Summary: Tier-one running backs are fantasy football’s most valued commodities and will likely comprise six of the top-seven picks in most 2018 drafts, with Antonio Brown mixed in. Gurley’s passing-game skills were unlocked in Sean McVay’s 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’s 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. He saw an absurd 100 targets as a rookie and overtook Mark Ingram as the Saints’ lead back down the stretch. After Hunt led the league in rushing, the Chiefs want to use him in the passing game more after pulling Hunt on third downs and in two-minute situations for Charcandrick West.
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Summary: Tier-two backs are capable of scoring similarly to tier-one RBs but carry more risk. Barkley enters an Eli Manning-quarterbacked offense with poor line play and Jonathan Stewart threatening goal-line work. Nevertheless, Barkley profiles as one of the NFL’s highest-workload backs from the jump and has a top-five raw statistical projection. 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 did not draft a running back until the seventh round (Justin Jackson), however, affirming Gordon’s feature-back role remains secure. Fournette’s ankle problems have lingered for two seasons, costing him playing time and effectiveness. He is a spiked-week workhorse when healthy. McCoy remains the centerpiece of Buffalo’s offense, but that offense looks anemic on paper, and McCoy turns 30 in July.
Summary: These are role-secure backs with tier-one upside but circumstances that threaten their reliability and/or ceiling. Freeman remains the Falcons’ clear lead back, but his usage dipped in Steve Sarkisian’s first season as OC, and it can’t help that Freeman spent most of the year banged up. Ingram’s touches will dwindle in favor of Kamara, but Ingram maintains lofty TD upside. Particularly in best-ball leagues, I’m more than willing to take Ingram in the third round. Cook looked headed for a monster rookie year before tearing his ACL in Week 4. Cook is ranked conservatively due to the injury but is a candidate to vault into tier two if his recovery smoothly progresses. McKinnon advantageously landed as Kyle Shanahan’s handpicked lead back, and the 49ers bypassed running backs in the draft. PFF rated Mixon with the NFL’s Softest 2018 Running Back Schedule. McCaffrey briefly vaulted into tier two after the draft, then was bumped from RB9 to RB16 when Carolina signed C.J. Anderson. Howard is one of the NFL’s premier early-down rushers but can’t catch the ball. He will likely lose more playing time to Tarik Cohen but can compensate with touchdown upside. Drake averaged 119 total yards per game last Weeks 13-17. His competition consists of 35-year-old Frank Gore and fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage.
Rashaad Penny (RB19) > Derrius Guice (RB20) > Sony Michel (RB21) > Dion Lewis (RB22) > Derrick Henry (RB23) > Rex Burkhead (RB24) > Lamar Miller (RB25) > Marshawn Lynch (RB26) > Ronald Jones (RB27) > Jay Ajayi (RB28) > Tevin Coleman (RB29) > Alex Collins (RB30) > Royce Freeman (RB31)
Summary: These are RB2 types with probable job security and upside to vault to RB1 levels if they get positive injury luck and hold off their competition. Albeit surprisingly, the Seahawks invested the 27th overall pick into Penny and intend to shoehorn him into a workhorse role. Still, Penny must show better passing-game chops than he did at San Diego State. Guice will lose passing-down snaps to Chris Thompson but should dominate carries, especially in scoring position. On LSU tape, Guice reminded me of Ezekiel Elliott. Michel will inherit Dion Lewis’ duties in New England’s high-scoring offense. He will share time with Burkhead and James White but should lead the team in carries. Lewis and Henry figure to split work nearly evenly; Henry offers more touchdown upside, and Lewis superior passing-game skills. Despite the Michel pick, Burkhead isn’t going away after the Pats re-signed him to a three-year, $10 million deal. Burkhead scored eight TDs in ten games last season and is a better receiver than Michel, who only caught nine passes as a senior at Georgia. Miller, Lynch, Ajayi, and Collins escaped the draft without their teams making significant running back additions. Jones and Freeman must win camp battles, but both project as their teams’ carry leaders.
Jamaal Williams (RB32) > Aaron Jones (RB33) > Kerryon Johnson (RB34) > C.J. Anderson (RB35) > Tarik Cohen (RB36) > Carlos Hyde (RB37) > Isaiah Crowell (RB38) > Marlon Mack (RB39) > Chris Thompson (RB40) > D’Onta Foreman (RB41) > Devontae Booker (RB42) > Theo Riddick (RB43) > Nick Chubb (RB44) > James White (RB45) > Giovani Bernard (RB46) > Duke Johnson (RB47) > Austin Ekeler (RB48) > Matt Breida (RB49) > Peyton Barber (RB50)
Summary: Tier-five backs are good bets for 2018 playing time, but the extent of their snaps isn’t yet determined. Williams and Jones will battle for the Packers’ running back position. Jones was more explosive as a rookie, but Williams showed workhorse capability by averaging 20.4 touches over the final eight games. The Lions traded up to draft Johnson, but he will almost certainly lose passing-down work to Riddick and goal-line duties to LeGarrette Blount. Anderson landed with the Panthers, who are missing the NFL’s eighth-most carries (202) from last year’s roster. Anderson’s upside is limited in a committee with Christian McCaffrey, but he should lead Carolina in rushing attempts. Cohen will put pressure on Jordan Howard in a Bears offense that will incorporate spread concepts, conceivably suiting Cohen more than Howard. Hyde’s stock took a massive hit when the Browns drafted Chubb 35th overall, setting up a three-way RBBC of Hyde-Chubb-Johnson. Crowell will compete with Bilal Powell, Thomas Rawls, and Elijah McGuire. Mack, Thompson, and Foreman offer late-round intrigue but are recovering from injuries. Booker, Riddick, and White offer situational passing-down value. Bernard and Ekeler are low-volume change-of-pace backs. With Jerick McKinnon in the 49ers’ “Devonta Freeman Role,” Breida is the early favorite for the “Tevin Coleman Role” over Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols. Barber has a shot at inside-running/goal-line work behind smallish rookie Ronald Jones.
Bilal Powell (RB51) > Spencer Ware (RB52) > Robert Turbin (RB53) > Ty Montgomery (RB54) > Kenneth Dixon (RB55) > Jonathan Stewart (RB56) > LeGarrette Blount (RB57) > Latavius Murray (RB58) > Darren Sproles (RB59) > Chris Carson (RB60) > Frank Gore (RB61) > Samaje Perine (RB62) > Wayne Gallman (RB63) > Corey Clement (RB64) > DeAndre Washington (RB65) > DeMarco Murray (RB66) > Buck Allen (RB67) > C.J. Prosise (RB68) > James Conner (RB69) > Ameer Abdullah (RB70) > Doug Martin (RB71) > T.J. Yeldon (RB72) > Rod Smith (RB73) > Corey Grant (RB74) > Nyheim Hines (RB75) > Alfred Blue (RB76) > De’Angelo Henderson (RB77) > Jordan Wilkins (RB78) > Charles Sims (RB79) > Justin Jackson (RB80) > Joe Williams (RB81) > Tavon Austin (RB82)
Summary: A mishmash of running backs presently slated for low-volume 2018 roles but who are still worth monitoring.
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