We keep hearing that the era of the dominant running back is dead in the NFL, and in fantasy football. Yet, over the past couple of seasons, entire leagues have been dictated by the performance of a select few elite running backs.
Who are those top running backs this year? Just a lot of familiar names, with average draft positions (ADP) justifying their familiarity and popularity:
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: mid-to-late 1st) — The 6th running back taken in the 2017 NFL Draft not only ran for more yards than any of the other five guys running backs take ahead of him, but also any other running back in the league overall. As anyone who had Hunt on their fantasy team last year will attest, Hunt might’ve been one of fantasy football’s MVP’s over the first half of the season, after registering over 1,000 combined yards and six combined touchdowns through the first eight games of the season. While Hunt’s stats did “come back to Earth” over the second half of the season, he still ran for 564 yards and four touchdowns over the last eight games of the year. With the Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes under center this year, they will likely rely on Hunt even more next season, to help take some of the pressure off their young signal caller. If he doesn’t run for more than 1,100 yards this year (at minimum), it would be a disappointment.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: top five overall) — David Johnson might’ve suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the year in 2017, but let’s not forget that he’s only one year removed from running for 16 touchdowns (2nd highest total in the NFL) and putting up more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 2016. That’s why, even with the Cardinals question marks along the offensive line, and the fact that Arizona could enter the season with a rookie quarterback under center (Josh Rosen), Johnson is still one of the most valuable player in fantasy football entering this season. Over the last two seasons, Johnson has combined for 32 total touchdowns. His upside is simply too valuable to pass over, even with the major questions surrounding his ability to stay healthy.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: top five overall) — No, Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t quite as dominant in 2017 as he was in 2016, when he led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards en route to winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. But in only 10 games last year, Elliott had more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns; if you project his stats over the course of a full season, he would’ve ran for just under 1,600 yards and had another 430 yards receiving. Those are monster numbers. As Dallas transitions to more of a spread-oriented passing attack under quarterback Dad Prescott, that’s actually going to open up even larger running lanes for Elliott. Plus, there are no looming suspensions to take away from his production entering this season.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: top three overall) — With all due respect to any of the guys on this list, there isn’t a running back who better personifies the idea of “money in the bank” than Le’Veon Bell. For the third time in four years, Bell ran for over 1,250 yards, and had more than 600 yards receiving as well. In each of those three seasons, he’s had at least nine combined touchdowns (and double-digit touchdowns in two of those three seasons). In PPR or half-PPR leagues, Bell’s ability to catch the football makes him an absolute monster; his 85 receptions last year was good for 10th-most in the NFL at any position. New offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has no aspirations of reducing Bell’s workload, so he should continue to be a stat-producing machine this year.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: top three overall) — What a difference a set of new coaches bringing a new offensive scheme makes. After Jeff Fisher’s horrific coaching did his best to ruin Todd Gurley’s career before it really took off, Sean McCoy came to the rescue and unleashed Gurley’s true abilities on the rest of the league. Gurley combined for just under 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 19 combined touchdowns, singlehandedly taking over games on the field, and winning a whole bunch of championships for league GM’s in the fantasy football world. McCoy will continue to ride Gurley as the focal point of his lethal offense, meaning there is ample reason to believe Gurley will continue to put up big owners for those GM’s lucky enough to draft him.