Investigation and research to compile rankings can lead to some unexpected and fascinating places. While attempting to put the running backs in order of PPR draft value, I wondered which backfields produced the most and least number of top 10 weeks last year. Compiling the results produced some surprising and not so surprising results, and some actions we can take looking forward to 2017 fantasy drafts.
PPR Top 10 Week Rankings
1. Arizona - 13 (Top 3 weeks: 6) - David Johnson should be going #1 in every fantasy draft, every format.
2. Pittsburgh - 12 (Top 3 weeks: 6) - Le’Veon Bell should be going in the top 3 in every draft, every format, but we can’t overlook the fact that De’Angelo Williams was responsible for three of these in four starts.
Action Item: The Steelers backfield is primed to produce big numbers as long as they field a competent back. As long as James Conner shows signs of mere competence, he should be in your late round draft plans.
3. Atlanta - 11 (Top 3 weeks: 6) - How much will the loss of Kyle Shanahan take the edge off of these numbers? Tevin Coleman accounted for four of the Top 10 weeks and two of the Top 3 weeks. Devonta Freeman was only in the Top 10 once in the three weeks Freeman missed, which means that Freeman was actually more likely to be a Top 10 PPR running back when Coleman was out than when he was in.
4. New Orleans - 11 (Top 3 weeks: 2) - The shocker of the list and the reason I originally compiled it. The Saints have consistently produced strong weekly running back fantasy value despite having a multi-back approach most season. Even with three backs playing significant roles this year, expect them to be high on this list next year.
Action Item: Break ties in favor Saints backs in your draft, or dig in deeper to target one that appeals most to you at or before ADP.
5. Dallas - 9 (Top 3 weeks: 2) - Ezekiel Elliott took a few weeks to get going, but once he did, he wasn’t far off of Johnson and Bell at being a one man gang for your fantasy team. He deserves his top 3 ADP.
6. Tennessee - 9 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - There’s some evidence here on first glance that Derrick Henry caps DeMarco Murray’s weekly ceiling, as Murray was in the Top 10 eight times, but Top 3 only once, but Murray actually finished #4 or #5 three other times. Henry only accounted for one of the Top 10 finishes, but it was in a week that Murray was also a Top 10 back. They also had a week where they finished #11 and #13. It’s fair to wonder if that will be more common this year, and Top 5 finishes for Murray will be less common less this year. Henry’s value could be more like Coleman and Murray more like Freeman this year, although Murray is going after Freeman in early drafts. Taking both Murray and Henry at ADP is a viable angle at running back.
7. Buffalo - 8 (Top 3 weeks: 4) - LeSean McCoy is very much deserving of a first-round pick. Mike Gillislee wasn’t responsible for any of these, and the Bills had more of an RBBC approach than feeding Gillislee for the one week McCoy missed, but Gillislee was still #11 that week. Jonathan Williams might not be as good as Gillislee, but this situation would make him a solid RB2 for any weeks McCoy misses this year.
8. Chargers - 8 (Top 3 weeks: 3) - Danny Woodhead was responsible for one Top 10 week in the one game he started and finished. Maybe there’s a little more value there in Branden Oliver than we think. The bigger takeaway here is that Melvin Gordon clearly produced first-round value this year, and we should expect the same this year - not that is a revelation.
9. New York Jets - 8 (Top 3 weeks: 3) - Shocker #2. These came in two varieties - 1) when the Jets were competitive early in the season, Matt Forte got great volume and red zone looks and 2) when Forte was banged up at the end of the season, Bilal Powell got great volume and receptions. The direction of the Jets makes 2 much more likely than 1 this year, and the team could easily move on from Forte as the season progresses. The quarterback situation will be terrible, but it was terrible when Powell was racking up numbers last year.
Action Item: Bilal Powell carries more “make your draft upside” at his price than advertised, consider him as an RB2 if you ignore the position early.
