First and foremost, if you play fantasy football, you need to bookmark this post.
The beginning of the season is drawing close; preseason anyway. There is always the possibility and likelihood of injuries of course but in using logic and stats, barring any catastrophic mishaps this is what your big board for running backs should look like when you draft your fantasy football teams.
I have separated the board in to three categories. The first tier are your draft early on running backs, the next tier should be your back up options and/ or flex. The final tier should be your don’t touch unless you’re either desperate due to injury or in a high volume in amount of teams draft.
Tier 1 = Draft High.
Tier 2 = Back ups and Flex options.
Tier 3 = Don’t touch unless injuries occur and you’re desperate.
#1. ADRIAN PETERSON – MINNESOTA VIKINGS
He’s not going to catch a ton of passes out of the backfield but he does not need to. He had the most yards rushing last season (1,485) and tied for most rushing touchdowns (11). If you don’t grab AP in the first few picks, you’ll lose out.
#2. LE’VEON BELL/ DEANGELO WILLIAMS – STEELERS
DeAngelo Williams did a phenomenal job filling in for an injured Le’Veon Bell last season while pounding in a league high 11 touchdowns, he will once again have to take a back seat to the Bell cow… lame pun intended. In 2014, Bell had 8 rushing touchdown’s and 3 receiving out of the backfield. Depending on who the Steelers are playing, you might be able to get away with starting one of these guys as your primary back and the other in your flex.
#3. DEVONTA FREEMAN – FALCONS
Some may place Gurley ahead of Freeman here but the Atlanta running back actually did better than Gurley in regards to fantasy. He had 1,061 yards rushing and tied for the league high with 11 touchdowns.
#4. TODD GURLEY – LOS ANGELES RAMS
I do believe that Gurley will get a high volume of carries due to having a rookie quarterback behind center. With that however comes a lot of 8-man boxes. Especially in the NFC West match ups. This could very well cut in to not only Gurley’s average but his touchdown totals in the RedZone. He still is worth a high pick but it’s set up for him to have a sophomore slump.
#5. CHRIS IVORY/ T.J. YELDON – JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
It’s tough to say who will get the lions share of the carries here but in guessing, I would have to think that Ivory will emerge as the guy who does. Ivory had 7 touchdowns with over 1,000 yards rushing in having to share touches with fellow back Bilal Powell. Something similar could happen here with Ivory and Yeldon (who spent time on IR last season). Yeldon could be a decent back up option in the flex position pending who they play that specific week.
#6. JAMAAL CHARLES – KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Charles will be in the running for comeback player of the year this season. Should he stay healthy, it may even be worth the rolling of the dice to draft him higher. But because he was injured, you won’t know how he responds or bounces back until he does. The previous season, Charles had 9 touchdowns rushing with 5 receiving out of the backfield. The season before that, he led the league on the ground with 12 touchdowns and another 7 catching out of the backfield. He is perhaps the best dual threat running back in the entire NFL when healthy. The Chiefs will use him in the same fashion they have in previous years.
#7. LESEAN MCCOY/ KARLOS WILLIAMS – BUFFALO BILLS
Injuries hindered Shady McCoy in 2015. Much like Charles above, he is considered a lethal weapon not only running the rock but receiving as well. Karlos Williams did a great job in filling in for the injured McCoy. Rex Ryan will most likely, barring major injury to either, utilize both. Williams rushed for 7 touchdowns but only managed over 500 yards. Getting McCoy back will help both players. But if Shady can stay healthy, he is well worth selecting this high.
#8. LAMAR MILLER – HOUSTON TEXANS
Miller was a big impact not only for the Dolphins ground game last season but for fantasy owners across the world. Insert an effective passing attack potentially in Houston and the future for Miller here looks bright. While he did not break the 1,000 yard mark for the Phins last season, mainly due to nagging injuries to the offensive line, he still managed to rack up 8 touchdowns on the ground and 47 receptions with another 2 touchdowns through the air. Look for Miller’s production to explode this year with the Texans.
