“Big Rigg” Running Back Rankings 2017
In 2016 we had the big 3 in fantasy drafts, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones. In the 2016 season, we saw the return of the stud running back in fantasy and now we have the big 3 running backs, Zeke Elliott, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. I am not the first to say this, but this year we have the top 3 running backs who are in the upper tier, and then you have a 2nd tier of bell cows who have the capability of playing an every down role. Once you get past the top 11 or 12 running backs in your draft, production drops off swiftly as you start to get into situations involving major timeshares which caps upside. If you miss out on one of the “Big 3”, don’t worry, there are still more than enough stud wide receivers out there warranting a 1st round pick and there are a few solid running backs who are very deserving of a late 2nd round selection.
Strength of schedule is difficult to judge from year to year in the preseason because defenses change so much each offseason due to the draft and free agency. However, strength of schedule does matter for the running back position because when a running back encounters an elite rush defense, they are likely to have a down week unless they do major work in the passing game or score a touchdown. Strength of schedule should never be used as a primary tool to draft your team, it should only be used as a potential tie breaker to make a decision between drafting two similarly ranked players.
According to Pro Football Focus, the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills have the easiest strength of schedule for running backs based on 2016 fantasy points against. This bodes extremely well for Jordan Howard and LeSean McCoy who are expected to get large workloads this year. If you go all in on receivers early in your draft, you may want to consider drafting Mike Gillislee, Jon Stewart, Matt Forte or Bilal Powell with a later round pick in your draft. Although these players aren’t the most explosive or high volume fantasy options in 2017, they are all going in the late 4th round or later in 12 team standard drafts, will get opportunity, and if the matchup is right you should be able to stream them when needed. With the Patriots likely to be favorites in most if not all of their games this year, the weak strength of schedule means Mike Gillislee has some added upside.
On the other side, the 49ers, Rams, Steelers, Browns and Raiders all have the toughest strength of schedule for fantasy running backs. This does not bode well for Carlos Hyde, Todd Gurley and Isaiah Crowell as they are playing for teams which don’t have the best outlooks for 2017. Le’Veon Bell is matchup proof so the Steelers’ strength of schedule has no impact on his value especially since he is so valuable in the passing game. The Raiders have an interesting situation, because if they have a really tough matchup one week, maybe Jalen Richard or DeAndre Washington will do damage out of the backfield in the passing game that week.
1 – David Johnson (25) Arizona Cardinals – ADP 1.1 – Over his first two years in the NFL Johnson has amassed 3,156 yards from scrimmage and scored 32 total touchdowns. David Johnson is the focal point of the Cardinals offense and is matchup proof because the Cardinals involve him heavily in the running and passing game. Johnson gets a slight edge over Le’Veon Bell because of Bell’s injury and discipline history. That’s some earth shattering analysis right there.
2 – Le’Veon Bell (25) Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP 1.2 – Le’Veon Bell has an opportunity to play all 16 games for the first time since 2014. The Steelers have one of the best offensive lines in football and they get Martavis Bryant back, meaning it will be even harder for defenses to stack the box against Bell. Similar to David Johnson, Bell is near matchup proof because the Steelers rely on him heavily in the running and passing game.
3 – Zeke Elliott (22) Dallas Cowboys – ADP 1.4 – Regardless of any suspension that may come down, Zeke needs to be one of the top 3 running backs taken off the board. Too many times, people will write off suspended players with the false idea that they cannot take a zero for that week at that position. If Elliott does get suspended for a game or two, it’s not like you are going to take a donut for that week, you will, however, take lesser production from a lesser player. Let’s say for example you draft Zeke 3rd overall and you expect 15 points a week from him. If you draft somebody like Bilal Powell late in your draft to fill in for Elliott while he’s suspended, he will get you somewhere in the 9 point range each week, meaning for the game or 2 that you miss Zeke, you are really only losing about 6 points a week, and when he does return, your roster will be at full strength and good to go. If you are able to balance out the rest of your roster, a suspension may not be that big of a deal.
There are, however, some negatives with Elliott heading into 2017. The Cowboys lost 2/5 of their starters on the offensive line to retirement or free agency and several of their starters on defense are either suspended or left via free agency. If the Cowboys defense regresses, it may mean less running opportunities for Zeke. It should be noted that Elliott scored 15 touchdowns last year, so there may be some regression in that category this year.
4 – Jordan Howard (22) Chicago Bears – ADP 2.2 – I am not buying into the narrative that Jordan Howard is not worth a first round pick because the Bears might be bad in 2016 and he will be playing with a sub par quarterback. In 2016, the Bears were bad, had a banged up offensive line, and had guys like Matt Barkley under center. To me, Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky are upgrades from Matt Barkley. The argument could also be made that because the Bears lost Alshon Jeffery, teams might stack the box against the Bears this year. In 2016, Jeffery only played in 12 games due to suspension and was limited in most of the 12 games which he was active due to various leg ailments. If Howard was able to take care of business on a bad 2016 Bears team, with a bad quarterback, what is stopping him from doing so in 2017? In my view, nothing. I am putting my money where my mouth is and I am drafting him as the 4th running back off the board, and over some receivers such as Julio Jones. This may not be the mainstream view, and that’s fine, it’s how I see it.
Howard’s 2016 production wasn’t dependent on touchdowns which is very encouraging. He only had 6 of them on the ground. If Howard can find the end zone a few more times in 2017, it will only help his value. Howard did average a hefty 5.2 yards per carry in 2016, but even assuming some regression down to 4.5 yards per carry, he should still be fine. In the 13 games which Howard started in 2016, he averaged 18.5 carries per game. If he averages 18.5 carries over a full 16 game schedule at 4.5 yards per carry, you get just under 300 carries for over 1,300 yards. Howard did have some trouble catching the rock last year only hauling in 29 of his 50 targets, but even his catch number should increase if he’s able to play more. The Bears were horrible in 2016 and they trailed in the 2nd half most of the time which contributed to his low touchdown totals, but even assuming he doesn’t improve in that category, he’s still a top end RB1. It should also be noted that according to Pro Football Focus, Howard had a higher elusive rating than Zeke Elliott, averaging 2.98 yards after contact while Zeke averaged 2.91 yards after contact. I am putting my chips down on Howard this year. In my view, Howard’s ADP is a steal at 14th overall according to 12 team standard leagues on Fantasy Football Calculator.
5 – Melvin Gordon (24) LA Chargers – ADP 1.8 – Gordon has 438 career carries and averaged a mere 3.7 yards per attempt over that span. This may be concerning to some, but the Chargers improved their offensive line in the offseason which will feature from left to right, Russell Okung, Dan Feeney, Matt Slauson, Forrest Lamp and Joe Barksdale. The reason this is important is because according to Pro Football Focus, Gordon’s elusive rating was in the middle of the pack in 2016 out of running backs which had 50% or more of their teams carries. Gordon averaged 2.46 yards after contact which was better than LeSean McCoy and in the neighborhood of David Johnson. This means that Gordon’s offensive line was only blocking 1.4 yards per attempt for him in 2016, and he had to earn most of what he got. Conversely, the Buffalo Bills led the league in yards blocked before contact, paving over 2.5 yards per run play for LeSean McCoy before he was ever touched. Gordon has no competition in the backfield this year, and the defense is healthy, so Gordon will be a high volume high producing fantasy back. The one item to monitor throughout the preseason with Gordon is that the Chargers are going to use some zone blocking schemes this year, so if Gordon doesn’t adjust, you may want to knock him down a little. The implementation of zone blocking should not be overblown though, because the Chargers will utilize both zone and power blocking.
6 – LeSean McCoy (29) Buffalo Bills – ADP 1.7 – Rick Dennison assumed the role of offensive coordinator in Buffalo this year and based on his prior track record in Denver, he should continue to pound the rock with LeSean McCoy. McCoy finished 2016 as the #3 running back in fantasy football in standard leagues and although he is 29 years old, he is set up for another great year as the Bills return one of the best run blocking offensive lines in football. In addition, McCoy has proven to be a great receiver out of the backfield amassing 2,930 career receiving yards and he doesn’t look to be slowing down. This is the last year I am trusting McCoy as an RB1, after he turns 30, I am unhitching myself from the McCoy wagon.
7 – Devonta Freeman (25) Atlanta Falcons – ADP 1.11 – In 2016 Freeman saw 38 fewer carries and 32 fewer pass targets than he did in 2015. But he still put up 1,541 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 total touchdowns, repeating as an RB1 in 2017. Heading into this year, Freeman looks poised to repeat as one of fantasy football’s top running backs as the Falcons return their entire offense, including their offensive line who will have another year to gel together. Both Freeman’s yards per attempt and yards per catch went up in 2016, meaning he was more efficient with his touches. I wouldn’t worry much about Tevin Coleman cutting into Freeman’s workload, as Freeman has established himself as the bell cow, while Coleman is more of the change of pace home run hitter. Steve Sarkisian said that he doesn’t plan on switching anything up schematically and, as long as that holds true, Freeman will be just alright at his late 1st round ADP.
8 – DeMarco Murray (29) Tennessee Titans – ADP 2.3 – The Titans have quietly built one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and hit a home run drafting Jack Conklin in the first round of the 2016 draft. I know Murray is 29 years old, but I am confident drafting him in the second round because he played well last year through injury and doesn’t look to be slowing down just yet. If Murray’s offensive line wasn’t this good I might have a different opinion, but for now, I am in on DeMarco Murray for at least one more year. Murray has had some high volume seasons under his belt, but he’s still only rushed the ball 1,420 times in his career, which is a low number compared to other 29 year old backs such as LeSean McCoy who has logged 1,898 carries in his career.
9 – Jay Ajayi (24) Miami Dolphins – ADP 1.12 – I personally have no desire to draft Jay Ajayi unless he slips deep into the 2nd round of the draft. Ajayi was fantastic after contact last year, but I think those numbers were a little inflated because he had a few big games with several long runs. Out of Ajayi’s 1,272 yards rushing last year, 624 of them (49%) came in 3 games against the Bills, the Bills again and the Steelers. Ajayi disappointed in some great matchups last year (45 yards rushing against the 49ers) and I just don’t know if I want to invest a 1st or 2nd round pick in him, I just don’t feel good about it.
10 – Todd Gurley (22) LA Rams – ADP 2.5 – Gurley had a down 2016 season but the Rams have added help to the offensive line in Andrew Whitworth, one of the best left tackles in the game, and brought in Sean McVay from the Washington Redskins to be their new head coach. The Rams were simply awful last year due in part to their vanilla play calling on offense. McVay is one of the more innovative play callers in the league and he may be able to get Gurley back on track. Ranking Gurley in the top 10 is somewhat a leap of faith, but if the supporting cast, including the quarterback, can improve, I believe he is a lock to be a RB1. We should have an idea how the Rams are doing in the preseason which should impact where his final ADP settles.
11 – Leonard Fournette (22) Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP 2.7 – I need to see Fournette run in the preseason before I rank him any higher than 12th. Fournette was drafted to take the pressure off a struggling Blake Bortles, but if teams stack the box against Fournette, you have to question whether he will be able to run free without great blocking. The addition of Branden Albert and Cam Robinson on the offensive line should help, but I need to see it play out a little in the preseason before I bump him up. Be wary of the hype train that may start if Fournette looks good in the preseason, similar to the hype which surrounded Ameer Abdullah in 2015 after he juked a few defenders out of their shoes in the preseason, pushing him up in drafts. Zeke Elliott’s 2016 rookie season may have given people some lofty expectations for Fournette, so don’t fall into that trap. Zeke got to play behind one of the best offensive lines in pro football, Fournette won’t have that same luxury.
12 – Joe Mixon (21) Cincinnati Bengals – ADP 3.7 – Joe Mixon just turned 21 years old on July 25th and putting off field issues aside, he’s a tremendous talent. Mixon has a similar build as David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, standing 6’1″ weighing 227 pounds, and has drawn comparisons to both by NFL draft experts because of his patience while running and pass catching abilities. Plain and simple, Mixon is a stud who has the potential to be a top 5 pick in 2018 if he plays to his potential. If Mixon looks great this preseason and gets the starting job over Jeremy Hill, then his ranking will soar into the top 7, maybe even the top 5. If Mixon does not beat out Hill for the starting job, initially, then he may slip in drafts, but he still needs to be the first Bengals running back drafted this year. Jeremy Hill has been falling so late in drafts, you can protect yourself by snagging Hill in the 10th round if you want to cover your bases in case it takes a few weeks for Mixon to take over the job. I understand that there are some offensive line concerns in Cincinnati, but Mixon should be a difference maker by creating for himself, and the offensive line is not likely to see stacked boxes with the likes of AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and John Ross stretching the field vertically.
