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Running backs: The elite, the middle and the bargain

Three running back targets for three different fantasy tiers.

Minnesota Vikings v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The running back class is crazy deep this year. Insanely deep. It’s so deep it’s pushing Odell Beckham to the start of the second round and freaking Mike Evans and T.Y. Hilton into the middle of the third! The running back pool, much like Chris Pine’s eyes, is so deep you might just get lost in it.

Lucky for you, I’ve got the map that’ll guide us out of the running back depths and on to success.

Below are three running back targets depending on how you want to tackle the position and how much you want to spend, ranging from the elite, to the middle of the pack, to the guy who could massively outplay his ADP.

(ADP via Fantasy Football Calculator)

The Elite

David Johnson (ADP: 1.04, RB4)

NFL: Arizona Cardinals OTA Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

This should come as a surprise to no one. While I do love Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott this season (I like Todd Gurley, though Paddi does raise some worthwhile red flags with him), I can’t hide my infatuation with David Johnson. DJ was the best running back in fantasy in 2016 and then missed all last season with an injury. BUT, dear reader, that injury was not lower body. IT WAS A WRIST INJURY! Johnson got a year off—something that’s really helpful in the world of a running back—to recover from an injury that doesn’t impact his running or cutting ability. You’re not going to wince everytime you see DJ get hit in the legs or plant because there’s no repaired ACL to worry about.

With either the walking china cabinet Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen behind center, you can bet the Cardinals are going to run the football to try and take pressure—both the pressures of the game and literal pass rush pressure—off of their signal callers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t be surprised when David Johnson is winning MVP this year.

The Middle

Royce Freeman (ADP: 4.08, RB23)

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Royce Freeman’s ADP has been quickly climbing so I wanted to get him in the middle section before he rockets into the stratosphere. Freeman’s biggest draw in my book is that he has no competition in Denver’s backfield. I’m sure Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson will have the occasional role this year but the starting job has been Freeman’s from the word go and all signs point to him retaining it into the regular season.

Outside of just pure opportunity, Freeman is a bigger, stronger back who also displays surprising quickness and cutting ability. He can hit the hole and then bounce outside with his speed to quickly turn runs into big time plays. Look no further than this touchdown run he put together in last week’s preseason game:

Sign me up!

Also, if you’re looking for backs who are even further into the middle, I’m a big fan of Isaiah Crowell this year (even though he might start the season a little banged up). Crowell has shown fantasy potential before and now he’ll be playing for not only a better offense but also one that’ll look to establish the run to help Sam Darnold (because, let’s me honest, that boy starting).

The Bargain

Nyheim Hines (ADP: 12.04, RB52)

This is not only a deep running back year, it’s an amazingly deep rookie running back year. I’m having a hard time understanding why Nyheim Hines’ ADP is so far down but I won’t ask questions. I’ll just capitalize and make everyone eat my dust.

While the current “it” Colts’ running back is Jordan Wilkins, don’t think that Hines doesn’t have a chance to have a big role in Indy and possibly even win the starting job. Hines played slot receiver for the first two years of college before transitioning to running back and in today’s NFL, that means Hines is going to be a matchup nightmare. Just look at how Christian McCaffrey was used last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something similar with Hines.