Wednesday, June 7, 2017

17-18 NFL Fantasy Football Top 40 Running Backs

Who tops my list of running backs going into the 2017-2018 NFL season?
  Read on to find out!
With QB rankings posted last, RB rankings are up next.  I’ll be ranking these backs based upon a PPR format.  Later on, I’ll come out with non-PPR rankings as well.  I’ll be doing a top 40 here, as most owners find use for at least 3 running backs on their roster, and a 12 owner league is quite common, that makes at least 40 relevant running backs worth knowing about.  Here they are:

*UPDATE* This list turned into a top 42, as it evolved after Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement and then later again when LaGarrette Blount was signed by the Eagles**

1)      David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson is not only a very effective runner, but also more involved in the passing game than most backs are, catching 5 balls a game last year for 879 total receiving yards.  Any running back that is almost a 1,000 yard rusher AND receiver has to top the charts.
2)      Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Elliot is one of the most talented young backs in the league who benefits from having perhaps the most talented offensive line in the league in front of him.  Last year he was second among all running backs in ESPN standard leagues and I expect similar production this year, perhaps even greater, as he enters his second season and learns NFL defenses better.
3)      Le’veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
“The greatest ability, is availability”, a saying that Bell proves out regularly unfortunately.  As a result, I just can’t count on him as reliably as I can the other two superstar running backs in front of him on this list, resulting in his 3rd place finish despite being arguably the most talented running back in the league.  I hope he proves me wrong, but until he completes a season without injury or suspension, I just can’t bet on it.
4)      Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
Howard is a running back who finishes top 5 almost by default.  Which is to say, his usage will be through the roof due to lack of talent in the passing game on his team, not necessarily just due to incredible talent of his own.  Last season he did however, average the 7th most yards per rush attempt in the league, and added nearly 300 yards receiving to that.  If he’s going to continue to get the volume, we should expect top 5 production, and given the state of the Bears’ passing game I expect he continues to get the volume.
5)      Jay  Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
Miami’s big move to help the offense in the off-season was to resign WR Kenny Stills.  Which is great, particularly given the contract they signed him to, but doesn’t drastically improve-or improve at all-their receiving corps, which lead their team to the 26th ranked passing offense in the league last year.  They’ll have little choice but to continue riding Ajayi as far as he can take them.  I’m not sure how many more 200 yard games he has in him-if any at all-but I’m willing to bet he can put up some fantasy points for owners this upcoming season.
6)      Melvin Gordon, LA Chargers
Gordon showed flashes last year, and ended the year with JUST under 1,000 yards rushing (997) despite missing essentially the last four games.  The concern about Gordon is that he doesn’t catch well (40th in the league amongst RB in rec/tgt percentage) but when he does, he creates with it (8th in the league last year in yards per reception).  With Danny Woodhead leaving to Baltimore this spring, Gordon’s volume should go up in the passing game.  If he can pull a few more in, he could really crank up his production this year.  He also needs to stay healthy obviously.  The Chargers picked up Forrest Lamp in the draft, who many compare favorably to Dallas’ Zach Martin, one of the best young guards in the game.  Lamp should help shore up an offensive line in LA that’s been full of holes in recent years.
7)      LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
The Bills ran the ball for the most yards and yards per attempt in the league last year, running 492 total times, second only to Dallas (499).  McCoy ran for 234 of those attempts.  He had health problems in three games last year however, and he’ll be 29 when the season begins.  I think that the Bills are going to start easing back his usage overall, probably by cutting back his involvement in the passing game, which would hurt his value in PPR leagues mostly.  I expect him to still get between 225-275 touches in the run game, providing his health holds up, but I don’t think he’ll catch another 50 balls this year.  The Bills traded up to pick up receiver Zay Jones, who specializes in short passes around the line of scrimmage.  With him as a new dump off option, it’ll cut into McCoy’s catches and production in the receiving game.  His value suffers a bit as a result.
8)      Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Miller is yet another running back who benefits from having no known quarterback or passing game on the team.  I personally project Deshaun Watson as their day one starter, but I’m not sure that hurts Miller’s value.  Watson won’t be asked to throw the ball a lot I don’t think, and Miller will benefit from that.
9)      Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Running back value is all about opportunity, the same as receiver value really, but running back value is more driven by what a team has at the quarterback spot, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record already at just rank 9, the 49ers don’t really have any viable options there.  Their passing game as a whole lacks talent, and Hyde may be expected to bear the weight of the offensive load this season.  If he remains healthy, he has the skill set to do just that and become a top ten fantasy running back.
10)   Todd Gurley, LA Rams
Call me gullible if you like, but I’m trying to stay on the Gurley bandwagon despite the disappointing turnout last season.  His last season’s production truly was terrible, averaging 3.18 yards per carry for just 885 total rushing yards despite carrying the ball nearly 300 times.  The line in front of him wasn’t good, and the Rams’ QB situation has been a joke, allowing teams to stack the box against Gurley and shut him down.  I’m hoping a new coaching staff can help fix these problems, and turn Gurley into a productive fantasy back again.  I promise now however, this will be the last time I fall for the Gurley bandwagon if he flops this season again.
11)   Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have made clear their desire to run the ball more as an effort to combat their terrible quarterback who they just can’t seem to say good-bye to yet.  The offensive line in Jacksonville has continued to be a problem, particularly in the form of injuries.  The inconsistency along the line has hurt the production offensively, and could serve to limit Fournette’s production as well, outweighing his undeniable talent.
12)   DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
Murray settled into his new home in Tennessee pretty nicely last season, splitting carries 3 to 1 with backup Derrick Henry, with both averaging just about 4.4 yards per carry.  Murray does the bulk of the Titan’s RB work in the passing game however, boosting his value and landing him here just outside the top 10.
13)   Devontae Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Freeman took the league by storm two years ago, becoming the most productive back in fantasy, then just as unexpectedly by most fell off a bit last season, finishing outside the top 5 running backs in the league in overall fantasy point production.  While 6th best running back isn’t terrible, a lot of people were drafting this guy in the first half of the first round last year, and he simply didn’t live up to the billing.
14)   Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
Lynch makes his return to the NFL this fall for  his hometown (for now) Raiders.  With their decision to move to Vegas, but not for two years, the Raiders are in a somewhat interesting PR nightmare when it comes to selling tickets.  Many Oakland fans feel betrayed and don’t want to support the team any longer, and the new fan base is several hours away.  Enter hometown hero superstar offensive player.  The Raiders signed Lynch for two years-the remainder of their stay in the bay area.  I think they intend to ride Lynch to good sales, and you can only do that by handing him the ball.  I expect him to get the ball at least 10-15 times per game in the run game, probably 15-20 if he proves to be productive.  Murray ran for 4 yards per carry behind this line, I think Lynch should be able to do the same.  Murray put up 12 touchdowns, the conservative in me will project Lynch for 10.  If you can grab him around here, do so, I think it’s all reward and not much risk.
15)   Bilal Powell, NY Jets
While Powell ran for single digit attempts each week the first 12 weeks of the season last year, in the final quarter he ran for 29, 16, 15, and 22 attempts respectively, shouldering the bulk of the rushing load and fueling speculation amongst fantasy experts that he will top the depth chart in New York in the upcoming season.  Powell catches the ball well, and with Marshall moving to the other NY team, there will be a lot of offensive production to make up.  Powell should cash in on some of that, as perhaps the only decent player on the offense other than Decker.
16)   Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs
Last year Ware shouldered the rushing load for the Chiefs, piling up more attemps than the rest of the team combined, and 921 rushing yards in the process.  Limiting his value a bit, is the fact that he found the end zone just 3 times over the course of the season.  His average of 4.3 yards per carry is reasonable, but he simply needs to find the end zone more often in order to really produce fantasy points for owners this year.
17)   Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
For a while last season, the Browns lead the league in rushing, and with a quarterback group that currently features Cody Kessler, Deshon Kizer, and Brock Osweiler, their reluctance on the running game is not likely to change much this season.  Owners of Crowell can be the beneficiaries of the front office’s inability to find NFL caliber talent to play the QB position.
18)   Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
I think the Seahawks’ off-season moves give away their intention to refocus on a power running game.  Lacy will be given the first opportunity to produce in the starter’s role, and I believe it may just be his last chance in the league overall.  His contract is about half made up of incentives, centering around a somewhat infamous weight bonus, requiring him to stay at a certain (unknown to the public) weight.  If Lacy can manage to stay in shape, this could be the back the Seahawks have been looking for to fill Lynch’s shoes.
19)   Joe Mixon, Cincinatti Bengals
There is only one way to battle bad PR in pro sports; production on the field/court/whatever.  The Bengals knew exactly what they were getting into when they drafted the troubled young back, and as the team in the NFL with possibly the most experienced dealing with troubled young players, they know handing him the ball is the best way to keep his head in the game.  Cincinatti needs to take the pressure off star receiver AJ Green and TE Tyler Eifert, who both suffered injuries last year and physically may need the break, and neither Jeremy Hill nor Giovani Bernard have ever truly claimed the starter role in the past.  I think they intend to make Mixon their feature back as a result of all these factors.
20)   Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Going into the draft, the Vikings had Latavius Murray atop their depth chart at running back, but coming out of it most project Cook to be their new starter in that position.  Their line didn’t get much better however, and if Adrian Peterson can’t perform behind it, I’m not sure I’m willing to bet a rookie running back with fumbling issues and a slightly smaller frame can, but opportunity so often equals productivity in this league that he’ll be worth a pick later in the draft.
21)   Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens
Woodhead’s value is entirely based off of one question: who else does Flacco have to throw the ball to?  Mike Wallace tops his list of receivers, followed by Michael Campanaro (who?) and Breshard Perriman, a fast but fragile receiver who caught just 33 balls in 16 games last year.
22)   Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
While many experts have McCaffrey projected higher than this, I’m just not certain.  It’s not that I doubt McCaffrey’s skill set-quite the opposite, I think he’s very talented-it’s just that it’s not in QB Cam Newton’s nature to dump the ball off.  He’d almost always rather go head up with a defender and trust his legs, over someone else’s hands.  I worry Newton holds onto the ball too much for McCaffrey’s value to match his expectations, at least in their first year together.
23)   Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
Montgomery is an interesting player who was either a WR or RB last season, and put up about 400 yards both receiving and rushing despite not really playing during the first quarter of the season.  However, 400 yards rushing isn’t really anything to get excited over, and given the fact the Packers drafted several running backs I don’t think that changes very much.  His value in standard scoring leagues will be even lower than this.
24)   LaGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
Last season, Blount lead the league in touchdowns, as one of just 7 running backs to run double digit touchdowns in.  He played on a team who ran it third most in the league, as one of the best offensive juggernauts in the league.  He played with a hall of fame bound QB and for a hall of fame bound coach.  He played in a system that he was playing in for his fourth season (not consecutively) and for an offensive coordinator he knows.  Despite all of that, he finished just 7th in standard leagues for fantasy scoring from the RB position, and even lower in PPR formats.  This year, I’m projecting him for about 2/3 the attempts, limiting his production to between 700-800 yards and 10-12 touchdowns in my opinion.  He’s almost completely uninvolved in the passing game throughout his whole career, so that would put him between 130-152 fantasy points on the year.  About 16 running backs will pick up at least 40 points in receptions alone in PPR leagues, then adding in another 50 or so from their yards receiving and rushing, and you’re looking at basically 16 players whose floors are about 140.  Blount’s ceiling is about 170, with a likely point total of about 140-their floor.  I’ve got him falling outside the top 20 here, in what I think will be the final year of his career.
25)   CJ Anderson, Denver Broncos
I know many fantasy experts have Anderson projected higher, and I’ll be the first to admit it if I turn out to be wrong, but I’m just not a believer in Anderson.  It’s not even Anderson.  I’m not a believer in Denver’s offensive line, or offensive unit as a whole.  With basically nobody at QB, teams can stack the box a bit against Anderson, who averaged just 4 yards per carry last season, managing to put up just 437 yards total.  Granted he was hurt for a large portion of the year, but I just don’t see how much has changed.  Their line is still terrible, and their QB position unsure.  There’s certainly some talent there, but nobody can do it by themselves.
26)   Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
I expect Peterson to cut into Ingram’s carries and production if he remains healthy, pushing Ingram down to 24th in my  rankings.  I just haven’t ever gotten the feeling that Payton really likes Ingram, he doesn’t seem to want to use him as a feature type back, and it hurts his value for fantasy owners every season.  This season with a hall of famer as an option behind him, I don’t think will be the year that pattern stops.
27)   Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
There’s not a lot of excitement-and understandably so-over the aging running back, but Gore has put up more than 1,000 yards in 9 of his 12 seasons, and played in all 16 games all of the last 6 years.  Consistency, availability, reliability, and experience combine to make him a fringe RB2 option in my eyes.
28)   Theo Reddick, Detroit Lions
Reddick tops teammate and projected starter Ameer Abdullah only because this is a PPR listing.  The Lions’ running game primarily features Reddick CATCHING the ball, as they use short dumps and screen passes in place of hand offs, generating points for fantasy owners in PPR leagues as an unintended consequence.  Last season, Reddick only rushed for 350 yards, but he caught 53 balls despite only appearing in 10 games.  This was highlighted by an 8 catch, 77 yard performance against one of the league’s best defenses, the Texans.
29)   Telvin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
The Coleman-Freeman split in Atlanta has favored Freeman for the past two seasons at least in part due to Coleman’s struggles with staying healthy.  If can stay healthy this season, he just might pick up a few more carries and/or catches, enabling him to climb up a bit on this list.
30)   Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stewart is on the back end of his career, and could be in line to lose his starting job to rookie Christian McCaffrey this year.  If the Panthers struggle to incorporate McCaffrey into the short passing game like they intend to, Stewart may be relied upon a bit more to produce on the ground, but Stewart has been underwhelming recently, and I have no reason to think that will change drastically.
31)   Jeremy Hill, Cincinatti Bengals
If Mixon leap frogs Hill and Bernard on the depth chart, they’ll be lucky to find themselves in the top 40 running backs when we look back on the year.
32)   Dion Lewis, New England Patriots
There are simply too many running backs in New England to project either who will carry the biggest load or what that biggest load might look like.  Lewis would seem to be the best of the group, but if the work load is spread about evenly, it’ll be hard for any running back on the team to crack the top 30.
33)   Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
A month ago, Murray topped the Vikings’ depth chart at the RB position.  Today, most analysts have him projected as the third option behind the rookie Dalvin Cook and second year running back Jerick McKinnon.  While it’s hard to imagine the Vikings signing him and not really using him, it’s also hard to imagine them drafting a young talent like Cook and not playing him.  Don’t overdraft Murray this year.
34)   Giovani Bernard, Cincinatti Bengals
Bernard and Hill have been kind of six in one hand, half dozen in the other for years now, in the Cincinatti backfield.  They both have the occasional big game, but they’re impossible to project, and wildly inconsistent.
35)   Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
As mentiond above, the Lions simply don’t run the ball very much.  Their running game primarily is made up of short, quick passes.  This boosts Stafford’s value and the PPR value of Reddick, but hurts Abdullah’s potential production.
36)   CJ Prosise, Seattle Seahawks
Prosise is a talented young back who can catch the ball, make tacklers miss, and produce yards.  He’s currently projected as second on the depth chart in Seattle, and should take up the work on passing downs from starter Eddie Lacy.  Whether or not that turns into consistent fantasy production-even in PPR leagues-remains to be seen.
37)   Matt Forte, NY Jets
Forte’s production fell off a cliff in the latter part of last season, as the 31 year old running back may have hit his age limit.  Many running backs fall completely off the cliff around the same age Forte is now (31, 32 in December), and while he occupies a spot on the depth chart, I just don’t see a major role for him this year.
38)   Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints
While I am loathe to bet against Adrian Peterson, I’m also aware he’s had increasing health issues over the past couple of seasons, and will be the backup on a team that MUCH prefers the pass to the run.  It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in, but I don’t foresee top 20 or even top 30 running back fantasy production.
39)   Mike Gilleslee, New England Patriots
Gilleslee is talented, but suffers along with the rest of the Patriots’ running backs from a horrible fantasy sickness known as “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome.  No Patriot running back is listed in the top 30 currently, and I don’t see that changing barring injuries throughout the season.
40)   Robert Kelly, Washington Redskins
Washington ran 27th most often, but 9th most effectively.  Samaje Perine may unseat Kelley from week one however, and be the beneficiary of increased usage.
41)   Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
Sproles rushed for just over 400 yards last season, but he piled on another 400 yards receiving on 50 receptions, making him a decent option in PPR leagues.

42)   Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins
As mentioned above, Perine may be poised to take the starter’s role in Washington from day one.  The team rushed very effectively last season, a top ten team rushing per attempt, and if that continues next season, Perine should be the surprise of the season for casual viewers.

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