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Running Back Rundown for 2017 Fantasy Football

George Kurtz June 14, 2017 5:00AM EDT
This column will go over the running back depth for each NFL team. It’s not a ranking according to the best running back but more along the lines of what kind of depth situation each team has. When it comes to running backs in Fantasy, you need to be careful. There are few top-notch starters and many teams go with some kind of running back committee. This year will be no different. Throw in that several of these players will go down to injury and you can understand why this position gives Fantasy owners heartburn. You can also understand why the zero RB strategy has been so popular of late.

  1. Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman: For my money this is the team with the best two running backs. Freeman will go off the board after the big three of Elliott, Bell and Johnson, but Coleman is a tougher call. The Falcons offense knew how to get both involved last season but that was with Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Will the same hold true this year? I’ll take my chances that it will; Coleman is a RB2 for me. Rookie Brian Hill could push Terron Ward for the next spot on the depth chart.
  2. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris: The six-game suspension for Elliott will test the Cowboys RB depth. Dallas certainly won’t be as dynamic without Elliott, but there is plenty in the cupboard. We forget that McFadden ran for almost 1,100 yards in 2014 and that was the season Dallas was trusting the likes of Matt Cassel at QB. Morris also gives the Cowboys a reliable veteran option. If you’re drafting early and select Elliott, you need to make sure you get McFadden. One other item to keep in mind is that there will be lawyers, an appeal, and possibly even court action. Although right now Elliot is slated to start his suspension Week 1, it shouldn’t shock anyone if that suspension is delayed or if a negotiated settlement cuts a game or two from the sentence.
  3. running back

    DeMarco Murray is one of the few top tier running backs worthy of an early pick. Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

  4. New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Travaris Cadet: What does head coach Sean Peyton have against Ingram? He benched Ingram at times last season, then decided to sign Peterson this offseason and draft Kamara. Peterson has looked great in OTAs. I have a hard time seeing Ingram starting over him, even though AP doesn’t fit the Saints’ offense all that well. Peterson doesn’t catch the ball well out of the backfield, but I also wonder if Ingram will eventually be traded, which would leave the starting job to Peterson with Kamara being the third down passing option with some later PPR appeal.
  5. Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry: If you wanted to argue that the Titans wouldn’t be any worse for the wear if Murray went down to injury, I wouldn’t disagree with you. Murray is still the number one back here, but if he wasn’t on the roster Henry would likely be a low end RB1 or strong high end RB2. Tennessee will be in fine shape if Murray were to get hurt. Henry is worth more in drafts than just a handcuff player.
  6. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill: You have to hand it to Cincinnati, they don’t mind taking gambles on players with a past. Mixon might’ve been a Top 10 draft pick this season if not for his past. In early drafts, he’s going in the third round, but I expect that to elevate as the start of season draws closer. Bernard is having difficulty recovering from a knee injury and if Hill is still on the team come Week 1, I would expect him to have little value unless Mixon were to get hurt.
  7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon: All you need to know about the chances of Ivory and/or Yeldon seeing the field this season is that Jacksonville spent the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft on Fournette. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm for Jags and their running game. They drafted Yeldon and signed Ivory in free agency. Neither one was the answer. They tried a pass-happy offense with Blake Bortles, and that didn’t work either. Fournette should be a low end RB1 at draft time with Ivory a possible late round pick.
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Knile Davis: At this time, DeAngelo Williams is still a free agent, which would likely leave the coveted backup job to Conner. Although Bell has a history of injuries and off-field problems, I’m not going to be expecting to see Conner very much.
  9. Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams: The Bills would be in trouble if anything ever happened to McCoy. I mean long-term because we know McCoy will get hurt eventually. It’s not a matter of if he will miss games, but how many he will miss. Williams would only have value if/when McCoy goes down.
  10. Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams: We already know that Johnson will be a Top 3 pick in a majority of leagues, but Williams won’t have anywhere near the same value if Johnson were to get hurt. He would only have draft value if you believe in taking a handcuff.
  11. Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Gordon, Brandon Oliver, Kenjon Barner, Kenneth Farrow: Yeah, I almost wrote San Diego. This will take some getting used to. It’s Gordon or bust here as none of the backups are worth considering.
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Latavius Murray, Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon, Bishop Sankey: This is another situation that you’re probably better off avoiding. The Minnesota offensive line is better but still below average this season. We still don’t know if QB Sam Bradford will throw the ball down the field, so opposing safeties will play near the line of scrimmage. Plus, they have two number one backs. Murray and Cook could be used in some kind of even split or maybe as hot hand plays. They are both RB3s for me.
  13. Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whitaker, Cameron Artis-Payne: This is all about how the Panthers will incorporate McCaffrey into their offense. He can do it all including lining up as a WR and running routes. The Panthers will have to be careful not to overload him by giving him too much too fast, but he’s expected to make a big impact right away, especially in PPR leagues. Stewart should still have some value, as they can’t expect McCaffrey to be a three down back from day one. Just keep in mind that last season Stewart was a low end RB2 on draft day; now he’s down a full tier to a low end RB3 and even that may be wishful thinking.
  14. Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey: We have already seen Langford fail and lose the job to Howard. Howard is a RB1 and is being taken in the second round. If not for Elliott, we would’ve been talking up Howard for Rookie of the Year last season. The offense, especially the passing part, is a work in progress to put it nicely, so they will run early and often. I don’t have much interest in Langford as anything other than a handcuff.
  15. Houston Texans: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman: Miller is a good RB but also one who can’t survive a full season without help. He was miscast as a first round back last season, but is still a RB1 and should be drafted in the second round this season. Foreman will be his caddy and should have value as more than just a typical backup, as I expect Miller to receive more rest in games this season as long as Foreman proves to be reliable.
  16. Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake: Miami is another team with only one RB worth drafting. Ajayi has some doubters and I can understand why. When you look at his stats from last season, most of his damage came in three games (Buffalo twice and Pittsburgh). The Dolphins offensive line is still a work in progress but the passing game could be a threat, which could still lead to running room for Ajayi. He’s a low end RB1 for me.
  17. San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Joe Williams: There is talent here in the run game. Hyde has proven to be an effective RB when healthy, but availability has been a problem for Hyde in the past. In his three seasons in the NFL, he has missed 11 games. There is also the thought that his talents don’t mesh with new head coach Kyle Shanahan, and that Williams will be the better fit in his offense. Hightower can also be a threat but I expect him to be third on the depth chart by the time training camp ends.
  18. Cleveland Browns: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson: I think we all know the passing game is going to have its issues this season, so that will leave us with the running game in charge of moving the Browns’ offense. The volume will be there for Crowell, and he should make for a solid RB2. Johnson has never quite become the player some thought he would, but if you want to take a late round flyer on him, you could do worse for a PPR dart throw.
  19. New York Jets: Bilal Powell, Matt Forte: The Jets seem unlikely to have much of a passing offense without Brandon Marshall. They will try to keep games close with a running game that is solid but not spectacular. Forte is meant to be a backup at this point in his career, but could still have value in a tandem role with Powell, and at the very least should be the TD guy. Powell does have value in a PPR league as a high end RB3 or low end RB2.
