Just when you thought it was safe to post a final rankings midway through July…
Le’Veon Bell gets suspended, Arian Foster is signed, a Dion Lewis has knee surgery…mass hysteria! With fantasy drafts already happening, it’s now or never to update the rankings. Rosters are closer to being set and depth charts are starting to seem clearer.
Here is my final Top 40 Fantasy Running Back list…until the next dramatic roster change.
1. Todd Gurley, Rams
Early candidate for the Hard Knocks draft bump goes to…
Besides the freakish talent, athleticism and stats from his rookie year (1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games), another thing Todd Gurley has going for him will be his usage in the upcoming season. The Rams offense hasn’t improved much in the offseason, outside of #1 overall pick Jared Goff. Will Gurley be prepared to handle defenses that fill 9 players into the box? Look to Adrian Peterson as an example of someone who wasn’t phased by it, and consider Gurley to be a younger and faster version of him.
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Adrian Peterson has posted 10+ touchdown in 8 of the 9 seasons he has played, and has also averaged 1,689 yards from scrimmage in each of those seasons. You can’t expect him to give you receiving points anymore and he only plays on the first 2 downs, but even at age 31 you can’t let him go out of your first round.
3. David Johnson, Cardinals
David Johnson (I refer to him as DJ2K) is going ridiculously high in most mock drafts for his incredibly high ceiling in the Arizona Cardinals offense. From the RB3 spot in their backfield, Johnson scored 6 touchdowns in his first 5 games. When given #1 reps, Johnson showed you why he is rated so high, most notably Week 14 against Philadelphia…29 carries for 187 yards, 3 touchdowns + 4 catches for 42 yards.
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t have landed in a better situation. He’ll be running behind one of the best 2 offensive lines in the league…in a system that is most effective in play-action…and a quarterback who loves to check down. He isn’t afraid of the big stage, from what college fans saw vs. Alabama and Oregon in the 2014-2015 College Football Playoffs. 41 touchdowns in his last 2 years at Ohio State shouldn’t be ignored either.
5. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Le’Veon, Le’Veon, Le’Veon *continues shaking head*
He is the best offensive football player in the league. His 2014 season was proof of that as he totaled 2,215 yards from scrimmage (1,361 rushing, 854 receiving), 11 touchdowns and 83 catches. In the 6 games Bell played before his 2015-ending injury, he averaged 115 yards and scored 6 touchdowns.
…but of course a 3-game suspension makes it difficult to draft Bell early in the first round. You can’t let him get out of the 2nd though. Plan on handcuffing him to DeAngelo Williams.
6. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
In 13 starts, Devonta Freeman ranked 1st in total touchdowns, 5th in yards from scrimmage, 7th in rushing and 2nd in touches. He will have new Falcon/Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to run behind in 2016. Tevin Coleman will get reps, but look for Freeman to be even more dangerous around the end zone this year. Coleman also wasn’t very dependable health-wise last season, but could set Freeman up by taking care of business between the 20’s.
7. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Fresh off the PUP list, but also simply fresher than most overall after an early season-ending injury. Before the 2015 season, Charles was a production machine. He totaled 5,049 yards and 39 touchdowns over the previous 3 seasons. Yes, another injury would be devastating, but the ceiling for a healthy Charles is too high to deny.
8. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Doug Martin answered a ton of questions I had a year ago, including those regarding his health. It was the first time since his rookie year that Martin played all 16 games. While the numbers didn’t quite match those of 2012, he still ranked 2nd in rush yards and 4th in yards from scrimmage. Hopefully former OC Dirk Koetter, now at the helm, will help Martin break the plain of the end zone more often.
9. Lamar Miller, Texans
Lamar Miller was such a curious case in 2015. The Dolphins were 6-1 when Miller got 13+ carries and winless when he didn’t. You can expect Bill O’Brien to give the 25-year-old plenty of action in his new digs. In the same system, Arian Foster recorded 1,573 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in 2014. Miller, who has 19 touchdowns in the past 2 season, is much younger and faster than Foster was then. Fantasy owners should prepare for a monster year out of him.
10. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
In 6 starts last season, Thomas Rawls averaged 118.6 yards per game and scored 5 touchdowns. The Seahawks are ready to roll with Rawls as their #1 in the backfield and he should be an absolute force if he can stay healthy.
11. Mark Ingram, Saints
Mark Ingram stepped up big for the Saints and Fantasy owners in 2015. He recorded career highs in yards from scrimmage, targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Proving he could be effective in the passing game made Ingram incredibly valuable in-between the 20s, and he should build on that momentum within the red zone as well. You should also feel optimistic by the fact that CJ Spiller has fallen down the depth chart and won’t be threatening Ingram for as many touches as last year.
12. Latavius Murray, Raiders
I may be a bigger fan of Latavius Murray than most, but I do believe he’ll be running behind arguably the best offensive line in football and the Raiders receivers will keep defenses on their heels. I also like how much usage Murray got in 2015, ranking 4th in touches, 3rd in carries and 6th in rush yards.
13. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
If there was one takeaway from the Panthers’ offseason, besides saying goodbye to Josh Norman, was their commitment to the run, as their notable moves were extending fullback Mike Tolbert and guard Chris Scott. In order to preserve Cam Newton, the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in the league, the Panthers will utilize Jonathan Stewart in the run game. From weeks 5-12, Stewart had 20+ carries in each game, averaging 86.7 yards per game and scored 6 touchdowns in that span (plus another the week after).
14. Eddie Lacy, Packers
The prospects of the Packers returning to their typical offensive form makes me much more optimistic about Eddie Lacy this season. With the caveat being that Jordy Nelson will bring back some normalcy for Aaron Rodgers, allowing everyone else (including Randall Cobb) to fall back into their roles, Lacy and the run game could be set up to take advantage of defenses that are too focused on covering deep passes. Maybe Lacy will look like the back that recorded back-to-back 1,100+ rushing seasons and 20 touchdowns to start his career and NOT the one that was benched based on merit.
15. LeSean McCoy, Bills
I am not totally sure how LeSean McCoy was named to the Pro Bowl last year, but recording EXACTLY 112 yards rushing in 3 of the 5 games from Weeks 6-10 might have something to do with it. Shady McCoy should be depended on more, thanks to the release of suspended backup Karlos Williams, but it’s starting to feel like the back-to-back seasons of 310+ carries prior are catching up to him. His value in the passing game can’t be overlooked as he continues to build chemistry with Tyrod Taylor on play-action and 3rd down.
16. Jeremy Langford, Bears
The Bears running back situation was hyped as one to watch, with good reason because of John Fox’s reputation to use the back with the hot-hand. Jeremy Langford stepped out in front of the pack, with a solid performance against the Patriots. With continuity in schemes and philosophy, expect Langford to get similar reps on the ground and in the air as he did last year when he was the feature RB. His speed, catching skills, and an improved starting offensive line should help him elevate his production.
17. CJ Anderson, Broncos
You have to appreciate the love C.J. Anderson got from others in the league, including Tom Brady, after shining in the playoffs and Super Bowl. He was a great story when he broke out in 2014 and even better when he averaged 80.4 yards and scored 4 touchdowns in his last 5 games (end of regular season until he lifted the Lombardi trophy). Then the Broncos awarded Anderson for his efforts by matching Miami’s offer sheet. No question, he’ll be depended on in high volume as the Denver offense transitions from the post-Manning/Osweiler era.
18. Matt Forte, Jets
The all-around back has averaged 1,589 yards from scrimmage per season over his 8-year career. He’s missed a lot of time in camp, due to a hamstring injury, but is expected to handle a steady workload in the running and passing game. The Jets converted 22 of 26 goal-to-go touchdowns, leading the league with 6.35 points per situation. Hopefully that’s a credit to their blocking and schemes, which would help Matt Forte’s inefficiency from the 3-yard line and in. He has only converted 17 of 58 tries from that distance.
19. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
The 49ers brought in Chip Kelly as their new head coach and that was really the only change they made on the offensive side of the ball. That also means Carlos Hyde has zero real competition for the #1 running back job (save your Shaun Draughn responses). Hyde had a very promising start to 2015, rushing for 168 yards and scoring 2 touchdowns, but then adversity and injuries ended any optimism for the 49ers and his season by Week 7. 2016 will be a serious PROVE IT year for both Hyde and Kelly.
20. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
Like Hyde, Jeremy Hill started 2015 with tons of promise by awarding those who drafted him high with 2 touchdowns. Then he frustrated them with immense inconsistency until Week 10, despite a 3 TD performance in Week 4 (good for you if you started him). We found out down the stretch that Hill’s game does not translate particularly well between the 20’s but can be devastating in the red zone. He scored 11 of his 12 touchdowns from within 10 yards of the end zone. Maybe the touchdown totals should have him ranked higher, but his split-back status should give you pause to draft him high.
21. Ryan Mathews, Eagles
Ryan Mathews is the starting running back in Doug Peterson’s new Eagles offense, designating Darren Sproles to 3rd down and special teams situations (where Sproles is at his best). The 2011 Pro Bowler filled in fine when DeMarco Murray went missing, scoring 6 touchdowns in 13 games and averaging 5 yards per carry. The Eagles were a complete mess for mostof 2015 though, and Peterson brings are well-structured running game that made Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware into viable fantasy options last season.
22. DeMarco Murray, Titans
DeMarco Murray made the Cowboys relevant on the field again, with Pro Bowl seasons in 2013 and ’14, but fell into something weird with Philadelphia in 2015. Now he has a chance to prove it “was them, not him” in 2016 with the run-happy Tennessee Titans. The question is…how much use will he get in a backfield that includes receiving back Dexter McCluster and reigning Heisman winner Derrick Henry?
23. Arian Foster, Dolphins
There’s a lot of risk to selecting Arian Foster. He hasn’t played a full season since 2012, he just missed an entire season, and he’s playing in a new system…Fortunately, he’s playing in a very RB-friendly scheme under new Dolphins coach Adam Gase. Despite sitting out the first preseason game, Foster is expected to win the starting running back job and his 1,573 total yard/13 touchdown output in 2014 is too hard to ignore by the middle rounds of your draft.
24. DeAngelo Williams, Steelers
In just 10 starts, Williams tied the league high for rushing touchdowns and totaled 1,274 yards from scrimmage. Deja vu, he’s starting the season for the Steelers again because of a Le’Veon Bell suspension. Best case scenario, you handcuff Williams to Bell in your draft. Based on the recent track record, Bell could get hurt again (like last year) and the Steelers offense won’t skip a beat with Williams carrying the rock.
25. Matt Jones, Washington
High on the over-valued list is Matt Jones, who has assumed the #1 running back role in Washington with Alfred Morris now in Dallas. In 13 games last year, Jones scored just 4 touchdowns (3 rush and 1 receiving). Their offense was clicking much more when Kirk Cousins was finding his receivers deep and Jordan Reed in the end zone. Perhaps another year in the system and confidence from coach Jay Gruden will reward Jones more opportunities, especially in the red zone.
26. Justin Forsett, Ravens
Justin Forsett was one of the best stories of 2014, filling the void Ray Rice left by earning his first Pro Bowl invitation and recording career highs in total yards (1,529), touchdowns (8) and receptions (44). The Ravens offense hit a serious snag as both Forsett and Joe Flacco went down after 10 games. Forsett can bounce back and return to being a Fantasy force again, but he will have Javorius Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon ready to step in if he can’t.
27. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
TJ Yeldon was steady in his rookie season, but never put together the monster game that people expected. The Jaguars were regularly playing from behind and were forced to pass most of the time. While the addition of Chris Ivory may appear as a bad sign for Yeldon’s reps, it could actually prove to be the opposite. Yeldon could learn from the veteran back, and will be depended on more in passing downs. If the Jaguars’ passing attack can strike first against opponents, they’ll be able to control the clock and pace with Yeldon running.
28. Danny Woodhead, Chargers
For as long as Philip Rivers is playing quarterback and head coach Mike McCoy is influencing the Chargers offense, Danny Woodhead will be a fixture in Fantasy Football. The Chargers don’t have a vaunted defense and you can’t bank on Melvin Gordon bouncing back, but you can plan for Woodhead to get plenty of attention from the quarterback who threw more passes than anyone last season.
29. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins
Jay Ajayi started the summer as Miami’s clear #1 RB, with great potential for a breakout season. Then when the Dolphins signed the imm more proven Foster, everything changed. Foster isn’t as surefire a choice for the starting role as one would assume though. Ajayi started the first two games of the preseason, and Adam Gase may have tipped his hand with the reps he gave the 2nd year back.
30. Rashad Jennings, Giants
Rashad Jennings had his most productive season in New York last year. He totaled 1,159 yards from scrimmage and had a serious uptick in rush attempts, but only hit pay dirt 4 times all season. The Giants are better known for throwing the ball and Shane Vereen had twice as many targets as Jennings (81 to 40). For now, Jennings is their #1 back.
31. Ameer Abdullah, Lions
Ameer Abdullah was high on many lists, last season, as a strong sleeper pick coming out of the draft. Unfortunately, the Lions had different plans. Abdullah would start games with a big run or a string of big downs, but then he wouldn’t see a single rush or target his way again. Theo Riddick was actually getting Woodhead-esque work as games progressed, finishing the season with 80 catches on 99 targets. If the Lions want to find balance though, they’ll want to hand the ball off to Abdullah.
32. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
It’s difficult to put a lot of stock in Melvin Gordon, but the Chargers are giving him every chance to bounce back. They were never totally healthy at offensive line in 2015 and they could be poised to get ahead of teams early in games, capable of controlling the pace by handing off to Gordon. If he’s the starting running back in San Diego, he’ll have more value than most running backs in the league.
33. Duke Johnson Jr., Browns
Duke Johnson Jr could very well be Hue Jackson’s new Giovani Bernard. When he received more game reps, Johnson became a strong PPR threat and finished with 61 receptions. The Browns may be playing from behind a lot in 2016 and that gives him a significant edge over Isaiah Crowell.
34. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
Gio Bernard recorded a career high in rushing yards, but had most of his touchdowns “vultured” by Hill. It was clear that Bernard is a better running back and he is capable from scoring from anywhere on the field. After the recent departures of Andy Dalton’s #2 and #3 receivers, there’s a good chance Bernard could be spreading out more as well.
35. Chris Ivory, Jaguars
The Jaguars aren’t looking like the punchline that they used to anymore. They have one of the best WR duos in football, and you could be saying something similar about their backfield as well. Chris Ivory was Top 5 in rushing yards and Top 10 in rushing touchdowns a year ago, and could be a dangerous goal-line weapon while splitting carries with TJ Yeldon.
36. Bilal Powell, Jets
Bilal Powell could be a huge sleeper this season, as he showed to be a PPR stud down the stretch in 2015. After returning from injury in Week 10, Powell averaged 5.3 catches per game. There’s also no telling how Forte will hold up for the whole season and Powell has a much better nose for the end zone.
37. James White, Patriots
Following the news of Dion Lewis’ need for a second knee surgery and no set timetable for a return, James White immediately emerged as a popular candidate to fill his role. In the final 5-game stretch of 2015, White averaged 5.6 receptions per game and scored a touchdown in 4 straight before the final game of the regular season. He’s been better utilized as a pass catcher out of the backfield and a makes for a reliable weapon between the 20s. There’s solid mid-round value for White if he is dubbed Bill Belichick’s opening day starter.
38. Frank Gore, Colts
Right now, Frank Gore is the #1 running back in Indianapolis but how long does 33-year-old running back have to maintain that role. In 2015, Gore finished with the lowest amount of rush yards after completing a full 16-game season and his 7 touchdowns were recorded in just 5 games.
39. Christine Michael, Seahawks
Christine Michael has looked really good in preseasons of the past, but it never seems to translate to the regular season. His vision and decision have improved though, in his 4th NFL season, and that bodes well for the Thomas Rawls’ backup. Rawls runs hard and looks for contact, which increases his chances for another injury. Handcuffing Michael with Rawls would be extremely savvy in your upcoming draft.
40. Derrick Henry, Titans
It’s hard to leave the Heisman trophy winner off the list. Derrick Henry made his NFL debut with 74 yards and a touchdown, all in the 2nd quarter of Week 1 against the Chargers. His pairing with Murray is being referred to as the “Thunder and Thunder Offense”, which seems scary given lightning is supposed to warn of the thunder…and there appears to be know warning with this backfield.
More Position Rankings:
*Updated Rankings Coming Soon*