by Michael Nazarek/John Holler
Note: Below you will find a portion of our Fantasy Football Runningback
Rankings Analysis & Drafting Tips for 2017. If you'd
like to read all RB rankings analysis, please click HERE
to order our 2017 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
RB Ranking Position POSITION ANALYSIS - It seemed that just a couple of years ago that running back appeared, in fantasy football terms anyway, to be going the way of the dinosaur. However, that all changed in 2015, when guys like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and David Johnson began to change things up. Throw in Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard last year and the high expectations for Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook this season, the role of the running back – in fantasy football and in reality – is changing. These fantasy football RB rankings are based on a PPR format, but the first thing you will notice is that the running back position is undergoing a changing of the guard and there is a lot of young talent that is going to make a name for themselves as the 2017 rolls on.
RB Draft Tips- Found exclusively in the Guide.
THE MASTERMIND'S BEST BET:Found exclusively in the Guide.
The following rankings are based upon PPR (point-per-reception) leagues!
1ST TIER (ELITE STUD RBs)
1) David Johnson, ARZ – As a rookie in 2015, Johnson made it clear late in the season that there was a changing of the guard coming in Arizona. He started the final five games of the season, rushing for 442 yards, catching 17 passes and scoring five touchdowns. It set the tone for 2016, where he took over and blew up as a fantasy football RB producer. Despite an offense that struggled most of the season, Johnson was a dual threat like no other, rushing 293 times for 1,239 yards, catching 80 passes for 879 yards and scoring a whopping 20 touchdowns. He established himself as the big dog among the new crop of running backs and is going to be hard to beat because he rarely has to leave the field who rushed for 80 or more yards 10 times and caught three of more passes in every game. He is a legitimate three-down back and, as long as he stays healthy, a strong argument can be made that he is the best fantasy football running back in the game today. STAT FACT: In his last 19 games, he has scored touchdowns in 12 of them, but what makes Johnson so dangerous is that, in the 12 games he has scored a touchdown, he has scored two TDs or more in nine of them.
2) LeVeon Bell, PIT – In four seasons with the Steelers, between injuries and suspensions, Bell has only played all 16 games once, which in 2014 when he set the bar for his potential by rushing 290 times for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 83 passes for 854 yards and three more TDs. He was on pace for even bigger things in 2015, but his season ended after just six games. He was on pace to rush 300 times for 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns and catch 64 passes for 363 yards. Forced to sit out the first three games of the season and sitting out the regular season finale, in just 12 games, he rushed 261 times for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 75 passes for 6161 yards and two TDs. Those numbers would extrapolate out to 348 carries for 1,691 yards, catch 100 passes for 821 yards and 11 touchdowns. With those kinds of eye-popping numbers, it’s understandable why he will be the first overall pick in a lot of fantasy football drafts, but can he play all 16 games? He’s only done it once in four years, but the untapped potential is impossible to deny. STAT FACT: If the Steelers need a recipe for success, it’s giving the ball to Bell 20 times or more. In his career, he has 20 or more carries 24 times. The Steelers are 21-3 in those games.
2ND TIER (VERY CLOSE TO ELITE STUD RB STATUS)
3) Ezekiel Elliott, DAL – When the Cowboys drafted Elliott in the first round of last year’s draft, there was a strong feeling that he would have a big rookie season because of the gigantic offensive line in front of him and the unquestioned talent Elliott brought to the table. But few could have expected the consistent domination Elliott would have. He finished his rookie season playing in 15 games, rushing 322 times for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 363 yards and another TD. He finished the season with seven 100-yard games, 12 games with 20 or more carries, 10 games with touchdowns and five games with two or more touchdowns. It may be difficult to replicate the numbers he put up as a rookie in 2016, but if anyone is going to do it, it’s Elliott and the nearly one ton of steamrollers in front of him on the offensive line. His only question mark is for PPR owners because he isn’t used a ton as a receiver. STAT FACT: In his debut game against the Giants, Elliott ran 20 times for 51 yards. In the 14 games that followed, he never ran for less than 80 yards in any of those games, giving fantasy owners consistent and lethal production.
4) Melvin Gordon, LAC – As a rookie, Gordon was embarrassed when put into comparison to Todd Gurley. In 14 games, he rushed just 184 times for 641 yards, caught 33 passes for just 192 yards and didn’t score a single touchdown. His fantasy football rb ranking was down so low that his fantasy football stock was virtually worthless. With expectations low, Gordon responded before going down in the 13th game of the season. He rushed 254 times for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 41 passes for 419 yards and two TDs. Going from zero touchdowns to six or seven would have been enough to increase interest in him. But, to go from nothing to being one the league leaders in TDs when he went down, his stock has taken a significant upward hit in his favor. Now viewed as a centerpiece of the offense, even more production can be expected. STAT FACT: As a rookie, Gordon had 217 touches (184 carries, 33 receptions) and gained 833 yards – an average of 3.8 yards per touch. Last season, he had 295 touches (254 carries, 41 receptions) and gained 1,416 yards – an average of 4.8 yards per touch, which was an improvement of a yard every time he got his hands on the ball.
5) LeSean McCoy, BUF – In eight NFL seasons, McCoy has proved to be one of the most consistently dominant fantasy football running backs in the league. In the five seasons in his career that McCoy has started 13 or more games, he has topped 1,000 yards in all of them, including seasons with 1,309, 1,607, 1,319 and 1,267 thrown in. His touchdown totals have been sporadic After scoring 20 touchdowns in 2011, he scored just 26 in the next four seasons combined before rebounding with 14 TDs last season. He has proved be a solid dual threat, catching 40 or more passes in six of eight seasons and scoring two or more receiving touchdowns in five of the last seven seasons. Coming off a season in which he had his best rushing average per carry (5.4 yards), but, McCoy will be 29 before the start of the 2017 season, so the clock is ticking on his long-term productivity. Make no mistake, McCoy is the main man in the Buffalo offense, especially with Mike Gillislee gone and that shouldn’t change, but he’s likely to be facing diminishing returns down the line, but, until that happens, he will be counted on to be a strong fantasy starting. STAT FACT: When it came to having any question marks about McCoy, the clear indication is that you never bench him at home. In seven homes games last season, he rushed 125 times for 720 yards and 11 touchdowns. In eight road games, he rushed 109 times for 547 yards and two TDs.
3RD TIER (SOLID #1 FANTASY RBs)
6) Jordan Howard, CHI – When the Bears bid farewell to longtime featured back Matt Forte, the initial thought was that Jeremy Langford had the upper hand on being the long-term replacement. Then came Howard. In 15 games, he rushed 252 times for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. He not only took over the starting role from Langford, he owned it. He averaged 5.2 yards a carry, no small feat for an offense that struggled to put up points. He had less than 15 carries just twice in the last 13 games and topped 100 yards seven times in those 13 games. With change at quarterback taking place, the Bears are going to count on Howard, who quickly supplanted Adrian Peterson – whether he played or not – as the dominant running back in the NFC North and something that those other three teams will be dealing with. STAT FACT: Howard’s numbers are even more impressive considering he wasn’t a starter until Week 4. In the 13 games he actually started, he rushed 240 times for 1,246 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
7) Devonta Freeman, ATL – In his rookie season in 2014, Freeman was almost an afterthought as a backup runner in the Falcons offense and was expected to be the backup role to rookie Tevin Coleman, but when Coleman went down in the preseason, Freeman got the starting job and never gave it up. In 2015, he ran 265 times for 1,056 yards, caught 73 passes for 578 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Last year, with Coleman carving out his own role in the offense, it didn’t impact Freeman’s production. He rushed for 1,079 yards, caught 54 passes for 462 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. While Coleman has worked his way onto the field more than he was in 2015, Freeman is still the explosive player that will likely see more field time, but, when up against other fantasy football running backs who are much more in a singular lead role, it might impact his fantasy stock somewhat. STAT FACT: In 31 games over the last two seasons, he has scored touchdowns in 17 of those and has two or more TDs in seven games.
8) DeMarco Murray, TEN – Murray has been with three teams overt the last three years and has put together dominant seasons in two of them. A four-year starter in Dallas, he emerged as a fantasy football running backs threat in 2013, rushing for 1,121 yards, caught 53 passes and scored 10 touchdowns. He backed that up in 2014 with a league-best 1,845 rushing yards, a career-high 57 receptions for 416 yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns. Yet, when it came time for Dallas to invest heavily in a second contract, they let Murray walk. He was mismatched in the pinball offense of the Eagles team with which he signed and, when Chip Kelly was cut loose, Murray was traded to Tennessee. He reverted to his old form in his first year with the Titans last season, rushing 293 times for 1,287 yards, caught 53 passes for 377 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. While Derrick Henry may cut into his time as the younger, stronger rushing option, much the same was thought last year and Murray had one of the greatest fantasy seasons of 2016, so don’t count him out just yet. STAT FACT: Murray was much more dominant at home than on the road last season. Of the seven games in which he rushed for 90 or more yards, five of them came in Nashville, as did eight of his 12 touchdowns.
9) Jay Ajayi, MIA – When the Dolphins drafted Ajayi out of Boise State in 2015, it was clear he was going to be an asset to the offense, but there was some question as to the role he would take on in the offense. As a rookie, Ajayi was mired in a backup role. In nine games, he rushed just 49 times for 187 yards and caught seven passes for 90 yards and scored just one TD. He came into 2016 with low fantasy expectation, but blew up as the focal point of Miami’s rushing game. In 15 games (12 starts) he rushed 260 times for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 151 yards. He showed the toughness to be a full-time back and the speed and breakaway ability to be a dynamic force. As he enters his third season, the expectations of off the charts for Ajayi and his role in the Miami offense is clearly defined and big things are expected coming off his breakout season. STAT FACT: Ajayi’s numbers in 2016 were as wildly skewed as any running back in the league. In three games, he topped 200 yards vs. Pittsburgh, Buffalo and at Buffalo – rushing 83 times for 624 yards and four TDs. In the other 12 games combined, he rushed 177 times for 648 yards and four TDs, an average of 15 carries for 54 yards a game.
10) Todd Gurley, LAR – As a rookie in 2015, Gurley set the fantasy football RB world on fire, rushing 229 times for 1,106 yards, caught 21 passes for 188 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Huge things were expected from him in 2016, but the Rams offense was a joke, the offensive line was a sieve and Gurley wasn’t able to put the offense on his shoulders. After averaging 4.8 yards a carry as a rookie, last season, he rushed 278 times for just 885 yards (a 3.2 yard average). He more than doubled his receptions from 21 to 43, but he was limited to just 327 yards (a 7.6 yard average). Despite having 72 more touches (in three more games), he gained just 1,212 yards – 82 fewer than in 13 games as a rookie. A comeback is expected, but a fall from grace like that was hard to take for those who invested a first-round pick on Gurley and his stock will take a hit as a result at this year’s draft. STAT FACT: In his short career, Gurley has caught 64 passes, but has yet to score a touchdown through the air, which is relatively rare for featured backs near the goal line.
4TH TIER (COULD BE A TOP #10 RB IF RIGHT BREAKS HAPPEN).
If you'd like to read all RB rankings analysis, please click HERE to order our 2017 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
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