Fantasy Football Running back Rankings v 1.0
Today we are going to go over some very early tips for drafting running backs this year in fantasy football. As will always be the case, these rankings are based on standard scoring in a 12 team league. Most drafts wont’ be taking place for at least another 3 weeks, so there is a good chance there will be some movement in the coming weeks as the preseason rolls out, camps get underway, and certain teams become more clear.
These rankings are based on personal belief for the upcoming season and a few mock drafts I ran through. Understand that if you see something below, feel free to disagree and go against what I’m saying (for example, in some drafts I’ve seen Marshawn Lynch off the board in the early 2nd round)
Now the rankings:
Players Who Will be Drafted
- David Johnson
- Le’Veon Bell
- Ezekiel Elliot
Let’s make this as simple as possible. In some way, shape, and form, these will be three of the first 5 players who will be drafted in 99% of all leagues. I prefer David Johnson due to his high reception totals and general great health. Le’Veon Bell isn’t a slouch either, but he does have the history of suspensions that can’t be ignored. Ezekiel Elliot needs to prove it in the passing game to be considered in the same class as Johnson and Bell, and he has a potential suspension looming with all of the negative off the field news. Personally, I think he should still be the third running back off the board regardless of suspension, but it could be the difference between him going in the first four picks or the first six or seven.
Round to Watch: Early (to Mid with Elliot) 1 (Pick 1-5)
- Lesean McCoy
- Devonta Freeman
- Jay Ajayi
- Melvin Gordon
- Jordan Howard
The next tier of running back houses some great, high-usage options that are slightly more flawed than the top 3 picks. McCoy is featured in an offense that is going to get him the ball, but the Buffalo offensive line isn’t fantastic and he isn’t getting any younger. Regardless, he’s going to end up close to 300 touches this year assuming health. Freeman, Ajayi, Gordon, and Howard are all the top running back option on teams that have strong offensive lines that feature run first offenses. All of these players are capable of finishing in the top 10 in terms of running back.
Round to Watch: Late Round 1 (pick 10-12) to Early Round 2 (1-5)
- Demarco Murray
- Isaiah Crowell
- Leonard Fournette
- Christian McCaffrey
- Todd Gurley
- Carlos Hyde
The third level of running backs is a pretty even blend of players who have strong offensive lines or players who are going to get an absurd amount of touches based on the offense they are in. Murray and Crowell should benefit this year from strong offensive lines (although Crowell will have to face extra defenders in the box because Brock Oswieler is still an NFL Quarterback). The Jaguars are going to feed Fournette the ball to help Blake Bortles so don’t be shocked if he gets close to 250 touches his rookie year. McCaffrey will have the ability and versatility to both run and catch the ball if the Panthers can scheme for him properly. Gurley and Hyde will find themselves on offenses where they will be featured due a complete lack of talent around them and should get plenty of volume.
Rounds to Watch: Middle Round 2 (Picks 5-7) to Late Round 3 (Picks 10-12)
- Lamar Miller
- Spencer Ware
- Ameer Abdullah
- Mark Ingram
- Tevin Coleman
- Bilal Powell
After the first three groups of running backs are off the board, it’s probably safe to avoid the position for a solid round or round in a half because the next couple groups have some flaws. Lamar Miller is the featured running back in Houston, but we still don’t know what they have at quarterback and he didn’t respond well to high usage last year. Spencer Ware is a popular June pick to not even be the starter in Kansas City, so that is something to keep in mind. Abdullah struggles with injuries and probably won’t even be on the field for third downs. Fun Fact: Sean Payton hates Mark Ingram. Bringing in Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara will not do fantastic things for his touches, especially on the goal line or in short yardage. Tevin Coleman had a great year last year, but has a new offensive coordinator and may not be able to replicate the touches from a season ago. And finally, the Jets suck and Powell will end up splitting touches because of Matt Forte. I think he ends up with more overall touches this year, but it may be irrelevant because again, the Jets suck.
Rounds to Watch: Middle 5 (Picks 6-8) to Middle 6 (Picks 6-9)
- Frank Gore
- Ty Montgomery
- Paul Perkins
- CJ Anderson
- Theo Riddick
- Dalvin Cook
The next level of running backs is a bit more flawed then the group ahead of them. Frank Gore is a workhorse, but he’s also in his mid-30’s and still behind a less than average offensive line. He’s gotta break down at some point right? Ty Montgomery played well at the end of the season last year at running back, but I just don’t have confidence in him yet to do it for an entire season. Paul Perkins did well enough as a rookie, but the Giants offensive line is a significant weakness and he didn’t exactly pull away from the pack in the backfield last season. Can CJ Anderson stay healthy? Will defenses respect Trevor Siemien or Paxton Lynch? Guess we will find out. Theo Riddick is great for PPR, but isn’t the primary runner. Dalvin Cook may be the best of this bunch, but the Minnesota offensive line isn’t fantastic and Cook didn’t exactly flash break away speed during the pre-draft process. Just a whole lot of question marks here.
