Standard Rankings Analysis - Running Backs

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It’s that time of year again, training camps have commenced, and fantasy drafts have begun, allowing fans to channel their inner Bill Belichick.

Running backs are undeniably the bread and butter to a successful fantasy season, but can easily burn you due to the ferocious nature of the position. Following a season where numerous owners were burned by Zero RB theory, anticipate running backs to go off the board early and often in 2017.

RotoBaller provides frequently updated pre-season ranking lists that continuously allow avid fantasy fans to properly prepare prior to their 2017 drafts. Provided below are our 2017 running back rankings for standard leagues - the top 12 running backs entering this upcoming fantasy season, along with a brief analysis of what they can potentially bring to your team. Let’s get started.

Editor's note: Purchase any NFL Lineup Optimizer pass (including daily DFS cheat sheets), and you also get access to NBA and NHL Optimizers and DFS cheat sheets.

 

Standard RB Rankings - 2017

1) Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

Le’veon Bell continuously had fantasy owners in awe, finishing top-five in rushing yards in spite of being suspended for the beginning four games of the season. Bell accomplished this feat with an extraordinary 105.7 rushing yards per contest, averaging 26.4 fantasy points in each game. Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin utilizes Bell more regularly than any other running back in the league, proven by his astonishing 95.2% opportunity share. Additionally, Bell’s running tendencies are merely impossible to predict, leading the league in evaded tackles with 101, while also flaunting a league best 497 yards after contact. Bell is equally as potent catching the ball out of the backfield, finishing with 75 receptions for 616 yards on 94 targets. A player of Bell’s caliber behind a top three offensive line is fantasy gold; anticipate Bell to be the first running back selected off the board, and feast in a full 16-game season.

2) David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson is the definition of a workhorse running back, leading the league in touches with 373, totalling 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns. Irrefutably the face of the Arizona Cardinals offense with an 80% opportunity share, Johnson is without a doubt one of the most effective bell cows in the entirety of the NFL. His receiving stats could be mistaken for everyday wide receivers, hauling in 80 receptions for 879 yards on 120 targets. Essentially a human highlight film, Johnson tallied double digit fantasy points in 15 out of 16 games played; worth noting, the one game Johnson was unsuccessful in doing so, he was pulled from the game early due to injury. The Cardinals offensive line strengths lie in their run blocking, despite their PFF pre-ranking of 17th. Realistically you can’t go wrong with either Bell or Johnson, as both will be first and second in several rushing categories this upcoming season. Regardless, Johnson will be off the board by 1.02, anything less is absolute robbery.

3) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott had a tremendous rookie season, leading the league in rushing by an impressive 318 yards averaging 21.8 fantasy points per game. Despite being an inferior pass catcher in comparison to Bell and Johnson, Elliott makes up for it with sheer volume; the Dallas Cowboys utilized their second ranked offensive line, totalling 499 team run plays, resulting in a league leading 321 carries for the Pro Bowl back. Elliott burst onto the fantasy scene, proving doubters wrong with a terrific 1,632 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Disciplinary issues aside, Zeke is without a doubt a top three back in the NFL today, behind a historically dominant offensive line on a run heavy offense. Anticipate Elliott to remain a potent RB1, following a rookie campaign resulting in double digit fantasy points in every game played.

4) Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

Unlike many players, Melvin Gordon inverted the slump process and broke out in his sophomore season; achieving the feat with a considerably less talented offensive line in comparison to the backs listed above. The Los Angeles Chargers have implemented a zone running scheme in hopes of boosting Gordon’s 3.9 yards per carry; this in addition with the Charger’s newly revamped offensive line will benefit Gordon tremendously. The departure of Danny Woodhead to the Baltimore Ravens leaves very little competition for Gordon, who will see the bulk of the carries. A healthy Chargers receiving corps is a potent one; this will force defenses to play honest football, opening up opportunities for Gordon. The pieces have certainly fallen in place for Gordon to have a terrific fantasy campaign; expect consistent RB1 numbers from Gordon throughout the entirety of the season.

5) Lesean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

McCoy was the fourth-best fantasy back in standard leagues this past season, averaging 19.8 fantasy points per game. Following the departure of Mike Gillislee this offseason, anticipate McCoy’s opportunity share to slightly rise from his 65.8% share in 2016. Additionally, McCoy is as consistent as they come catching out of the backfield, hauling in 87.9% of the passes thrown his way. Boasting an 8.5% big run rate, approximately 1.3 per game, McCoy is undeniably one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL today. The Buffalo Bills addressed their 22nd ranked offensive line tremendously this offseason, drafting right tackle Dion Dawkins from Temple; PFF currently has the Bills as a top 10 offensive line entering the 2017 campaign,

6) Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Jordan Howard was arguably the most productive waiver addition throughout the entirety of the 2016 season, finishing second in rushing yards with 1,313. The Pro Bowl running back averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and 15.4 fantasy points per game on 251 carries. Despite the Chicago Bears running the ball a measly 381 times, Howard was still able to excel as a result of his breakaway run ability; totaling 16 big runs on the season, approximately 1.1 per game. As a result of the Bears losing tendencies, defenses may field light fronts on a consistent basis to defend the pass. This past season Howard had 6.3 YPC against defenses with less than seven linemen and linebackers. In addition, the Bears have an extremely skilled interior line, consisting of pro bowl caliber guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton. Anticipate the potent Bears offensive line to lead Howard to another tremendous fantasy season.

7) DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

After losing fantasy relevancy in an abysmal campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, DeMarco Murray saw a 28.2% increase in opportunity share with a run oriented Tennessee Titans offense. Fantasy owners who gambled on Murray in the 4th round were pleasantly surprised, as Murray went on to rush for 1,287 yards (3rd in league) and 12 touchdowns. The Titans currently have a top five offensive line, highlighted by Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Although 29 seems to be a terrifying age for running backs, the numbers Murray recorded last year justify his second round selection in fantasy leagues. Until proven otherwise, Murray is a sure fire RB1 in an offense that rushed the ball 475 times this past season.

8) Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Devonta Freeman contributed significantly to the Atlanta Falcons number one ranked offense this past season, scoring 17.8 fantasy points per contest. Freeman is a very versatile running back, hauling in 462 yards receiving, with an impressive 83.1% catch rate. However, the inevitable regression of targets to Austin Hooper and Tevin Coleman will surely hurt his receiving stats going forward. Regardless, Freeman will continue dominating on the ground, and likely find the end zone a handful of times, making him an extremely valuable standard format commodity.  Despite losing carries to Tevin Coleman on occasion, Freeman is still a terrific second round selection due to his ability to put up terrific numbers regardless of opportunity share.

9) Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

Despite a 69.5% opportunity share, Lamar Miller’s production was rather underwhelming considering his first round ADP. While 1,073 rushing yards topped off with six touchdowns isn’t a complete bust, it certainly isn’t impressive taking his volume into consideration. Miller’s ADP is much more reasonable this season, currently being selected late in the second round. Not often will you find a true workhorse back at that price capable of producing a 1,000-yard season. While some owners may be tentative, Miller is worth taking a chance on assuming he was negatively affected by the Brock Osweiler effect.

10) Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

Carlos Hyde remains a mystery this offseason, following a quietly productive 2016. Despite running behind the second worst offensive line in the NFL, Hyde was still able to average 4.6 YPC, 988 yards and nine total touchdowns. Former Atlanta Falcons Offensive Coordinator, Kyle Shanahan takes over head coaching duties for an abysmal San Francisco 49ers team. Historically, Shanahan has developed running backs rather well, notably Devonta Freeman. Although Hyde is struggling to grasp the newly introduced running scheme, anticipate Shanahan to build around his most talented offensive weapon. Durability is a serious cause for concern, as Hyde has missed 14 games out of a possible 48; as a result of this his ADP currently sits at 3.12. In hindsight, selecting a running back that finished #11 in fantasy points per game, potentially in the beginning of the fourth round is terrific value regardless of risk. Hyde is a potent RB2, with terrific upside paired with a head coach notorious for turning their starting backs into studs.

11) Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

Despite failing to travel with the team to begin the season, Jay Ajayi broke out in significant fashion, earning First Team All Pro honors after solidifying the starting role in week 5. In spite of running behind the #28 ranked offensive line this past season, Ajayi was able to muster up and impressive 1,272 yards on 4.9 YPC, solidifying himself as the #11 running back in standard formats. Ajayi is striving to become a much more versatile running back this offseason, following a 2016 season where he totaled an underwhelming 151 receiving yards. The pro bowl caliber back is undeniably an explosive talent, averaging approximately one big run per game. As a result of this, Ajayi surpassed the 200 yard mark on three separate occasions, becoming the fourth player in NFL history to rush for 200 yards, three times in a single season. Towards the end of the year, offensive line injuries caused Ajayi’s numbers to regress slightly. Entering the 2017 season, offensive line issues have yet to be addressed, and PFF has the Dolphins ranked 26th. Anticipate low-end RB1 production from Ajayi this upcoming season.

12) Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

After a marvelous rookie campaign that accounted for 16.1 fantasy points per game as well as AP Rookie of the Year honors, Todd Gurley was a victim to the sophomore slump. In 2015, 32.9% of Gurley’s yardage came solely from gains of 25 yards or more; Gurley’s 4.8 YPC ranked eighth best in the league, while his 10 total touchdowns ranked sixth among other running backs. Without a doubt the biggest bust in 2016, Gurley’s 4.8 YPC plummeted to an underwhelming 3.2; in addition to this, the Pro Bowl running back’s rushing yard total regressed by 223 yards, despite have 49 more carries. With Jeff Fisher long gone, fantasy owners are optimistic regarding Gurley’s resurgence. The addition of Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth will benefit Gurley tremendously, but more importantly, any improvement in the passing attack forcing defenses to play honest football will open opportunities for the run game. Gurley is a high risk-high reward RB1 entering the 2017 season.

 

More 2017 Fantasy Football & ADP Analysis


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.