Which running backs are worth taking early in your fantasy drafts? There are some obvious answers, but true every down backs are becoming harder and harder to find. As the NFL moves towards multiple back systems, the value of the truly elite only grows. Who is worth targeting? Who should be ignored? Who has the ability to emerge? Let’s take a look:
Updated as of 09/02/19
- Saquan Barkley – New York Giants (1) – Barkley lived up to the hype in his rookie season, taking over the Giants offense (2,028 total yards, 15 TD). With Odell Beckham Jr. now in Cleveland there’s no question who the star is in New York, and he should once again be the focal point.
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers (2) – There was never a question about his ability to catch passes, but he took a meteoric leap in his rushing production in his sophomore season (1,098 yards, 7 TD). There’s risk that the Panthers tone down his workload, at least a little bit, but there’s no question that he’s among the elite.
- Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints (3) – Kamara is a dynamic running back who makes an impact both on the ground in through the air (1,592 total yards and 18 TD last year). Mark Ingram’s departure may make you think Kamara’s role on the ground could grow, but the addition of Latavius Murray should help to keep the status quo.
- Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys (4) – The rumors are starting to swirl that the Cowboys and Elliot could reach a deal at any moment. That’s encouraging, though we have to wait and actually see him put pen to paper. Plus, will missing all of training camp have a negative impact on him early in the season? For now he remains at #4, though that could still be adjusted at some point.
- James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers (5) – Stepping in for Le’Veon Bell, Connor was a fantasy savior for many as he racked up 973 rushing yards, 497 receiving yards and 13 total TD. That’s going to excite you, especially with Antonio Brown now in Oakland. That said over his final five games (which also had a 3 game absence mixed in) Connor averaged 53.4 rushing yards per game on just under 13 carries. The Steelers appear to be unconcerned this preseason, utilizing him as a true lead back (and one who could get three down work). There’s still a little risk, but there’s obvious reason for optimism.
- Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals (6) – There was hype as a rookie, and after stumbling a bit he showed his upside in his sophomore season (1,168 yards, 4.9 YPC, 8 TD). There are concerns about his ability to stay healthy (he’s played 14 games in each of his first two seasons), but he’s the focal point of the offense and should generate impressive numbers across the board.
- Le’Veon Bell – New York Jets (7) – He was the elite, though that was before he sat out an entire year. Did the rest help him, or will the lack of action make it take time for him to get back up to speed? That question brings significant risk, especially since he also did not make an appearance in the preseason, and that is going to help cap his draft day price tag.
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals (8) – There were likely two things working against Johnson last season, the coaching staff and having missed nearly all of ’17. A further year removed from the injury Johnson should be back up to full speed, and with Kliff Kingsbury now the head coach the scheme should be far better for his production.
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams (9) – If he’s healthy he’s proven to be among the elite, but that’s the thing. Will he ever be fully healthy again? There’s talk of an arthritic knee condition, and spending an early third round selection on Darrell Henderson makes you think that the Rams are planning to need to limit Gurley’s touches (or have a replacement at the ready).
- Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars (10) – He averaged 3.3 yards/carry last season and has earned a spot on the “injury plagued” risk list (he’s missed 11 games in two years). That said he’s a potential three-down back with a strong offensive line who finally has a quarterback to keep opposing defenses honest.
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings (11) – When healthy Cook has been impressive, averaging 4.7 yards/carry while also playing a significant role in the passing game (51 receptions). The problem is he’s missed more games (17) than he’s played (15) and hasn’t shown a nose for the end zone (6 total TD). If he’s healthy he could be elite, but we also can’t ignore the risk.
- Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns (12) – If it weren’t for the addition of Kareem Hunt the outlook for Chubb would arguably be even higher (he averaged 5.2 YPC in his rookie season). That said Chubb could establish himself as “the man” during Hunt’s suspension, a role he may not relinquish.
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons (13) – Tevin Coleman left in the offseason, leaving a healthy Freeman as the clear early down back (though Ito Smith should play a role on passing downs). Freeman has proven to be a TD machine when on the field (29 rushing TD over three years) and also a factor in the passing game (73 receptions in ’15).
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions (14) – Johnson only played in 10 games last season, though he showed upside in the opportunities he was given (5.4 YPC, 32 catches). Prior to getting hurt he was finally being given a chance as the lead back, a role he should be locked into this season (and one he should thrive in). Now with talk of an increased usage in the passing game, especially with Theo Riddick being released, sending his value soaring.
- Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks (15) – The hype machine is in full force, and at this point it can’t be ignored. While he was expected to be in a timeshare with Rashaad Penny, instead all indication is that Carson is going to be the lead back with the potential to be a factor both running and catching the football. Suddenly his stock is soaring.
- Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers (16) – Jones missed 4 games and shared duties with Jamaal Williams, but when he got his opportunities he delivered (5.5 YPC, 8 TD). Over his first two seasons he’s shown that type of production (5.5 YPC, 12 TD over 214 carries) and should be primed to be the lead back as long as he’s healthy. That last statement is the caveat, especially as he’s already missed time this preseason with a hamstring injury.
- Mark Ingram – Baltimore Ravens (17) – He’ll be the new lead back in Baltimore, where he could have a lot of room to run as defenses scheme to try and stop Lamar Jackson. Let’s not forget how good he was in both 2016 (1,362 total yards, 10 TD) and 2017 (1,538 yards, 12 TD).
- Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts (18) – Mack began to show what is possible, averaging 4.7 yards/carry with 9 TD on 195 carries. That was a significant step up from his rookie year (3.8 YPC) and a strong offensive line mixed with a passing game that takes the focus of the defense should open things up. He’s going to share touches, but there’s enough to make him a RB2.
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans (19) – We’ve long heard about the hype and Henry erupted over the final four games of ’18 (585 yards, 7 TD). He scored 12 TD over the final 9 games of the season, further helping to bolster the hype. Of course Dion Lewis is going to remain a factor and Henry doesn’t provide much in the passing game.
- Josh Jacobs – Oakland Raiders (20) – A first round selection, there’s little question that Jacobs should sit atop the Raiders’ depth chart from Day 1 and carries three-down potential. The upside is there, especially with Antonio Brown helping to take away the attention of opposing defenses.
- Sony Michel – New England Patriots (21) – The Patriots have long proven to be one of the more unpredictable offenses in the league, so are you willing to bet who will be the “lead” running back in any give week? While Michel may lead the way, making him the preferred option, White will also play a significant role.
- Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos (23) – The undrafted rookie came out of nowhere to rush for 1,037 yards and 9 TD over 15 games while all eyes were on fellow rookie Royce Freeman (who averaged 4.0 YPC). The two should both play a role again, and there’s talk that the split could be closer to 50/50. Lindsay could prove to be more FLEX than RB2 this season, so keep that in mind when drafting.
- Tevin Coleman – San Francisco 49ers (25)
- David Montgomery – Chicago Bears (26)
- Damien Williams – Kansas City Chiefs (22) – He looked good late in the season, after stepping in for Kareem Hunt, including taking 25 carries for 129 yards and 1 TD in a playoff victory over the Colts. However he’s missed time with a hamstring injury and now comes talk of a running back by committee. There could be even more lost time after the addition of LeSean McCoy, who could see more touches early in the season than fantasy owners would like. Williams should ultimately prove to be the most valuable, but his stock has taken a hit.
- Duke Johnson – Houston Texans (27) – The acquisition looms large after Lamar Miller was lost for the season. As currently constructed Johnson may finally get the opportunity to be used as a lead back, and considering his ability to catch the football there should be plenty of optimism. His value could quickly drop, depending on who the team brings in to compliment him, but time will tell.
- Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers (30) – With Melvin Gordon continuing his holdout, the potential upside of Ekeler can’t be ignored. If Gordon misses regular season games Ekeler will be the lead back and a potential RB2.
- Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers (24) – Injury was the only thing that stopped Gordon from a true breakout season, as he had 885 rushing yards, 490 receiving yards and 14 total TD in 12 games. With the news that the Chargers have broken off extension talks, the pressure is now on Gordon to either sign or forfeit game checks. At this point he could easily form a committee, even if he does sign, but we’re quickly looking at what may be a lost season.
- James White – New England Patriots (28)
- Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins (29) – Drake was more of a pass catcher than a runner last season (53 receptions, 477 yards, 5 TD), and hopefully the coaching staff change leads to more opportunities on the ground. He may ultimately fall short, especially with the chatter of Kalen Ballage also playing a significant role (who has a chance to establish himself a bit with Drake sidelined with a foot injury).
- Devin Singletary – Buffalo Bills (31) – With the somewhat surprising news of LeSean McCoy being released, Singletary is set to get a much bigger role in the offense from Week 1. He’s going to share the load with Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, but it likely is just a matter of time before he assumes the lion’s share of the work. He has RB2 potential, so don’t be slow to add him as a RB3/FLEX type.
- Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks (32)
- Latavius Murray – New Orleans Saints (33)
- Miles Saunders – Philadelphia Eagles (34)
- Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins (35)
- Kalen Ballage – Miami Dolphins (36)
- Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos (37)
- Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears (38)
- Darrell Henderson – Los Angeles Rams (39)
- LeSean McCoy – Kansas City Chiefs (NR) – You can argue that he landed in a better situation, reuniting with Andy Reid in an offense that should be among the elite in the NFL. It remains to be seen how many touches he gets, but he was clearly brought in to help share the load and form a committee.
Dropped off the Rankings – Peyton Barber (TB, 40)
Make sure to check out all of our 2019 preseason rankings: