The top 2017 fantasy football running backs
Last year was the Renaissance for running back scoring. Touchdown rates soared, and we now have the consensus top two players off the board coming from the running back position. It’s a position that can make or break your roster. Patching together top end running back production is vastly different than piecing together quarterback or tight end points. I’m going to give you my top 10 running backs for redraft leagues for the 2017-2018 season. I’m going to be focusing on a PPR format, but it only adjusts slightly for standard leagues. Let’s get into the top 2017 fantasy football running backs.
1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
The 2016-2017 fantasy points leader, Johnson averaged over 25 points per game, and that’s if you include the Week 17 game where he left early. If he was on your team last year, you probably made the playoffs, if not won your entire league. There’s really not much to say about Johnson. He’s a legitimate threat for 1,000 yards both on the ground and through the air. He’s a touchdown machine, and as hard as it is to forecast touchdowns, Johnson would be my heavy favorite to lead the league in combined rushing-receiving TD’s this season. He has 33 touchdowns in 32 career games. The guy just cannot be stopped. He had four weeks with double digit targets, a number that would be exciting for a WR2. He’s going to get it done. He’s going to rack up receptions, yards, and touchdowns. If you’re lucky enough to get the first overall pick, this should be your guy. Johnson tops the top 2017 fantasy football running backs list.
2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
First off, I can understand if you want to put Bell ahead of Johnson. We’re splitting hairs with these top two guys. They’re head and shoulders above the other running backs, and no one can fault you for picking one over the other. Bell, like Johnson, is a usage monster. He’s got less of a nose for the end zone than David Johnson, but that could perhaps be attributed to the other weapons in the Pittsburgh offense more so than on Bell himself. If Bell plays a full 16 game schedule, I think he has a better than 50/50 shot to break the scrimmage yards record. The trick with Bell just appears to be playing all 16 games. He’s only done it once in four seasons and is coming off an offseason groin surgery. Coming off surgery, and not reporting to camp until a week before the season is why I put Bell at number two among running backs. But again, Bell or Johnson is a personal choice. Either way, you get one of the locked in studs of the top 2017 fantasy football running backs
3. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Some experts have begun to sour on McCoy following some of Buffalo’s offseason moves. While the Bills are undoubtedly a team in disarray, that doesn’t mean Shady can’t prosper. The offensive line is still in tact and was an excellent run blocking unit last year. New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was the man in charge of the offenses that saw Arian Foster consistently dominate. Shady’s passing game role is expected to grow this year, and he is more than capable of handling that work, having caught 78 passes in 2010 with the Eagles. He no longer will have to share goal-line work with Mike Gillislee. Yes, Jonathan Williams is in town this year. Mike Gillislee is an exceptional short yardage back and scored 8 rushing touchdowns last year. At least a couple of those can be ticketed for McCoy.
Now, there are a few concerns. McCoy is entering his age 29 season, and he has significant wear on his tires. However, McCoy has only averaged about 16 carries per game in his time in Buffalo. It’s not like he’s taking 350 carry per year beatings. With an increased passing game role, exceptional talent, and a strong offensive line, McCoy is a strong bet to increase on last season’s yardage totals and be among the top-3 of the top 2017 fantasy football running backs.
4. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Now the NFL’s highest paid running back, Freeman has been an elite fantasy running back the past two years. The Falcons’ offense is destined to regress a bit from its 2016 outburst. However, 2016 didn’t see Freeman’s numbers spike like many other Falcons did. He was able to finish 6th among running backs despite logging fewer than 15 carries a game. Healthy involvement in the passing game and a goal line roll in an explosive offense (even if it regresses) make Freeman an anchor at the running back position. New coordinator Steve Sarkisian is a bit of a wild card, but he hasn’t been afraid to run the ball extremely often during his days as a college coordinator. We also know Freeman can excel alongside Tevin Coleman, and if Coleman were to go down, Freeman could join the ranks of Bell/Johnson/Elliott. Freeman’s safe role, combined with his ability to go off for week-winning explosions make him my fourth ranked running back on the Top 2017 fantasy football running backs list.
5. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
The argument for Melvin Gordon stops and starts with one thing: volume. He averaged 26 opportunities (rushes plus targets) in his 12 full games last season. That kind of volume locks you in as an RB1, no question. Gordon is due for touchdown regression, however. We all remember his rookie year when the hyped up young runner scored ZERO touchdowns, to the dismay of his owners. Well, his 12 touchdowns from 2016-2017 can’t be counted on again. The Chargers still have Antonio Gates around, Hunter Henry will continue to garner more end zone attention, and the return of Keenan Allen could steal a few potential scores.
Gordon is basically Todd Gurley in a better offense. Phillip Rivers is great. The receivers and tight ends are excellent. Gordon hasn’t been efficient thus far in his career, making his play solely a volume based one. I think the volume is secure for Gordon though. At worst, Branden Oliver catches a few passes that were originally meant for Gordon. But he has no competition for early down and goal line work, making him safe, if inefficient and unspectacular.
6. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
Another running back entering his age 29 season. Murray has a role on one of the NFL’s run-heaviest offenses. With 346 combined touches, Murray was all over the field last year. With Derrick Henry behind him, I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray’s carries dropped from the 293 he recorded last year to more like 250. Projecting Murray’s receiving total is a bit trickier. On one hand, if the Titans open up the passing game, it would make sense that Murray caught more passes. However, with a myriad of pass catchers added to the team, we could also see a drop in receptions. Regardless of how Murray’s touches come, he’s a safe bet for 1500 total yards and double digit touchdowns. The Titans aren’t going to suddenly stop running the ball. Murray has a proven track record of success and is in a great situation to continue that.
7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
Howard is probably the biggest surprise of this past year at the running back position. A player who started the season third on the depth chart elevating to a locked in RB1. Howard was efficient with his touches, and the Bears have a strong interior line, meaning he’ll have plenty of room to run. However, his catch rate was atrocious, and he dropped far more passes than he should have. Howard underwent an offseason vision correction surgery, which he has said helps him tracking the ball to catch passes. Strange, but noteworthy nonetheless. Rookie Tarik Cohen has flashed as a receiver, but Howard will still get his work in the passing game. If his efficiency catching the ball increases as expected, it won’t be a concern that Cohen is taking some passing down snaps here and there. Howard is a good bet for 275-300 carries, and 30-40 catches. This volume, combined with strong offensive line play, and Howard’s own efficiency makes him a locked in RB1.
8. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
See Gordon, Melvin. The case for Gurley is just like that of his Los Angeles counterpart. Gurley is guaranteed volume, and I think last year was his floor. He’s got no competition for any work. Passing down specialist Lance Dunbar is a candidate to start the season on the PUP, and hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career. Gurley should benefit from new coach Sean McVay and his offensive scheming. You don’t have to believe in McVay to buy that absolutely anything beats Jeff Fisher. Jared Goff has at least shown a few flashes and could be better than the dumpster fire we saw last year. The talent around Gurley has also improved, bringing in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, amongst others. Gurley’s offense isn’t good enough to put him in contention for double digit touchdowns. But the yardage will be there, and the passing game involvement partnered with increased efficiency will bring Gurley into the top 2017 fantasy football running backs.
9. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Yep, Elliott in my top 2017 fantasy football running backs. Suspension and all. The running back position is just too weak, and Zeke is too good for me not to put him in here, even if he misses six games. We know how great the Dallas offensive line is, and we know how great Zeke is on the ground. What pushed him over the top for me is the passing down work he will receive when he finally gets on the field this year. Elliott was only targeted 39 times last year, despite catching 32 of those targets and averaging over 11 yards per reception. Early reports out of camp mentioned Elliott actually splitting out wide and catching passes this offseason. Now, he doesn’t have the receiving chops that Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson do. But with passing down back Lance Dunbar now in LA with the Rams, Elliott should have an opportunity to increase on his passing down work.
Obviously, if Zeke plays all 16 games he’s a lock for my top three. This is where I see him with the six game suspension. If that suspension were reduced to four games, I’d be very tempted to put him in my top five. Zeke will likely be the biggest difference maker in fantasy leagues this season, with his draft value hard to nail down, but his fantasy production undeniably elite.
10. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
This is my bold shot here. There are a few reasons people are using to debunk the potential of Montgomery, so let’s run through those.
He can’t handle a full workload/Sickle Cell Trait
Plain and simple, we don’t know this. Those who say “Oh, he’s not built like a running back” are simply talking baselessly. Ty Montgomery is currently listed at 6′, 216 pounds. Adrian Peterson is listed at 6’2″, 217. His size is not an issue at all.
The sickle cell point is a concern but seems overblown. He missed time last season with it, yes. But, he allegedly has it under control now, and he played at Denver in the preseason, a location notoriously hard on those impacted by the trait. John Brown’s struggles with sickle cell are likely causing additional scare among fans than is really necessary for Montgomery.
The Packers are too pass heavy to support a top RB
Last year was the only year this held true. The Packers lost all their running back depth, hence Montgomery converting. In the three seasons prior, the Packers haven’t finished lower than 14th in rushing attempts, or 12th in yards. Last year was simply a case of injuries forcing a move away from the run game. That’s it. This offense HAS supported elite running back production. Eddie Lacy had two top 10 years himself. This whole “too pass heavy” thing is a myth.
Montgomery has clearly been the lead back through camp and preseason. Williams doesn’t have the freakish athleticism that’ll force his way on to the field. He’s an EIGHTH percentile SPARQ athlete. I think this idea has quieted a bit since the third preseason game, but Williams currently doesn’t pose a threat. He’s not the runner, or receiver Montgomery is.
All reports indicate that Montgomery’s pass protection has been much improved. After all, this is his first offseason as a running back. Unless we really see him struggle with this, I don’t expect it to be an issue.
Now that I’ve gone over why people say DON’T draft Montgomery (and ranted for a few hundred words), here’s why you should. Explosive offense. Touchdown opportunities. Passing game involvement. And Montgomery is no slouch as a runner. He was PFF’s most elusive running back last season and was tops in the league in average yards after contact. Montgomery is fantastic. If he was a college running back, I think we’d see him on the boards in the first two rounds of every draft. All of that, and you get one of the top 2017 fantasy football running backs
Top 2017 fantasy football running backs Wrap-Up
There’s plenty of disagreement in the back half of the top 2017 fantasy football running backs list. If you’ve got someone you like more, go get them. Running backs aren’t easy to find, and you don’t want to be scrambling to patch together starting running backs as the fantasy playoffs approach.