As the fantasy football playoffs approach, most of us will be out of it in our leagues. If you’re still alive, congratulations! If not, it’s time to start thinking about next year. A lot will change between now and then, but it’s never too early to start preparing for late summer 2017 when you will gather your league for the best day of the year: the draft.
This article will explore the top 12 running backs for next season. These are subject to change as situations change, but as of right now, these are your top running backs for next season.
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas
The best offensive line in the NFL paired with the best runner in the NFL, what’s not to like? He’s absolutely destroyed the NFL this season and is going to be #1 with a bullet for a long, long time. The only part of his game he needs to work on is catching passes, which makes DJ preferred in PPR, but don’t be surprised if the big story next September is how Zeke added pass catching to his repertoire. I just hope you didn’t listen to this big dumb idiot during fantasy draft season in 2016.
- David Johnson, Arizona
David Johnson is one of the most dynamic backs in the entire NFL, and one of the most dangerous and multi-faceted weapons. My main issue with Zeke over DJ for me is the Cardinals offense. They’re trending in the wrong direction as everyone involved is getting older. Still, when you’re arguing Zeke versus DJ, you should nitpick a bit.
- Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
Really, you can take the top three running backs, put them in a bag, and pull them out in any order and I may just agree with you. Bell has gone for an obscene number of yards this year and now that he’s back in the swing of things he has four scores in three games. His mix of run game and pass game production makes him amazingly valuable while he’s around, but the ever-present fear of injury makes him less reliable than #2 and #1.
- DeMarco Murray, Tennessee
Run DMC answered the question this year about whether he was cooked or just hated being in Philly last season with Chip Kelly’s scheme. Murray is Exotic Smashmouthing all over the league, and is going for over 100 yards and a score per game. There’s nothing that shows he should slow down next season, and the only fears are injury and Derrick Henry finally stealing snaps.
- LeSean McCoy, Buffalo
Shady is still Shady, and this may be the last year of Shady. McCoy will be in his age 29 season next year and doesn’t seem to be the type of player to defy Father Time. He’s still the same electric player he’s been in his career, and he is getting plenty of opportunity. He’s been limited of late due to a leg injury, and now he has a broken thumb, but he is still producing. He has six 100+ yard games this year, and their best option to punch in a score. Enjoy McCoy, he may be gone soon after 2017.
- Melvin Gordon, San Diego
Holy touchdown regression, Batman. After not scoring at all in his rookie season, Gordon has 11 scores on the year through 11 games, which is a very nice pace if you can get it. He split carries with Danny Woodhead week one, which may be an issue come 2017, but the Chargers would be smart to set Gordon loose next year. The touchdowns will likely regress away from one per game, so I moved him slightly outside the top five.
- Jay Ajayi, Miami
Ajayi is incredibly talented, at least for now. The reason the Dolphins were able to pluck him out of the draft is two bad knees put two creaky time bombs on his career. For now, however, Ajayi is amazing. Don’t expect 400 yards in two games again, but as the Miami offense evolves, expect more opportunities for Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins stealing him late in 2014 and stealing Laremy Tunsil in 2015 to pair with Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey give Ajayi a heck of a line to run behind. He’s going to be a top flight back next year.
- Todd Gurley, Los Angeles
What happened to Todd Gurley? Well, the Rams happened. He is an extremely talented player but the offense around him is such abject trash that it’s hard for him to get anything going this year. After averaging 4.8 yards per attempt last season, Gurley has gone over 4 yards per carry just once this year. It’s not like Gurley forgot how to run, but being tied to Jared Goff, who took nearly three months to supplant Case Keenum, devalues his stock a bit.
- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
Debates raged and teeth gnashed about how Devonta Freeman was “exposed” down the stretch in 2015. The truth is, Freeman wore out carrying the full load. He is insanely productive on the bigger end of a platoon with Tevin Coleman (who is productive in his own right). He’s a stubborn runner who is hard to bring down, and is the perfect complement to Coleman’s jitterbug style. Coleman shouldn’t supplant Freeman, and the two should help buoy each other’s value by keeping the other fresh.
- Spencer Ware, Kansas City
This is operation under the rational assumption that the Chiefs jettison Jamaal Charles, who will miss the vast majority of the 2015 campaign with various leg issues. Ware has been very capable and dependable in Charles’ stead, and his use in the passing game makes him an extra valuable weapon. He averages over 100 combined yards a game, giving him a safe floor. The Chiefs won’t run up the scoreboard, but Ware will get plenty of opportunity to produce in 2017 as the main back in the Chiefs attack.
- Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
This is a respect ranking, a prestige ranking. Peterson was on the wrong side of 30 and had having a bad start to the season before he went out for the year (31 rushes, 50 yards will be his final total). Still, the Vikings were trying to figure out their offense at that point with brand new QB Sam Bradford. It’s looking like there’s a chance Peterson returns from his knee injury this year, which means good things for next season. Peterson might be done, but there’s no way to tell. Still, he has only played in 19 games over the last 3 seasons, so he may be fresher than expected for a (by then) 32 year old running back.
- Carlos Hyde, San Francisco
With all the garbage floating around with San Francisco and their terrible game scripts for running backs, one massive thing was ignored going into this season: Chip Kelly absolutely loves to run the football. With the threat of Colin Kaepernick keeping defenses honest, Hyde should be able to take another step forward this year. The ever-present threat of injury makes Hyde a question mark for sixteen games, but that seems to be par for the course these days for running backs outside the top ten.