The Tier 1 running backs are very interchangeable, but as a whole they’re a clear step above any other backs. These four players have all proven they have the ability to dominate opposing defenses and lead your fantasy team to glory. In dynasty formats, it’s crucial to build a solid foundation; and I believe these four running backs need to be the first four off the board.
Zeke finished as RB2 in 2016, and RB9 in 2017 (in only 10 games); showing his ability to consistently dominate in his first two seasons. He’s averaging 4.63 yards per carry in his 564 career carries, with an average of 104 rushing yards and just under 1 touchdown per game. He’s consistently criticized for his inability to contribute to the passing game, but has caught 74% of his career targets for 10.8 yards per catch.
Johnson broke out in 2016; catching 80 passes for 879 yards and rushing for 16 touchdowns and 1,239 yards on his way to a RB1 finish. Johnson’s 2,118 total yards in 2016 is the more than any of the other Tier 1 backs had in 2017. Johnson’s 2017 ending upper body injury does not scare me off him; I want this pass catching machine featured in an offense running out of other playmakers.
Gurley crushed his competition in 2017; finishing with 42 more fantasy points than any other back. He bounced back from a disappointing sophomore season under Jeff Fischer; where he rushed for just 885 yards and 6 touchdowns. In his two other season (2015 and 2017) he rushed for 2,411 yards and caught 116 passes for 976 yards; for a total of 29 rushing touchdowns. I do worry that Gurley, and the Rams overall, regress in 2018; he’s still a great centerpiece for a fantasy offense for years to come.
Bell is the most consistent performer of this group; finishing as a top 4 fantasy RB in 3 of the last 4 seasons; he played in just 6 games in 2015. Bell has rushed for at least 1,268 yards and 7 touchdowns in each of those 3 seasons and has caught 75 passes for 616 yards. Bell seems like the obvious choice for top back in my rankings but Pittsburgh refuses to commit to him long term-giving him too much instability for me. If they commit to him, so will I; otherwise I’m waiting.
Barkley took the college world by storm by gaining 5,038 yards and 51 touchdowns in his three seasons at Penn State. Barkley’s abnormal playmaking ability and athleticism led the Giants to draft him 2nd overall; suggesting a strong commitment to making Barkley a key piece in an offense which desperately needs to take pressure off the pass. Barkley has the potential to be a PPR machine for years to come.
Hunt finished 2017 as the RB4 and the rushing leader; with 1,327 yards; 22 more than Gurley. Hunt also caught 84% of his targets for a total of 11 touchdowns. Had Hunt not been schemed out of Weeks 9-13 last season (45 total carries) he could’ve finished as RB1. I’m not backing off Hunt because of the additions to the passing game in Kansas City; Mahomes cannot lead that offense by himself and Hunt needs to be a critical piece of their success.
Cook only saw action in 4 games last season; before incurring a season ending knee injury. What we saw in those 4 games, however, was enough to make me rank him as RB7. Cook averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 74 attempts and caught 68% of his 16 targets. He averaged 111 total yards per game and rushed for 2 touchdowns.
Fournette is a powerful back that rushed for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns in his rookie season. He rushed for at least 86 yards in 6 of his 13 games; and scored a touchdown in 9 of those 13. Although Fournette’s upside is limited by his receiving volume (48 attempts) he did catch 75% of his targets last season and averaged 8.3 yards per carry on his 36 receptions.
Gordon is consistently underrated in fantasy; he’s finished as the RB5 in 2017 and RB7 in 2016; making it slightly insulting that I have him even this low. Gordon brings a balanced approach to fantasy; rushing for at least 997 yards and receiving at least 419 yards in his two seasons with significant volume. Gordon saw 284 carries and 83 targets last season and has scored 12 touchdowns in both of his last two seasons.
This former Tennessee Vol took the NFL by storm in his rookie season, catching 89% of his 100 targets for 826 yards while rushing for 728 yards on just 120 carries; averaging 6.1 yards per carry. This allowed Kamara to finish as RB4 overall last season, but I can’t help but assume regression is in store for Kamara. He played well with Ingram serving as a change of pace in the backfield; but won’t have that luxury for the first four games of the season. I expect that to spur a larger workload on the ground which will drive down his yards per carry and reception volume which will transition him into a more stable role moving forward.
Speaking of running backs underrated for no reason, Howard has averaged 1,219 rushing yards and 7.5 touchdowns per season in his two year career. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his career. Howard has done this with defenses loading the box against him; now he should have even more opportunity to score in a balanced offense.
McCaffery finished 5th in receiving yards, 1st in targets, 3rd in receptions and 2nd in receiving touchdowns among running backs last season. CMC, however, averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on his 117 carries last season; for a total of just 435 rushing yards.
Freeman, like every other Falcon, took a fantasy step back in 2017; rushing for 865 yards, compared to the 1,067 yards he averaged in 2015 and 2016 and just 7 touchdowns, compared to the 11 he averaged in 2015 and 2016. Freeman has also seen his targets consistently drop since 2015; going from 97 to 65 in 2016 and 47 in 2017.
