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Top 12 Running Back Fantasy Football Predictions

Aug 23, 2018

The Panthers are suggesting McCaffrey will be a bell-cow

This month I’ve been running through an exercise where we analyze the top 12 players at each position over the past few years and see where their ADPs were before the season. From that information, I take a stab at predicting the top 12 almost like an attempt at a perfect March Madness bracket. It may seem ugly, but then again, if I had told you Kamara would finish top 4, Ingram #6 and Dion Lewis top 12 last year, you would have thought that was ugly too. These predictions should not be regarded as rankings. If you want to see those, you can find them here. Rather, take the exercise for what it is. If you want, you can see my Top 12 QB Predictions and Top 12 TE Predictions from earlier this month.

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2017 RB1s

  1. Todd Gurley (ADP #10)
  2. Le’Veon Bell (ADP #2)
  3. Kareem Hunt (ADP #15)
  4. Alvin Kamara (ADP #59)
  5. Melvin Gordon (ADP #5)
  6. Mark Ingram (ADP #24)
  7. LeSean McCoy (ADP #3)
  8. Leonard Fournette (ADP #11)
  9. Ezekiel Elliott (ADP #6)
  10. Jordan Howard (ADP #9)
  11. Carlos Hyde (ADP #18)
  12. Dion Lewis (ADP #65)

2016 RB1s

  1. David Johnson (ADP #1)
  2. Ezekiel Elliott (ADP #3)
  3. LeSean McCoy (ADP #7)
  4. Le’Veon Bell (ADP #4)
  5. DeMarco Murray (ADP #10)
  6. Devonta Freeman (ADP #6)
  7. LeGarrette Blount (ADP #26)
  8. Melvin Gordon (ADP #20)
  9. Jordan Howard (ADP #53)
  10. Mark Ingram (ADP #10)
  11. Jay Ajayi (ADP #32)
  12. Frank Gore (ADP #22)

2015 RB1s

  1. Devonta Freeman (ADP #30)
  2. Adrian Peterson (ADP #1)
  3. Doug Martin (ADP #17)
  4. DeAngelo Williams (ADP #40)
  5. Todd Gurley (ADP #15)
  6. Lamar Miller (ADP #9)
  7. David Johnson (ADP #38)
  8. Chris Ivory (ADP #20)
  9. Matt Forte (ADP #5)
  10. Danny Woodhead (ADP #34)
  11. Latavius Murray (ADP #12)
  12. Frank Gore (ADP #10)

As you can see, most of the top handful of backs tend to stick in the top 12 unless an injury happens, but almost every year there will be a handful from outside the top 20 with even one or two who go undrafted each season. I’ll do my best to stay close to the script in order to give a realistic picture of what might come true.

Top 12 Fantasy Football RBs of 2017

RB #12: Royce Freeman (ADP #22)
The Broncos have been starting Devontae Booker as their starter in the preseason, but there have numerous times where a young running back didn’t begin the season at the top of the depth chart before exploding. Most notably, perhaps was Devonta Freeman who blew the rest of the field away. This Freeman may not have that kind of upside in 2018, but he could be a workhorse once he claims the job.

RB #11: Aaron Jones (ADP #42)
Much like Freeman above, Jones is not the starter quite yet. This one, of course, is because of suspension, but it is also no lock when he returns to the field. What Jones has going for him, however, is that while he is out, the Packers play Chicago and Minnesota who both have fierce run defenses. Green Bay may choose to give Jones a crack at that point, and if they do, Jones has bonkers upside.

RB #10: Alvin Kamara (ADP #5)
Last season, Kamara had just 212 touches, and while that figures to increase with Mark Ingram suspended the first four weeks and Adrian Peterson out of the picture, chances are low that Kamara surpasses 300 touches. When you add in that his astronomically high TD-rate is almost certainly going to be at least cut in half, it leaves Kamara with a limited floor that should leave him around a mid-range RB1.

