UPDATED 7/15: When I draft, I always have a tier sheet handy. I find that organizing players by tiers is far more beneficial than merely ranking players.
I could rank David Johnson over Le'Veon Bell, but it is impossible to truly predict who will finish better between the two of them, but I do know that both should finish better than a guy like Lamar Miller.
Another reason I prefer tier rankings is that a range of outcomes approach is preferable to just this is what a guy will finish with at the end of the season. Jason Witten and Frank Gore have low end RB1 and TE1 numbers the past two years, but their weekly numbers are not going to help you win your weeks for the most part. In essence, you are looking for a player that has a chance to perform at a weekly level that is higher than a mere replacement level player, even if that replacement level player may have decent looking year-end numbers. Which brings me to my final point, fantasy football, in season long leagues, is about winning weeks, so you need to draft a combination of players where some have high ceiling, while some of high floors. That is how you win.
Before I get into my tiers, just a note that I am finding it more difficult this year than ever to predict this coming season, which is one reason tiers should actually help. There are so many multi-back committees right now and so many murky situations, that we are going to have to wait and see how it all shakes out as we get closer to camp or perhaps deep into camp, before we know who will be starting on many of the teams. The Patriots have four legit candidates to lead their backfield at the moment, and possibly, five if/when Blount signs.
RUNNING BACK TIERS
David Johnson, Cardinals – He’s a league winner and the foundation of their offense that is used in all facets of the game. They upgraded their offensive line with no real upgrades anywhere else on their offense, which is a problem for the Cardinals, but not for Johnson’s fantasy value, as he played on nearly 84% of the team’s snaps. Over 16 games last season (he got injured in the 17th), he put up 1,239 rushing yards (4.2 ypc) with 16 touchdowns, adding 80 catches, 879 yards and 4 more touchdowns through the air on a ridiculous 118 targets. Excluding his week 17 game where he got injured, he averaged 27 FPG, just a tick above Bell. In respect to Bell, Johnson had 35 rushes inside the 10 yard line last season compared to just 14 for Bell, and then 559 air yards compared to just 52 for Bell. He also finished as the top overall running back six of the 16 weeks (37.5%) and never had less than 100 total yards in a game. Warren Sharp graded the Cardinals with the 4th easiest schedule in the league, so it’s really pick your poison between him and Bell, but there are some compelling reasons to lean Johnson.
Le'Veon Bell, Steelers – He’s unstoppable, and unlike Antonio Brown who is subject to Big Ben’s road splits, Bell gets it done no matter the venue. If you have the first pick in the draft, your only decision is to take Bell or David Johnson. There are clearly worse problems to have in life. In MFL10’s I have been alternating between the two of them, although I have been leaning towards Johnson slighlty more for reasons stated above in Johnson' profile and because the Steelers have the leagues 3rd toughest rushing schedule, not that Bell can be stopped. I will concede that with a lack of a long term deal in place, the Steelers could ride Bell until the wheels fall off with no care of long term usage if they don't plan on re-signing him next season, especially if Big Ben retires.
Nontheless, missing four games due to suspension and rest last year, Bell ran for 1,268 yards (4.9 ypc), while adding 75 catches, 616 yards and 2 more touchdowns through the air on a whopping 94 targets. On the year he averaged 26.5 FPG, which is just 0.5 behind David Johnson*, playing on 96% of the teams snaps and seeing nearly 45% of the teams total touches. Bell had more than 20 fantasy points in 9 of the 12 games he played, including a monster 52 point fantasy game against the Bills. Like Johnson, you have to worry about over use, and Bell has dealt with his fair share of injuries. However, with the better supporting cast, especially with wide receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold and rookie running back, James Conner on board, I think Bell gets a bit more rest, which is actually a good thing, since he will have a better chance of staying healthy all year. It's worht noting that the teams playoff schedule is tough, facing the Ravens, Patriots and Texans in weeks 14 to 16, but tough opponents doesn’t mean a thing with Bell.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys – Unreal landing spot and he can do it all: run the rock through people, around people and no problem lining up outside to catch passes. Besides Dez Bryant this offensive doesn’t have much, so look for it to once again run through Zeke. Zeke led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards (5.1ypc) and had15 touchdowns on the ground, adding 32 catches, on 40 targets, for an additional 363 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. He finished the season with a rock solid 21 fantasy points per game and played on 71% of the team’s snaps. The only possible obstacle is the domestic violence charge that doesn’t seem to be going away. It's serious enough to the point where ESPN's Adam Schefter said he would be hesitant to draft Elliott in fantasy due to the uncertainty about the NFL's ongoing investigation into the incident. If he is suspended, we are probably looking at 2-4 games, which you can cover, like Bell owners did last year, so don't let him drop too far. It’s also worth noting that the Dallas offensive line lost two key pieces and is now probably just a top 5-10 unit, but that’s just knit picking.
LeSean McCoy, Bills – The Bills will be run heavy team once again and somehow McCoy is only 28 years old. He is their foundation back that gets it done in the air and on the ground, finishing second in Football Outsiders rankings according to DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Last year he avergaed over 5.4 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns, despite getting sniped by Mike Gillislee for 9 others. With one of the better offensive lines for the run and after signing all-pro fullback Patrick DiMarco, look for McCoy to shine once again. Make sure to handcuff with Jonathan Williams.
Melvin Gordon III, Chargers – The off-season moves couldn’t have been better for Gordon’s stock. Not only did they not re-sign Danny Woodhead, but also they didn’t bring in any backup of note. Additionally, they went out and upgraded their offensive line by signing LT Okung and using their 2nd and 3rd round picks on two of the top 3 guards in the draft. Right Tackle is still an issue, but with Antonio Gates still on the team, blocking on that side of the line has help. The downside for Gordon, is that I'm still not sure he is very good. He avergaed a dissapointing 3.9 yards per carry and only 26 percent of his carries went for 5 yards or more, the third worst in the league last year. But if fantasy volume is king, and he was very consistent on a week-to-week basis scoring at least 10 fantasy points 92% of the time (5th best), at least 15 fantasy points 75% of the time (5th best) and at least 20 fantasy points 42 percent of the time (5th best). With no competition and a slew of receivers to take the pressure off, he could easily finish in the top tier.
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins – I told you. I pounded the table, I tweeted, I wrote …. Get Ajayi. I even put my money where my mouth was, as he was my most drafted player in all my 35 MFL10s. He led the league in forced missed tackles last year and in yards after contact. After finishing as PFFs 3rd rated running back in 2016, look for him to take a step forward as the team's unquestioned workhorse who is still improving as a pass catcher, an area he actually excelled in when in college. The teams GM said he should be better by 200 percent this year. It’s bluster, but I’m still buying despite the tough schedule, and it is tough.
TIER 3 (Tier 2 players have no viable threats to any meaningful touches, unlike Tier 3 guys. But not much separates them beyond that.)
DeMarco Murray, Titans – The Titan's are loaded at wide receiver and Marcus Mariota is a stud entering his third season. So there is clearly some risk with Murray due to all the weapons. However, exotic smash mouth is a real thing and, at least this year, look for Murray to once again lead the charge, putting up 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground, adding 52 catches for 377 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air. Despite his size, Henry just isn’t at the same level as Murray on tape, so you can expect Murrary to get the rock plenty on the ground and through the air. The Titans also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with every starter scoring above an 80 grade by PFF, which makes them elite as a unit. Noted Titans beat writer, Jim Wyatt, stated recently that Murray looks great and will still be the teams workhorse back.
Devonta Freeman, Falcons – Freeman’s week-to-week upside is always going to be capped by Tevin Coleman, but this team utilizes both backs in all phases of the game, so even on down weeks, Freeman is reliable in PPR leagues. Freeman is the lead back here and one of the league's best running backs in the red zone.
Jordan Howard, Bears – Howard proved a lot of people wrong last season by being much more than an early-down bruiser. Despite not taking over lead duties until Week 4, Howard ran for 1,313 yards, adding 29 catches for another 298 yards. During that time he had seven games with more than 100 yards and four more with over 75. The team has two of the top guards in the league and Howard will be the foundation of this offense once again.
Lamar Miller, Texans – Miller may never be an elite back, but he wasn’t helped out by poor QB play and a dreadful offensive line. They can’t have any worse quarterback play, but this line is still bad outside of their Center and Left Tackle. In fact, the Texans may actually have the worst guard tandem in the league. Nonetheless, Miller was able to grind out just over 1,000 yards to the tune of 4ypc last season, his lowest YPC average of his career, although on a bum ankle for part of the time. With the drafting of rookie Foreman they will look to limit some of his rushing attempts, but it should keep him healthy and fresh more than eat into his value. Foreman is also not a capable blocker at this point, so Miller is the team's pass catching back and lead runner without question, which is huge for PPR. The ineptitude of the offense kept Miller out of the redzone, scoring only 5 touchdowns, so expect that number to go up this year, even if the quarterback play isn't better. In the murky world of runnig back comittees, Miller is a solid RB2.
Leonard Fournette, Jaguars – Big and fast, they drafted Fournette to be their lead back and to take the ball out of Bortles hands and put it into his belly. With a better defense, the Jaguars want to limit opposing teams scoring and run the ball to kill the clock and slow the game down. I’d be surprised if he didn’t finish as a Top 12 running back this season and I’m not worried by Ivory and Yeldon, change has come.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders – Beast Mode is back and he didn’t return to sit on the bench. Running behind the leagues second best offensive line and playing on a team with great weapons on the outside to keep teams honest, only age can hold him back. He didn’t look great in 2015 and DeAndre Washington will come in on some passing downs, so there is downside, but hopefully a year off to rest and a massively upgraded line is just what he needs to return to form.
