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Consensus Dynasty Running Back Rankings, 2017

Earlier this year we unveiled our consensus dynasty quarterback rankings as part of our 2017 dynasty football rankings, which will ultimately conclude with a pre-draft #Dynasty250, then rookie rankings and an updated 250 once the rookies are drafted.

Today we unveil our consensus running back rankings, which we’ll examine by tier. These rankings are designed for 0.5 PPR formats, so we recommend that you fade Theo Riddick types if you play in standard scoring leagues.

Tier One: The Elite

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
1 Ezekiel Elliott 1 2 1.4 22.1
2 David Johnson 1 3 2 25.7
3 Le’Veon Bell 2 3 2.6 25.1

  • It’s hard to go wrong with one of these three league winners. Elliot’s combination of volume, efficiency, pedigree, health and, of course, that offensive line was enough to earn him the top spot, but we’re splitting hairs.
  • David Johnson avoided disaster with his week 16 injury, but it should serve as a reminder that running backs carry elevated risk of a major injury, 2016 season withstanding. Johnson received an astounding 120 targets to go with full workhorse duty and goal line looks. He wasn’t just heavily targeted, though. DJ earned Pro Football Focus’ highest receiving grade among all running backs.
  • No one can match Bell’s combination of track record and youth. Bell registered Pro Football Focus’ highest overall running back grade.

Tier Two: The Tier Below Tier One

4 Jordan Howard 4 6 4.8 22.9
5 Devonta Freeman 4 6 5.2 25.5
6 Todd Gurley 4 8 5.6 23.1
7 Jay Ajayi 6 9 7 24.2
8 Melvin Gordon 7 9 7.8 24.4

 

  • Jordan Howard leads tier two and is the youngest of the group.  He appears set as the workhorse for a Bears team whose instability at quarterback and poor game script saw them go from the 8th highest rushing attempts in 2015 to just 22nd last year.  Even with such a low rush total and only 13 starts, Howard finished his rookie campaign as the NFL’s 2nd leading rusher.
  • Freeman is the oldest of the tier but finished with nearly identical numbers to 2015.  He again managed 11 rushing TD’s and even surpassed his breakout year’s yardage total despite seeing his carries drop from 265 to 227.  He was used less in the receiving game as Tevin Coleman was used a bit more.  Even with the “shared” touches the offense scores enough to keep Freeman near the top of our running back rankings.
  • Rounding out Tier two are three members of the same draft class in Gurley, Ajayi, and Gordon. While Gurley had struggled all season and averaged a poor 55.3 YPG on the ground, the talent and upside are there if the Rams offense (and Jared Goff) open up a bit more in the passing game.
  • Jay Ajayi’s dynasty stock exploded after his back-to-back 200 yard rushing games in week six and seven of this season.  He racked up 735 yards on the ground in just four games, but in all others totaled just 537 yards.  However the Dolphins offense is very clearly run first and he has emerged as their clear lead back.
  • Melvin Gordon had a disappointing 3.9 YPA but proved to be a strong (for lack of better options) redzone option and finished with 10 TDs in 12 games. The pre-season threat for Gordon, Danny Woodhead, is aging, recovering from a torn ACL, and also a free agent.  Gordon’s chances to remain a 3-down back seem promising and 1,000 yards, 50 receptions, and 12+ TDs is realistic for a full season expectation as he enters his prime years.

Tier three: Guys we liked less than those that made up tier two

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
9 Lamar Miller 8 13 10.2 26.4
10 LeSean McCoy 10 12 10.4 29.2
11 Carlos Hyde 8 13 10.8 26.0
12 DeMarco Murray 11 14 12.6 29.6
13 Mark Ingram 13 16 14.8 27.7
14 Spencer Ware 9 18 15 25.8
15 Tevin Coleman 11 24 15.8 24.4
16 Derrick Henry 10 23 16.2 23.2
  • It’s hard to imagine the Texans offense getting worse, which means we can reasonably expect the pie to grow in Houston for Lamar Miller, who disappointed but still stayed healthy and surpassed 1,000 yards.
  • If you’re hunting for a championship it’s hard to do better than LeSean McCoy, who continues to suit up and beat defenses even when they know he’s the game plan.
  • DeMarco Murray is a big fat “sell high” for dynasty leagues, but few running backs have his fantasy resume. Clearly coaches trust him to be a lead back and get goal line looks.
  • Ingram’s 2016 looks like a perfectly respectable back end RB1, but a closer look at his game log shows that the Saints shifted him to more of a timeshare back as the season wore on.
  • Spencer Ware was an elite pass catcher and should be able to thrive in Andy Reid’s running back friendly offense, even with a Jamaal Charles return.
  • Tevin Coleman was billed as a bruiser coming out of college, but it’s been his pass catching that has allowed him to flourish alongside Freeman. His diverse skill set should give dynasty owners confidence that he can produce RB2 numbers, with upside for more should he ever find himself in a more favorable situation.
  • There was a debate whether former Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry deserved to be ahead of his older teammate, Murray. Surely rebuilding teams will want to make that swap, but there’s no guarantee he can be a workhorse. He caught 13 passes all year.

Tier four: Consensus Top 30 

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
17 Kenneth Dixon 16 22 19.4 23.6
18 Ameer Abdullah 14 22 19.4 24.3
19 Latavius Murray 14 25 20.2 27.7
20 C.J. Prosise 16 26 20.2 23.3
21 Eddie Lacy 15 28 20.8 27.3
22 C.J. Anderson 18 27 22.2 26.6
23 Thomas Rawls 17 28 22.8 24.1
24 Theo Riddick 12 34 23.4 26.4
25 Ty Montgomery 18 27 24.2 24.6
26 Giovani Bernard 22 30 25.8 25.8
27 Isaiah Crowell 17 32 26 24.7
28 Jeremy Hill 25 32 29.2 24.9
  • Baltimore Ravens’ head coach Jim Harbough talked about upgrading at the running back position this offseason, but this group believes in Dixon, who had a steady if unspectacular NFL debut. Talk is cheap.  
  • Ameer Abdullah finally “arrived” in the season opener, totaling 120 yards and a touchdown, but his season was cut short in week two when he went down with a foot injury.  The starting job appears to be his going into training camp, but Theo Riddick’s presence will continue to limit his ceiling having emerged as one of the better pass catching backs in the league (hence his presence at 24).
  • Latavius Murray had a down year rushing the football in terms of volume, but with the Raiders strong offense, was still able to register 12 TDs.  He is the oldest player in this tier, but could have a few years left as the lead back in a high-powered offense.
  • We debated at length about C.J. Prosise vs. Thomas Rawls. It was Prosise who came out on top despite durability concerns, a small sample of work and an age differential of less than one year.  The case could easily be made for either Seahawk as a split backfield is likely in 2017.  Interesting to note that Rawls actually performed better in 0.5 PPR leagues (8.8 PPG) in games which Prosise also appeared than when he did not (7.34 PPG without Prosise).
  • The Packers backfield situation became very interesting when Eddie Lacy went down.  Ty Montgomery emerged as a surprisingly productive runner between the tackles, leading the league in yards after contact per attempt (min. 70 carries) by a yard and a half (Jalen Richard was second).  Lacy has proven he can be a workhorse and is a free agent and remains the staff favorite over his (former?) teammate.  Dynasty owners can dream on Montgomery’s potential to be a very high floor pass-catching back.
  • C.J. Anderson seems to be forgotten after he went down in week seven with a torn meniscus.  His replacements underwhelmed, as Devontae Booker averaged just 3.5 YPA in his rookie season.  Anderson was on pace for 1000 yards, 11 TDs, and 36 receptions.  While Kubiak’s run-focused mentality may be gone in Denver, the new offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, will play to his team’s strengths (as he did in his last stint as OC of the Broncos, leading the league in rushing with Tim Tebow at QB).
  • Giovani Bernard has yet to prove he can be a 3-down back as he enters an important season for the Bengals. Jeremy Hill is in the final year of his contract and has now had back to back seasons of under 4.0 YPA.  The touchdowns are still there, but the edge is given to Gio as pass catchers tend to have higher floors as they age given their 3rd down opportunities.
  • Isaiah Crowell had an impressive year for a Browns player has he averaged 4.8 YPA which puts him right between Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman in that category.  The opportunities were far less than those teams as the Browns were almost never ahead or in a run-first game script.

Tier Five: The tier with same number involved as when slapping hands with other humans

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
29 Dion Lewis 23 37 30.6 27.0
30 Jamaal Charles 26 42 31.4 30.7
31 Paul Perkins 25 36 31.6 22.8
32 Rob Kelley 21 39 32.6 24.9
33 Adrian Peterson 29 43 33 32.5
34 Jonathan Stewart 26 40 35 30.5
35 Duke Johnson 31 42 35.6 24.0
36 Bilal Powell 30 43 37.2 28.9
37 Matt Forte 34 43 39.4 31.8
38 Jerick McKinnon 33 51 39.4 25.4
  • Now that Jeff Janis has more or less officially not happened, it’s hard to find a more polarizing dynasty asset than Dion Lewis. He’s either fatally flawed because he can’t stay healthy, or he has sneaky RB1 upside and can’t be tackled, depending on who you ask. What’s clear is that a healthy Lewis possesses a delicious modern NFL skill set and enough between the tackles ability to give him a shot at touchdowns in the red zone. This rank reflects the upside and risk.
  • Upside comes in many flavors, sometimes even in the form of 30-plus-year-old running backs. Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson are perhaps exhibit A in why owners may not want to wait to move LeSean McCoy, but it’s easier said than done to walk away when the good times are rolling. Both Charles and AP strike us as sensible buys for contenders as end-of-days veterans who can potentially provide another year (or two) of RB1 upside.
  • Jonathan Stewart has yet to give up his starting job in Carolina, but he’ll always be a low upside play due to Cam’s scrambling ability at the goal line.
  • By the end of the season Paul Perkins was the only Giants running back that ever seemed to stand out. He has enough every down potential to dream on and the Giants depth chart at the position is full of question marks. We expect New York to add to the backfield, however.
  • Rob Kelley was a standout in Washington’s backfield, but without any draft pedigree or receiving skills to fall back on, some of us are concerned that he could easily be surpassed on the depth chart by an incumbent or newcomer.
  • Matt Forte has old man, jack-of-all-trade skills, perhaps similar to the ageless Frank Gore, but began to cede touches to the younger Bilal Powell. Pro Football Focus graded Powell as a legitimate starter, but it’s a little late in his career for Powell to become a starter. As underrated as he may have been for years, he’ll turn 29 in 2017.
  • Duke Johnson and Jerick McKinnon were tremendous disappointments in 2016, but both have age on their side and across-the-board skills that can keep them on the field in many situations.