10. San Francisco - 7 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - Shocker #3. How can such a bad team produce so many strong running back fantasy weeks? One answer is Carlos Hyde is one bad mammajamma. Another answer is that Chip Kelly’s offense is good at producing running back value. One might reply that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is pretty good at that too. If Shanalynch hadn’t muddied the water with the Joe Williams pick, Hyde would be a good RB2 target. He might end up being that anyway, but the ghost of Kyle’s dad’s haunts fantasy players who remember his penchant for trying to prove that any back he hand-picked could produce in his offense. Even with the potential efficiency in Shanahan’s offense, the bad team game scripts will take away the Top 10 potential most weeks if there’s a committee.
Action Item: If you think this will be an RBBC, stay away. If you don’t, invest in one or both of the 49er backs at ADP.
11. Oakland - 6 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - Latavius Murray only accounted for four of these and believe it or not, Jamize Olawale posted one of them (DeAndre Washington put up the other). Still, If you think Marshawn Lynch will be better than Murray, it is easy to endorse taking him at ADP. On the other hand, this situation might not have true RB1 upside despite the quality of line and offense unless the Raiders scale back their usage of their twin young scatbacks.
12. New England - 5 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - James White actually produced two of these, one after Dion Lewis returned. Of course, Rex Burkhead wasn’t there was last year. If Burkhead and Mike Gillislee effective take and split the opportunity given to LeGarrette Blount last year, White can still provide some value at his late round ADP. It’s possible White’s role could grow despite the crowded backfield after the Patriots extended him in the offseason. Even though it doesn’t provide much in the way of week or league winning potential, White is a good reason to stop short of completely ignoring the New England backfield, and of course all bets are off if injuries strike. Gillislee could also pick up the three Top 10 weeks Blount left behind, but he costs significantly more than White.
13. Detroit - 5 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - Perhaps the most interesting thing to see here is that the Lions actually put two running backs in the Top 10 in the one week that Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah were both in the game from start to finish. Riddick was able to produce two when he led the backfield, and Zach Zenner produced one when he was the lead back (and a #11 week). It’s easy to write off Zenner and Riddick’s weeks when Abdullah was out because of increased opportunity that will vanish if Abdullah stays healthy. It’s harder to say what Abdullah’s value could be in a full backfield, but we might be underestimating it.
14. Green Bay - 5 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - Ty Montgomery accounted for four of these, and James Starks one. Yes, Eddie Lacy had no fantasy relevance last year before getting hurt. Montgomery got two of his big weeks with high catch volume and two with touchdowns. He could have opportunities for both this year with the Packers only adding rookie backs and having him train at running back full-time. Like Powell and Abdullah, Montgomery offers low RB1 PPR upside at a low RB2/high RB3 price.
Action Item: Between the 5th and 7th rounds, there are multiple backs (Powell, Abdullah, Montgomery) who can provide great return on investment in PPR leagues, try to reserve one pick for a back from this tier.
15. Philadelphia - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - Ryan Mathews had two and Darren Sproles had two, with Mathews getting the Top 3 finish in a week when the Eagles ran over the Falcons. Unfortunately for Sproles, he will now be joined by Donnel Pumphrey, a clone of his skillset. If Sproles gets hurt, it could be Pumphrey who gives surprising value. LeGarrette Blount will take over the Mathews role, although he might not be nearly as efficient as Mathews despite being a lot more durable. Unless it looks like Pumphrey will be a gameday inactive at first, there’s not much to find here, although we should keep Pumphrey on waiver wire speed dial if Sproles goes down.
16. Denver - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - CJ Anderson had two to open the season, and Devontae Booker had two on sheer volume with touchdowns later. Even with choppy quarterback play and lots of flirtation with committees, the Broncos backfield was not bereft of value. The line should be improved, but if Jamaal Charles makes the team, we are looking at a three-way RBBC. If there’s a stunning value to be found here, it will be Charles in a rebirth or Anderson if he is the healthiest back by a good margin.
