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Fantasy Files - Running Back Rankings

Todd Gurley reigns king, but there are a number of good backs gunning for the top spot

NFL Draft
You did it, Todd! My #1 overall fantasy draft pick!
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We’re in deep now. Below are my rankings for the ever perilous running back position. These are my opinions and how I stack my board. I will be wrong about a lot of this stuff – that’s just how these things work out – but hopefully this gives us a launching point for a conversation. My rankings will consider a 0.5 PPR format and a turnover tax of -3, because that’s the format I prefer. If you want to deep dive and missed them the first time out, check out my divisional previews: AFC South, AFC East, AFC West, AFC North, NFC North, NFC East, NFC West, NFC South. I break all positional rankings into tiers. Players in the same tier are considered close enough to equal to make no difference within the tier. It’s sort of a Belichick-ian way of approaching a fantasy draft. As always, civil discourse is encouraged in the comment section below.

Tier 1: The Elite – 1. Todd Gurley LAR, 2. Le’Veon Bell PIT, 3. Zeke Elliot DAL

I’ve settled on these 3 as acceptable #1 overall picks, but I’m firm on my order of preference. Gurley is here by virtue of sealing championship victories for basically any competitive team last year with his amazing late season performance. If Bell can stay healthy, he’s got 2,000+ yards from scrimmage potential in a potent offense. I’m not the biggest fan of Zeke Elliot or the Cowboys but his talent is tough to deny. With that offensive line and lack of weapons in the passing game, I can see Elliot’s workload going up.

Tier 2: Elite with a Caveat – 4. David Johnson ARI, 5. Alvin Kamara NO, 6. Kareem Hunt KC

David Johnson missed 15 games last year after an opening week injury to his wrist. You’d have to believe he’s going to be the focal point of the Cardinals offense this year. My concern is that the combination of Bradford & Rosen and a shaky offensive line will lead to stacked boxes. Look for him to contribute a lot in the passing game. Kamara is in the running for my favorite non-Bears player as he was a major component of my 2017 success and returns to two of my keeper-format teams. He’ll have full run of the place with Mark Ingram opening the year serving a suspension and could conceivably launch himself into the group above. My biggest concern with Kamara is what happens when Ingram returns and if Ingram ends up serving as a governor on Kamara’s ceiling. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing a year ago, despite have a multi-game stretch where he was forgotten in the game plan. I expect big things from him this year.

Tier 3: Solid Floor, Potential Elite Ceiling – 7. Melvin Gordon LAC, 8. Leonard Fournette JAX, 9. Jordan Howard CHI, 10. Devonta Freeman ATL, 11. Dalvin Cook MIN

This is the area of the late first, early second round where teams will start to take the top WRs. If I’m in the later part of round 1, early round 2, I’d love to have one of these guys to pair with an elite pass catcher like Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins. My preference in this group starts with Gordon, who seems to be flying under the radar. He’s got a full workload in an elite offense on what I believe will be a very good team. Fournette is the centerpiece to an offense that wants to take the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands and rest their elite defense. He’s a strong bet to lead the league in carries. I’ve heard some people say the new offense in Chicago is going to hurt Jordan Howard’s fantasy value…okay, feel free to push him down the board and onto my roster. Freeman and Cook have potential anchors weighing them down in Tevin Coleman and Latavius Murray respectively. Still, I like them both as RB1s.

Tier 4: High Risk, High Reward? – 12. Jay Ajayi PHI, 13. Saquon Barkley NYG, 14. Derrick Henry TEN, 15. Christian McCaffrey CAR, 16. LeSean McCoy* BUF

Basically, I didn’t know what to do with these guys. Part of me wants to rank them higher, part of me wants to fade them. Simply put, caveat emptor. I’m higher on Ajayi than most, and that’s fine, but we’re talking about the best offensive line in football, an elite offensive set up, and plenty of fantasy points to be had. I think he’s a bargain. On the flip side, I’m lower on Barkley than most. Yes, I think he’s an exciting talent, but I have a hard time believing in this Giants offense. I thought we were going to see Derrick Henry get the reigns after his playoff breakout performance but my expectations are tempered with the signing of Dion Lewis. I’ve seen glowing reports of Christian McCaffrey, but he was so bad at running the ball last year that I think he’s a receiver. Either the Panthers will figure out how to build a running game around him or he’ll become a slot receiver by midseason. McCoy is here because of his off-field issues, which seem bizarre to say the least. With Tyrant Goodell at the helm of the league, I have no idea what will happen in terms of discipline so I have him way down on my board relative to talent. Oh, and I think the Bills are going to be a disaster.

Tier 5: Context and Red Flags – 17. Sony Michel NE, 18. Alex Collins BAL, 19. Lamar Miller HOU, 20. Jerick McKinnon SF, 21. Tarik Cohen CHI, 22. Royce Freeman DEN, 23. Mark Ingram NO, 24. Dion Lewis NE, 25. Joe Mixon CIN, 26. Rashaad Penny SEA, 27. Isaiah Crowell NYJ

Michel’s been injured in the preseason and so this ranking may end up being really stupid, but I love his potential in this offense and I believe the Patriots intend to work him into the offense early as the lead back. I’m not particularly high on McKinnon, and he’s already dealing with injury issues, but I think Jimmy G is the real deal and he’ll benefit from having a top signal caller. Mixon was a disaster last year and hard to trust that offensive line. Yes, I have Cohen pretty high. Yes, I’m biased. I just think he’s electric and he’s going to be consistently used by Nagy and has big play potential every time he touches the ball. Penny has been hurt in Seattle but should be the guy when he gets back to full strength.

Tier 6: Hope and a Prayer – 28. Kenyan Drake MIA, 29. Ronald Jones II TB, 30. Nick Chubb CLE, 31. Marshawn Lynch OAK, 32. Kerryon Johnson DET, 33. Chris Thompson WAS, 34. Tevin Coleman ATL, 35. CJ Anderson CAR

I don’t really want anything to do with Miami or Cleveland, but Drake and Chubb at least have an excitement level in their game that can get me to take a chance on them for a bench spot. I hope that I’m wrong about Lynch because the league is more fun when he’s beasting, but the volume wasn’t really there last year for fantasy relevance. Maybe Kerryon Johnson can break the Lions curse, but there is plenty of competition for carries this season. I like him better as a dynasty / keeper league option. The Washington backfield is a mess with rookie Derrius Guice injured and out for the year, but Thompson is at least a known quantity in the passing game and a favorite of Jay Gruden.

Tier 7: Handcuffs and Hand Grenades – 36. Jordan Wilkins IND, 37. Spencer Ware KC, 38. Carlos Hyde CLE, 39. Rex Burkhead NE, 40. LaGarrette Blount DET, 41. Ty Montgomery GB, 42. Corey Clement PHI, 43. Bilal Powell NYJ, 44. Giovani Bernard CIN, 45. Kenneth Dixon BAL, 46. Devontae Booker DEN

Maybe Hyde wins and holds onto the job in Cleveland, but I’ve been burned by Hyde too many times to follow his game to the Land. I have no idea what the GB running game is going to look like but the only guy I even bothered to rank is Ty Montgomery. I have a lot of confidence that he’ll be involved in the passing game and he has the chops to be a legitimate runner. He’s probably too low on this list. I believe the rest of these names are roster worthy but likely need an injury to gain weekly relevance.

Tier 8: Last Resort – 47. Frank Gore MIA, 48. Donta Foreman HOU, 49. Matt Breida SF, 50. Chris Carson SEA, 51. Nyheim Hines IND, 52. Marlon Mack IND, 53. Doug Martin OAK, 54. Rob Kelley WAS

As we come to the end, I suppose this is a collection of names I keep seeing on the board that I’m simply not going to draft anywhere. The most controversial inclusion on this tier is probably Chris Carson, who some believe will be the guy in Seattle. I simply don’t believe in the Seattle run game to start with and you don’t draft a back in the first round if you don’t intend to start him right away. I don’t see Carson holding onto relevance nor was I overly impressed during his audition last year.

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