As the NFL continues to evolve, so has the running back position. Many thought it would be phased out, but the 2016-17 season proved otherwise, at least in fantasy football. If you were lucky enough to have one of the top running backs, your team likely had the record to show it. The rise of the running back in fantasy football can be linked to evolution of the game. Many thought this evolution would hurt the position, but instead, players are adapting. Teams now look for dual-threat players, meaning they want someone who can beat the defense down through the run game, as well as being able to catch the ball out of the backfield. This keeps the defense on their toes and can make their job a nightmare. Fantasy owners who cash out on these PPR monsters often have better records than those who don’t, so it is crucial to select talent at the position within the first few rounds of the fantasy draft.
RB #1- Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
If you land the number one pick in your fantasy draft, take Le’Veon Bell. This year more than ever, he needs to prove to the Steelers that he is worth a long-term deal. In my opinion, he has already done that, but that is besides the point. If he puts in a full season with little to no injury, he will get his deal, and many wins for his fantasy owner. In only 12 games last year, Bell put up 1,268 on the ground on 268 carries and 7 touchdowns. That is only on the ground. He did all of that while amassing 75 receptions for 616 yards and 2 more touchdowns. The most astonishing part is that this was all done is 12 games. Bell has never been more hungry than he is right now due to it being a make or break year. That, combined with an elite offensive line, I fully expect him to improve upon his totals from last year, solidifying himself as the best back in NFL.
RB #2- David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Many people see David Johnson as the number one running back for fantasy football, and I see the argument. The guy put up over 2,000 scrimmage yards last year, which is ridiculous production. He was the number one overall player in fantasy football (PPR) last year, picking up over 400 points. Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns, as well as 879 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. If no injuries occur, I have no doubt in my mind he can improve on the ground. Without him, the Cardinals would have been doomed. He made that team, and if they can give him more support, look out for the owner who has this beast.
RB #3- Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliot can’t seem to keep his name out of the headlines as of late, but hopefully everything gets cleared and up, that way he doesn’t face any suspensions. Who knows what might happen. While many will criticize him, whether it be his issues off of the field or on it, I’m not going to criticize his game. Some will say his success is a product of his offensive line, but Zeke came in as a rookie and put up a monster stat line. It is key to have a good line, but he has that natural ability that made his rookie campaign possible. He rushed for a monstrous 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, as well as 363 yards and a touchdown through the air. This was enough for him to finish as the number two fantasy back last year. That is a massive feat for a rookie and rookies usually improve, so his fantasy outlook is bright. His production could drop this upcoming season by a bit if he faces suspension and/or a couple of questionable spots on the offensive line, so keep a close eye on that. Nonetheless, Zeke should continue to eat his fantasy foes alive this season.
RB #4- DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
Now we get to the part where there can be more debate. For my number four running back, I went with DeMarco Murray. People may romanticize the idea the Derrick Henry will split 50/50 or take the bulk of the carries from Murray, but that is foolish. Henry had some good production last year, but that may have been the product of him being the second back. Henry will gain more carries this year, but Murray’s production last year was fantastic, too good to warrant him taking the back seat. He rushed for 1,287 yards and a solid 9 touchdowns. Murray was a receiving threat for Mariota as well, providing 377 yards and 3 touchdowns. Murray played tough football, providing above average pass-blocking on top of his great production, all while fighting through injuries. His offensive is stellar and will likely improve, so I foresee another strong fantasy outing in 2017.
RB # 5- LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
I went back and forth in my head about my number five back, but I had to go with Shady McCoy. In the end, I had to look at upside for the season, and McCoy has a lot of it. McCoy is everything you want in a fantasy back. Explosive. Dual-threat. He is a threat to score on nearly every play, and I have to admire that. Last year, despite being injured and playing for Buffalo, he averaged around 5.4 YPC. That is a stat every team wishes they got out of their back. He finished the season with 1,267 rushing yards and 13 scores. On top of those booming rushing stats, he reeled in another 356 yards and a score in the passing game. His stats could have been even greater if stayed injury free. The two biggest question marks for Shady are whether or not he can stay uninjured, which has been an issue for him in the past, and if the Bills can offer consistent support in the passing game. The outlook for him in 2017 is pretty good, especially if he can stay on the field. If that happens, he is capable of being a challenger for the top back.