The running back position was rocked last week with the news of Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension, but how does that leave the landscape of the RB tiers in redraft leagues? The position as a whole is interesting, with a lot of intriguing options deeper in the group, but the top end is fairly shallow outside of a few no brainer options. The analysis here is for PPR but you can find the standard tiers at the bottom of the article if that is your format.
Elite: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell
Near Elite: LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman
Elite upside: Ezekiel Elliott, Jay Ajayi, Jordan Howard, Todd Gurley, Lamar Miller, Ty Montgomery, Melvin Gordon, DeMarco Murray
Intrigue tier: Leonard Fournette, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, Christian McCaffrey, Mark Ingram
Low end #2s: Danny Woodhead, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Marshawn Lynch
Flex options: Frank Gore, C.J. Anderson, Spencer Ware, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, Terrance West
Solid bench guys: Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Paul Perkins, Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, LeGarrette Blount
2 down guys: Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Robert Kelley, Theo Riddick, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Hill, Latavius Murray
Pass-catchers: Charles Sims, Chris Thompson, Duke Johnson Jr., Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen, Giovani Bernard, James White, Dion Lewis
Talented back-ups: C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, Kareem Hunt, Samaje Perine, Devontae Booker, Derrick Henry, Rex Burkhead
Back-ups with upside: DeAndre Washington, Jamaal Williams, Wendell Smallwood, Joe Williams, Alvin Kamara, D’Onta Forman, James Connor, Jacquizz Rodgers
Will have their moments: T.J. Yeldon, Jonathan Williams, Darren McFadden, Jerrick McKinnon, Marlon Mack
Elite: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell
Very near elite: Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy
Elite upside: DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, Ezekiel Elliott
Intrigue tier: Leonard Fournette, Ty Montgomery, C.J. Anderson, Dalvin Cook, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, Marshawn Lynch, Terrance West
Massive upside: Christian McCaffrey, Mark Ingram, Spencer Ware, Joe Mixon
Intriguing upside: Tevin Coleman, Danny Woodhead, Paul Perkins, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Gillislee, C.J. Prosise
Potential pounders: Doug Martin, Jeremy Hill, Theo Riddick, Bilal Powell, Adrian Peterson, Thomas Rawls, Rex Burkhead, Jonathan Stewart
Game week winners: Charles Sims, Kareem Hunt, James White, Shane Vereen, Latavius Murray, Darren Sproles
David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are the no brainer, elite options and should be the first two picks in all drafts.
Very near elite
If we were sure LeSean McCoy could play 16 games he would be right alongside those elite options because the way that offense is structured means he is going to see a ton of the ball. Devonta Freeman has confirmed himself as the number one there but there will be enough Tevin Coleman to stop him being included among the elite guys.
I made the case for Zeke as a first round pick here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18PsM16Hwtg
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Jay Ajayi is hurt by the mess in Miami right now but we all saw the upside last year and that is why he is still right around my top 5. Jordan Howard now needs to back-up what he did last year but he is the only show in town there and whoever is the QB will need to lean heavily on Howard to be successful so he should see a ton of balls. Melvin Gordon was a beast last year after a tough rookie season but his value is quite TD dependent for my liking. I still think he gets a ton of work and could easily get double digit TDs but I don’t think he catches enough passes to make him a top 5 option in PPR leagues on a weekly basis. DeMarco Murray is going to play a huge role taking the strain of Mariota and the Titans passing game. He is going to get every opportunity at the goal line but I do have concerns about how much pass catching he does.
Todd Gurley is going to have a better shot this year because a change in rams system should at least make defences consider covering their wide receivers and not stacking 8-9 men in the box every play. Don’t get me wrong owning him will be frustrating week to week based on the play of Goff but he is one of the most talented RBs in the league right now and if the Rams have any sense they will find ways to get him in space which could benefit in a PPR league. Lamar Miller should have a better year in his second in that Houston offence. If Deshaun Watson is the starting QB then we could see Miller get a huge boost due to the running threat Watson offers. Ty Montgomery converting from wide receiver means it’s hard to not see him catching a ton of balls out of the back field this year. The Packers are going to have this flexible offence when having Montgomery on the field and he could see himself lining up in the slot as well as catching those passes from RB. He has got a couple of rookies breathing down his back but the fact he could shift back out to WR if the RB experiment fails means at least there is a floor of some sort here in PPR leagues.
Leonard Fournette is supposedly starting the year splitting carries but I think it’s at worst a 60:40 split on a team I think will try to control the clock by pounding the ball and keeping games close with their defence. Pass catching wise I have enough concerns where I don’t think he has enough upside to be a consistent top 5 guys. Carlos Hyde is now in the offensive system that made Freeman and Coleman stars last season. The difference is he doesn’t quite have the talent around him to replicate that success entirely but I think he is a good enough RB to be a must start most weeks. Isaiah Crowell is going to see a ton of work this year but his ceiling will always be limited by the presence of Duke Johnson as the pass catcher in Cleveland.
Christian McCaffrey has massive upside especially in this format because the Panthers should find a ton of ways to get him in space as well as using him as a standard running back at times. IF nothing else owning McCaffrey gives you an excuse to watch a Carolina offence I think is going to be a ton of fun to watch. Mark Ingram is an interesting case because with Adrian Peterson in NO Ingram is limited but I think he does most of his damage catching passes early in the season. As the season goes on I expect Peterson to wear down and Ingram to come on strong and help teams win their fantasy leagues come playoff time. He may be a guy you draft and can’t use in the first 2-3 weeks while his role is marginalised so make sure you get a solid third option to back him up because down the stretch it will be worth it.
Low end #2s
Danny Woodhead is a PPR monster and if we knew for sure Flacco was playing he has top 10 upside. He won’t see a huge amount of yards running the ball but as a pass catcher he has a great shot to lead all RBs. Joe Mixon is the main man in this offence but the presence of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard push him down a little because Hill will vulture goal line work and Bernard will have games where he catches on fire. In general though Mixon is a guy I think can give you really solid consistent production and has a ton of upside if things break his way.
Dalvin Cook could easily be a top 10 option if he wins the job in Minnesota but right now I expect them Vikings to use Latavius Murray early and Cook’s role will grow slowly through the season. Marshawn Lynch is unlikely to have a huge pass catching role at this stage of his career and I wouldn’t be surprised if he slows down as the season goes on. The advantage is he will see a ton of goal line work but if I own Lynch I’m looking to handcuff him or want a solid back-up who has the potential to help me down the stretch as he slows a little.
Frank Gore is still the undisputed number one in Indianapolis and he has a fairly high floor making him a solid low end #2 high end #3. His age does mean I could see him fading down the stretch or being held out a little at some point in the season to preserve him for a playoff push. C.J. Anderson would benefit massively from some competent QB play but with Devontae Booker now unlikely to be ready early in the season Anderson has a great opportunity to show his talent. I think he will face a lot of stacked boxes but he is a RB who has very little competition for carries right now and that is extremely valuable. Spencer Ware is right now the man in possession of the job in KC but the question mark over Kareem Hunt’s role make me hesitate to put him any higher than this.
Ameer Abdullah is the most talented player in the Lions back field but Theo Riddick will see a portion of time there. Abdullah is a good pass catcher and that boosts his value in the PPR format. Tevin Coleman was amazing catching the ball last year and I once again see that being his role for the Falcons. Even with the departure of Shanahan I still think the Falcons will be aggressive and spread the ball around and Tevin Coleman is a huge benefactor of that style of play. Terrance West has his value depressed fairly significant in the PPR format because of the presence of Danny Woodhead but he is still a decent RB who should see a ton of carries in that offence. He could struggle if someone not named Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick are under centre for a significant portion of time.
Solid bench guys
Eddie Lacy could easily be a top 15 or 20 option but there is so much uncertainty there and I don’t think he catches a ton of balls. Mike Gillislee is primed to be a huge star in that New England offence but right now they are carrying 4 RBs who they seem to like and I don’t want the headache of dealing with Belitricks on a weekly basis with my #2 RB. If Gilleslee is my #3 I feel much happier about that. Paul Perkins has every opportunity to grab the starting job for the Giants but will lose some PPR value with the presence of Shane Vereen.
I think Matt Forte gets a bigger share of work than Bilal Powell for the Jets but I think Powell has a bigger role in the passing game. I think the Jets run enough for Forte to be right around the top 25 in standard and in PPR I think the pass catching is enough to put them both around the top 30. LeGarette Blount is the main pounder in the Eagles offence and in standard he is a top 25ish option. In PPR his value is depressed by the presence of Sproles in that offence.
2 down guys
Ingram is the better pass catcher so Adrian Peterson is limited to a 2 down guy. Combine with age and injury risk and he is a gamble play at this point. Doug Martin’s star has faded big time and I think that offence is going to throw a ton. They also have Charles Sims to take the passing downs work. Robert Kelley isn’t a big pass catcher and will likely leave the field to let Chris Thompson deal with passing downs. Theo Riddick will get opportunities but both Abdullah and Zach Zenner are better pass catchers. Jonathan Stewart will do the hard yards for Carolina this year but the big plays are likely to come elsewhere. Jeremy Hill will be used to take the pressure from Mixon on early downs. Latavius Murray is likely to be the guy early but I am not sure how long we see him in that role. Even as the primary option he will lose out on passing downs to Jerrick McKinnon.
All of these guys are likely to be the goal line backs for their teams so they should plenty of value from touchdowns.
I’ve mentioned most of these guys above at some point. All of them have the potential to have huge PPR games and are worth having on your bench for those weeks you need to gamble on a guy catching fire. James White and Dion Lewis are the interesting ones here because both could have good games but they are so similar I think they cannibalise from each other. That said they both are so talented I would gamble on one late in the draft just in case one of them finds themselves in a role to succeed with the Patriots.
C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls could both be super productive if they were to earn the full-time job in Seattle but they are in a three way battle with Eddie Lacy the current leader. The remaining guys all have the potential to be top 25ish players if they were to take over the role full time. None of them are great pass catchers which damage their value in PPR.
Back-ups with upside
This group are in slightly worse situations than the tier above. All have the potential to be #1s for their teams but each of them would likely split work with another guy or are two injuries away from getting the bulk of the work.
Will have their moments
At some point this year all of these players will have out of the blue weeks that will get them picked up only to disappoint the next week. These are great options for late round picks in best-ball leagues.