  20. Philadelphia Eagles: LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood: The big question with Philly is can Blount be the same RB with the Eagles that he was with the Patriots? He has always played his best under Bill Belichick. He should give the Eagles a power back they can rely on, and Sproles will handle the third down role. Smallwood would be the backup to both. Where does that leave Ryan Mathews? Some think eventually on the cutting room floor.
  21. Denver Broncos: C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, Juwan Thompson: The Broncos spent a good deal of time this offseason in free agency and the draft addressing their offensive line. This could be good news for Anderson. Not that we can expect big things from him, but perhaps a mid-range RB2 could be coming your way. As for Charles, the best case scenario would be as a third-down back, but we really don’t know how much he has left. That being said, someone will try him and grab him as a RB3. Booker has some real sleeper buzz around him and his ADP could continue to rise throughout the preseason.
  22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jacquizz Rodgers, Doug Martin, Charles Sims: This could be a situation where all three RBs have value. Martin is suspended for the first four games, so Rodgers is the likely starter during his absence. Martin has burned some bridges in Tampa and there was some thought that he could be released. Apparently not, or at least not yet. I do wonder, though, if he automatically gets the starting job back when he returns if Rodgers is playing well. Rodgers may fit this offense better than Martin, and Sims can be the change of pace or pass-catching specialist back no matter which RB is starting. They all have value in Fantasy leagues, but none of them are worth anything more than a mid to late round pick, with Sims only a PPR prayer type initially.
  23. Green Bay Packers: Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams: How much trust do we put in Montgomery to be a reliable NFL RB this season? The answer to that question will determine where you should draft him in Fantasy leagues. I have him as a mid-range RB2 with upside. We all know defenses will be doing all they can to stop Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, so running lanes should be there for Montgomery. I’m interested in Williams also because let’s face it, Montgomery could fail, which would leave Williams as the next man up.
  24. Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley, Lance Dunbar: I still don’t trust this passing offense to do much to open up running lanes for Gurley. He’s a RB2 for me with Dunbar either a late round gamble in PPR leagues or someone to just be left all alone. I’ll pass on him.
  25. Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson, Marlon Mack: There really isn’t much to see here other than Gore. He’s a low end RB2. Gore doesn’t get the respect he deserves, but he always seems to put up solid numbers in this pass-happy offense.
  26. Seattle Seahawks: Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise: I will have a hard time relying on Lacy. This is a RB who has been trying to eat his way out of the league for a couple of years and needs a weight clause in his contract so he doesn’t turn into the Michelin Man. He could end up just being the short yardage goal line guy with Rawls and Prosise splitting the heavy work load. Let’s also remember that the Hawks offensive line has little to boast about, but perhaps that’s why they like Lacy so much, as the extra weight does make him his own blocker.
  27. New England Patriots: Mike Gillislee, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Branden Bolden: The Patriots running game is like playing darts. You’re just praying to hit a bullseye. This smells like one week it will be Gillislee, the next White, and the next Lewis. Burkhead could have some value also. This won’t be fun for Fantasy owners. If I had to choose one, it would be Gillislee if only because I think he might end up filling the goal line role that Blount has vacated with his signing in Philadelphia. He has true standard league promise.
  28. Kansas City Chiefs: Charcandrick West, Kareem Hunt, C.J. Spiller: Ware has been lost for the season due to a PCL injury which could be a blessing in disguise. His injury will leave the starting job to Hunt who looks to be the real deal and could bring an explosive element to the running game. The injury to Ware has also vaulted Hunt from RB4 range into a Top 15 RB. West shouldn’t be forgotten about either as one would think at the very least he will spell Hunt for a series here and there and could also be the goal line back
  29. Oakland Raiders: Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Taiwan Jones: I’m not sure why everyone seems so enamored with Lynch. He was injured and far from his best in his last season with the Seahawks. So now we’re expecting Lynch, after taking a year off, to just be the All-Pro RB he used to be with Seattle? I don’t see it. Let someone else deal with him. Yes, the Oakland offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, but Lynch could end up being the short yardage and goal line back. I’d want Washington if I drafted Lynch, as I just have a hard time seeing Lynch playing all 16 games or being all that successful even if he remains healthy.
  30. Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington: We are all still waiting for that breakout season from Abdullah. Perhaps that breakout would’ve happened last season if not for the Lisfranc injury that ended it. Riddick is the pass catching back and PPR specialist but the truth is, neither is worth more than being a flex play RB4 type. Zenner and Washington could also get a look if Abdullah were to fail.
  31. Baltimore Ravens: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Javorius Allen: The loss of Dixon for the entire season due to a meniscus tear is a blow to the run game for Baltimore. I’m not sure what there is to see here with this entire offense. Woodhead has proven to be a good third down back in the past and the Chargers also knew how to use him in the red zone. He could be a RB3 in PPR leagues, but remember health has been an issue with Woodhead as he has missed 27 of his team’s past 48 games. West will take over the starting RB duties but he’s no one’s definition of a top back but every starting RB has value and West is likely to be a high end RB3 entering the season assuming Baltimore doesn’t make a trade for a more proven back.
  32. Washington Redskins: Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Matt Jones: When we think of the Skins, we think of the passing game and that is unlikely to change unless Perine can come straight from college and make a dent in the pros. Perhaps he can, and he’s worth a late round flier to find out. I’ll pass on the others. Jones didn’t even report to OTAs, as he knows he’s not part of the Skins’ future. Kelley and Thompson are just pedestrian backs.
  33. New York Giants: Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Shaun Draughn: It’s true, there really isn’t much to see here. The Giants offensive line is average at best, poor at worst. Even a good RB would have problems behind that line. Vereen is the third-down back, but Perkins is the guy with the best chance at a breakout. I would look for him in double-digit rounds or if you have decided to go with a zero RB strategy.

As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you like, @georgekurtz.

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