2018 Dynasty Positional Rankings: Top 90 Running Backs
In the first positional rankings we took a look at the quarterback position. Today we will share our rankings for running back, the position that will assuredly have the biggest shifts as the season approaches and through the season. The reason for this is obvious: it is the most volatile position in fantasy. Since running backs face the most “severe” impacts among offensive positions and have a shorter average career length than the average NFL player, the running back position is extremely important to stay on top of in dynasty because it is ever changing. The value of a rookie RB who projects to be a starter far outweighs the value of a rookie WR who projects to be a starter. The reason is the potential for early breakout is higher among RBs compared to WRs (The 2014 draft is now looking like an outlier). It is widely accepted that receivers tend to hold their value longer than running backs, because they have longer careers and can expect increased targets with growth. If a running back fails to break out they may never get the on field opportunity to reach the touches needed for fantasy growth (this is another reason pass catching backs tend to hold value longer as they have 3rd down job security).
As usual in this series, fellow writer Matthew Bruening and I share our consensus rankings and will follow each list with notes on players who may be more volatile or who we may see differently. We encourage you to comment below or contact us on twitter (@Mesisca and @SportsfanaticMB) because we love to talk rankings, shifts in value, and strategy. These rankings are for PPR leagues and depending on your league setup and size might mean different things. For example, if you are in a standard league, Duke Johnson and Theo Riddick are not players you would want any part of in dynasty because of his very low carry numbers and minimal role beyond pass catching*. So as always, be sure to understand your league and situation instead of just blindly relying on any single rank. If you have league specific questions go ahead and ask in the comments!
Rank Player Age Avg. Rank Mesisca Rank Bruening Rank
1 Todd Gurley 24.1 1.5 1 2
2 Ezekiel Elliott 23.1 1.5 2 1
3 Le'Veon Bell 26.1 3.5 3 4
4 David Johnson 26.7 4.5 4 5
5 Saquon Barkley 21.6 4.5 6 3
6 Alvin Kamara 23.1 6 5 7
7 Dalvin Cook 23.1 6.5 7 6
8 Kareem Hunt 23.1 8.5 9 8
9 Christian McCaffrey 22.3 9 8 10
10 Leonard Fournette 23.6 10.5 10 11
11 Joe Mixon 22.1 11 13 9
12 Melvin Gordon 25.4 12.5 11 14
13 Devonta Freeman 26.5 13.5 12 15
14 Jordan Howard 23.9 13.5 15 12
15 Ronald Jones 21.1 17 17 17
16 Derrius Guice 21.2 17 18 16
17 Kenyan Drake 24.6 18 23 13
18 LeSean McCoy 30.2 19 16 22
19 Jerick McKinnon 26.4 19 20 18
20 Rashaad Penny 22.6 20 14 26
21 Nick Chubb 22.7 20 21 19
22 Sony Michel 23.6 21.5 19 24
23 Royce Freeman 22.5 23.5 24 23
24 Mark Ingram 28.7 23.5 26 21
25 Derrick Henry 24.2 24.5 22 27
26 Aaron Jones 23.8 25 25 25
27 Tevin Coleman 25.4 28 28 28
28 Carlos Hyde 27 29.5 39 20
29 Dion Lewis 28 30.5 32 29
30 Kerryon Johnson 21.2 31 27 35
31 Tarik Cohen 23.1 31 30 32
32 Duke Johnson 25 31 31 31
33 Jay Ajayi 25.2 32.5 29 36
34 Nyheim Hines 21.8 33.5 34 33
35 D'Onta Foreman 22.4 33.5 37 30
36 Alex Collins 24 36 35 37
37 Rex Burkhead 28.2 37 40 34
38 Lamar Miller 27.4 39 33 45
39 Marlon Mack 22.5 39.5 36 43
40 Chris Thompson 27.9 41 38 44
41 Corey Clement 23.9 41 44 38
42 Jamaal Williams 23.4 44 41 47
43 Isaiah Crowell 25.7 44 47 41
44 Kenneth Dixon 24.6 44 48 40
45 Giovani Bernard 26.8 46.5 43 50
