Early 2017 Rankings: Top 25 Running Backs: How High does Jay Ajayi Rise, Crowell Borderline RB1 & More

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:

  1. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
  2. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys
  4. Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
  5. Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
  6. Jay Ajayi – Miami Dolphins
  7. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
  8. Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
  9. Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
  10. Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
  11. Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
  12. Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
  13. DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans
  14. Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
  15. C.J. Anderson – Denver Broncos
  16. Bilal Powell – New York Jets
  17. Carlos Hyde – San Francisco 49ers
  18. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
  19. Paul Perkins – New York Giants
  20. Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs
  21. Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts
  22. Eddie Lacy – Seattle Seahawks
  23. Ty Montgomery – Green Bay Packers
  24. Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
  25. Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings

Thoughts:

  • 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:

Early 2017 Rankings: Top 15 Quarterbacks: Does Drew Brees Remain In The Top 5 & More
Top 10 Rookie Running Backs For 2017: An Intriguing Name Rising Up The Rankings & More

6 comments

  1. Luigi says:

    Doug Martin? Would you not place him in the top 25

    • Rocky says:

      No way, Luigi. You’re being a big sucker for a coach saying something nice about a player. Not only will he have zero points the first 3 games, but he was so bad last year that many thought he would be cut from the team this offseason.

  2. Krysta says:

    I draft 14 of 14, so 1st pick of 2nd round. We get two keepers. Melvin Gorden (keeper) would be my 1st round picK…worth it?

  3. Andy says:

    Hi RP,
    My 4 keepers are:
    Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarco Murray , Amari Cooper and Daug Baldwin

    Will you do the same if you have Rob Gronkowski, Davante Adams, Mike Gillislee ?
    What 4 keepers will you choose ? This is 0.5 PPR
    Thanks

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