Written by Mikey Ostrowski
I’m going to come right out with it; 2017 debunked the no-RB draft strategy. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s where you don’t worry about drafting running backs until the fourth or even fifth round of a fantasy draft. The biggest argument in favor of this was that receivers are more valuable in PPR leagues than running backs, but unless you had a guy like Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins this year, that most certainly was not the case.
Speaking of those guys though, they were the top two receivers this year by a pretty heavy margin, scoring about 310 PPR points each. The next closest was Keenan Allen with around 250 points and then it just went further and further down from there. If you take the two elite receivers out of the mix, seven running backs finished with more PPR points than the top wide receivers this year. And if we’re talking standard point leagues, forget about it. My point is, in 2018, unless Antonio Brown is available midway through the first round, TAKE RUNNING BACKS.
My big reasoning is this: the RB1s of 2017 were ridiculously valuable. The top RB1 (Todd Gurley) outperformed the top RB2 (Lamar Miller) by 200 PPR points. Yes, you read that right TWO HUNDRED POINTS. Todd Gurley finished with 383 PPR points and Lamar Miller with 189…. Okay, so a little under 200, whatever. But, this does show how important having at least one truly elite running back is for you fantasy squad. Most wide receivers are a dime a dozen, but elite running backs are like diamonds in the rough.
With that being said, running backs have reestablished themselves as the biggest asset to a fantasy team, so pay close attention because these backs are your best shot at taking you fantasy squad to the promise land.
This should only be a top ten for the running backs, but since I’m a nice guy, here’s fifteen. Enjoy.
- Le’Veon Bell (PIT)
- David Johnson (ARI)
- Todd Gurley (LAR)
- Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)
- Alvin Kamara (NO)
- Melvin Gordon (LAC)
- Kareem Hunt (KC)
- Leonard Fournette (JAX)
- LeSean McCoy (BUF)
- Mark Ingram (NO)
- Dalvin Cook (MIN)
- Jordan Howard (CHI)
- Devonta Freeman (ATL)
- Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
- Saquon Barkley (TBD)
Just like with my quarterback rankings, I started off my running backs with an obvious one. Le’veon Bell will arguably be the #1 overall pick in fantasy drafts next year. He’s safe, he’s reliable, and he is extremely consistent. Despite having a slow start to 2017, Bell bounced back to finish second in PPR scoring and may have been a contender to beat out Gurley for #1. Bell is the centerpiece of an offense that is supported by quite possibly the best wide receiver in NFL history, so defenses can never focus on just containing Bell. I can’t guarantee him to be the #1 fantasy scorer, but he is an extremely safe bet to finish top 5 and be very consistent for you along the way.
David Johnson who was the first overall pick in most 2017 drafts turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the season. However, it wasn’t really his fault considering he had a season-ending injury in the first half of the first game of the season. I’m ranking him this high because he was last season’s Todd Gurley, and there should be no reason to think that he won’t get back to form. Arizona will be getting a new coach this offseason, and Larry Fitzgerald’s future in Arizona seems to be a blurred line, but Johnson will be used heavily no matter who his supporting cast is. Pay attention to Arizona’s offseason moves, but when healthy, David Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.
Speaking of Todd Gurley, he is my #3 running back. I don’t think I even need to make a case as to why he should be a top-3 pick in 2018, and I’m not going to. All I will say is this: 2,000 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns. He’s going to make a case for #1 overall in many drafts, so if he’s still there at #3, do not hesitate.
Barring another suspension, Ezekiel Elliott should return to elite status next season. He was suspended for six games and still finished in the top 14 of PPR running backs. Finishing with 186 points over the course of only 10 games is pretty amazing. There’s no doubt that he can once again be a top-five running back (look at his rookie season), but rather than monitoring his stats, you’ll have to monitor his behavior. Tread lightly, but this big risk will come with big reward.
Now that we got the obvious ones out of the way, let’s talk about Mr. Alvin Kamara, the rookie extraordinaire. Finishing only behind Bell and Gurley in PPR leagues, Kamara was unstoppable this year, and he’ll only get better. He finished the season with over 1,500 scrimmage yards as well as 13 touchdowns. Oh, and did I mention that he basically had no role in this offense until week 4? And that he wasn’t even the team’s RB2 until they traded away Adrian Peterson in week 5? I mean c’mon. This dude is as consistent as Le’Veon Bell, and his ridiculous ability in the catching game is second to none.
Melvin Gordon is the riskiest pick that I have in the top 6. He finished top 5 in leagues this year, but it was a wild ride. One week he’d have 20 points, next week he’d have 4 points. I wouldn’t call him a complete boom-or-bust runner, but he definitely trends with one. See, this is the point in the draft where if you could pick between him and Antonio Brown, you go with the elite WR, but there’s no legit reason to argue against Gordon finishing in the top 10 of his position.
