Fantasy Football: Running Back Rankings and Tiers

It’s time to discuss what makes for the heart of a fantasy football roster, the RBs. Every year there seems to be less and less RBs you can depend on. With everyone going to a committee and everyone getting a specialist for specific things, the idea of 1 workhorse RB is fading fast. Because of this, there are only about 10 RBs that you can depend on to carry the load, so if you want 1 of them, you’re going to have to go get them early. So, with that being said, let’s go over the Running Back Rankings and tiers for the 2017 NFL season.

Remember, these rankings are in the order of my personal preference, so if they are within the same tier, I think all of them will be around the same range from a fantasy point projections perspective, so feel free to choose who you prefer.

Tier 1 – Elite

Le’Veon Bell
David Johnson
Ezekiel Elliott

Bell is the best RB in the league and when he’s not suspended, he proves it every week. He was as good, if not better than any back in the league on a per game basis and he’s playing on a franchise tag, so he’s playing for his money. Johnson was the overall total points leaders in most leagues last year. The only thing that can hurt him is being on a bad team and carrying too much of a load. Elliott is actually #2 on my list, but due to the suspension, you have to wonder how far down he will fall in drafts. There is still a gap between him and the 4th RB, so he still carries value. Hopefully, his suspension gets reduced.

Tier 2 – #1 Type RBs

LeSean McCoy
Devonte Freeman
Melvin Gordon
Jordan Howard
Jay Ajayi
Todd Gurley
Lamar Miller

McCoy is 1 of my favorite RBs in the league. He’s like watching a video game. He is getting near to the dreaded 30 years old mark, but I still trust him to put up great numbers. Freeman was thought to be handing off the lead back role to Tevin Coleman, but his handle on the starting job is stronger than ever. The perfect offense for him. Gordon isn’t flashy, but he has no competition for carries, he’s in a high scoring offense, and they force feed him the ball inside the 10. Those elements equal out to a top 10 back.

Howard and Ajayi will put up very close numbers to Gordon, they just don’t have a QB to take the pressure off them. I’m predicting that in a new offense with more weapons, Gurley will return to being the beast he was the year before. Miller always had the look of a top 10 back, all he needed as the carries. He has the volume with the Texans and when you add the receiving ability, it makes him a great threat to finish on the top 10 list. The only thing missing is the TDs.

Tier 3 – Top 10 Potential

Joe Mixon
Leonard Fournette
Christian McCaffrey
Isaiah Crowell
Dalvin Cook
Mike Gillislee

If it was purely on field skill, Mixon would be 1 of the top 5 most talented backs in the league, but due to offensive line issues and off the field issues, he’s just outside the top 10. He will grab the starting job from Hill very quickly. Fournette and McCaffrey are 2 very different back. Fournette has the speed/power combo and will be given 20 carries a game. McCaffrey will get 12 carries and 4 catches a game and has much better vision. Whichever one you prefer, that’s your guy. I think both will be close when all is said and done. However, McCaffrey may be better in real life than he does in fantasy.

Crowell has all the talent in the world, but he’s on the Browns. Last year he proved that doesn’t matter and ran very well. With an improved offensive line and more weapons, he could be in for a big year. Cook is another rookie who I like, but what I don’t like is his line. Because of that, I see a lot of inconsistent games in his future. Gillislee is now the beneficiary of being the starting and goal line back for the best red zone team in the sport. For him, that could be 900-1000 yards and 10-12 TDs. Not bad.

Tier 4 – Low-End Starters

Demarco Murray
Marshawn Lynch
Ty Montgomery
CJ Anderson
LeGarrette Blount
Carlos Hyde
Mark Ingram
Spencer Ware

Murray, Lynch, Montgomery, and Anderson are 4 guys that will all split carries with someone else. How much they split will determine how much higher or lower they end up than this ranking. Murray will be drafted way too high for me. I’m not overly high on Lynch. Montgomery has talent but also has a rookie breathing down his neck. And lastly, Anderson will be facing a lot of 8 man boxes due to his QB not exactly being a huge threat.

