2017 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

Author Jay Clemons

Sports Hub Technologies, in conjunction with its partner LeagueSafe.com, invokes a post-draft look at the top 60 tailbacks in standard-scoring leagues.

It goes without saying: There will be a flood of changes with these rankings — especially in the top 40 — in the days leading up to training camp.

TOP 60 TAILBACKS

1-20
1. David Johnson, Cardinals
2. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
4. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
5. LeSean McCoy, Bills
6. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
7. DeMarco Murray, Titans
8. Jordan Howard, Bears
9. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins
10. Lamar Miller, Texans
11. Todd Gurley, Rams
12. Spencer Ware, Chiefs
13. Mark Ingram, Saints
14. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
15. C.J. Anderson, Broncos
16. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
17. Isaiah Crowell, Browns
18. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
19. Derrick Henry, Titans
20. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders

RATIONALE
1. David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell? Bell or Johnson?

This promises to be fantasy football’s most interesting, yet consequences-free debate this summer, regardless if we’re talking about standard-scoring or Points Per Reception leagues.

For the elite-level threshold of 100 total yards and/or one touchdown … Johnson has crushed that mark in 19 of his last 20 games; and for Bell in that realm, citing his last 18 complete outings, he boasts a 94-percent success rate.

Additionally, Johnson and Bell are both promising candidates for 2,000 total yards this fall, exacerbating my passionate indifference for who actually goes No. 1 in fantasy drafts.

2. Ezekiel Elliott (1,631 rushing yards, 16 TDs last year) represents an easy call for the top three, even if he’s not a lock to replicate his absurd rookie numbers. Why the tepid endorsement? Three reasons stand out:

a) The Cowboys’ offensive line may still be the best in the business, but the inimitable depth of previous seasons appears to be on the wane, although mammoth tackle Dan Skipper was a nice pickup in the draft.

b) It’s hard to envision Elliott (15 for 15 in collecting 100 total yards and/or one TD) eclipsing the 300-carry mark in Year 2. As a model to that, in his Hall of Fame career, Adrian Peterson has only twice toted the rock 300-plus times in consecutive seasons.

c) I believe in sophomore slumps with quarterbacks, meaning that Dak Prescott will find it tougher to dominate the opposition this fall, now that defensive coordinators have a thicker ‘book’ on his strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, Elliott may experience a mild regression, in the form of 1,400 yards/10-12 TDs.

3. On paper, LeSean McCoy’s top-five ranking looks solid, given his bounce-back greatness from last year (1,623 rushing yards/14 TDs). But in this age of daily fantasy riches, where champions demand perfection at the running back slot every Sunday, it’s important to lament one caveat:

In his illustrious eight-year career (8,954 rushing yards, 73 TDs), McCoy has never cracked the 100-yard rushing threshold in three consecutive games.

4. Here’s a scenario where scheduling ‘optics’ matter: Jay Ajayi averaged 210 rushing yards and one touchdown against the Bills last year; but, in 2017, he only draws Buffalo once from Weeks 1-16 (Dec. 17 in Miami).

The Buffalo rematch comes in the regular-season finale (Dec. 31), the weekend after most fantasy championships have been determined.

5. From my perspective, there are only 13 ‘sure things’ among the non-PPR rushing crowd. After that, it’s a giant cluster of talented backs with minimal experience, aging runners with too much tread on the proverbial tires or potential dynamos trapped in time-share situations.

Hence, the Leonard Fournette choice at No. 14. He may not be blessed with Ezekiel Elliott’s offensive line, but Fournette certainly shares the same orbit with Elliott, in the strata of “long-term viability.”

As such, Fournette represents a solid pick late in Round 2 or early in Round 3. Let’s just hope he’s not the preordained RB1 for draft suitors. Let him grow into that pie-in-the-sky role.

6. I cannot explain the Raiders’ go-for-broke commitment to Marshawn Lynch, given the Oakland native’s age (31) and inevitable rust after “retiring” in 2016.

At the box office, Lynch will surely boost ticket sales for a franchise that’s moving to Las Vegas in two or three years. But that’s not a sound long-term strategy, factoring in Lynch’s four-year averages from 2011-14: 1,339 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns … and a staggering 295 carries per season.

