Positional Preview - Running Back
We're working through each of the major positions for the upcoming fantasy football season. To be clear, this is a fake football article. We will discuss players in tiers and a little strategy along the way. Rankings within a tier are less important than the tier the player appears in. As always, your thoughtful comments are welcome below. We'll run through these rankings in countdown style. Team and bye week are listed for convenience. We're ranking a somewhat unwieldy 56 names (Matt Forte + Walter Payton) and we are almost certainly sleeping on a handful or more that will be relevant by the end of the year.
Tier 8 - Handcuffs and Longshots
56. DeAndre Washington, OAK, 10; 55. Jerrick McKinnon, MIN, 6; 54. LeGarrette Blount, NE, 9;
53. Spencer Ware, KC, 5; 52. Darren McFadden, DAL, 7; 51. Javorius Allen, BAL, 8;
50. Kenneth Dixon, BAL, 8; 49. Paul Perkins, NYG, 8; 48. Bilal Powell, NYJ, 11;
47. James Starks, GB, 4; 46. Charles Sims, TB, 6; 45. Derrick Henry, TEN, 13;
44. Karlos Williams, BUF, 10; 43. Jordan Howard, CHI, 9; 42. Tevin Coleman, ATL, 11;
41. T.J. Yeldon, JAC, 5; C.J. Prosise, SEA, 5
Every year, we pull this tier reveals some huge names for fantasy championships. The problem is that it's almost always dependent on injuries. This is the idea behind handcuffing. It's not my favorite technique - I'd rather stock usable players than burn roster spots on insurance. However, there are some guys that make sense to carry the caddy. My favorite guys on the list are Jordan Howard and C.J. Prosise because I think there is a legitimate chance they supplant starters Jeremy Langford and Thomas Rawls for the early down role. Derrick Henry is also of interest as DeMarco Murray has an extensive injury history.
Tier 7 - Third Down Specialists with Upside:
39. Darren Sproles, PHI, 4
38. Theo Riddick, DET, 10
37. Danny Woodhead, SD, 11
If you're in a PPR league, you don't need me to introduce you to these names. Sproles is a long-time contributor in the passing game and can provide the occasional bump in the return game. He disappeared last year but Doug Peterson likely has a better idea how to consistently get use out of him. Woodhead was the most valuable back in the Chargers backfield last year and if Melvin Gordon can't establish himself early on, he might prove to be a steal.
Tier 6 - Position Battles and Short Time Starters:
36. DeAngelo Williams, PIT, 8
35. Jay Ajayi, MIA, 8 & 34. Arian Foster, MIA, 8
33. Isaiah Crowell, CLE, 13 & 32. Duke Johnson, CLE, 13
You get 4 free starts out of DeAngelo Williams to start the year on what appears to be a top notch offense. He filled in beautifully for Le'Veon Bell after the injury last year. My advice is to take Williams a round or 2 earlier if you're playing Zero RB strategy or taking a chance on Bell early. The position battles are up in the air in Miami and Cleveland so don't gamble until the money is right.
Tier 5 - Plenty of Question Marks:
31. Rashad Jennings, NYG, 8; 30. Ryan Mathews, Phi, 4; 29. Melvin Gordon, SD, 11;
28. Ameer Abdullah, DET, 10; 27. Justin Forsett, BAL, 8; 26. Chris Ivory, JAC, 5
25. Frank Gore, IND, 10; 24. Jonathan Stewart, CAR, 7; 23. Thomas Rawls, SEA, 5
For one reason or another, you've got to talk yourself into counting on all of these guys in Tier 5. Essentially, these are RB3s in my book - guys you take for insurance to your starters. I'm sure I'm going to take some heat on Rawls, but I've got a feeling he loses the job to Prosise. Forsett is coming back from injury, Gore is on the wrong side of 30, and Abdullah, Gordon, and Ivory are on bad running teams. There's plenty of talent and opportunity here but I'd feel better if these guys started the year on my bench and not in my lineup.