#9. DOUG MARTIN – TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Doug Martin a.k.a Muscle Hamster, a.k.a. Dougernaut bounced back with a vengeance by racking up 1,402 yards with 6 touchdowns via ground and an additional 33 receptions for 271 yards with 1 more touchdown. If he stays healthy, and if he stays on track with what Tampa wants to do, he will most likely replicate the production from last year, if not exceed it. Tampa may want to throw the ball a little bit more this season so the possibility of Martin getting more passes out of the backfield this year is good.
#10. C.J. ANDERSON/ RONNIE HILLMAN – DENVER BRONCOS
The defending champs no longer have one of the greatest to ever do it behind center in Peyton Manning. Instead, they have a rookie or perhaps Mark Sanchez who in the past few seasons has been a turnover machine. The Broncos may go with a running back by committee approach in 2016 to hide the shortcomings of either Sanchez or the rookie, Paxton Lynch. The good news is that the Broncos still have one of the better run blocking offensive lines in the NFL. That will bode will for Anderson and/ or Hillman; or both. I expect Anderson to get the bulk load of the carries but Hillman did tally 863 yards and 7 touchdowns in relief last season.
#11. CHRIS JOHNSON/ DAVID JOHNSON – ARIZONA CARDINALS
Both these running backs were dynamic when they touched the ball last season. When Chris Johnson got injured, David Johnson stepped right in and the offense did not miss a beat. CJ2K, early on, showed flashes of his former dominant self of his 2009 season but also went missing here and there at times. He was slightly inconsistent. David Johnson, in his rookie year, had .4 more on his average than Chris and more than doubled his touchdown total with 8. On the surface, it seems like the wise thing to do, and what Arians most likely will do, is to start David Johnson right out of the gates. He racked up over 500 yards with 8 touchdowns in just 5-games starting during the regular season. Moral of the story here, David, not Chris would be worth the pick if it’s at the right spot. Chris might be a good later round pick as a back up should things not work out well with David initially.
#12. EZEKIEL ELLIOTT – DALLAS COWBOYS
I am always reluctant to put a rookie this high up but after watching both Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley take the league by storm in their rookie years last season, coupled with the fact that Dallas has the uncontested best offensive line in the NFL, it’s a safe pick in my professional opinion. If I were to predict, even knowing that both Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris will want touches and carries, I think Elliott will be explosive right off the bat and go well over 1,000 yards with around 8 touchdowns. He can catch the ball out of the backfield as well which may limit McFadden and Morris’ action. I, and possibly the Dallas coaching staff, look at the latter as insurance policies.
#13. MATT FORTE/ BILAL POWELL – NEW YORK JETS
Forte was still had a fantasy impact when he was carrying the rock for the Bears last year. Both Ivory and Powell had success behind the Jets offensive line in 2015. Chances are that the Forte was brought in to be the featured back in New York. Should he stay healthy, he has a lot left in the tank and could be a fantasy steal/ sleeper. If he is there on your board in the 4th or 5th round of your draft, don’t think, pull the trigger.
#14. CARLOS HYDE – SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Carlos Hyde exploded on to the scene last year in Week 1 on Monday Night Football while racking up 168 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He had jaw-dropping moves that had the defense on skates. After that, he tried to play through a small fracture in his foot and was rendered, for the most part, ineffective. He was not the bell cow in his rookie season as Frank Gore was still on the team but showed flashes of looking like a faster version of Beast Mode. Health will be the thing to watch here with Hyde but he’s going to get the ball a lot this season. I fully expect Hyde to rush for over 1,000 yards… Chip Kelly also likes to use his running backs in the passing attack. Look for Hyde to have 10 combined touchdowns in 2016. He will be a steal in mid rounds.
