Fantasy football drafts have a clear one through three in some order: Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Dallas’s Ezekiel Elliott and Arizona’s David Johnson. All three of these running backs promise to be among the tops at the position at season’s end, but where should you go if you have the first overall pick?
Obviously, it’s Le’Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell is the engine that makes the Steelers’ engine go. Bell has been in the league four seasons and spent the last three seasons as the only RB to end up as top five back three times. He’s far-and-away the best back on a yards-per-game basis over the last three years, averaging 141 yards from scrimmage per game. His 5.35 receptions per game lead all running backs in that time frame. Only seven running backs average more touchdowns per game than Bell.
Note these are all rate stats, as Le’Veon Bell cannot stay on the field. He’s missed 14 games over the last three years, not including the playoffs. There was the weed suspension (three games), an ACL tear (eight games) and a mid-foot sprain (three games). Bell underwent surgery for a sports hernia and is expected to be recovered by the time the Steelers break camp. There’s also the 2013 concussion. Bell is the most electric per game running back in fantasy football, but injuries follow him like a dark cloud.
years, not including the playoffs. There was the weed suspension (three games), an ACL tear (eight games) and a mid-foot sprain (three games). Bell underwent surgery for a sports hernia and is expected to be recovered by the time the Steelers break camp. There’s also the 2013 concussion. Bell is the most electric per game running back in fantasy football, but injuries follow him like a dark cloud. This tempers his ability to be a trustworthy #1 back off the board.
Obviously, it’s Ezekiel Elliott
Last year’s fantasy football MVP, Elliott burst onto the scene and immediately became one of the NFL’s most exciting players. He enters his second season with a ton of potential and promise. He led the league in carries (322) and averaged over five yards per carry without a hint of slowing down. He was third in touchdowns, as well. His catches were a bit low for a bell cow back, but that will change this year.
The Cowboys lost their pass-catching back (Lance Dunbar), which means Elliott should take an expanded role in that department. Of “full-time backs” who caught passes (ten carries a game and two targets a game), Elliott was fourth in catch percentage. Expect his targets to go way up and for him to add on to an already extensive résumé. It will also give him a shot at passing David Johnson as the #1 overall back in PPR. However, Elliott enters 2017 losing 40% of his offensive line, which was one of the reasons why he was so amazing last year. This will cause a slight step back in the running department, so maybe he doesn’t leap forward to be the #1 back in 2017.
Obviously, it’s David Johnson
Johnson was a marvel last season, going for 2118 yards from scrimmage on 293 rushes and 120 targets. He also chipped in twenty touchdowns for good measure. He was a force of nature in the Arizona offense, helping to buoy a faltering passing game. While Bell and Zeke are likely the higher talents of the three (though we’re talking 1% of 1% here), Johnson gets the greater opportunity.
The only real questions with David Johnson are the knee injury he suffered in the season finale and the potential change in offensive focus back to passing. David Johnson and the Cardinals are both confident he’s 100% recovered from the knee injury, and the Cardinals have already publicly stated they think he can handle thirty touches a game in 2017. While nobody is going to get 480 touches without completely falling apart, but 20-25 seems to be his floor. With the perfect blend of talent and opportunity, Johnson should be the top running back off the board in both standard scoring and PPR.