146)
Cam Newton, however, should benefit from the additional weapons. Both Anderson’s ability to refocus opposing defenses and D.J. Moore providing a potential #1 WR should make Cam an even safer bet this year to finish as a top five quarterback. I’m bullish on all three of them to far outperform their price on draft day, while less so on McCaffrey and Olsen.
Deep Sleeper: As mentioned above, I believe in the talent that D.J. Moore has, and there’s a reason why Carolina traded up to get him. With Funchess not really possessing the elite receiver profile, he’ll have opportunities early and often to steal a larger portion of targets than most of his fellow rookie receivers.
- Todd Gurley, LAR
- Le’Veon Bell, PIT
- David Johnson, ARI
- Despite missing most of last season and getting a new QB, Johnson remains a threat to be the #1 running back in PPR formats.
- Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
- Melvin Gordon, LAC
- Alvin Kamara, NO
- Kareem Hunt, KC
- Leonard Fournette, JAC
- With 1,340 yards on 300 touches, Fournette proved that he can be a three down back in the NFL. Now, after the departure of Hurns and Robinson, he may be asked to do even more.
- Saquon Barkley, NYG
- LeSean McCoy, BUF
- Devonta Freeman, ATL
- Dalvin Cook, MIN
- Joe Mixon, CIN
- The questions surrounding Mixon have nothing to do with his talent, and everything to do with how Cincinnati destroys the value of it’s running backs seemingly every year. I’m cautiously optimistic that Mixon approaches 250 touches this year.
- Jerick McKinnon, SF
- Jordan Howard, CHI
- Christian McCaffrey, CAR
- Alex Collins, BAL
- Derrick Henry, TEN
- Derrius Guice, WAS
- Rashaad Penny, SEA
- The noise out of Seattle is that they’re committed to getting their run game going again. The selection of Penny shows me that they’re serious. He may not have as much room to run behind that OL as other rookie backs, but he should have a large share of the touches.
- Lamar Miller, HOU
- Royce Freeman, DEN
- Kenyan Drake, MIA
- Sony Michel, NE
- Ronald Jones II, TB
- Marlon Mack, IND
- No longer splitting carries with Frank Gore, Marlon Mack is the defacto lead back in this continuously dysfunctional offense. It’s likely he’ll cede passing down touches to Hines, but offers a ton of value at a very low risk pick.
- C. J. Anderson, CAR
- Jay Ajayi, PHI
- Mark Ingram, NO
- Tevin Coleman, ATL
- Marshawn Lynch, OAK
- Carlos Hyde, CLE
- Hyde is the most polished runner on the Cleveland roster, but Chubb should keep him from finishing in the top 20. Don’t expect much work on 3rd down either with Duke Johnson owning that area.
- Isaiah Crowell, NYJ
- Kerryon Johnson, DET
- Aaron Jones, GB
- Chris Thompson, WAS
- Tarik Cohen, CHI
- Dion Lewis, TEN
- Duke Johnson, CLE
- Rex Burkhead, NE
- Just when we thought Burkhead would be the guy in New England, the Pats signed Sony Michel in the first round. Best as a waiver wire pick up or late round stash in deep leagues.
- Jamaal Williams, GB
- Theo Riddick, DET
- Devontae Booker, DEN
- Ty Montgomery, GB
- Doug Martin, OAK
- After finally wearing out his welcome, Martin joins a crowded Oakland backfield with a proven starter ahead of him. His value comes mostly as a handcuff for the aging Marshawn Lynch.
- D’Onta Foreman, HOU
- Chris Carson, SEA
- Bilal Powell, NYJ
- Nick Chubb, CLE
- LeGarrette Blount, DET
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.
With the NFL season creeping ever closer, we’ll examine current consensus ADP data provided by Fantasypros.com to discuss the players we love and the players we hate based on where they’re being drafted.
- David Johnson, RB – ARI
- Le’Veon Bell, RB – PIT
- Antonio Brown, WR – PIT
- Julio Jones, WR – ATL
- LeSean McCoy, RB – BUF
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR – NYG
- Mike Evans, WR – TB
- Devonta Freeman, RB – ATL
- Melvin Gordon, RB – LAC
- A.J. Green, WR – CIN
Player I love – Mike Evans: It’s the first round so you can’t really complain about Evans being ranked as the 4th best WR, but the fact is he was better than anyone NOT named Antonio Brown on a per game basis and finished as the #1 WR in overall points in 2016. At 24 years old and the undisputed #1 weapon in an improving offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish on top of the WR pool.
Player I hate – Melvin Gordon: Gordon’s career so far has been polarizing to say the least. After not recording a TD in over 200 touches as a rookie, Gordon returned the investments of his faithful by finding pay dirt 10 times. Still, he finished with less than a 1,000 yards and a sub 4 YPC mark that doesn’t exactly instill confidence that he’ll return as a RB1. Being drafted as the 5th RB is far too rich for my blood.
- DeMarco Murray, RB – TEN
- Jordy Nelson, WR – GB
- Jordan Howard, RB – CHI
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB – DAL
- Jay Ajayi, RB – MIA
- Michael Thomas, WR – NO
- Aaron Rodgers, QB – GB
- Dez Bryant, WR – DAL
- Todd Gurley, RB – LAR
- Rob Gronkowski, TE – NE
Player I love – Todd Gurley: On the flip side of the Melvin Gordon coin is Todd Gurley. After an abysmal season Gurley has fallen down draft boards to the end of the 2nd round, but this isn’t like Trent Richardson or other flash-in-the-pan backs of the last 10 years. Gurley is the real deal, and the Rams offense looks like it’s improved dramatically in the off season thanks to free agent signings and trades. As the 10th back off the board, I’m more than comfortable with Gurley as my #1.
Player I hate – Jay Ajayi: The skills are there to be a very good NFL back, but the shine from three 200 yard rushing performances has blinded his fans from the fact that he just wasn’t that great in the rest of his games. Check out this article at Fantasypros that shows how often Ajayi finished as a top 20 back (TL:DR folks… it’s not enough to justify the 15th over all pick).
- Leonard Fournette, RB – JAC
- T.Y Hilton, WR – IND
- Tom Brady, QB – NE
- Amari Cooper, WR – OAK
- Marshawn Lynch, RB – OAK
- Lamar Miller, RB – HOU
- Doug Baldwin. WR – SEA
- Brandin Cooks, WR – NE
- Isaiah Crowell, RB – CLE
- Christian McCaffrey, RB – CAR
Player I love – Doug Baldwin: He’s not a sexy name but he’s a machine that hauls in just about everything thrown his way. Last year he finished with 94 catches for 1100 yards and a top 10 WR finish in standard leagues, and that’s with the first half issues at QB. Especially in PPR leagues, Baldwin is a lock for about 100 receptions and 1,100 yards again.
Player I Hate – Amari Cooper: Just to clarify, I don’t hate the player in general, but he’s still being drafted based on hype rather than statistics. While it’s fair to assume that he’ll eventually overtake Michael Crabtree as the more productive Oakland receiver, I still won’t spend a 3rd round pick on the teams 2nd best receiver over the past two seasons.
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR – HOU
- Drew Brees, QB – NO
- Demaryius Thomas, WR – DEN
- Terrelle Pryor, WR – WAS
- Joe Mixon, RB – CIN
- Alshon Jeffery, WR – PHI
- Travis Kelce, TE – KC
- Carlos Hyde, RB – SF
- Dalvin Cook, RB – MIN
- Matt Ryan, QB – ATL
Player I love – Carlos Hyde: Hyde, on a per game basis, finished as the RB10 despite San Fransisco’s abysmal offense last year. This year, the needle is pointing up (ever so slightly) with the addition of high flying Kyle Shanahan to the offense. Don’t buy into the buzz that Hyde isn’t his guy; he’s the most talented back on this roster and will push for RB10 again this year.
Player I hate – Terrelle Pryor: I mean… it’s a fun story that Pryor has resurrected what looked like a lousy career by switching to WR but going from Cleveland where he was targeted 140 times to Washington where he’ll split looks with Doctson, Crowder, and Reed doesn’t really scream “better”. He’ll be good, but he won’t be round 4 good.
- Keenan Allen, WR – LAC
- Allen Robinson, WR – JAC
- Spencer Ware, RB – KC
- Devante Adams, WR – GB
- Greg Olsen, TE – CAR
- Ty Montgomery, RB – GB
- Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
- Michael Crabtree, WR – OAK
- C. J. Anderson, RB – DEN
- Jarvis Landry, WR – MIA
Player I love – Michael Crabtree: When Crabtree was drafted with the 10th overall pick, there was little question surrounding his talent. Instead, he struggled out of the gates and eventually fell from favor in San Fransisco, leading him to his current home in Oakland. Since he’s been catching passes from Carr, Crabtree has finished as WR19 and WR11 and compiled a very nice stat line, yet he’s still being drafted far below his value. I won’t suggest he’ll finish as a WR1 but he’ll finish close.
Player I Hate – Ty Montgomery: This one is mind blowing to me as Montgomery wasn’t even very effective last year as a lead back, yet this year he finds himself being drafted as high as the 20th back off the board. I’ll say it now, there’s zero percent chance he finishes as a RB2, and even as a flex play he’s difficult to praise because his usage will likely be spotty and unpredictable. I won’t have Montgomery on a single team this year.
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)