Initial Player Rankings – Running Backs

We have just over a week now till the NFL draft, just enough time to get me some pre-draft fantasy rankings out to the world wide web. Loads of players to go through and not much time so just going to jump right into it.

As per last week, the best way to start to break your players down is into tiers. Figure out who your stars are, who can be useful, who is going to be a camp body but might have some upside. I have originally ranked about 50 rbs but I will start this week with my top 30 and go from there.

The Big 3

1 , David Johnson

2, Le’Veon Bell

3, Ezekiel Elliott

In case you didn’t know, after last year’s fantasy explosion with these three guys, they are all but certain to be the first three players off the board. If any of these drop to you outside the top three then pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. The common theme with these guys is that you can make any case to pick your favourite, and no one could really argue with you. Therefore here, this is all preference. For me, DJ is the premier playmaker at the position, he does any and everything for the Cardinals and to give a bit of perspective on just how good he is, he was ranked PFF’s (Pro Football Focus) WIDE RECEIVER of the year. He is a running back for god’s sake. Add another year of experience and that Bruce Arians has virtually guaranteed that he will get more touches next year and he is young enough to deal with a heavier workload. Thank you very much Bruce! In second, is arguably a guy who is more talented but comes with red flags. For Le’Veon Bell those particular red flags are durability issues and suspensions. Spread over 16 games both Bell and Johnson are equally matched but Johnson gets the nod here because he stays on the field more and isn’t a character issue off the field. Like I said though, as long as he stays on the field, he is likely to rival Johnson as is the new focal point of an explosive Steelers offense. The Big 3 is rounded off with rookie sensation ‘Zeke Elliott. Elliott is probably better as a pure runner than Johnson or Bell but Zeke falls back because he has not developed as a full 3 down back….yet. He did catch passes with great success but no where near the volume that Johnson and Bell so it makes sense that Zeke falls behind these guys in the rankings.


4, LeSean McCoy

5, Devonta Freeman

6, DeMarco Murray

7, Lemar Miller

8, Jordan Howard

9, Melvin Gordon

10, Jay Ajayi

From here on out, all your tiers will vary slightly. I probably have Murray a bit higher than I usually would but based on his success last year, there is no reason to suspect that his workload or touches will decrease. Both he and McCoy, as I wrote shortly after the Superbowl are the wrong side of 25 but they have at least one more productive year each left to go before an expected drop off once they hit 30. McCoy, despite a coaching change, should still be the focal point of the Bills offense and even better for fantasy owners, Mike Gillislee (8 TDs last year) just signed with the Patriots so no more goal line poaching (except all the full backs the bills signed…). Freeman over in the ATL is next up and has proved last year that even with a healthy Tevin Coleman he produced at an RB1 level. He actually produced more and increased his efficiency levels with Coleman playing so it bodes well for both of them that they continue on in this way. The OC change however is probably more favourable for Freeman as the locked in starter for now, barring injury, that shouldn’t change. Murray, as I mentioned, is an older back but still very productive. The one flag with Murray however is his promising backup Derrick Henry developing some more and pinching some playing time to save Murray’s legs. I have a feeling that of all the players in this group, Murray is more likely to drop to the bottom of the pack. Miller actually moved up as of today because I heard that he should be getting more touches and either way, he probably won’t have an experienced/good QB with him so that means more early down touches and usage in the passing game as a security blanket. Jordan Howard somehow ranked second in rushing yards behind Zeke Elliott last year and shows great promise. Despite his talent, he has the most to lose with being on a bad team. Let’s call it the Todd Gurley effect, if there is no one else to worry about, expect a lot of 8 man fronts and a pure focus on Howard only. A sophomore slump is more likely than you think. The final two I think have the potential to jump to the top of this tier. Melvin Gordon had a great season and was a TD machine early on. His new coach just happened to help the Buffalo Bills lead with the number 1 rushing attack in the league so he is sure to benefit there. There is the concern that his success was purely down to chance and other injuries and also that he faded down the stretch but a new scheme and a revitalised passing attack should ease the pressure off him. Ajayi is here based on a small but explosive sample size. He didn’t rack up huge points in most of his games but we all know that you don’t run for 200 yards in a game multiple times in a year without having the ability to do more. One more year of experience in the Dolphins offense should help him out. One downside for him however is that he is the least useful in the passing game which keeps him at the bottom of the tier. All these guys are going in rounds 1-2, without fail.


11, Isaiah Crowell

12, CJ Anderson

13, Carlos Hyde

14, Mark Ingram

15, Spencer Ware

16, Marshawn Lynch

From here on out, there is very much a divide with each and every player depending on what you value most. Guys like Ingram and Anderson will be going first after the RB1 group. Lynch will probably be overdrafted a bit in the 3rd or 4th rounds hopefully leaving you with guys like Crowell, Anderson at the back of the 4th and into the 5th. The Browns miserable season massively got in the way of Isaiah Crowell. He flashed brilliance when allowed the time but the Browns were always playing from behind and their revolving QB situation all but derailed any kind of development. I think on an individual talent level, he has RB1 upside but he his held back by his team. If they get any kind of continuity and develop their offense, he should get more touches and produce big time. CJ Anderson has a similar talent level but cannot stay on the field. The Bronco’s o-line was shocking but when he and Booker were playing, they were a productive tandem so I decided to use that in where I ranked him. Carlos Hyde, like Crowell in his talent and also Anderson with his injuries has never lived up to his potential. There are rumblings that the 49ers may be moving on from him but I think that is pure smoke screen to drum up trade interest for the 49ers 1st round pick. DeMarco Murray had injury concerns in first few years and he pushed through them and sometimes injuries are just bad luck but he does have the highest risk of all the players in this tier. Mark Ingram is in a powerhouse offense and unless the Saints invest heavily in a rookie RB, it is likely that he will remain #1 on the depth chart and into the season. He can catch and can produce at a high level but his games were so inconsistent last year that you just cannot invest to heavily in him till he proves that he can produce on a more regular basis. Spencer Ware was a disappointment for me as the hope was able to step in to Jamal Charles’s shoes. Unlike Ingram he was incredibly consistent but only scored huge points on a handful of occasions so he never really got it going. He is their number 1 though and there is no reason to worry about Charcandrick West pinching his touches. All of these guys are useful in the passing game as well so their versatility keeps them fantasy relevant and in the RB2 conversation. Finally, a new addition to the list is Mr Marshawn Lynch. Most thought it wouldn’t happen but barring a sudden change within the Seahawks organisation, Lynch will be joining the Oakland Raiders. Don’t get me wrong, the sceptic in me thinks that this is purely a publicity stunt keeping the fans engaged till their new stadium is finished 400 miles away in the Nevada desert. However, the Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in football and Lynch is rested after a year out. So if he comes back at say only 80% of what he used to be, that is still a 10 TD guy. Easy.  If he is truly in it which I think he is, he is good for 1000 yards on top of those TDs and will help guide their two younger backs in Richard and Washington. The one thing that Lynch doesn’t do though is provide anything in the passing game so that knocks him down a few spots as I doubt he stays on the field for 3rd downs.

The next two sections are hard to separate and I couldn’t convince myself completely on which one was more valuable so know that I am not too happy with the rankings as such, but you will see where I am coming from with how my tiers are set up.

Two Down Guys

17, Rob Kelley

18, Jonathan Stewart

19, Todd Gurley

20, Latavius Murray

21, Eddie Lacy

Now these five guys for me, are not really more talented than the tier I will list below. They are however, number 1 on their respective teams depth charts therefore they get first dibs at touches. They are the guys more likely to come off the board next as your primary backups. At least on first and second downs therefore more potential to get around 2/3 of the workload so it makes sense even if you don’t necessarily like them. Rob Kelley was dependable as was Jonathan Stewart and carried their teams at times when required. However, they lack the talent a certain ‘pizzaz’ that just doesn’t inspire anyone that they can produce at a high level week in and week out. Murray went from the best offensive line in football and produced average to good statistics to possibly the worst o-line in football with a fraction of the talent that was there in Oakland. Hard to see where he goes but he is a risky pick given the lack of stellar production in a very positive situation to a much less favourable one in Minnesota. Also, don’t sleep on Jerrick McKinnon, the guy is a beast and will scrap and scrape for all the touches he can get and will more than likely handle passing downs. Todd Gurley is likely to get massively overdrafted in my opinion as I don’t really see that much of an improvement from the Rams this offseason. Yes the new Coach was a great OC but I don’t think his numbers will accurately reflect his ADP unless they are able to get him more involved and scheme him open. Lacy was great in Green Bay but talent was outdone by his well documented weight issues which ultimately led to the Packers letting him walk out the door. His incentive to keep his weight down you ask? Muchos money that’s what. He is rumoured to have one of the highest, if not the highest weight related value incentives ever written into his contract so if he wants to get paid, he needs to keep dropping the weight. Which leads me to my point that if he keeps his weight down, then he has the chance to beat out Thomas Rawls and take over. That being said, I still wouldn’t draft him as it is too big a risk but you cannot deny the potential.

Pass Catchers

22, Tevin Coleman

23, Ty Montgomery

24, Christian McCaffrey

25, Theo Riddick

26, James White

27, Darren Sproles

Tevin Coleman and Ty Montgomery easily have the potential to go ahead any of the previous tier and probably into the RB2 conversation. However, with all ‘weapon’ type players, their touches are inconsistent and highly dependable on game planning. Coleman is a beast but a change in OC and potential Superbowl slump is more than likely going to hit him as hard as anyone else on the Atlanta team. He can explode though and I expect he still will but it will be harder to predict. Ty Montgomery is a player I love and I think he has the potential to be a much better running back this year but I can’t help but think that Green Bay invest in a true RB in the draft. He has the most to lose so his draft spot could vary from 4/5 all the way down to the double digit rounds if he’s not the entrusted RB1. Next up is the only rookie that I am going to list because I genuinely believe that if a team drafts Christian McCaffrey then they will have a specific plan for him and will use him appropriately. He is a true weapon and can easily pass for a wide receiver so I can see him getting 10-15 touches a game through various avenues if he goes to the right team (think New Orleans or Indianapolis). Theo Riddick and James White are guys that will probably not get drafted till much later but they have the ability to catch passes out of the backfield as good as anyone and they will get their 10-15 looks each game. White, at least judging by the Patriots desire this offseason to sign every running back available, seems to be the favoured passing down guy for Tom Brady (sorry Dion Lewis) so his workload seems safe for now. Riddick is the better option of the two however and given how many legitimate weapons the Patriots have, I would be hesitant to draft any of them against similar players on other teams. Darren Sproles is getting on in years but that doesn’t seem to stop him running past players on the field after catching a pass so he is up here as deadly as anyone in the league.

Guys with Potential Upside

28, Bilal Powell

29, Paul Perkins

30, Terrance West

Rounding off the initial 30 players are three guys who I think have a chance to succeed with their respective teams. Powell has competition from Matt Forte but I think they saw enough out of him to give him a chance to start and he was impressive towards the end of the season. Paul Perkins is the number 1 guy on the depth chart in NY so if the pass game draws enough attention there should be some holes for the promising back to shine. Terrance West played well and was extremely productive when actually given the ball but the Ravens refusal to stop passing ultimately capped his productivity. Add that Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first part of the season he might be a cheeky flier late in the draft to impact your season right away with heavy workload.

There are countless other players that I could have listed here. Pass catchers like Danny Woodhead or Gio Bernard have been productive players. Mike Gillislee seemingly replacing LeGarrette Blount in New England would seem great but also raises concerns about Rex Burkhead, who I originally would have ranked in the top 30. Obviously this now leaves Blount without a job and there is no way he gets 18 TDs with any other team so he drops way off the radar. Don’t sleep on Frank Gore and I really should have him on this list but I think he is in for a major decline in touches so I’m not sure where he will fit on the fantasy tree just yet. Adrian Peterson is of course still floating about and I don’t even know if he’ll have a job over the summer. If he signs with anyone at all he will be overdrafted in the earlier rounds based purely on his name. There are also a bunch of rookies that could easily come in and start shaking up everyones draft boards but at least that is a good problem to have rather than a severe lack of talent within the position. Sadly though I don’t have the resources or the inside scoop in the draft to realistically rank the guys accurately so they have been omitted till after the draft.

With these next few posts, I would love feedback so let me know your thoughts, who I should have included, who I should have left out etc. Would love to hear from you.

Peace out




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