17. Cincinnati - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 2) - Jeremy Hill (2), Rex Burkhead (1), and Giovani Bernard (1) all pitched into this total, but Hill had opportunity for more with Bernard going down in Week 11. The Bengals offense was adequate at producing big running back games, but how will it look without Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, its two best offensive linemen? Will Joe Mixon be able to overcome that with Bernard coming into the season recovering from an ACL tear and Hill apparently on the outs? More questions than answers in this backfield
18. Miami - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 3) - This is all Jay Ajayi, and if he gets the chance to do more as a receiver, this numbers will surely go up. Don’t be surprised if Ajayi puts Miami in the top 8 on this list next year. It is a bit disappointing that he didn’t produce more Top 10 weeks last year, but the RBBC to start the year and offensive health issues as the season went on are more to blame than a shortcoming of Ajayi himself. Ajayi also produced more Top 3 weeks than all but four backfields, so invest with confidence in the second.
19. Kansas City - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 2) - Spencer Ware was responsible for three Top 10 weeks through Week 7 before his concussion and then zero after (Charcandrick West was RB2 in Week 17 on the back of two scores, 116 total yards, and five receptions). If we see Ware returning to form and Kareem Hunt not forcing a true committee approach, Ware could be a steal at his depressed ADP.
Action Item: Monitor Chiefs camp reports on Ware and Hunt. If Ware is distancing himself from Hunt, he could provide low RB1 value at a low RB2 price.
20. Chicago - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 2) - This result is a little disappointing for Jordan Howard considering the second round pick you need to invest to get him. Like Ajayi, some of the issue is lack of involvement in the passing game, but unlike Ajayi, it’s difficult to see that increasing this year. Kyle Long being healthy is a reason for optimism, but Howard’s 2017 shouldn’t be that different from his 2016, with the exception of being the lead back throughout. Once he took over for good after the Week 9 bye, his non Top 10 weeks were 22, 30, 11, 21, 22, and 18. There was only one near miss and his production was otherwise respectable, but not irreplaceable. There’s a signficant dropoff between Ajayi and him if Ajayi can get more passing game work this year.
21. Carolina - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - This one is a bit surprising with the lack of respect that Jonathan Stewart is getting in drafts. Cam Newton’s red zone runs dropped from 32 to 19 last year, at least in part due to his injuries, and that could take away the basis for Stewart’s big weeks (Cameron Artis-Payne also had one). Christian McCaffrey could also cut into Stewart goal-line chances. While the uncertainty of the introduction of McCaffrey is an issue, Stewart also had four top 10 PPR games in an abbreviated season in 2015, so maybe the takeaway here is that Newton isn’t the big running back week killer he has been characterized as in the past. A split backfield could make that more of a reality this year, but if Stewart breaks down, McCaffrey could have Stewart’s previous big game production as a floor in 2017.
22. Seattle - 4 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - Christine Michael (2), CJ Prosise (1), and Thomas Rawls (1) all pitched in here despite Seattle’s backfield and offensive line woes. There’s production to be had there, but this year the team will have three viable backs to use, although all three have had durability woes in recent years. This can be a productive backfield for one or more of these backs, but injury will likely be the determining factor, as all three can play. The backs have a similar ADP to the Saints trio, but without nearly the same promise of big weeks.
23. Jacksonville - 3 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - I would have put the Jags as one of the most likely teams to have zero Top 10 games. To be fair, the finishes were RB9, RB10, and RB10, and they were powered by five receptions and a score by TJ Yeldon, a six reception game by Chris Ivory, and Corey Grant’s Week 17 wonder game. Will Leonard Fournette have a five or six reception game? Certainly the team won’t split work between Fournette and another back the way they did last year, and Fournette is potentially a special talent, but the Jaguars backfield hasn’t been a big game producer since they had David Garrard, and that includes the latter years of Maurice Jones-Drew. If you take Leonard Fournette, you’re betting on him to a transformative talent in year one.
