2017 fantasy football position rankings: Running Backs

Continuing our series of position rankings for the upcoming 2017 fantasy football season, we’ll take a look at running backs before turning to wide receivers next week. We’ve ranked the QBs from 1 to 32. We’ll rank the running backs from 1-36, the wide receivers 1-36 and the tight ends 1-24. Defenses and kickers will be ranked 1-12.

The top three running backs are so close, but I give the edge to David Johnson since he had 80 receptions last year and caught passes for more yards than Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Jordan Reed.

1. David Johnson, Cardinals—He nearly carried the ball 300 times last season and caught 80 passes. There’s no reason to think he won’t be used to that degree yet again.

2. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers—No worries about an early-season suspension this time around. I had him No. 1 early in my rankings, but Johnson’s touches gave him the edge at this point.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys—Elliott couldn’t have had a better rookie season. Given that, you have to assume he has just a tiny bit of regression. The Cowboys will also want to save him from too much work by using Darren McFadden to relieve some pressure.

4. LeSean McCoy, Bills—Mike Gillislee is in New England now, so if McCoy can stay healthy he might get even more work than he already does.

5. Jordan Howard, Bears—Howard gained the most yardage between the tackles in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. He should see an increase in touches given that he’ll likely be playing with a rookie quarterback at some point.

Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears is hit by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix #21 of the Green Bay Packers as he scores a touchdown in the 4th quarter at Soldier Field on December 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 30-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

6. Melvin Gordon, Chargers—Gordon’s value has been improved by this offseason. Danny Woodhead is a Raven and the Chargers didn’t draft a running back, they drafted two offensive linemen. Gordon will continue to dominate touches in the backfield.

7. Devonta Freeman, Falcons—Have no fear of Tevin Coleman, Freeman actually is more productive when Coleman gets touches. If the Falcons can continue to run a potent offense without Kyle Shanahan, Freeman will do well.

Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons fails to reach the pylon against Vinnie Sunseri #40 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at the Georgia Dome on December 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

8. DeMarco Murray, Titans—He surprised some people last season, given his average draft position was in mid-to-later rounds. Murray suffered from Chip Kelly’s sideways run scheme the year before so he was undervalued in drafts in 2016. He seems to be back to his Cowboys-era self.

9. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins—Three games rushing for at least 200 yards can’t be ignored. Plus, it looks as if he’s making strides in the passing game. He showed his ability as a pass catcher in college so if he improves in that portion of his game he could be remarkable.

10. Lamar Miller, Texans—The addition of D’Onta Foreman may end up helping Miller stay fresh all season. Quality touches will be the key to his success in addition to decent volume.

11. Todd Gurley, Rams—He remains an RB1 despite his rough season last year. That’s because the volume is still there. His bad season probably means he can be had in the second round. But he’ll end up being undervalued if he goes after the first.

Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams rushes for a first down during the fourth quarter of the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

 

12. Spencer Ware, Chiefs—He got great news when the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Jamaal Charles, but they did end up drafting Kareem Hunt. Keep an eye on training camp to make sure Ware holds firm to the starting spot.

13. C.J. Anderson, Broncos

14. Isaiah Crowell, Browns

15. Carlos Hyde, 49ers

16. Mark Ingram, Saints

17. Tevin Coleman, Falcons

18. Adrian Peterson, Saints

19. Latavius Murray, Vikings

20. Eddie Lacy, Seahawks

21. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

22. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders

23. Doug Martin, Buccaneers

24. Mike Gillislee, Patriots

25. Robert Kelley, Redskins

26. Ty Montgomery, Packers

27. Jeremy Hill, Bengals

28. Derrick Henry, Titans

29. Frank Gore, Colts

30. Bilal Powell, Jets

31. Ameer Abdullah, Lions

32. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

33. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

34. Paul Perkins, Giants

35. Matt Forte, Jets

36. Joe Mixon, Bengals

Fantasy football Week 8 preview

Fantasy owners already know who their must-start players are, but everyone has a few decisions to make when it comes to setting a lineup. We’re here to help with those tough decisions.

Each week this space will be dedicated to whom you should start or sit for your upcoming fantasy matchups.

Starts

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals — He obviously has a great weapon in A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert is expected to be more productive after coming back from injury last week. Dalton should be good to go against a Washington pass defense that’s middle of the pack.

Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers — Feel free to let him loose on an Oakland defense that is 29th in points allowed to quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks — He’s been terrible since the bye, and he’s had only one really good game this season. If he can’t do well against the Saints this week, leave him on the bench.

Devontae Booker, RB, Broncos — Booker was already making an impact, but now that C.J. Anderson will miss significant time, he should be the lead back in Denver.

Denver Broncos running back Devontae Booker (23) runs against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos running back Devontae Booker (23) runs against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers — Rodgers is coming off two straight 100-yard games and faces an Oakland defense that is 23rd in points allowed to running backs.

Ty Montgomery, RB/WR, Packers — Sure, he’s getting touches at running back, but he’s been targeted a total of 25 times in the passing game in the past two weeks. That volume leads to big results.

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers — Facing the Falcons, a team that gives up nearly 300 yards passing per game, there’s room for more than two Packers receivers to be successful. Cobb has been on a tear the past three weeks. Heck, even Jordy Nelson, who has struggled recently, might have a good game.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb #18 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Wide receiver Randall Cobb #18 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Will Fuller, WR, Texans — Brock Osweiler doesn’t instill confidence in you, but Fuller is due a good game. He faces a Lions defense that is 26th in points allowed to wideouts, and the speedy rookie has been targeted no less than six times in each game he’s played.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks — The Saints are middle of the road in points allowed to tight ends, but Graham plays like a wide receiver. He should get his this week.

Sits

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears — The only people happy about him starting are Alshon Jeffery owners. Cutler will target Jeffery at will, but that doesn’t mean he’ll produce well himself.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers — The last time he faced the Broncos he started the game on fire, but after San Diego took the lead, the game script left him with a bad game. This time he faces Denver on the road with DeMarcus Ware possibly back in the lineup.

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) sacks San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) sacks San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Jordan Howard, RB, Bears — He’s gained just 62 total yards in his last two games and faces a tough Vikings defense on Monday night.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Eagles — He’s rushed for more than 77 yards only one time this season, and the Cowboys are actually really good at limiting running backs’ fantasy points.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins — His hamstring and shoulder are bothering him and he hasn’t played like a WR1 since Week 3. Sit him against a good Bengals pass defense.

Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) waits on a pass defended by Detroit Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (24) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) waits on a pass defended by Detroit Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (24) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Travis Benjamin, WR, Chargers — Benjamin had just 17 yards receiving the last time he faced the Broncos. He’s dealing with a knee injury as well, so it makes sense to sit him even if he plays.

Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots — Play a starter who is the No. 1 tight end option on his team instead of Bennett. He hasn’t been good for two games in a row, and the Bills are fourth best at limiting points by the position.

NFL rookies likely to make an immediate impact

Rookies always make an impact in fantasy football and if you make a smart pick on a first-year player he could help you get over on your fantasy competition. Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Amari Cooper were big contributors last season as rookies. Odell Beckham Jr. probably won a championship for some of you the year before as a rookie for the Giants. Here’s a look at some new talent that will make an early impact.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: This list has to start with Zeke. The buzz around him leading up to the draft increased daily and the Cowboys eschewed conventional wisdom to select what they must think is a special player. He has all the traits you want in an every-down back. He’s tough, with good size and has the speed to break off long runs. He can even catch the ball well out of the backfield. Add to that the fact he’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the game and you could see why he could put up big numbers. The biggest obstacle to him impacting the game early on is the fact that he’s in a crowded backfield. Darren McFadden is still in town, and he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time since 2010 last year. But it was just his second time playing all 16 games. Add to that, Alfred Morris was signed as a free agent and Lance Dunbar is expected to fill a third-down role. That’s got to show how much the Cowboys think of Elliott, given that there’s barely room in the backfield. We think he’ll be the lead back early on and put up the best numbers of any rookie this season.

