2017 Positional Rankings: Top Ten RBs
We’re back again, folks. Last week we chatted about the hot topic of running backs by committee, which we can all agree has turned fantasy football on its head and forced us to approach the game from all sorts of new angles. Shifting gears to this week, we have our first set of compiled, positional Top Ten rankings that we like to bring to you every year. To kick things off I will be covering the same exact position that I covered last week. That’s right, more running back talk. And while we’ve already covered how frustrating committees can be, we must also take into account that running backs are still primarily the driving force of fantasy. Now some may counter with the zero running back approach, which certainly has its merits, but allow me to briefly insert my own opinion here. The position of running back, especially the scarcity of skill and opportunity that come with it, make it the overriding position to build your team around. I’m open to all opinions on this though, so feel free to share your opinion with me. Enough flapping of the ole gums, let’s count this bad larry down from ten to one.
10. Todd Gurley – Good ‘ole Todd the god. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he can bounce back this year after a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign. Jeff “8-8” Fisher is finally gone, which means a change of scenery for Gurley and the Rams’ offense. Signing Andrew Whitworth will hopefully bring a bit of stability to the line, but they still need a center, amongst other pieces, to really gel and get this line headed in the right direction. Gurley comes in as our number ten back because of the question marks surrounding the offense and the line. He added a nice element to his game when he started catching passes out of the backfield last year, and that should help to keep him in the top ten for most of the year. Gurley is a nice bounce back candidate of sorts for me.
9. Jordan Howard – Howard intrigues me quite a bit. He was the only viable option in the Bears’ offense last year which is why they kept on feeding him the rock. You lose Alshon Jeffery in free agency, Jay Cutler to retirement/free agency, and this is looking like another rebuilding year for Chi-town where they might as well keep giving the ball to the few very good players that they have. We still have to wait and see what comes of Mitchell Trubisky, but to us this has the makings of a repeat to 2016, where Howard was the only show in town. The only reason we didn’t have him any higher on this list was because of the incredible level of talent of the guys ahead of him. The arrow is only pointing up for Mr. Howard’s prospects.
8. Devonta Freeman – This is one that I definitely missed on last year. Freeman has some of the quickest feet in the game and knows how to avoid big hits. One thing that I touched upon in last week’s article that could possibly effect Freeman this season is the loss of Kyle Shannahan to San Francisco. He turned the Atlanta offense into an absolute juggernaut, so it will be interesting to see how that team performs this year without Shanny calling the plays. Aside from that, Freeman and Tevin Coleman form one of the most dynamic backfields in the game. Having two great options at running back helps to take the load off the other guy, while simultaneously keeping both players fresh and less prone to possible injury. The Falcon offense may lose half a step, but the way Freeman has played three years into his career, there’s no reason to think he’s going to be slowing down any time soon. He has also put up and absurd line of 1,000+ rushing yards, 10+ rushing touchdowns, and 450+ receiving yards in back to back seasons. Whoo boy!
7. DeMarco Murray – Another backfield that we covered extensively last week which could turn into a potential timeshare. Dusting that aside for a second, Tennessee has one of the best, young offensive lines in the game, right up there with Dallas and Oakland. This is what makes Murray so appealing to us, because we have seen what great lines can do for running backs. The Titans also drastically improved their offense this offseason by adding the likes of Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, and Eric Decker. This will only help to open things up for the running game because defenses must take those outside threats into account and respect much more than previous years. 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns should be the floor for DeMarco, barring any injury. Keep his injury history in mind if you plan on taking him early.
6. Jay Ajayi – Opportunity knocks, you open that door; and that’s just what Jay Ajayi did. Last year, just about everyone was putting all their chips in the Arian Foster basket, and giving him the proverbial keys to the Dolphin offense with Ryan Tannehill. All it took was more one soft tissue injury to Foster for Ajayi to come roaring into the league and toss up a few 200 yard bangers. Having only started 12 games last year but still putting up 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns, we see no reason why Ajayi can’t improve on those numbers. That, and the fact that the offense will be in year two of Adam Gase and his playbook, meaning the future is looking as bright as the Miami sun for the Dolphins. I have to say as Pats’ fans, we hate to see it.
5. Melvin Gordon – What a difference a year makes. I know we can say that for a lot of guys, but this is especially true when you look at how much crap Gordon got for scoring zero touchdowns his rookie season. I think the true Melly Gordon showed this past year. We saw how his skilled running ability displayed itself in the form of ten touchdowns, for those who didn’t believe in him after his first year. Gordon also missed three games last year, so he shouldn’t have a difficult time breaking the 1,000-yard barrier (997 last year) and repeating or exceeding his ten touchdowns on the ground. Danny Woodhead is no longer there to pilfer either. The only thing we’re potentially worried about is how sub par his offensive line has been and how little effort San Diego has put into improving it. If there’s anything that may hold him back, it would be that.
4. LeSean McCoy – An absolute marvel to watch on the field, McCoy is showing no signs of slowing down. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given how many big hits he’s able to avoid, similar to a few others on this list. Watching him play you just know how special he is, and even going into this next season at the age of 29, there is little doubt in my mind that he will have another great year. The Bills lost Mike Gillislee in the offseason, who was an effective backup. If Jonathan Williams is unable to pick up where Gillislee left off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCoy get upwards of 250 carries (he had 234 last year for perspective). I would not consider offseason acquisition Mike Tolbert to be a threat to McCoy, other than a goal line theft or two over the season. You know what you’re getting and you know how special the talent is with McCoy.
3. Ezekiel Elliott – This is where we get down to the nitty-gritty; trying to determine the order of the top three. Zeke, Bell, and DJ are the consensus top three as we all know, and for us Elliott comes in at the three spot. Now you can argue that all three can be interchanged, but for us it came down to the fact that the other two have extra seasons under their belt, and they’re both more involved in the passing game. This isn’t a knock on Zeke, as we know he can be effective catching the ball out of the backfield. It’s just that Dallas didn’t use him that way all that often. If this offensive line can perform the way they have over the past few seasons, which we’re all expecting, then you can pencil in a 1,500 yard and 12 touchdown season as his floor this year. His potential is the moon, and he’ll continue to be at the top of this list for the foreseeable future.
2. Le’Veon Bell – Contract matters aside, Bell is among the best in the backfield. His creep up to the line, superior vision, and extreme burst once he sees a hole are just part of the reason he’s our number two back this year. It also helps that he is one of the best catching the ball out of the backfield and when lined up as a receiver, and just happens to play in one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Bell’s elusiveness and ability to put defenders on skates with his agility limits the amount of big hits that he takes. He has been a bit injury ridden throughout his career, but that’s the risk that you take with the position. There is no denying the extreme talent that is Le’Veon Bell, it’s just a matter of his injury history (if that sort of thing scares you off) and his use of the good ole devil’s lettuce. But, at the end of the day you know what you’re getting with Bell, and it’s very hard to turn down that type of production no matter the risk.
1. David Johnson – Remember when the Cardinals wanted to draft Ameer Abdullah and instead had to settle for DJ when the Lions sniped Abdullah? Look where we are now. Johnson comes in as a consensus top three back, and while he may not have been number one on Arizona’s board, he’s number one on our board. David Johnson takes the top stop just edging out Bell, because of the fewer mouths to feed in ‘Zona. That’s not to say that Bell won’t be elite, because he will be, but the amount that his offense relies on him is less than that of DJ, leading us to believe that Johnson will be fed just a bit more. He has also shined around the goal line for the Cardinals leading us to believe there’s no stopping them from force-feeding him when they get down to the red zone. No matter what, you can’t go wrong with anyone in the top three. If you happen to have the first pick, what’s stopping you from pulling a Danny Ainge and sliding back two spots for an extra pick? I sure know what I would do.
And there you have it, counting them down from ten to one. Feel free to send us your feedback and always remember to check out the Trophy Time Podcast and chat with us on Twitter – @TheFantasyBoys, @TFFGurus, @DaFantasyFather, and @DecoyLife.