Don’t look now, but fantasy football season is right around the corner. Over the next week, we’ll be previewing the four major positions in fantasy football. Top it off with a list of sleepers at every position on Friday and you’ll be ready to go for your draft. We use standard non-PPR scoring for all our rankings.
Everyone is hating on the running back position coming into this season. This is a reaction (or maybe overreaction) to what happened last year. When looking at last year’s top 10 RBs from preseason rankings, only two of them finished the season in the top 10. Compare that to WRs and you’ll see the wide receiver number is four. That may be double, but it’s still less than half of the sample that’s maintaining value. It’s just the wide receivers that didn’t meet value at least came close as opposed to the running backs who fell flat on their face. I remind you, however, that this is only one season.
We shouldn’t overlook that there is plenty of talent at the RB position and there’s still great potential for these guys to put up really good seasons. The problem at the top is that all these guys are rather interchangeable. Every guy in my top 7 has plenty of positives and a few flaws, but they all could easily put up big seasons. Don’t be afraid to grab a back you like if they’re slipping in your draft. These guys shouldn’t be short changed too much. Value is still value when drafting.
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
As previously mentioned, the top RB spot could go to anyone this season. I’m going with the guy who is the safest bet in my opinion. The Cardinals have one of the best offensive lines in football and can open plenty of lanes as they did last year. Arizona also has a prolific offense, which will mean touchdown opportunities and the lack of stacked boxes for Johnson to run at. Johnson may not give you 20-25 carries a week because Arizona will give him a breather with Chris Johnson. DJ should give you a lot in the passing game, however, to make up for that. Johnson took over the starting spot in Week 13 last year and put up at least 120 total yards in every meaningful game. (We’re eliminating Week 17 from the discussion since the Cardinals weren’t playing for anything and rested Johnson.) He scored 12 touchdowns while only starting those 4 games. He’s an explosive cat who can put up huge weeks for you with his receiving and touchdown abilities. Let’s crown our king for 2016.
- Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Elliott would be number one for me if not for this preseason hamstring issue. Hamstring issues never go away, so there’s a chance I come back to this column three months from now and then throw my laptop out the window. But I can’t run away from the opportunity here. Like the Cardinals, the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football. Darren McFadden went from 3.4 yards per carry or worse in three straight years in Oakland to 4.6 yards per carry last year behind this offensive line. The Cowboys are obviously committed to Elliott after drafting him 4th overall. Elliott also won’t necessarily be taken off the field during passing downs. There are obviously passing offense weapons to keep defenses honest. As long as the hamstring is healthy, we could be looking at a repeat of DeMarco Murray’s 2014 season. As long as the hamstring is healthy…
- Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
I keep moving Peterson up and down on my list as I’m not sure exactly what we’ll get this year. It’s hard to ignore the history of seven seasons of 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns in every eight of his nine seasons. Peterson’s 31 years old and one would think that eventually all the work he’s received will wear him down a little bit. He’s also moving back into a dome stadium, which means Minnesota could look to pass more now that they don’t have to deal with the elements of TCF Bank Stadium. But we all know Peterson is built like a stallion and has played in 12 or more games in every NFL season in his career except for one. Chances are someone’s going to like Peterson more than me and I’m ok with that as long as there’s other quality players for me to take. At some point this ship is going to sink and I don’t want to be on it.
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
I’m really not sure why Miami didn’t want to give Lamar Miller the ball. It was very confusing since Miller averaged 4.5 yards per carry and was a three down back. One has to assume Houston has faith in Miller after giving him a big free agent contract. That’s good for Miller since under coach Bill O’Brien, Houston has finished fifth and first in the last two years in rushing attempts. Miller’s going to get plenty of work and the offense should be more viable with Brock Osweiler behind center and Will Fuller and Braxton Miller out wide. Miller finished sixth in running back points last year despite not having ten carries in six games. Imagine what he can do when he actually gets the ball.
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
Gurley set the NFL on fire last year when he took over as the full time RB for the Rams. Gurley posted five 100 yard games and 10 touchdowns in the 12 full games he played. They key thing here is Gurley only played 12 full games. He missed three games due to injury and was re-introduced in the fourth. There are a lot of things working against Gurley between his awful offensive line, mediocre rookie quarterback, and lack of quality receivers. Defenses can stack the box and there’s not much Gurley can do except burst through on occasion to find glory. He’s good enough to do that, but there are more negatives here when comparing him to the guys mentioned above. Just know that the top RB tier ends after him as the question marks get much more frequent.
- Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell’s suspension was appealed down to three games, but we all need to realize that Bell is incredibly close to a season long suspension. He obviously didn’t learn from his first suspension and this “I changed phones” excuse about missing a drug test works about as well as when you tell your girlfriend you were at your friend’s house drinking beers when you come home smelling like a strip club. When he’s on the field, Bell is a monster. Bell played five full games last year before injuring his knee and put up at least 88 yards in each game. He’s also a monster in the passing game, grabbing at least four balls in four of those games. Bell is considered a high injury risk by Sports Injury Predictor because he’s sustained leg injuries in all three NFL seasons so far. That’s a much higher number than anyone listed above him. If you invest an early pick in Bell, you’re going to have to reach to grab DeAngelo Williams as insurance before you filled your starting lineup. That might be a hard thing to do, but the production you’ll get from whoever starts for Pittsburgh will be worth it.
- Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
As with Bell and Gurley, Charles is incredibly effective when he’s on the field. Charles has, however, missed most of two seasons with injuries. When healthy, Charles can be dynamic. He’s finished in the top 12 in RB scoring in his five healthy seasons as a starter, including three top-five years. Charles is always getting up there in years now that he’s 29 and he’s certainly no stallion like Adrian Peterson. The Chiefs would be wise to limit Charles’ touches in an effort to keep him on the field, but Charles can still do plenty with the touches he gets. The Chiefs offensive line isn’t as good as it was, but it’s still around league average. Charles’ involvement in the passing game always helps boost his value and his big play potential gives you hope ahead of the guys you’d take after him.