Joe Mixon, Bengals - At 6’1” 228 lbs with 4.45 jets, Mixon is the top overall back in this year's class. He creates yards on the ground by running tough inside and also by easily getting to the edge, all with Le'Veon Bell type patience. He’s also a very good receiver in the David Johnson mold. I don’t compare him to those two players lightly. Mixon is the real deal. With Gio Bernard still working his away back from injury and Jeremy Hill underperforming two years in a row now, Mixon could be the Bengals workhorse back from the get go. The Bengals have ranked 9th, 13th and 4th in running back touches over past three seasons. His biggest obstacle is the Bengals offensive line that has the two worst starting tackles in the league and one of the worst starting right guards in the league. I have a feeling come August I will be moving him up my rankings.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns – Whether you like it or not, HC Hue Jackson loves him and they didn’t draft anyone to compete with him. Last season behind a horrible offensive line, he averaged a rock solid 4.8 yards per carry and also caught 40 passes. In fact, down the stretch he was used in the passing game more than Duke Johnson Jr even. He finished second in the league last year in yards after contact (3.18) and now with a top 3 offensive line and without a legit QB, Crowell should get plenty of use in both the run and pass game this year. He’s an underrated RB2 or even a borderline RB1 for those that wait at the position, although keep in mind if you intend to be too agressive with him, this is still not a good defensive team, and in the 4th quarter last year Crowell had only 32 rushing attempts, compared to 91 for Ezekiel Elliott. However, head coach Hue Jackson recently stated that he should have used Crowell more and not abandoned the run so quckily when trailing. Let's hope he remembers that, because that's the downside.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers – He’s a very talented back, but new HC Shanahan has questioned his fit in his offense, which is a concern and a bit curious since he is a good zone runner, although he ran mostly inside zone last year and Shanahan mixes between inside and a lot of outside zone. Last season he was 4th in yards after contact 7th in missed tackles forced per attempt. In fact, 662 of his 988 yards cam after contact. However, the 49ers drafted intriguing rookie Joe Williams, who they traded up to get and who they feel is a better fit for this scheme. Albiet, Williams has seriou questions regarding his pass catching and pass protection abilities. If you are betting on talent, then Hyde makes for a solid RB2 on a team that has no problem employing two RBs like we saw in Atlanta last year. However, they seem very down on him and reports out of OTA's have not been good. Looks like a parting of the ways is possible as early as this year, although he should be a viable starter for you fantasy team no matter where he lands.
Todd Gurley, Rams – He knows he played poorly last year, but he’s still the man here and they upgraded their offensive line, at least a bit. Last season, per the NFL's NextGen Stats, Gurley had -.07 yards before a defender was within 1 yard of him, which means that defenders essentially lived in the Rams backfield. Additionally, per PFF, 68.5% of Gurley's yards were gained after contact, meaning he had to work for every yard gained. It’s a make or break year in real life for Gurley, while in fantasy, he at least has a pedestrian RB2 floor with a huge ceiling if he can live up to his rookie year hype and this offensive line can get their act together.
Ty Montgomery, Packers – Montgomery started last season as a receiver and ended it as the Packers leading rusher. He stands 6" 221 pounds with 4.55 jets and a huge 40.5” vertical, finishing with a solid 127 SPARQ athletic score. Is Montgomery the team’s workhorse back. Perhaps not; especially since he had double digit carries in just one game last season and they drafted three running backs this year. That said, head coach Mike McCarthy declared after the draft that Montgomery is his starting running back, he has a year under his belt and a full off-season to dedicate himself to the running back position and most importantly, it doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty of owning Montgomery, even if he is not used as a workhorse back, he will be used a ton as their passing down back and as a receiver with another back on the field. With no other veterans on the team, it's not like they can pull him off for a better pass protector. If you are buying into Christian McCaffery as a fantasy stud this year, there is no reason you shouldn’t be buying into Montgomery as well.
