Fantasy Football: NFL Running Back Rankings and Tiers

The last 2 articles helped you prepare for the QBs and TEs, now it’s time to move onto the meat and potatoes of Fantasy Football, the RB. With more passing in today’s game, people have forgotten how important RBs are. I’m here to remind you. So, today, we’ll be going through Running Back Rankings and tiers for the 2018 NFL season.

Don’t forget, these fantasy football rankings are in the order of my personal preference. If they are within the same tier, all should be around the same range from a fantasy point projections perspective. Feel free to choose whom you prefer.

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Tier 1 – Elite

Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
LeVeon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys

I think I legitimately have a man-crush on Todd Gurley. I hyped him all last season, I draft him in as many leagues as possible, and he won me 4 championships in 7 fantasy football leagues. Yea, Gurley is my #1 running back. Bell has a legit gripe to be #1, but with him continuing to miss training camps, and now with it seeming like this is his last year in Pittsburgh, just be prepared for a change. Elliott is a beast if he’s on the field. The only reason he’s below Gurley and Bell is that of their bonus of catching passes out the backfield.

Tier 2 – Top 5 Possible

Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals

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I honestly have a very hard time separating Gordon, Kamara, and Hunt. All are good runners. All are good pass catchers. In fact, all are backs that are in explosive offenses. This is purely a preference thing, but all of them probably approach 1500-1600 yard and 12-14 TDs. I would put Johnson in the 3rd tier, but out of respect, I’ll keep him here. The Cardinals have 2 bad OTs, their starting C is out for the year, and they don’t have the same weapons as they did 2 years ago. I would stay away, but that’s just me.

Christian McCaffrey is poised for a breakout year.

Tier 3 – Rest of the #1 Backs

Saquan Barkley – New York Giants
Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals

This may be too much, but I think Barkley has a chance to have the impact that Adrian Peterson had when he joined the league. He’s fast. He’s big. He has good vision. With the Giants improved line, he could be a monster in year 1. The same things I said to describe Barkley, also applies to Fournette, except he doesn’t catch passes as well. That seems like a little thing, but it’s big in today’s NFL.

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Cook was setting the league on fire before getting hurt last year. He may have some goal-line carries stolen away, but he’s a no doubt stud. My new man-crush for this year is McCaffrey. He added 10 pounds of muscle to carry the load. I think he has potential to go for 1000 rushing and 1000 receiving yards. Yes, I’m that high on him. Mixon is 1 of the most talented backs in the league. The only thing holding him back is the Bengals offensive line.

Tier 4 – Borderline #1 Backs

Devonte Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
Jerick McKinnon – San Francisco 49ers
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles

Freeman took a step back last year, but the entire Falcons offense did. He can do everything asked of him on the football field. He is limited because of his talented backup, who takes a good chunk of his production, but we’ll get to him later. McCoy is really a top 10 back. However, everything you hear out of Buffalo is that they will scale him back. Could be a sleeper for a #1 type running back. Howard will come off the field on 3rd downs, but as a runner, he is 1 of the best. Should continue to put up good numbers.

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I like McKinnon as a back, but I am tempering expectations. The 49ers are a very hyped team. Although they are not there yet. He will be the lead running back, but he won’t get 20 touches a game. Speaking of 20 touches a game, we may see that from Henry. The Titans signed Lewis from New England, but with the departure of Demarco Murray, it’s no doubt Henry will be a bell cow. At 245 pounds, he’s scary. Ajayi will benefit from being behind one of the best lines in the sport. That is always a good thing to depend on.

Tier 5 – Starters

Kenyon Drake – Miami Dolphins
Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions
Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns
Isaiah Crowell – New York Jets

Drake got a chance to shine after the Dolphins trade Ajayi. He showed flashes of being a dependable back, but there are a lot of questionable pieces on that team, offensively. Must wait to see how it plays out. Jones has a lot of talent and has NFL speed, but he has struggled in pass protection and that will limit any RBs plays, no matter how good they are. Miller has turned into the boring pick. He won’t be great, but he won’t kill you either. He’s right where he is, a low-end #2 type running back.

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Johnson will get a chance to do what previous Lions backs have been able to do, get 100 yards in a game. But much more than that, Johnson hopes to stabilize the Lions running game and balance out an offense that may be good. If Hyde can hold off the rookie Nick Chubb, he could produce solid numbers for a Browns team that has a good line and good offensive weapons. Crowell should be a large chunk of the Jets offense. They have a serious need of playmakers and he may be the best 1 on their entire team.