I have five rookies in this list (and one that isn’t even in the NFL yet), so let’s talk about the second one. Kareem Hunt was the greatest thing since sliced bread and appeared to be 2017’s biggest bargain after popping off for nearly 50 points in week 1 against the Patriots. However, his season was a roller coaster, but he did in fact start off as an unstoppable force and then ended it in winning fashion. He’s shown that he can’t be the most consistent guy on your fantasy squad, but he has shown that he can easily be your squad’s top contributor. Unlike Kamara, I would be worried about a sophomore slump with Hunt, but the possibility of him staying as a top-5 fantasy scorer makes that risk worth it to take.
Leonard Fournette is my next rookie in the top 15. He missed a game to a suspension, two to injuries, and was limited in a few with injuries as well and still managed to put up just over 210 this year as a rookie. I don’t think he is the stellar back that was drawing all of these comparisons to Adrian Peterson (in his prime), but I do think he is a solid running back on a not-so-solid team (offensively of course… Jacksonville’s defense is godlike). I don’t think the suspension should raise any eyebrows, as he doesn’t appear to be the trouble-maker type, but he is injury prone dating all the way back to his college career. He will continue to put up solid RB1 numbers, but he could be the Gronk of the RB position before too long. (i.e. disappointing injuries)
The oldest runner I have on this list is LeSean McCoy who just so happens to be ranked at #9. I would compare him to an older Kareem Hunt (without the catching ability) at this stage in his career. He’s a great back but is wildly inconsistent. He’s not the most solid of RB1s anymore, but he’s still a serviceable one.
Mark Ingram is the veteran of the two-headed monster down in New Orleans. He is clearly the lead back and clearly a great fantasy asset, after finishing #6 in PPR leagues in 2017. Something raises a red flag here, and no it’s not losing workloads to Kamara… it’s whether or not he is going to be a Saint in 2018. Ingram still has a year left on his contract, but it has a weird clause… it is void if he makes first-team all-pro, which is a very real possibility. If he moves teams, I think he loses value. I think he is so good because he is a part of an elite tandem and has one of the best QBs in NFL history under center. Having him at #10 on my list is assuming that he stays with the Saints. If he goes elsewhere, this could change completely (more than likely for the worst).
So, I stopped after the top ten when I did the quarterbacks, but I felt it necessary to go to 15 spots with runners. So here’s #11: Dalvin Cook. Remember him? Yeah, I think we all do. And does the number 65 ring any bells? Because that’s how many points he had after only four weeks of action in the NFL. Dude is a stud, and although the sample size is small, I think he keeps it up. Now, he might have to re-earn the starting job since Latavius Murray had a pretty decent season, but Cook should surpass him without any issue. The rookie might make a shaky RB1 for your squad, but an insane RB2.
I’m going to keep it short with Jordan Howard. He’s a great runner, but a poor catcher. He doesn’t play most third downs, and that trend should stick around. Luckily, he shouldn’t lose two-down work to Tarik Cohen, and could remain a high-end RB2 at the very worst.
Devonta Freeman comes up next. Does anybody remember who he is? I almost forgot to even put him on this list to be honest. He quietly had a pretty decent season though, despite missing a few games. Freeman had 175 points over the course of 13 games, but his upside is extremely limited with Tevin Coleman taking work from him. Still solid enough to be an RB1, Freeman will have to be a little bit better next season. Nonetheless, he’s more than serviceable to slide into that RB spot on your roster.
One of my favorite young runners in the NFL is Christian McCaffrey (Yeah yeah I know I’m a homer…. Sue me I like the Panthers). I genuinely think he sees a bigger workload on the ground next year, and keeps the consistency in the air to go with it. Sure, he only had 435 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, but he was targeted 113 times and reeled in enough balls for over 600 yards and 5 touchdowns. The most impressive thing here is the targets. But would you believe me if I told you he finished #8 overall for PPR running backs? If you’re still living under a rock and playing in a standard league, I’d avoid him. But if you’re living in 2018 and in a PPR league, he’s a VERY solid option.
Last on my list of runners is the guy I’ve been most excited to report on. Saquon Barkley, a man who is not even in the NFL yet, will finish a top-15 running back no matter what team he lands on (which at this rate should be the Browns but I’m sure they’ll skip on him like they skipped on my #3 QB, Carson Wentz). Even if you don’t watch college football, you probably have heard this guy’s name. He is a menace on the ground, and not too bad in the air either. Since 2015, he has racked up over 3,700 yards on the ground, nearly 1,200 yards in the air, and over 50 total touchdowns. I mean, the guy is a next-level talent and should have no issue transitioning into the NFL. He should be a top-5 pick in the NFL draft in April, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is drafted within the first three rounds of redraft fantasy leagues. Mr. Barkley should be exciting to watch.
That’s it for the running backs folks. Stay tuned for my articles on wide receivers and tight ends. As always feel free to shoot me a tweet or message with any questions, comments or concerns you may have. Until next time my friends.
Feel free to take a look at the articles below for the QB, WR and TE rankings as well.
Other articles by Mikey Ostrowski: