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Early 2019 Fantasy Football Rankings Analysis - Running Back


As we progress through these initial weeks of the offseason, the designation of franchise and transition players is underway while we steadily approach the highly anticipated period of free agency. That will create a massive number of roster alterations which will dramatically impact the value of many players. But it is never too early to begin preparing for your redraft leagues, and the impending changes in destinations and expectations for many players have not deterred you from this process.

The team at RotoBaller is fully aware of your efforts, which is why we are committed to providing you with the detailed fantasy football draft rankings and analysis that you need. Our rankings also include tiers that supply a more detailed breakdown on which players to target for your rosters, along with others that you should avoid.

This breakdown will focus on the pivotal running back position, to help you determine which backs should create the foundation of your team's roster, and which rushers will provide the best value in the middle and later rounds. Fantasy Football Calculator’s current ADPs indicate that seven backs are being selected in Round 1, while a total of 17 are being chosen by the conclusion of Round 3. Running backs also maintain an unmistakable presence throughout our rankings, including 12 of the top 20 slots.

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PPR Redraft Running Back Rankings (February 2019)

Position Rank Position Tier Player Name Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Todd Gurley 1 1
2 1 Ezekiel Elliott 2 1
3 1 Saquon Barkley 3 1
4 1 Christian McCaffrey 4 1
5 1 Alvin Kamara 5 1
6 1 Melvin Gordon 8 1
7 2 Le'Veon Bell 12 2
8 2 David Johnson 14 2
9 2 James Conner 15 2
10 2 Nick Chubb 16 2
11 2 Joe Mixon 17 2
12 2 Dalvin Cook 19 2
13 3 Aaron Jones 26 3
14 3 Marlon Mack 31 3
15 3 Damien Williams 32 3
16 3 Chris Carson 33 3
17 3 Leonard Fournette 34 4
18 3 Sony Michel 38 4
19 3 Phillip Lindsay 41 4
20 3 Devonta Freeman 45 4
21 3 Derrick Henry 46 4
22 3 Kerryon Johnson 47 4
23 4 Tarik Cohen 52 5
24 4 Derrius Guice 56 5
25 4 Jordan Howard 59 5
26 4 Lamar Miller 60 5
27 4 Mark Ingram 66 5
28 4 James White 68 5
29 4 Jerick McKinnon 71 6
30 5 LeSean McCoy 76 6
31 5 Tevin Coleman 82 6
32 5 Royce Freeman 85 6
33 5 Kenyan Drake 87 6
34 5 Kenneth Dixon 91 6
35 6 Rashaad Penny 96 7
36 6 Jay Ajayi 97 7
37 6 Elijah McGuire 101 7
38 6 Matt Breida 103 7
39 6 Gus Edwards 112 7
40 7 Josh Adams 121 8
41 7 Dion Lewis 122 8
42 7 Kareem Hunt 125 8
43 7 Rex Burkhead 127 8
44 7 D'Onta Foreman 129 8
45 7 Doug Martin 131 8
46 7 Latavius Murray 133 9
47 7 Duke Johnson 135 9
48 7 Nyheim Hines 138 9
49 7 Isaiah Crowell 139 9
50 8 Ronald Jones II 147 9
51 8 Spencer Ware 148 9
52 8 Jamaal Williams 150 9
53 8 Peyton Barber 153 10
54 8 Chris Thompson 162 10
55 8 Ito Smith 164 10
56 8 Austin Ekeler 167 10
57 8 Jaylen Samuels 168 10
58 8 C.J. Anderson 172 10
59 8 Adrian Peterson 173 11
60 8 Kalen Ballage 175 11
61 8 Bilal Powell 177 11
62 8 Alex Collins 181 11
63 8 T.J. Yeldon 186 11
64 8 Carlos Hyde 187 11
65 8 Jalen Richard 191 11
66 8 Frank Gore 195 11
67 8 Giovani Bernard 196 11
68 9 Chase Edmonds 202 11
69 9 Mike Davis 205 11
70 9 Justin Jackson 210 11
71 9 John Kelly 214 12
72 9 Jeff Wilson 215 12
73 9 Zach Zenner 217 12
74 9 Malcolm Brown 221 12
75 9 Corey Clement 222 12
76 9 Wendell Smallwood 223 12
77 9 Jordan Wilkins 228 12
78 10 Rod Smith 232 12
79 10 Theo Riddick 238 12
80 10 Devontae Booker 240 12
81 10 LeGarrette Blount 243 12
82 10 Ty Montgomery 245 13
83 10 Javorius Allen 246 13
84 10 Ameer Abdullah 248 13
85 10 Jacquizz Rodgers 250 13
86 10 Jeremy Hill 252 13
87 10 Detrez Newsome 253 13
88 10 Chris Ivory 254 13
89 10 Wayne Gallman 255 13
90 10 Deon Cain 256 13
91 10 Mark Walton 257 13
92 10 Alfred Blue 258 13
93 10 Trenton Cannon 259 13
94 10 Darren Sproles 260 13
95 10 Corey Grant 261 13
96 10 Marcus Murphy 262 14
97 10 Kyle Juszczyk 263 14
98 10 Marshawn Lynch 264 14
99 10 Alfred Morris 265 14
100 10 Deandre Washington 266 14