21-40
21. Dalvin Cook, Vikings
22. Frank Gore, Colts
23. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
24. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
25. Adrian Peterson, Saints
26. Danny Woodhead, Ravens
27. Eddie Lacy, Seahawks
28. Rob Kelley, Redskins
29. Ameer Abdullah, Lions
30. Dion Lewis, Patriots
31. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
32. Theo Riddick, Lions
33. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
34. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
35. Terrance West, Ravens
36. Matt Forte, Jets
37. Ty Montgomery, Packers
38. Joe Mixon, Bengals
39. Paul Perkins, Giants
40. Charles Sims, Buccaneers

RATIONALE
1. Leonard Fournette may be 2017’s most heralded rookie back, but Cook remains my favorite long-term asset among this year’s class.

In my mind, Cook has the best combination of power, speed, hands, agility and closing ability around the end zone (40 total TDs for 2015-16). He also has a workable path to starting on Day 1 (against the Saints and Adrian Peterson), given Latavius Murray‘s continued rehab from offseason surgery.

Here are two more things to consider: The Vikings upgraded their offensive line during the offseason, signing free-agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Plus, Cook, who increased his “receptions” output every year at Florida State, has access to the NFL’s most efficient passer in Sam Bradford (NFL-high completion rate of 72 percent last season).

As such, Cook already has a good chance at eclipsing Peterson’s personal best of 43 receptions and 57 targets … and that’s in addition to the presumption of 1,000 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

2. The day will come when Christian McCaffrey is a top-10 pick in Points Per Reception drafts, among running backs. His blend of speed, grace and secure hands has few peers among NFL rookies and veterans, so much that McCaffrey will eventually be a torch-bearer among the Panthers’ playmakers.

In the short term, though, it’s hard to pin a fantasy value to the Stanford product. Jonathan Stewart (884 total yards, 9 TDs last year) stands to log the majority of first-down touches and goal-line carries, relegating McCaffrey to third-down and kick-returning duties.

Which brings us to this: Do the Panthers coaches even know how to use receiving-friendly tailbacks? Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert and Cameron Artis-Payne combined for only 70 targets and 44 receptions last season … and 64 targets and 51 catches in 2015.

3. Matt Forte enjoyed a superb start to his inaugural season with the Jets, collecting 100 total yards and/or one touchdown six times in his first 10 games. But after that, the borderline Hall of Famer (nine straight years of 1,000 total yards) averaged only 41 scrimmage yards to close out the campaign.

As far as 2017 prospects go, Forte remains the surest bet among the Jets’ cluster of running backs; but that’s still not a guarantee for success, given his age (turns 32 in December) and lack of cohesion and overall talent with New York’s offensive line, which no longer features center Nick Mangold.

4. My sports moles in the Washington D.C. area truly believe that Samaje Perinethe NCAA record-holder for most rushing yards in a single game (427) — can supplant Rob Kelley (704 rushing yards, 6 TDs last year) as the Redskins’ primary rusher this season. However, I don’t see that scenario immediately playing out during training camp.

For starters, citing the eight-game span from Weeks 6-16, Kelley averaged 81 total yards and 0.8 touchdowns — highlighted by the 137-yard, three-TD demolition of the Packers in November. And during interviews, ever notice how head coach Jay Gruden‘s eyes light up when discussing “Fat Rob?”

It’s fascinating to watch.

That aside, Perine (4,122 rushing yards, 51 TDs at Oklahoma) reminds me of Maurice Jones-Drew entering the pros. Yes, he’s got the bowling ball/rolling pin build, but he also has the capacity for taking the ball to the house on every carry.

Lest we forget that Perine notched two outings of 200-plus rushing yards last season … even with Joe Mixon running full bore for the Sooners.

41-60
41. Jonathan Williams, Bills
42. Devontae Booker, Broncos
43. Bilal Powell, Jets
44. James White, Patriots
45. Latavius Murray, Vikings
46. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
47. Jacquizz Rodgers, Buccaneers
48. Ryan Mathews, Eagles
49. Samaje Perine, Redskins
50. Jamaal Charles, Broncos
51. Duke Johnson, Browns
52. Gio Bernard, Bengals
53. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
54. Alvin Kamara, Saints
55. C.J. Prosise, Seahawks
56. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
57. Kapri Bibbs, 49ers
58. Matt Jones, Redskins
59. Charcandrick West, Chiefs
60. Jeremy Langford, Bears
60b. James Conner, Steelers
60c. Darren Sproles, Eagles
60d. Mike Gillislee, Patriots
60e. Damien Williams, Dolphins
60f. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins
60g. Darren McFadden, Cowboys

Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media) and 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.