13 – Lamar Miller (26) Houston Texans – ADP 2.12 – Ranking Miller here comes down to the fact that Miller is Houston’s primary back and they had several injuries to the offensive line in 2016 which contributed to Miller’s somewhat low 4.0 yards per carry compared to his 4.4 career average. Even though the Texans line was banged up, they still blocked over 2 yards before contact, so the fact that they are entering 2016 healthy will benefit Miller tremendously. Another year in Bill O’Brien’s system should also help Miller ascend. In my view, Miller’s 2016 numbers are his floor, but his ceiling isn’t much higher because he cannot handle the 19 carries he averaged per game last year.
14 – Isaiah Crowell (24) Cleveland Browns – ADP 3.3 – Crowell is as unexciting as it gets but he did average 4.8 yards per carry in 2016 behind a less than stellar offensive line, in a brutal offense, and managed to score 7 TD’s. Crowell logged just under 1,300 yards from scrimmage in 2016. Heading into 2017, the Browns improved their defense through the draft and made major upgrades to their offensive line through free agency, adding one of the best guards in the NFL, Kevin Zeitler. An improved offensive line and better defense should lead to more opportunities for Crowell. Although Crowell is likely to exceed his 2016 numbers in 2017, his upside is capped because Duke Johnson is a tremendous pass catcher and should steal about 100 carries and 60-70 catches from Crowell on the season. Last year Crowell had 238 total touches, 198 of them rushes and he should see more rushing attempts this season. My prediction that Crowell is likely to exceed his 2016 numbers is based on my view that the Browns should be more competitive in more games this year, meaning they may be able to run more leading to an uptick in volume for Crowell.
15 – Dalvin Cook (21) Minnesota Vikings – ADP 5.4 – I am all in on Dalvin Cook. Latavius Murray is on the roster and will provide competition for Cook, but he is a glorified goal line running back and has a lengthy injury history. Vikings training camp started this week and he isn’t practicing. Even if Murray and Cook split early, Cook could take over and be a major stud if/when Murray goes down. At his current ADP, Cook is going at fair market value, but as I said before, his value will shoot through the roof if he becomes the full time back.
16 – Ameer Abdullah (24) Detriot Lions – ADP 5.9 – The Lions locked up TJ Lang and Ricky Wagner this year which should really help their running attack. If Abdullah can stay healthy, he should be a good bet to get around 250 carries on the season. Theo Riddick does cap his upside because he will steal some 3rd down work, but in the late 5th round, Abdullah is a great value. If you do draft Abdullah to your squad, “Fear Ameer” is a great team name.
17 – Terrance West (26) Baltimore Ravens – ADP 9.10 – Kenneth Dixon just went down so it’s going to be interesting to see just how high West’s ADP rises over the next few months. West does offer ability in the passing game and is capable of being an every down back, but Danny Woodhead’s presence means it’s likely West will come off the field on third downs. West did have over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2016, and I don’t think we fully know what his upside is. He is the owner of a career 3.9 yards per carry which is somewhat concerning, but he did start his career with the Browns, so you need to take that stat with a grain of salt.
18 – Paul Perkins (22) New York Giants – ADP 6.2 – Perkins had one start in 2016 and logged 21 carries for 102 yards, averaging 4.9 yards a pop. Perkins is a viable option in the passing game, but he’s not that big, standing 5’11” weighing 213 pounds, so you have to wonder if he can withstand the punishment of being the starting running back for the Giants, handling 220+ carries. At his current 6th round ADP, I am willing to take a chance on him.
19 – Marshawn Lynch (31) Oakland Raiders – ADP 2.8 – Marshawn Lynch hasn’t performed at a high level since the 2014 season and spent 2016 out of the league. Marshawn is a bruiser, and apparently he’s in great shape, but how much does he have left in the tank at age 31? I don’t like getting in the business of drafting running backs over the age of 30 as my RB1 or RB2, so at a late 2nd round ADP, I am going to pass on Lynch this year. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are not bums, so it is likely that Marshawn ends up with a limited role, getting goal line and early down work. Last year, Oakland’s backfield was a glorified 3 way time share, and I don’t want to pay a 2nd round pick for somebody splitting carries 3 ways, it just doesn’t make sense.
20 – Ty Montgomery (24) Green Bay Packers – ADP 4.7 – Monitor Montgomery in the preseason, because Montgomery playing running back is either going to work out really well, or he will be a bigger and more athletic Danny Woodhead. I am personally shying away from drafting Montgomery because you need to take him in the late 4th round to get him and I don’t feel comfortable with this experiment. After all, the Packers drafted 3 running backs for a reason. I view Ty Montgomery as a high end Danny Woodhead.
