Oh the conundrum of fantasy football drafting. There’s usually a debate over who to take first, running back or wide receiver? In 2016, the wide receivers dominated the tops of fantasy drafts. 2017 represents the pendulum swing, as we’re back to the running backs on top. I shouldn’t have to tell you the consensus top two picks if you play fantasy football. The real question is, who should you take first, David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell? We’ll answer that as well as address running backs three through ten in our latest running back rankings.
1 David Johnson
While it may be a toss up for some, there is no doubt in my mind that David Johnson is the clear number one pick in fantasy drafts. The man came one game short of setting an NFL record with 16 straight games with 100 scrimmage yards. As you may remember, Johnson suffered an injury early on in Week 17, and was unable to reach that mark. Thankfully, the injury was minor and Johnson shows no signs of slowing down in that offense.
Johnson has been adamant about reaching the illustrious club of running backs who have reached 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, a feat that has previously only been achieved by Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig. Everyone is getting on board with this goal, including teammates and even head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians has always been the kind of guy to have a workhorse running back, and there is no reason why David Johnson should be off the field much this season. When a head coach has his player's fantasy value in mind, how can you not buy in to David Johnson?
2 Le'Veon Bell
With all of that said, it's not to disparage Le'Veon Bell in the slightest. However, Bell does bring some extra baggage, such as his suspension and injury history. He very well may be a better running back than David Johnson, there's just more risk with him.
It would not surprise me in the least bit if Bell outscores Johnson this season. Last year, Bell posted 157 scrimmage yards per game, the third highest total in NFL history. We've all seen his talent, we know how big he is for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He might be the most purely talented player in the league. Beware of his built in risk, but do not let it scare you away from him.
3 LeSean McCoy
The clear number three on this list is LeSean McCoy. McCoy is one of the few workhorses left in the league, and he very well could have finished as a top two running back last year. McCoy finished fourth, but take into account that back up running back Mike Gillislee vultured away eight touchdowns from Shady. If we give just five of those eight touchdowns to McCoy, he finishes second behind David Johnson. With Gillislee out of the picture, the sky is the limit for McCoy.
The real challenge for owners is their outlook of this Bills offense. A team that led the league in rushing last year lost their offensive coordinator and head coach, and now face a bit of uncertainty. The good news for McCoy owners is that Tyrod Taylor isn't the type to throw the ball 25 times a game, even in a "new" offense. The new regime is still looking to run quite a bit, and with the departure of Sammy Watkins, there is no doubt that McCoy is the most talented player on that offense.
4 Devonta Freeman
Number four is where most running back rankings differ, and here at RealSport, we have Devonta Freeman in the four spot. The clear number one back on a high powered offense, there isn't much that Freeman can't do. He's got great speed, he can power through defenders, and he's a great pass catcher and route runner.
Believe it or not, Devonta Freeman is the only running back to rush for 1,000 yards in both 2015 and 2016. Even though Freeman's carries were cut by 38 last year, he ran for 23 more yards in 2016. Freeman raised his yards per carry by almost a full yard in 2016, and much of that is thanks to the offensive line improvements made in the 2016 offseason. Even though they lost their offensive coordinator, Freeman should still see plenty of work and finish the year as a top five running back.
5 Melvin Gordon
After having zero touchdowns in 2015, Gordon put the ghosts of his rookie season behind him when he scored 12 touchdowns in 2016. He found a way to keep fantasy owners happy on a weekly basis despite averaging under four yards per carry. The good news for Gordon is that he is receiving Anthony Lynn as his new head coach.
Lynn was an offensive mastermind at Buffalo, and his team led the league in rushing. Being a former running back himself, Anthony Lynn has shown his talents in his short time in the league. Throw in the offensive line improvements for the Chargers, and it should result in a prolific year for the third year running back.
6 DeMarco Murray
Who would have thought that all you need to do with DeMarco Murray is to stop running him out of the shotgun? Why not run him north and south like he did in Dallas? Why didn't Chip Kelly think of that?
Yes, many left DeMarco Murray for dead after his horrid year with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, in an offense that actually utilized his talents, Murray showed us why he should be included with the best running backs in the league.
I know people want to crown Derrick Henry as the running back of the future, but Murray isn't going anywhere. He had a tremendous year, and he's running behind the best offensive line in the league. Yes, believe it or not, the Dallas Cowboys are not the best offensive line in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, the Titans have surpassed them very quietly. Point being, DeMarco still has plenty in the tank, don't let the age fool you.
7 Jordan Howard
Despite only starting 13 games last season, Jordan Howard finished with 1313 rushing yards, good for second in the league. There's no doubt that the second year back is super talented, but he's not in the best situation. In case you haven't watched football since 2010, the Chicago Bears aren't good.
They're in a rebuilding mode, and their offense has really no good pieces left except for Howard. There is bound to be plenty of negative game scripts for Howard this year, bringing his workload into question.
Much like Isaiah Crowell did last year, Howard will likely have to do most of his damage in the first half in order to stay on the field late in the game. That's not to say he can't do it, but it's not the traditional workhorse role. You're drafting Jordan Howard for the talent, not the situation.
8 Todd Gurley
Any fantasy owner who owned Todd Gurley in 2016 will be cursing his name for the rest of their life. Honestly, I can't blame you. Gurley had an awful season, but he still carried the ball 278 times, which was fifth in the league.
There's two things you're looking for in fantasy football: talent and opportunity. Ideally, you'd like both, but you'll take just one if you can get it. There's no doubt that Todd Gurley will get the opportunity, but does he have the talent?
We've seen glimpses of his talent, but not really since his rookie year. I'd like to believe it's still there, but he could easily let fantasy owners down again this year. There's no doubt he had an abysmal season in 2016, so the question you have to ask yourself is can it get any worse? With Jeff Fisher out of town, I doubt Gurley or his situation can get any worse. Plus, they improved their offensive line this offseason, which is a welcome sight to the man who only averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year.
9 Jay Ajayi
Earlier this offseason, I wasn't a believer in Jay Ajayi. That all changed once they got Jay Cutler, who I believe in much less than Ajayi. Many will argue that the majority of Ajayi's production came in such few games and that it is an unsustainable pace. I believe in a more balanced year for Ajayi, and he surely has the opportunity. There isn't much competition behind him, and he's already proven to be a three down back.
I think his role will expand with Cutler under center. We've seen Cutler often pass to his running backs out of desperation after holding onto the ball for an eternity. Ajayi can be a safety blanket for Cutler, and he's plenty capable of it. While he wasn't used much in the passing game last year, Ajayi caught 77 percent of his targets. Expect a big workload for the third year back this year.
10 Leonard Fournette
The only rookie to crack our top ten, Fournette has high expectations heading into his debut. After drafting Toby Gerhart in the fifth round many moons ago, I vowed to never draft another Jaguars running back. Leonard Fournette has made me break that promise. He was an incredible talent in high school, college, and drew comparisons to Adrian Peterson. He's the most dynamic offensive player the Jaguars have had in a long time.
This is a classic case of opportunity with the promise of talent. We know Fournette will have the opportunity because Doug Marrone has already spoken it into existence. In one of my favorite quotes of the offseason, Doug Marrone said, ideally, he'd like Blake Bortles to throw the ball zero times per game. Of course, he was speaking to the fact that he wants to get back to a smash mouth, run-first offense, but the quote was humorous nonetheless. We could see Fournette average over 20 carries per game, and if he's half the player we are being promised, he'll return great value to your fantasy team.
Did we miss someone in our top ten? Let us know in the comments!
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