NFL Fantasy: Top running back surprises of 2017

Is Alvin Kamara a lock as the biggest running back surprise of 2017? Do not overlook another rusher who unexpectedly came through for his playoff team, too.

(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall)

Some NFL fantasy football leagues I participate in are more social than serious. In one such league, I was forced to take part in the draft via Skype. It is always interesting to listen to conversations no one realizes the person on the video call can hear. One such conversation was between two folks discussing the third overall pick. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were off the board. 

“Everyone says we should draft player A.” 

“But I really like player B, especially his name.” 

“But he had a terrible season last year.” 

“Good. That means he’s due for a better season this year.”

“We really need to draft player A.” 

“With a name like that? (announces pick)” 

That is how team 4 got burned by David Johnson’s injury while Todd Gurley and the 8-6 team 3 upset my 13-1 powerhouse entry in the semifinals. 

Fortunately, I won three other leagues and have a fourth in a Week 17 final, so I do not have to dwell menacingly on the results of that competition. It is safer for everyone that way. 

Todd’s time?

Todd Gurley led a lot of owners to NFL fantasy glory over the past three weeks. He was the second-most rostered player on playoff teams of the top three league managers. His record-setting 107.1 standard NFL fantasy points over the three-week playoff period put him in the discussion of real-life MVP and make him a potential top pick in 2018 fantasy drafts. 

Is he the biggest surprise of 2017? Not really. Many folks were down on him after a disappointing 2016 season on a terrible Rams team. But he got enough people to believe a new coach and new weapons around him would let him regain his rookie form he was drafted as a second-round, top-ten rusher in the average NFL fantasy league. 

His 319 standard points heading into Week 17 is higher than most expected, especially with the successful implementation of a passing game in Los Angeles, but it is exactly what fans expected the previous season. So, Todd Gurley makes the top three good surprises, but he is not number one. 

Kudos to the owners!

Drafting running backs proved to be the easiest position to handle in 2017. Of the top 24 running backs drafted, 16 finished among the top 24 scorers. Three of the seven that missed the cut were knocked out by injuries. Dalvin Cook, Ty Montgomery, and David Johnson were obvious victims, but perhaps Isaiah Crowell (27) and Joe Mixon (33) could have made the top 24 had injuries not cost them a few games, too. 

That leaves only three rushers to call draft mistakes. Ameer Abdullah was drafted as the RB-23. He was worth a gamble as a lead running back, but he still had to deal with the fact he is a Detroit Lion, and they simply do not run. Injuries cost him a couple of games, too, leaving him as the RB-40. 

Mike Gillislee was largely expected to take the 2016 LeGarrette Blount role in New England. There were flashes early, but he was eventually pushed out of an impressive committee. He is ranked #53 going into Week 17. 

Jay Ajayi proved unworthy of his overall ADP-13 (RB-6). Not to brag, but I warned everyone who read my preseason predictions that Ajayi was almost criminally over-rated. Outside of a trio of 200-yard games, Ajayi was a below-average rusher in 2016. I ranked him as the RB-30 heading into the draft. He is No. 29 on the leaderboard. He is the biggest disappointment of the 2017 running back class. 

But there was good news, too 

Of the eight runners drafted later who made the top 24, one or two just missed the draft cut. Tevin Coleman was drafted in the 27th position on average, while Frank Gore was selected at RB-33. The unrealized potential of Marlon Mack pushed Gore to his current RB-18 ranking, higher than most expected. 

Four of the surprise leaders occupy the RB-20-24 range. That does not make their accomplishment less impressive when you see the preseason expectations of NFL fantasy owners. Duke Johnson (43), Latavius Murray (48), Jerick McKinnon (87), and Alex Collins (undrafted) are all RB-2s going into the final week. 

The biggest surprises: Dion Lewis & Alvin Kamara 

Dion Lewis and Alvin Kamara are the two biggest surprises of 2017. Dion Lewis was coming off an injury to a team that just added Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to the roster. He was an afterthought on draft day, officially taking the RB-64 position as a flyer by savvy owners. After sitting out a few games to start the season, Lewis made his presence felt. 

He did not get enough carries to be fantasy-worthy right away, but as he developed into the most consistent playmaker in New England’s crowded backfield, Bill Belichick gave him a bigger workload. Even as part of a four-player committee and after missing a couple of games, Dion Lewis enters Week 17 as the 16th highest-scoring running back in NFL fantasy football.

Alvin Kamara was talked up as a sleeper in preseason write-ups, but his position behind Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram tempered the enthusiasm of NFL fantasy owners. His ADP of RB-51 reflected the cautious approach to the rookie. 

As things worked out, Kamara was initially used like a wide receiver, hauling in some long passes early in the season. Then… the trade happened. With Peterson out of the way, Kamara became 1A in the most productive running back tandem in history. Mark Ingram and Kamara took turns leading the scoring each week, often appearing among the top ten scorers list together. 

Just as Kamara has to share his role in New Orleans, he will have to share top honors as the biggest NFL fantasy running back surprise of 2017 with Dion Lewis. This is not just because I can’t make up my mind, but also my boss is a big Patriots fan and I am sucking up.

Both Kamara and Lewis should be considered top 15 rushers in 2018’s draft. Kamara will probably go first and could be a top-five pick if Mark Ingram exercises his escape clause and opts into free agency. Lewis will be pushed out of the top ten with conjecture about injuries and too many running backs in New England. 

Neither will be a big surprise in 2018. 

Thanks for following NFL fantasy at RealSport. Hopefully, we helped you get the most out of your team. Look for off-season updates, rumors, and draft advice throughout the year as we cover the impact of free agent signings, retirements, coaching changes, trades, and the NFL draft so you can draft another championship team in 2018.




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