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2017 Rankings Analysis - Running Backs in Standard Leagues

What Appears In This Article? hide

In 2016, Zero RB likely meant zero championships. The vast majority of fantasy football league champs rode the coattails of one of the top three running backs to victory. Those three RB have also been the first three players selected overall in most early drafts, according to MFL10 data.

If you aren't lucky enough to land a high draft pick, you might have a hard time deciding when to strike at the position and how to sort out the rest of the bunch. In PPR leagues, wide receivers will usually have a leg up and fill out the rest of the first round. In standard leagues, things get a little trickier.

Here are the top 12 running backs for standard-league fantasy football heading into the 2017 campaign:

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Standard Running Back Rankings

1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

An argument can certainly be made for either Johnson or Bell at the #1 spot, but we're splitting hairs at this point. In PPR formats, Johnson or Bell would get the nod because of heavier involvement in the passing game. In standard leagues, Elliott's nose for the end zone, durability, and strong supporting cast wins him top honors. Zeke led the league with 1,631 rushing yards, finished second with 15 TD (one behind Johnson) and toted the rock 322 times without missing so much as a quarter due to injury. Not bad for a rookie.

2. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

It is hard to argue against DJ as the #1 overall pick in any league, especially PPR. The reason I have him slotted lower here is the lack of offensive support relative to Elliott. Watching Arizona play last season, you could almost feel Johnson carrying his team. Carson Palmer is now 37 and showed some signs of slowing down, particularly in the TD/INT department. The knee injury Johnson suffered in Week 17 didn't prove serious, but it could serve as a stark reminder to the team not to overuse and abuse their star player.

3. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Imagine what Bell might have accomplished if he had played a full 16-game season... He's done so once in his four-year career, but he has upped his game since then, averaging 4.9 Y/A and 6/3 R/G in 2016, both career highs. Be warned - even in his only full season he scored 11 combined TD, which remains his season-best. Bell comes with too much risk (injury/suspension history) to put him ahead of either Elliott or Johnson, but he makes for a pretty solid third pick.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

Not a bad consolation prize if you miss out on the those first three players. Shady posted the best rushing average of his career last season at 5.4 yards per attempt. The biggest jump in his value came from tallying 14 total scores, after only scoring 10 times the previous two seasons. Buffalo may have a new coach and possibly a new quarterback, but they should remain a run-first team with McCoy front and center of the offense.

5. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

If you buy into the Jay Ajayi we saw for an incredible stretch in the middle of last season when he rattled off three consecutive 200-yard games, he could be the top running back in the league. If you focus on the six weeks that followed, where he failed to rush for 80 yards once, you may not have him on this list at all. Ajayi's success depended greatly on the health of his offensive line. Branden Albert has been traded, Laremy Tunsil will shift to tackle and the Dolphins will be looking to add more depth via free agency. Depending on how the O-line looks coming out of training camp, Ajayi presents a huge risk/reward.

6. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

The only possible knock against Howard in his outstanding rookie year was a lack of involvement in the passing game, with only 29 catches for 298 yards. That yardage combined with 1,313 rushing yards was still good enough to place him sixth overall in total yards from scrimmage. Standard league owners would like to see more than seven TD, but a couple of Jeremy Langford vultured opportunities cut into that total. If Chicago can settle the QB position, Howard's stock should only rise. 

7. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Freeman not only matched his 2015 numbers last season, he almost matched them to the tee. After a surprising 1,056-yard, 11-TD rushing performance in '15, he then went for a 1,079-yard, 11-TD season for the Super Bowl champion runner-up Falcons. Concerns about Kyle Shanahan's departure as OC shouldn't affect the way you approach Freeman. He has a secure role as the primary tailback on an explosive offense and should put up similar numbers once again. We've probably seen his ceiling already, so if you are looking for a chance to gain more gaudy totals, lean toward Howard or Ajayi.

8. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

There's only one thing holding Murray back from a higher ranking - Derrick Henry. The rookie was used sparingly near the end of the half in games where the team was leading, but it would be hard to imagine the Titans not increasing his rush attempts. Murray did score 12 TD, but there is a very real fear that Henry could cut into those numbers as well if he emerges into a strong goal-line back. Select Murray for his floor, rather than his ceiling.

9. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

Gordon's breakout season came on the heels of Danny Woodhead's season-ending injury. There's a good chance Woodhead (or another pass-catching back) eats into Gordon's production, particularly on third downs. This won't affect him nearly as much in standard scoring systems, but his projections should still be adjusted down a bit. Plus, his 10 rushing TD all came within the red zone, so he is very dependent on the offense to put him in scoring position before taking the short plunge. That figure may be hard to replicate. 

10. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Where to slot Gurley is one of the biggest questions of this offseason. Last year, he was taken as high as #1 overall in many leagues, only to disappoint massively. Coming off a year where he failed to rush for 1,000 yards or even produce a single 100-yard game, you'd have to put a lot of faith into a new, 31-year-old head coach to pick him any higher. In PPR, he may not even deserve a spot among the top 12 running backs, but his touchdown potential keeps him relevant here. 

11. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Rolling Ingram out there each week as your starting RB isn't for the faint of heart. He did finish 2016 with his first 1,000-yard rushing season and 10 total TD. He was boom/bust all season long, however, putting up five games over 100 yards from scrimmage and five games under 60 yards. Let's not forget his brief benching and loss of starting job to Tim Hightower as well. Ingram remains the RB1 in New Orleans and will always have a chance to score in that offense, so his standard league stock remains more stable than most other running backs.

12. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

Those who were chanting "Free Lamar!" after a 194-carry 2015 season in Miami were rewarded with a 268-carry effort last season. Unfortunately, he posted only the second-best rushing total of his career (1,073 yards), and wound up with less receptions and touchdowns than in his previous two seasons as the Dolphins' starting tailback. Needless to say, an anemic passing game should take much of the blame, but there's no indication yet that anything will change behind center in Houston. Miller should be treated as as RB2 until further notice.


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




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