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UPDATED 8/27: When I draft, I always have a tier sheet handy. I find that organizing players by tiers is far more beneficial than merely ranking players.
I could rank David Johnson over LeVeon Bell, but it is impossible to truly predict who will finish better between the two of them, but I do know that both should finish better than a guy like Lamar Miller.
Another reason I prefer tier rankings is that a range of outcomes approach is preferable to just this is what a guy will finish with at the end of the season. Jason Witten and Frank Gore have low end RB1 and TE1 numbers the past two years, but their weekly numbers are not going to help you win your weeks for the most part. In essence, you are looking for a player that has a chance to perform at a weekly level that is higher than a mere replacement level player, even if that replacement level player may have decent looking year-end numbers. Which brings me to my final point, fantasy football, in season long leagues, is about winning weeks, so you need to draft a combination of players where some have high ceiling, while some of high floors. That is how you win.
Before I get into my tiers, just a note that I am finding it more difficult this year than ever to predict this coming season for running backs, which is one more reason tiers should actually help. There are so many multi-back committees right now and so many murky situations, that we are going to have to wait and see how it all shakes out as we get closer to the season before we know who will be starting on many of the teams. The Patriots have four legit candidates to lead their backfield at the moment.
David Johnson, Cardinals – He’s a league winner and the foundation of their offense that is used in all facets of the game. They upgraded their offensive line with no real upgrades anywhere else on their offense, which is a problem for the Cardinals, but not for Johnson’s fantasy value, as he played on nearly 84% of the team’s snaps. Over 16 games last season (he got injured in the 17th), he put up 1,239 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry) with 16 touchdowns, adding 80 catches, 879 yards and 4 more touchdowns through the air on a ridiculous 118 targets. Excluding his week 17 game where he got injured, he averaged 27 fantasy points per game (FPG), just a tick above LeVeon Bell. In respect to Bell, Johnson had 35 rushes inside the 10 yard line last season compared to just 14 for Bell, and then 559 air yards compared to just 52 for Bell. He also finished as the top overall running back six of the 16 weeks (37.5%) and never had less than 100 total yards in a game. Warren Sharp graded the Cardinals with the 4th easiest schedule in the league, so it’s really pick your poison between him and Bell, but there are some compelling reasons to lean Johnson.
LeVeon Bell, Steelers – He’s unstoppable, and unlike Antonio Brown who is subject to Big Ben’s road splits, Bell gets it done no matter the venue. If you have the first pick in the draft, your only decision is to take Bell or David Johnson. There are clearly worse problems to have in life. In MFL10’s I have been alternating between the two of them, although I have been leaning towards Johnson slightly more for reasons stated above in Johnson' profile and because the Steelers have the leagues 3rd toughest rushing schedule, not that Bell can be stopped. I will concede that with a lack of a long term deal in place, the Steelers could ride Bell until the wheels fall off with no care of long term usage if they don't plan on re-signing him next season, especially if Big Ben retires. He has also not reported to camp, so there is also the possibility of a quad injury when he returns.
Nonetheless, missing four games due to suspension and rest last year, Bell ran for 1,268 yards (4.9 ypc), while adding 75 catches, 616 yards and 2 more touchdowns through the air on a whopping 94 targets. On the year he averaged 26.5 FPG, which is just 0.5 behind David Johnson, playing on 96% of the teams snaps and seeing nearly 45% of the teams total touches. Bell had more than 20 fantasy points in 9 of the 12 games he played, including a monster 52 point fantasy game against the Bills. Like Johnson, you have to worry about over use, and Bell has dealt with his fair share of injuries. However, with the better supporting cast, especially with wide receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold and rookie running back, James Conner on board, I think Bell gets a bit more rest, which is actually a good thing, since he will have a better chance of staying healthy all year. It's worth noting that the team’s playoff schedule is tough, facing the Ravens, Patriots and Texans in weeks 14 to 16, but tough opponents doesn’t mean a thing with Bell.
LeSean McCoy, Bills – The Bills will be run heavy team once again and somehow McCoy is only 28 years old. He is their foundation back that gets it done in the air and on the ground, finishing second in Football Outsiders rankings according to DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Last year he averaged over 5.4 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns, despite getting sniped by Mike Gillislee for 9 others. With one of the better run blocking offensive lines in the league and after signing all-pro fullback Patrick DiMarco, look for McCoy to shine once again. Make sure to handcuff with Jonathan Williams.
Melvin Gordon, Chargers – The off-season moves couldn’t have been better for Gordon’s stock. Not only did they not re-sign Danny Woodhead, but also they didn’t bring in any backup of note. Additionally, they went out and upgraded their offensive line by signing LT Okung and using their 2nd and 3rd round picks on two of the top 3 guards in the draft. Right Tackle is still an issue, but with Antonio Gates still on the team, blocking on that side of the line has help. The downside for Gordon, is that I'm still not sure he is an elite back. He averaged a disappointing 3.9 yards per carry and only 26 percent of his carries went for 5 yards or more, the third worst in the league last year. But if fantasy volume is king, and he was very consistent on a week-to-week basis scoring at least 10 fantasy points 92% of the time (5th best), at least 15 fantasy points 75% of the time (5th best) and at least 20 fantasy points 42 percent of the time (5th best). With no competition and a slew of receivers to take the pressure off, he could easily finish in the top tier.
Devonta Freeman, Falcons – Freeman’s week-to-week upside is always going to be capped by Tevin Coleman, but this team utilizes both backs in all phases of the game, so even on down weeks, Freeman is reliable in PPR leagues. Make no mistake about it, Freeman is the lead back here and one of the league's best running backs in the red zone, who just signed an extension with the team, making him the highest paid running back in the league.
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins – I told you. I pounded the table, I tweeted, I wrote …. Get Ajayi. I even put my money where my mouth was, as he was my most drafted player in all my 35 MFL10s. He led the league in forced missed tackles last year and in yards after contact. After finishing as PFFs 3rd rated running back in 2016, look for him to take a step forward as the team's unquestioned workhorse who is still improving as a pass catcher, an area he actually excelled in when in college. The teams GM said he should be better by 200 percent this year. It’s bluster, but I’m still buying despite the tough schedule, and it is tough. He did suffer a concussion already in camp, but supposedly it’s his first, so it’s far too early to worry about that.
