Just Outside of the Top Five
It has been a while, but it is finally time to revisit the top fantasy running backs heading into this season. I previously wrote part one of the series, which can found here. Now, these next five running backs are guys that will be available near the tail end of the first round in nearly every fantasy league. Whether or not they will be selected in the first round depends on the person, but most likely, some will go. Another popular strategy fantasy owners like to use is doubling down on running backs in the first two rounds, seeing as backs are hard to come by. The bottom half of this top ten list are viable number one running backs or fantastic number two backs. Either way, these guys are bound to make a positive impact on your fantasy team.
RB #6- Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
By now, most are familiar with 2016 rookie standout, Jordan Howard. Jeremy Langford was the number one running back heading into the season last year, but when he got injured, his job was as good as gone. Howard capitalized on his opportunity, to say the least. Not many people knew of Jordan Howard before the season, but for those he did know him, he was viewed as a sleeper. Drafted in the 5th round out of Indiana, nobody expected him to perform the way he did. Howard exploded for 1,313 yards on 252 carries and 6 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 YPC. That was only on the ground too. Through the air, he amassed 29 receptions, 298 yards, and 1 touchdown. In PPR formats, these are likable numbers, especially coming from a rookie. What makes this more enticing is the fact that these numbers can be improved. Coming into their second season, rookies tend to say that the game “slows down” for them tremendously, so hopes are high for Howard. If the Bears can improve exterior on the offensive line improves, Howard could be in line for a massive season.
RB #7- Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
It was only a matter of time before Melvin Gordon made an appearance on this list. Gordon shocked everyone last year when had the campaign he did. After a disastrous rookie season, Gordon came out last year and impressed fans, especially fans who were lucky enough to own him on their fantasy team. Those who landed Gordon got him in a later round but got number one back value. Gordon only came three yards shy of 1,000 yards but rushed for 10 touchdowns, which is huge. In standard leagues, touchdowns are crucial for running backs, so it’s comforting to know that Gordon will get the nod in the red zone. That wasn’t the end of Gordon’s value though. On top of the rushing stats, he compiled 41 receptions, 419 yards, and two more touchdowns. As a PPR player, that is what I like to see from my running back. As for his 2017 outlook, it looks relatively promising. Obviously, Gordon can improve on the ground, as he only averaged 3.9 YPC, but not all of that blame is on him. The Chargers still have issues on the offensive line coming into this season, but I feel confident that the unit won’t do worse. Even if they did, it would only be a slight decline. Either way, I love the potential for Gordon heading into this season, especially if the line can sustain more blocks for the third year back.
RB #8- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Having Freeman at number eight may surprise many, and I’m not surprised. Devonta Freeman has been a force in the NFL since he exploded in 2015. If it were only Devonta Freeman in Atlanta’s backfield, he may have landed a top five spot. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that’s not how things have shaped out. Freeman now shares touches with fellow back Tevin Coleman, who has proved to be a reliable asset to the team. Despite this, Freeman is still the clear, number one back in Atlanta. While Coleman cuts into Freeman’s fantasy points, Freeman still puts up good numbers. Last year, even when Coleman had a bigger role, Devonta still averaged 4.8 YPC, added 11 touchdowns on the ground and 2 in the air to his resume, as well as 1,079 yards on the ground. Through the air, he also 54 receptions and 462 yards. Those are fantastic fantasy numbers, making him worthy of being the lead back on your fantasy. I expect him to put up similar numbers this season. There is no real reason for worry with Freeman, especially with him coming off of his shiny, new contract.
RB #9- Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
Ajayi is one of the most intriguing backs heading into this season. I truly don’t know what to expect from him. Which Jay Ajayi will we get? The guy who ran all over the Bills last year on two separate occasions or the guy who struggled with consistency. I know much of his success hinged on whether or not Center Mike Pouncey was in the lineup, but for me to rank him higher, I would have needed to see more consistency on a week-to-week basis. However, Ajayi has a TON of potential. I can appreciate him because he mostly has the backfield to himself, he’s a dual-threat, and his role is cemented in Miami’s offense. Jay Ajayi will get a lot of carries this season with Ryan Tannehill going down. I see a boom or bust scenario for Ajayi.
RB #10- Todd Gurley
With the number ten slot on my list, pretty much all of my remaining options were risky ones. I could have gone with rookies like Fournette, Cook, Mixon, etc. Instead, I went with Todd Gurley. Todd Gurley did not perform well at all last year, and I’m not going to pretend like some of that was not on him. He went through a major slump, averaging only 3.2 YPC. That is straight up unacceptable as a lead back, especially for a guy who is filled with potential, as we saw his rookie. On top of the poor YPC, his touchdowns went down from 10 to 6. Things should change this year. He should benefit from Sean McVay and remains a key element in LA’s offense. Goff is still young and will need to rely on Gurley heavily to ease the pressure and as a fantasy owner, you have to like that. Not to mention, he should continue to trend of receiving more targets in the passing game. Another key factor that should help Gurley was the addition of elite OT Andrew Whitworth. Gurley is yet another boom or bust candidate.