Jamaal Williams gets the 1st crack to be RB for the explosive Packers.

Tier 6 – Flex Options

Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
Rex Burkhead – New England Patriots
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers
Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
Devontae Booker – Denver Broncos

I like Penny a lot, but I don’t like the team he’s on due to a bad offensive line. They don’t have too many weapons, so he may see big-time involvement in the offense. Mack is on a team that should be able to move the ball, so at worse, he should get 8 or so TDs. Colts will run a committee, but he’s the lead guy. Burkhead is a Bill Belichick favorite which means he’s been heavily involved near the goal line. He had 8 TDs last year and without Lewis, he should get double digits.

Williams should be the lead running back on an Aaron Rodgers led team. That alone should get you a flex spot. He should be put in a position to score on most weeks. He just needs to stay healthy. Lynch looked like he slowed down a bit last year. They also signed Doug Martin, so it could be a bit of a timeshare in the black hole this year. Booker is in a battle to win the starting RB job. I think he has the inside lane to it. If he doesn’t, drop him completely, but if he wins it, he can be a flex option every week.

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Tier 7 – Bye Week Options

Chris Thompson – Washington Redskins
Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons
Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans
Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens

The sad news of the week is the Derrius Guice, someone who I would have put as a high-end #2 running back, is out for the year with a torn ACL. Chris Thompson is a great pass catcher and should be the #1 guy. Coleman is the reason Freeman isn’t a #1 type back. His talent will keep him on the field for at least 1 out of every 3 drives. Lewis will be a big part of the new Titans spread offense. How much is to be determined. Collins is a starter. Not much else you can say about him. I’m obviously not impressed.

Tier 8 – 3rd Down and Goal line Backs

Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
Latavius Murray – Minnesota Vikings
LeGarrette Blount – Detroit Lions
Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns
Theo Riddick – Detroit Lions
Giovanni Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals
Peyton Barber – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
T.J. Yeldon – Jacksonville Jaguars

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All these backs will put up numbers, but in a very limited fashion, so very hard to predict. Ingram is suspended, but when he comes back, he will take more than a couple of TDs from Kamara. Murray is the exact same thing as I said about Ingram, except he’s not suspended, and he’ll be taking TDs from Cook. Blount has made a living as a TD vulture and should continue that in Detroit. Johnson is a great 3rd down back and will continue to excel in that role when Hyde and Chubb come off the field.

Riddick is 1 of the best pass catching back in the league, but he’s in a 3 headed backfield with Johnson and Blount, and I’m not even including Ameer Abdullah. Bernard is 1 of my favorites. If Mixon went down, I’d grab him and start him every week. However, for now, he’ll be limited to the 3rd down role. Barber could be the nominal starter for TB until Jones is ready. Yeldon comes in about 1 out of every 4 drives and on most 3rd downs for Fournette. His career has been essentially labeled as a bust.

Tier 9 – Stash and wait

Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns
Sony Michel – New England Patriots
Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos
Doug Martin – Oakland Raiders
Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs
Corey Clement – Philadelphia Eagles
Nyheim Hines – Indianapolis Colts
C.J. Anderson – Carolina Panthers

These are guys that if they got a chance to start, or were forced to start because of injury, could be good solid #2 backs. Chubb may possibly win the job from Hyde. Michel will have to see what Belichick does with the speedy back out of Georgia. I do think he’s the perfect fit for that offense. Freeman will be breathing down the neck of Booker in Denver. Word out of Oakland is Martin is already a favorite of Coach Jon Gruden. I think he’ll have a solid role in that offense.

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Coach Andy Reid knows how to make fantasy RBs. He did it in Philly and now in KC. If Hunt goes down, pick Ware up immediately. I like Clement and I think he could be huge behind that line, but right now, he’s just backing up Ajayi. An Ajayi injury is possible and he is not the standard of perfect health. I like Hines, but he’s only 195 pounds. I do think he fits perfectly in the passing attack for the Colts. Anderson is a solid back that would be a bell cow in a run-heavy offense if McCaffrey every went down.

There is some serious depth at running back this year, however, once you get to the 15th-20th guy, there is a pretty steep drop off. The safe plan would be to go RB, WR, the TE to start your draft. However, with the quality at RB early, I wouldn’t be against a RB-RB split for rounds 1 and 2. This is the year to do it. With that, we are done with 3 of the 4 major positions in fantasy football. We’ve got 1 more position to get through. So next up, the WRs.

How do you see the fantasy football running back breakdowns? Leave a comment.

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