One of the more frustrating positions in fantasy football are the running backs. There are only so many that are elite and can be considered No. 1 backs. There are not many starting running backs in the NFL that are reliable. The key is to get the number one running back early and get another solid one in the middle in the draft. These are the five running backs you don’t want to miss out on for your team.
No. 5 Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
This could come as a surprise but after being a rookie bust, he rebounded in his sophomore season.
Before a season-ending hip injury in week 14, he entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was the No. 8 fantasy running back in standard leagues last year with 254 carries for 997 yards (3.93 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also had 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.
Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. He benefited from Danny Woodhead’s injury and Woodhead is now in Baltimore.
Gordon should have more success with new head coach Anthony Lynn who has been a running backs coach for four teams in 11 years. As well as being a running backs coach, he got promoted to assistant head coach with the New York Jets in 2013.
During his time as the running backs coach from 2009 to 2014, Lynn’s rushing attack ranked outside the top 10 only twice out of the six years with the Jets and his team finished first in his first year as running backs coach with the Jets. In his last two years with the Buffalo Bills as offensive coordinator, his rushing offensive finished first in rushing twice.
The Chargers don’t have anyone on the roster to take Gordon off the field. He will be a standout No. 1 fantasy running back coming into the season and he should be an early second round pick.
No. 4 LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
One of the more experienced backs in the league, LeSean McCoy turned 29 in July but his age didn’t seem to slow him in 2016 and he ranks fourth on my list.
He was the No. 3 fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2016 with 234 carries for 1,267 yards (5.41 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. McCoy also had 50 catches for 356 yards and one touchdown. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years.
The blocking in Buffalo was part of his success as his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 12 of 15 games. He also caught 50 of 55 passes (91 percent).
Some of the concern that comes with McCoy is his age. His time as an elite fantasy running back could be coming to an end, but it looks McCoy isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The addition of fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert should help McCoy as well as new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Dennison has had success in the run game as the offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans at the time Arian Foster broke onto the scene. From 2011-12 his rushing offense ranked in the top 10 in attempts, yards and touchdowns.
His last job with the Denver Broncos was less successful, ranking 15th and lower in those categories, but his west coast offense should help McCoy stay healthy and be an effective runner and reliable in the pass game.
McCoy should be the No. 4 running back off the board behind Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.
No. 3 Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
A big part of his success was the great offensive line in Dallas and he took full advantage. He led the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 rushing yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times last season (one receiving touchdown). Elliott finished as the No. 2 fantasy running back in standard leagues and scored double digits in fantasy points in every game he played. Only David Johnson ranked higher.
He had seven games with at least 20 points in standard formats. Elliott’s rushing prowess, combined with Dallas’ terrific offensive line and run-heavy scheme, will keep him near the top of the running back rankings.
Some concern is always the sophomore slump. He will need to work on his pass catching skills as Lance Dunbar is no longer with the Cowboys.
The other concern is a possible suspension due to a domestic violence incident. Even though he wasn’t charged, the NFL continues its investigation and he could likely miss the first two games of the year according to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter.
Elliott should be a top-three pick in most standard leagues, and a top ten pick in PPR only because he is not a pass catching back like Johnson or Bell. In dynasty leagues he could be the top pick because he’s only 22. In this offense, he could be the best running back in the NFL for the foreseeable future.
No. 2 Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though he was suspended for the first four games last season, Bell established himself as arguably the most dangerous and productive all-around running back in the league.
Bell managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He’s been good for 10-plus fantasy points in an unbelievable 85.3 percent of his games over the past three seasons. B
ell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn’t injured or limited in. In those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. This allowed him to have a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season.
But why he falls to No .2 on my list is not participating in camp due to contract issues. This is like last year except we knew he would miss four games. This time it could be longer.
Bell held out from the start of Steelers training camp and could sit for several weeks according to an NFL Network report. Bell could be a risky number one pick if this doesn’t get resolved. But he is still worth a first round pick as we hope by mid-August he will be back. If you take Bell, likely go after presumed backup James Conner.
No. 1 David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Some players after a good rookie season have the sophomore slump but not David Johnson. He thrived for a breakout 2016 season in Arizona and is my No. 1 running back for 2017.
To start, he was the No. 1 running back in all formats. He was a fantasy stud in every sense of the description last year with 293 carries for 1,239 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns, as well as 80 catches for 879 yards and four touchdowns on 120 targets. This totaled 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches.
He is a force not just in the running game but also in the passing game. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). It seems Johnson could do everything.
He can run with top speed, catch the ball and pound the ball in between the tackles. He carried the ball inside the 5-yard line 22 times (second most) last season. Johnson scored double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues in 15 of 16 games last season.
He averaged 23 touches a game last season but head coach Bruce Arians said he would like to give him around 30 touches in 2017. While this should excite fantasy players, it could come as a concern with his health. In week 17, he suffered an MCL sprain but he’s fine heading into training camp.He won’t slow down with an increased role and he should continue to dominate.
Johnson is a top three pick in all leagues and has a case being the first overall pick in leagues with Bell’s contract issues.
Featured image from theinscribermag.com.
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