Fantasy football position rankings: Running backs

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting soon. Through Saturday I’ll share my rankings for each position. I started with quarterbacks Tuesday and running backs are next. Wide receivers, tight ends and defenses will follow. This year I’ve added tiers to better help you prepare for your draft.

RELATED: Fantasy football rankings: Top 250.

Running backs

Tier 1

It doesn’t matter much to me if you swap the two ball carriers in this tier, they’ll both score big this season. I just think Bell is the bigger workhorse. He rushed the ball 321 times last year. That’s 34 more attempts than LeSean McCoy who had the second most carries. Some RB1s don’t even get as many touches in a season as Bell had rushes last year. He had more than 400 touches, when you add in his 85 receptions, last season and there’s no reason for that to change.

1. Le’Veon Bell, PIT
2. Todd Gurley, LAR

Tier 2 

If David Johnson finishes the season as the top fantasy-scoring running back I wouldn’t be surprised. He was very close to a 1,000-1,000 season in 2016 and he’s fully recovered from injury. The Cardinals won’t be that good this year so they’ll lean on their best asset. Sam Bradford doesn’t scare anyone, but he’s accurate on short passes and a lot of them could go Johnson’s way. The same could be said for Ezekiel Elliott, who should play all 16 games this year if healthy. In just ten games last season Elliott still had 242 rushing attempts. With a suspect passing game, he may get more targets on short routes to help Dak Prescott out.

3. David Johnson, ARI
4. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL

Tier 3

I nearly had Melvin Gordon in the second tier with Johnson and Elliott based on his workhorse status. He touched the ball nearly 350 times in 2017. Instead I have him topping this group. There are a lot of options here, and I don’t see a lot of drop-off from Gordon to Devonta Freeman and RB12. You’ll notice Alvin Kamara behind Gordon. The Saint was topping rankings earlier in the summer, but I don’t think that’s realistic. He was hyper efficient last season because New Orleans used him perfectly in tandem with Mark Ingram. Also in this group is rookie Saquon Barkley, who could become the third straight rookie to lead the league in rushing if things fall his way.

5. Melvin Gordon, LAC
6. Alvin Kamara, NO
7. Leonard Fournette, JAC
8. Saquon Barkley, NYG
9. Christian McCaffrey, CAR
10. Kareem Hunt, KC
11. Dalvin Cook, MIN
12. Devonta Freeman, ATL

Tier 4

This tier is where things get a little bit complicated. McCoy is coming off of a second straight season of over 1,000 yards rushing while making at least 50 receptions. He’s currently nursing a groin, but it should be noted that he hasn’t been much of an injury risk over the years. He’s missed five games in the last five years. Not bad. Also in this tier is Alex Collins, who could very well end up being the best of the group. He’s expected to be the feature rusher for Baltimore and he nearly topped 1,000 yards rushing on just 212 carries at 4.6 yards per rush last season. Joe Mixon, Jerick McKinnon and Jordan Howard all have similar situations in which they’ll be featured rushers.

13. LeSean McCoy, BUF
14. Joe Mixon, CIN
15. Jerick McKinnon, SF
16. Jordan Howard, CHI
17. Alex Collins, BAL

Tier 5

I think Dion Lewis will be a great value and I see him as finishing with more fantasy points than teammate Derrick Henry. Lewis is getting drafted in the fifth round while Henry is getting taken in the third. I think it’s a bit risky to spend that kind of draft capital on Henry, who merely flashed a few times last season. Henry didn’t average more than 3.1 yards per rush in each of his final four games last year. I’d even rather take a shot on rookie Royce Freeman, who should lead the backfield in Denver. Another solid option in this group is Kenyan Drake, who has a lot of talent that should finally be showcased in Miami.

18. Dion Lewis, TEN
19. Royce Freeman, DEN
20. Jay Ajayi, PHI
21. Kenyan Drake, MIA
22. Lamar Miller, HOU
23. Marshawn Lynch, OAK
24. Rex Burkhead, NE
25. Derrick Henry, TEN

Tier 6

Chris Carson is flying up my best-value list of players. He’s getting drafted in the seventh round, due to expectations that Rashaad Penny will take over the Seahawks’ backfield. That may not be true, however. Carson has played well this preseason and Penny is dealing with a broken finger which will affect his practice time leading up to the season opener. Add to that Penny’s struggles with pass protection and Carson could be the main man for Seattle. Another player I’m high on in this tier is Kerryon Johnson. The rookie can be a big factor in the passing game and has already showed flashes in the preseason.

26. Chris Carson, SEA
27. Tevin Coleman, ATL
28. Mark Ingram, NO
29. Sony Michel, NE
30. Isaiah Crowell, NYJ
31. Kerryon Johnson, DET
32. Robert Kelley, WAS

Tier 7

Here’s where we start to get a mixed bag of rushers who you’ll have to make a call on as it gets closer to your draft. An interesting option in this tier is Carlos Hyde, who should get the most touches in the Cleveland backfield. While Duke Johnson could still be a pass-catching factor, Hyde also has a good pair of hands. It should also be noted that Jarvis Landry, an expert in the short passing game could negate some of the usefulness of Johnson.

