by Michael Nazarek/John Holler
Note: Below you will find a portion of our Fantasy Football Runningback
Rankings Analysis & Drafting Tips for 2018. If you'd
like to read all RB rankings analysis, please click HERE
to order our 2018 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
POSITION ANALYSIS - For years, the running back position in the fantasy world has been the most coveted, usually dominating the first round of drafts and being the highest-paid players in auctions – unlike the real NFL. The position has changed, but their value hasn’t. When there were only about 10 clear-cut elite running backs a few years ago, the value of the top guys became even higher because of the lack of players on the market. The recent infusion of elite talent like Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey have suddenly flooded the market with young talent – not to mention one of the stronger RB draft classes in recent years headed up by Saquon Barkley entering the league. Just like running backs were at a premium when every team had a featured back – the competition was for the best of the best – to when the pickings were slim, the new-look of the fantasy running back depth chart isn’t going to impact the guys at the top. If you want one of the best, you need to invest. The only difference is that now there are more available to invest in.
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) Todd Gurley, LAR – Gurley burst on the scene as a rookie in 2015, rushing 229 times for 1,106 yards, caught 21 passes for 188 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. In 2016, the Rams offense hit rock bottom as they tried to work in Jared Goff and Gurley paid the price. His average per carry went from 4.8 yards down to 3.2, as he rushed 278 times for 885 yards, caught 43 passes for 327 yards and scored just six touchdowns. Considering how much fantasy owners invested in him, the return on investment was nowhere close to what was expected. However, with the coaching change made after the 2016 season, Gurley became the most dangerous running back in the NFL last season, shattering all of his personal bests. In 15 games, he rushed 279 times, for 1,305 yards (a 4.7 yard average), caught 64 passes for a whopping 788 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. He was as dominant as any running back in the league and the Rams are locked and loaded for a Super Bowl run this season. While there will be competition for the No. 1 overall pick or highest paid auction player, a strong case can be made that Gurley deserves to be the No. 1 pick and, with an offense on the rise, his value could maintain its spot as to where it was last year – even though it’s a bar set awfully high and will be difficult to replicate in back-to-back seasons. STAT FACT: Gurley scored a touchdown in 10 of the 15 games he played, but had two or more touchdowns in a whopping seven games, including nine touchdowns in Weeks 14-16, which is when most leagues hold the fantasy playoffs – solidifying his fantasy MVP status.
2) David Johnson, ARZ – Johnson was the first pick in a lot of fantasy drafts last year and why not? In his first full season as a starter, he rushed for 1,239 yards, caught 80 passes for 879 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He was a throwback to the days when running backs like Roger Craig and later Marshall Faulk were just as dangerous in the pass game as the rush game. But, a freak wrist injury in Week 1 lost Johnson for the year in 2017 and, while it isn’t an injury that will threaten his career or give owners reason for concern like an ACL injury would, he may not be the first running back to come off the board. Given the plans the Cardinals have for him, whether it’s with fragile veteran Sam Bradford or rookie hotshot Josh Rosen, both will be depending on Johnson for their livelihood, which should be a good thing for him. He seemed like an ideal complement when veteran Carson Palmer was throwing the ball. Now with a change at the top, there may be more of a defensive focus on Johnson, but that shouldn’t prevent owners from jumping on his game-breaking big-play ability. STAT FACT: In his last 19 games as a starter prior to his injury in Week 1, Johnson scored at least one touchdown in 12 of those games. More impressive to fantasy owners, he scored two or more touchdowns in nine of those 19 games.
3) Le’Veon Bell, PIT – Bell has been a dominant running back despite rarely being able to fully show his wares. In five seasons, he has played in all 16 games just once (2014), but has been as overpowering as any RB in the league when he’s on the field. In 2014, he rushed 290 times for 1,361 yards, caught 83 passes for 854 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. In 2016, he played in just 12 games, but rushed 261 times for 1,268 yards, caught 75 passes for 616 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Last year, he played in 15 games, leading the league with 321 rushes for 1,291 yards, caught 85 passes for 655 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. In his last three seasons of 12 games or more, his total yardage numbers are gaudy (2,215-1,884-1,946) and, despite having his share of contract squabbles with the Steelers, he is likely to be the first player chosen in a lot of drafts and you can’t blame someone who uses the first pick on him. There will be legitimate concerns that another potential holdout could cause him to get off to a slow start, but Bell has found ways to be a multi-dimensional threat that can hurt you a lot of different way. STAT FACT: Of the 29 touchdowns he has scored dating back to December 2014, 19 of them have come away from Heinz Field and just 10 of them have come in Pittsburgh.
2ND TIER (VERY CLOSE TO ELITE STUD RB STATUS)
4) Ezekiel Elliott, DAL – As a rookie in 2016, Elliott helped a lot of fantasy owners win championships, leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns in 15 games. He was forced to sit out six games due to suspension last season, but, in the 10 games he played, he rushed 242 times for 983 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Back, healthy and expected to retake his place as the pre-eminent runner in the league – in 25 career games, he has averaged almost 23 carries and 105 yards a game rushing and 25 receiving yards a game. Few running backs are as important to an offense as Elliott is in Dallas and the Cowboys have made it clear – both with DeMarco Murray and Elliott – that they subscribe to the idea of basing their offense around a bell cow running back. That sentiment may be even stronger given the retirement of tight end Jason Witten and the release of Dez Bryant. Elliott is as dominant a running back as there is in the NFL and a case can be made that he deserves to be the No. 1 overall pick in most drafts. STAT FACT: In 25 career games, Elliott has incredibly consistent, rushing for 90 more yards in 18 of those games, scoring touchdowns in 15 games and scoring two or more eight times.
5) Alvin Kamara, NO – Kamara was viewed as a weapon for the Saints offense, but few could have expected how dominant he could be. He finished the season rushing 120 times for 728 yards (a 6.1 yard average) and eight touchdowns and caught 81 passes for 826 yards and five more TDs. He scored at least one touchdown in every game and did so despite never having more than 12 carries in a game. He wasn’t a gigantic big play threat as a rusher – he had just four carries of more than 20 yards – he still averaged more than six yards a carry by virtue of consistently picking up chunks of yardage at a time. But, his best value is that he was as dangerous a receiver as the Saints had. With Mark Ingram out for the first four games of the 2018 serving a suspension, Kamara has the opportunity to be the main man in the offense to start the season, but the Saints clearly have plans for him and despite a consistent lack of touches, he may well be drafted to be an every-week starter despite playing in a part-time fantasy role. STAT FACT: Kamara was as consistent and dominant a receiver as there was among running backs last season. He caught at least three passes in every game, had five or more 10 games (including eight of the last nine) and had at least one catch of 20 or more yards in 10 games (including nine of the last 11).
6) Kareem Hunt, KC – Hunt came to Kansas City with the expectation of being a change-of-pace back. Too many times an undersized back is viewed as an injury risk and a player who isn’t capable of withstanding a 16-game NFL schedule. All Hunt did was lead the NFL in rushing, carrying 272 times for 1,327 yards, catching 53 passes for 455 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. He took over the starting role early and never looked back. He had 10 games with 17 or more carries in the 15 that he played the full game (he was rested after one carry for a 35-yard touchdown in Week 17) and topped 100 yards six times. With the Chiefs turning the offense over to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Hunt is likely setting himself up to be used a lot again this season as the Chiefs look to become even more explosive. There will likely remain some concerns over his long-term health, but, he’s a home run hitter who can do fantasy damage every time he touches the ball. STAT FACT: When it came to putting up big fantasy games, Hunt was feast or famine. In the first four games of the season, he scored six touchdowns and had three 100-yard rushing games. In the last four games, he had two 100-yard games, a 91-yard game and scored five touchdowns – with at least one touchdown in all four of them. In the nine games in between, he had just one 100-yard rushing game (in Week 5) and no touchdowns.
7) Saquon Barkley, NYG ® – The Giants running game has literally been a turnstile in recent years. Aside from one decent season out Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012 – the last time the Giants had a 1,000-yard rusher – New York has been rolling through running backs like a fat man through a bag of chips. It’s not a "who’s who" by any strength – a list including David Wilson, Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis, Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman. To call this group anything but a hot mess would be an understatement. As a result, the Giants used the second pick on Barkley to bring an end to the cavalcade of running backs that have been handed the starting job and giving the Giants their most explosive runner since Tiki Barber in his prime. Draft analysts have said that, at this point in their respective careers, Barkley is a superior back to Ezekiel Elliott, who is viewed by many as the best RB in the game today. It’s always a dice roll to gamble on a rookie and how he will fit in an offense, but Barkley could be actually rated too low for the role in the offense he is expected to take. He has all the makings of a breakout fantasy star.
8) Melvin Gordon, LAC – As a rookie, Gordon had all the looks of a first-round bust. He was the featured back in the Chargers offense, rushing 184 times for 641 yards and caught 33 passes for 192 yards, but didn’t score a touchdown. In the two seasons since, he has scored 12 touchdowns in both seasons. Over his first three seasons, he has seen his production increase in terms of rushes (184-254-284), rushing yards (641-997-1,105), receptions (33-41-58), receiving yards (192-419-476) and touchdowns (0-12-12). He has become a dominant force in the Chargers backfield and is the perfect complement to Philip Rivers and the wide open Los Angeles passing attack. He has earned the Chargers picking up his fifth year option and there is little reason to think that his production will drop this season despite numerous personnel changes. He is the one constant in an offense that is morphing on the fly. He has missed five games due to injury in his career, but has proved to be a big-time player when he’s on the field and a consistent fantasy threat worthy of being an every-week fantasy starter regardless of opponent. STAT FACT: If you’re a team hosting the Chargers, you want nothing to do with Gordon. Of his 24 career touchdowns, 15 of them have come on the road, including eight of his 12 touchdowns in 2017. In addition, he only had two 100-yard rushing games last season and both of those came in road games.
3RD TIER (SOLID #1 FANTASY RBs)
If you'd like to read all RB rankings analysis, please click HERE to order our 2018 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
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