24. Indianapolis - 3 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - Robert Turbin’s touchdown vulturing ways kept Frank Gore from breaking into the Top 10 more often, and actually allowed Turbin to account for one of the three Top 10 finishes when he scored twice. The glass half full view of Gore is that he still posted five other Top 18 games. He’s not a “make your draft” kind of back, but Gore can be a solid RB2 if he reproduces his 2016 campaign.
25. Houston - 3 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - This result makes it hard to stomach Lamar Miller at his ADP. He could have a more formidable #2 to deal with in D’Onta Foreman. On the plus side, Deshaun Watson could revitalize an offense that Brock Osweiler throttled the life out of last year. Still, Miller was a big disappointment and it’s to tell a very different story this year about his prospects.
26. Cleveland - 3 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - This makes Isaiah Crowell’s year look weaker than it actually was, as he still had five other Top 19 games, including two at RB12. If the offensive line and overall competitiveness improves, he could move firmly into strong RB2 territory with more high points. It wasn’t the Jets or 49ers, but this results isn’t as bad as it looks when evaluating Crowell’s value at his reasonable ADP this year.
27. Baltimore - 3 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - Terrance West put up two of these, but he didn’t have Kenneth Dixon to contend with all year, and he certainly didn’t have to deal with Danny Woodhead. If this remains a three-way committee all year, it will be difficult to yield many Top 10 weeks, but Woodhead should be the favorite to post them. This doesn’t make it more attractive to invest in Ravens backs, but at least the ADP isn’t too steep.
28. Washington - 2 (Top 3 weeks: 1) - This result is depressing on the surface, but it hides that Matt Jones and Rob Kelley combined for five other Top 19 weeks. The battle between Kelley and Perine should yield an RB2 (or better) about half of the time, and both are going for bench RB prices. It’s not a terrible idea to take both in deep leagues and let time work it out, or just take Perine if you think his superior talent could pump even more value into this situation. Chris Thompson will certainly limit the ceiling here, but the most likely result could be Gore-esque production with arrow pointing up at a Gore-esque price (Perine), or Gore production at a big discount (Kelley).
29. Tampa Bay - 1 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - This one could be rescued by Doug Martin’s rebirth. Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers actually combined for seven weeks between RB13 and RB20 (Charles Sims had the Top 10 week), so there is RB2 value here, and Martin’s price is around the same as Gore, our RB2 yardstick, albeit with the first three weeks off due to suspension. Martin had five Top 10 games in 2015, with two Top 3 finishes, so if you believe he has regained his 2015 form, he’ll be a value at ADP despite this team result from 2016.
Action Item: Consider a Martin/Rodgers pairing of picks if you believe the Buccaneers and Martin are going to improve this year.
30. Los Angeles Rams - 1 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - Oof. Where have you gone, Todd Gurley. If it wasn’t for Gurley’s pass catching, he wouldn’t have been relevant last year, and Lance Dunbar should take over a big part of that role this year. Sean McVay should provide some confidence and competence on offense, and Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan will breathe life into this line, but the numbers don’t lie here, especially with Gurley’s ADP still hovering in the late second.
31. Minnesota - 1 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - The line should improve, but the team has at least two viable this year that they didn’t have on the roster last year. This looks like Seattle at best and a replay of 2016 at worst, with the occasional scores by Latavius Murray, big plays by Dalvin Cook, and some sort of role for Jerick McKinnon. The talent level is way up in the backfield, and a Vikings back could be a fine flex play in good matchups, but overall the message here is stay away.
32. New York Giants - 1 (Top 3 weeks: 0) - This backfield only produced three other weeks in the Top 18 (Minnesota produced five additional Top 16 weeks, Gurley produced four more Top 16 weeks). The team seems to think Paul Perkins can be a three down back, but how much is there for him to mine in terms of fantasy gold here?