Spencer Ware, Chiefs – If he wins the starting job, he should be a steady RB2 and is a very good back despite fading as the year went on, averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the year. He's a true three down back and even finished second in the league in forced missed tackles on his 33 receptions last season, and 5th in the league in percent of runs with positive yards after contact. The addition of rookie Kareem Hunt could be a killer though, and it would not be surprising if Hunt ends up winning this job outright, which drafters of Ware need to keep in mind. As we have seen with HC Reid in the past, he likes to ride one main back and he heaped high praise Ware earlier this year. Additionally, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher believes Ware is the likely starter and suggested that he could get "the majority of work as the featured back.” Other reports have mentioned something similar, including the Chiefs own website. It should be noted that before his Week 8 concussion, Ware averaged 5 yards per carry and 18.4 yards per catch, after the concussion, this fell to 3.7 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per catch. 4-for-4’s Joe Holka also stated in his Rushing Expectation series that after charting 60 running backs, he has seen very few running backs come close to the dominance that Ware has shown in his methodology. He stated that among his 60 player sample, Ware finished in the 94th percentile in terms of Expectation Score on the ground and 99th percentile through the air. This is going to be a training camp battle to watch closely, and the winner is going to end up being a steal in drafts.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions – I love his talent and they do want him to be their lead back despite the presence of Theo Riddick and Zack Zenner. He had an elite top 97% SPARQ athletic score coming out of college, which was even higher than David Johnson and better than anyone in this years draft class. Will he approach 300 rush attempts? No. But beat writers said that they do intend to get him at least 200 carries and he should see 250+ touches. With a smaller stature, goal-line work could be limited, but the Lions threw the ball an absurd 70% of the time in the red zone last year and 64% of the time the year before that. If you want to take a stab on an upside guy with a lot of talent, he's the guy to grab as your RB3. Just needs to stay healthy and they did upgrade their offensive line
C.J. Anderson, Broncos – If Jamaal Charles is fully healthy, he will relegate Anderson to a flex play. If Charles is not healthy, Anderson is a high upside RB2 due to volume since Booker is nothing more than a change of pace back, and not even healthy at the moment. Unfortunately, we will not know the answer to this until pre-season kicks off deep into July. When healthy though, Anderson produces; per PFF, over the past three years, with backs having at least 400 rushing attempts, Anderson ranks top 6 in yards per carry, touchdowns per carry, yards after contact per attempt and forced missed tackles per attempt. He also averaged a very solid 4.7 yards per carry his last two healthy season. Unforunately this year the Broncos do have one of the toughest schedules in the league against the run and another major concern is the Broncos offensive line. While the center and guard spots are solid, left tackle Donald Stephenson is easily one of the worst in the league and they are counting on rookie first round pick Garett Bolles to beat him out. Right tackle Menelik Watson is a also major concern, so the hope is that new OC Mike McCoy's gap blocking, power run scheme, where Anderson will follow his lead blockers, the fullback (fan favorite Andy Janovich) and the pulling guard, should help minimize the lines deficiencies.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons – A high-end compliment to Freeman and he is a big play waiting to happen. Best owned as your RB3, but massive RB1 upside if Freeman goes down and weekly flex value with major upside every week.
Mike Gillislee, Patriots – He’s produces every time he gets the ball and while he enters a crowded Patriots backfield, he looks to be clearly the teams lead runner on early downs and near the goal line. Blount scored 18 touchdowns in this role last year, and while I don’t think anyone should go into the season thinking he will score that many, 10+ touchdowns is certainly in range, especially since the Patriots were second in the league last year in red zone run percentage. On the Bills last season, Gillislee had 101 rushes for 577 yards (a league leading 5.7 yards per carry) and 8 touchdowns, adding 9 catches for 50 yards and another touchdown through the air. He finished 1st in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted per-play efficiency metrics and 4th in FO’s season-cumulative efficiency metrics. Additionally, per PFF, of running backs with at least 100 carries, Gillislee ranked 2nd in yards after contact (3.34), 3rd in average yards before contact and 1st in PFF’s rushing grade per attempt. He also forced16 missed tackles on just 101 carries and his 10 carries of 15 or more yards was only behind McCoy and Isaiah Crowell in PFF’s Breakaway Percentage metric. His PPR upside will be capped no matter what by a slew of capable pass catching backs, but with his red zone usage, that won’t matter much to his bottom line in all formats.
Danny Woodhead, Ravens – Coming off a torn ACL and entering his age 32 season, it is fair to wonder if we will get the Woodhead we have come to love and admire. He is certainly being drafted as that guy right now in MFL10s and all reports have been positive so far. With Kenneth Dixon suspended and now having knee surgery, if healthy, Woodhead will be a solid RB2 in PPR leagues and back-end or high flex play in standard leagues since he is great at playing the game of football.
Frank Gore, Colts – Tough to get excited about drafting Gore, but as an RB3, at least you know he will play and should help you out in plus matchups or bye weeks.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers – McCaffrey plays bigger than his size, standing 5’11” 202lbs with 4.48 jets. He runs as tough up the middle as he does outside. He’s also elusive in open field, has great patience and could easily play receiver in the league if he wanted to. As you can see, I love the talent, but he is destined to be over drafted this year in season long leagues. Perhaps I even have him ranked too high here. Cam Newton is not great at checking down balls, loves to take it in himself near the end-zone and Jonathan Stewart is still a living human being. There is lots of talk that they want to turn Cam into more of a pocket passer and to check down the ball more. While I think that is the team's goal, Cam has been playing one way his whole life and coming off of shoulder surgery, he won’t even be able to start throwing until mid-June. Oh, and per Pat Thorman of PFF, Cam had the worst passer rating in the league last year on passes going 5 yards or less. All of this means that the great Cam change will probably take 2 or 3 years, and not a few months. Once again, I love McC in dynasty leagues, but people are going to take him too high, as they do every year with a rookie or two.
Theo Riddick, Lions – Passing down compliment to Abdullah, who also had an injury-riddled season last year. Should catch at least 55+ passes with 3-5 TDs, so phenomenal and reliable PPR flex play. If Abdullah gets hurt (again), he should have 80+ catches (again).
Eddie Lacy, Packers – It’s a crowded backfield on a team that likes to run the ball. I think they would like him to be their lead back, with Thomas Rawls spelling him for a series here and there and CJ Prosise taking over passing down duties. Lacy is a very good running back when healthy, but behind one of the leagues worst offensive lines and with all the competition, he could be frustrating to own week-to-week. Someone to monitor closely though and has a chance to be a great RB2 if Rawls gets injured again.
Mark Ingram II, Saints – Major RBBC, whose stock will rise or plummet depending on how well Adrian Peterson runs and Kamara adjusts to the NFL game. His stock could also skyrocket if he ends up being traded to a team where he would be the unquestioned starter. He finished third in the league in yards after contact and in forced missed tackles per attempt. Additionally, Ingram averaged 5.1ypc last year and has caught more than 45 passes each of the past two seasons, but it all comes down to usage. If he was in Dallas, we would be talking about him as a top five pick. He's talented. Unfortunately, his situation is as murky as they come. If Peterson is washed up, Ingram will end up being an early MFL10 steal and will be moving far up these rankings. For what it's worth, Brees recently said that he "doesn't see a better all-purpose guy in the league right now," while head coach Sean Payton mentioned that Peterson "will have a clear and defined role" during the season and will "complement" Ingram in the rotation. Still, there is only one ball to go around.
Adrian Peterson, Saints – Major RBBC and didn’t look like he had much left in the tank last year, but apparently that was last year according to Saints players on the field with him at OTA's who have been hyping him up big time. He will be running behind a better offensive line and playing with a hall of fame quarterback. In fact, per football outsiders, the Saints had the number one run blocking offensive line last season, while the Vikings where near the bottom. If Ingram is dealt, he’s a weekly RB1 with 12+ TD upside. If not, I'm not sure how this shakes out, but I still think he gets a lot of goal-line looks and will see at least 12+ touches a game at worst, and could be a Blount type touchdown beast, especially if the Saints try and run more to prolong Brees' arm and his career overall.
Here are some statements from his teammates:
“He’s a stud, man. He looks the part,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “There’s something about handing the ball off to that guy and watching him run through the hole and take on anybody who tries to tackle him.” "I’m amazed, honestly," Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. “Seeing him just take off his first few steps are as explosive as I’ve ever seen by a human being. It’s unbelievable. I’m very excited to see him when the pads come on. His first two steps are like seven yards. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anybody like him before. As a fan I’ve watched him, but not as closely as now. And just to see the cuts that he makes from his size. I’ve seen Darren Sproles make cuts with a low center of gravity, but Adrian Peterson over 6 feet making those types of cuts is remarkable. He’s a powerful man.” “I can feel when he runs. ... You can feel, like, when you’re running and you’re chasing him and he’s gliding, it’s ridiculous. He has not lost any steps. Wait, just watch. He’s so explosive ... just in flat shoes out there,” said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who then shouted across to cornerback P.J. Williams to ask his thoughts on Peterson -- only to get that same “psssshhhh” response. Saints guard Larry Warford was similarly complimentary, saying Peterson is “cut out of granite” and he “lives up to the hype.” But he offered one word of advice (which has been given by others, as well): “Don’t shake his hand,” Warford said.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers – Despite his three-game suspension, he is already getting rave reviews in OTA’s. With Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Jeremy McNichols on the roster, his PPR upside is certainly limited, so more of a standard league grab, but the additional weapons on the outside should help him run inside. Rodgers appears to be his direct backup, so a cheap three week handcuff to start the season. Last season was a bit of a lost year due to a hamstring injury that kept him out Weeks 2 through 9, and then hobbled Weeks 10 through 15. Fully healthy now, Martin was PFF's highest-graded runner in 2015 and in Week 1 this past season, he broke 7 tackles on just 18 attempts. He's a great grab at his current ADP.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – He’s should be drafted as your RB3 or RB4, but his demise has been greatly exaggerated. He is the starting running back on this team, albeit on a team with a quarterback who steals red-zone rushes and now playing with a rookie who they want to get involved. He could easily have another 800 yard and 9 TD season and per PFF, he finished second in the league last year in forced tackles missed per attempt and first in the league in highest percentage of yards generated after contact. He's a great athlete and running back that is being viewed poorly, due to limited usage in the past and due to the rookie they just drafted, but the fact remains, as Panthers.com web site recently mentioned, Stewart will still see the bulk of the team's carries.
LeGarrette Blount, Eagles - Ideal landing spot, on a team in need of an early down and red-zone back, with an even upgraded offensive line. Per Graham Barfield, the Eagles have the 4th highest RB opportunities and 4th most red-zone attempts available and were the 3rd most run heavy team inside an opponents 10 yard line, an area of the field Blount excelled at last year, rushing for a whopping 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately he is basically a zero in the pass game, averaging around 6.5 catches a season over his career. While he won't have another 18 touchdowns, in limited and sporadic action last season, Ryan Mathews had 9 touchdowns for the Eagles, so Blount can easily have 10+.
Bilal Powell, Jets – Reports from beat writers that Powell could supplant Forte as the team’s starter, which makes sense. Still, this will be is major time-share, but on a team with little other weapons who will be playing catch-up. In standard leagues, forget about it, but in PPR, Powell and Forte could surprise as reliable PPR flex floors, with weekly upside.
Duke Johnson Jr, Browns – They upgraded their offensive line big time and Hue Jackson would love to use him as he did Bernard in Cincy. The talent is there, they usage hasn’t been, I’m betting that changes this year.
Samaje Perine, Redskins – He’s a big man, standing 5’11”, 233lbs and running a 4.65 forty. He should take the starting job from Rob Kelly, but unlike Jordan Howard last year, this team has a solid passing down back in Thompson. He’s drawn some Michael Turner comps, although not as athletic and fast. He could end up being over hyped, but he makes for a solid fantasy asset worth acquiring and we can move him way up if he wins the job outright.
Dalvin Cook, Vikings – Produced big time in college, although slid to the second round of the draft due to a horrible SPARQ score (bottom 15 percent), fumbling issues and off-field concerns. He landed in a crowded backfield with a bad offensive line. If he plays like he did in college, he will be the Vikings lead back. That said, I could see Murray stealing redzone touches, and McKinnon some passing down work, which could lead to a whole lot of nothing. There is enough downside that I'm avoiding entirely. He has drawn Knowshon Moreno comparisons, which I think are pretty accurate.
Paul Perkins, Giants – Perkins stands 5’10” 208 pounds with 4.54 forty speed. At the combine last year he finished as the 67th rated running back in SPARQ score, which is a metric that measures a players athleticism. He just isn't a gifted athlete for someone his size. Opportunity is key in fantasy football though and Giant’s running back coach Craig Johnson mentioned that he thought Perkins could be a three-down back, while head coach Ben McAdoo stated that he is their starting running back. Perkins is a bit of a lower case Frank Gore at his best, in that he has good balance and body control, in order to get out of tight situations, and good vision to find the right hole. However, he is not very big or fast, which makes it tough in the pros to run over people or out run them to get into the open field. There are also questions of whether or not he can withstand the pounding of an every down workload, especially given the holes of the teams offensive line, which is ranked 28th in the league and has glaring weaknesses at both tackle positions and at right guard. This is a team that is also built on spreading things out and throwing the ball, passing on around 63% of their downs last year. Perkins is a decent pass catcher, despite having small hands (only 9”), but Shane Vereen is fully healthy coming off of a broken wrist injury that sidelined him most of last year. The Giants also have a slew of new redzone targets in Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram. He was PFF's 40th graded running back last year, which sounds about right. With an ADP in the 7th round, he’s not a horrible value, but I have a feeling he might just be this year's Matt Jones, and I'd rather take Vereen 10 rounds later.
Terrance West, Ravens – With Dixon done for the year, West will form a committee with Danny Woodhead. He makes for an excellent Zero RB target as your RB3 or RB4 depending on scoring format. Last season he put up 774 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns (4 YPC) adding 34 catches for 236 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. As Rotoworld pointed out, he was the RB25 or higher in 7 of the 9 games in which he had at least half of the Ravens rushing attempts. Dixon was clearly the more talented back as the season wore on, but opporunity is king and West has a secure role for the moment. Just keep in mind, Woodhead is a red zone beast, so don't expect West to get all the work in that area, and I would be they will most likley add another running back before the season begins, it could easily be someone as talented as Ryan Mathews, Matt Forte or Alfred Morris, so there is major downside in picking West too early. In fact, I'm ranking him right now as if they will do that. He rises if they don't.
Derrick Henry, Titans – Should be much of the same from last year, with Murray the lead back and Henry rotating in behind one of the leagues best offensive lines. On just 13 receptions last year, he forced 12 missed tackles, which is impressive for a guy his size. However, despite his size and speed, he may never be the guy many fantasy folks want him to be until he gets volume. He's a high-end handcuff that can be used as a flex play in standard leagues if needed.
Darren Sproles, Eagles – Getting up there in age, but still the teams passing back. The signing of Blount will cap his touchdowns to no more than a handful and despite being a lock for 700-800 yards and 50 catches, he is too tough to trust on a week-to-week basis in season long leagues. A much better best ball option.
C.J. Prosise, Seahawks – Big (6'1” 220lbs) and fast (4.48 forty), Prosise showed well in the few games he was healthy enough to actually play in. This is a crowded backfield but it looks like he is going to be used as their passing down back, a role occupied by Robert Turbin and Fred Jackson before him. Prosise is more talented then when both of those guys played for the Seahawks, so he certainly could hold some PPR Flex value and if they gave him the lead role, we are talking RB1. He’s a great late grab and hold due to the upside if injury bound Rawls gets banged up again and if Fat Eddie can’t get over his weight issues. He's a great depth option if he can be your RB4.
Alvin Kamara, Saints – The Saints moved up to grab Kamara and they intend to use him in the Sproles/Reggie Bush type role immediately. As Scott Barrett from PFF pointed out on twitter, it's a role that generated an average of 16+ fantasy points per game. Despite a disappointing forty time, he finished with the top SPARQ score of all the running backs and should provide PPR flex value from the jump. Unlike Peterson and Ingram, Kamara’s role is secure and reliable. I also wouldn't be suprised if some of Brandin Cooks departed target share is taken up by him, having him on the field at the same time as Ingram or Peterson. He's an upside pick.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Don’t ever count this guy out, but his value all depends on health, something he has struggled with the past two years. If healthy, the Broncos will be hard-pressed to keep him off the field, if not, he is cut bait. Even with health though, they may rather use Anderson in the red zone to limit his wear and tear. In his age 31 season, he’s the ultimate risk/reward pick, just be careful you don’t reach too far until we get a look at the goods, but he could end up being a season winner. Once camp starts he will either shoot up or down these rankings, so in MFL10's, get a few shares right now.
Matt Forte, Jets – This team is going to be very bad with very little at receiver, so they should be playing catch up a lot, which means a lot of passes to the RBs. With an ADP in the 11th round there is little downside and he very well could come in handy in PPR leagues. Just keep in mind that recent reports indicate that Bilal Powell will be the 1a to Forte’s 1b.
Chris Thompson, Redskins – He will be their passing down back no matter who wins the starting role. Had 49 catches & 5 TDs last year, expect similar numbers this season. They really like him as a player.
Jonathan Williams, Bills – True three down running back (6' 223lbs) who noted analyst Greg Cosell compared favorably to Ezekiel Elliot, mentioning that he thought that he was "quicker and more powerful." Posted a 101.9 elusive rating in 2014, which would have been good enough for second best in the 2015 class. He’s a great dynasty hold and high-end handcuff to McCoy (29 years old) who would be an every-week RB1 if he got the chance to start, which seems likely for at least a few games this year. Regardless, he should see 5-8 carries a game even with McCoy healthy.
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs – It is hard not to like Hunt when you watch his tape, as the dude makes people miss and also picks up the tough yards. His combine numbers were not great, running a 4.62 forty, although he lost a bit of weight and ran a 4.5 at his pro day. HC Reid does love Ware, so right now it looks like his job to lose, but Hunt is knocking loudly at the door.
Joe Williams, 49ers – They traded up to get him and has a chance to be the team's featured back if Hyde gets injured or they decide he is a better fit for their scheme, which seems to be the case at the moment. The downside with Williams is that he was not a productive pass catcher or pass protector in college, the Shanahan system is tough to learn and the team signed free agents Tim Hightower, and everybody’s favorite fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. As long as his ADP stays repressed, he’s a great late grab.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals – Coming off a torn ACL and may not be ready to start the season and could be limited all year. If he’s good to go, he should handle his normal passing down role, then again, Joe Mixon could easily make him irrelevant. Not someone I’m drafting.
Shane Vereen, Giants – Can’t seem to stay healthy, but as someone betting against Paul Perkins, good chance he becomes a reliable weekly PPR flex option if Perkins sticks and a RB2 if he over takes him. I have a feeling I will be moving him up this list if he stays healthy through camp.
James White, Patriots – Crowded backfield with a slew of backs that profile similarly. Will need some injuries to hold reliable value but has played well in the passing role when given a chance.
DeAndre Washington, Raiders – Jalen Richard is probably the true handcuff to Lynch, with Washington acting as their passing down back. While Lynch is a more than capable pass catcher, like was the case in Seattle, the Raiders will probably keep him fresh by using Washington in that Robert Turbin type role. Last year Washington averaged a very solid 5.4 yards per carry and caught 74% of his targets. Per PFF, Washington also led all rookies with breakaway run percentage, at 37%.
T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars – Fournette might just end up being an every down back, leaving very little for Yeldon, who has been allergic to the end zone so far in his career.
Charles Sims, Buccaneers – More weapons on the team and more uncertainty with his role. They are not going to use him as their feature back, so potential PPR flex option, but tough to envision more than that.
Dion Lewis, Patriots – There is no telling how this backfield will shake out. If he is fully healthy, he projects as the best all-around back on the team. If you are going to take a stab at one of these guys, a cheap shot on Lewis isn’t a bad option, although there are also talks of him being cut.
