By: Jake Hinson (Twitter: @JakeHinson11)
Updated: 8/4/2017

Player Projections and Breakdowns: Running Backs

Last week, FFD260 released my Quarterback projections, so this week, we move onto the backfield mate of the quarterback; the running back. The most important piece of your roster, running backs can make or break your team. Todd Gurley and David Johnson went back-to-back in 2016 drafts at the RB position and you were either elated to have the #1 running back or you were upset to have the biggest bust in fantasy. Selecting the right running back is crucial to your team.

This will be the first part of the two-part rankings. This first part of the running back projections is going to be your studs and the guys that will be in your first and second running back spot. The second part of the series will be Zero-RB guys and late round fliers that can provide solid value. These projections are scored on a half-point PPR (points-per-reception) model. The half-point model is becoming more and more popular these days. It balances out the scoring and gives value to guys that would be looked over in a standard league. For example, guys like Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick excel in PPR leagues, as their catching ability might put them over the edge against guys like LeGarrette Blount or Adrian Peterson.

The running back model is in a similar format to that of the quarterback model. Each of the players is put into tiers and given colors to help identify strengths and weaknesses. Here is the color coded chart below.

Before I list my projections, I would like to make one thing clear. These are not my rankings. Some players may be statted out higher, but when it comes to drafting these guys, it is entirely team dependent and depends on the current structure of my roster. For example, I think Carlos Hyde having a good year. But his injury concerns worry me to the point where I will take the next couple of guys ahead of him, such as Marshawn Lynch or Ty Montgomery. If I’m looking at a flex and I’m diving into my Tier 5 running back rankings, I may want to draft Tevin Coleman instead of C.J. Anderson, despite Anderson potentially having a statistically better season. I may want that pop that Coleman has that can win me a week out of my flex spot. That being said, here are the projections.

It may be a surprise to have Bell ahead of Johnson, but I see Johnson having a tiny bit of regression coming his way. Instead of 20 touchdowns, I think 14 could be a more realistic number for him. As for Bell, he was the best running back on a per-game basis last year. If he plays all 16 games (which is a stretch, given Bell’s injury history), he will be the best running back overall. As of July 29th, Ezekiel Elliott is not suspended yet for his domestic violence problems, so he stays at 3rd for me. If he is suspended, he drops into the next tier.

This may be one of the most discussed tiers in all of fantasy football; the tier 2 guys and how they match up with one another. It begins with Shady, who is one of the few bellcow running backs left in the NFL. With Mike Gillislee gone, LeSean McCoy should see last year as a baseline and has a high chance to be better than his 2016 self.

Devonta Freeman proved he could prosper even in a running back-by-committee. Freeman and Tevin Coleman should be the best 1-2 punch in the NFL yet again. Melvin Gordon bounced back last year after not scoring a touchdown in his rookie season. The focal point of the new look Chargers of Los Angeles, Gordon should be in the top five of touches. DeMarco Murray is primed for another huge workload and should prove the Derrick Henry truthers wrong. He still has gas in the tank. If it was not for Zeke, Jordan Howard would be the rookie sensation that everyone is talking about. While he is not in a great offense that will give him scoring opportunities, Howard is a beast when it comes to putting up yards and should be amongst the league leaders in rushing yards.

Ajayi almost made it into Tier 2, but knee concerns and volatility has him at the top of the third tier. That being said, Jay Ajayi is the man for Adam Gase and Miami turned their season around when they focused the offense around the star running back. Ajayi will handle the work load again for the Dolphins. Lamar Miller flamed out at the end of last year, but another lofty workload could be in store for Miller. With newly drafted D’Onta Foreman in the fold, Miller could see his usage dip, but he could also return to the efficient player that we saw in Miami.

Isaiah Crowell has shot up the ADP charts over the summer and for good reason. He has been on the other end of raving reviews and has an elite offensive line in front of him. Crowell has a great opportunity to solidify himself as an RB1. Todd Gurley disappointed fantasy owners last season, but there isn’t a lot of guys that can give you 300+ touches next year. Gurley can do that. He was on the opposite end of poor coaching, so hopefully the new regime in Los Angeles can revive Todd Gurley.

Leonard Fournette is placed right outside the top 12, but he has immense upside. In an offense that wants to run the ball, he should get the full workload. I love Mike Gillislee this year. I was high on him before the massive ADP rise into the fourth round, but he has the talent to give you what a bit of what LeGarrette Blount gave fantasy owners last year. This may be one of the cases where I have a player statted to have a good year, but will probably be lower in my ranks. Carlos Hyde is the lead back in an offense lead by Kyle Shanahan and if he is active for 16 games, he will produce. I’m bullish on him being the bellcow for the whole, as injury issues and talent behind him could make him more volatile than most.

Marshawn Lynch is back and finds himself at 16 on my list. The Oakland staff has come out and said that they want to limit his workload, but it does not worry me in the slightest. We saw Latavius Murray have a decent season and he had less than 200 carries. Beast Mode is a better talent and can provide value, despite the low volume numbers. Bilal Powell has been an enigma for most of the offseason, but I like his opportunity this year. Matt Forte looked dreadful at times last year, which helps the other guy, who finished the year strong. Powell will be in the game late when the Jets trail, catching passes and putting up garbage time points.

Ty Montgomery is a player similar to Powell, except on an entirely different offense. Analysts have no idea how Montgomery will be utilized, but he has received glowing reviews so far. Christian McCaffrey is a dynamic pass catcher, but, like Montgomery, it’s hard to predict his role in the offense with Jonathan Stewart still in the fold. I expect McCaffrey to get a little over 10 carries a game, but contribute in the passing game. But of all the rookies, Joe Mixon is receiving the most hype. A three-down back coming out of college, Mixon has all the potential in the world, but with Giovani Bernard returning to training camp so early and Jeremy Hill still in the mix for goal line carries, Joe Mixon might not return the third round ADP he’s currently going at.

C.J. Anderson is a mystery to players everywhere. He began as a waiver wire star, transitioned to an oft-injured first round bust, then was a top running back until an injury knocked him out for the season. This year, he faces tough competition behind him, but he has shown last year that he can provide high-end RB2 value. Spencer Ware is like Anderson, but an injury didn’t knock Ware out for the year. Instead, he suffered a concussion and was a former shell of himself. With Kareem Hunt coming into town, Ware will have a short leash, but should still produce. I originally was off Dalvin Cook coming into the summer, but he is rising quickly for me. The absence of Latavius Murray in camp is benefitting the Florida State star. He has the potential to beat out rookies in front of him like McCaffrey and Mixon. Tevin Coleman gave you some unbelievable weeks last year, but with Kyle Shanahan gone, that absurd touchdown rate could decrease sharply. Coleman can still give you the high ceiling games and is one injury away from being a top ten running back.

Check back soon for Part Two of my Running Back Projections! If you haven’t seen my quarterback rankings, go to Player Projections and Breakdowns: QBs. Hit my Twitter up at @JakeHinson11 and tell me who is projected too high or low. I would love to hear your thoughts!