Fantasy running back values: Todd Gurley at top of 2018 Shuffle Up

Put your hands together for No. 1 pick Todd Gurley (AP)
Put your hands together for No. 1 pick Todd Gurley (AP)

Ah, running backs. The trickiest position. The most important position, too. (My first rule in fantasy is no unbreakable rules, but I’ll try to have at least one running back with my first two picks.)

The idea of the Shuffle Up series is to show where clusters of value lie. Some prefer to take a tier approach, and do a lovely job with it. I like a number attached. That said, the dollar value is simply used as a comparison tool, and it’s more gut-feel than anything else. I am not a formula guy.

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Obviously we all care about numbers in this game, but I always want to merge that with scouting observations, tea-leaf reading, market analysis and the like. (And heck, fantasy sports is leveraging a market as much as anything. Whatever scouting and information edge the best players had 20 and even 10 years ago, that’s largely gone now. Too much is readily and freely available, even to the weakest players in your league.)

Players at the same cost, below, are considered even (and a one or two buck difference might not mean that much, either). Assume a generic scoring system, with a half point per reception, one point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and six-point touchdowns.

Disagreements? That’s why we play! Bring your best arguments to me on Twitter: @scott_pianowski

$55 Todd Gurley
$53 David Johnson
$53 Le’Veon Bell
$51 Ezekiel Elliott

I have the same top 4 that everyone pretty much does. Gurley gets the check mark for environment, for McVay, and for his growth as a receiver. Bell is dinged a tiny bid for the holdout (remember, he started slowly last year) and for the fact that his touchdown count hasn’t quite equaled his prowess elsewhere on the field. Johnson and Elliott are too talented to fail, but could be dragged downward by their supporting casts. Maybe you have faith in Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan; I sure don’t.

$50 Alvin Kamara
$48 Kareem Hunt
$44 Saquon Barkley
$43 Melvin Gordon
$41 Christian McCaffrey
$37 Leonard Fournette
$37 Devonta Freeman
$32 Dalvin Cook
$30 Jordan Howard

I think it’s a mistake to assume Kamara gets a major usage bump during the Ingram suspension, but some increase makes sense. It’s hard to imagine Kamara can approach last year’s efficiency — nobody is that good — but the Saints love to throw to their backs, and Kamara is especially dangerous in space. In full-point PPR, I’d have no problem pushing him into the above tier . . . I had to pump the brakes somewhat on Barkley after his August; he’s dinged as Week 1 approaches, and the offensive line still looks like a major problem in New York . . . Gordon’s efficiency has never been great, but he’s a true bell cow, there’s no one of consequence pushing him, and the Chargers offense should have little trouble moving the ball. The LACs have to deal with the worst home-field advantage in football, but the Bolts probably have the AFC’s best roster. (If you want to hear a weekly argument about Gordon, check out Michael Salfino and yours truly on the Breakfast Table Podcast.) . . . Fournette was a key name on my do-not-draft list . . . Cook is off a major injury and might be ceding the goal-line work to Latavius Murray. I find it hard to pay full price on him . . . Howard is a boring but high-floor player, and as you might know, that’s my jam.

$28 Joe Mixon
$25 Alex Collins
$25 Kenyan Drake
$24 Jerick McKinnon
$24 LeSean McCoy
$23 Lamar Miller
$21 Jay Ajayi
$20 Derrick Henry
$18 Royce Freeman
$18 Dion Lewis
$18 Marshawn Lynch
$17 Rex Burkhead
$14 Mark Ingram

Mixon dropped some pounds and surely will be improved after a lost rookie year, but the Le’Veon Bell wishcasting seems absurd to me. I’ve ignored him for two rounds this summer (when he usually goes), and even when it’s a 50-50 ball on Mixon in the third round, I usually wind up going in a different direction. The Bengals have that 6-10 gleam again, so game scripts could be a recurring problem . . . Collins would be more enticing with 5-10 more pounds and a draft pedigree, though no-name backs emerge every season. The Ravens don’t have anyone significant pushing him, and the line gets OG stud Marshal Yanda back . . . Miller is another player boosted by mediocre competition, and a mobile quarterback is also a plus . . . Ajayi is a tricky player to figure; is he the slug we saw in Miami last year, or the YPC hero he was in Philadelphia? And just how hurt is he right now? Ajayi’s knee problems were a red flag to several NFL teams during his draft season back in 2015, and I don’t expect him to have a lengthy career . . . A suspension for Ingram is better than an injury, I suppose, but do you have the nerve to start Ingram, cold, in that fifth week back? Hasn’t it always seemed like the football world at large likes Ingram more than Sean Payton and the Saints do? . . . Lynch had a subtle rebound in the second half of 2017, and Jon Gruden isn’t going to hold Lynch’s age and mileage against him. I don’t think Doug Martin has anything much to offer; if anyone pushes Lynch, it’s likely to be Chris Warren. But I’ll give Lynch the benefit of the doubt; sign me up for one more useful season. Oakland’s offensive line is still a positive . . . Should Freeman be the Denver starter? Probably. Do I trust Vance Joseph to make good decisions or be straightforward about pending usage. No. Thus, I’m probably a little underweight on Freeman . . . If McKinnon is going to be a special back, how come we didn’t see it in Minnesota last year? We’re all hunting feverishly for a fantasy stud to ride shotgun with Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, but maybe it’s a worker-bee approach and no one scores double-digit touchdowns here. The Alfred Morris emergence is bad news for McKinnon’s upside; Morris was a sneaky efficiency stud last year.

$13 Isaiah Crowell
$13 Carlos Hyde
$12 Chris Carson
$12 Peyton Barber
$11 Tevin Coleman
$11 Tarik Cohen
$10 Duke Johnson
$10 Marlon Mack
$9 Sony Michel
$9 Jamaal Williams
$9 Rashaad Penny
$8 Kerryon Johnson
$8 Aaron Jones

Maybe the Bears want to ambush the NFL; they sure didn’t show their hands much in the preseason. Allen Robinson didn’t have a single catch, while Tarik Cohen snagged just one. I’ve invested in Trey Burton’s upside and Howard’s projectable floor, and added some late-round Anthony Miller, here and there. Cohen was one of my guys a few months ago, but I’ve backed up somewhat. Most of all, I’m not convinced Mitchell Trubisky is ready to be a plus quarterback . . . I’d have Crowell a few bucks higher if not for the summer concussion and all the “hot hand” talk. But even if Crowell and Powell both play a lot, that’s fine — two backs is not a problem in today’s NFL. No, I don’t view Charcandrick West as a threat for significant touches . . . It wasn’t a fun summer for the high-capital rookie running backs, with Michel and Penny leading the way. Michel had injury issues and a fumble problem at Georgia, which made him a strange fit as anyone’s first-round pick, let alone New England’s. The Patriots usually produce a consistent and projectable RB at some point every season, but it could take Michel several weeks to work into that framework. He’s not one of my preferred lottery tickets . . . We can’t take Hyde’s 2017 receptions at face value (that’s the Shanahan talking), but he’s had a strong summer, Chubb has not, and Duke Johnson is obviously slotted as a satellite back, if not a full-time receiver. The Browns defense should keep this team competitive more often than not; good news for Hyde’s projectable volume.

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$7 Ronald Jones
$7 C.J. Anderson
$7 James White
$7 Adrian Peterson
$7 Bilal Powell
$6 Chris Thompson
$5 Latavius Murray
$4 Devontae Booker
$4 Jordan Wilkins
$4 Corey Clement
$3 Ty Montgomery
$3 Theo Riddick
$3 T.J. Yeldon
$3 Wayne Gallman
$2 Nick Chubb
$2 Matt Breida
$2 James Conner
$2 Javorius Allen
$2 Giovani Bernard
$2 Austin Ekeler
$2 John Kelly
$1 Doug Martin
$1 Samaje Perine
$1 Corey Grant
$1 Frank Gore
$1 Jeremy Hill
$1 Boston Scott
$1 Kenneth Dixon
$1 Spencer Ware
$0 Nyheim Hines
$0 LeGarrette Blount
$0 Chase Edmonds
$0 C.J. Prosise
$0 Chris Ivory
$0 Chris Warren
$0 Rod Smith
$0 Kalen Ballage
$0 D’Onta Foreman
$0 Ameer Abdullah
$0 Rob Kelley
$0 Jaylen Samuels
$0 Jeremy McNichols
$0 Jonathan Stewart
$0 Alfred Blue
$0 Damien Williams
$0 Christine Michael

Gallman has found a few of my rosters, the idea that Barkley might not be healthy and Stewart probably has nothing left . . . Clement was a constant splash play as a rookie, especially in the Super Bowl. He’s screaming for a role increase . . . I don’t think the Steelers will be proactive about Conner unless Bell gets hurt, but Conner did look like a different player this summer.

Check out Scott Pianowski and Athletic Michael Salfino on the Breakfast Table Podcast

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