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Updated 2017 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings: RB1s – Melvin Gordon, Carlos Hyde rising

Most sites will call these the “Way Too Early” Fantasy Football Rankings; we call them not soon enough.  After all, in the wise words of actor Peter Bergman, “When you are not practicing, remember somewhere someone is…and when you meet him, he will win.”

The Wolf will NOT get out practiced when it comes to fantasy football, and nor should you. 

True, fantasy values are far from set; plenty of these player will shoot up or plummet downward with each spin of the coaching carousel, free agency wheel, or NFL Draft cycle. Still, there’s plenty of value to a “Stream of Gut” rankings list: a collection of your unbiased, pure gut feelings about particular players, written before your mind can be swayed as the “advice” begins pouring down. This way, the foundation for all your rankings is wholly built upon your own, independent thoughts.

Without further adieu, welcome to the 2017 Fantasy Football Rankings. These rankings assume 1/2 point PPR scoring to achieve a happy medium between the two formats. As a huge sucker for tiers, I’ll be releasing different positional groups each day (i.e. WR1s, WR2s, Flex Plays) before ultimately combining them all into a final Big Board by the end of the month.

2017 Running Back Rankings: The RB1s

Below are the true horses you’ll be able rely on for sturdy weekly production in your top running back spot. After a ridiculously barren 2015 RB pool, 2016 marked a running back renaissance of sorts. Numerous young, exciting talents ascended into lead horse roles, while some older busts were revived from the dead.  Ultimately, this has left us with a deeper RB1 pool to chose from, although the drop-off after these nine is fairly steep

Tier One – The Elite 

Three down workhorses in explosive offenses. 

1. David Johnson (ARI)

2. Le’Veon Bell (PIT)

In leagues that reward 1/2 or especially full points for receptions, you almost have to go one of these two given their very real 100 catch upside.  These every down workhorses are near locks for 20 points a week, and could legitimately go off for 50 at any point.  The recipe is simple: strong and versatile individual talent, utilized heavily and creatively, in an explosive offense that yields numerous scoring chances. The top two really shouldn’t be much of a debate.

Which one should be #1, however, is certainly worth an argument. Personally, I feel David Johnson seems sturdier both on and off the field. Yes, Le’Veon has dominated for multiple seasons now & there’s literally no question what he’ll provide every single Sunday when active. But he’s one puff away from a year-long ban, and his injury history isn’t exactly clean.

You’re getting a smoke show fantasy product either way — whether you prefer blondes or brunettes is up to you.

Tier 1.5

3. Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)

If anyone could push Johnson or Bell for a top-two spot, it’s Ezekiel; the ridiculous rookie should be locked into at least #3 overall regardless.  His power-running skill set, this mauling line, and the offense’s run-centric approach make Elliott a near fool-proof investment.

Yet, we can’t pretend Zeke’s upcoming sophomore campaign is without any risk.  Just last August reports surfaced that the Cowboys were concern with his “patterns of behavior” off the field, while domestic abuse allegations against him are still being looked into by the NFL.  His chipmunk cheeks seemed to be carrying a few extra acorns this preseason as compared to his shredded college days, and maintaining his shape will be important.

Should he make it through the offseason clean and in shape, Zeke will be one of the safest 2017 fantasy investments at a very high-risk position. Let’s see it happen before going all-in.

Tier Two – Locked in RB1s

4. LeSean McCoy (BUF) 

Owned Shady in five of five leagues last year, and he carried me. Love the guy on a personal level now.

Facts are facts though, Shady:

  • Lost Anthony Lynn, his run-heavy offensive coordinator, to the Chargers. Tracking the play calling replacement is important.
  • Is 29 years old with significant mileage
  • Played in 15 of 16 games, but was constantly dinged up and displayed signs of breaking down
  • Rarely strings back-to-back monster seasons together. He came into 2016 motivated and in the best shape of his career, which made him such an attractive option.  Ensuring he is equally prime in 2017 will be important for Shady maintaining this lofty #4 ranking.

The team still has the line and overall offensive firepower to be a running force, but the cliff is very real with Shady. Mike Gillislee is a must-own handcuff.

5. DeMarco Murray (TEN)

While Murray plays, you’ve got an RB1. When he gets hurt, you’ve got a potentially upgraded RB1… assuming you handcuff with the steamrolling monster named Derrick Henry (next David Johnson upside only slightly hyperbolic now). The first and eighth round prices are well worth season’s admission to Exotic Smashmouth. For the record, I still believe Henry is going to take over the league at some point, but DeMarco was revived running in a scheme that fit his strengths and behind a young, rising line that trails maybe only Dallas and Oakland.

6. Melvin Gordon (LAC) – STOCK UP (Previous Rank: 7)

Update, 1/29: I didn’t realize just how much of a stock-booster new head coach Anthony Lynn was for running games, but, as unearthed by our trusty intern, the man absolutely breeds workhorses.  unearthed some gem statistics

Love the Anthony Lynn hire for Gordon’s fantasy prospects (former run heavy coordinator of the Bills); still, but there’s a weird busty vibe lingering around Gordon. After going scoreless as a rookie, the 10 TDs in 13 contests feel a little flukey, especially with Danny Woodhead’s health and 2017 role an unknown;  Gordon’s 2016 value was bolstered by the unforeseen boost in receptions (41 in thirteen games), and these might not even be half if the little white dude is back. Encouragingly, Lynn reportedly wants to keep offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who was integral in Gordon’s massive rebound (the playcaller’s facilitated monster years out of the likes of Ryan Mathews and loves feeding backs at the goal line).

7. Devonta Freeman (ATL)

Losing coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his Zone Blocking Scheme would be tough, as Freeman has proven a glove-like fit. Of course, a predecessor who commits to the same offensive philosophy  (promotion from within, perhaps?) would keep Freeman’s value sturdy. Absolutely love Freeman’s overall game, and especially love that Tevin Coleman’s heavier involvement seemed genuinely beneficial: on fresher legs, Freeman rushed for 23 more yards (1079) and the same TDs (11) despite 38 fewer attempts.

 

Tier 2.5 

8. Jay Ajayi (MIA)

A savage. Given the team’s reluctance to commit to Ajayi early last year, I need to hear a couple of Adam Gase Votes of Confidences before I dive headfirst in; there also seems to be a little head case to Ajayi.  Still, you don’t run for 200 yards on three separate occasions without some special talent. Gase has always loved riding a workhorse when able, and Ajay will be a high ceiling RB1 anchor if you miss on the safer options above.

9. Jordan Howard (CHI)

2016’s Waiver Wire MVP should have every reason to find equal success in 2017.  Nonetheless, John Fox’s love for hot hands and his committee-ridden history should have owners treading with  slight caution.  Moreover, I don’t love this offense as a whole if Alshon departs in free agency without a worthy replacement.  While Howard’s certainly capable of replicating, or even building upon, his shocking 2016, there’s some factors to seriously consider here.

10. Carlos Hyde (SF) – STOCK UP (Previous Rank: 16)

1/29 Update: As this article explores in great depth, Carlos Hyde’s running style and build are ideal for a zone-blocking scheme; 2016 certainly provided plenty glimpses of Hyde’s fit, with some massive RB1 weeks (193 yards vs. the Jets).  Conveniently, expected head coach Kyle Shanahan happens to be a guru of the ZBS.

Indeed, Hyde’s durability will remain a major risk, but, as seen with Devontae Freeman & Tevin Coleman’s massive few seasons, this running game will produce even if the surrounding talent is lackluster. Hyde couldn’t have asked  for a better coaching hire, and should yield RB1 numbers most week’s he’s on the field.

Love the talent, hate his surrounding situation. The coach / coordinator hire is a big one for Hyde, as Chip Kelly’s run-heavy power scheme really suited his strengths and facilitated his RB1 season.

 

Certainly the right landing spot for an explosive rookie or free agent could yield additional RB1s, but thus far these nine represent the top options at the position.

Continue for our RB2s and our Flex & Bench players