DeMarco Murray, Titans – The Titan's are loaded at wide receiver and Marcus Mariota is a stud entering his third season. So there is clearly some risk with Murray due to all the weapons. However, exotic smash mouth is a real thing and, at least this year, look for Murray to once again lead the charge, putting up 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground, adding 52 catches for 377 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air. He led the team in red zone targets last season and the Titans also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with every starter scoring above an 80 grade by PFF, which makes them elite as a unit. Noted Titans beat writer, Jim Wyatt, stated recently that Murray looks great and will still be the team’s workhorse back.
Jordan Howard, Bears – Howard proved a lot of people wrong last season by being much more than an early-down bruiser. Despite not taking over lead duties until Week 4, Howard ran for 1,313 yards, adding 29 catches for another 298 yards. During that time he had seven games with more than 100 yards and four more with over 75. The team has two of the top guards in the league and Howard will be the foundation of this offense once again. The downside is that he did drop 8 passes, the most in the league for running backs, and is also playing on a bad team in negative game scripts. He’s a rock solid RB1, but there are a lot of great receivers often available where he is going in drafts.
Lamar Miller, Texans – Miller may never be an elite back, but he wasn’t helped out by poor quarterback play and a dreadful offensive line. They can’t have any worse quarterback play, but this line is still bad outside of their Center and Left Tackle. In fact, the Texans may actually have the worst guard tandem in the league. Nonetheless, Miller was able to grind out just over 1,000 yards to the tune of 4 yards per carry last season, his lowest YPC average of his career, although, to be fair, on a bum ankle for part of the time. With the drafting of rookie Foreman they will look to limit some of his rushing attempts, but it should keep him healthy and fresh more than eat into his value. Beat writers have even stated that Foreman is no threat to Miller's production. Foreman is also not a capable blocker at this point, so Miller is the team's pass catching back and lead runner without question, which is huge in PPR leagues. The ineptitude of the offense kept Miller out of the red zone, scoring only 5 touchdowns, so expect that number to go up this year. In the murky world of running back committees, Miller is a solid RB2.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers – He’s a very talented back, but new head coach Kyle Shanahan has questioned his fit in his offense, which is a concern and a bit curious since he is a good zone runner, although he ran mostly inside zone last year and Shanahan mixes between inside and a lot of outside zone. Last season he was 4th in yards after contact 7th in missed tackles forced per attempt. In fact, 662 of his 988 yards cam after contact. However, the 49ers drafted intriguing rookie Joe Williams, who they traded up to get and whom they may feel is a better fit for this scheme. However, Williams has looked lost in camp so far and has serious questions regarding his pass catching and pass protection abilities, while Hyde has been dominating as a runner and pass catcher. 49ers beat writer, Kevin Jones, recently reported that Hyde has been one of the standouts at camp and insider Adam Caplan reported that Hyde is the teams unquestioned lead back. If you are betting on talent, then Hyde makes for a solid RB2 on a team that has no problem employing two RBs like we saw in Atlanta last year. Hyde also reported to camp in great shape and at his lowest weight since entering the league, it seems as if Hyde got the point and is ready to rock. He played all 10 starter snaps including the passing downs in the first pre-season game.
Leonard Fournette, Jaguars – Big, fast and nasty, they drafted Fournette to be their lead back and to take the ball out of Bortles hands and put it into his belly. With a better defense, the Jaguars want to limit opposing teams scoring and run the ball to kill the clock and slow the game down. The team’s head coach has stated that he would ideally like Bortles to have ZERO pass attempts a game, while offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, who took over mid season, is back with the team again. Under him the Jaguars improved their rankings in several categories including: time of possession (30th to 13th), goal-to-go efficiency (15th to fourth) and red-zone efficiency (16th to fifth). The Jaguars rushing attack also improved under Hackett from 30th in yards (72.6) to fifth (124.8) in rushing yards per game, 26th (3.79) to 13th (4.35) in yards per rush and from 32nd (38) to first (112) in rushes of four-plus yards. In his previous stint with the Bills in 2013, they ranked second in the NFL in rushing. You get the picture. While Ivory and Yeldon do not worry me, his offensive line and Blake Bortles do, which is why I dropped him to this tier and why I might drop him further. If healthy I think he can overcome the line play, which is not good right now, and I would also feel much more comfortable with him if they made the move to Chad Henne.
Joe Mixon, Bengals - At 6’1” 228 pounds with 4.45 jets, Mixon is the top overall back in this year's class. He creates yards on the ground by running tough inside and also by easily getting to the edge, all with LeVeon Bell type patience. He’s also a very good receiver in the David Johnson mold. I don’t compare him to those two players lightly. With Jeremy Hill underperforming two years in a row now, Mixon should be the team’s lead back from day one, and beat writers have suggested he could receive over 20 touches a game right out of the gate. It does look like Giovanni Bernard is fully recovered from his knee surgery and he should usurp at least 30 to 35 percent of the teams touches. Although the Bengals have ranked 9th, 13th and 4th in running back touches over past three seasons, so there is plenty to go around for Mixon to put up big numbers. Noted Bengals beat writer Geoff Hobson recently stated: "Mixon is the real deal… and you have to think about him as a 20-carry-a-game guy with three to five catches.” His biggest obstacle is the Bengals offensive line that has the two worst starting tackles in the league and one of the worst starting right guards in the league. I have a feeling come late August I will be moving him up my rankings.
Dalvin Cook, Vikings – Produced big time in college, although slid to the second round of the draft due to a horrible SPARQ score (bottom 15 percent), fumbling issues and off-field concerns. He actually reminds me a lot of Knowshon Moreno. He also landed in a crowded backfield with a bad offensive line. Although, so far he has drawn rave reviews in camp and if he plays like he did in college, he will be the Vikings lead back, which looks to be the case right now especially since Latavius Murray isn’t even practicing yet. He is looking like a safer play every day and the Vikings have one of the easiest run schedules in the league this year. The only thing keeping him in this tier is his pass protection skills and the fact that Murray doesn't need much time in camp to steal goal line touches, an area of the field he is very good in.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns – Whether you like it or not, head coach Hue Jackson loves him and they didn’t draft anyone to compete with him. Last season behind a horrible offensive line, he averaged a rock solid 4.8 yards per carry and also caught 40 passes. In fact, down the stretch he was used in the passing game more than Duke Johnson Jr even. He finished second in the league last year in yards after contact (3.18) and now with a top 3 offensive line and without a legit quarterback, Crowell should get plenty of use in both the run and pass game this year. He’s an underrated RB2 or even a borderline RB1 for those that wait at the position, although keep in mind if you intend to be too aggressive with him, this is still not a good defensive team, and in the 4th quarter last year Crowell had only 32 rushing attempts, compared to 91 for Ezekiel Elliott. However, head coach Hue Jackson recently stated that he should have used Crowell more and not abandoned the run so quickly when trailing. Let's hope he remembers that, because that's the downside.
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs – It is hard not to like Hunt when you watch his tape, as the dude makes people miss and also picks up the tough yards. He stands 5’10” 216 pounds and was the second most elusive back in this years class behind Joe Mixon. His combine numbers were not great, running a 4.62 forty, although he lost a bit of weight and ran a 4.5 at his pro day. Per Graham Barfield at Fantsy Gurue, Andy Reid coached teams have finished inside of the top-10 in running back PPR points 7 times in the last 10 years and top 16 in 9 of the past 10 years. With Spencer Ware out for the year, Hunt is going to be an every down back on a run first team.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders – Beast Mode is back and he didn’t return to sit on the bench. Running behind the leagues second best offensive line and playing on a team with great weapons on the outside to keep teams honest, only age can hold him back. He didn’t look great in 2015 and DeAndre Washington will come in on some passing downs, so there is downside, but hopefully a year off to rest and a massively upgraded line is just what he needs to return to form. Still, it is doubtful that he gets more than 200 to 220 carries during the season, so don’t expect massive workhorse role.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys – He is suspended for the first six games. He still does get to appeal the suspension, so that could be reduced, but inlcuding the bye, not having Elliot for 7 weeks of your fantasy season is a killer. Fantasy is about winning weeks, and using a high pick on him doesn't accomplish that. The suspension aside, besides Dez Bryant this offensive doesn’t have much, so when he is in there, look for it to once again run through Elliot. Zeke led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards (5.1ypc) and had15 touchdowns on the ground, adding 32 catches, on 40 targets, for an additional 363 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. He finished the season with a rock solid 21 fantasy points per game and played on 71% of the team’s snaps. It’s also worth noting that the Dallas offensive line lost two key pieces and is now probably just a top 5-10 unit, and the Cowboys go from having the easiest schedule in the league last year, to one of the hardest this season. They also play @Giants, @Raiders and then home versus the Seahawks in the fantasy playoffs, that's not a cake walk by any means. I'm probably not going to be the guy drafting him this season.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers – I’ve waffled a bit of McCaffrey. He plays bigger than his size, standing 5’11” 202 pounds with 4.48 jets. He runs as tough up the middle as he does outside. He’s also elusive in open field, has great patience and could easily play receiver in the league if he wanted to. His talent has jumped off the screen watching him during the pre-season games and videos of him at practice. As you can see, I love the talent, but there are some concerns with his production this year. Cam Newton is not great at checking down balls, loves to take it in himself near the end-zone and Jonathan Stewart is still a living human being. There is lots of talk that they want to turn Cam into more of a pocket passer and to check down the ball more. While I think that is the team's goal, Cam has been playing one way his whole life and coming off of shoulder surgery he’s not even fully practicing or throwing yet. Oh, and per Pat Thorman of PFF, Cam had the worst passer rating in the league last year on passes going 5 yards or less. All of this means that the great Cam change over will probably take 2 or 3 years, and not a few months. There is no denying his talent though, especially as a pass catcher, and in PPR leagues, he could certainly catch 55+ passes this season. In fact, Stewart recently noted, “he’s pretty unstoppable as far as coming out of the backfield running routes, there is nobody in the league that can cover him there one on one.” In PPR leagues, I think he is a no brainer to finish as a high end RB2, in standard leagues or touchdown heavy leagues, he could frustrate a bit.
Ty Montgomery, Packers – Montgomery started last season as a receiver and ended it as the Packers leading rusher. He stands 6" 221 pounds with 4.55 speed and a huge 40.5” vertical, finishing with a solid 127 SPARQ athletic score. Is Montgomery the team’s workhorse back. Perhaps not; especially since he had double digit carries in just one game last season and they drafted three running backs this year. That said, head coach Mike McCarthy declared after the draft that Montgomery is his starting running back, he has a year under his belt and a full off-season to dedicate himself to the running back position and most importantly, it doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty of owning Montgomery, even if he is not used as a workhorse back, he will be used a ton as their passing down back and as a receiver with another back on the field. The biggest issue for Montgomery though is pass protection, and right now rookie Jamal Williams is performing better in that area in camp and getting first team reps. If you are buying into Christian McCaffery as a fantasy stud this year, there is no reason you shouldn’t be buying into Montgomery as well, but pass protection is a concern.
Todd Gurley, Rams – He knows he played poorly last year, but he’s still the man here and they upgraded their offensive line, at least a bit. Last season, per the NFL's NextGen Stats, Gurley had -.07 yards before a defender was within 1 yard of him, which means that defenders essentially lived in the Rams backfield. Additionally, per PFF, 68.5% of Gurley's yards were gained after contact, meaning he had to work for every yard gained. It’s a make or break year in real life for Gurley, while in fantasy, he at least has a pedestrian RB2 floor with a huge ceiling if he can live up to his rookie year hype and this offensive line can get their act together. After loving his tape coming out of college, right now, I'm just not sure if he is very good. I'm hoping he proves me wrong.
Danny Woodhead, Ravens – Coming off a torn ACL and entering his age 32 season, it is fair to wonder if we will get the Woodhead we have come to love and admire. He is certainly being drafted as that guy right now in MFL10s and all reports have been positive so far. With Kenneth Dixon suspended and now having knee surgery, a “healthy” Woodhead will be a solid RB2 in PPR leagues and back-end or high flex play in standard leagues since he is just great at playing the game of football.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions – I love his talent and they want him to be their lead back despite the presence of Theo Riddick and Zack Zenner. Dialed in Lions beat writer Time Twentyman recently stated in no uncertain terms that Abdullah “is going to the feature back” while beat writer Nate Akins called him by far the “best athlete on the field.” He had an elite top 97% SPARQ athletic score coming out of college, which was even higher than David Johnson that year and better than anyone in this years draft class. Will he approach 300 rush attempts? No. But beat writers said that they do intend to get him at least 200 carries and he should see 250+ touches. With a smaller stature, goal-line work could be limited, but the Lions threw the ball an absurd 70% of the time in the red zone last year and 64% of the time the year before that. His only knock is that he has relatively small hands, coughing up the ball 13 times in college, and 5 times his rookie year. If he can clean up his ball security issues and show that he can take a pounding in the NFL, he has the potential to be drafted as an RB1 by this time next year.
