Todd Gurley (RB1) > Le’Veon Bell (RB2) > David Johnson (RB3) > Ezekiel Elliott (RB4) > Alvin Kamara (RB5) > Kareem Hunt (RB6)
Summary: Tier-one running backs are the most valued commodities in fantasy football and will likely comprise six of the top-seven picks in most 2018 drafts, with Antonio Brown mixed in. Gurley’s passing-game value was unlocked in Sean McVay’s 2017 offense, leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,093) and all-purpose TDs (19). Among running backs, only Kamara (826) logged more receiving yards than Gurley’s 788. Bell has been the NFL’s premier workhorse since entering the league. He averaged 27.5 touches per game the past two years and set a career high with 85 receptions in 2017. Johnson has "fresh legs” and contract-year narratives after missing almost all of last season with a broken wrist. Elliott’s suspension is behind him, and he paced the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of the last two seasons. Kamara’s role will grow in year two. The Chiefs want to involve Hunt in the passing game more after pulling him on third downs and in two-minute situations for Charcandrick West as a rookie.
Melvin Gordon (RB7) > LeSean McCoy (RB8) > Saquon Barkley (RB9) > Leonard Fournette (RB10)
Summary: Tier-two backs are capable of scoring at or near the same levels as tier-one RBs but carry more risk. Held below 4.0 yards per carry in each of his first three seasons, Gordon has masked sub-par efficiency with volatile touchdown scoring and lost 2017 snaps to Austin Ekeler. The Chargers have said they plan to draft another back. McCoy turns 30 in July, and Buffalo’s 2018 offense looks anemic on paper. A David Johnson-level talent, Barkley’s outlook will be impacted by landing spot. I would love to see him slip to the Bucs at No. 7. The Browns and Giants would be worse landing spots. Fournette’s ankle problems have lingered for two seasons, costing him playing time and effectiveness. He is a spiked-week workhorse when healthy.
Devonta Freeman (RB11) > Mark Ingram (RB12) > Christian McCaffrey (RB13) > Dalvin Cook (RB14) > Jerick McKinnon (RB15) > Joe Mixon (RB16)
Summary: These are role-secure backs with tier-one upside but circumstances that threaten their reliability. Freeman remains the Falcons’ clear lead back, but his usage dipped in Steve Sarkisian’s first year as OC, and it can’t help that Freeman spent almost the entire year banged up. Ingram’s touches will likely dwindle in favor of Alvin Kamara, but Ingram maintains lofty TD upside. Particularly in best-ball leagues, I’m more than willing to take Ingram in the third round. Same goes for McCaffrey, the clear leader of a Carolina backfield that cut Jonathan Stewart. Cook was outstanding before tearing his ACL in Week 4 but is ranked conservatively due to the injury. McKinnon landing as Kyle Shanahan’s handpicked lead back is a SPARQ enthusiast’s dream. The Bengals sound committed to featuring Mixon over Giovani Bernard, and PFF rated Mixon with the NFL's Softest 2018 Running Back Schedule. All of these guys will end up as no worse than fifth-round picks in re-draft leagues.
Jordan Howard (RB17) > Kenyan Drake (RB18) > Carlos Hyde (RB19) > Derrius Guice (RB20) > Rex Burkhead (RB21) > Dion Lewis (RB22) > Derrick Henry (RB23) > Tevin Coleman (RB24) > Jay Ajayi (RB25)
Summary: Tier-four backs offer probable job security and upside to vault to RB1 levels if they get positive injury luck and beat out their competition. Howard is one of the NFL’s premier early-down rushers, but he can’t catch the ball. How many snaps per game Howard loses to Tarik Cohen will go a long way toward determining Howard’s value, but either way it’s at risk. Howard has been the subject of offseason trade rumors. Hyde offers TD upside behind a solid line with a dual-threat QB, but he will lose passing-game work to Duke Johnson, and concerns remain the Browns will draft a running back high. Drake averaged 119 yards from scrimmage per game from Weeks 13-17 last year. I may be undervaluing Drake in these rankings; I've taken a ton of him in April drafts. On tape, Guice reminded me of Ezekiel Elliott without the passing-game polish. This is an aggressive ranking for Burkhead, who scored eight TDs in ten games with the Pats last year and has more opportunity following Lewis and Brandin Cooks' departures. Lewis and Henry will share work, lowering their ceilings. The Eagles are expected to draft a back to push Ajayi. Coleman is locked into 9-12 touches per game and wins leagues if Devonta Freeman goes down.
