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Welcome! Our rankings continue, this time with the top 40 running backs for fantasy football. For a look at our top 20 (and some definitions of terms I use here like DVOA), check out our top 20 article.
21. Marshawn Lynch (Oakland Raiders) – If it feels like Marshawn Lynch didn’t perform well last year, I understand. In fact, most of the Raiders were pretty disappointing last year. But we have a new Raiders this year, with Jon Gruden and Greg Olson, both of whom should work wonders for the offense. And all things considered, Lynch was actually pretty good last year. He finished the season with a 10.1% DVOA, good for ninth-best in the league, and 1,022 effective yards compared to 891 standard yards while averaging 2.47 yards per carry after first contact (the second-best rate of his career and fifth-best in the NFL). Not only that, but only Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, and Kareem Hunt had a higher percentage of their teams’ red zone carries than Lynch. So to sum it up, Lynch was better than his stats suggest he was last year, he’ll be in a revamped offense that (I expect) will be better through the air, he gets a lot of red zone carries, and he’ll be running behind one of the better offensive lines in football that’s gotten better by drafting Kolton Miller in the draft this year. In my opinion, Lynch is being drafted way too low—he’s a borderline RB2 with the potential for better.
22. Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints) – Even with the Saints using Alvin Kamara as much as they did last year, Ingram was still able to manage 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, including seven top-10 finishes last year (one of them as number one). Unfortunately, he’s got two things working against him this year—first, there’s the likelihood that he’s going to lose work to Kamara after his explosive season last year, and second, he’s suspended for the first four games of the year. He should still have value once he returns from his suspension given the high-octane offense the Saints have and how good their offensive line is, but he’s not the high-end RB2 he used to be.
Tier 5: Ole Coltrane
23. Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans) – If you told me today that Derrick Henry had the Titans’ running back job completely to himself, I would be ranking him a lot higher. But that’s not the case—instead, the Titans signed Dion Lewis in the offseason, and reports from the Titans’ coaching staff seem to see this as a pretty evenly-split committee with a slight favor to Henry. As a result, Lewis is going to eat into Henry’s carries, which is going to limit his value. Plus, right tackle Jack Conklin is injured, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the start of the season. That’s going to hurt Henry’s (and Lewis’) production as well, because Conklin is an excellent tackle. The Titans still have a really solid offensive line even without Conklin, but losing him certainly doesn’t help. It’s worth noting that Lewis has had injury problems in the past, and if he gets hurt and cedes the job to Henry more full-time, Henry will become a lot more valuable.
24. Jay Ajayi (Philadelphia Eagles) – I’ve just personally never been a big Ajayi believer, but I do think he can be reasonably productive in Philadelphia this year. He’s going to be in a high-powered offense with arguably the best offensive line in football. The question is just going to be volume, as Ajayi has always been a volume guy. He’s not particularly effective with each carry, finishing the year with a -5.1% DVOA, but if he gets lots of carries, that can mitigate that and translate to fantasy points. However, he’s going to be splitting some time with Corey Clement and potentially Darren Sproles (depending on his health). Wendell Smallwood also saw some work last year and the team signed Matt Jones this offseason, so there are a lot of mouths to feed. Ajayi is undoubtedly at the top of that food chain, but if his volume is limited, his success will be too. He’s in a perfect situation though.
25. Sony Michel (New England Patriots) – Michel is a trendy sleeper this year and it’s easy to see why. The Patriots spent a first-round pick on him and I’d say it’s likely that he’ll slip right into Dion Lewis’ role from last season. Unfortunately, being that he’s a Patriots running back, he’s going to be a bit unpredictable, but we’ve seen New England running backs have a lot of success. It’s worth noting though that Michel has suffered a knee injury and will miss the majority of training camp—he’s expected to be ready for Week 1, so this likely isn’t that big of an issue, but it’s worth monitoring. Don’t be shocked if Michel gets off to a slow start because he missed training camp.
26. Ronald Jones II (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – If you believe that Peyton Barber is the starter in Tampa Bay, then you probably think this ranking is way too high. I believe it’s going to be Jones, and even if it isn’t immediately, it will be quickly. Jones is a talented back who should be able to succeed behind an improved Bucs offensive line that signed Ryan Jensen this offseason. Here’s the problem though—Jameis Winston is suspended for three games, which means the passing offense will have to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz has had success in the past, and fortunately for him he has Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson to throw to, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we see this passing offense be relatively inefficient, which means defenses could focus more on the run.
27. Dion Lewis (Tennessee Titans) – Lewis will be in a different role with the Titans this year, likely being the 1b to Derrick Henry’s 1a in a running back committee rather than the role he had in New England. He’s obviously an injury risk, and as I mentioned earlier, the potential lack of Jack Conklin will hurt the running game production from the Titans, but he’ll be in a good situation and he’s got loads of talent, finishing last year with an awesome 27.6% DVOA, behind only Alvin Kamara.
28. Chris Thompson (Washington Redskins) – I had anticipated Derrius Guice getting a fair bit of work in the Redskins backfield this year, but now he’s out for the season with an ACL injury. As a result, the job seems to be entirely Chris Thompson’s, with a mix of some Robert Kelley as well. As a runner, Thompson was fine if unimpressive last year, but as a receiving back he was excellent, posting a 67.3% DVOA, good for best in the league among receiving running backs (yes, including ahead of Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey). We’ll see how often Alex Smith checks down to Thompson, though I don’t anticipate Kelley being involved much in the passing game, but there’s no doubt that Thompson has some appeal, especially in PPR leagues.
29. Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons) – Coleman has a ton of upside, but as long as Devonta Freeman is healthy, he’s the starting running back, and that will limit Coleman’s production. Coleman has been steadily eating into Freeman’s workload, but he’ll continue to be Freeman’s 1b. That being said, if there’s an injury, watch out, because Coleman has high-end RB2/low-end RB1 upside. In Week 10, when Freeman first got hurt, Coleman finished as running back #10. Freeman was out the next two weeks and Coleman finished as running back #21 and #5, so yea, he’s got a lot of upside, and if you draft Freeman, you should almost certainly draft Coleman.
Tier 6: Ascension
30. Lamar Miller (Houston Texans) – It’s tough for me to know what to feel about Lamar Miller this year. I’ve always liked his talent, but he was extremely underwhelming last year, and I truly believe that, if D’Onta Foreman wasn’t hurt, he’d probably be the starter coming into the season (I mean, Miller did lose a large number of carries to Alfred Blue last year). He also finished the season with a -2.8% DVOA, and while Foreman may be hurt now, he’s not expected to be out for long and might be back Week 1 (as of this writing). Still, Miller can be useful, as he did have six top-20 finishes last season. Just watch out for Foreman when he comes back.
31. Marlon Mack (Indianapolis Colts) – Mack will more than likely handle the majority of the Colts’ running back workload, especially now that Robert Turbin will be missing the first four games of the season (though don’t count out Nyheim Hines as an interesting sleeper). Mack didn’t get a ton of playing time last year behind Frank Gore, but he did flash some talent, especially in Week 5 when he ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries, finishing as a top-10 running back in fantasy. The Colts offensive line has been pretty bad in the past, but it’s gotten better this year, as they drafted Quenton Nelson who should be a good left guard. Plus, if Andrew Luck is actually back and healthy, this Colts passing offense should be significantly better, which will be good news for Mack.
32. Carlos Hyde (Cleveland Browns) – If you want to bet on Nick Chubb taking the starting role from Hyde at some point this season, I wouldn’t blame you, but I don’t think that’s happening unless Hyde gets hurt. Hyde has shown he can be a useful fantasy running back, turning in 10 top-20 performances and four top-10 performances last season (though he did end the year with a -7.4% DVOA). Now, he enters a revamped Browns offense with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. Mobile quarterbacks are always good for running backs as they open up the defense, and that should help Hyde a fair bit. However, that could change a bit if and when the Browns bring Baker Mayfield in to replace Taylor. Still, this offense looks like it could be pretty good, and Hyde still has the talent to succeed on the field.
33. Rex Burkhead (New England Patriots) – Burkhead missed a fair number of games last year, but when he was out there, he was very effective, posting a 10.5% DVOA and finishing the year with six top-20 finishes (and two top-10 finishes) in the 10 games he played. But being that he’s a running back on the Patriots, and the fact that Sony Michel was drafted and will likely slot into the Dion Lewis role from last year (though again, who knows with the Patriots), Burkhead is a risky pick. There’s definitely upside here, we saw it last year, but there’s likely to be plenty of volatility. There’s no doubt he has the talent though, which makes him an interesting flex play most weeks.
34. C.J. Anderson (Carolina Panthers) – Anderson logged just over 1,000 rushing yards last year, but only 862 effective yards thanks to a -6.9% DVOA. Now, he moves to the Panthers which should actually be a better situation for him, as being with a mobile quarterback like Cam Newton will open up defenses a little more. The Panthers were able to extract 681 yards and six touchdowns out of the ghost of Jonathan Stewart last year, so one would expect Anderson to be able to do better, but given that an already-bad Panthers offensive line has gotten worse with the loss of Andrew Norwell, and the fact that Christian McCaffery is likely to take at least some work away from Anderson, you’re looking at a fairly touchdown-dependent player who will probably end the year as a slightly better version of Stewart.
35. Isaiah Crowell (New York Jets) – The Jets signed three different running backs this offseason in Crowell, Thomas Rawls, and George Atkinson and drafted Trenton Cannon in the sixth round. Crowell appears to be the number one guy, but let’s not forget that Bilal Powell still exists, as does Elijah McGuire (though he’s questionable for Week 1) and both have shown flashes of fantasy relevance in the past. Still, Crowell was markedly more effective than Powell last year (-2.9% DVOA vs. -14.8% DVOA respectively), and even if the Jets have a Patriots-style backfield where everyone gets touches, Crowell will likely be the man on top, and that has some relevance in fantasy, even in an offense like the Jets’.
36. Jamaal Williams (Green Bay Packers) – Who’s the starting running back in Green Bay? Do you know? No you don’t. Neither do I . I’m banking on it being Williams because he performed well last year, finishing the year with a 7.4% DVOA (good for 12th-best in the league among rushers with at least 100 carries) and 760 effective yards compared to 556 standard yards. However, there’s a very good chance that once Aaron Jones returns from his two-game suspension, he’ll challenge Williams for the job, and Jones played well last year, finishing with a 31.3% DVOA. Oh, and let’s not forget, Ty Montgomery is still there too. So while I think Williams will start the year with the job, there’s no guarantee he’ll have it for very long, which makes him a risky pick, but the upside in an Aaron Rodgers offense is big.
37. Kerryon Johnson (Detroit Lions) – I hesitate to believe in any Detroit Lions running back, but Johnson looks really interesting. Yes, the Lions went and signed LeGarrette Blount this offseason for whatever reason, and they do still have Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick on the roster, which makes this tricky, but Johnson has been impressing at camp. Local beat reporters have been saying he’s for real and that he’s the top back along with Blount. If that’s true, Johnson has some decent appeal, but especially in PPR leagues, as he’ll likely catch a fair number of passes from Matthew Stafford (and Blount is terrible at that). But that all hinges on the Lions deciding not to just throw Riddick or Abdullah out there any given week.
38. Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers) – As I mentioned earlier, Jones was pretty impressive when he was out there for the Packers, and there’s a really good chance that he’ll be challenging Jamaal Williams for the starting gig, but considering he has a two-game suspension and how fluid that backfield will be, he’s a risky pick. If you told me he had the job from day one as “the guy,” he’d be a lot higher.
39. Tarik Cohen (Chicago Bears) – Cohen should be getting more touches than he does as he’s flashed some big-play ability, but he’s likely going to be second-fiddle behind Jordan Howard. Still, he’ll have a notable role, especially as a receiving back where he saw 71 passes last season. Unfortunately, he wasn’t particularly effective as a receiving back, posting a miserable -30.6% DVOA. As it stands, Cohen is a back who primarily serves as a valuable handcuff to Howard, but could also have some flex value in PPR leagues—even if he isn’t effective as a receiver, he’ll still get passes, and those receptions will add up.
40. Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals) – I know we all love Joe Mixon and his talent (I do too), but let’s not forget that Giovani Bernard is still a pretty darn good running back. He finished the year last season with a 3.4% DVOA, good for 16th in the league (and better than Mixon). However, as it stands, Bernard is a valuable handcuff that could be an RB2 if Mixon gets hurt and a guy who will have some flex appeal in PPR leagues.