C.J. Anderson, Broncos – If Jamaal Charles is fully healthy, he will relegate Anderson to a flex play. If Charles is not healthy, Anderson could be a high upside RB2 due to volume since Booker is nothing more than a change of pace back, and not even healthy at the moment. Unfortunately, we will not know the answer to this until pre-season games kick off or possibly deep into August. When healthy though, Anderson produces; per PFF, over the past three years, with backs having at least 400 rushing attempts, Anderson ranks top 6 in yards per carry, touchdowns per carry, yards after contact per attempt and forced missed tackles per attempt. He also averaged a very solid 4.7 yards per carry his last two healthy season. Unfortunately this year the Broncos do have one of the toughest schedules in the league against the run. However, the offensive line is now a strength of the team Ron Leary (from the Cowboys), Allen Barbre (from the Eagles), Menelik Watson (former second round pick now healthy after a missed year), Max Garcia, Matt Pardis (2nd best graded center in the league), rookie first round pick Bolles & stud blocking tight end Virgil Green. The hope is also that new OC Mike McCoy's gap blocking, power run scheme, where Anderson will follow his lead blockers, the fullback (fan favorite Andy Janovich) and the pulling guard, will help open up some lanes. The question then becomes, how well is Anderson at running in this new system, one in which he has little experience? There is also intriguing rookie De'Angelo Henderson who has been turning heads in camp and could certainly steal the job if Anderson falters. He’s a risky pick with all the talent in this backfield, but it's his job to lose and he looks good so far.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons – A high-end compliment to Freeman and he is a big play waiting to happen. I love him more as my RB3, but massive RB1 upside if Freeman goes down and weekly flex value with RB1 upside every week.
Mark Ingram, Saints – Major RBBC, whose stock will rise or plummet depending on how well Adrian Peterson runs and Kamara adjusts to the NFL game. He finished third in the league in yards after contact and in forced missed tackles per attempt. Additionally, Ingram averaged 5.1ypc last year and has caught more than 45 passes each of the past two seasons, but it all comes down to usage. If he was in Dallas, we would be talking about him as a top five pick. He's talented. Unfortunately, his situation is as murky as they come. If Peterson is washed up, Ingram will end up being an absolute steal at his current ADP. For what it's worth, Brees recently said that he "doesn't see a better all-purpose guy in the league right now," while head coach Sean Payton mentioned that Peterson "will have a clear and defined role" during the season and will "complement" Ingram in the rotation. Ingram has also been “very active” as the teams pass catching back in camp so far and there are reports that Peterson will handle early down work and Ingram the pass catching role. May make for a better PPR grab than a standard league one, where he makes for a solid RB3.
Adrian Peterson, Saints – As mentioned with Ingram, this is a potentially RBBC from hell for fantasy owners and he didn’t look like he had much left in the tank last year, but apparently that was last year according to Saints players who have been raving about him. He will be running behind a better offensive line and playing with a hall of fame quarterback. In fact, per football outsiders, the Saints had the number one run blocking offensive line last season, while the Vikings where near the bottom. There are whispers that he will get at least 220 touches and probably see a lot of the goal-line looks, which makes sense since last year there were 246 non-Ingram running back touches and Brees is also getting older and featuring the run more also makes sense. Peterson also could be a Blount type, double touchdown beast.
Here are some statements from his teammates:
“He’s a stud, man. He looks the part,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “There’s something about handing the ball off to that guy and watching him run through the hole and take on anybody who tries to tackle him.” "I’m amazed, honestly," Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. “Seeing him just take off his first few steps are as explosive as I’ve ever seen by a human being. It’s unbelievable. I’m very excited to see him when the pads come on. His first two steps are like seven yards. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anybody like him before. As a fan I’ve watched him, but not as closely as now. And just to see the cuts that he makes from his size. I’ve seen Darren Sproles make cuts with a low center of gravity, but Adrian Peterson over 6 feet making those types of cuts is remarkable. He’s a powerful man.” “I can feel when he runs. ... You can feel, like, when you’re running and you’re chasing him and he’s gliding, it’s ridiculous. He has not lost any steps. Wait, just watch. He’s so explosive ... just in flat shoes out there,” said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who then shouted across to cornerback P.J. Williams to ask his thoughts on Peterson -- only to get that same “psssshhhh” response. Saints guard Larry Warford was similarly complimentary, saying Peterson is “cut out of granite” and he “lives up to the hype.” But he offered one word of advice (which has been given by others, as well): “Don’t shake his hand,” Warford said.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers – Despite his three-game suspension, he is already getting rave reviews in camp. Multiple reports have stated that he is getting the bulk of first team reps and no other back has flashed like him. With Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Jeremy McNichols on the roster, his PPR upside is certainly limited, so more of a standard league grab, but the additional weapons on the outside should help him run inside. Rodgers appears to be his direct backup, so a cheap three week handcuff to start the season. Last season was a bit of a lost year due to a hamstring injury that kept him out Weeks 2 through 9, and then hobbled Weeks 10 through 15. Fully healthy now, Martin was PFF's highest-graded runner in 2015 and in Week 1 this past season, he broke 7 tackles on just 18 attempts.
Derrick Henry, Titans – Should be much of the same from last year, with Murray the lead back and Henry rotating in behind one of the leagues best offensive lines. On just 13 receptions last year, he forced 12 missed tackles, which is impressive for a guy his size. He has looked great in camp so far, even catching passes deep down filed. He is a risk since right now he really is more of a backup, but in the murky world of running backs, he should see at least 30% of the teams carries, after getting 27% of them last year, and he's a high-end handcuff that can be used as a flex play if needed and would be a league winning RB1 if something happened to Murray.
Theo Riddick, Lions – Passing down compliment to Abdullah, who also had an injury-riddled season last year. Should catch at least 45+ passes with 3-5 TDs, so a reliable PPR flex play, although an avoid in standard league’s. The downside is that he is not even fully practicing yet coming off of wrist surgery, the upside is that if Abdullah gets hurt (again), he should have 80+ catches (again).
