This is the second part of a four-part series taking a deep look at the state of each position through the lens of my current dynasty rankings. This week, I want to dig into the running back position, which is always a challenge to evaluate. In recent years, the running back position as a whole has steadily lost value. It seems that outside of a couple of elite talents, most dynasty owners would rather piece together a crop of backs with unknown situations who may or may not pay off.
When building new teams, I typically punt the running back position, as I detailed in this article. This obviously results in an uncertain collection of backs and makes it imperative to follow the latest news in order to play the waiver wire. Just this year, that could’ve resulted in rostering players like Dion Lewis, Charcandrick West or Thomas Rawls. Even one of those could have been a season changing player for dynasty teams.
The ever-shortening life span of a running back and the increase of running back by committee attacks have partnered to decimate their dynasty value. These trends have caused me to basically avoid using high startup draft picks on running backs. I also shy away from paying the high prices to acquire top backs via trades in existing leagues.
Let’s get to my current running back tiers. With more players to cover, I’ll be sharing some general thoughts about my tiers, rather than covering all individual players.
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I try to limit my top tier of running backs to elite talents, regardless of age. It could be argued that based on that, Adrian Peterson belongs here, and I wouldn’t strongly disagree. Instead though, I have just the two players that form the consensus top two dynasty running backs, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. The dynasty value of each of these players may have taken the slightest of hits lately with Bell’s season ending injury and the poor play of Gurley in recent weeks, but it is really inconsequential at this point.
As soon as the off-season begins, and it already has for some of you, injuries and struggles are things of the past and we as a dynasty community begin to focus on the upside and best case scenario for the game’s top players. Sometimes, that can get us in trouble as we begin overpaying for potential, but in this case, it is no concern as this pair represents the most talented backs in the league.
I expect both Bell and Gurley to be among the top 15 players drafted in dynasty startup drafts, but as much as I love their talent, I would still easily prefer to build my team with cornerstone wide receivers in the first two rounds.
RB1 Todd Gurley, STL
RB2 Le’Veon Bell, PIT
This second tier in my rankings is huge, as is the gap between this tier and the previously mentioned group of two elite players. While I’m sure it will happen at some point, it’s difficult to envision any player cracking the top tier with Gurley and Bell.
This group, comprised of 21 running backs, is an assortment of various ball-carriers. There are old and young, starters and backups, pass catchers and three down backs, and soon, there will be at least two rookies. Expect both Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry to make their rankings debut in the top 25.
For the record, here’s a quick rundown of the multitude of players I have ranked in this second tier:
RB3 Devonta Freeman, ATL
RB4 TJ Yeldon, JAX
RB5 Mark Ingram, NO
RB6 Lamar Miller, MIA
RB7 Latavius Murray, OAK
RB8 Adrian Peterson, MIN
RB9 Giovani Bernard, CIN
RB10 Jeremy Hill, CIN
RB11 Eddie Lacy, GB
RB12 Duke Johnson, CLE
RB13 Melvin Gordon, SD
RB14 LeSean McCoy, PHI
RB15 Doug Martin, TB
RB16 DeMarco Murray, PHI
RB17 Dion Lewis, NE
RB18 Carlos Hyde, SF
RB19 Matt Forte, CHI
RB20 Jamaal Charles, KC
RB21 Thomas Rawls, SEA
RB22 Chris Ivory, NYJ
RB23 Marshawn Lynch, SEA
Unlike the top tier, this tier is very flexible and the order of players changes often. An injury, a move to a new team or a new running back coming in could quickly move many of these backs down or completely out of this tier.
My mindset with most of these backs is very short-term, sometimes as short as a one-year window. This means a breakout player like Freeman or Lewis can quickly rise up my ranks when they are producing. It also means players who are disappointing can quickly move down. At one time, I had Gordon, the Chargers’ rookie running back, ranked as a top five option. With a subpar first season, he’s moving down. I value this tier almost in line with their current production, or as I would if playing in a redraft league.
This next tier is filled with players who could easily move up a level with some positive news, or even a string of impressive games. While there are a couple of outliers, like the injured Arian Foster, the majority of this group is younger players, including eight rookies. Some have already drawn some starts for their team, while other project as a starter as soon as the 2016 season. Regardless, this is almost exclusively a group of players on the rise.
RB24 Ameer Abdullah, DET
RB25 Jonathan Stewart, CAR
RB26 David Johnson, ARZ
RB27 Jay Ajayi, MIA
RB28 Jeremy Langford, CHI
RB29 Tevin Coleman, ATL
RB30 Matt Jones, WAS
RB31 Karlos Williams, BUF
RB32 CJ Anderson, DEN
RB33 Ronnie Hillman, DEN
RB34 Javorius Allen, BAL
RB35 Arian Foster, HOU
RB36 Charcandrick West, KC
RB37 Isaiah Crowell, CLE
There is some obvious risk with each of these players. Most of them are unproven and could become the next Christine Michael or David Wilson: total non-producers. I’ve already mentioned Foster, and the concern with him of course surrounds his season ending injury, which some are speculating could end his time with the Texans.
The fourth tier is another large group, spanning from RB38 (Justin Forsett) all the way down to RB85 (Pierre Thomas). Basically, any running back ranked outside of this fourth group is not really worth a roster spot, in my view.
Inside this tier though, are some players who have proven very valuable in the short-term, including Forsett, LeGarrette Blount, Danny Woodhead, DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden. It’s hard to trust the value beyond the next year or two with any of these, which results in them falling in this range.
Some younger players from this tier that I will be stashing or attempting to buy on the cheap this off-season include Jerick McKinnon, Charles Sims, Khiry Robinson and Theo Riddick.
Check here for a complete list of my running back rankings.
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Thanks for the work, good info. However I’m not sure how T Rawls is so low. He has proven to be a more thsn capable replacement. In fact, the offense has excelled with Lynch’s departure….. Lynch is out next year and Rawls is easily top 10, more likely top 5 in comparison to other backs listed.
Keep up the good work!
Funny, I was trying to figure out why Rawls was a tier higher than guys like Langford, Matt Jones, David Johnson, Buck Allen, and Jay Ajayi. All of these guys have flashed in a similar way when given the opportunity, and for 3 of them the starter in front of them is an UDFA.
Your feelings on Rawls are about as credible as that statement. Matt Forte, Andre Ellington, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris, and Justin Forsett were all drafted.
Sorry, meant URFA. Thanks for being so kind about it. You must be great at parties.
A blast, actually. Cheers.
I do think guys like Rawls are tough to evaluate at this point in the season. He’s been very good, but its often hard to let go of the UDFA stigma, though it shouldn’t be in his case (top HS recruit, etc). Anyway, if Lynch is gone, Rawls could easily jump 10+ spots in my ranks quickly.
Like Rawls, love his college tape and violent running style and cuts. Here is the thing, there were similar character/experience questions about Karlos Williams and yet he got drafted in the 5th, and Rawls was an UDFA. Why? Rawls is small to run so violently and does not possess top-level speed.
Now, sure has he performed to an amazing level? Yes, he has but so have other guys like Zac Stacy in the past for small samples. I do not see him being a starting back in the NFL or any teams committing to making him “the guy” for years. Though he has shown what he can do when given the opportunity. This year was the freshest his legs will ever be. I don’t think he will ever be this productive again, and this is pre-injury opinions, with the injury it just drops his stock a little more for me.
full point ppr, 23 roster spots, 2 IR
Have Brees and Eli Manning at QB, looking for a qb of the future
RB: Gurley and Freeman, bad backups (Riddick, Ajayi, Spiller)
WR: calvin johnson, martavis bryant, sammy watkins, Michael Floyd, Devante Parker, Kevin White, Funchess, Marvin Jones
TE: gronk, delanie, ASJ, R Rodgers
also have #1, #7, #10 picks in rookie draft this year
Offered Michael Floyd for Russel Wilson
If he doesn’t accept do you think trading Floyd for Jameis would be a good trade, or draft a qb? Thanks in advance
I would say trading Floyd for any young signal caller would be a great trade based off of your current roster. My #1 target if I were you would be Bortles unless his price is too high at the juncture. But you have plenty of picks to use on upgrading your skill positions and grabbing a young QB who has already established himself would be a great move IMO.
Appreciate the insight!
I do like Floyd as he continues to bounce back, but I’m fine with getting either Wilson or Winston for him with that roster.
I have the Duke… and I kind of like his potential… but i don’t see him as the RB12. Thats nutsy in my opinion. I hope you’re right.
I’ve always been a big fan of his, but you might be right 🙂
I’m not sure what to think about these or any rankings, quite frankly but Lamar Miller at #7 seems interesting to me. As does Jeremy Hill at #10, Bernard at #9 and Murray at #7.
Two years ago Bernard, Michael, and Stacy were listed as top Dynasty RBs. Last year they didn’t do much. This year it’s probably hard to find many leagues where you’ll see Christine Michael and/or Zach Stacy on a roster.
How far out are we looking at these guys and good dynasty guys because, to me, 3-4 years of top level production is good enough for me.
If someone like Murray and Bernard are this high, we aren’t looking for much production out of the RB position, which is an article in of it’s self.
I’ll take a couple years of elite RB production from Peterson and Charles before I go for some of these other guys. Peterson and Charles don’t disappoint for extended periods of time, unless they are injured. Many top Dynasty guys from the last few years are either not producing or producing at any acceptable level. I’ll take the old guys.
I’m in a 12-Team Non-PPR IDP League. 23 Roster Spots, including 2 IR Spots.
I should have the 5th or 6th Pick in the 2016 Draft.
I just got bounced from the Playoffs, but I need help on how to rebuild if at all.
My Roster Is:
QB: Luck, Eli Manning
RB: Gurley, Foster, Anderson, Hyde, Langford
WR: Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Evans, A. Cooper, K. Allen, D. Moncrief, K. White
TE: Eifert, Gates
K: D. Bailey
DEF: Green Bay, Houston
IDP: Barron, Watt, David, Bowman (need to start DB, DL and LB)
We’re probably keeping 14 or 15 players for 2016, but we’ll allow for preseason trading before the draft.
I wanted to try and trade for LeVeon Bell, but that GM doesn’t really have a hole except at QB (Stafford, Cutler). The GM who has Mark Ingram has NO wide receivers, but who knows what his RB core will look like if Lynch retires and Forsett gets released.
Question #1: Sit Tight and Drink Scotch until July, or try to trade for Bell or Ingram if possible?
Question #2: Ajayi, Coleman and Taliaferro are FA’s. Would you drop K. White to get any of those? I thought White could be good trade bait next summer, since most of my league are Bears Fans.
Thanks in Advance!!