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks – Some beat reporters seem to indicate that the lead job is Eddie Lacy’s, making Rawls more of a high-end handcuff for fantasy purposes, others envision an almost even time split. If Lacy doesn't pan out or gets hurt, Rawls could be an every week RB2, although Prosise will cap his upside, or possibly make him irrelevant.
Latavius Murray, Vikings - There is a chance he gets all the goal line work, making him a solid standard league depth play.
Chris Ivory, Jaguars – Should settle in as Fournette’s handcuff. If Yeldon shows well, could be traded for a late round pick to another team.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay - Rodgers is probably the handcuff to Martin and will hold value the first three weeks of the season, so a cheap zero RB grab. He also has RB2 upside if Martin gets hurt. He's a great Zero RB grab for the first three weeks of the season with Martin suspended.
D’onta Foreman, Texans - He’s big (6’0” 233lbs), fast (4.45 forty) and at his best is a Jordan Howard or Blount type player, although probably not as elusive. He’s the backup, but despite all the hype he may get, he has major ball security issues and he also didn’t’ catch many passes in college despite being used heavily. Probably the Miller handcuff to own.
Jamaal Williams, Packers – This is a crowded backfield with incumbent RB Montgomery to go along with the more dynamic Aaron Jones. Williams is a big, straight-line guy who runs well. Think Latavius Murray but more talented.
Aaron Jones, Packers – He had the third highest SPARQ score of this year's crop and could very easily leapfrog Williams in the pecking order despite being drafted later. It’s a murky situation in Green Bay, which should hopefully gain more clarity when we get deeper into August.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots – Nice depth option and has played well when given a chance, it’s just not certain he will be given that chance. Probably better for the Patriots than your fantasy team, although I would bet he has at least three huge games, making him a better DFS spot play or best ball grab.
Darren McFadden, Cowboys – Purely a handcuff for Elliot, but probably worth owning if you own Zeke. There is also a potential looming suspension for Elliot, which could give McFadden immediate value for a few weeks.
Wayne Gallman, Giants - He stands 6’0” 215lbs with 4.60 speed. While top end speed is not mind blowing, he did have a 4.28 20-yard shuttle time, which was just a hair slower than Christina MCCaffery, and in the NFL it’s all about short area burst for banging running backs like Gallaman. He’s a capable receiver and he isn’t afraid of contact, runs hard and has a nose for the end-zone, scoring 28 touchdowns his last two years in college. If Perkins falters, Gallman could easily form a 1-2 punch with Shane Vereen, hanging early downs and a lot of the goal-line work. If you invest in Perkins, it’s smart move to grab Gallman late as well in deeper leagues.
James Conner, Steelers – He overcame cancer and is a high character guy. Standing 6’2’ 229lbs, he’s another monster rookie from this years class. He is the handcuff to Bell.
Wendell Smallwood, Eagles - He displays a nice combination of vision, lateral quickness and speed, but the Eagles view him more as a complimentary piece than a lead back.
Jalen Richard, Raiders – The current handcuff to Lynch and showed a lot of promise last season. If looking at all players, no matter how many carries, he led the league in yards after contact.
Devontae Booker, Broncos – Despite his size, he’s more of a complimentary back and will hold little value unless Charles and Anderson both get hurt. The Broncos move to a power/gap run scheme could help him.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings – This backfield got mighty crowded with the additions of Murray and rookie Cook. Not much value unless there is an injury in front of him or if Murray gets traded or cut.
Rob Kelley, Redskins – Played well and gives a ton of effort, unfortunately, Samaje Perine is going to steal his job. At least he is the handcuff and is a bowling ball on the field. If by chance he looks to be in the lead for the starting role, I'll bump him up, but he's a pedestrian talent.
Jeremy McNichols, Tampa Bay - McNichols is an unknown. Seems like a player that could eat more into Sims role, although he could also be cut or a weekly inactive. If Sims is cut, then move him up, but he's not someone to likely help your fantasy team that much this season.
Zach Zenner, Lions – As long as Abdullah is healthy, there isn’t much of a reliable role for Zenner in fantasy. The Lions could also sign another running back before camp.
Ryan Mathews, Eagles – Value depends on the landing spot. Total shot in the dark at this point and coming off injury.
Alfred Morris, Cowboys – Looking like he will be traded or cut, could hold value depending on where he lands.
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins – More of a package specific player and not sure he would be their lead back even if Ajayi went down.
Marlon Mack, Colts – Mack is an intriguing player but he bounces everything outside, literally everything. I don’t see him holding much early value and hopefully, he can learn from Frank Gore how to run it up the gut. Most production came on very few runs. Can catch passes at least. Viewed as scat back.
Elijah Hood, Raiders - The sleeper handcuff to Lynch. He stands At 5'11" 232lbs and is a brusier, although not overally athletic. So far showing well at rookie camp, which means little.
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