33. Rashaad Penny, SEA
34. Tarik Cohen, CHI
35. Carlos Hyde, CLE
36. Duke Johnson, CLE
37. Bilal Powell, NYJ
38. Ty Montgomery, GB
39. Marlon Mack, IND
40. Jamaal Williams, GB
41. Peyton Barber, TB
42. Ronald Jones II, TB

Tier 8

Leading off this eighth tier is one of the most efficient weapons from last season. Chris Thompson only rushed for 294 yards but at 4.6 yards per carry. His value is in his receiving ability. He caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns in ten games. That’s 51 yards receiving per game from the running back position, more than Alshon Jeffery, Chris Hogan and Amari Cooper last year. Another value pick in this group could be Latavius Murray. Dalvin Cook played in four games last season, and though he was outstanding, that’s a very small sample size. Murray could still have a major role in the backfield, including possibly the goal-line back.

43. Chris Thompson, WAS
44. Latavius Murray, MIN
45. LeGarrette Blount, DET
46. Corey Clement, PHI
47. James White, NE
48. Frank Gore, MIA
49. C.J. Anderson, CAR
50. Devontae Booker, DEN
51. Giovani Bernard, CIN
52. Spencer Ware, KC
53. Matt Breida, SF

Tier 9

You can hedge your bets with some of these rushers, or look for flex options. I like Jordan Wilkins, but he recently fumbled on the goal line in his second preseason game. That said, he has the look of a feature back and the Colts are in need of someone who can fill Frank Gore’s shoes. Nyheim Hines is good on pass-catching downs, but I like the idea of taking a flier on Wilkins instead.

54. T.J. Yeldon, JAC
55. Nick Chubb, CLE
56. Jordan Wilkins, IND
57. Theo Riddick, DET
58. Nyheim Hines, IND
59. Darren Sproles, PHI
60. Doug Martin, OAK
61. Kenneth Dixon, BAL
62. Aaron Jones, GB
63. Chris Ivory, BUF
64. Jonathan Stewart, NYG
65. C.J. Prosise, SEA
66. D’Onta Foreman, HOU

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

Our fantasy running back rankings: Whose are best?

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting this weekend. For the next few days reigning 3-peat Office Football League champ Rich Tijerina and I will share our rankings for each position side-by-side. We started with quarterbacks. Running backs are up next, followed by wide receivers, tight ends and defenses. At the end of this list are a few questions regarding where we ranked the running backs. Ranks in bold are discussed at the bottom.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Tijerina—David Johnson; Vasquez—David Johnson

2. Tijerina—Le’Veon Bell; Vasquez—Le’Veon Bell

3. Tijerina—Devonta Freeman; Vasquez—LeSean McCoy

4. Tijerina—LeSean McCoy; Vasquez—Devonta Freeman

5. Tijerina—Ezekiel Elliott; Vasquez—Melvin Gordon

6. Tijerina—Melvin Gordon; Vasquez—DeMarco Murray

7. Tijerina—Jordan Howard; Vasquez—Jordan Howard

8. Tijerina—Todd Gurley; Vasquez—Jay Ajayi

9. Tijerina—Isaiah Crowell; Vasquez—Leonard Fournette

10. Tijerina—Dalvin Cook; Vasquez—Isaiah Crowell

11. Tijerina—DeMarco Murray; Vasquez—Todd Gurley

12. Tijerina—Jay Ajayi; Vasquez—Marshawn Lynch

13. Tijerina—C.J. Anderson; Vasquez—Ezekiel Elliott

14. Tijerina—Leonard Fournette; Vasquez—Frank Gore

15. Tijerina—Christian McCaffrey; Vasquez—Lamar Miller

16. Tijerina—LeGarrette Blount; Vasquez—Christian McCaffrey

17. Tijerina—Joe Mixon; Vasquez—Mark Ingram

18. Tijerina—Spencer Ware; Vasquez—Spencer Ware

19. Tijerina—Carlos Hyde; Vasquez—Carlos Hyde

20. Tijerina—Lamar Miller; Vasquez—Joe Mixon

21. Tijerina—Tevin Coleman; Vasquez—Ty Montgomery

22. Tijerina—Marshawn Lynch; Vasquez—Dalvin Cook

23. Tijerina—Ty Montgomery; Vasquez—Danny Woodhead

24. Tijerina—Mark Ingram; Vasquez—Tevin Coleman

25. Tijerina—Paul Perkins; Vasquez—Mike Gillislee

26. Tijerina—Derrick Henry; Vasquez—C.J. Anderson

27. Tijerina—Doug Martin; Vasquez—Ameer Abdullah

28. Tijerina—Adrian Peterson; Vasquez—Adrian Peterson

29. Tijerina—Mike Gillislee; Vasquez—Matt Forte

30. Tijerina—Matt Forte; Vasquez—Bilal Powell

31. Tijerina—Rob Kelley; Vasquez—Doug Martin

32. Tijerina—Ameer Abdullah; Vasquez—Kareem Hunt

33. Tijerina—Jonathan Stewart; Vasquez—Theo Riddick

34. Tijerina—Thomas Rawls; Vasquez—Paul Perkins

35. Tijerina—Darren McFadden; Vasquez—Terrance West

Three questions about these rankings:

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) beats Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Robert Golden (21) and Cortez Allen (28) to the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

What do you do with Ezekiel Elliott, assuming the suspension holds at six games?

Tijerina: Worst case, he misses six games. You draft accordingly and have yourself covered till he returns for the last half of your regular season and the playoffs. He’ll be angry, fresh and who knows what situation the Cowboys’ season will be in? And that offensive line still makes him an elite fantasy back. Draft Darren McFadden if you can, as protection. This feels like when Tom Brady slipped in drafts and ended up having the monster year despite his suspension. And Elliott’s appeal hearing isn’t until Aug. 29; who knows how this will play out? The suspension could be reduced, or it could be thrown out, or it could be put off till later, like Brady’s did.

Vasquez: I can’t see myself drafting him any higher than the mid-to-late third round. Missing six games is just about half your fantasy season. The only way he holds value is if he can be taken later in drafts. Of course, if you can weather the storm for those first six games he’ll be an automatic RB1 upon his return and you’re looking good. The other issue is that this appeal process could possibly loom. It’s not set in stone that a ruling will come down before the season, or even in the middle. You’d hate to have him play during the appeal and have a decision interrupt your season. I almost want to stay away altogether.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) rushes as Seattle Seahawks linebacker Terence Garvin (52) closes in during the first half of an NFL football preseason game, Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Why is Dalvin Cook an RB1 or RB2?

Tijerina: Cook’s not only an RB1, he’s my favorite rookie running back. He’s in such a better position in Minnesota than the other first-rounders who were taken ahead of him. All of them (Fournette, McCaffrey and Mixon) are contending with experienced backs who’ll take carries away from them. But Latavius Murray’s bad ankle has kept him out of the first two preseason games and Jerick McKinnon isn’t getting touches. Cook is averaging more than 4 yards a carry and also is getting passes out of the backfield.

Vasquez: He’s going to be great some day, just not quite yet. With Latavius Murray in the picture I can see the rookie not being used to his full extent. Rookies like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are in better situations at this point. Cook will be good on passing downs, but I have a feeling Murray could end up taking care of goal line work. I haven’t been the biggest believer in Murray, but he’s what’s keeping me from making Cook an RB1.

What is Frank Gore’s outlook for this season and does he hold any fantasy value?

Tijerina: No thanks. I’ll pass on Gore. For me, he’s a bench player, someone to plug in on a bye week. I’d rather have Marlon Mack if I’m drafting a Colts running back. But I actually stopped drafting him about two years ago.

Vasquez: The more we keep writing him off, the longer Gore keeps staying relevant to fantasy football. In his first six seasons he played every game just once. Over the next six seasons he hasn’t missed a game. That’s durability. It has to run out at some point, but I’ll wait until we see signs of that happening. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and accounted for eight touchdowns. That’s not what you want out of a RB1, but he can definitely contribute as a high-end flex player and a mid-level RB2.

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

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

Receivers more productive than running backs in fantasy?

In one sense, running backs are the best players to have in that the good ones are dual threats. They can get you 1,000 yards rushing and maybe around 500 receiving. Those are the good ones. But when you realize that this year 22 wide receivers had 1,000-yard seasons while only seven running backs rushed for 1,000 yards, it seems like you’d be better off taking a productive receiver early.

In fact, only three running backs had over 1,100 yards rushing while 11 receivers had 1,200-yard seasons. Of the seven 1,000-yard rushers only one had over 500 yards receiving. That was Devonta Freeman. So you could have picked from four wide receivers that totaled more than 1,500 yards before you selected Freeman. And nobody was selecting Freeman that early in the beginning of the year.

Devonta Freeman was the only running back in the league to rush for 1,000 yards and gain 500 yards receiving. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Devonta Freeman was the only running back in the league to rush for 1,000 yards and gain 500 yards receiving. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Marshall all had over 1,500 yards receiving this year in addition to all scoring at least eight touchdowns. The wide receiver is very close to replacing the do-it-all running back.

It stands to reason that wide receivers will go before a lot of running backs in 2016 drafts. There’s just so much depth and a clear passing philosophy in the league these days. It’ll be interesting to see how next season’s drafts go, especially when you’re given the choice between good running backs and receivers. It might make sense to take the receiver since your most productive players are now catching passes instead of carrying the ball.