Round to Watch: Middle 7 (Pick 5-8) to Early 9 (Picks 1-4)
- Rob Kelley
- Joe Mixon
- Danny Woodhead
- Marshawn Lynch
- Doug Martin
Tier 6 is a handful of players that have some very high ceilings for this upcoming season, but also have extremely low floors. Rob Kelley had a solid fantasy season last year, but with a new offensive coordinator and a pretty crowded backfield (Semaje Perine and Chris Thompson), he may be relegated to a short yardage role. Mixon has excellent talent, but the Bengals have two other running backs and lost some of their offensive line this offseason. Woodhead is a solid receiver, but the question always lingers on can he stay healthy? Plus we just don’t know how many touches he’ll get a game in Baltimore. People love to remember Marshawn Lynch for the player he was 5 years ago, but because he’s such a fan favorite they ignore that he was pretty ineffective 2 years ago and retired last season. Doug Martin is suspended the first three games of the season (which hurt his ranking here), but he also has been inconsistent thus far in the NFL.
Round to Watch: Middle 9 (5-7) to Early 10 (2-5)
- LeGarrette Blount
- Matt Forte
- Jeremy Hill
- Johnathan Stewart
- Latavius Murray
In this group, we have a bunch of players who are probably good to own if you are trying to have a backup plan for a primary running option on your team. Blount is no longer a Patriot, and while he will have plenty of opportunities to score on the goal line, it’s hard to imagine that those opportunities will be as a great as they were in New England. Forte is getting old and plays on a terrible Jets team, which is why Bilal Powell seems to be the more popular pick in drafts. Jeremy Hill has been very inconsistent thus far in his career, and using a 2nd round pick on Joe Mixon isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for how much the Bengals value him. Johnathan Stewart just signed a nice extension in Carolina, but he hasn’t been asked to perform much as a receiver and you can bet the Panthers will try to feed McCaffrey as many touches as possible. Murray was fine in Oakland last year, but will be competing with Dalvin Cook behind this weak Vikings offensive line.
Round to Watch: Middle 10 (5-8) to Middle 11 (5-8)
- CJ Prosise
- Adrian Peterson
- Mike Gillislee
- Kareem Hunt
- Eddie Lacy
- James White
Another group of players with big question marks. CJ Prosise is a big back, but how many opportunities will he have? Adrian Peterson essentially has the same flaws as Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore, he’s getting old and it’ll be interesting to see if he still has anything left. I hope he plays well, but I’m not hinging my draft on it. Gillislee is the presumptive new LeGarrette Blount in New England, but they also have Rex Burkhead (also signed this offseason) and if they play the matchups, it’ll be difficult to figure out who is the lead back week to week. Kareem Hunt is a rookie for Kansas City (and maybe the favorite to unseat Spencer Ware), but most rookie running backs hit a wall and we don’t know what his role will be. Eddie Lacy is literally on contracts to prevent him from eating himself out of the league. If he’s in shape he could be solid, but what if he isn’t. James White suffers from Patriot-itis… who knows how many consistent touches he’s going to get week to week.
Round to Watch: Late 11 (10-12) Middle 13 (4-6)
Guys Who Will Probably Be Drafted as 4th or 5th Options in Your League
- Darren Sproles
- Jamaal Charles
- Gio Bernard
- Derrick Henry
- Samaje Perine
- Kenneth Dixon
Sproles will get touches in the passing game and the occasional run, but he’s getting older and has started to break down in recent years. Jamaal Charles is in a new situation with a new team, but can he stay healthy? Does he possess any explosiveness anymore? Gio Bernard is the Bengals version of Sproles and may lose touches to Mixon now. Derrick Henry may have the most potential and best situation of anyone in this section, but the Titans are insistent on the fact that DeMarco Murray is the lead back and his year last season pretty much affirms that. Perine is the rookie back drafted to Washington and the early buzz is he could take the starting role over early in the season. But there are a lot of times where the buzz in July just doesn’t translate so be wary. Dixon got a lot of touches last year, but he will lose some of those to Danny Woodhead and his health history isn’t stellar. These are great guys to stash on your bench in case they break out, but don’t invest a high pick in any of them.
Round to Watch: Middle 12 to Middle 14
- Duke Johnson Jr.
- Charles Sims
- Chris Thompson
- Dion Lewis
- Darren McFadden
In this group you have a bunch of handcuff players (guys to own especially if you have the starter on that team). Duke Johnson is getting a lot of hype due to his ability to catch the ball, but he is also a Browns player and we know how that historically works out. Sims should get a decent amount of touches in the early season while Doug Martin serves his suspension, but what role will he have when he returns? Chris Thompson is another player in the Washington backfield and it’s tough to figure out right now how that is all going to shake out. Dion Lewis is another Patriot who could explode in one week before disappearing for another 3. McFadden is a great own, especially if Ezekiel Elliot gets suspended early in the year. After that, I wouldn’t hold on to him too long.
Round to Watch: Middle 14 to Late 15
Guys to Watch on Waivers or Pick in the Last Round
- Terrance West
- Jaquizz Rogers
- Alvin Kamara
- Jalen Richard
- Rex Burkhead
- Thomas Rawls
- Shane Vereen
Keep an eye or pick up a flyer on Alvin Kamara and Jalen Richard late in your draft. Richard is the most common sense replacement for Marshawn Lynch if he is ineffective and ran well last year. Kamara is in a similar situation in New Orleans for Adrian Peterson, and he had low mileage workloads in college.
- Ryan Matthews
- Joe Williams
- Damien Williams
- Lorenzo Taliaferro
- Tarik Cohen
- Andre Ellington
- D’Onta Foreman
- Chris Ivory
- Chris Johnson
The final group of running backs are guys who will strictly be waiver pickups and players who may hold keeper value. The three to keep a special eye on are Johnathan Williams, Tarik Cohen, and D’Onta Foreman as they could carry some value as gadget or goal line players this upcoming season.
Players I Will Not Own in Any League
In most of the drafts I have done, Lynch has come off the board in the middle 2nd or early 3rd round. I understand that the Raiders have a very good offensive line, but I just can’t trust Lynch to stay healthy and productive after a year out of the NFL. I’m more than happy to watch someone else take him and let a better player fall to me in those rounds.
He’s consistently a 5th round draft pick in the mock drafts that I have done and at that price I have no interest in him. There are plenty of options you can target both early and late in the draft that will give close to his production with less injury and age risk. I’ll pass.
Eddie Lacy is routinely targeted in the 6th round of drafts I’ve done and I can’t quite figure out why. I understand he had a solid season when he wasn’t fat Eddie a few years ago, but it isn’t like he’s on a team with a stellar offensive line (like Lynch). Plus, he carries his own injury risks as well. My general rule of thumb is to avoid drafting running backs who weigh damn near as much as me, and I’ll adhere to that rule here.
Players that Seem to Fall to Me
I have been able to get Perine in numerous leagues as a 10th or 11th round pick. Typically, he comes off the board as my fourth running back, which I think is excellent value since there is a very good chance he ends up the starter as the year goes on. I’ll gladly hoard him on my bench just in case he winds up with a majority of the touches.
Same rationale above plus add in the fact that Sean Payton hates Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson may be past his prime. If Kamara is sitting on the draft board in round 15, you might as well take a flyer on him.
Recent arrest aside, Foreman is a player who I have seen go undrafted nearly all of the time and I think of the young players he has a tremendous amount of upside. 1. Lamar Miller sucks and proved last year he can’t handle a big workload. 2. The Texans avoided Miller on the goal line last year because he isn’t the best downhill runner. Foreman could steal some early goal line touches and if he plays well early (combined with another slow start from Miller), he could take over the starting position pretty early in the year.
Young Player to Grab
Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon are all good answers here and you should obviously target them if they are on the board when you get to your pick in rounds 2-4. But all of them are common sense and will be talked up early in the year. Cook is a guy who may be available in Rounds 5-7 and is definitely worth a pick if you are in the hunt for an RB2 or a FLEX player. While the Minnesota offensive line isn’t fantastic, they did improve slightly in the offseason and I can’t help but think Cook is going to get massive touches both in the run and pass game due to where the Vikings drafted him. A running back’s value is in how many times he touches the ball during a game, and I just have a hunch that Cook is going to touch the ball a lot.
Jamaal Williams (Green Bay)/Joe Williams (San Francisco)
Both of these players will find themselves in situations that are conducive to them getting playing time as the season goes on. Jamaal Williams has already been named the number two running back going into training camp in Green Bay, plus Ty Montgomery has to prove he can replicate some of the success he had last year. In Joe Williams, you have a back-up running back in a situation where the coach has already publicly said that he isn’t the biggest fan of their number one player (Carlos Hyde). The slight not goes to Jamaal Williams because he’s on a much better team with a much better offense, so his touches will be far more valuable.