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Fantasy Football: Running Back Tiers

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It’s time to discuss what makes for the heart of fantasy football, the RBs. This year is particularly weird as everyone seems to have made the switch to taking WRs early and often in round 1. However, I feel there are about 8-12 RBs that if you don’t get any of them, you’ll struggle to find a consistent, stable RB. Between running back by committee and specialty guys, the days of a true every down back and fading. So pay special attention to my 1st two tiers and I suggest getting 1 of them by the end of round 2.

Remember, these rankings are in the order of my personal preference, so if they are within the same tier, I think all of them will be around the same range for fantasy point projections, so feel free to choose who you prefer.

Tier 1 – Elite

Le’Veon Bell
Todd Gurley
Ezekiel Elliott
Adrian Peterson
David Johnson
Jamaal Charles

If Bell gets his suspension reversed, he’s the #1 overall player. If not he drops to 5th or 6th RB IMO. An argument can be made Gurley should be #1 overall, even with Bell playing 16 games. Its close and a coin flip, either way. Elliott will be running behind the best offensive line in the league. If he doesn’t get injured, he should be a lock for 1500 yards and double digit TDs.

Adrian Peterson finished top 5 in PPG for RBs and should be up there again. You have to wonder when carries will start to catch up to him, but so far, keep riding him. David Johnson is the new hot name this year. He’s in a great offense, and he is not a smallish back that can’t take the punishment. He could be a touchdown monster this year. Charles is a huge injury risk, but if he can stay on the field, he’s just a couple of years removed from being the #1 overall back in PPR. All of these guys are worth of being selected in the 1st round or very early in round 2.

Tier 2 – #1 Type Backs

LeSean McCoy
Lamar Miller
Eddie Lacy
Devonte Freeman
Mark Ingram
Doug Martin

McCoy and Miller are two guys that will be three down backs. Both should be taken within the 1st 16-18 picks. Lacy and Freeman will be the lead dogs on their team, but they do give away carries to James Starks and Tevin Coleman. It will be interesting to see how many carries they lose to them. Ingram and Martin both could easily finish in the top 10, but neither will be in there on most 3rd downs, so it limits their ceiling. However, I expect both to be around the top 10. All of these RBs will be taken between late 2nd and throughout the 3rd round.

Tier 3 – #2 Type Backs

Latavius Murray
Ameer Abdullah
Carlos Hyde
Thomas Rawls
Arian Foster
Jeremy Hill

I think Murray has stud potential but is held back by coaches and the offensive line. Now the line is much improved, and the coaches said they want to give him more chances. Lookout, he could be the breakout star of 2016. Speaking of breakout stars, has everyone forgotten the preseason that Abdullah had last year. Now with Joique Bell in the rear view mirror, Abdullah makes a great sleeper pick for this year. Hyde started off the year great last year, but injuries and a bad team ruined that start. If he can stay healthy, he will be the center of that 49er offense, good upside.

Seattle will be going against the easiest strength of schedule for RBs. So why do I have Rawls ranked so low? They are stacked with Rawls, CJ Procise, and Christine Michael at RB. If one or two goes down, grab the other fast. Arian Foster is one of the best RBs of the past five years, but not he’s on a new team and a year older. He’ll have his good games, but can he hold up? Hill has big potential, but his tag team partner, Giovanni Bernard is equally as good and will split the time with him in the backfield.

Tier 4 – Fantasy Starters

CJ Anderson
Frank Gore
Justin Forsett
Dion Lewis
DeMarco Murray
Jonathan Stewart

Anderson will be the lead down in a run heavy offense. Gore and Forsett practically have the backfield to themselves, neither have a great backup and even if the teams tries to limit their carries, they should have good opportunities and good production. Dion Lewis has LeGarrette Blount to limit his touches but is super-efficient and productive with his carries. Murray could have a good or bad year with the monster Derrick Henry breathing down his neck. Enough carries to go around in Tennessee? Jonathan Stewart would be much better if he could score more TDs, but don’t expect that with Cam.

Tier 5 – Flex Options

Chris Ivory
Matt Forte
Matt Jones
Ryan Mathews
Giovanni Bernard
Melvin Gordon

Ivory and Forte could be top 20 backs, maybe top 15, if they weren’t splitting time with TJ Yeldon and Bilal Powell respectively. Keep an eye on that. Matt Jones is the mystery man. People don’t know how to rank him or if he’s for real. Mathews is the lead back in Philly, but with Sproles taking 3rd down, his value is limited. Bernard could split time almost 500-50 with Jeremy Hill. Lots of talent and could be a top 10-15 back if Hill went down. Gordon is a back with talent that has a bad offensive line. Not to mention Danny Woodhead stealing carries on 3rd downs, and inside the 10, from him.

Derrick Henry is ready to explode if he gets ahead of DeMarco Murray
Derrick Henry is ready to explode if he gets ahead of DeMarco Murray

Tier 6 – Bye Week Options

Rashad Jennings
Jeremy Langford
Derrick Henry
Isaiah Crowell
TJ Yeldon
DeAngelo Williams

Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Langford are not 2 of my favorites. If you have 2-3 RBs already, I would pass on them for Henry or Yeldon. They are just at the top cause they are currently starters. Henry has big potential. If he starts over Murray, he instantly becomes a top 15 back. Crowell has a huge amount of talent, but we all must wonder if his head is in it. TJ Yeldon will split time with Chris Ivory in Jacksonville, but he can be a top 15 back. DeAngelo Williams will start the 1st four games if Le’Veon Bell is out and he is the clear-cut handcuff for if he gets hurt. Better than a normal backup.

Tier 7 – PPR Specialists

Danny Woodhead
Bilal Powell
Duke Johnson
Darren Sproles
Theo Riddick
Shane Vereen

Woodhead, Powell, and Johnson will all be splitting time with their teams from the start, so they have the most potential. In typical PPR leagues, all can average over 10 ppg. Sproles, Riddick, and Vereen all primarily passes catchers, but they are so prolific at it, they can still average around 10 ppg in PPR. All of them are good picks that can be flex options in PPR leagues. I’d pass on them in standard leagues.

Tier 8 – Injuries Needed

LeGarrette Blount
Spencer Ware
CJ Procise
Tevin Coleman
James Starks
Jay Ajayi

All of these guys are solid backs that are an injury away from being an every week starter in a fantasy lineup. Blount and Ware will be goal line specialists early so that an injury could blow their value up. Procise and Coleman are young guys who were very good in college, and I like them both a lot, good handcuff players. Starks and Ajayi could put up top 20-25 numbers if something happened to Lacy or Foster, which is very possible.

Tomorrow, we’ll get to the new stars of fantasy football, the WRs. Rule changes in the league over the past ten years have made it almost impossible to stop to stop elite WRs. More than half of your 1st round, and possibly 4 of your top 5 picks will be WRs. Again, if you have a draft before then, good luck and if you have any draft or fantasy football questions, my twitter handle is @Pacman453323.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com