Can you feel it? Football is almost here. The scent of pigskin is in the air. Mock draft lobbies are filling up and the draft prep magazines are hitting the shelves. (Don’t bring a 3 month old fantasy magazine to your actual draft by the way, total Bush League move) Below I’ve broken down my top 20 RBs for the year. I’m a Point Per Reception guy, so my rankings are based on the PPR format. All of these guys could be on IR by the time the season starts so this could be a complete waste of time, but what can ya do. As we get closer to the season I’ll have a more extensive ranking list. For now, feel free to browse the list and crush me for my opinions! Here we go…
1) Todd Gurley (LAR): When you factor it all in, Gurley is the guy this year. He’s got a LeVeon Bell floor with the potential for more. The Rams have improved on both sides of the ball and Gurley is going to feast this year. Expect at least 1,900 total yards with 15-20 touchdowns. Don’t overthink it.
2) LeVeon Bell (PIT): Another offseason, another holdout. In the end, last year’s holdout didn’t affect his numbers, but another offseason missing camp after handling another 400 touches…you have to wonder when the workload will catch up to him. Those factors put him behind Gurley for me. Bell should still be a beast, especially in PPR, as long as he holds up. Expect the same numbers you’ve gotten the past few years.
3) David Johnson (ARI): Anyone who owned Johnson in 2016 knows that he can fill up the stat sheet like no other. Let’s keep in mind that he was the consensus #1 or 2 pick last year, and while it sucked to see him knocked out in week 1, it was a wrist injury that took him down. Not an ACL, not an ACL, not an ACL…we talkin about a WRIST. Johnson might hit 2,000 total yards again this year, and he’s without question the guy at the goal line. The only concern with Johnson is who’s going to be under center for Arizona.
4) Ezekiel Elliot (DAL): I know Zeke has been dominant when he’s been on the field, but being as objective as I can be as an Eagles fan, I really don’t see how the Cowboys are potent on offense this year. Dak proved how incredibly average he is, and the Cowboys’ #1 WR right now is Allen Hurns. Woof. While Elliot should have a huge workload behind a great O-line, he’s also going to be the focus of every defense he faces. The yardage will be there, but I think his touchdowns will be harder to come by this year.
5) Saquon Barkley (NYG): Two NFC East rival RBs in the top 5, gross I know. But let’s be real, the Giants can’t justify using the #2 pick on Barkley and not feed him like the Gluttony dude from ‘Seven’. He’s David Johnson 2.0 to me with his rushing and receiving skills. I have no doubt Barkley will contribute early and often this year. In an offense with Beckham and Sterling Shepard stretching the field, defenses can’t really focus on shutting down the run. Barkley is probably one of the safest rookie RB picks in recent memory.
6) Alvin Kamara (NO): Kamara isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart as a 1st round pick, but he’s also not someone you want to pass up for a safer choice knowing how sky high his upside is. The biggest question is how New Orleans really plans to use him with Mark Ingram out for the first 4 games. Will they let Kamara run away with all the carries and catches, or will they work in a 2nd back to fill the Ingram role? The answer to that question will determine whether he can be a top 3 RB, or whether he’s limited due to a timeshare. Not that he was limited in a timeshare last year, but you get what I’m saying. In a PPR league, he’s hard to pass up regardless of the situation. He might catch 100 balls this year.
7) Kareem Hunt (KC): Andy Reid’s running back is never a bad pick. Hunt exploded in the first month of the season, and then hit a little bit of a wall before finishing strong. Winning the rushing title in his rookie year, Hunt doesn’t really seem like a risk to regress. He could potentially have even more touches this year with 1st year starting QB Patrick Mahomes getting his feet wet. Spencer Ware shouldn’t be much of a threat to his carries either.
8) Melvin Gordon (LAC): Here’s where we get a little less exciting and a little more utilitarian. Gordon isn’t someone you’ll necessarily brag about drafting, but his opportunities combined with his talent equal a safe top 10 RB. Gordon’s yards per carry have never really been good (3.8 YPC career), but he makes up for it with goal line opportunities and catches. Losing Hunter Henry for the year should only add to his impact in the passing game.
9) Dalvin Cook (MIN): A small but explosive sample size makes Cook an enticing pick at the bottom of the top 10 RBs. Expand his numbers over a full season and you’d have a top 5-ish RB. Add in the fact that Jerrick McKinnon left for San Fran along with improving at QB with Kirk Cousins stepping in for Case Keenum, and I think Cook puts up more points per game than he was able to last year. Factor in their defense and the Vikes look to be ahead in a lot of games this year and Cook will be asked to run out the clock. Garbage time points still count.
10) Leonard Fournette (JAX): Full disclosure, I don’t really love Fournette. I’m hesitant to spend a late 1st-early 2nd on him when there are safer choices on the board. He was a beast for the first 6 weeks of the season, and then things got weird. A few games missed because of an ankle injury (the same type of injury that dates back to college for him by the way) and a game missed for skipping some team appointments or something. I’m not crazy about investing such a valuable pick in someone who’s already an injury risk so early in his career. If he stays on the field all year he’ll be very good, but I’m willing to let someone else in my league find out.