 

Tier 1

Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon

What had been an exceptional season devolved into a disappointing conclusion for Gurley, who averaged 21 carries from Weeks 1-8, but was allotted just 14.5 attempts from Weeks 9-15. Anyone who owned him is also acutely aware that he missed Week 16. However, his current ranking is created with the premise that a back with his proven track record of excellence could only have been negatively impacted by injury in order for that reduction in usage to occur. Gurley still led the NFL in both touchdowns (21) and rushing touchdowns (17), and finished at RB1 in standard scoring. Any remaining uncertainty concerning his health should be answered in the upcoming weeks.

Elliott captured his second NFL rushing title by pacing all backs with 1,434 yards and has led the league in YPG average during each of his three seasons (95.6/98.3/108.7). But while we have become familiar with his propensity to stockpile rushing yards, it is noteworthy that he also established new career highs in targets (95), receptions (77), and receiving yards (567), which was a sizable increase from his combined averages of 2016-2017 (38.5 targets/29 receptions/316 yards). Elliott’s 2,001 total yards, combined with his unquestioned role as the centerpiece of his team's offense, create a compelling case that he can be the first overall pick in your drafts.

Some potential owners eschewed the opportunity to draft Barkley during the second half of Round 1 last season, due to trepidation about his status as an unproven commodity. But his combination of speed, strength, and athleticism translated easily to statistical success, as Barkley rewarded anyone who selected him by finishing second in rushing (1,307), 13th overall in receptions (91), and 20th in targets (121). He also amassed 15 touchdowns and could surpass his 2018 output this season.

McCaffrey’s proficiency as a receiver continued in 2018, as he paced all backs in targets (124), receptions (107), and yardage (867). However, he also eviscerated any remaining skepticism about his ability to excel as a feature back by finishing 10th in carries (219), sixth in yardage (1,080), and averaging 5.0 YPC. McCaffrey's ascension into an elite multi-purpose threat propelled him to RB1 in PPR leagues, and RB3 in standard leagues and he should now be a mainstay among the top four picks in all drafts.

Kamara justified his 2018 ADP, although his production did not rise sizably from the output that he attained during his 2017 rookie season. As a result, he finished at RB4 in both standard and PPR leagues after residing at RB5/RB3 in 2017. However, his 1,592 total yards did represent a marginal increase from 2017 (1,554), and his touchdown total rose by five (18/13). Kamara should complete a sequence in which five consecutive backs are selected at the beginning of your drafts, which will be cemented if Mark Ingram departs the Saints.

Gordon does not quite match the value of the other Tier 1 backs, but there is a noticeable drop-off at the position once you progress beyond the six backs that comprise this grouping. He justified his Round 1 pedigree throughout most of 2018 (73.8 YPG). But he was unavailable for owners from Weeks 13-15 and has now failed to perform in all 16 games during three of his four seasons.

 

Tier 2

Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, James Conner, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook

When we last witnessed Bell torturing opposing defenders, he was in the process of accumulating 1,291 rushing yards, and 655 receiving yards on 85 receptions. Those numbers also completed a sequence in which he finished at RB3 or better in three of four seasons from 2014-2017 which was counterbalanced by his abbreviated season in 2015 (torn MCL). A more precise ranking and outlook can be constructed once the speculation phase has evaporated, and his 2019 team of record has been determined.

Bell’s drama-laden absence throughout 2018 propelled Conner into the coveted role as Pittsburgh’s RB1. He proceeded to assemble 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground while accruing 497 yards as a receiver - even though a problematic ankle kept him sidelined from Weeks 14-16. Only five backs surpassed Conner’s average of 16.5 attempts-per-game, and he should sustain responsibilities as the Steelers’ feature back while Jaylen Samuels functions in a complementary role.

Chubb nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards (996) and finished tenth overall despite averaging just 2.6 attempts per-game from Weeks 1-6. But he averaged 89 YPG from Weeks 7-16 and appeared to supply potential owners with an enticing feature back to target near the onset of Round 2. Unfortunately, the addition of 2017 rushing leader Kareem Hunt has complicated the landscape after Chubb had clearly demonstrated that he can perform as a consummate feature back. But anyone who decides to draft him early will still receive high-quality production while Hunt is unavailable.

Mixon's ability to accumulate fantasy points was not restrained by a superfluous timeshare with an inferior back as it had been during his 2017 rookie season. This enabled him to finish fourth in rushing yards (1,168) and secure a spot among the top 10 in scoring (RB10). He should flourish as the feature back in Cincinnati's revamped attack while dwelling on the threshold of Round 1 status.

Johnson's output was discouraging for anyone who selected him early in Round 1 of their 2018 drafts. But you might develop a renewed incentive to target him in Round 2 once you consider the mammoth hurdles that he was forced to contend with while operating in the NFL's worst offense. Most egregious was his ill-conceived usage within the predictable attack that was orchestrated by Mike McCoy from Weeks 1-7. Any hesitation surrounding Johnson’s role within Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid approach should be negated by the prospects of him being deployed more creatively as a receiver.

Cook has now missed 17 games during his first two seasons and entered Week 9 of 2018 with a grand total of 98 rushing yards. But why accentuate the negative when he still possesses the potential to supply owners with RB1 output? Cook did average 65 YPG on the ground upon his return, which was supplemented with 198 yards as a receiving weapon for Kirk Cousins. Gary Kubiak's involvement in the offense should only reinforce the run-oriented approach that is coveted by Mike Zimmer, which entrenches Cook as an appealing option in Round 2.  

 

Tier 3

Aaron Jones, Marlon Mack, Damien Williams, Chris CarsonLeonard Fournette, Sony Michel, Phillip Lindsay, Devonta Freeman, Derrick Henry, Kerryon Johnson  

Jones’ 5.5 YPC average throughout both 2017 and 2018 is just one accomplishment that illustrates his standing as the most dynamic component within Green Bay’s stable of running backs. Mike McCarthy’s self-defeating penchant for allocating touches to Jamal Williams was well-chronicled, and it restricted Jones to 8-carries per-game from Weeks 1-6 last season. While Jones wasn't fully unleashed from that point forward, he did average 14-attempts per game from Weeks 8-14 before suffering a sprained MCL in Week 15. His history of explosiveness should override injury concerns if you have the chance to select him in Round 3.

Mack deserves credit for dispelling lingering concerns about his ability to function as a lead back after he produced the NFL’s sixth-best YPG average (75.7). He also finished 16th in yardage (908) despite missing four games and flourished during two December matchups in which he received at least 25 carries (129 YPG/3 touchdowns). Whether Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard shares the belief that Mack should operate as the Colts’ RB1 will be revealed once free agency and the NFL draft have been completed.

Williams did not garner a double-digit touch total until Week 14. But his 100-yard rushing performances and the allure of owning a feature back within the explosive Kansas City offense has induced some owners to select him in Round 3.  But that level of investment could be problematic if Williams receives a smaller workload than expected. That can certainly occur if the Chiefs bolster their backfield with legitimate competition for touches during free agency and the NFL Draft.

In 2017 we experienced a fleeting glimpse of Carson’s ability to thrive as a feature back before a fractured leg abruptly ended his rookie season. Last year, he seized the RB1 role, finished fifth overall in rushing yards (1,151), and also averaged 4.7 YPC. There is potential for Rashaad Penny to piler touches. But Carson should remain highly productive within a Seattle offense that led the NFL in run play percentage (52.4%), and remains resolutely committed to the run.

Fournette has been characterized as being "in a really good place” by Doug Marrone, but the same cannot be said for anyone who deployed a first-round selection on him in 2018. It is unrealistic to expect many of those owners to forget the frustration that was experienced during his forgettable season that included an eight-game absence. Ongoing health concerns coupled with his questionable decision-making have diminished the value that he established in 2017.

Michel commandeered nearly 44% of the carries that were dispersed to New England's backs despite missing three games with a knee issue. His 16.3 attempt-per-game average with Rex Burkhead in the lineup essentially matched his overall average (16.0), and he became one of just three backs to accrue at least 900 yards while performing in fewer than 14 games. His 71.6 YPG average was also the NFL’s 10th highest, and his output should rise if he can evade further injury.

Lindsay’s 1,037 rushing yards placed him second only to Barkley among first-year backs and placed him ninth overall. The undrafted free agent also finished at RB11 in standard leagues despite missing Week 17 with a wrist injury, and his current ranking has been impacted by a nebulous timetable for his recovery.

While memories of Freeman's 1,000+ yard seasons in 2015/2016 supply the incentive to target him (1,056-2015/1,079-2016), it is wise to remember that health issues and reduced touch totals have created a steady decline in scoring each year since 2015 (RB1/RB8/RB13/RB102). However, a Tevin Coleman departure will create the opportunity for a statistical resurgence if Freeman can remain on the field. His potential for increased production presents owners with enticing value if he falls to Round 4.

While some hesitation in trusting Henry is understandable, his astronomical production during December should not be dismissed. He was disentangled from the shackles of a timeshare with Dion Lewis (10.7 attempts per game Weeks 1-12), capitalized on a whopping 22 carries-per-game allotment from Weeks 14-17 and ignited for 585 yards and seven touchdowns during that magical four-game stretch. All of which also propelled him to seventh overall in rushing for the season (1,059).

Johnson's rookie season that was condensed by an MCL sprain in Week 11, and impacted by a production inhibiting timeshare with the annoyingly inefficient LeGarrette Blount (2.7 YPC). Yet Johnson still displayed promise that he can become a proficient RB1. He averaged 13.6 attempts and 4.8 targets in Weeks 7-11 and was on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards through 10 games (641). He also averaged an encouraging 5.4 YPC, and a sizable number of Blount's 154 carries should be reallocated to Johnson.

 

Tier 4

Tarik Cohen, Derrius Guice, Jordan Howard, Lamar Miller, Mark Ingram, James White, Jerick McKinnon

Cohen’s snap count rose from 360/36.4% in 2017 to 495/46% last season which helped him assemble the league’s third most receiving yards among backs (725). and place sixth in both targets (91), and receptions (71). Only five rushers accumulated more carries than Howard (250), but his inefficiency (3.7 YPC) left him just 14th in yardage (935). He may not provide enough explosiveness for Matt Nagy’s offense to preserve his previous role.

Guice appeared primed to operate as Washington’s primary rusher last season, even though he would relinquish pass-catching responsibilities to Chris Thompson. Now, that scenario has resurfaced, which has elevated him into this tier. It can be difficult to develop any passion for having Lamar Miller on your roster. But he did average 4.6 YPC in 2018 and has managed to sustain Houston's RB1 responsibilities amid his inadequacies and his value will be determined by how the Texans address the position in upcoming months.

Ingram’s four-game suspension all but eliminated any chance that he could replicate his RB6 finish of 2017. But he also experienced a reduction in carries per-game (14.4/11.5), and targets per-game  (4.4/2.5). His 2019 ranking will be unsettled until it is known where he will be performing. White’s 123 targets were second among backs, while his 87 receptions trailed only McCaffrey and Barkley. But it is troubling that his 9.2 targets per game average from Weeks 4-12 dropped to 5.3 in Weeks 15-17 as Burkhead began collecting 3.3 per-game.

One year ago, McKinnon was emerging from career bests in rushing yards (570), receptions (51) and receiving yards (421), with the potential to flourish as a lead back within Kyle Shanahan's schematic approach. Now he could be relegated to a timeshare with Matt Breida depending upon the health of each back.

 

Tier 5

LeSean McCoy, Tevin Coleman, Royce Freeman, Kenyan Drake, Kenneth Dixon 

McCoy’s descent into this tier is understandable due to the significant decline of his output. This included career lows in rushing yards (514) and YPC average (3.2). Coleman’s appeal could rise whenever his destination and configuration of his new backfield have been determined. Freeman's usage should expand, particularly if Lindsay faces a protracted recovery.

Passion for drafting Drake has also dropped significantly from his third-round ADP of 2018, although he has the talent to benefit those who target him with a middle-round pick. Dixon's dual-threat potential will boost his chances of sustaining a role within a crowded Baltimore backfield.

 

Tier 6

Rashaad Penny, Jay Ajayi, Elijah McGuire, Matt Breida, Gus Edwards

Penny should confiscate a respectable workload while splitting carries with Carson. Ajayi's destination and role are equally uncertain, while McGuire and Breida can collect an adequate number of touches if they can elude injuries. Edwards' insignificance as a receiver is concerning, but his ability to rumble for 654 yards from Weeks 11-17 should not be disregarded.

 

Tier 7 and above

The remaining runners are located above RB40 in our rankings, and all provide viable late-round targets that could receive unexpected surges in playing time. More information about their situation will be known after the NFL Draft and free agency, so it's best not to count on much value from any of these players just yet.

More Fantasy Football Analysis


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.