21 – Eddie Lacy (26) Seattle Seahawks – ADP 5.10 – Eddie Lacy is holding steady under 250 which is good for fantasy owners and his bank account. Lacy was on his way to a solid season in 2016, rushing for 72 yards per game at 5.1 yards per attempt. He was rushed back from an ankle injury too quickly, resulting in Lacy requiring surgery and a trip to IR. Lacy is a career 4.4 yards per carry back and they paid him to be the bell cow. I anticipate Lacy getting 15 carries a game with the possibility of a catch here or there, with his upside capped because of the presence of CJ Prosise who should take some 3rd down work. If Lacy maintains his 4.4 yards per carry average and is able to get 15-17 touches a game, he should log around 1,200 yards from scrimmage and it’s safe to count on him scoring 8-10 touchdowns. If Lacy slips any later than the 5th round, he is a must draft.
22 – Christian McCaffrey (21) Carolina Panthers – ADP 4.3 – Christian McCaffrey was drafted to be a PPR monster in Carolina, but I just don’t know if that’s going to happen. Cam Newton doesn’t really look to the check down too often, and I wonder if he will be able to change this late in his career. The upside is there, but I just don’t know about McCaffrey at his current 4th round ADP. In 2013, Gio Bernard was in a time share with Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis and he carried the ball 170 times, caught 56 passes and logged 1,209 yards from scrimmage. To me, that is McCaffrey’s ceiling. You need to ask yourself if you feel comfortable taking McCaffrey in the 4th round of your draft knowing he’s not going to be an every down back. Cam Newton also limits his upside because he is, in part, the Panthers goal line back.
23 – Carlos Hyde (25) San Francisco 49ers – ADP 3.11 – Carlos Hyde’s biggest flaw is availability. He missed 12 games over the last 2 seasons. Hyde is either going to figure out Kyle Shanahan’s system and explode, or he’s not going to grasp it and completely fall out of favor. This is a situation we need to monitor into training camp because if he falls out of favor, it would mean that he should fall down draft boards. If Hyde impresses in camp, his ranking should stay exactly where it is because his upside is capped due to injury concerns. It should be noted that Hyde is in a contract year, so maybe that is some extra motivation for him to stay on the field.
24 – Mike Gillislee (26) New England Patriots – ADP 4.10 – If you claim you can predict which Patriots running back will dominate carries on a week to week basis then you are most likely lying. I like Gillislee and his upside, but his performance is likely to vary greatly on a week to week basis. Before you draft this guy in the 4th round, you need to remember he has never carried the ball more than 101 times in a season. If you are expecting Gillislee to assume the “LeGarrette Blount role” that just isn’t going to happen, they aren’t the same player. Blount was a bruiser who averaged less than 4 yards per carry last year, while Gillislee averages 5.6 yards per carry over his career and is faster than Blount. Gillislee is, however, the most likely Patriot running back to assume the goal line role which is intriguing, but it is unlikely he scores 18 touchdowns like Blount did last year.
25 – Frank Gore (34) Indianapolis Colts – ADP 7.3 – Who is going to overtake Frank Gore in Indianapolis? Marlon Mack? As I mentioned back in May, Marlon Mack was a solid college player, but his knock is that he bounces everything outside. Frank Gore is now 34 years old, hasn’t rushed for 4 yards per carry since 2014, but the fact remains that he doesn’t have much competition on the Colts roster. Gore is a good bet to get another 280-300 touches again in 2017 and should log 1,200 yards from scrimmage. Frank Gore does not have much upside and has scored 7.5 touchdowns a year over the last 2 years so he’s not going to be great for you in that department. If you draft Gore, you know you are getting, somebody who will score you about 10 points a week, but the ceiling isn’t much higher than that unless he scores multiple touchdowns. At his current 7th round ADP, I am not likely to draft Gore, because I am more likely to take a chance on a more unproven running back such as Terrance West or Paul Perkins, whose ceiling has not yet been defined.
26 – Doug Martin (28) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP 4.6 – Prior to the 2016 season, the Bucs signed Doug Martin to a 5 year $35.75M deal, $15M of which was guaranteed. Martin’s guaranteed money ends in 2017, but Martin’s contract voids guaranteed money if he is suspended due to PED use. To date, I have seen Doug Martin get drafted all over the place in real and mock drafts. I have seen Martin fall into the double digit rounds and I have seen him get drafted as high as the 3rd round. If Martin plays like he did in 2012 or 2015, then his current late 4th round ADP will be a steal, even with the suspension he needs to serve. The Bucs paid Martin to be the man and they had every opportunity to cut him in the offseason. Although they have kept him to this point, he could still be released without any financial penalty to the club. If/when Martin returns, expect 20 touches a game. With Mike Evans emerging as an elite receiver, and the addition of OJ Howard and DeSean Jackson, Martin is likely to see light boxes, meaning he may run wild. Personally, a 4th round ADP is a little rich for me, I like him a little later, maybe around the 6th round. I cannot sign off on selecting Martin any earlier than the 6th round, because if the other running backs take care of business this preseason and the Bucs feel like they can move on without him, then you wasted a high pick.
27 – Spencer Ware (25) Kansas City Chiefs – ADP 3.12 – Spencer Ware did just fine for the Chiefs last year logging over 1,300 yards from scrimmage, running for 4.3 yards per carry, but they drafted Kareem Hunt in the 3rd round for a reason. Hunt is a solid all around running back who runs with tremendous balance and may have more upside than Ware who isn’t the most elusive of backs. The Chiefs do not have a lot invested in Ware, and could look to go with the 21 year old if Ware isn’t performing at a high level. I cannot and will not draft Ware anywhere close to his 3rd round ADP. To me, the only way you can draft Ware is if he falls to the 5th round and you are in a position to snag Hunt as his handcuff. The Kansas City running back situation reminds me of the Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman situation from 2015.
28 – LeGarrette Blount (30) Philadelphia Eagles – ADP 5.2 – Blount was extremely touchdown dependent in 2016, scoring 18 of them, and averaged less than 4 yards per carry while playing for one of the best offenses in the league. I am staying away from Blount this year.
29 – CJ Anderson (26) Denver Broncos – ADP 5.7 – CJ Anderson showed a lot of promise in 2014 and 2015 averaging 4.7 yards per carry on 331 carries. Heading into 2016 Anderson was supposed to be the man but he went down early in the season giving way to Devontae Booker who did anything but take advantage of the opportunity. Now, heading into 2017, Booker is hurt, Anderson is a top the depth chart, but has to fend off Jamaal Charles who is looking to get his career back on track at age 30. CJ Anderson has promise, but the presence of Booker and Charles makes drafting Anderson a risky proposition.
30 – Mark Ingram (27) – ADP – It’s impossible to rank Ingram at this time with Adrian Peterson looming. I want to rank Ingram as a top 15 running back, but cannot bring myself to do it. Ingram had 251 total touches in 2016, gained 1,362 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 total touchdowns. If Adrian Peterson doesn’t look good in camp, Ingram will shoot up my rankings. However, until that happens, Ingram will remain where he is, because you don’t bring in a back like Peterson unless you have concerns with the other players at that position.
31 – Duke Johnson (23) Cleveland Browns – ADP 13.2 – Rumor out of Cleveland is that the Browns are going to use Duke Johnson as a slot receiver. If the Browns do that, it will give Johnson tremendous value and will likely build off his 514 receiving yard total from 2016. With the presence of Isaiah Crowell, Johnson is more of a Danny Woodhead or Gio Bernard type who has limited upside. Johnson’s value in a PPR is much greater than it is in standard leagues. At his current ADP, Johnson is worth a 13th round pick because of his receiving upside.
32 – Kareem Hunt (21) Kansas City Chiefs – ADP 8.5 – Spencer Ware isn’t a world beater so some people have been putting the nail in his fantasy coffin, crowning Hunt the next great fantasy running back. The fact is that even though Ware isn’t a game breaker, he gets the job done, with a solid 2.81 yards after contact, behind a good offensive line in an Andy Reid offense. Although Ware has a solid yards per attempt, he doesn’t score many touchdowns and he has struggled to stay healthy over his career. If Ware goes down early in the season, Hunt, who is extremely well rounded and good after contact, may take the job and keep it.
33 – Jon Stewart (30) Carolina Panthers – ADP 8.9 – The Panthers are clearly looking to change up the way they play football in 2017 and you need to question how much longer Jon Stewart will remain in their plans. The Panthers clearly want to utilize running backs in the passing game more moving forward and utilize the power running game less and that should hurt Stewart’s value. Stewart is nothing more than a low volume touchdown dependent running back with little to no upside. At the point in the draft where Stewart has been going, I am probably more likely to pass on Stewart and take a younger running back with upside.
34 – CJ Prosise (23) Seattle Seahawks – ADP 11.4 – The Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy in the offseason which somewhat caps Prosise’s upside running the ball and scoring touchdowns, but he is still a capable runner and will be the main pass catching back in Seattle. Albeit an extremely small sample, Prosise averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 12.2 yards per catch in 2016, and has big play ability catching the ball out of the backfield. If Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls can stay healthy, 180 total touches and 1,300 yards from scrimmage will be a possibility, a majority of those yards coming in the passing game.
35 – Latavius Murray (27) Minnesota Vikings – ADP 8.3 – I have no desire to draft Latavius Murray this year. Murray played only about half of the Raiders snaps last year and was a glorified goal line back. After the Vikings selected Dalvin Cook in the draft, it looks like the Vikings might plan to use Murray the same way he was used in Oakland. Even if the Vikings do intend on having Murray play an every down role, he isn’t very durable, and I would rather pay up for Cook who is a better all around running back.
36 – Tevin Coleman (24) Atlanta Falcons – ADP 6.7 – Coleman’s production in 2016 was fairly touchdown dependent, many of his scores came on longer runs or pass plays. I think the departure of Kyle Shanahan is going to impact Tevin Coleman the most, because he is a burner and Shanahan did a great job utilizing his big play potential in limited playing time. Devonta Freeman is the back to own in Atlanta, and Coleman simply won’t provide any value close to his 6th round ADP unless Freeman goes down.
37 – Danny Woodhead (32) Baltimore Ravens – ADP 7.9 – Woodhead is one of the better pass catching running backs in the league, but his upside is capped because he doesn’t carry the ball much. As I said earlier in July, Woodhead’s ceiling is 150-170 touches and right around 1,000 yards of total offense, marks he has achieved 3 times in his career, 2010, 2013 and 2015.
38 – Theo Riddick (26) Detroit Lions – ADP 10.5 – In 2016 Riddick proved he cannot sustain a full workload and he is best served as a pass catching 3rd down back. Riddick has more value in PPR leagues but his value is extremely capped and should be in the same conversation as Duke Johnson. I have Riddick ranked below Johnson because there are more mouths to feed in Detroit than there are in Cleveland.
39 – Samaje Perine (21) Washington Redskins – ADP 7.6 – The Redskins drafted Perine for a reason. Kelley was extremely good after contact in 2016 but he simply isn’t that athletic. Perine is a name to monitor this preseason, because if he can beat out Kelley, he may elevate to the top 20. Perine’s upside is capped, however, because of Chris Thompson. If Perine splits with Kelley, I don’t want either. If Kelley beats out Perine in the preseason, you need to handcuff Kelley with Perine. I have Perine ranked higher than Kelley because he has more upside. I cannot, however, justify drafting Perine or Kelley in the 7th round of the draft until the position battle plays out because there will still be other viable options with clear roles in the draft at that point such as Willie Snead, Delanie Walker and Emmanuel Sanders.
40 – Bilal Powell (28) New York Jets – ADP 6.12 – The Jets have the easiest strength of schedule for opposing run defenses in 2017 based on 2016 stats. At a 6th round ADP, the only way I would draft Powell is if I went WR and TE with my first 5 picks and I was desperate for a starting running back. Powell doesn’t have a nose for the goal line and the presence of Matt Forte somewhat caps his upside. You can, however, get by with Powell as an RB2 if you draft well otherwise. Even though the Jets have a favorable strength of schedule, you need to question how much the Jets will actually run the ball this year because they are likely to be very bad.
41 – Derrick Henry (23) Tennessee Titans – ADP 6.11 – I am not touching Henry in the 6th round at his current ADP because you need to draft starters in the first 6 rounds, not backups or handcuffs. If DeMarco Murray goes down, then Henry’s value will shoot through the roof. Until then, in re-draft leagues, Henry cannot be drafted as anything more than a handcuff or backup. As of right now, I would liken Henry’s value to a Jon Stewart, a running back that will receive about 150 carries, catch 15-20 balls and score a touchdown here and there. If something changes during the preseason and Henry looks like he will have a serious role in the offense, then obviously this ranking will change.
42 – James White (25) New England Patriots – ADP 11.11 – James White was a Super Bowl darling but his value is extremely capped due to the fact that he plays in the Patriots offense. White is primarily a pass catching back and will be competing with Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan for targets. White is like a Duke Johnson or Danny Woodhead who will carry the ball even less.
43 – Matt Forte (31) New York Jets – ADP 9.6 – Matt Forte had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage last year but his playing time decreased drastically down the stretch as the Jets went more with Bilal Powell. I don’t really like Forte or Powell this year, but if I had to draft one, I would go with Powell because he is younger. In the 9th round, I am probably likely to pass on Forte and draft a younger player with more upside.
44 – Rob Kelley (24) Washington Redskins – 8.7 – In 2016, Rob Kelley was one of the most elusive running backs in the NFL running for the 8th most yards after contact out of all running backs who handled 50% of their team’s carries. The problem is that Kelley isn’t a strikingly great athlete and there is a fear that Samaje Perine may overtake him for the starting role. This is a situation to monitor in the preseason.
45 – Jeremy Hill (24) Cincinnati Bengals – ADP 10.9 – Jeremy Hill has been written off. If Mixon has trouble this preseason, a motivated Jeremy Hill, who is in a contract year, may be a late round steal. Even if Mixon does take the lead back job, Hill may maintain touchdown dependent value throughout the season.
46 – Jacquizz Rodgers (27) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP 10.11 – If Zeke Elliott is suspended, Jacquizz Rodgers would make a great late round pick to start in his place while he serves his time. Rodgers performed admirably when given the opportunity in 2016, but he simply doesn’t have the frame to take a pounding over a full 16 games. Rodgers is a Doug Martin handcuff who could provide you with great production while Martin serves his 4 game suspension to start the season.
47 – Jon Williams (23) Buffalo Bills – ADP 13.6 – LeSean McCoy is 29 and has a lengthy history of minor nagging injuries. If the McCoy owner doesn’t snag him as McCoy’s handcuff, you may want to consider using a late round flier on Williams because he could be a league winner behind that great Bills offensive line should McCoy go down. Williams could see an uptick in usage and provide value of his own if he assumes Gillislee’s role.
48 – Wendell Smallwood (23) Philadelphia Eagles – ADP NA – Blount is on the wrong side of 30 and if he can’t get it done early, the Eagles may look to Smallwood for some juice.
49 – Adrian Peterson (32) – ADP 4.7 – I don’t want anything to do with Adrian Peterson this year. Peterson is a different type of player than somebody like Frank Gore, a back of a similar age, because he relies more on his athletic ability than Gore. If he splits carries with Ingram, he is nothing more than a low upside flex player. Unless I am blown away by something he does in the preseason, he is going to remain buried in my rankings.
50 – Devontae Booker (25) Denver Broncos – ADP 13.12 – Booker is expected to miss several weeks of training camp after suffering a broken wrist so he will be behind CJ Anderson and Jamaal Charles when he returns. Booker is already 25 years old. Typically, players who enter the league at a younger age can take some time to develop into their mid 20’s. Conversely, players who enter the league at a relatively advanced age (24) are typically already at their ceiling. Booker had zero vision in 2016 and wasn’t good after contact. It’s likely the 2016 version of Booker is what he is, which isn’t great. According to Pro Football Focus, Booker’s elusive rating was one of the worst in the league last year.
Big Rigg Wrap Up
These rankings are not mainstream so to speak. The one question I asked myself throughout was, are these rankings consistent in the order which I would draft the players? There is no point in ranking players if you aren’t willing to put your money where your mouth is and draft that player accordingly. As I said before, this year we have the “Big 3” with Zeke, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, and then a host of other bell cow running backs such as Jordan Howard, Devonta Freeman and Mel Gordon, and then there’s a tier below them consisting of running backs who are in full blown time shares such as Ameer Abdullah, Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy. If you do not get one of the top 3 running backs, don’t panic, it’s ok, you can still decide to take one of the 2nd tier running backs or an elite receiver. Remember, outside of the truly elite running backs, production at the position is often times dictated by the matchup and touchdown dependency, so if the draft doesn’t go your way early, remember not to panic and draft a few backs you believe in later in the draft and play matchups throughout the season.
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