Many fantasy football league titles and playoff appearances are decided by a narrow band of players. Either highly-drafted players underperforming or low-cost strong performers tilt results. Here are the most likely running backs to boost fantasy title chances in 2017:
*ADP listed is Footballguys.com Consensus as of June 19, 2017*
Derrick Henry, RB27
Henry is on the pricey side of current primary backup running backs. However, Henry is an easy top-10 weekly projection any week DeMarco Murray is out of the lineup. The Titans offense has boosted its passing prowess this offseason with additions of Corey Davis and Eric Decker. The previously run-centric attack is poised to balance out, providing more running lanes to an already potent ground unit. Henry is a flex option (his current price point) even with Murray healthy, but a title-winner if Murray misses any significant time.
Mike Gillislee, RB32
LeGarrette Blount, as the leading between-the-tackles option for the Patriots the past two seasons, finished as RB30 and RB7 in those seasons. Gillislee is priced below both of Blount's recent finishes and projects as the leading interior option for 2017. Gillislee has averaged 5.7 yards-per-carry over two seasons (151 carries) with Buffalo, where stacked boxes were commonplace. Gillislee is one of the few running backs with RB1 potential without an injury required in his backfield's depth chart.
Danny Woodhead, RB33
With Kenneth Dixon suspended to start the season, Woodhead has an open runway to strong PPR numbers at the outset. Baltimore is a pass-centric offense and was second to only New Orleans with 119 running back receptions in 2016. Terrance West was used as an interior early-down option primarily a year ago and offers little resistence to Woodhead seeing elite target numbers in September. Dixon as more of a pass-game option than West creates a variable for Woodhead's ceiling later in the season, but Woodhead's momentum as the pass-catching dynamo can be entrenched by that point. Woodhead is a strong bet to be a top-15 PPR back over the final month of 2017.
Alvin Kamara, RB47
Kamara offers a unique skillset compared to depth chart mates Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram II for the Saints. Over the last three seasons, the top pass-catching back for New Orleans each season has finished RB16, RB9, and RB9. Saints running backs have received at least 148 targets each of the last six seasons. Being an elite PPR unit has been a calling card for running backs during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. Kamara, along with Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon, was one of the elite pass-catching options of the 2017 running back class. Kamara's prowess dates all the way back to being the No.1 rated all-purpose running back recruit in 2013, ahead of Ezekiel Elliott.
Jonathan Williams, RB60
With Mike Gillislee gone, Williams assumes the valuable role behind LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. In the one game McCoy missed last season, Gillislee logged 18.4 PPR points. At 220 pounds exiting Arkansas, an average Receiving Score in my running back projection model, and quality lateral explosion for his size, Williams offers a three-down profile with little competition for the clear No.2 role for the Bills.
James Conner, RB64
Like Jonathan Williams, Conner is one of the high upside primary backup running backs in the NFL. Conner was a strong producer in college (+123% RUSH Score in projection model) with ideal size at 233 pounds. Le'Veon Bell is both an injury and suspension risk. There is little to challenge Conner for the No.2 role behind Bell on an outstanding Pittsburgh offense.
Tim Hightower, RB71
Carlos Hyde, while he has flashed during his three seasons, has missed 14 games along the way and is getting the tough love treatment by new coach Kyle Shanahan. Joe Williams is the name in bright lights fantasy owners are gravitating towards since the well-dispersed 'pounding the table' story of the NFL Draft. However, Tim Hightower has been an underrated back dating back to his early-career time in Arizona. Hightower took time from Mark Ingram II over the last two seasons and offers a dependable skillset and effort on all three downs. Hightower, not Williams, is the likely benefactor if Carlos Hyde is out of the lineup. Kyle Shanahan has consistently fueled running back production from the high-flying Atlanta backfield in 2015-2016 to career years from Alfred Morris and Steve Slaton in previous Washington and Houston stops.
Darren McFadden, RB77
McFadden is a simple story for 2017. Ezekiel Elliott is the well-deserved workhorse in Dallas. The last time Darren McFadden received a steady workload was from Week 7 until the end of the 2015 season. Over the 11-game stretch, he accrued nearly 1,200 total yards and averaged 14.5 PPR points-per-game. Alfred Morris is running on fumes and McFadden is the easy projection as the No.2 option behind Elliott. As a final roster spot level commitment, McFadden offers top-12 weekly production any week Elliott is out of the lineup.