RB #9: Joe Mixon (ADP #15)
Most seem to think it will either be boom or bust with Mixon this year, where he either breaks out into the next Le’Veon Bell or returns to low-end RB3 production like he gave fantasy owners in 2017. The matter of the fact is that he will likely end up in the middle with a workhorse role that doesn’t return top-end value because of the shoddy offensive line he is running behind.

RB #8: Chris Carson (ADP #39)
It seemed like a joke when there were suggestions that Carson may have won the job from Rashaad Penny this preseason. Apparently, however, it is entirely accurate. What’s more, is that Penny is already banged up, but he now weighs over 235 pounds. That kind of ballooning doesn’t tend to end well for running backs which means Carson may just end up hanging onto this job all season.

RB #7: Sony Michel (ADP #28)
Michel is recovering from a minor meniscus injury which led to his knee being drained a fluid two weeks ago. As a result of the missed time and Rex Burkhead‘s various injuries, James White or Jeremy Hill may get the start in Week 1, but this should be Michel’s job in due time. When you factor in that New England runs the ball inside the five far more often than any other team, that gives Sony huge touchdown upside.

RB #6: Christian McCaffrey (ADP #11)
The Panthers upgraded from Jonathan Stewart to C.J. Anderson while drafting first-rounder D.J. Moore and returning Greg Olsen, but still, McCaffrey could see his role increasing quite a bit this year. Carolina has been insistent that they are going to make him a bell-cow and it seems to be true this preseason. If that were to happen, the sky is the limit even behind a lackluster offensive line.

RB #5: David Johnson (ADP #4)
You can bank on Johnson scoring fewer than 20 touchdowns this time around, especially with the state of their offensive line and improved passing game. He is still going to get a ton of touches, however, and ought to contribute regardless of the game script because of his prowess in the passing game. He is about as safe as they come in the first round.

RB #4: James Conner (ADP #69)
It isn’t as though you can predict an injury to any one person, but for the sake of the exercise, we have to recognize that one of the top five backs is almost certain to go down. If it were to happen early in the season, the Steelers have a young running back who could be a star as part of this dynamic offense. Conner has looked terrific in the preseason and would have a chance to post a similar season to DeAngelo Williams‘ 2015 campaign when Bell was out.

RB #3: Ezekiel Elliott (ADP #3)
Had it not been for the suspension, we may be talking about Elliott as the top overall pick. The truth is that he had more fantasy points per game than Le’Veon Bell last year and may now be every bit as important in the passing game as Bell or Gurley since Dallas has limited weapons. Don’t be surprised to see Zeke surpass 400 touches if he remains on the field all season.

RB #2: Melvin Gordon (ADP #9)
Gordon may not quite belong in the top tier yet, but his 84 targets and 1,100 yards ought to leave you wondering if he can take that next step in an offense that is now missing Hunter Henry. Every season some high-volume player sees a spike in touchdown rate and if it ends up being Gordon this year, he could end up with well over 250 standard league points this year.

RB #1: Todd Gurley (ADP #1)
Gurley lapped the field last year with over 60 more fantasy points than Le’Veon Bell. In fact, the difference between Gurley and Bell was bigger than the difference between Bell and the number 8 fantasy running back. Even if he regresses quite a bit, he could still blow the rest of the running backs away. The reality is, however, that last year might not have been the best Gurley fantasy season we will see.

Notable Exclusions

Le’Veon Bell (PIT) – Injuries happen to star players and Bell hasn’t exactly been the definition of durable

Saquon Barkley (NYG) – Already dealing with a hammy strain that has kept him out of practice 10 days

Leonard Fournette (JAX) – Foot injuries continue to pop up each season

Kareem Hunt (KC) – Spencer Ware is back and every bit as talented so a change in workload is inevitable

Dalvin Cook (MIN) – Won’t a workhorse with Latavius Murray actually healthy to begin this season

Devonta Freeman (ATL) – Saw his touches dwindle as the season went on with Tevin Coleman seeing more work

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, please check out the FantasyPros Football Podcast (below) that I co-host with Mike Tagliere. Good luck this season.

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