46 C.J. Anderson 27.6 46.5 45 48
47 James White 26.6 48.5 55 42
48 Jordan Wilkins 24.2 50 61 39
49 Ty Montgomery 25.6 50.5 42 59
50 Chris Carson 24 50.5 49 52
51 Devontae Booker 26.3 53 51 55
52 Austin Ekeler 23.3 54 46 62
53 Theo Riddick 27.4 54.5 60 49
54 Kalen Ballage 22.7 56.5 52 61
55 Matt Breida 23.5 57.5 50 65
56 Ameer Abdullah 25.2 58.5 71 46
57 John Kelly 21.9 59 58 60
58 Marshawn Lynch 32.4 59.5 53 66
59 Peyton Barber 24.2 59.5 65 54
60 Bilal Powell 29.9 60 57 63
61 Elijah McGuire 24.3 60.5 70 51
62 C.J. Prosise 24.3 61 66 56
63 Latavius Murray 28.7 62.5 54 71
64 Samaje Perine 23 63 68 58
65 Justin Jackson 22.4 63 73 53
66 T.J. Yeldon 24.9 64 56 72
67 Doug Martin 29.7 66.5 69 64
68 James Conner 23.4 68 79 57
69 Ito Smith 23 68 62 74
70 Chase Edmonds 22.4 69 63 75
71 Joe Williams 25 72.5 76 69
72 Mark Walton 21.6 75 77 73
73 Josh Adams 21.9 77.5 74 81
74 Wayne Gallman 23.9 78.5 81 76
75 Bo Scarbrough 24 79.5 82 77
76 DeMarco Murray 30.6 80 59 101
77 LeGarrette Blount 31.8 82 94 70
78 Javorius Allen 27 82.5 64 101
79 De'Angelo Henderson 25.8 83 88 78
80 DeAndre Washington 25.6 83 99 67
81 Spencer Ware 26.8 84 67 101
82 Cameron Artis-Payne 28.2 84.5 101 68
83 Tavon Austin 27.5 86.5 72 101
84 Chris Ivory 30.5 88 97 79
85 Rod Smith 26.7 88 75 101
86 Corey Grant 26.7 89.5 78 101
87 Jalen Richard 24.9 90.5 80 101
88 Phillip Lindsay 24.1 90.5 101 80
89 Akrum Wadley 23.5 92 83 101
90 Jaylen Samuels 23.1 92.5 84 101
Drake is one of the more debated backs in fantasy football. In his five starts to end the season, he had 594 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns. Over those final five games, he was ranked 8th among running backs in both standard and PPR scoring. He sits atop a depth chart which features 35-year-old Frank Gore, 4th round pick Kalen Ballage, and Senorise Perry. He seems primed to remain the top back and continue with what he left off with last season. At just 24 years old, he could be in for a breakout season.
While the previous paragraph seems like I would be more optimistic, I can give a few reasons for concern. His opponents during that run of games were Denver, New England, Buffalo twice, and Kansas City. Denver was the 3rd ranked defense in terms of efficiency against the run, but Buffalo, New England, and Kansas City ranked 30th, 31st, and 32nd. So not only was the sample size small, but it featured 80% of games against rushing defenses ranked among the three worst in football. The Dolphins still project to be a very bad football team and are trending downward. Due to the potential workhorse opportunity, Drake has dynasty RB2 value. However, with a bad team and poor offensive line, temper expectations of him becoming a top ten RB at any point.
Another reason I’m a little lower on Drake than the industry is that the hype is building around Kalen Ballage. We know that OTA coach speak is often hyperbolic, used to promote competition, and praises just about everyone on the roster. However, Ballage is a lock to make the roster and should find himself 3rd on the depth chart. He has good size and has the tools of a great 3rd down back. He may have to wait a bit with timeless Frank Gore going to garner his share of touches, but there is some potential for him to turn into a three down back. He has the ability to dramatically increase his value this season as Gore is on a one year deal and Drake has just two years left on his contract. This is the exact type of player with a low cost that could turn big profits and if you are a Drake owner you will want to acquire.
Saints reached out to RB DeMarco Murray to bring him to New Orleans for a workout today, but he preferred not to work out with a large group of RBs, per source. Murray still waiting for right opportunity and believes he is ready to make a significant contribution in 2018.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 13, 2018
If DeMarco Murray turned down a tryout with the Saints, surely he cares more about a significant role than a super bowl opportunity. It would be easy to dismiss him as a free agent and rank him low, but considering his preference for a larger role and his pass catching ability, an increase in targets with a decrease in rushes could still land him in RB2 territory and one shouldn’t bet that his fantasy relevant career is over. Injuries happen all the time so I do expect him to sign as training camps begin, a role like he saw last year (where he finished RB20) is not unrealistic.
Hines finds himself being hyped all over due to people attempting to find this year’s Alvin Kamara. Let me start with the bad news: There is no this year’s Alvin Kamara. The good news is that Hines is an affordable RB with a pass catching ability (starting out as a WR in college) that, at the very least, should keep him fantasy relevant for some time. His size is going to be a concern as he certainly does not have the build of a workhorse back at 5’8″ and just 198 lb. I have him higher than the industry because if he does carve out the 3rd down role and Andrew Luck is healthy, he might have a safe floor with upside for more (lazy comp: Giovani Bernard).
Jackson is more of an insurance pick who may have been underrated in the NFL draft. Part of the reason this handcuff is so interesting to me is that Melvin Gordon isn’t that good of a running back. In terms of opportunity he has been a great fantasy option but in terms of real world football he’s been below average. Of the 47 RB who had at least 100 rushes last year, Melvin Gordon ranked 33rd in DVOA and 41st in Success Rate. Here is the list of the only players from that list who ranked worse in both of those statistics: Adrian Peterson, Chris Ivory, Doug Martin, Bilal Powell, and Ameer Abdullah. Now, this isn’t my case that Melvin Gordon is going to lose his job anytime soon, but I am trying to show that perhaps the Chargers will want to share some of the touches around, specifically on 3rd downs. In addition to being inefficient as a runner, Gordon ranked 42nd out of 46 running backs in pass blocking rating who had at least 40 pass block snaps in 2017 (Per ProFootballFocus). Further, of all running backs with 40+ receptions last year, Melvin Gordon ranked 17 out of 18 in catch % with 69.9%. The theme here is that Justin Jackson provides upside to touches if he is able to pass Ekeler at some point. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on and could make an excellent handcuff to Melvin Gordon.
Theo Riddick’s highest finish career finish in PPR scoring is RB18 in 2015 when he caught 80 of 99 targets for 700 yards and 3 TD. In the two seasons that followed he finished RB25 and RB26. Having now added LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson, there is no reason for me to believe Theo Riddick will ever have another RB2 season again in Detroit. Even if the team moves on from Ameer Abdullah this offseason, there is little upside with Riddick. He doesn’t even play as a true handcuff because he isn’t likely to see more rushing work barring a couple of serious injuries. The more likely path to a less crowded backfield would be if he was let go or traded. In such a case I would re-evaluate the ranking but as of right now he has two years left on his contract with Detroit and I want absolutely no part of him.
I love Drake going into this year. After Ajayi was traded to the Eagles and Damien Williams went down with an injury, Drake shined in the lead back role. He was able to rack up catches and yards. His only competition is Ballage whom I don’t believe in at all, meaning for me it will be a lot of Drake. A big question on Drake is the fact he’s never really been a three down back for a full season. He’s thrived in a shared role in college and so far in the NFL, so will he slow down as the season progresses? I think not and that he’ll be a top 12 back this year.
Chubb has been hard for me to rank. While I’m not as big a believer on him as most in my opinion he’s moved into a great role. While he’ll likely not have much of a role this year, unless Hyde goes down. He will likely be the lead back by next year in what looks to be a top offense for years to come and running behind a top 10 offensive line. I’m still a little weary about his knee but if you have Hyde or want the future lead back of the Browns, now is your chance to get him before he really breaks out.
Hyde has been a top 12 running back the past couple years on poor San Francisco teams. He now will be playing in what’s projected to be a good offense behind a great offensive line. If Hyde can stay healthy he’ll continue that trend. My biggest fear with him is mentioned above, his replacement has already been drafted, so how quick do they go to him? My opinion is next year so if you have Hyde or need a possible top back get him and ride him this year.
Jackson was a legit running back in College, rushing for over 5,000 yards and racking up 1,200 yards in receiving all in the Big Ten. While some say Jackson is a little undersized and obviously likely won’t take much rushing work from Gordon he’s the backup to own. For me Jackson will not only likely be the backup of Gordon gets hurt, but I also feel he’s more explosive than Ekeler and will take his spot as the receiving back.
This is my ride and die guys. I’ve been on Wilkins since before he was drafted and even more excited when he got drafted by the Colts. While it seems more and more people seem to be coming to his side, some still seem skeptical. Wilkins split time early in his college career and missed his entire Junior year due to an administrative error that made in ineligible to play. When given the chance to be the workhorse he ran for 1,000 yards on just 155 carries. Now it doesn’t always translate to the NFL, we all know that. I however think it will Wilkins is explosive and does a good job bouncing to the outside or just running it right up the gut. I am not a believer in Marlon Mack and believe he’s mediocre. For me Wilkins is the guy to own in this backfield and will be the starter sooner rather than later.
Smith is the new Telvin Coleman. Coleman is a free agent at the end of the season and is proven he can be a top back. Atlanta likely won’t pay to keep him considering they paid Freeman and will probably have to pay Julio again. Enter Ito Smith, he’s a little smaller than Coleman but plays the same game. Draft or pick up Ito and stash him he’ll be the next guy up once Coleman leaves next year.
Penny is overrated for me. He dominated in College mostly against weaker competition. Penny does have great speed, but is often lauded for great hands. He struggled catching the ball in College. Mix in the fact that the backfield is full of running backs makes me steer clear. You can argue “Draft Capital” the fact they took him in the first round, but I see him more as their top guy in a rotation. Mix that with a likely poor offensive line again, I don’t see Penny being in the top 15-20 running backs anytime soon.
Johnson is hard for to gauge this early. He’s a decent rusher of the ball and Detroit has a decent line, so in that aspect I think he’ll be fine. Where I’m concerned with Johnson is the mix of backs with him. Riddick will likely be the receiving back and third down back. Blount will also mix into it in some fashion, likely a goal line back when needed. Until the backfield clears up some I’d be worried about now much production Johnson will be able to get.
Miller has been consistently average for most of his career. You may think to yourself average, but he’s been a top back. Well that has come from insane amount of carries at times. Miller was given the ball 200 plus times three out of the past four years. That won’t happen again this year. Foreman is the future of this team once he’s healthy Miller will be relegated to a backup role, there are already rumors he may be released before the season starts.
* Just a note on looking at data beyond PPR scoring vs. Standard to find value changes: If you were ever interested in finding the biggest decrease in value off PPR, ProFootballReference has a season finder app that allows you to create criteria and sort the results. So for a short example, if you select the RB position for last year, set additional criteria to “Touches” >= 100, and sort by “Fantasy Points (PPR)”, you will get results of all the running backs who saw 100 or more touches last year. Then if you sort by those touches and compare that to the list it originally returned of fantasy scoring, you will notice that there are large discrepancies (for this specific example, you will find Duke Johnson, Theo Riddick, Giovani Bernard, and Chris Thompson all finished in the top 30 in PPR scoring but were not even top 36 in touches). This is an efficient way to see who loses the most value in PPR for dynasty. It is slightly preferable to me for finding player touch expectation differences as opposed to just looking at PPR vs. Standard scoring. For a dynasty league, this is especially helpful to quick check which players might already have decreased roles (e.g. Duke Johnson signed an extension but can’t possibly expect to see an increase in carries with Hyde and Chubb in town). The season finder option on ProFootballReference is an amazing tool that helps with tons of research. -Mesisca
EDIT: 5:00 PM After a well thought out conversation on the reddit thread over in r/DynastyFF about these rankings, I swapped Kareem Hunt from 11 to 9 on my rankings. This thread can be found here and there is some excellent conversation going on you should check it out. Does this mean I am fickle with my rankings? Absolutely not, however there is always room to improve and tweak as we gather more information and think deeper about rankings. Another reason the move was made easy was due to the fact that I ripped into how bad Melvin Gordon is without reflecting that in the original rankings, he switched places and moved to 11 for me. -Mesisca