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Fantasy Football Rankings: Heath’s Top 12 running backs 2.0

Heath revisits his Top 12 running backs. It’s crazy what a few weeks can do to your thought process.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Minicamp Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

My first effort at ranking the top 12 runners was over three weeks ago. A few things have changed since then.

Here is the updated version:

1. David Johnson

Bruce Arians wants Johnson to average 30 touches per game. That’s a large jump from last season’s per-game average of 23.3 when Johnson was the #1 overall running back in football by a country mile. He had a Week 17 MCL injury that shortened his season, too. But he is healthy now. Why on earth would this man not be your top running back?

2. Le’Veon Bell

Bell averaged 28 touches per game in 2016, but he only managed 12 games. And that’s the discussion between he and Johnson in a nutshell, as most feel like Johnson is a safer play due to a shorter injury history. I think we are splitting hairs. If you are lucky enough to have one of the top two picks in your draft, drafting either of these guys is an epic launching point.

3. Melvin Gordon

Gordon moves up two spots because I expect him to score often and I like his ability to catch passes. Gordon was tenth in the NFL in carries last season (254) despite missing three games. He finished as the RB8 but was a top-three back while healthy. He is one of a select few with the upside to threaten Zeke for the #3 spot. And no, I’m not buying a shred of the Andre Williams hype. I am a Giants fan. You can’t fool me with that junk.

4. Ezekiel Elliott

I am risk-averse in the early rounds, so Elliott is a clear avoid for me in drafts at the moment. I would take Gordon or McCoy at the 1.03 if I wanted to begin with a running back.

5. LeSean McCoy

With Gillislee gone to New England, McCoy is sure to receive another high workload. The addition of fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert may mean he doesn’t gain additional goal-line work, though. Still, last year’s RB3 (in 15 games) is a solid pick at this juncture, even at age 29.

6. Devonta Freeman

The Falcons are about to pay Freeman what he is worth. Freeman was 13th in carries (227) in 2016 and 4th (264) in 2015. Why the dip? Tevin Coleman was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, of course. Freeman finished sixth in fake points among RBs in 2016 and first in 2015. That would seem a negative since Coleman is still around, but the “drumbeat” says Coleman’s role may shift a little this year to incorporate more routes. That fact and the impending contract headed Freeman’s way are mitigating what little fears I had at drafting him. His running role and receiving skills give him a very safe floor.

7. DeMarco Murray

Derrick Henry is only a mild concern for me. He was a stud last year with 4.5 Y/A on 110 carries, but Murray still totaled 293 carries (tied for third in the NFL) and 4.4 Y/A. There is room for both backs to eat in Mike Mularkey’s run-centric offense. Murray is another back who excels in the receiving game, which gives him a floor similar to Freeman’s.

8. Jordan Howard

I bumped Howard up three spots because I just plain like him more than the guys listed after and because I expect Mike Glennon to be an upgrade at the quarterback position for the Bears. Or Mark Sanchez will be. Either way, Chicago is blessed with a nasty offensive line and a studly young running back. Only Ezekiel Elliott (1,631) had more rushing yards than Howard (1,313) last season, but Howard had a better Y/A (5.2 to 5.1). Howard didn’t start until Chicago’s fourth game of the season, either. Last year’s RB9 has a chance to make a lot of noise in 2017. The only reason he isn’t higher is a poor team context.

9. Marshawn Lynch

If Latavius Murray can muster 12 scores in Oakland last season, how many can Lynch rustle up? I realize it may be logical to spell the 31-year-old at times between the 20s, but Murray only averaged a hair less than 14 carries per game in 2016 and still finished as the RB13. That seems like a floor projection for Lynch, who is the RB14 on FantasyPros and the RB12 at FF Calculator. Derek Carr already laid out the game plan for the 1-yard line.

10. Jay Ajayi

I am going to be honest...I do not love Ajayi in redraft formats. He is far too boom-or-bust for my liking. As noted here by Bleacher Report, 49 percent of Ajayi’s 1,272 rushing yards last season came in only three games. I understand we can’t take those big games away from him, but Ajayi hasn’t shown the week-to-week consistency that I look for in my head-to-head games. I am certain to use his boom-or-bust trait at times in NFL DFS, though.

11. Isaiah Crowell

Crowell is up three spots from last time. Recent news out of Cleveland is that Duke Johnson may see time as the slot receiver this season—which is fine, because it keeps him out of Crowell’s backfield. “The Crow” finished as the #15 running back last year on only 198 rushing attempts (20th) and is due for a larger workload. Hue Jackson has stated his desire to run more and has referred to Crowell as the “focal point” of the running game. Crowell ascending to the top 10 or 15 in carries behind what many feel is the top offensive line unit in the NFL will pay big dividends.

12. Mike Gillislee

I selected Gillislee as the 21st running back in our latest Fake Teams Mock Draft (PPR), but I like him more than most of the guys who went ahead of him (especially in standard formats). If LeGarrette Blount can rumble his way to a RB7 finish on the strength of 18 scores and a paltry 3.9 Y/A in last year’s Patriot offense, I see no reason why a superior Gillislee (career 5.6 Y/A) can’t shine when he collects the lion’s share of goal-line opportunities in New England. The Patriots offense looks even better than it did a year ago with Rob Gronkowski healthy and Brandin Cooks in the fold. New England is crazy-scary this year. Some running back is going to be a major beneficiary, and Gillislee could be a league-winner at his RB26 consensus ranking at FantasyPros (RB22 at FFC).

Honorable mentions: Leonard Fournette, Ty Montgomery, Todd Gurley.


Who did I leave out that you think should be in?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Todd Gurley (LAR)
    (31 votes)
  • 19%
    Leonard Fournette (JAC)
    (18 votes)
  • 23%
    Lamar Miller (HOU)
    (22 votes)
  • 18%
    Ty Montgomery (GB)
    (17 votes)
  • 5%
    Other (comment)
    (5 votes)
93 votes total Vote Now