Mike Gillislee, Patriots – He’s produces every time he gets the ball, but he enters a crowded Patriots backfield and right now sits behind Rex Burkhead on the teams first official depth chart. That said, he has had a good camp and by all beat writer reports, he looks to be the teams lead runner on early downs and near the goal line. Blount scored 18 touchdowns in this role last year, and while I don’t think anyone should go into the season thinking he will score that many (Blount also weighs a good 25 pounds more than him), 10+ touchdowns is certainly in range, especially since the Patriots were second in the league last year in red zone run percentage. On the Bills last season, Gillislee had 101 rushes for 577 yards (a league leading 5.7 yards per carry) and 8 touchdowns, adding 9 catches for 50 yards and another touchdown through the air. He finished 1st in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted per-play efficiency metrics and 4th in FO’s season-cumulative efficiency metrics. Additionally, per PFF, of running backs with at least 100 carries, Gillislee ranked 2nd in yards after contact (3.34), 3rd in average yards before contact and 1st in PFF’s rushing grade per attempt. He also forced16 missed tackles on just 101 carries and his 10 carries of 15 or more yards was only behind McCoy and Isaiah Crowell in PFF’s Breakaway Percentage metric. His PPR upside will be capped no matter what by a slew of capable pass catching backs. He also had a very poor pass blocking grade from PFF of just 40.5, while Burkhead had a 65 grade and James White 69. So far reviews in the pre-season have been glowing and Bill Belichick was infatuated with Gillislee last season and raved about him during their two game plans for the Bills. The biggest issues Gillislee owners will face is that the Patriots are a week-to-week offense, and you could easily get a zero out of nowhere. Rex Burkhead has also looked great in pre-season, so I wouldn't be confident drafting him in season long leagues at all.
Frank Gore, Colts – Tough to get excited about drafting Gore, but as an RB3, at least you know he will get you a solid 10 points every week. Consistency, not upside, is his game. The offense could also be scary bad if Luck isn't healthy and they also just lost their starting center. Not someone I'm taking.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – He’s should be drafted as your RB3 or RB4, but his demise has been greatly exaggerated. He is the starting running back on this team, albeit on a team with a quarterback who steals red-zone rushes and now playing with a rookie who they want to get involved. He could easily have another 800 yard and 9 TD season and per PFF, he finished second in the league last year in forced tackles missed per attempt and first in the league in highest percentage of yards generated after contact. He's a great athlete and running back that is being viewed poorly, due to limited usage in the past and due to the rookie they just drafted, but the fact remains, as Panthers.com web site recently mentioned, Stewart will still see the bulk of the team's carries.
Bilal Powell, Jets – Reports from beat writers that Powell could supplant Forte as the team’s starter, which makes sense. Still, this will be is major time-share on perhaps one of the worst teams in NFL history. So while they have essentially no other weapons, does it matter when you go three and out and never get to the red zone? In standard leagues, forget about it, but in PPR, Powell and Forte could be reliable PPR flex floors, with weekly upside. I’m just staying away from all Jets.
Duke Johnson Jr, Browns – They upgraded their offensive line big time and Hue Jackson would love to use him as he did Bernard in Cincy. There have also been reports that he may be the teams starting slot receiver or line up in that position a good amount. The talent is there, they usage hasn’t been, I’m betting that changes this year. He quietly caught 61 and 53 passes his first two seasons in the league.
Terrance West, Ravens – With Dixon done for the year, West will form a committee with Danny Woodhead. He makes for an excellent Zero RB target as your RB3 or RB4 depending on scoring format. Last season he put up 774 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns (4 YPC) adding 34 catches for 236 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. As Rotoworld pointed out, he was the RB25 or higher in 7 of the 9 games in which he had at least half of the Ravens rushing attempts. Dixon was clearly the more talented back as the season wore on, but opportunity is king and West has a secure role for the moment. Just keep in mind, Woodhead is a red zone beast, so don't expect West to get all the work in that area, and I would bet they add another running back before the season begins, it could easily be someone as talented as Ryan Mathews or Alfred Morris, so there is major downside in picking West too early. In fact, I'm ranking him right now as if they will do that. He rises if they don't.
Rob Kelley, Redskins – Kelly stole the Redskins starting job from Matt Jones in week 8 and rumbled for 704 yards and 7 touchdowns averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Kelly is not overly athletic, but he is a big guy (233 pounds) and is capable of grinding tough yards, allowing Chris Thompson to handle the passing down work. Helping him out is Football Outsiders’ 6th rated run blocking offensive line, which is a top ten unit returning all their starters. While many expected 4th round rookie Samjae Perine to overtake him quickly in camp, so far that does not seem to be the case. Jay Gruden called Kelley “bigger, faster, and more confident” heading into his second season, while Redskins beat writers at the Washington Post have proclaimed that Kelley is the “clear” lead back. Meanwhile Perine has been slow to pick up the offense, fumbling and not showing well in pass protection. This battle isn’t over and a changing of the guard could come at any time, but right now, Kelly is locked and loaded back in his starting early down role.
Darren Sproles, Eagles – Getting up there in age, but still the teams passing back. Touchdowns will be totally sporadic, but he is a lock for 700-800 yards and 55+ catches. Unfortuantley he is too tough to trust on a week-to-week basis in season long leagues as anything more than a PPR flex option. A much better cheap best ball option.
LeGarrette Blount, Eagles - In theory this is an ideal landing spot, on a team in need of an early down and red-zone back, with an even upgraded offensive line. Per Graham Barfield, the Eagles have the 4th highest running back opportunities and 4th most red-zone attempts available and were the 3rd most run heavy team inside an opponents 10 yard line, an area of the field Blount excelled at last year, rushing for a whopping 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately he is basically a zero in the pass game, averaging around 6.5 catches a season over his career and has supposidly shown nothing in camp to the point where he may be cut. He's a total risk pick as this point and someone I own zero shares of. If he does stick, while he won't have another 18 touchdowns, in limited and sporadic action last season, Ryan Mathews had 9 touchdowns for the Eagles, so Blount can easily match that.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals – Coming off a torn ACL there were questions whether or not he would be ready for the season, well that was answered day one in camp, as he was out there taking snaps and looking good doing so. Bernard is a smaller back and shouldn’t handle much of the teams running duties. Last season he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and that was behind a great offensive line as opposed to this years, which is a bottom 10 unit. Bernard is a reliable passing down back though and will certainly cut into some of Joe Mixon’s passing down work to start the season, just how much remains to be seen. A lot of that will depend on how well Mixon picks things up, but he could make for a cheap PPR flex option albeit with very little touchdown upside. He’s likely to see around 30% to 35% of the team’s snaps.
Jonathan Williams, Bills – True three down running back (6' 223 pounds) who noted analyst Greg Cosell compared favorably to Ezekiel Elliot, mentioning that he thought that he was "quicker and more powerful" coming out of college. Posted a 101.9 elusive rating in 2014, which would have been good enough for second best in the 2015 rookie class. He’s a great dynasty hold and high-end handcuff to McCoy (29 years old) who would be an every-week RB1 if he got the chance to start, which seems likely for at least a few games this year. Regardless, he should see 5-8 carries a game even with McCoy healthy and Gillislee rushed for 9 touchdowns in this role last year.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots – There is something to be said about being a good football player, and Burkhead is it. Think a bigger version of Danny Woodhead. Unfortunately he joins a very crowded and talented running back core, but supposedly Bill Belichick was the driving force behind signing him and loves his duel threat ability to both catch passes and gain tough yards on the ground. The team has been even using him near the goal line and they have stated playing him there allows them to be les predictable than in the past. Like every year, the Patriots running backs are unpredictable in their usage form week-to-week, which makes Burkhead probably a better player for the Patriots than your fantasy team, although I would bet he has at least three to four huge games, making him a solid DFS spot play, and if Gillislee falters, he could do much more than that.
Shane Vereen, Giants – Can’t seem to stay healthy, but as someone betting against Paul Perkins, good chance he becomes a reliable weekly PPR flex option if Perkins sticks and a RB2 if he over takes him. This is a team that is also built on spreading things out and throwing the ball, passing on around 63% of their downs last year, including throwing the most passes to running backs out of no huddle in 2016 by a landslide. Perkins is a decent pass catcher, despite having small hands (only 9”), but Shane Vereen is a great pass catching back and is fully healthy coming off of a lost season due to an arm injury that sidelined him most of last year. Vereen is also a 96th percentile SPARQ athlete and has spent time playing under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which never hurts. I have a feeling I will be moving him up this list if he stays healthy through camp. You can bump him down a tier (or two) in standard leagues.
Darren McFadden, Cowboys – It is looking like he is going to be their starter for the first six games of the season. If he holds onto that job, he has middle of the road RB2 appeal, but this is a team that has lost pieces on their offensive line and faces a tough early slate: vs NYG, @Den, @Ari, vs LAR, vs GB. He's not someone I'm targeting after looking sluggish in pre-season so far and Alfred Morris certainly looked better than him, so he’s not even a lock to even be their guy. Perhaps I'm over thinking this and far too low on him.
Paul Perkins, Giants – Clearly I’m taking a stand here. Perkins stands 5’10” 208 pounds with 4.54 forty speed. At the combine last year he finished as the 67th rated running back in SPARQ score, which is a metric that measures a players athleticism. He just isn't a gifted athlete for someone his size. Opportunity is key in fantasy football though and Giant’s running back coach Craig Johnson mentioned that he thought Perkins could be a three-down back, while head coach Ben McAdoo stated before training camp that he is their starting running back. But times have changed, and reports from camp have not been positive. He supposidly "hasn't blown anyone away" in camp and McAdoo has started to question his ability. Perkins is a bit of a lower case Frank Gore at his best, in that he has good balance and body control, in order to get out of tight situations, and good vision to find the right hole. However, he is not very big or fast, which makes it tough in the pros to run over people or out run them to get into the open field. There are also questions of whether or not he can withstand the pounding of an every down workload, especially given the holes of the teams offensive line, which is ranked 28th in the league and has glaring weaknesses at both tackle positions and at right guard. This is a team that is also built on spreading things out and throwing the ball, passing on around 63% of their downs last year. Perkins is a decent pass catcher, despite having small hands (only 9”), but Shane Vereen is fully healthy coming off of a broken wrist injury that sidelined him most of last year. The Giants also have a slew of new red zone targets in Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram. He was PFF's 40th graded running back last year, which sounds about right. With an ADP in the 7th round, he’s not a horrible value, but I have a feeling he might just be this year's Matt Jones, and I'd rather take Vereen 10 rounds later. He's a hard pass for me.
James White, Patriots – Crowded backfield with a slew of backs that profile similarly. Last season with Dion Lewis hurt, he caught 60 passes, but the only other capable back on the team was Blount, who never catches any. With Julien Edelman hurt, another 60 catch season is within reach and beat writers have indicated as much. The biggest problem with him is while his year end numbers may look good, the Patriots are a week-to-week offense, so a bit unreliable in season long leagues and they could also add a slot receiver before the season starts.
Jamaal Williams, Packers – Williams stands 6’0” 212 pounds and ran a 4.59 forty. He’s not overly big, fast or elusive. In fact he’s really not elusive at all, but he’s a tough and capable running back. This is a crowded backfield with incumbent TY Montgomery to go along with the more dynamic Aaron Jones, although right now, Williams is probably the best pass protector on the team and that goes a long way when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. He’s not replacing Montgomery, but he could very well be a capable compliment and has been getting first team reps. He’s a candidate to move up my board.
Eddie Lacy, Packers – In his first two seasons, he went for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns in each season, while in just four full weeks of action last year, Lacy ran for 360 yards (5.1 yards per carry), and while he isn’t David Johnson, he’s also a very good and underrated pass catcher. It’s a crowded backfield on a team that likes to run the ball. I think they would have liked him to be their lead back, with Thomas Rawls spelling him for a series here and there and C.J. Prosise taking over passing down duties. Right now though, he is behind Rawls and 7th round pick Chris Carson is also shinning in pre-season practices and games. Lacy is a very good running back when healthy, but behind one of the leagues worst offensive lines and with all the competition, he could be frustrating to own week-to-week. Someone to monitor and has a chance to be a great RB2, but there is very little clarity at the moment on how touches will be split. I just don't know how you could draft him at his current ADP in the 8th round with any confidence.
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks – Some beat reporters seem to indicate that the lead job is Eddie Lacy’s, making Rawls more of a high-end handcuff for fantasy purposes, others envision an almost even time split, while others say Rawls is the starter. As of a week ago, he was the teams lead back and was getting most of the first team reps, that is, until he injured his ankle. He does know the Seattle system better and Lacy has been recovering from surgery for a good postion of the off-season, so perhaps Lacy is just behind the 8 ball. If Lacy doesn't pan out or gets hurt, Rawls could be an every week RB2, but the dude can’t stay healthy mainly due to running like a back that weighs 20 pounds heavier than him. Prosise will also cap his PPR upside, or possibly make him irrelevant, and 7th round rookie Chris Carson is also coming on strong. With the worst offensive line in football, who now also lost their left tackle, this backfield is a total mess.
C.J. Prosise, Seahawks – Big (6'1” 220lbs) and fast (4.48 forty), Prosise showed well in the few games he was healthy enough to actually play in last year. Unfortunately he has been dealing with injuries all camp and the team has expressed serious frustration with his inability to stay healthy. This is a crowded backfield but if healthy, it looks like he is going to be used as their passing down back, a role occupied by Robert Turbin and Fred Jackson before him. Prosise is more talented then when both of those guys played for the Seahawks, so he certainly could hold some PPR flex value, and if they gave him the lead role, we are talking RB1. Although, all of a sudden 7th round pick Chris Carson is in the mix as well for early down work and impressing in camp. Also keep in mind they have the leagues worst offensive line without question and just lost their starting left tackle for the season. I'm off all the Seattle backs.
DeAndre Washington, Raiders – Jalen Richard is probably the true handcuff to Lynch, and is listed as much on the team’s first depth chart. While Lynch is healthy, Washington will be used as the team’s pass catching/change of pace back and will spell him on occasion in the run game. If Lynch went down, Washington would probably split carries with Richard. Last year Washington averaged a very solid 5.4 yards per carry and caught 74% of his targets. Per PFF, Washington also led all rookies with breakaway run percentage, at 37%.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay – Rodgers is set to start the first three weeks of the season while Doug Martin serves his suspension, so a cheap Zero RB grab to start the year. He also has RB2 upside if Martin gets hurt or if Martin falters, which is not out of the realm of possibility. In a week-to-week game like fantasy football, there is a lot to like using a late round selection on him.
Matt Forte, Jets – This team is going to be very bad with very little at receiver, so they should be playing catch up a lot, which means a lot of passes to the running backs. With an ADP in the 11th round there is little downside and he very well could come in handy in PPR leagues. Just keep in mind that recent reports indicate that Bilal Powell will be the 1a to Forte’s 1b and there may be so many 3 and outs, playing from behind might not matter.
Alvin Kamara, Saints – The Saints moved up to grab Kamara and he projects to be used in the Sproles/Reggie Bush type role. As Scott Barrett from PFF pointed out on twitter, it's a role that generated an average of 16+ fantasy points per game. Despite a disappointing forty time, he finished with the top SPARQ score of all the running backs in this year’s class. The key here is usage though, and right now it looks like Mark Ingram might actually steal a good chunk of the passing down work. Although from early camp reports, it also looks like he may see some of Brandin Cooks departed target share, having him on the field at the same time as Ingram or Peterson. He's an upside pick that comes with a cheap draft cost.
Samaje Perine, Redskins – He’s a big man, standing 5’11”, 233lbs and running a 4.65 forty. He’s drawn some Michael Turner comps, although he is not as athletic or fast. He was supposed to take the lead job from Rob Kelly, but so far that hasn’t happened, as he has been slow to pick up the offense, has been fumbling and is still learning how to properly pass protect. He could very well still take over lead duties early in the season, but I’m not sold there is a lot of upside with him or this backfield in general. It’s his ADP that makes him hard to draft at the moment, but he has a shot to be their lead back sooner than later.
Chris Thompson, Redskins – He will be their passing down back no matter who wins the starting role. Had 49 catches & 5 TDs last year, expect similar numbers this season. They really like him as a player.
D’onta Foreman, Texans - He’s big (6’0” 233lbs), fast (4.45 forty) and at his best is a Jordan Howard or Blount type player, although probably not as elusive. He’s the backup, but despite all the hype he may get, he has major ball security issues and he also didn’t’ catch many passes in college despite being used heavily. Probably the Miller handcuff to own, but Alfred Blue still here and they have two good pass catching backs as well. He might start the season slow, but come on a bit more towards the second half.
Wendell Smallwood, Eagles - He displays a nice combination of vision, lateral quickness and speed. There have been reports of him dominating, taking over as their lead back and then ones of him getting cut. Right now the vibes are more positive than negative. Noted beat writer Jimmy Kempski calls it a "surprise development," that he is in a position to start, but he has been "the best back in camp by a significant margin." Could outplay this ranking big time and the Eagles do have one of the best offensive lines in the league, it all depends on Blount.
De'Angelo Henderson, Broncos – Built in that Maurice Jones Drew mold, Henderson stands just 5’7” and 208 pounds, but runs with power and explosion. He’s a name to watch if C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles struggle. So far he has been turning heads in camp. Great bench stash.
Marlon Mack, Colts – Mack is an intriguing player with a lot of juice. In college he had a habit of bouncing everything outside, literally everything. It appears he has learned a thing or two from Frank Gore, and riped off a number of nice runs in the second pre-season game. He's a good pass catcher and if Gore goes down, it's possible he starts over Turbin. Just keep in mind Luck is out for now and they lost their best offensive lineman. Chuck Pagano compared him to Jamaal Charles, that's some high praise.
Chris Carson, Seahawks – He’s a 7th round rookie built like a Greek god, standing 6’0” 218 pounds, with 4.58 forty speed and very solid 23 bench reps, 37 inch vertical and 130 inch broad jump. While not necessarily explosive in college, never having a run over 23 yards, he runs with power and physicality and former ESPN insider Adam Caplan mentioned that he looked like the most impressive running back at Seahawks camp during his two day visit, with impressive size, speed and vision. During his two pre-season games, Caplan’s description certainly holds up. It’s also worth noting never fumbled once in all is 212 carries at Oklahoma State. Unfortunately he joins a very crowded backfield with Lacy, Prosise and Rawls. None of them are a picture of health though and he seems at least to be ahead of Alex Collins and Mike Davis on the depth chart. He will probably start the season as an inactive or as just a special teams guy, but someone to keep in the back of your mind as the season progresses.
Dion Lewis, Patriots – There is no telling how this backfield will shake out. If he is fully healthy, he projects as the best all-around back on the team. If you are going to take a stab at one of these guys, a cheap shot on Lewis isn’t a bad option, although there are also talks of him being cut. As it stands now, I don't see much reliable value on the Patriots. There is certainly a posibility he gets traded to a team like the Cowboys, in which case, he would be back in fantasy business.
Charles Sims, Buccaneers – More weapons on the team and more uncertainty with his role. They are not going to use him as their feature back, so potential PPR flex option, but tough to envision more than that.
Tim Hightower, 49ers – The clear number two back in camp at the moment, he knows the system after his time in Washington and head coach Kyle Shanahan supposedly loves him. Probably the true handcuff to Hyde and will handle a bit of a Tevin Coleman role.
Kyle Juszczyk, 49ers - He's a fullback, so his week-to-week output may not be reliable, but there are some crazy reports out there that he could catch 50+ passes. He was certainly the best receiver on the Ravens last year. I'm not saying to draft him, but if you are hurting at running back, nobody will be on him.
T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars – Yeldon has been the clear standout passing down back in camp so far, so there is potential PPR value to be mind here on a team that wants to control Bortles. That said, Fournette has made progress in that department and might just end up being an every down back, leaving very little for Yeldon, who has been allergic to the end zone so far in his career.
Latavius Murray, Vikings - There is a chance he gets all the goal line work, making him a solid standard league depth play. Unfortunately he just started to practice but won't see any pre-season action. Tough to rank him higher at the moment.
Tarik Cohen, Bears – Known as the human joystick, he’s their version of Tyreek Hill and could handle a lot of the passing down work. Really small dude. Worth keeping an eye on as he played well so far in camp and in pre-season.
Zach Zenner, Lions – As long as Abdullah is healthy, there isn’t much of a reliable role for Zenner in fantasy. Dwayne Washington has also looked pretty good too in the pre-season. In standard or touchdown heavy leagues, he could be the goal line vulture, posting weekly lines of 4 carries for 15 yards and 1 touchdown, so it's not like he doesn't have value, but he probably needs an Abdullah injury to hold reliable value.
Joe Williams, 49ers – They traded up to get him and has a chance to be the team's featured back if Hyde gets injured or they decide he is a better fit for their scheme. The downside with Williams is that he was not a productive pass catcher or pass protector in college, the Shanahan system is tough to learn and the team signed free agents Tim Hightower, and everybody’s favorite fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, both of whom are ahead of him in camp so far. As long as his ADP stays repressed, he’s a great late grab, but right now he is still behind Hyde, Juszczyk and Hightower in camp.
Chris Ivory, Jaguars – Should settle in as Fournette’s handcuff. If Yeldon shows well, could be traded for a late round pick to another team.
Jalen Richard, Raiders – If Lynch goes down he would form a committee with Washington, giving him some flex value. He lead the league in yards after contact last year.
Alfred Morris, Cowboys – With Elliot suspended the first 6 games of the season, Morris looks like he will stick on the Cowboys after looking like a cut candidate earlier this season. He's also a sneaky player to keep tabs on and draft in deeper leagues since he has looked better than McFadden in camp, so it’s possible he is the true handcuff for Elliot owners to start the season.
James Conner, Steelers – He overcame cancer and is a high character guy. Standing 6’2’ 229 pounds, he’s another monster rookie from this years class. He is the handcuff to Bell at the moment, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the team signed D’Angelo Williams if Bell does get hurt since he hasn't played all that well in camp just yet.
Wayne Gallman, Giants - He stands 6’0” 215lbs with 4.60 speed. While top end speed is not mind blowing, he did have a 4.28 20-yard shuttle time, which was just a hair slower than Christina McCaffery, and in the NFL it’s all about short area burst for banging running backs like Gallaman. He’s a capable receiver and he isn’t afraid of contact, runs hard and has a nose for the end-zone, scoring 28 touchdowns his last two years in college. If Perkins falters, Gallman could easily form a 1-2 punch with Shane Vereen, hanging early downs and a lot of the goal-line work. If you invest in Perkins, it’s smart move to grab Gallman late as well in deeper leagues.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals – He’s disappointed for two years now and Joe Mixon is taking his job. They aren’t going to cut him, so it’ either the bench or a trade. For what it’s worth, he was money near the goal-line and some beat writers have said he will get carries. Can’t imagine him helping out a fantasy team outside of touchdown heavy leagues.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Don’t ever count this guy out, but his value all depends on health, something he has struggled with the past two years. If healthy, the Broncos will be hard-pressed to keep him off the field, if not, he is cut bait. Even with health though, they may rather use Anderson in the red zone to limit his wear and tear. In his age 31 season, he’s the ultimate risk/reward pick. He’s going to either shoot up or off these rankings in the coming weeks and his coach has stated that he doesn't have a good read on him until he actually plays in the pre-season.
Damien Williams, Dolphins – The handcuff to Ajayi and they really do love him. Drake would split some work with him if Ajayi went down, but Williams would be the back to own. Underrated athleticism and talent. Stands 5’11” 222 pounds with 4.45 forty speed.
Javorius Allen, Ravens - Allen is a good NFL running back, not great, not bad, but good. He is a big guy, standing 6’0” 221 pounds who is a one cut downhill runner and a very capable receiver out of the backfield. He’s a guy that does everything well, and could certainly hold value this year if West falters or if Woodhead gets injured. He’s a bit of a forgotten guy.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings – This backfield got mighty crowded with the additions of Murray and rookie Cook. Not much value unless there is an injury in front of him or if Murray gets traded or cut.
Tyler Ervin, Texans – He stands 5’10” 192 pounds with 4.41 forty speed, has good balance and will form a committee if Lamar Miller went down as possible passing down back. There has been a steady stream of reports of him playing very well in camp.
D’Angelo Williams – He has yet to sign, but like we saw with Jay Cutler, once an injury occurs, he could have immediate opportunity.
Jeremy McNichols, Tampa Bay - McNichols is an unknown, as a former wide receiver converted to a running back recently. Seems like a player that could eat more into Sims role, although he could also be a weekly inactive. Think Jerick McKinnon, someone who has talent but needs some time to be a runner in the league. If Sims is cut, then move him up, but he's not someone to likely help your fantasy team that much this season.
Devontae Booker, Broncos – Despite his size, he’s more of a complimentary back and will hold little value unless Charles and Anderson both get hurt. In fact he may even be behind rookie D’Angelo Henderson since Booker is dealing with an injury early in camp. The Broncos move to a power/gap run scheme could help him, but dealing with a broken wrist so he hasn't even practiced all pre-season.
Aaron Jones, Packers – He had the third highest SPARQ score of this year's crop and although highly touted, he looks to be fourth on the depth chart at the moment. It’s a murky situation in Green Bay, which should hopefully gain more clarity when we get deeper into August.
Corey Grant, Jaguars - A guy to watch with Fournette banged up and he has a chance to be his handcuff. He stands 5’11" 205 pounds with 4.3 jets and put up 18/122/1 in week 17 last year and over 120 yards in the first pre-season.
Ryan Mathews, Eagles – Value depends on the landing spot. Total shot in the dark at this point and coming off injury.
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins – More of a package specific player and not sure he would be their lead back even if Ajayi went down. Still not very good at pass protection, which isn’t good if you are trying to be the passing down back.
Alfred Blue, Texans – His a veteran, so has a chance to play if Foreman can’t get it done as a do everything okay sort of back.
Elijah Hood, Raiders - The sleeper handcuff to Lynch. He stands 5'11" 232 pounds and is a bruiser, although not overally athletic. Outside chance to be Lynch’s handcuff, but I doubt it.
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