Tier 4 - Solid RB2 Crowd:
22. Jeremy Langford, CHI, 9
21. Dion Lewis, NE, 9
20. Matt Jones, WAS, 9
19. Giovani Bernard, CIN, 9
18. Jeremy Hill, CIN, 9
17. DeMarco Murray, TEN, 13
I'll invoke the Gin Blossoms on Tier 4 - "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down." The ceiling on these guys is relatively low to the players above them but these are bonafide starters on legit offenses (with a little projection in Tennessee). The problem in Cincinnati is that you have two very good backs. If one were to get hurt, the other vaults up into Tier 2. It's also a good rule not to trust a Bill Belichick running back, but Dion Lewis did great things last year with the role. If you're in a PPR league, he gets a significant bump. As I mentioned before, Langford could lose early down work to Jordan Howard, so he's modestly ranked on this list.
Tier 3 - Safe Bets
16. C.J. Anderson, DEN, 11
15. Eddie Lacy, GB, 4
14. Matt Forte, NYJ, 11
13. Latavius Murray, OAK, 10
12. LeSean McCoy, BUF, 10
11. Carlos Hyde, SF, 8
10. Mark Ingram, NO, 5
Talent, volume, and lack of competition. This group is about as safe as it gets outside of the game changers this year. If you spend early draft capital on wide receivers and can grab one or two in this group, you're probably still going to be okay. I'm probably higher than most on Carlos Hyde, but I believe in his talent and the opportunity in Chip Kelley's offense. He's the best player on the field there and that's worth something even on a bad team. Mark Ingram is the most boring top 10 back to own - ever - but you'll continue to cash in with his steady production. I think we're all curious to see Matt Forte in Green, but I still think he's a shade better than
Fat Skinny Eddie Lacy. McCoy is a dynamic talent on a truly ground and pound team. He was hurt last year. He's a safe bet because of team context and volume but he could also vault into Tier 1 if the stars align.
Tier 2.5 - The Suspension Gamble
9. Le'Veon Bell, PIT, 8
If Bell wasn't suspended for 4 games, I'd have him #1. The problem is that he is suspended for 25% of the season and those early games indeed matter. If you draft him in a traditional draft, you're still taking him early and you're going to need to make sure you grab DeAngelo Williams. That's like a 2nd and 6th or 7th rounder for that one spot. If you're in an auction, you're going to need to carve out enough of your budget for both. Either way, remember that any discount you may get on his price should be plowed back into securing Williams. It's a bit of a gamble but it juuuust might be worth it.
Tier 2 - Semi-Elite
8. Doug Martin, TB, 6
7. Lamar Miller, HOU, 9
6. Devonta Freeman, ATL, 11
5. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL, 7
4. Jamaal Charles, KC, 5
There's a lot to like about each guy on this list but there's a small ring of doubt I hear when I say their names. Doug Martin - is he for real or was he a contract year boom? Lamar Miller was great on a per carry basis in Miami - but what's he going to look like in Houston with Brock Osweiler handing him the ball? Is the Devonta Freeman explosion sustainable or will Tevin Coleman eat into his workload and he'll become Giovani Bernard? Will Zeke Elliott live up to the hype or be the next Trent Richardson? Can Jamaal Charles stay healthy for 16 games or will his two surgically repaired knees give out? Make your case either way - these guys will all be gone by the end of round 2. I can make a case for all 5 of these guys to finish the year at #1...but the best cases are the true Tier 1 cats.
Tier 1 - Elite
3. Adrian Peterson, MIN, 6
2. Todd Gurley, LAR, 8
1. David Johnson, ARI, 9
At this point, there's no mystery as to what Adrian Peterson is and what he can bring to your fantasy team. For some reason, I have a hard time wanting him on my team because he's burned me in the past around fantasy playoff time. Plus, he wears purple and gold so it's really tough to cheer for that... Todd Gurley is the reigning rookie of the year and the focal point of the Rams offense. He is an all-world talent with speed to burn and if you want to take him at the top of the draft, I won't blame you. But my guy is David Johnson, Arizona's second year man out of mighty Northern Iowa. He did it all in his rookie year, returning a kick for a score in his first game followed by taking his first professional catch to the house. He just kept getting better and better every week and if you watched Amazon's All or Nothing, you know just how highly Bruce Arians and Running Backs Coach Stump Mitchell think of him. I understand the argument of pedigree for AP or Gurley, but I'll take my chances with the guy in the dynamic offense that is clearly ascending into superstardom.
What say you reader? Who are you targeting in your drafts? Who are you avoiding? Who are your super sleepers?