Chet Gresham’s Top-10 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

By Chet Gresham @ChetGresham

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  1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings. Bye: 5.
    I won’t be overly happy if I draw the No. 1 draft position this season, but if I do, I’m leaning toward Peterson for the most upside and highest floor. The worry about Peterson comes from a year away from football and his age. The year away from football can go either way, but I’m going to lean on it being a positive for his fantasy outlook. We knew he was a freak of nature after watching him blow out his knee and then come back the next year and almost break Eric Dickerson’s record for most rushing yards in a season. Peterson is again coming off missed time, but with no injury. There is little doubt he will be prepared after feeling like he was slighted last season. Add to that Norv Turner’s fantasy-running back-friendly offense that churned out big numbers for Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Stephen Davis, Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson; and even last season with the pedestrian Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon, who totaled 1,555 yards, 10 touchdowns and 71 receptions together.

    When you add in Charles Johnson, Mike Wallace and a healthy Kyle Rudolph to sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the return of Peterson, you have an offense that will improve and possibly improve tremendously.

  2. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers. Bye: 11.
    The No. 1 pick comes down to Bell and Peterson for me because I want to hit a home run if I’m saddled with the spot. Bell of course will miss the first three games to start the season, but I believe his No. 1 upside remains as long as he is fully recovered from offseason surgery. Bell is one of the few every-down backs who also catches plenty of passes and can lead your team to, and through, the fantasy playoffs nearly by himself. You are paying up for his ability to win you games like he did for his fantasy teams last year when he was the No. 1 fantasy running back from week 13 through 16 when he totaled 680 yards, 20 receptions and seven touchdowns. The Steelers will once again need to score points as their defense continues to be run of the mill at best, and Bell and Antonio Brown will continue to gobble up yardage to stay in games.

  3. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks. Bye: 9.
    Lynch has been as consistent as any running back in the league over the last four seasons, having topped 1,200 yards in each of those seasons and piled up 56 total touchdowns during that span as well. He turned 29 in April, so there is some concern that he will start to fade, but there has been no evidence of that yet, and when factoring in his team’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, and new tight end Jimmy Graham, I see Lynch’s easy touchdown opportunities increasing. His safety and high floor is what you’re paying for here, and I will take it.

  4. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs. Bye: 9.
    Jamaal Charles saw a decline in overall fantasy points last season as Kansas City’s offense took a step backward, and Charles had a few injuries that dropped him from 329 total touches to 246. That led to a subsequent drop in total yards from 1,980 to 1,324 and 19 scores to 14. Of course even with that drop, Charles was the seventh-best fantasy back in the league and still averaged five yards per carry. The addition of Jeremy Maclin and more reliance on tight end Travis Kelce should help open the offense up enough to keep Charles in the top-5 equation, and with his ability, it is hard not to once again like his ceiling due to his electric ability.

  5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers. Bye: 7.
    Lacy is a physical and gifted runner on a team that will continue to be a top passing offense under the leadership of Aaron Rodgers. We don’t have to worry about Lacy having opportunities to score touchdowns on a weekly basis, and defenses will again need to game plan for Rodgers. Lacy’s upside is somewhat capped due to the passing game’s efficiency in the red-zone, but his floor in this offense is higher and safer than most. You can easily count on 10+ total touchdowns, while his receiving game should continue to smooth out any poor matchups against tough run defenses.

  6. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos. Bye: 7.
    Anderson has some risk this high but also could easily lead the league in rushing in Gary Kubiak’s offense. Montee Ball will return, just like the bad taste you still have from drafting him in the first round last season. Many will worry that Ball or even Ronnie Hillman will take over the lead back role at some point or at the least cut into Anderson’s snaps, which is where I believe you can capitalize and get Anderson at a slight discount.

    Anderson took advantage after Hillman was injured in week 13 last season and piled up 584 total yards and eight touchdowns on 113 carries across the last five games while protecting an injured Peyton Manning, which is as important as any of Anderson’s responsibilities. We will also see Mr. Manning again this season, which is the best news for the running game you could get. Manning’s pre-snap reads are what keep his running game in good situations for success, and that won’t change this year.

  7. DeMarco Murray, RB, Eagles. Bye: 8.
    There is of course concern that the gifted runner Ryan Matthews will take away from last season’s rushing champion Murray, but that is the good thing about the Eagles; they run the ball often and would like to run the ball even more. Last season, Philadelphia’s running backs ran the ball the fifth most in the league while also throwing it the fifth most. The Eagles also ran the ball 21 times inside the opponent’s five-yard line, which tied them at sixth most in the league. Murray is the starter in Philly, while Mathews is the backup and that was evident when he was getting reps in kick returns during OTAs. We don’t need to worry about Mathews usurping Murray’s lead-back role, but we can benefit if Mathews causes others to skip Murray as an early pick.

  8. Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals. Bye: 7.
    Hill is a bruising runner behind a good offensive line with a run-oriented coach, and he’s not turning 30 anytime soon like many on this list. The Bengals were short-handed much of last season in the receiving game, but Hill still managed to average over five yards per carry on 222 attempts with 172 of those coming in the last nine games of the season. His upside will be suppressed by Gio Bernard’s usage in the passing game, but Hill had little trouble as a pass-catcher with 27 receptions on 32 targets, averaging eight yards per reception, and won’t be taken out in every passing situation. With Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green back from injury, this Bengals offense should be much more efficient and give Hill even more goal-line opportunities than his 15 last season (fifth most in the league) in which he scored six times.

  9. Arian Foster, RB, Texans. Bye: 9.
    Foster managed nagging injuries all last year well enough to finish with 298 touches, 1,573 total yards, 13 touchdowns and his best rushing average since 2010 with 4.8 yards per carry. He will turn 29 in August, and there is no doubt he will be an injury concern. If Foster weren’t, he’d easily be a top-5 pick, but as it is he’ll be a high-upside, though risky, first-rounder.

  10. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills. Bye: 8.
    McCoy is a tough nut to crack for prognosticators this season. We know he has tremendous ability but had a sharp decline in efficiency last season with a 4.2 yards per carry mark and just five total touchdowns on 312 carries. McCoy’s workload should remain high in Buffalo, but the number of total plays run and red-zone attempts should drop considerably under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whose 49er offense ranked 19th in total rushing attempts last season despite being a run-heavy team. Add in the fact that the Bills will be scraping the barrel for a quarterback, and it appears McCoy will be dependent on volume, which thankfully should come, but his ceiling is much lower in Buffalo than it could have been in Philadelphia.

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