Ranking running backs is no simple task, for most humans. This year, though, I’ve found the secret formula to completely accurately rank where you should draft the top 48 backs in your fantasy draft. While I cannot share my secret formula, I’m happy to share its results.
1. Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
In a league flush with awe-inspiring athletes, Kamara manages to look special. While he likely won’t get the volume we’d hope for out of our usual 1.01 projection, instability with Ezekiel Elliott’s contact situation and the Giant’s perfect storm of misfortune have propelled Kamara to the tippy-top of my ranks.
2. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
I was a little skeptical when McCaffrey came into the league, not so much because of his diminutive size, rather Cam Newton’s propensity to punch in those short goal-to-go tries. After only 7 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, McCaffrey’s usage and touchdown totals exploded. Run CMC hit pay-dirt 13 times in his sophomore season, hauling in 107 passes and rushing for 219 times. With usage and TD concerns put to bed, McCaffrey vaulted himself to best-of-the-best fantasy RB status.
3. Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Zeke led the league in carries with 304, (Saquon Barkley was #2 with 261), and pulled in a career high 77 receptions. Elliot only had 9 touchdowns, though, a figure very much in line with the Cowboys overall lack of offensive TDs (the Boys finished 22nd in total offensive TDs with 35). Despite a lack-luster offense, the consistent production and steady volume we’ve seen from Ezekiel Elliot in his first 3 seasons makes him my top overall pick this year – wait, I mean, that WOULD make him my top back.
For now, I believe Jerry Jones and the Cowboys will cave and pay Zeke because Zeke is in the class of special running backs that are indeed worth paying. Despite my confidence that Elliot will indeed play a full season, that sort of blind faith was punched in the face last year with Le’Veon Bell’s situation. I’ve docked Elliot a couple spots thanks to the uncertainty around his contract situation.
4. Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is so good he lived up to the completely unreasonable expectations forced on him when the Giants took him #2 overall. I’ve moved Barkley to my #4 because the Giants offense has the potential to be much worse that it was a year ago. Barkley’s talent is unquestionable, but what happened last year with David Johnson has made me gun-shy enough to move Barkley ‘all the way down’ these ranks.
5. Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns
I’ve decided not to worry about what might happen with Kareem Hunt. I can understand making a case against that mentality, and when you make your ranks you can go ahead and argue. For me, I’m ranking Chubb based on his talent and the potential I see in Cleveland’s overall offense this year.
6. Le’Veon Bell – New York Jets
My only concern with Bell is the Jets offense (read: Adam Gase). Sam Darnold flashed in a few games last year, and he might take a big step forward. He might not, though. We may see the Jets continue to struggle on offense behind their shaky offensive line. Concerns around the Jets knock Bell down my list a bit, but my faith in Bell’s talent keeps him solidly in the first round.
7. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
On the worst team in football, David Johnson managed the 14th most fantasy points by a running back last year. I’m betting Kliff Kingsbury will help the Cardinals take at least a small step forward on the offensive side of the ball this year. Even though I’m not quite as excited as some when it comes to Kyler Murray’s rookie year, I do believe a scrambling quarterback running a spread-em-out system is going to pay off for Johnson owners.
8. Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
Cook battled injury, again, in his sophomore season, not to mention the entire Vikings offense was running in sand in 2018. I am a fan of the some of the changes the Vikings made this offseason. Gary Kubiak is the ‘Assistant head coach/offensive advisor’, and the Vikes took several shots at shoring up their offensive line in the draft.
Dalvin has everything you want in a stud running back except a clean injury history. For what he’s costing drafters at the moment, this is a whole-hearted ‘buy’ recommendation.
9. Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons dedicated a lot of resources to their offensive line in the draft. It’s clear that protecting Matt Ryan and opening up holes for Devonta Freeman were priority 1. Freeman missed most of last year with foot and groin injuries, which begs the question, is this the beginning of the end for somewhat undersized, workhorse running back? Or, was last year an anomaly for the generally healthy Freeman?
Everything we’re hearing so far is that Devonta is back to his old self and ready to carry the load for the Falcons rushing attack. That is enough for me to take a bet on Freeman early in my drafts.
10. James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers
I’m more worried about the whole of the Steelers offense taking a step back than I am about Conner losing touches to the other guys in Pittsburgh. Despite that slight concern with Steelers’ offense, I can’t look past what Conner did in 2018. Even if he takes a step back, he’s still solidly an RB1.
11. Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley is going to make a lot of people look really stupid this offseason. Either his knee injuries are finally catching up to him, or the most prolific touchdown-maker in the NFL is going to give us another 20-ish TD season. Even with the doom and gloom surrounding Gurley’s knee, I don’t see how I can get away from taking him if he falls past the middle of the 2nd round.
12. Josh Jacobs – Oakland Raiders
Opportunity is king, and the first-round rookie should have all that he can handle in Oakland. I’ve seen enough from Jacobs’ college tape for me to believe he’ll beat out Doug Martin and get the lion’s share of a Raiders rushes.
13. Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
It has already been a rough run-up to the regular season for the Bengals. Their first-round draft pick Jonah Williams is out for the season. A.J. Green has what appears to be a pretty bad ankle sprain which is likely to going to mean he’ll miss at least a couple games early. But, on the positive side, there is a hot, young, new coach in town. Mixon is going to get the bulk of the carries and he’s proven a serviceable receiving back. We’re into that range of RBs where everyone has their warts, Mixon’s seem the least grotesque at the moment.
14. Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
The most vexing development early in the pre-season is Melvin Gordon’s holdout. While I only moved Zeke down a few spots, Gordon’s holdout concerns more for a couple of reasons. The Chargers have a reputation of being rather tight-fisted when it comes to player salaries, and Gordon has a history of speaking out against the devaluation of the league’s running backs. These two factors are making me very nervous, driving Gordon down my ranks. Gordon’s talent and his potential to deliver huge numbers in the Chargers offense are keeping him in consideration for an early round pick, though. I don’t see how I can pass on him in the 3rd.
15. Mark Ingram Jr. – Baltimore Ravens
I had Ingram a little higher before the Ravens took Justice Hill in the fourth round of this year’s draft. I didn’t drop Ingram too far, but we’ll have to keep our ears open for glowing training camp news around the potentially electric Hill. This is the beginning of a little ‘boring RBs who may deliver great value or be a huge headache all year’ run.
16. Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
It is not unreasonable to assume the Colts offense will continue to score boatloads of points. Mack is a serviceable but unremarkable 2-down back. I like to think of Mack as the wealthy man’s Lamar Miller in that, while this may not be the most exciting pick, it may be that solid pick that pushes your squad to a championship.
17. Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
If he stays healthy - If the Jags can move the ball – if he can keep his nose clean, Fournette may outperform this middle-of-the-road starter rank.
18. Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions
Kerryon looked good when he was out there as a rookie, and the Lions had an unhealthy obsession with running the ball last year. It is hard to imagine the Lion’s coaching staff will continue their Neanderthalic approach to playing offense, especially when they have such a talented QB in Stafford, but they might. With Johnson you also open up several strong fantasy team name possibilities, which gives him a bump over a few guys below him.
19. Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks
Carson ran well despite the Seahawks coaching staff telegraphing what was coming all season. 2nd-year man Rashaad Penny may end up eating into Carson’s workload, but I’m ranking Carson here because, so far, he’s shown he’s a superior back to Penny.
20. Matt Breida – San Francisco 49ers
I feel honor-bound to rank Breida here. The Niner’s backfield should remain quite fertile in 2019, and when I compare what I see on tape from Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon, Breida looks the most talented by a good stretch. You may not have to take him this high, but make sure you do take him.
21. David Montgomery – Chicago Bears
There should be so much opportunity in Chicago. If the rookie can seize the starting gig, he might be a league winner. With this huge potential upside comes the very real downside that Montgomery may rarely see the field in what is a pretty talented Bears backfield.
22. Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
Miller has proven consistently middle-of-the-pack despite getting most of the touches in a fairly explosive Texans offense. He’s not a very exciting pick, but on the heels of the release of D’Onta Foreman, it looks like Miller is locked in to the RB1 role for an explosive Texans offense.
23. Derrius Guice - Washington
I loved Guice going in to last season, and I’m guessing (ps, we’re all guessing one way or the other here) that he’s coming back fully recovered from his ACL tear. That may be a little wishful thinking, but he is the kind of starting back you’ll end up with if you take receivers or a tight end early.
Adrian Peterson re-upping with Washington is a little concerning, and Washington could be very, very bad even if Dwayne Haskins shows well for a rookie QB. The potential points dearth in DC is forcing Guice a little lower than I’d hoped for early in the offseason.
24. Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
I mean… the Packers should be good, and it sounds like Jones will be the starter. Jones has a little knucklehead in him, and we may be jumping the gun assuming he’s going to dominate the backfield for the Pack.
25. Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles
The Miles Sanders love is starting to heat up in Philly. Please note that adjusting your ranks based on fluff pieces from beat reporters can end up making the ranker very dumb. Having said that, I’ve moved Sanders up pretty significantly because of the puff-pieces coming out of Eagles camp...
26. Sony Michel – New England Patriots
Rostering a Patriots running back can be maddening, but Michel showed both why the Pats spent a late first-round pick on him and why he was available so late in the first in his rookie season. Michel’s knee kept him out of several games last year, and he’s already missed some camp time because of the knee again this year.
However, there is boundless opportunity for fantasy points from New England’s backfield, though, and Michel has that new-breed, 3-down back skill set. This is a very high-risk, high-reward pick that I am very comfortable making any time after the middle-to-late 3rd round.
27. Damien Williams – Kansas City Chiefs
Once the fur starts flying, will Andy Reid still trust Williams as his do-it-all back? Williams has missed time in camp with a hamstring injury which may end up meaning absolutely nothing or this could be the beginning of Reid deciding he’d prefer a trustworthy if unspectacular veteran back instead of a flashier, unproven commodity.
28. Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos
Lindsay had an amazing run on an otherwise dreadful Broncos offense last year, and he’s expected to make a full recovery from the wrist injury that cut his season a little short. The concern here is twofold: are you worried we might see front office pressure to get the 2nd year 3rd round pick Royce Freeman more playing time, and do you think Lindsay’s size will translate to poor durability? The reward is worth the risk here.
29. Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos
The Broncos invested a 3rd round pick in Freeman, but Phillip Lindsay stole the show last year. We might end up with a frustrating fantasy backfield, but Freeman is worth a stash. To be frank…. I’m high on Freeman because Cecil Lammey (if you don’t know, look it up) said I should be high on him and that is good enough for me.
30. Latavius Murray – New Orleans Saints
Murray has been mysteriously absent from Saints training camp, and this is something we’ll need to keep an eye on. If Murray is healthy and plays 2nd-fiddle to Kamara, there should be more than enough production to make Murray a solid RB2/Flex play.
31. Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
While there is some hype around David Montgomery, Howard has proven himself a notch above serviceable in the NFL. While Matt Nagy tries to develop Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears know they’ll at least be able to count on their backs to be productive. Howard could end up the bruising lead-dog in Chicago, and that makes him well worth a later pick.
32. Peyton Barber – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He might be the starting running back for the Buccaneers. We like starting running backs, yah?
33. James White – New England Patriots
Guessing at the Patriots backfield usage has become one of the more consistent fantasy football memes of the past decade. I’d bet a car payment that White will end up with impressive end-of-the-year numbers, but I’d be weary of betting a lunch on his week to week production.
34. Nyheim Hines – Indianapolis Colts
I love Nyheim Hines’ game, and he may very well end up the back to own in Indy. Hines is a guy I want on all my season-long rosters, just in case.
35. Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears
Love the talent, but it’s hard to count on Cohen week to week. He’s a high-upside spot starter.
36. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
I’m starting to feel really silly about having McCoy this low in the ranks…
37. Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans
I’ll go to my death-bed screaming ‘DION LEWIS IS BETTER THAN DERRICK HENRY’, but I’m not excited about anyone in the Titans offense this year.
38. Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
I don’t want to hang my fantasy hopes on anyone on the Titans… I may be too high on Henry…
39. Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks
Keeping with the ‘they drafted him high’ narrative, Penny is worth taking a shot on to lead the Seahawks rushing attack. This is another backfield we’ll want to watch closely as the season approaches. Having said all that, I have Carson a lot higher because I think Carson looks better on tape. Gripping analysis, I know.
40. Carlos Hyde – Kansas City Chiefs
I’ll likely end up drafting Carlos Hyde in every league where I can spare the roster spot. I’m just not so sure Damien Williams is going to keep that starter role. Hyde is the veteran back most likely to only get what is blocked/schemed for him, but also not get Mahomes killed by a missed assignment.
41. Alexander Mattison – Minnesota Vikings
Any running back in a Gary Kubiak offense will have tremendous value. I’m not normally a big fan of handcuffing, but I will not walk away from the draft without Mattison if I draft Cook.
42. Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins
He might be the starting running back for the Dolphins. But, maybe not, though. So… ?
43. Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers
If you don’t believe in Aron Jones, Williams has to be a late-round target for you. He is a serviceable back with a chance to play first-chair for the Pack.
44. Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns
Johnson got some run as the receiving back in 5-wide, hurry-up sets form the Browns last year. He is tailor-made for this role, and even if Nick Chubb gets 70% of the snaps, that would leave plenty for Johnson to threaten as a spot-starter RB3/flex.
45. Adrian Peterson – Washington
I love Guice, but we don’t know for sure if he will take the reins in Washington. I hesitate to suggest even spending a very late-round pick on Peterson, but I just can’t leave ole AD out of my ranks.
46. Tevin Coleman – San Francisco 49ers
While I think Breida is the most talented San Fran running back, I am aware that Coleman may win the lead role. If he gets the volume in the Niners offense, he’ll be an RB2/3/Flex.
47. Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers
I really like watching Ekeler play. He is a smaller, speed and quicks back who plays with total disregard for this body. This can make for some pretty high highs in fantasy production, but I don’t think I’d like to see him get the bulk of the carries. If Melvin Gordon misses time I think Ekeler would see a big bump in snaps but not be the lead back. If Gordon doesn’t miss time, Ekeler is your desperation, spot start RB3/Flex.
48. Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even though I think Barber wins the starting back role for the Bucs, if Jones can beat out Peyton, he’ll be worth a super late round pick.