11) Jerrick McKinnon (SF): Maybe I’m getting too excited by the shiny new toy in San Fran, but a starting RB in a Kyle Shanahan offense with an up and coming stud QB…I can’t help myself. I might be too optimistic, but I can see a 1,100 rushing 500 receiving type season if all goes well. I’ll take that potential over someone like Devonta Freeman who has to share the load.
12) Devonta Freeman (ATL): Speaking of Freeman, he’s next on my list. If he had this backfield to himself he’d probably move up 4 or 5 spots, but the presence of Tevin Coleman puts enough of a dent in Freeman’s workload that I can’t pick him over the guys that dominate carries. That being said, the Falcons offense should hum this year so the potential for points will be there. His rushing totals weren’t particularly impressive last year, and he did miss a few games to injury, but if I can nab Freeman as my 2nd RB I’d be very okay with that.
13) Kenyan Drake (MIA): I’m having déjà vu to 2015 CJ Anderson… Drake blew up in the 2nd half of the season after the Ajayi trade, but I’m wary of guys who come out of nowhere and are very productive in a very limited sample size. Also, I don’t think anyone will confuse the Dolphins offense for the ’07 Patriots anytime soon, so I don’t really see them scoring too much. That being said, the return of Ryan Tannehill, as completely average as he is, is still an upgrade over Jay Cutler. As long as Frank Gore doesn’t discover the fountain of youth in the next few months, Drake should be a very acceptable RB2.
14) Jordan Howard (CHI): A player that doesn’t necessarily get the adrenaline pumping, Howard’s season stats look better than his actual per-game fantasy production. He has the potential for big yardage games, but he’s been limited due to lack of involvement in the passing game. There are reports that his receptions could rise this year, and the Bears offense in general should be much improved due to some key additions at WR and TE. If you can handle the occasional dud game, Howard is a serviceable RB2, but not someone that’s going to win you a league.
15) Christian McCaffrey (CAR): Another guy that I don’t love this year, McCaffrey is the definition of a receiving back. Look it up in the dictionary if you don’t believe me. Even when sharing time with Jonathan Stewart who was running on two flat tires all year, McCaffrey still only hit double digit carries in 3 games. His highest rushing total was 66 (!!!) yards. CJ Anderson is now in town to fill the Stewart role, and he’s a definite upgrade there so I don’t see how McCaffrey’s carries dramatically increase this year.
16) Joe Mixon (CIN): Pros: Borderline elite skill set and Jeremy Hill left town, Cons: He’s on the Bengals, and they stink. Mixon had one game that I’d call “good” last year, and it was against the Browns. He rushed for over 100 yards exactly one time last year, and it was that same game against the Browns. The Bengals don’t play the Browns 16 times a year, FYI. Giovanni Bernard might actually be the better option in this backfield currently, but the Bengals are still going to give Mixon the majority of carries. He’ll flash in a few games and frustrate in others.
17) Lesean McCoy (BUF): Oh how the mighty have fallen. This might even be a little high for McCoy, but at the same time he hasn’t gotten any less talented since last season. The Bills have, however. If I tried really hard, I might be able to name one other player on this offense, but I don’t feel like trying hard right now. Shady also lived up to his nickname recently and has gotten himself involved in a bizarre situation with a lady friend of his(not his first, by the way), so a suspension of some sort is still a possibility. Still, if he plays he’s gonna touch the ball a ton and we all know he can make things happen. Having AJ McCarron at QB doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence, however. Defenses might actually put all 11 players at the line of scrimmage when facing the Bills this year.
18) Derrick Henry (TEN): I’m considering the Titans backfield a coin flip at the moment. Do you prefer the bruiser or the finesse guy? Right now, I’ll take Henry because of his touchdown upside. The Titans don’t seem to consider him a feature back though, so Dion Lewis will definitely be active. I might end up flipping the two and putting Lewis above Henry later. I’m a sucker for those speedy pass catching backs. For now, let’s go with the guy who gets to punch it in from the 1.
19) Dion Lewis (TEN): Remember when I mentioned Dion Lewis in my Derrick Henry ranking? The question with Lewis is usage. If he’s truly just a 3rd down back and Henry handles all of the early down carries then he won’t have the opportunities he’d need to be super productive in fantasy. If he comes out of the gate on fire, however, maybe the Titans move to more of a 50-50 split. Then we might be looking at a bargain. In a PPR, I’d be cool with grabbing Lewis as my RB3 with the potential for more. JUST FOR LAUGHS: Below is a picture of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry standing next to each other.
20) Lamar Miller (HOU): Pardon me, I might actually fall asleep while typing this. That’s how unexciting drafting Miller is. Despite landing in what seemed like a golden opportunity in Houston a few years ago, Miller just hasn’t been able to put together a string of productive games. He did, however, have a pretty nice run during the Deshaun Watson era last year. With Watson expected back at full strength, the Texans offense should be potent, and with D’Onta Foreman potentially hitting the PUP list, the carries will be there for Miller. Now he’s just got to do something with them.