2017 PPR Rankings Analysis - Running Backs

Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!

Lost password? [X]

Receive free daily analysis:

NFL    NBA    MLB

Already have an account? Log in here.

[X]

Forgot Password


[X]

As the start of NFL training camps quickly approaches, we take a position-by-position look at the RotoBaller PPR player rankings to help prepare you for draft day.

With the recent surge of the running back by committee approach in the NFL, looking at stats like total offensive touches and trends like snaps taken has become increasingly important when it comes to running backs. Teams are changing the way that they use traditional running backs, and we need to adapt to that as fantasy owners as well. This means more Danny Woodhead pass-catching types, and less traditional "bell cow" types. But despite the evolution of the position, it still produced last year's top overall fantasy contributor (David Johnson) and the three highest scoring non-QBs (Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Le'veon Bell) in PPR leagues.

Speaking of the aforementioned, let's take a look at the top twelve PPR RBs heading into NFL training camps.

Editor's note: Buy an NFL Premium Pass (including Draft Kit + DFS) and also get MLB Premium for free through October. Whoa. Check out our NFL and MLB Premium tools, and crush your leagues. Sign Up Now!

 

2017 PPR Rankings: Running Backs

1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

No surprise here, but last year's top point scorer in PPR leagues also led the NFL in total offensive touches with 373. There have been reports that Bruce Arians would like to increase Johnson's workload to nearly 30 touches per game, but even a mere repeat from 2016 would more than do the job to make him worthy of a top overall pick this year. DJ is just getting started at 25 years old and there's no real reason to believe that the Cardinals aren't going to get him as many touches as possible in 2017. The scariest thing about Johnson's potential is that there's actual room for improvement too, as he only caught two-thirds of the balls thrown his way last year. He's the safest pick at #1 overall in virtually all formats.

2. Le'veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

The only other RB to finish in the top 50 in receptions, the most impressive thing about Bell's 2016 campaign was that he managed to put up such a monster season with just twelve games played (suspended for the first three and a healthy scratch for the regular season finale). Still though, he managed to finish near the top in just about every offensive category possible, including third overall in yards from scrimmage, fourth in touches, and second in rushing yards per game. Bell is bit more of an injury concern than Johnson, but his consistency and heavy usage in Pittsburgh should make you feel safe to pull the trigger. If you aren't drafting him first overall, take him at #2.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

The #4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft became the first rookie to lead the league in rushing since the great Eric Dickerson in 1983, and he handsomely rewarded fantasy owners in the process. The Cowboys rode Zeke (with the help of fellow rookie Dak Prescott) to the tune of 322 carries and 16 total TD, and he's a sure thing for another 300+ carries if he can stay healthy. Though he was efficient in the passing game, catching 80% of the passes thrown his way, the target volume just wasn't there in 2016 to put him ahead of Johnson or Bell. You'll be just fine if you nab him in the front half of the first round, but I don't recommend him any higher than third in PPR.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

Talk about a resurgence. The eighth-year vet busted out an extremely consistent season and tallied 14 total TDs as the focal point of the Bills' offense in 2016. Although Rex Ryan is no longer in charge in Buffalo, expect the new coaching staff to keep the game plan revolved around Shady. There may be an uptick in passing plays called under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, but McCoy is likely to be one of the main benefactors as his fellow supporting cast is lackluster at best. He should be considered a high-floor, high-end RB1.

5. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Though Ezekiel Elliott may have been the rookie that took the NFL by storm, Jordan Howard is the rookie that took the fantasy world by storm. Undrafted in most leagues heading into the 2016 season, he rewarded owners who scooped him up with the second most rushing yards in football and the sixth most yards from scrimmage with 1,611. His 5.2 yards per carry might seem high, but the Bears offensive line is undoubtedly their strongest unit, and one of the best in the league. Meanwhile, the team's QB situation is questionable at best, which should only add to Howard's workload. Howard's current ADP has him as the ninth RB off the board in PPR leagues, but his ceiling is much higher on a poor Chicago team.

6. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

Re-establishing himself as a workhorse back during his first year in Tennessee, Murray's 346 offensive touches were good enough for third best in the league. One of the best pass-catching backs in football, he has hauled in 50+ receptions in three of the last four seasons, including 53 last year alone. Though Murray is very likely to return RB1 value, he will probably see a slight decrease in workload for 2017 with added receiving weapons for Marcus Mariota and the continued integration of Derrick Henry into the offense.

7. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Anybody that doubted Freeman's ability to put together quality back-to-back seasons as the featured back in Atlanta is biting their tongue right about now. Not only did the former Florida State Seminole total 1,000+ rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs for his second straight season, but he added 54 receptions to boot. The talent level is certainly there for Freeman, as is his pass-catching ability, but Tevin Coleman is a real threat to his workload. His touches dropped from 338 to 281 in just one year, and the split between the two backs will only get closer to 50/50. Freeman's dynamic and consistent play makes him a low-end RB1, but the presence of Coleman hinders his ceiling a bit.

8. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

Contrasting what Devonta Freeman may experience in Atlanta this year, Melvin Gordon is the clear-cut top backfield option for the newly-minted Los Angeles Chargers. Had it not been for a hip injury in Week 14, he would have easily eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in 2016, and neared the 50 reception mark as well. His 3.9 yards per carry isn't great, but that's not a surprise given the hard-nosed type of runner that he is. Viewed as a sexy bounce back candidate after not finding the end zone at all in his rookie year, the arrow is pointing up again on Gordon, who is a high-upside RB1 that could return top five value.

9. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

To say that Ajayi broke out in 2016 would be an understatement. After gaining 161 total yards through Week 5, he busted off two consecutive 200+ rushing yard performances in Weeks 6-7, becoming the fourth running back ever to accomplish that feat back-t0-back and putting a stranglehold on the RB job in Miami. From there on out, Ajayi averaged 21.6 touches per game, and cemented himself as a viable fantasy option. Inconsistency is a bit of a concern (even with PPR, he scored single digits points in half of the last eight regular season games), but on volume and opportunity alone, he should produce RB1 numbers over a full season.

10. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Hand up if you drafted Gurley with a first round pick last year (my hand is up). Coming off 2015 Rookie of the Year honors, Gurley finished last year as the 15th ranked PPR RB, sandwiched between Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Workload wasn't the issue as his touches increased by almost 30% from his rookie year, but his 3.2 yards per carry was the bulk of his problems. With a new head coach in LA and a (hopefully) improved offensive line, Gurley should return low-end RB1 value in 2017. His touches may slightly decrease, but his efficiency and YPC will only improve.

11. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

Miller is the first example on this list of a back that was clearly overused in 2016. So much so in fact, that Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has openly talked about lessening his load a bit. That's probably a bad sign for potential fantasy owners as Miller finished last year as just the RB20 in PPR leagues, but Houston is not going to all of a sudden abandon their offensive game plan either. Chances are that Miller will score more than the 5 TDs he totaled last year, and he's likely to be more efficient in the process. Nonetheless, he's a borderline RB1 with a high floor.

12. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

The intro of this article talks about more "Danny Woodhead types" in football, and that's exactly the skill set that McCaffrey brings to Carolina. That is, he is not your stereotypical running back that is going to ground and pound in the trenches, but he's going to be used all over the field in different situations. You'll likely see him this year as: a change-of-pace third down back, a passing option out of the backfield on early downs, a slot receiver, and the occasional early down ball carrier. The point is, McCaffrey's versatility should lend himself well to PPR leagues. That said, the Cam Newton-led offense is a power running attack that Jonathan Stewart fits well. If J Stew was to go down at any point during the season, McCaffrey would instantly become a legit RB1, but his ADP as RB15 in PPR leagues right now seems about right given Stewart's presence.

You can find the remainder of the full RotoBaller PPR player rankings HERE, which will be updated continuously throughout the preseason.


Check out all of RotoBaller's 2017 fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.