I think Blount has a chance to be huge this year if he’s used the correct way. He doesn’t need 20 carries, he just needs short yardage, goal line, and 4th quarter work. Give him 15 carries a game. Hyde has the talent of a top 10 back, but the system doesn’t seem to fit him and he also has a rookie, who was drafted to fit the system. Ingram is a good back, but with Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara there, it’s too crowed for my blood. Ware is a solid, but not special back. They love their rookie Kareem Hunt, who I will get to later. Not sure how long he will hold the rookie off. You don’t draft rookie RBs to sit long.

Tier 5 – Bye Week Replacements

Ameer Abdullah
Paul Perkins
Frank Gore
Doug Martin
Derrick Henry
Tevin Coleman
Jonathan Stewart
Eddie Lacy
Rob Kelley

Anyone that read my column last year knows I’m high on Abdullah, and I feel the same way about Perkins. They are guys that, if healthy, I think they can be every week flex options and you can get them pretty late in drafts, as in the 7th or 8th round. Gore and Martin are older guys that won’t win you any championships, but they should be solid enough that they won’t lose you any championships either.

Henry and Coleman will still be solid, even as a backup, but if Murray or Freeman get hurt, watch out. They might not get the job back. Stewart, Lacy, and Kelley are all guys who will start but may not end up getting the lion’s share of carries the 2nd half of the year. Stewart is always hurt, Lacy has weight issues and Kelley is good but hasn’t shown to be something special. If all 3 play well, they make for great value picks, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.

Tier 6 – Last Resort

Adrian Peterson
Terrance West
Matt Forte
Theo Riddick
James White
Danny Woodhead
Darren Sproles
Jamaal Charles
Bilal Powell

I’m not high on Peterson. I think he’s done, but he has his chance to prove me wrong with the Saints. Take at your own risk. West and Forte are probably in the worst RB situations in the league. West has talent, but it’s a coin flip on if he can be average. Forte is on the Jets, that’s about all I need to say there. Riddick and White will be every week flex guys in PPR. I like both guys and wouldn’t hesitate to pick them in the middle of your drafts.

Woodhead will split time with West and could provide some value in a PPR league, but neither is going to be an every week starter. Sproles is an older version of Riddick and White, but he still may have some juice left. This is his final year, so he may try to go out with a good one, but I’m not expecting it. Charles will get 10-12 carries a week. He would need an injury to get more than that. Powell will backup Forte and as I said earlier about Forte, not a good situation.

Tier 7 – High-End Backups

Darren McFadden
Jamaal Williams
Thomas Rawls
Kareem Hunt
Latavius Murray
Jeremy Hill
Chris Johnson
Samaje Perine

McFadden can be huge while Elliott is suspended. He had 1,000 yards in 11 starts the year before. Williams is the rookie that is breathing down the neck of Montgomery. Rawls know the offense better than Lacy and I suspect that Pete Carroll trusts him more. Hunt may take the starting job from Ware if he can show flashes early. He’s more explosive and athletic than Ware in my opinion.

Murray was the projected starter before Cook was drafted. Now it looks like he may need an injury to get significant playing time. Hill was great his rookie year and has been god-awful the last 2 years. He may be the figurehead starter, but Mixon will carry the load. Johnson used to live off his speed but now uses his vision to carve his way through the spaces. No longer a top back, but a very solid backup if Johnson gets hurt. Perine is a rookie that so far hasn’t looked good in camp. Rob Kelley isn’t anything spectacular, but he’s solid. Perine must step his game up to get a timeshare.

Next up we’ll move on to the new stars of fantasy football, the WRs. Rule changes in the league over the past 10 years have made it almost impossible to stop an elite WR. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about the top 60 WRs in fantasy football, so don’t miss it. Once again, if you have a draft before then, good luck and if you have any draft or fantasy football questions, I can be reached on twitter with the handle @Pacman453323.

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