Tier Six: Fringe FLEX plays

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
39 Ryan Mathews 35 48 41.4 29.9
40 Charles Sims 31 53 42.0 27.0
41 Jalen Richard 35 52 43.0 23.9
42 Danny Woodhead 29 49 43.8 32.6
43 Devontae Booker 37 53 44.4 25.3
44 Frank Gore 39 52 44.4 34.3
45 LeGarrette Blount 28 76 44.8 30.8
46 James White 43 54 47.4 25.6
47 DeAndre Washington 32 55 48.2 24.6
48 Wendell Smallwood 39 56 48.4 23.6
49 Mike Gillislee 39 55 49.6 26.9
50 Kenyan Drake 42 60 52.2 23.6
51 Doug Martin 38 70 52.6 28.7
52 T.J. Yeldon 44 76 52.8 23.9
53 Chris Ivory 44 64 52.8 29.5
54 Jacquizz Rodgers 45 64 54.6 27.6
55 Terrance West 47 67 55.8 26.6
56 Darren Sproles 47 65 57 34.2
57 Shane Vereen 47 72 57.4 28.5
58 Matt Jones 47 63 57.4 24.8
  • Doug Martin is suspended for the first four games of 2017 for violating the NFL drug policy and he also checked himself into a rehab facility.  It seems as though his days in Tampa Bay are likely over even though he is probably still the best rusher on the roster.  If you can get him for cheap he is a worth a stash, but his dynasty stock has justifiably cratered.
  • Jacquizz Rodgers emerged as the favorite rusher after Charles Sims went down, it is important to note that prior to that injury, Rodgers never received more touches than Sims.  Either could emerge as the starter in the absence of Martin, but Sims gets the edge because of his superior pass catching ability, which puts him as the favorite to see the most touches in this backfield. That said, we expect Tampa to add a replacement via the draft or free agency. 
  • LeGarrette Blount is a free agent and his owners would love to see him return to New England to maintain his fantasy value, but he’s entering his 30’s and 2016 will likely remain the peak of his career.
  • Darren Sproles has to be nearing the end of his career (right?!), which is why he lands below the other two Eagles backs in Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood. Mathews has the edge as he likely keeps goal line opportunities that netted him eight touchdowns in 2016.  Given the age of the rest of the depth chart, Wendell Smallwood makes for an enticing upside grab in this tier.
  • Kenyan Drake was one of our favorite (based on price) rookies heading into 2016 and looks like a really nice buy low. He may not have what it takes to supplant Ajayi on the depth chart, but his 5.4 YPC and draft pedigree (third round, ahead of Dixon), implies he has a ton of upside should Ajayi go down. Remember, Ajayi reportedly fell to the fifth round due in large part to concerns about his ability to stay healthy.
  • Shane Vereen was a consistent PPR fill in until he wasn’t this year. Vereen struggled with pretty much everything – production, fumbling and mostly health. At face value he looks like a nice buy low, but he’s no longer a kid and this might be what his end-of-days looks like.

Tier Seven: Spec Plays

Rank Name High Low AVG Rank 2017 Season Age
59 Jonathan Williams 53 63 59.2 23.6
60 Christine Michael 56 76 66.2 26.8
61 Rex Burkhead 51 76 62.4 27.2
62 Alfred Morris 60 65 62.8 28.8
63 Tim Hightower 54 70 64.2 31.3
64 Jeremy Langford 48 76 64.8 25.8
65 Rashad Jennings 56 76 65 32.5
66 Chris Thompson 63 70 65.8 26.9
67 Charcandrick West 58 76 67.25 26.3
68 Alex Collins 49 76 67.25 23.0
69 Darren McFadden 61 83 67.4 30.1
70 Zach Zenner 57 76 67.5 26.0
71 Dwayne Washington 64 71 68 23.4
72 Cameron Artis-Payne 59 76 69.2 27.2
73 Peyton Barber 66 76 70.25 23.2
74 DeAngelo Williams 60 76 71 34.4
75 Andre Ellington 67 80 71.8 28.6
  • Prospect buffs were very excited about Jonathan Williams before injuries slowed him long enough for Mike Gillislee to steal his spot on the depth chart. He’ll come very cheaply.
  • Should anything happen to Zeke in Dallas, Alfred Morris will have a chance to run behind an all-time offensive line in Dallas.
  • Rex Burkhead heads to free agency coming off the best month of his career. We’ll have to watch where he lands.
  • Alex Collins didn’t make much noise in year one, but Rawls and Prosise haven’t exactly slammed the door on him, either. We’ve seen from prospects like Jay Ajayi that not all rookies are ready to take off in their first season.
  • Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington didn’t exactly cement themselves as lead backs after an injury to Ameer Abdullah, but they did enough to remain on our radar as potential fill-in starters should Abdullah once again go down.
  • Should DeAngelo Williams return as The Guy Who Backs Up LeVeon Bell (TM) in Pittsburgh, he remains an appealing handcuff in ’17.
  • Andre Ellington mercifully heads to free agency, perhaps escaping some guy named Johnson in Arizona. Ellington only managed a pathetic 2.8 ypc in 2016 and his career high rushing total is 660 yards in 2014, hence his spot at the back end of this list.

The Author

Tom Trudeau

Tom Trudeau

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