Ezekiel Elliott has all the attributes you want in a running back. He could play every down if the Cowboys trust him early on. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Ezekiel Elliott has all the attributes you want in a running back. He could play every down if the Cowboys trust him early on. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings: With a young quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater, you’ll want a receiver who can win 50/50 balls. Treadwell is that kind of player, drawing comparisons to guys like DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has produced with no-name qbs and Treadwell actually has a decent one in the backfield. We think he’ll produce the biggest numbers of rookie wideouts.

Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins: If anyone has a shot to be better than Treadwell as a rookie, it’s Doctson. He’ll be playing with the best quarterback of the rookie receivers on this list in Kirk Cousins. Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson will hold the WR1 and WR2 spots, but Jackson has missed eight games over the last two seasons and Garcon will be entering his ninth season.

Josh Doctson of TCU holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #22 overall by the Washington Redskins during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Josh Doctson of TCU holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #22 overall by the Washington Redskins during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Corey Coleman, WR, Browns: He’s obviously in a bad place to win, but with the Browns needing lots of help at receiver, he should end up getting the lion’s share of targets. With no proven quarterback in town, his outlook isn’t great, but we could see him contributing to your team in your stars’ bye week or against a good matchup.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals: A.J. Green will be on the opposite side of the field and all Boyd will have to do is beat out Brandon LaFell, a player who has only caught more than 50 passes just once in five seasons. If Boyd can step up, he could start bringing in WR2-type numbers. With Green as the big-play threat, Boyd could fit in nicely as a possession receiver.

Derrick Henry, RB Titans: He’ll backup DeMarco Murray, but we just don’t trust Murray to stay healthy all season given that he’s done so just once in his five-year career. Henry should make an impact even if Murray is healthy because the Titans should run a lot.

Will Fuller, WR, Texans: His main role with Houston will be to free up DeAndre Hopkins by running off defenders. But that doesn’t mean he won’t hit the big play occasionally. He’s got the speed to run by anyone, though his hands are a bit of a liability. He won’t be a WR1 or WR2, but he could end up as a flex alternative if the Texans face a bad secondary that gives up the big play every once in a while.

Will Fuller will stretch the field for the Texans, but he's got to get better at catching the ball. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Will Fuller will stretch the field for the Texans, but he’s got to get better at catching the ball. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks: Though Thomas Rawls was awesome last season, he’ll have more pressure to perform. Prosise’s value is in his pass-catching ability, but if Rawls struggles to perform as the starter, keep an eye out. We think Prosise is the logical handcuff to Rawls. The Seahawks must not be too confident in Rawls since they drafted three running backs.

Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants: If Victor Cruz has trouble coming back from injury, Shepard could find himself with WR2 numbers. Even if Cruz ends up bouncing back, Shepard can do some real damage in the slot. You can’t reach on him, but after you’ve got your top two receivers, feel free to go speculating.

Sterling Shepard could provide some useful fantasy numbers if Victor Cruz struggles to come back from injury. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Sterling Shepard could provide some useful fantasy numbers if Victor Cruz struggles to come back from injury. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: With the Matt Forte era over in Chicago it looks like Jeremy Langford who will fill the role. Don’t be surprised if Howard finds his way into a running-back-by-committee situation. He’s a bruising runner and if he’s not slow to the line he’ll be effective. He’ll put pressure on Langford not to falter.

Other likely contributors:
Kenneth Dixon, RB, Ravens
Devontae Booker, RB, Broncos
Paul Perkins, RB, Giants
Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons
Braxton Miller, WR, Texans
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints