2017 Early Rankings: Running Backs

2017 Early Rankings: Running Backs

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Mar 28, 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 six Top 6 seasons in the last seven 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 Paulsen on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Below you'll find my second 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 underway, and 4for4 subscribers may be wondering where I stand on certain players heading into the offseason.

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 in My Fantasy League ADP, which compiles ADP data for MFL10s. 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 David Johnson ARI 26.6 20.0 57% 0
2 LeVeon Bell PIT 26.3 23.7 43% 0
3 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 21.7 21.7 36% 0
4 LeSean McCoy BUF 21.1 18.1 44% 2
5 Melvin Gordon SD 19.3 13.3 70% -1
6 Devonta Freeman ATL 17.0 19.2 54% -1
7 Jordan Howard CHI 15.5 15.5 55% 0
8 Jay Ajayi MIA 14.6 11.1 81% 1
9 DeMarco Murray TEN 19.4 16.0 50% 1
10 Lamar Miller HOU 13.7 14.3 63% 1
11 Carlos Hyde SF 14.6 13.6 65% 1
12 Mark Ingram NO 14.4 15.5 47% 2
13 Todd Gurley LA 12.4 14.1 51% -5
14 C.J. Anderson DEN 14.6 10.9 74% 1
15 Spencer Ware KC 13.9 12.0 70% 2
16 Tevin Coleman ATL 14.7 9.1 94% 3
17 Theo Riddick DET 16.2 13.3 48% 13
18 Ty Montgomery GB 9.4 9.4 102% 6
19 Eddie Lacy SEA 8.6 9.3 72% 6
20 Isaiah Crowell CLE 12.5 10.7 68% -2
21 Rob Kelley WAS 9.9 9.9 85% 8
22 Latavius Murray MIN 15.7 14.2 48% 0
23 Danny Woodhead BAL 13.6 15.1 66% 10
24 Dion Lewis NE 7.9 12.9 55% 17
25 Ameer Abdullah DET 13.4 8.1 77% 2
26 Giovani Bernard CIN 12.2 11.9 42% 5
27 Bilal Powell NYJ 11.6 11.9 74% 5
28 Jamaal Charles - 4.5 14.3 75% 15
29 Rex Burkhead NE 3.2 2.9 114% 9
30 Frank Gore IND 13.6 13.0 42% 16
31 Matt Forte NYJ 13.1 14.5 58% 9
32 Derrick Henry TEN 6.6 6.6 91% -11
33 Adrian Peterson - 3.0 14.2 65% -5
34 Jeremy Hill CIN 11.8 10.8 64% 3
35 Jonathan Stewart CAR 11.0 11.8 53% 7
36 Jacquizz Rodgers TB 9.1 8.2 77% 24
37 Darren Sproles PHI 11.1 10.1 56% 22
38 Kenneth Dixon BAL 7.9 7.9 82% -3
39 LeGarrette Blount - 14.8 12.8 61% 6
40 DeAndre Washington OAK 6.0 7.9 109% 18
41 Paul Perkins NYG 5.6 5.6 42% -7
42 Doug Martin TB 10.7 13.0 60% 6
43 Duke Johnson CLE 9.6 10.0 50% -4
44 Charles Sims TB 9.7 10.7 52% 6
45 C.J. Prosise SEA 10.2 10.2 84% -19
46 Chris Ivory JAX 8.6 11.6 61% 21
47 Jerick McKinnon MIN 8.6 6.8 97% 0
48 Thomas Rawls SEA 8.5 9.8 105% -12
49 Ryan Mathews PHI 10.9 11.4 59% 16
50 T.J. Yeldon JAX 9.2 10.9 50% 2
51 Jalen Richard OAK 7.7 10.7 70% 5
52 James White NE 10.3 10.0 70% -1
53 Terrance West BAL 10.9 8.4 85% 9
54 Mike Gillislee BUF 8.1 9.1 81% 0
55 Wendell Smallwood PHI 4.0 5.0 103% 8
56 Chris Thompson WAS 9.2 10.9 46% 5
57 Christine Michael GB 9.6 10.1 98% -
58 Zach Zenner DET 7.2 6.6 79% -
59 Shane Vereen NYG 7.6 7.3 75% 7
60 Kyle Juszczyk BAL 4.6 6.8 73% -

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 team is likely to scale back his workload some, but Danny Woodhead is out of the picture so Gordon is the clear RB1 for the Chargers after a stellar sophomore season.

Speaking of Danny Woodhead, he landed in Baltimore where he'll serve as the passing down back. Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first four games, so Woodhead (and Terrance West) will have a chance to establish themselves. If he stays healthy, Woodhead should continue to be one of the more productive PPR backs.

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. The addition of Benny Cunningham may put a dent into Howard's work on passing downs.

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.

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.

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 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. Washington has indicated that they may look to upgrade the running game, so Kelley's touches aren't safe.

Eddie Lacy landed in Seattle. When he's fit and motivated, I believe he's a top 15 fantasy back. The offensive line is a problem, but Lacy's contract has weight benchmarks that he'll have to meet, so I don't think fitness will be an issue.

Dion Lewis is healthy, and in the five games leading up to the Super Bowl, Lewis saw 69 touches to LeGarrette 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 and the team added Rex Burkhead in free agency. With Blount possibly out of the picture, Burkhead will have a chance to start and serve as the team's goal line back. He also has pass-catching ability, so he coud carve out a significant niche in New England. If everyone stays healthy, I think Lewis and Burkhead will be neck-and-neck for the most touches, but the Patriots are fickle when it comes to roles for their running backs.

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. He's coming off of double wrist surgery.

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. Eddie Lacy is gone, but the Packers will probably draft a back, and they re-signed Christine Michael to serve as depth. 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 good PPR option in the middle rounds.

Doug Martin is suspended for the first four games, so the newly re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers has the inside track to start in the first month of the season. If he plays well, he could win the job. Rodgers outplayed Martin last season and has delivered when given workhorse touches. He has seen at least 12 carries in seven games over the past four years. In those games, he averaged 97 total yards and 0.57 TD on 22.2 touches (4.25 YPC). Rodgers appears to be one of the best running back values in early drafts.

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. 

Filed Under:
Preseason
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2017

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