by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
As more and more NFL teams gravitate towards a committee approach in the backfield, the top tier running backs grow that much more valuable. Someone who is going to be on the field for all three downs, drive after drive, gives fantasy owners that much of an advantage over the rest of their league. Who are those running backs? Who are the prime draft day targets? Let’s take a look:
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
- Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys
- Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
- Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
- Jay Ajayi – Miami Dolphins
- LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
- Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
- Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
- DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans
- Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
- C.J. Anderson – Denver Broncos
- Bilal Powell – New York Jets
- Carlos Hyde – San Francisco 49ers
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
- Paul Perkins – New York Giants
- Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs
- Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts
- Eddie Lacy – Seattle Seahawks
- Ty Montgomery – Green Bay Packers
- Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
- It’s hard not to put Bell at the top of these rankings, though one of the bigger issues for him has been an ability to play all 16 games in a season (he’s done it just once in his four NFL campaigns). Last season the missed time was due to suspension, not injury, but he did require offseason groin surgery and was limited to just 6 games in 2015. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers start to reduce his touches in an effort to keep him healthy. Regardless of the order, this is a 1 and 1a situation with Bell and Johnson clearly ahead of the field.
- Melvin Gordon has shown an ability to both run and catch the football, putting him in line to be a three-down back in his third season in the NFL. With the team trying to improve the offensive line and also improving the talent in the passing game, there should be more room to run. As long as he can stay healthy, he has Top 5 written all over him.
- It was a miserable sophomore campaign for Todd Gurley, who rushed for 885 yards and 6 TD in 16 games. He did improve his pass catching (43 receptions and 327 yards) and he didn’t average 4.8 yards per carry in his rookie season by accident (3.2 last season). With Sean McVay taking over as the head coach, look for Gurley to rebound and produce more like the elite back he has the potential to be.
- Isaiah Crowell took a significant step forward last season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry (952 yards on 198 carries) and reeling in 40 receptions. While Duke Johnson offers the team a change of pace option, there’s little doubt that Crowell will be the lead back and should make an impact. He has the upside of a RB1.
- The Jets are a team in transition, and that should mean more opportunities for Bilall Powell to carry the load and prove that he’s a building block (instead of giving ample carries to Matt Forte). Over the final four games of ’16 Powell took 82 carries for 411 yards while catching 20 passes for another 141 yards. That shows you the type of upside potential he has and makes him well worth it as a RB2.
- Spencer Ware looked great early in ’16, but you have to wonder if he wore down with a heavy workload as the production slipped later on in the year. That makes him a questionable pick, with Kareem Hunt in position to take on a role and potentially take a big chunk of the carries away.
- How will the Saints divvy up carries between Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson? That’s a significant question and keeps them both more in the RB2/RB3 range for the time being.
Sources – ESPN, NFL.com
Make sure to check out our early 2017 Rookie Rankings: