2017 Running Back Depth Chart Analysis
By Justin Carter (@juscarts)
Running backs are important–you can’t win a fantasy league if you don’t get at least solid production from the position. But with the increased usage of committees and the high risk of injuries at the position, picking out who to own from a team can feel like a crapshoot. Quality running backs tend to come out of nowhere–think Jordan Howard last season–more than quality players at other positions.
If you’re lost when it comes t0 figuring out the RB situation, Rotoballer is here to help. I’ll break down the RB1, RB2, and RB3 for each team, plus let you know which player has the most long term value if you’re playing in a dynasty league.
Remember: this list is likely to change once the season begins, as injuries start to pile up and ineffective players lose their playing time. Still, it’s an accurate look at the position for people currently going into their drafts.
2017 Running Back Depth Charts
LeSean McCoy is about as safe a pick as you can get outside of the consensus top-two backs of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. The Bills run the ball a lot. Likewise, Williams picks up major value if McCoy goes down. I also like him in dynasty because rumors of McCoy leaving Buffalo have picked up steam.
Jay Ajayi seemed to come out of nowhere last year. If the Dolphins can avoid making the same usage mistakes they made with Lamar Miller during his tenure with the team, Ajayi should be solid this year and into the future. He figures to be one of the few workhorse backs in the league, which makes him a solid first-round pick.
New England Patriots
As usual, the New England Patriots are just a lot of question marks. Gillislee likely sees early down work, but some combination of James White, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis will see plenty of time on the field as well. The tide seems to be turning against Gillislee and toward Burkhead right now, but honestly–I don’t know. New England is notorious for the inconsistent way they use their backs and this year looks to be more unpredictable than usual. As for dynasty, I’m leaning Burkhead just because he seems to have the most unknowns about him. Gillislee could be a good choice there as well if he stays in New England long term, but as long as Bill Belichick is the head coach it’s hard to commit to any one player.
New York Jets
The Jets depth chart is a little unsettled still because Forte is potentially on the trade block. Powell should put up solid numbers this season. I don’t love McGuire but he’s the youngest of the bunch and if you really, really insist on owning a Jets running back for years to come then—good luck!
This is as muddled a backfield situation as you’ll see, but there could be value somewhere here. If you’re looking for future value, you can try Kenneth Dixon out–he’ll miss this entire season, but he’s the only running back on the roster who provides upside into the coming years. Terrance West is not an exciting pick, but he can give owners some value this season. Woodhead should bounce back to PPR relevance if he stays healthy, though his age (32) and his track record (playing only 20 games over the past three seasons) make this a gamble.
It remains to be seen how quickly Joe Mixon takes over the Bengals backfield. He’s the best back to own, but there’s still a major chance that Jeremy Hill sees the majority of the snaps for at least a little while. Mixon is a great dynasty pick. There’s also Gio Bernard back there to complicate things.
Crowell is getting a lot of hype right now. I’m not sure I’m fully buying it, but he’s a solid running back on a team without many weapons. Duke Johnson Jr. could be a strong PPR play.
Don’t overthink it with Bell. He’s one of the two best backs in the league and yes–his suspension history and injury history should give you a tiny pause, but just a very tiny one. Bell can help you win a league now and into the foreseeable future. Conner and Watson will vie for the backup job.
A bit of a projection with Houston seeing as Alfred Blue likely starts the season backing up Lamar Miller. But neither player is exciting and D’Onta Foreman looks good so far–he’s got a combination of speed and strength that could make him a strong player once the Texans move on from Lamar Miller.
Fournette might not put up the numbers some are expecting this season, but he should be good now and next year and the next year and so on. Avoid the backups if you want to win your league.
I really don’t know what to do with Denver’s backfield. Charles looked good this preseason and could cut into C.J. Anderson‘s playing time, but Anderson is still the better own now and into the future. Devontae Booker excited people before he got playing time last season and then he immediately stopped exciting people. Avoid him.
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon is a good player with full control of the starting job in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, an injury would be devastating to the team and fantasy owners, as they don’t seem to have a viable backup who could step in and deliver any value.
Marshawn Lynch had a year off and no one’s quite sure what to expect. He’s probably worth the risk, at least in standard leagues. DeAndre Washington provides better value into the future and could be a PPR sleeper.
The Elliott suspension throws a bit of a wrench into the plans of both the Dallas Cowboys and fantasy owners. Darren McFadden will likely see the bulk of the workload for the first six games and should be owned, but Elliott has all the value after that. Figuring out when to draft him in redraft is tough because we don’t know what will happen with his appeal. Alfred Morris is also still there and could be a good play if anything happens to McFadden.
New York Giants
Paul Perkins is expected to be the Giants main running back. He started out 2016 fourth on the team’s depth chart, but ended up seeing his fair share of playing time late in the year. He could be a really solid pick in your fantasy league. Vereen likely has good PPR value.
This backfield situation doesn’t seem any better than last year. Every rumor right now has Blount losing playing time. Darren Sproles should be good in PPR. Wendell Smallwood could end up as the starter or he could be stuck in a middling role. Smallwood could have the best value moving forward, but if you want an Eagles running back on your dynasty squad then Pumphrey looks set to take over the Sproles role.
Samaje Perine was getting a little bit of hype during the offseason, with some saying that he could end up as Washington’s starter, but that hasn’t really happened yet. Kelley looked strong at the end of last season. Be cautious with this back field.
The Lions backfield is a little bit of a mess beyond the top two. Abdullah will get another chance to be the team’s main back. Riddick will be a threat on passing downs. Injuries will happen and some combination of the other three backs will see the field. Zenner got a good amount of run last season.
Green Bay Packers
Ty Montgomery is an intriguing player–a former wide receiver who ended up starting at running back last season when the team became desperate. He opens 2017 with the job, but the Packers brought in a LOT of rookies. If Jamaal Williams doesn’t supplant Montgomery this season, it’s likely he will by next year.
The Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook. He’s a really talented player who should see plenty of playing time. Latavius Murray could see more work in the red zone than people are expecting and McKinnon is just always, ALWAYS hanging around in Minnesota. This backfield might look easy to figure out, but slow down a little until we see how they use Cook and Murray, though in a dynasty league grab Cook.
Devonta Freeman is one of the sure things at running back this season and Tevin Coleman is probably a sure thing in the event that Freeman goes down. Coleman has value on his own as well, but Freeman has the best long term value. If there’s something to be wary of, though, it’s this–with Kyle Shanahan gone, could the offense look a little more ordinary? (Answer: Probably not.)
It seems obvious that Christian McCaffrey has the most value of the Panthers backs, but let’s not forget that Jonathan Stewart is probably still technically the starting running back. McCaffrey’s value on passing downs makes him a potentially great own, but there’s still one final season for Jonathan Stewart to mess up your Carolina Panthers Running Back Fantasy Value Chart.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram is fine. He’s a running back. He does running back things. He will get you points. He is just fine. Right behind him, though, is the best running back of his generation–who happens to be coming off a major injury. Adrian Peterson showed this preseason that he still has some skill left, which makes owning someone in this backfield a big, huge mess. It wouldn’t shock me to see Ingram have fifteen carries in one game and then two carries in the next one. Meanwhile, Kamara might be the team’s future at the position. He’ll get plenty of work on passing downs this year and should see a larger role in the future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin will miss three games to start the season, which means Rodgers has a good bit of fantasy value. Both of them should put up good numbers in the games they play, but I’m not sure anyone on this current roster offers much dynasty value. Fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols didn’t make the final roster, so Tampa Bay is going to need to find a good, young back soon.
David. Johnson. The end. (But really–he has a shot at a 1,000 yard rushing and 1,000 yard receiving season. He’s still young. He’ll be a valuable member of your redraft team now and your dynasty team for a good while.) Also, remember when the Cardinals tried to make Andre Ellington a wide receiver and it didn’t work? Don’t draft him, even as a handcuff.
Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley is a great player who struggled last year behind a very bad offensive line. Both of those things should be better in 2017, though I’m not trusting that line enough to own anyone behind Gurley on the depth chart.
San Francisco 49ers
If Carlos Hyde could JUST have a healthy season, he would be a top 1o fantasy back. He was 15th in standard last season despite missing three games. The team brought in Tim Hightower, but he didn’t make the final cut. With Joe Williams placed on IR, it leaves rookie Matt Breida as the backup.
And finally, the Seahawks. It’s fitting to end here because this backfield is a mess. A. MESS. Eddie Lacy spent the off season getting applauded for making weight. Thomas Rawls has been solidly mediocre for what feels like years but actually isn’t. CJ Prosise was last year’s exciting rookie but already seems forgotten. Alex Collins is no longer there. Chris Carson is getting talked about a lot and seems to be the player to own in the future, but he’d be a huge risk to count on this season.
There we have it: a (kind of) quick look at what the running back pecking order looks like right now. And don’t forget: this is the NFL. Things will change.
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