Instead of numbering players off, I have decided to list similar players in groups I call tiers. I believe that players can finish anywhere in their tier but I HAVE listed them in the order.
The gap between certain players is wide. As you can see in my QB Rankings, Brees, who is my 4th QB overall and in my Elite QB tier, holds much more value than Derek Carr, who is my 5th QB overall and in my QB 1 tier. If I just listed Brees as 4 and Carr as 5, you would not know that there is a larger fantasy production gap between the two.
Running backs are the greatest examples of why I use the tier system. Last season, the RB6 (Devonta Freeman) was 54 points better than the RB10 (Jordan Howard). That’s a wide gap among players who would both be considered RB1s. That’s 3.375 points per game. That’s a big gap just within the starting running backs.
At the same time, there was a 24 point difference between RB11 (Jay Ajayi) and RB20 (Tevin Coleman). That’s only 1.5 points per game. That’s a very marginal gap.
These small or large gaps is why I find tiers so useful. With that being said, let’s get into it.
Tier 1: Elite:
- David Johnson, ARI
- Le’Veon Bell, PIT
This was a group of 3 until the Elliott suspension (you can read more about that below). Bell and Johnson should be the first two picks in every draft.
Tier 2: Near Elite
- LeSean McCoy, BUF
- Devonta Freeman, ATL
McCoy and Freeman are not on the same level as David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell but they are close. Close enough to where I can realistically see both of them finishing as the best back in fantasy next season. They are both excellent picks in the first round.
Tier 3: RB1s
- Melvin Gordon, LAC
- Jordan Howard, CHI
- Leonard Fournette, JAC
- DeMarco Murray, TEN
- Isaiah Crowell, CLE
Melvin Gordon was a touchdown machine last season. With Anthony Lynn (previously in Buffalo as their Interim HC, OC, and RB coach) taking over for LA, I think Gordon will only build on the year he had last season.
Leonard Fournette is the highest I have ranked a rookie running back ever in my time doing fantasy football. The risk of injury is real but so is the upside. Doug Marrone knows the best way to wing football games is to keep the ball away from Bortles. Fournette allows Jacksonville to do just that.
Speaking of coaches that want to run the football more, Hue Jackson said Isaiah Crowell needs to get more touches this season. During his two years as the offensive coordinator of Cincinnati, Jackon’s offenses ranked 5th and 7th in rushing attempts. Last season Cleveland was 31st. Crowell, who is entering a contract year, will see an uptick in touches this season as Cleveland tries to build off last season.
Tier 4: Fringe RB1s
- Todd Gurley, LAR
- Marshawn Lynch, OAK
- Lamar Miller, HOU
- Jay Ajayi, MIA
Todd Gurley is on track for a bounce back season. He should see an increase in targets in McVay’s offense. With a slightly better line, Gurley should be able to find his way back to being a RB1.
Marshawn Lynch is a risky pick. The Raiders will try to limit his carries to keep him healthy all season. With that being said, Lynch should take all of Murray’s redzone carries (he had 38 attempts and 11 touchdowns). Lynch will also have the best line he’s had in his entire career. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to put together a very good season.
You either like Jay Ajayi this season or you hate him. I hate him. 49% of his yardage came in 3 games last season. That won’t happen again.
Tier 5: Zeke
- Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
I had Elliott penciled in as a top 3 pick until he was suspended for 6 games. Take Elliott’s averages from last season and put them into a ten game season:
|ATT||Rushing Yards||Rushing TDs||REC||REC Yards||REC TDs||Fantasy Points|
|Zeke’s 10 game season||215||1,087||10||21||242||1||219 Points|
That would be good for 10th in fantasy, enough to be a RB1. I am taking into account that Elliott will likely have a tough time repeating his averages last season. I think RB14 is a very fair spot to place him.
Tier 6: RB2
- Danny Woodhead, BAL
- Christian McCaffery, CAR
- Carlos Hyde, SF
- Dalvin Cook, MIN
- Bilal Powell, NYJ
- Spencer Ware, KC
In 2015, Danny Woodhead finished RB3 in PPR scoring leagues. The Ravens have been top 10 in pass attempts the past two seasons and targeted running backs on 26.9% of throws last season. If healthy, RB2 is Woodhead’s floor.
Dalvin Cook has the starting job in Minnesota all but locked up. He has serious 3 down back potential. I do think Murray could vulture touchdowns from Cook but I think he has done enough to show Minnesota he is a day one starter.
Tier 7: RB3s with RB2 Upside
- Joe Mixon, CIN
- Mark Ingram, NO
- Ty Montgomery, GB
- Frank Gore, IND
The first two running backs on this list would have RB1 potential if they were not stuck in a running back by committee (RBBC).
Joe Mixon will have to win the starting running back job from Jeremy Hill (something he should be able to do) but he will also see his touches get cut into by Giovani Bernard on passing downs. Mixon is still the most talented back in Cincinnati and should be at least a solid RB3.
Ingram’s touches per game have decreased each season. The Saints have added Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara this offseason. Ingram managed to stay healthy last season when his touches were reduced. I think the Saints will continue to keep him on a touch count to ensure they have him for the season.
Frank Gore has been a tank at the running back position for the last 11 years. He finally showed signs of slowing down last season, which is why he is not a RB2 in my book. However, he will get plenty of opportunities and should serve as a great RB3.
Tier 6: RB3
- LeGarrette Blount, PHI
- Adrian Peterson, NO
- Doug Martin, TB
- Terrance West, BAL
- Mike Gillislee, NE
- Robert Kelley, WAS
Doug Martin is suspended for the first 3 games of the season. He is still the most talented running back in Tampa and has looked excellent in camp. Martin has also received the bulk of the first team reps in camp.
Terrance West is the lead back in Baltimore due to a season ending injury to Kenneth Dixon. While Woodhead should get the passing down work, West should get plenty of rushes. West will also be the goal line back as Baltimore tries to improve their red zone play.
Tier 6: RB4
- Eddie Lacy, SEA
- Paul Perkins, NYG
- Theo Riddick, DET
- Giovani Bernard, CIN
- Tevin Coleman, ATL
- Darren McFadden, DAL
- CJ Anderson, DEN
- James White, NE
- Darren Sproles, PHI
- Matt Forte, NYJ
If I had to put money on any of the backs in Seattle, I’m betting on Lacy. Since I don’t have to, I won’t. You shouldn’t either. Lacy is currently being taken as RB24. That’s a little too high for me. I’ll roll the dice on Lacy as a RB4 in the hopes that he gets plenty of goal line work.
All the talk of Joe Mixon in Cincinnati has people forgetting all about Giovani Bernard. Bernard, who is coming off an ACL tear, has been one of the best receiving backs in football in recent years. With Mixon and Hill battling for rushing attempts, I think Bernard’s role in the passing game will remain unchanged.
Tier 6: RB5
- Jonathan Stewart, CAR
- CJ Prosise, SEA
- Thomas Rawls, SEA
- Ameer Abdullah, DET
- Duke Johnson Jr., CLE
- Jeremy Hill, CIN
- Jacquizz Rodgers, TB
- Jamaal Williams, GB
- Joe Williams, SF
- Shane Vereen, NYG
The Ameer Abdullah hype is in full swing for the third season in a row and I have officially jumped ship. Riddick will get the passing down work and Zenner will steal goal line touches. That leaves Abdullah, who only has 161 career carries, with little upside.
I’m keeping my eye on Jamaal and Joe Williams (no relation).
Jamaal Williams has been pushing for Ty Montgomery for the starting role in Green Bay. It seems Williams is seeing first team reps because he is a better pass blocker than Montgomery. If he can continue to prove himself as a pass blocker, he will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself as a legit fantasy option during the season.
Joe Williams likely won’t see much of the field to start the season. With that being said, he was hand picked by Shanahan on draft day. When Carlos Hyde gets hurt (we all know it will happen), Williams could have serious fantasy value.