Shady has finished as a RB1 in 3 out of the last 4 seasons. Still he’s aging (29 years old and 2,188 carries) and finds himself on a depleted Bills offense. He stays this high on my rankings because of volume and recent performance (RB3 and RB7 the last two seasons) but proceed with caution; his performance could drop off at any time.
*These rankings were made before allegations were made against McCoy.
I believe that Guice is the answer to the Washington backfield woes. He’s an explosive runner that would have been hyped much more had the generational talent of Barkley not been in this draft. I don’t buy into his potential “character issues” at all; given no actual evidence of any. He’s limited in the short term my Chris Thompson’s involvement in the passing game but he has the ability to break off big runs and be a go-to option in the redzone.
I wrote a full article on why Michel deserves to be ranked as a top three rookie running back. Here’s the highlights: he’s used to producing in a mutli-back system (Chubb was his running mate at Georgia), the Patriots running backs always produce fantasy points, and he’s a dynamic playmaker.
Drake burst on the scene in Miami from week 13-17. In those 5 games he rushed for 444 yards and pulled in 17 receptions for 150 yards. The Dolphins showed commitment to him (18 carries per game weeks 13-17) but I hesitate with him. There’s nothing, to me, stopped Miami from giving Ballage just as many carries as Drake; they have very little invested in him and shipped out Ajayi-who they also seemed very committed to. Drake has huge upside, but also could be a flash in the pan.
I love Freeman’s landing spot. Freeman was a dynamic 4 year starter at Oregon; rushing for 1,406 yards per season and 15 touchdowns per game. He also had 79 receptions, 4 receiving touchdowns, and 814 receiving yards. With Anderson out of town, Freeman’s competition is limited; I expect him beat out Booker and Henderson for about 15-18 carries per game.
This is actually me warming up to Mixon; I make it no secret I’m not a fan of him. Mixon had just 2 games last season with more than 75 rushing yards, and just 4 with more than 50 rushing yards. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry and failed to win the starting job outright in a backfield only challenged by Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. I think Walton poses a legitimate threat to his volume. Still, I recognize the opportunity Mixon has in front of him; he has raw skill and the ability to be explosive in an offense that cannot be successfully relying on the passing game. Still, his ADP is much to high, and I won’t have any shares of him this season.
Ingram has finished as a top 15 running back in each of the past four seasons; including two RB1 finishes. He’s silently explosive and a perfect compliment to Karama. He’s also missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension. While this will hurt his overall fantasy production, it gives him the ability to rush with fresh legs against defenses and make a case for the contract he’s been demanding. He’s a great target in best ball leagues.
Chubb is a phenomenal athlete; he’s explosive, dynamic, and produced at a high level at Georgia. His combine performance showed no lingering effects of his gruesome knee injury, and if it wasn’t for Barkley he’d be my favorite running back in this year’s draft. Chubb, however, is in a crowded backfield, so you’re waiting until 2019 for him to pay off. In 2019, I expect Hyde to be out of town and for Chubb to be a two down back that eventually takes over 3rd down work from Duke Johnson. If you have the depth, invest in Chubb; it’ll pay off.
Coleman has averaged at least 4 yards per carry in each of his three seasons. He’s totaled 13 rushing and 6 receiving touchdowns without losing a fumble. Coleman may be stuck behind Freeman now, but he’s set to hit the free agency market after 2018 and there’s no way Atlanta pays him after paying Freeman. That means now is your time to invest in Coleman-you’ll never get him cheaper and I expect him to be a consistent RB2 with RB1 potential once he gets lead back volume.
I understand why you like Henry, I want to like him a lot too. He had some explosive plays that showed his upside (mostly in garbage time). Henry, though, is still that; potential. The Titans brought in a very efficient Dion Lewis who can produce in both the rushing and passing game and Henry will get limited volume. Still, he’s only 23 and has just 286 career carries on his knees.
24. Jay Ajayi
Ajayi has proved he can be a RB1/2 in the past; but the way the Eagles will use him concerns me. If Ajayi is given a clear lead back role, he has the potential to finish as a RB1, however, if the Eagles decide to focus on a RBBC that significantly incorporates Clement, Sproles et. al into the mix…Ajayi won’t be worth starting.
25. Lamar Miller
Miller, despite popular opinion, still has juice in the tank. Miller quietly finished as RB16 in 2017; with just under 900 rushing yards, just over 300 receiving yards and 6 total touchdowns.
26. Ronald Jones
Jones has serious upside, but he’s also on a serious unstable offense. He’s a clear and away favorite to take the majority of the volume for that backfield, but defenses are likely to stack the box early with Winston out. Following that, Jones has the ability to grow in his first season but this is a long term investment-I’m not expecting much from him in 2018.
27. Jerick McKinnon
McKinnon is not a workhorse back, nothing in his career indicates that he will be. In his last two seasons, he’s totaled 201 and 202 total touches (carries and receptions). In 2017, he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry on just 150 attempts; this was with the lead back role once Cook went down in Week 4. His pass catching ability is also very overstated; he saw just 68 targets in 2017 (career high) and only has 5 touchdown receptions in his career. He only has 12 total touchdowns in his career. Coaching scheme only gets you so far; and it’s not getting McKinnon anywhere.