That is why, at UPI, we have ranked our top 100 running backs, in standard format, for your 2017 fantasy football draft kit.
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For clarity, here are some of the best running backs to look out for in five separate tiers, as well as some unheralded sleepers.
HALL OF FAME
1. David Johnson, 2. Le'Veon Bell, 3. Jay Ajayi
He is already our No. 1 overall ranked fantasy football player for 2017, making him the de facto No. 1 running back this season heading into your draft. Although anything can happen on the injury front, Johnson should be locked in your lineup for every week of the fantasy football season with confidence, regardless of matchup. Johnson is perhaps the best receiving running back in the league, meaning if he somehow gets stuffed at the line, he can also get you points catching the ball in the open field. If you are looking for a perfect balance of explosiveness and consistency, this is your guy.
While he's not there yet, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi wants to be spoken in the same breath as Johnson and Le'Veon Bell. Ajayi and the Dolphins coaches have talked up his improved hands all offseason. He has no competition for carries and coach Adam Gase has already deemed him the bell cow. With Ryan Tannehill lost for the season, expect his carries to go up even more. Ajayi should still be drafted after Bell and Johnson, but he deserves consideration for your team after that. His ability to churn up yards after contact and an outlook for a bounty of carries ahead should also provide that consistent and explosive balance.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon should be eyed toward the end of the first round or early in the second round. Gordon had a breakout year in 2016, making the Pro Bowl. He ran for 997 yards and 10 scores on 254 carries. He also had 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns. He started just 11 games. I expect that Chargers to have a fantastic offense this season, with Gordon as the centerpiece.
Devonta Freeman won't be weighed down by his bulky new contact this season. The Atlanta Falcons playmaker started all 16 games last season and piled up a career-high 1,079 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores. He also had 462 receiving yards and two scores through the air. Freeman's value is often overlooked because of the presence of Tevin Coleman, but I expect another huge year for the third-year pro. Like Gordon, he is a good second-round target after you snag that stud wide receiver.
Many thought last season that Derrick Henry would eventually steal touches from DeMarco Murray, but it never happened. Murray returned to his Pro Bowl form for the Tennessee Titans, running for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 377 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. Murray is a little bit less of a receiving threat than the previous backs mentioned, but he will provide RB1 value most weeks.
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"For me, I like to run the ball every play," Marrone said. "None [passes]. Zero. I want to go back to the old way. I want to change the game."
That's great news for fantasy football owners. I expect a great rookie year for Fournette, but only if Blake Bortles rebounds from a dreadful 2016. Fournette's stock is through the roof as fantasy football drafts near, so don't pull the trigger too early. He's a midrange RB2 for me this season.
"Beast Mode" is back. This offseason, Marshawn Lynch joined the Oakland Raiders. He'll immediately take over a starting role behind a great offensive line. While I don't expect a huge yardage year from Lynch, his touchdown total warrants consideration for Lynch as a third or fourth round selection. Before Lynch's last season in 2015, he had a stretch of four straight seasons with at least 12 touchdowns. He led the league with 25 rushing scores from 2013 through 2014. He's a good bet for double-digit scores.
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You typically want to stay away from players on bad teams when it comes to fantasy football, but Isaiah Crowell should be owned if you need an RB2 on a wide-receiver-heavy team. The Cleveland Browns ball carrier averaged a career-best 4.8 yards per carry and had 1,271 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns last season. This offseason the Browns added right guard Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter to its offensive line. The franchise has also drafted linemen the last two offseasons. With unstable quarterback play, Crowell will be counted on every game. He can also be counted on as an RB2 most weeks.
Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey are very interesting rookie considerations this year in fantasy football circles. Mixon has a shot at being the Week 1 starter and an every down back, while McCaffrey will be used all over the field. I expect Mixon to rise to the top of the Cincinnati Bengals' depth chart at some point in the season, it just might not be right away. This outlook should keep Mixon from being picked too high in your draft. He should plug in as a low-end RB2 at the start of the season, but has RB1 potential if he takes over the job.
McCaffrey joins a Carolina Panthers squad that wants to get back to the run. McCaffrey has looked outstanding in practice. In the long run, he could end up being an early round selection, but for now you shouldn't reach too far for the former Stanford star. McCaffrey will have to demonstrate an ability to maintain a workload against NFL defenses. That being said, if you really want him you'll probably have to spring for McCaffrey around the third or fourth round. Ideally, I'd like to get him in the fifth.
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