#15. THOMAS RAWLS – SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Like Hyde, Rawls did not go a full season due to injuries. When healthy though, he looked extremely explosive. Rawls had 5 total touchdowns and 906 combined yards in 7 games started and 13 games played in. He will not replace Marshawn Lynch; not many backs could or will be able to fill those shoes. The caveat here is that he will be running behind a depleted offensive line. I am sure they will run a ton of read option with Rawls and Wilson but it’s not a guarantee that the loss of the big boys in the trenches won’t take it’s toll in the running attack.
#16. JEREMY LANGFORD – CHICAGO BEARS
Now that Forte is gone on to greener pastures (yes, another lame pun), Langford will be the feature back in Chicago. In 2015, he had 537 yards and 6 touchdowns in very limited action. I believe that due to the Bears possible struggles in the passing game, and in trying to limit turnovers by Jay Cutler, Langford will get the bulk load of touches on the offensive side of the ball. Back up running back Jacquizz Rogers will most likely take on the roll of 3rd down back for Chicago so that may cut in to the amount of touchdowns Langford would see in the RedZone; anything outside of 10 yards from the goaline.
#17. JUSTIN FORSETT – BALTIMORE RAVENS
Another player that did not see a full season of action due to injury but could pay off big should he be able to keep himself out of harms way. As long as he doesn’t break his arm again, he is going to be the poor mans version of Ray Rice he was before it happened. In 2014, Forsett had over 1,500 combined yards with 8 touchdowns on the ground.
#18. JEREMY HILL/ GIOVANI BERNARD – CINCINNATI BENGALS
Personally, I would be reluctant to bring on either one of these guys as your primary back but they both might be worth the pick if you are looking to fill a flex option or for an injury to one of the two other guys that you would want to start. Hill had a lot of touchdowns last year and Bernard had relatively high totals in yardage. The Bengals are going to look to move the ball through the air and compliment that with a thunder and lightning ground attack. Hill did have 11 touchdowns on the season (tied for 1st), but fantasy wise was inconsistent in his point totals. Bernard had just 2 touchdowns but could be more involved in scoring in 2016.
#19. RYAN MATTHEWS/ DARREN SPROLES – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Like Hill and Bernard above, both these guys might be decent flex options. As a last resort, getting Ryan in the mid rounds as your second running back isn’t going to be the end of the world. Sproles on the other hand would be a decent option in the flex spot as he has been just about every season since entering the NFL. He’s not going to rack up 30 points every week but on occasion, he is capable of getting you 20+.
#20. MARK INGRAM – NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
I had Ingram as my second running back last season in a couple of leagues and he did relatively well. He continues to improve each year seemingly but has yet to break that thousand yard threshold due to the high volume of passing mentality that the Saints employee. With that said, Brees is not getting any younger and Sean Payton knows it. Ingram could very well take on a larger load in 2016 and you might see a more balanced Saints offense. This would be great for Drew Brees and the play action pass. Ingram may benefit from it coming out of the backfield. He has had 15 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons.
#21. JONATHAN STEWART – CAROLINA PANTHERS
Cam Newton had more rushing touchdowns than did Jonathan Stewart in 2015. While he was very instrumental in the Panthers ground game, from a fantasy football stand point, he was not a world beater. Was he a viable option though? Yes. Just not as your primary guy. Unless you plan on stacking wide receivers, do not grab him high. Stewart has had nagging injuries here and there through the course of his career, so there may be risk there even if you are drafting him at a high value place in your draft.
#22. LATAVIUS MURRAY – OAKLAND RAIDERS
Pro Football Focus has the Raiders offensive line ranked as the second best in all the NFL heading in to the season. Week in and week out, Murray will be licking his chops running behind this very talented run blocking line. Murray scored 6 touchdowns on the ground and broke the 1k mark on the year. In some ways, skill wise, he compares to Adrian Peterson. He’s not on that level per se but don’t be shocked if he all of the sudden explodes on to the scene weekly on the fantasy stat sheets.
#23. FRANK GORE – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Frank ‘The Tank’ Gore is winding down his career in Indy. However, without Andrew Luck for much of the year, he still managed to go over 1,000 all purpose yards with 6 touchdowns rushing. With Luck back, it is conceivable to think he would creep back up in to that Tier 2 ranking. He is right on the cusp but I would not spend a super high pick on him considering his age as well as the Colts inconsistent offensive line.
#24. EDDIE LACY – GREEN BAY PACKERS
I really wanted to rank Lacy higher but due to not only his weight issues (which are reported under control), he has been inconsistent since his breakout rookie year. He could wind up being a low risk, high reward type player if he is around in later rounds. But don’t take the bait if he is still there in mid rounds. Do not spend higher than a 5th round pick on him.
#25. MELVIN GORDON – SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Injury aside, Gordon was a major disappointment. Sometimes rookies have rough first years and then come back with a vengeance year two. It’s rare but it happens. With that disclaimer out of the way, I would not touch Gordon anywhere in the draft. Perhaps has a back up way later on in the draft but there is not a chance that I start him.
#26. MATT JONES – WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Jones had a pretty decent season. He was one of the reasons the Redskins stamped their ticket to the dance. Jay Gruden has put together a high octane high passing volume offense though. The pieces that are there say ‘we are going to pass all day on you’. The Redskins do possess a good run blocking offensive line though. If Jones winds up being the featured back, he could emerge up in to Tier 2… and as a sleeper maybe even Tier 1. But there is not enough data on him just yet, or the Redskins identity, to draw that conclusion.
#27. DEMARCO MURRAY/ DERRICK HENRY – TENNESSEE TITANS
I just cannot. I cannot justify either running back being worth too much. Despite Murray having okay numbers in Philly, Tennessee still has some question marks along the offensive line. Mariota is the X-Factor of course and if he eats, everyone is going to eat. Some folks think that Henry might be a bust because of his upright running style but other running backs such as Eddie George (another former Titans back) and Eric Dickerson (a Hall of Famer) have had success running that way but it’s the exception, not the rule.
#28. RASHAD JENNINGS – NEW YORK GIANTS
With all the receivers that the Giants possess, and Eli Manning liking to air it out all the time, any Giants running back is a bad option. The Giants will most likely pass the ball 400 times a game. They are not set up to be a power running football team. Jennings has never gone over 1,000 yards in his 6 years in the league. He has 20 career touchdowns.
#29. ISAIAH CROWELL/ DUKE JOHNSON – CLEVELAND BROWNS
Who knows? Maybe in a pinch. I would need an injury to occur and be desperate to grab either of these guys and would need to see their body of work within the season. Neither is clear cut to start and neither has really has staked claim to being the featured guy. Hugh Jackson will probably go with a running back by committee driven ground attack.
#30. DION LEWIS/ LEGARRETTE BLOUNT – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
All Patriots running backs can score… but from week to week you never know who it is going to be. Rule #1 in fantasy football… never pick a Patriots running back. It’s like trying to predict lottery numbers.
#31. JAY AJAYI/ KENYON DRAKE – MIAMI DOLPHINS
Ajayi had 187 yards with 1 touchdown and is now going to take on the role of starting running back. Drake is a rookie who did not get the time he should have at Alabama due to the Heisman winner, Derrick Henry being there simultaneously. Best man for the job? Doesn’t matter. The Dolphins will be forced to pass the ball A LOT!
#32. AMEER ABDULLAH/ THEO RIDDICK – DETROIT LIONS
With the surprise retirement of Megatron [Calvin Johnson], it is a mystery as to how the Lions will try and compensate. We are going to find out early really just who Matthew Stafford is. If he struggles without having his safety blanket of Johnson, Abdullah and Riddick might take on more. But hang back and let that unfold rather than trying to justify picking either of these guys.