2017 Never-Too-Early Rankings: Running Backs

2017 Never-Too-Early Rankings: Running Backs

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor) on Feb 8, 2017

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Below you'll find my first stab at 2017 rankings for the running back position. I don't generally like to publish rankings prior to free agency and the draft, but I know that early mocks/drafts have already started up, MFL10s are close behind, and 4for4 subscribers may be wondering where I stand on certain players heading into the offseason.

These rankings will go up one position per day this week, so be sure to check the front page if you’re interested in seeing the other positions.

The rankings are based on PPR scoring systems. I’ve included 2016 points per game, two-year points per game (where applicable) and two-year Coefficient of Variation (CV) which measures how consistent a player is on a week-to-week basis. (The lower the CV, the more consistent the player.) I’ve also included the difference (DIFF) between my rank and the player’s current rank at Fantasy Football Calculator, a site that compiles ADP data for early mock drafts. A positive number means that I'm relatively high on the player while a negative number means -- you guessed it -- that I'm relatively low on the player.

Below the rankings you'll find some discussion about a few players that jump out as particularly good or bad values heading into the spring.

# Player Team 2016 PPG 2YR PPG 2YR CV DIFF
1 LeVeon Bell PIT 26.3 23.7 43% 0
2 David Johnson ARI 26.6 20.0 57% 0
3 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 21.7 21.7 36% 0
4 LeSean McCoy BUF 21.1 18.1 44% 1
5 Melvin Gordon SD 19.3 13.3 70% 2
6 Devonta Freeman ATL 17.0 19.2 54% 0
7 Jordan Howard CHI 15.5 15.5 55% -3
8 DeMarco Murray TEN 19.4 16.0 50% 0
9 Jay Ajayi MIA 14.6 11.1 81% 0
10 Lamar Miller HOU 13.7 14.3 63% 0
11 Carlos Hyde SF 14.6 13.6 65% 0
12 Mark Ingram NO 14.4 15.5 47% 1
13 C.J. Anderson DEN 14.6 10.9 74% 2
14 Spencer Ware KC 13.9 12.0 70% 5
15 Todd Gurley LA 12.4 14.1 51% -3
16 Latavius Murray OAK 15.7 14.2 48% 1
17 Tevin Coleman ATL 14.7 9.1 94% 5
18 Rob Kelley WAS 9.9 9.9 85% -
19 LeGarrette Blount NE 14.8 12.8 61% -3
20 Thomas Rawls SEA 8.5 9.8 105% -2
21 Theo Riddick DET 16.2 13.3 48% 6
22 Frank Gore IND 13.6 13.0 42% -1
23 Ty Montgomery GB 9.4 9.4 102% -
24 Adrian Peterson MIN 3.0 14.2 65% -10
25 Jamaal Charles KC 4.5 14.3 75% -1
26 Isaiah Crowell CLE 12.5 10.7 68% 7
27 Danny Woodhead SD 13.6 15.1 66% 10
28 Ameer Abdullah DET 13.4 8.1 77% 0
29 Giovani Bernard CIN 12.2 11.9 42% 7
30 Bilal Powell NYJ 11.6 11.9 74% -7
31 Doug Martin TB 10.7 13.0 60% -6
32 Paul Perkins NYG 5.6 5.6 42% 9
33 Jeremy Hill CIN 11.8 10.8 64% -7
34 Matt Forte NYJ 13.1 14.5 58% -5
35 Dion Lewis NE 7.9 12.9 55% -1
36 Eddie Lacy GB 8.6 9.3 72% -16
37 Darren Sproles PHI 11.1 10.1 56% 2
38 Jonathan Stewart CAR 11.0 11.8 53% -8
39 Jerick McKinnon MIN 8.6 6.8 97% 15
40 Derrick Henry TEN 6.6 6.6 91% -9
41 Kenneth Dixon BAL 7.9 7.9 82% -6
42 Charles Sims TB 9.7 10.7 52% 4
43 C.J. Prosise SEA 10.2 10.2 84% -11
44 Duke Johnson CLE 9.6 10.0 50% 3
45 Chris Ivory JAX 8.6 11.6 61% 0
46 Ryan Mathews PHI 10.9 11.4 59% -8
47 T.J. Yeldon JAX 9.2 10.9 50% 4
48 Matt Asiata MIN 8.3 5.6 82% -
49 Rex Burkhead CIN 3.2 2.9 114% 1
50 Terrance West BAL 10.9 8.4 85% 2

Melvin Gordon was injured in Week 14, so when that week is removed, he averaged 20.8 PPG in his first 13 games of the year, which was the 5th-highest average after David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy. The Chargers are likely to scale back his workload, and if Danny Woodhead re-signs, his outlook may change, but he’s still the clear RB1 in San Diego after a stellar sophomore season.