Lamar Miller (RB26) > Marshawn Lynch (RB27) > Alex Collins (RB28) > Jamaal Williams (RB29) > Aaron Jones (RB30) > Tarik Cohen (RB31) > Sony Michel (RB32) > Devontae Booker (RB33) > Rashaad Penny (RB34) > Marlon Mack (RB35) > D’Onta Foreman (RB36) > Chris Thompson (RB37) > Theo Riddick (RB38) > Giovani Bernard (RB39) > Isaiah Crowell (RB40) > C.J. Anderson (RB41) > Duke Johnson (RB42)
Summary: Tier-five backs are good bets for 2018 playing time, but the extent of their snaps isn’t yet determined. Miller was on the verge of losing his job to Foreman before Foreman tore his Achilles’ in Week 11. Williams and Jones will battle for the Packers’ running back position. Jones was more explosive as a rookie, but Williams showed workhorse capability on 20.4 touches over the final eight games. The Raiders showed commitment to Lynch by paying him a $1 million roster bonus, but Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington, and Jalen Richard are on the roster. Collins will have to hold off Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, and probably a rookie. Anderson and Booker will go at it, and Cohen will put pressure on Jordan Howard in a Bears offense that will incorporate spread concepts, conceivably suiting Cohen more than Howard. Mack and Thompson offer pass-catching value and sit atop weak running back depth charts. Michel is a probable day-two pick. Riddick and Bernard are catch-first backs whose teams must find niche roles to incorporate them. I'm avoiding the crowded Jets backfield, where Crowell will compete for playing time with Bilal Powell, Thomas Rawls, and Elijah McGuire.
Nick Chubb (RB43) > Samaje Perine (RB44) > Chris Carson (RB45) > James White (RB46) > Bilal Powell (RB47) > Wayne Gallman (RB48) > LeGarrette Blount (RB49) > Matt Breida (RB50) > Ty Montgomery (RB51) > Corey Clement (RB52) > Ronald Jones (RB53) > DeMarco Murray (RB54) > Royce Freeman (RB55) > Jonathan Stewart (RB56) > Austin Ekeler (RB57) > Latavius Murray (RB58) > DeAndre Washington (RB59) > Ameer Abdullah (RB60) > Frank Gore (RB61) > Buck Allen (RB62) > C.J. Prosise (RB63) > Darren Sproles (RB64) > Peyton Barber (RB65) > Doug Martin (RB66) > Adrian Peterson (RB67) > T.J. Yeldon (RB68) > Elijah McGuire (RB69) > James Conner (RB70) > J.D. McKissic (RB71) > Jalen Richard (RB72) > Kenneth Dixon (RB73) > Jacquizz Rodgers (RB74) > Rod Smith (RB75) > Corey Grant (RB76) > De’Angelo Henderson (RB77) > Joe Williams (RB78) > Robert Turbin (RB79) > Mike Gillislee (RB80) > Chris Ivory (RB81) > Spencer Ware (RB82) > Jeremy Hill (RB83)
Summary: This is a group of potential 2018 contributors whose roles are to be determined. Perine has a real shot to win the Redskins’ lead back job, but he struggles in the passing game -- where teammate Chris Thompson thrives -- and got worse the more he played as a rookie. Any of these backs could vault a tier via injuries elsewhere on the depth chart. Carson looked like a young DeMarco Murray before breaking his leg last year. Ultimately, these are fringe draft picks we need to mention and monitor.