Often times the running back position is the most volatile when we enter the preseason as NFL head coaches have begun to compliment their rosters with a deeper stable of running backs, ultimately leading to ugly fantasy committees.
While we do our best to read the tea leaves early in the preseason, ultimately there are several surprises that pop up as we enter the games that matter.
Washington Redskins – Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine
What started as one of the trendiest picks of the off-season, the hype surrounding Perine has cooled off considerably after a roller coaster of a preseason. At times he was dominant, but at others he was lethargic and failed to hit the holes. It seems for a time that Rob Kelley is back in the driver seat in the Washington backfield. If you’re an owner of either of these backs, though, I’d compel you to pay close attention to how Kelley plays early because the leash will likely be short.
Carolina Panthers – Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey
There is certainly going to be a division of responsibility in this backfield but what seemed early on to be McCaffrey’s backfield to lose has become a bit of a committee after a rather impressive preseason by incumbent starter Stewart. At his current ADP Stewart is the far more valuable back as he’ll be in line for the bulk of the goal line carries and a good amount of inside the 20 runs, but McCaffrey certainly offers a lot of upside especially in PPR leagues. Be cautious at his current value, though, as Stewart is all but guaranteed to get a good portion of the split.
Cleveland Browns – Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.
While I personally think that Crowell will get the bulk of meaningful carries in this offense, the truth is that the fantasy community is divided over the value of the 24 year old back. With Johnson in the fray, third downs and passing situations are going to be his, so Crowell’s value caps at roughly a RB2 but both backs could be in line for a lot of work as the passing game took a bit of a step back with the loss of Terrelle Prior. It should be interesting to see if Crowell can be more consistent this year, because he has a chance to really reward drafters during the season.
Green Bay Packers – Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams
I’m not sure if I’m in the minority on this one, but I find it hard to believe that the Green Bay drafted Williams this year without the intentions of starting him at his natural position. Montgomery is a fantastic passing option out of the backfield but he struggles in pass protection and he hasn’t nearly shown the consistency necessary to be considered a top 25 back, yet here we are. I’d argue that Williams will be the starter before season end and in the first few weeks the time share in the backfield will skew heavily in his favor.
New England Patriots – Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead
A mainstay on these committee lists, New England went out and procured two new running backs in the off season and fantasy players were left scratching their heads at how all of these backs could possibly be used. As the season inches closer we still don’t know. The truth is that Gillislee is the most talented back on the roster in terms of running the football. After his success in Buffalo, New England sought out a back they could give the ball to 15 times a game and he should be the guy. Burkhead was a trendy pick after a few really solid practices and preseason performances, but I’d caution that James White is the true pass catching back in this offense leaving little more than scraps for Burkhead to work with.
New Orleans Saints – Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson
It seems disingenuous to your 27 year old former Heisman trophy winner to go out and sign a 32 year old Adrian Peterson to compete for touches, but that’s exactly what the Saints did. Are they worried about Ingram’s injury history? Possibly, but I think that they saw a possibly stud that could help the team and said to hell with the consequences in terms of fantasy. For me, I’m not touching this backfield because both backs are capable number ones and there’s little reason for the Saints to favor one over the other. This is a straight up 50/50 committee and unless you think one or the other is going to get hurt, this is a backfield to avoid (especially that both backs are being drafted in the top 30-35 of the position!)
New York Jets – Bilal Powell and Matt Forte
One wonders if Matt Forte has anything left in the tank. After a surprisingly effective start to the year, Forte slowed significantly, opening running room for Powell who managed 750 or so yards on only 131 carries. Even if Forte starts the season at the top of the depth chart, Powell figures to be the third down pack, and is in line for 50-60 receptions on top of whatever yards he manages on the ground. Neither back is going to be a big factor in terms of touchdowns leaving Powell with the only back with value on the roster as Forte is likely to see his touches and yards decline.
Seattle Seahawks – Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise
I could have included Carson’s name in there as well, but the competition really features a who’s who of injury report players and ineffective cast offs. Lacy was once an early fantasy pick after two monster years in Green Bay but now he finds himself running behind a porous offensive line with younger, more talented backs breathing down his neck. With Thomas Rawls, his only question is his health, as he is mightily effective when he DOES play. Will he play? Who knows, as he’s alreaddy dealing with some bumps and bruises. For my money, pass catcher C.J. Prosises is the best pick in the backfield. It’s not unrealistic to think he’ll lead the ground game too, but he’ll be in line for 40+ catches and at his current draft spot (later and later) he’ll return your investment in spades if you flex him right.
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)
Every year there is significant turnover amongst Fantasy’s top 10 Running Backs, and drafters spend numerous hours pouring over data and stats to find the next guy who’ll slot in where others have failed.
It’s a grueling process, but when a gut pick is right, the feeling of success is second to none. The Running back position is especially volatile due to the injurious nature of the position.
There’s a reason why Backs tend to retire young.
So who can you target outside of the first 10-20 picks that may return first round value?
Least Risk: Lamar Miller, RB – HOU
While it sure feels like Miller has been in the league a long time, the fact is that when the season starts he’ll still only be 26 years old. Houston may not have improved much in terms of the QB situation, but Miller still managed to average over 11 points per week in standard formats, and his 160 points were good for 17th amongst RB despite only playing 14 games and often being limited due to injury. Miller is being drafted currently at 22nd over all (3rd round) as the 13th back off the board, but his ceiling is firmly in the top 10 and possibly as a top 5 back.
A little Risk: Carlos Hyde, RB – SF
Workload has never been an issue for running backs in San Fransisco, but the prevailing question about who’s lining up around him continues to be a cause for concern. In 13 games last year Carlos Hyde average 12.7 points per game (standard scoring) which was good for 10th amongst RBs. But it’s a look at his game log that reminds one just how consistent he is. Over the season Hyde averaged 70 or more yards on the ground 8 out of 13 weeks, while sprinkling in at least one TD in more than half of the games he started. In the 3rd round, Hyde provides a monster ceiling as the only real weapon in San Fran’s offense.
Most Risk: Isaiah Crowell, RB – CLE
The Crow, as he’s affectionately referred to by fans, has the dubious distinction of being the best offensive player on a pretty awful offensive team. This is the main reason his numbers last year were so wildly inconsistent. Despite averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Crowell finished 7 weeks with less than 40 yards on the ground. This is a testament to how ineffective the offense was last year. If the offense around him can improve even slightly, there’s reason to believe Crowell can crack the top 10 and push even further.
- 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).