Jordan Howard took over the lead back duties in Week 3. From that point on, he was the #7 fantasy back in the league, averaging 16.1 fantasy points per game. In terms of likely workload, he’s one of the safest plays on the board since he averaged 20.5 touches per game in the second half of the season. He averaged 116 total yards and 0.5 TD in that span.

I’m a little concerned about how DeMarco Murray finished the season. In the first eight games, he averaged 116 total yards and 1.0 TD per game (21.4 PPG), but in the second half of the season he averaged just 89 yards and 0.5 TD (15.0 PPG). Part of the reason was Derrick Henry’s expanded role down the stretch (6.6 rushing attempts in Weeks 1-8 and 9.5 attempts from Weeks 9-17). Murray’s numbers are still solid, but he doesn’t look like a 1st round pick.

Jay Ajayi had a breakout season, but nearly 58% of his rushing yards came in four of his 15 games (against the Bills twice, the Steelers and the Jets). He averaged 6.74 YPC in those four weeks, and just 3.56 YPC in the other 11 games. Not coincidentally, three of those four big games came with center Mike Pouncey in the lineup, yielding a 5.96 YPC with Pouncey (versus 4.12 YPC without). As long as his offensive line is healthy, Ajayi should have a productive 2017.

We’ll see what the Rams do with the offensive line. Todd Gurley didn’t have much of a chance last year. I still think he's good at football.

Rob Kelley isn’t listed in FFC ADP for some reason, but he was the #15 RB from Week 8 on, once he took over as the starter in Washington. He isn’t much of a threat in the passing game (22 catches on the year), but he did rack up eight catches for 57 yards against the Panthers in Week 11.

The Patriots’ running game will be one to monitor heading into the 2017 season. LeGarrette Blount is a free agent, but given his production this season (1161 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns), the Patriots are likely to try to re-sign him. Dion Lewis is healthy, and in the five games leading up to the Super Bowl, Lewis saw 69 touches to Blount’s 75 touches. However, Lewis lost a fumble in the Divisional Round, and saw just eight touches the following week against Pittsburgh. In the Super Bowl, with Lewis sidelined due to a hamstring injury, James White posted 139 total yards and three touchdowns. Both White and Lewis are under contract for one more season.

The dynamic will change in Detroit once Ameer Abdullah returns, but Theo Riddick was very involved in the one game Abdullah finished in 2016 (12 touches for 108 total yards and two touchdowns). He should once again be a nice value in the middle rounds, especially in PPR formats.

Ty Montgomery started getting significant playing time in Week 6, and from that point on, he averaged 73 total yards and 0.27 TD, not including the playoffs. This resulted in 13.0 PPG in PPR formats and 9.0 PPG in standard in that span. In two healthy playoff games (versus the Giants and the Cowboys) he gained a combined 149 yards and found the end zone twice. His fantasy stock in 2017 will depend largely on what else the Packers do at the position. (Do they re-sign Eddie Lacy?) Montgomery is best suited to be part of a committee since he's already shown a tendency to get dinged up. He'll be a PPR option in the middle rounds.

Danny Woodhead is a free agent, so we’ll have to wait and see where he lands. He tore his ACL early in the year so he should be ready to go by training camp.

There are rumors that Doug Martin could be cut. If he lands in a good situation with a clear role, he may shoot up these rankings. If he departs, it would open up touches for Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims, though the team could draft a replacement for Martin.

Paul Perkins averaged 15.4 touches for 67 total yards over the final five games of the year, and there’s talk that he’ll be the starter heading into 2017. Rashad Jennings is signed for another year, so this could be a murky situation throughout the summer and into the season.

What do the Vikings do at running back? Adrian Peterson is still under contract but it seems unlikely that he’ll be back. If so, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata could tag team the position with McKinnon in the lead role. He averaged 15.7 touches for 72 yards and 0.43 TD over the final seven games (14.3 PPG). In that span, he averaged just 3.82 YPC, though the team struggled in the running game all year.

One of my favorite tactics is to target talented free agent backups when they land in good situations with new teams. It has worked in the past with Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, LaMont Jordan and Chester Taylor, and Rex Burkhead jumps out as a possibility this year. With Giovani Bernard sidelined, Burkhead averaged 10.8 touches for 56 yards as the change-of-pace back. Then, in Week 17 with Jeremy Hill also out, Burkhead turned in an epic 29-touch, 144-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Ravens. As a junior at Nebraska, Burkhead rushed for 1,357 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns. If he signs with a team and is able to compete for the starting job, the 27-year-old could emerge as a great late-round value.

Filed Under: w21, 2016

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