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:
- Saquan Barkley – New York Giants – 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.
- Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys – It’s odd to see Elliot not sitting atop these rankings, and the addition of Amari Cooper helped to open up the offense (from Week 10-16 he averaged just under 108 rushing yards per game, while also playing a role in the passing game). It’s better to label this as 1 and 1A.
- Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers – 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. As long as he’s healthy he could easily set career highs across the board (like 1,105 rushing yards in ‘17).
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers – 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 – 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.
- Le’Veon Bell – New York Jets – 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, and that is going to help cap his draft day price tag.
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals – 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.
- Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals – 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.
- James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers – 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. Were the Steelers worried about workload, explaining why the spent a fourth round pick on Benny Snell Jr.?
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams – 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 – 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 – 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.
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons – 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).
- Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers – 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.
- Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns – 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.
- Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts – 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.
- Mark Ingram – Baltimore Ravens – 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).
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans – 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 – 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.
- Damien Williams – Kansas City Chiefs – 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. He is going to share opportunities with Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson, but opening the year as the leader in an Andy Reid offense has to put you on radars as a RB2.
- Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos – 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, though at this point Lindsay appears to be the clear leader.
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions – 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).
- Sony Michel – New England Patriots – 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.
- James White – New England Patriots
- Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins – 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, but there’s too much upside to ignore.
- David Montgomery – Chicago Bears
- Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
- Tevin Coleman – San Francisco 49ers
- Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks
- Latavius Murray – New Orleans Saints
- Miles Saunders – Philadelphia Eagles
- Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears
- LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
- Darrell Henderson – Los Angeles Rams
- Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks
- Nyheim Hines – Indianapolis Colts
- Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers
- Jordan Howard – Philadelphia Eagles
- Kareem Hunt – Cleveland Browns
Make sure to check out all of our 2019 preseason rankings: