There is a name on this list you will want to see but you won’t. The reason is because I like 11 guys better and that includes a guy that’s currently missing 6 games, not accounting for injury. SPOILER…Jordan Howard will appear on tomorrow’s list, I am out on him, but who knows…I could be wrong. If you like him, draft him. What do I know anyway? I’m just the fantasy expert here at Hash Sports NBD.
The running back spot gets rough after #13… just a bunch of unknowns and committees. Luckily, we have the 12 I feel great about! Two guys i’m scared of but talented nonetheless. Six guys i’m worried about (2 of them for opposite reasons; one is returning to the NFL after retiring on the wrong side of 30, the other is a rookie with a shitty QB and a so-so o-line) and one guy I wish would grow the fuck up. Good luck drafting.
1. David Johnson
Based off just his receiving numbers last year, Johnson would have been a serviceable WR2/Flex in fantasy football. Instead he lines up behind the quarterback and takes 275-300 handoffs. So yeah, he deserves this spot. He and the guy that’s #2 on this list are basically interchangeable. I am going to give the nod to DJ because he has more TDs in his first two years than the #2 guy does in his 4 years of action. Johnson only started 5 games his rookie season and the next guy has missed time with injuries and love of puffing his ganja, but coming off an 80 catch and 20 TD season, he’s my top guy. Not just at RB but he’s my #1 overall player.
2. Le’Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell does it like no one else. He gets the ball and moves forward then stops. Yes, he stops moving at the line of scrimmage playing a sport where the goal is to gain yards en route to the end zone. But then comes the hole. Next comes the burst. The burst is special. The vision is legendary. Like Johnson, he catches the biscuit as well as he totes it. He had 5 less catches in 3 less games played than Johnson.
I love Bell’s game and like him as a player more than the hard charging rhinoceros that Johnson’s game embodies. But, Johnson has the top-end speed and is the closest thing to “Prime Adrian Peterson” the NFL can currently offer. Bell does it like no one else and it’s the reason this is more of a 1 and 1a situation rather than 1 and 2. If you want to roll with Lev at #1 I have no qualms.
3. LeSean McCoy
WARNING: I have no idea what LeSean McCoy is going to do in 2017. Really no one does because predicting the future is impossible, but there are ranges of possibilities for NFL players. The problem with the man nicknamed Shady, due to his subtle jukes and cuts that leave defenders grasping at air instead of his jersey, is I can’t pinpoint his range of outcomes.
It could be really bad. He’s 29-years old, going into his 9th season in the NFL and those are arbitrary numbers. Yet, when I did research on stud running backs that reached those benchmarks, the stats were horrendous. Frank Gore had 1,100 yards and 9 TDs in his 29/9 season. That’s a top-15 finish among RBs. We are talking about using a first-round pick on Shady, we don’t want top-15 production, we want top-5 production. I mainly did this research on players that no longer play in the NFL but were superstars. All but Edgerrin James in 2007 failed to return even a top-15 running back value.
I have him #3 on this list mainly because running backs are a scary proposition this season after the top 2 guys, and even they carry a ton of risk simply due to the nature of the position. But McCoy was so good last year. He looked like he was in peak Shady Mode. He scored 14 times, which is a rarity in his career, having scored double digit TDs only 2 other times in his 8 seasons. He missed games last year also. Left games early. There’s definitely some risk here. You’ve been warned. However, when it is all said and done his talent is undeniable and he’s been great throughout his career as a starter.
The team traded Sammy Watkins, signed 36-year-old Anquan Boldin to pair with their second-round pick Zay Jones at WR and I think this makes him a legit candidate for 100 targets and 75 catches. If it feels like I am trying to talk myself into McCoy this year its because I am. So, right now he’s #3. He’s been as low as #5 behind the next two guys. I just believe in him having those stop-on-a-dime moves and enough long speed to remain viable week to week. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
4. Melvin Gordon
I’ll keep this one short and simple. Who had the best rushing offense in the NFL last season? Cowboys, you say? Nope. “Oh, gotta be the Titans or Raiders then with their mauling offensive lines and solid stable of RBs, right?” Wrong again. It was the Buffalo Bills. The architect of that running attack, Anthony Lynn, is now the head coach of the LA Chargers.
I am ALL IN on Melvin Gordon in 2017. The offensive line remains snake bitten, losing a 2017 top-100 draft pick for the season already. But Gordon overcame poor o-line play in 2016 and now has Lynn scheming up his runs. He was owned at a discount last year because he failed to score a TD as a rookie. There won’t be that discount this season but, barring significant injury, he will build on his solid 2nd year campaign.
5. DeMarco Murray
Sure, Derrick Henry will take touches away from Murray in 2017. I’m not particularly concerned about that because DeMarco looked like 2014 DeMarco in 2016, not the 2015 Eagles dumpster fire version. He runs with power and has good speed for his size. He really only had the one bad season in Philly and we all saw that coming after the Cowboys ran him into the ground, giving him over 400 touches in his walk year.
He was set up to fail with Chip Kelly. He’s set up for success in Nashville. Marcus Mariota continues to evolve as a quarterback and the team invested in the WR position this offseason, signing TD-maker/sexy stud Eric Decker and drafting the highly touted Corey Davis who put up video game numbers at the collegiate level. But the plan hasn’t changed; Titans will rely on their massive o-line and their 1-2 punch at running back. DeMarco is a bit of an injury risk, but every RB is and injuries are unpredictable. Last season’s bounce-back year from the former Oklahoma star wasn’t a fluke; he will continue to be a RB1 with a great handcuff. You may have to reach a round earlier than you’d like to ensure you get him, but the investment is worth it. The Titans will run, run, run.
6. Devonta Freeman
Congrats Devonta! You are now the highest paid player at your position in the league. Yes, Tevin Coleman will take touches away. Still, Devonta is the primary running back in a high-octane offense. He will get most of the RB touches and will not always be taken out at the goal line for the bigger Coleman and, because of this, he remains a solid player you can build your team around.
7. Jay Ajayi
I am back and forth on Ajayi and the next guy on this list, but right now I’m with Ajayi. He was left home Week 1 of 2016. Wasn’t allowed to board the team plane to Seattle. Arian Foster was brought in during the offseason and won the starting gig. Ajayi pouted and moped around about it and he needed a wake-up call. Then Foster goes down with an injury and the Dolphins backfield is a full-on committee with Ajayi, Kenyan Drake and Damian Williams.
Then Week 6 happened; 204 yards and 2 trips to the end zone. 25 carries after accumulating 31 the previous 4 games combined. He wasn’t done, no, not by a longshot. He followed up the 204 with 214 and another TD. He had a bad stretch toward the end of the season, but then he goes for another 2 bills against the Bills (pun intended). I am concerned that he was either 200 yards or 50. But he showed that he has enough moves for a guy his size and that he can bounce outside and turn 2-yard gains into 15-yard gains. I like players that make something out of nothing.
8. Lamar Miller
Miller doesn’t always show the best vision. He’s more of a great athlete playing running back than a running back who is a great athlete. He’s fast as a jackrabbit running from a Labrador but he didn’t have that many explosive plays in 2016. And the knock on him in Miami was that he was sporadic and the team would forget about him.
He joined the Texans in the 2016 offseason so he could become a bell cow RB. He got the volume but the production didn’t really increase. Miller didn’t score his normal 8-10 TDs like he did as the starter in Miami so fantasy owners investing a first-round pick were understandably frustrated. I’m chalking up the lack of TDs to bad luck. Maybe Miller will never be the superstar fantasy RB he could be, but he’s talented enough to earn a spot in the top-10.
9. Todd Gurley
I am taking the bait. I am back in on Todd Gurley. Last year was the floor. And the floor wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t brutal. It was only bad because the ROI was a net negative. He still finished top 20. He had 1,294 yards from scrimmage in his rookie season then had 1,212 last year while catching twice as many passes. The coaches have said they want to get him more involved in the passing game but that remains to be seen.
He scored 10 TDs in 2015 and that number dropped to 6 last year. This tells me that if he can get up to 8 TDs, and if we are honest with ourselves we know he has 15 total TD upside, then he can get back to being a top-10 player and a first-round fantasy pick in 2018. Coming off a down year, I am back in on Gurley and would be surprised if he finished lower than 15th at the position this season with potential of finishing in the top 3. I will take that in the beginning of the 3rd round every time.
10. Marshawn Lynch
Beast Mode is back! Oh, how I love the man who loves his skittles. So powerful, such great feet and the video “Playtime Marshawn Lynch” on YouTube will likely make him your favorite player in the NFL as it did for me when I first saw it. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and there has been talk of him getting less than 200 carries. This has no bearing on the fact that he will run behind one of the best o-lines in the league on a good offense and will get every look inside the 5-yard line.
Latavius Murray got 225 touches in this role last season on the Raiders and scored 12 times. Marshawn is better than Murray. Murray only compiled 788 rushing yards, but I think after taking a year off and finally playing for his hometown team, Marshawn has more “Beast Mode” juice left in the tank.
11. Leonard Fournette
Fournette is a big, powerful guy that is hard to stop when he gets moving forward and hard to catch when he reaches top speed. He’s dealing with a foot issue currently that is reportedly not believed to be serious but it remains something to monitor. The Jags want to rely on their defense and limit the amount of times Blake Bortles throws TDs to the other team. A healthy dose of touches is in store for Fournette who should see something around the 325-carry mark if he plays the full 16. You can’t name too many RBs that have that as an almost guarantee.
12. Ezekiel Elliott
Zeke is the biggest question mark in fantasy right now. Will his 6-game suspension hold up? Will it get reduced? Or will it completely go away? As a rookie last year, Zeke had one of the best rushing seasons in the last half decade, not to mention one of the best rookie rushing campaigns of all time. But… he’s immature. Right now he’s staring a six-game suspension dead in the face. That activates him for your roster Week 8 (Cowboys have a Bye thrown in there). At RB12 I am saying he is a RB1. Depending on when your playoffs start you could get 6 games out of him, maybe 7. So, he misses 7 weeks you must fill out a roster. You get a no-doubt set-it and forget-it RB1 in Week 8, but that’s a long time to be waiting for him to come back.
You could handcuff with Darren McFadden, but OC Scott Linehan said it’ll probably be a committee with Alfred Morris. McFadden was good when he took over for the panty thief Joseph Randle in 2015, finishing RB14 with 1,417 total yards, 40 receptions and 1,000+ rushing yards in only 10 starts. But he scored just 3 times on a putrid offense. This offense figures to be a little better than that one, but you’ll have to reach on McFadden. Someone in your league will be that dickhead who reaches a round earlier than you’ve slotted him in after taking him as your RB1. He also had his fair share of injuries before arriving in Dallas and putting together that 2015 season.
Zeke’s appeal hearing is September 11th. There is a chance the suspension is reduced to 4 games or less, but there is also a chance he gets the Tom Brady treatment and doesn’t miss a game this season like Brady got with Deflategate. He is claiming his innocence and fully intends to fight to clear his name. So, after pushing him all the way down to RB19 after the suspension was announced I thought about it a little and put these pipe dreams in my head and moved him back into RB1 territory. So, however slight it might be, there’s a chance you get Zeke in the late 2nd or early 3rd and he wins you your league. My guess is he will miss 4 games this season, and that’s one more than Le’Veon missed last year. Ask his owners how that worked out for them getting him around pick 20.