Way Too Early Top 5 RBs for 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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Just like that, the 2016 fantasy football season is over. Congrats to all who obtained a #footclantitle in 2016! Be sure to stay tuned in all year long to The Fantasy Footballers and the writing staff as we prepare to get you ready to dominate your fantasy leagues in 2017!

In 2016, we saw a number of surprising things happen. One of those surprising things would have to be the re-emergence of the fantasy value in running backs. In 2017, we will likely see more running backs drafted early as the Zero RB drafting strategy could quickly become a thing of the past.

The Fantasy Footballers’ Writing Staff have ranked the top 10 players at each position to give a clear picture of the consensus top 5. Below you will see our consensus top 5 RBs.

2017 Top 5 Running Backs (Half PPR scoring)
Consensus Rank Player Team Highest Rank Lowest Rank
1 Le'Veon Bell PIT 1 2
2 David Johnson ARI 1 3
3 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 2 5
4 LeSean McCoy BUF 3 8
5 Melvin Gordon SD 5 NR
*Also received a top 5 vote: D. Freeman #6, L. Miller #7, D. Murray #8, Jordan Howard #9

After looking at our collective rankings, I wanted to ask some of the other writers to answer a few questions. My hope is to paint a better picture as to how we came to our top 5 RBs by sharing some of our expert analysis.

Q1. Who made the consensus Top 5 that does not deserve to be there?

Melvin Gordon
I might easily be too low on Melvin Gordon but he’s outside my top-10. Gordon would have been lucky to get half of the red zone work and receptions that he did in 2016 if Danny Woodhead had remained healthy. Woodhead should be fully recovered by the start of the upcoming offseason program. Woodhead might not get all the work he did during Gordon’s rookie year, but he’s going to chip away at Gordon’s red zone and third-down work. Remember that Gordon only had three 100-yard rushing games while averaging a pedestrian 3.9 ypc. Gordon’s still top-12 for me but I’m not putting him near my top-5 rankings with Woodhead back in the fold.
Eric Ludwig, @FF_Gouge

I’m going to say Melvin Gordon at 5. One thing that can dramatically alter the performance of a RB is change. One reason many people were confident in the 2016 San Diego offense was due to the continuity of the game plan. San Diego will be under new coaching in 2017 and, as of this writing, we don’t know who the new staff will be. As of right now, most of the coaches linked to them are defensive coordinators. Defensive minded coaches are not always an automatic boost for an RB as they can dramatically change overall play volume, possibly reducing a RBs opportunities. We all know volume drives RB results. Since this is a “way too early” ranking, I’m going to drop Melvin Gordon out of the top 5, until we know more about the 2017 look of the coaching staff.
Michael Wenrich@mpw270

Well considering the consensus first 4 match my first 4 exactly…I’m going to say: Melvin Gordon. Call me cynical but I just do not trust TD dependent RB’s not named LeGarrette Blount. Before anyone tells me he isn’t TD dependent please note that he is 1 of only 2 RB1s from last year to not hit the 1000 yard mark. The other was Latavius Murray. Is he in your top 5? My next concern is the Chargers offense. It’s going to change but will that be better or worse for Gordon? Your guess is as good as mine. San Diego seems to be a team built for passing. They will get their best weapon, Keenan Allen, back next season and Hunter Henry seems to be improving every game. The WR corps as a whole seemed to really develop at the end of the season. I also think we are going to see Gordon’s usage on the passing side drop with Danny Woodhead coming back. So he will fall back into a 2 down back role on a team I see passing more. Not in my top 5.
Ryan Weisse@TheFantasyFive

I had DeMarco Murray at 5 and Melvin Gordon at 6 so obviously, I don’t have a huge issue with Gordon rounding out this list. The one thing that I will say is that Murray’s situation from last year to next should be more or less unchanged while I can’t say the same for Gordon.  New coach, new city and new competition for carries.  Let’s not forget that Gordon was basically the last man standing in terms of health at his position for most of the year.
Travis Strickland, @DFS_Travis

Q2. Who did you rank in the Top 5 that did not make the consensus?

Devonta Freeman
I feel like Devonta Freeman is the Rodney Dangerfield of RBs-No respect. He’s a pass catching RB on a high-powered offense. He scored 13 TDs and averaged 4.8 ypc. 2016 was the second year in a row that he proved his value as a fantasy commodity. His lack of volume makes him the poor man’s Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson, but those guys are in a tier of their own. I’ll gladly take a guy with 14 and 13 TDs and over 1,500 yards from scrimmage the past two years in my top-5. No respect!
Eric Ludwig, @FF_Gouge

The Devonta Freeman disrespect continues. After leading the league in everything in 2015, people were calling him a RB2. Now he bounces back with another top 6 fantasy season and he still can’t get love? There were 12 members of the 1000 yard club last season. Only 5 of those guys caught 50 balls (Johnson, Bell, Freeman, D. Murray, McCoy)  and only 2 for more yards than Freeman (Bell and Johnson). He proved he can produce even with Coleman taking about 35% of his touches and targets. Coleman is still going to be there next year but Freeman is clearly the lead back in an offense that tied The Greatest Show on Turf for the 6th most points scored in a season. I like Freeman’s odds of finding his way back into the top 5 at the end of 2017.
Ryan Weisse@TheFantasyFive

Lamar Miller
I have Lamar Miller as my #5 RB in these early rankings because he is a known commodity.  In 2016, he received 299 touches in just 14 games and I don’t see any reason for his workload to decrease in 2017.  The team will remain committed to the run and they do not have another talented RB on the roster to steal opportunities.
Keaton Denlay, @KeatonDenlay

Q3. David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott? Go!

David Johnson
We’re talking about an RB who had 80 receptions and nearly 300 carries. Until Zeke gets more involved in the pass game, I have David Johnson (and Le’Veon Bell) in a tier of their own.
Eric Ludwig, @FF_Gouge

David Johnson.  The Cardinal RB had 48 more receptions, 516 more receiving yards and 4 more TDs than Elliott this season.  In any sort of format that awards points per reception this is a no-brainer.  Obviously, Elliott is an amazing talent and is running behind an all-world offensive line, but there’s just no way he can make up for the gap in receiving work.
Keaton Denlay, @KeatonDenlay

Ezekiel Elliott
It’s Zeke for me going into 2017. I just feel better with that Cowboys offense moving forward and the potential for them to be a juggernaut. Not only did he lead the league in attempts (322) and rushing yards (1,631), but also was 2nd in all-purpose yards (1,987) adding in 32 catches. I can easily see a bump in targets while still maintaining the same efficiency behind that offensive line. Elliott just seems like a safer bet than the crumbling Arizona offense around David Johnson.
Kyle Borgognoni@kyle_borg

Both running backs had a stellar 2016 season but I give the edge to Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke has the best offensive line in the league on his side with a young QB in Dak Prescott who is the future of the Cowboys. This poses a major problem for defenses who plan to stack the box to stop Elliot as it would leave them susceptible to the talents of Dak and elite wide receiver, Dez Bryant. Elliott’s talented supporting cast on offense allows the game to open up for him creating more opportunities for him to do some damage.

There are some question marks when it comes to the Cardinals offense in 2017. What will the Cardinals do to improve their offensive line? The Cardinals have an aging quarterback in Carson Palmer who will be close to 38 years old when the season begins, how effective will he be? Which of the young receivers will step up if any in 2017? Will Larry Fitzgerald retire? All of these questions lead to one simple answer for opposing defenses, stop David Johnson. David Johnson’s workload also worries me for 2017. If he ends up the lead rusher AND receiver at any point in the season he could break down and be more vulnerable to injury, especially after injuring himself in his last game of the 2016 season.
Nate Hamilton@DomiNateFF

Stay tuned for The Fantasy Footballers’ writers consensus Top 5 at QB, WR, and TE of 2017.

 

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