Tier 1: David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell
Tier 2: LeSean McCoy, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, DeMarco Murray, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley
Tier 3: Isaiah Crowell, Marshawn Lynch, Ty Montgomery, Joe Mixon, Leonard Fournette, Mike Gillislee, Lamar Miller, Christian McCaffrey
Tier 4: Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Eddie Lacy, Spencer Ware, Carlos Hyde, Mark Ingram, CJ Anderson, Paul Perkins, Frank Gore
Tier 5: Bilal Powell, Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah, LeGarrette Blount, Robert Kelley, Adrian Peterson, Danny Woodhead, Terrance West, Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Darren McFadden, Matt Forte
Tier 6: CJ Prosise, Duke Johnson, Theo Riddick, Derrick Henry, Jonathan Stewart, Gio Bernard, Latavius Murray, Thomas Rawls, Kareem Hunt, Samaje Perine, Rex Burkhead, Jamaal Charles, Darren Sproles, D’Onta Foreman, Joe Williams
The tier 1 RBs are my top 2 overall picks this year (would have been top 3 if not for Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension), with the tier 2 guys also worthy to go in the back half of the first round and the first part of the second round. Tier 3 comes with high ceilings but more risk, whether we’re talking about age (old and young), questionable o-lines, lurking backups and new team situations, and the same can be said about tier 4. The bottom tiers have interesting players who could outplay their ADPs, so don’t sleep on them. For example, Danny Woodhead will be heavily involved in the Ravens’ passing game and should post consistent numbers as Joe Flacco’s safety valve.
How to approach the RB situation? Ideally, you can snag at least one RB from either tier 1 or 2. Next, lock down at least 1 from the tier 3 group. With the tier 4 guys and lower, I suggest swinging for at least a few upside guys (e.g. Dalvin Cook earlier on, CJ Prosise, Kareem Hunt, Joe Williams, etc. later on). Every season a few of the upside guys break out and end up factoring into league titles, so you should devote at least a few mid to late round resources to breakout candidates.
Finally, quick hits on three RBs who I expect will outperform their ADP, and are therefore reflected higher in my rankings:
Ty Montgomery – The Packers found that desperation can lead to success, at least in the case of moving a WR to RB mid-season. Ty Montgomery averaged just under 6 yards a carry last year – granted the sample size was just 77 carries. His performance was no fluke - look for Montgomery to continue as a key focal point for the Packers, contributing both in the rushing and passing games.
Mike Gillislee – Gillislee is an underrated RB, and a perfect fit for Patriots’ system. With LeGarrette Blount gone, Gillislee should find himself with the bulk of the goal line touches – and as the Patriots’ RB with the most carries. I’ve got him much higher on my board than what I’ve seen elsewhere. And a free tip to the Buffalo Bills – if the Patriots come calling for one of your players, you should keep him!
Note that this is a high risk pick, due to new team, injury concerns, Bill Belichick, etc. – so it’s not for the faint of heart. Think high risk/high reward situation.
Paul Perkins – Perkins finds himself on this list in large part due to opportunity – he’s the clear cut starter at RB for the Giants. While he possesses a limited ceiling, Perkins is a solid enough RB to average four yards a carry and accumulate RB2 stats in what otherwise figures to be a heavy passing offense.
And three RBs who I consider to be overdrafted with respect to their ADP, and are therefore reflected lower in my rankings:
Lamar Miller – Miller had the chance last year to serve in the bell cow role and put up monster stats for a strong rushing offense, and he failed to impress. With D’Onta Foreman now on the scene and likely to steal some carries, I see Miller as a clear RB2.
Carlos Hyde – The Ohio State alum has surefire talent, but he has had major problems staying healthy. Add to this the fact that the 49ers added both Joe Williams and Tim Hightower to the team, and Hyde being a holdover from the pre-Kyle Shanahan regime, there’s potential for Hyde to bust this year. So just keep these issues in mind in your evaluation of Hyde.
Spencer Ware – The Chiefs drafted talented RB Kareem Hunt, who not only has a good chance to share carries with Ware, but has a chance to supplant him outright. He’s too risky as an RB2 for my taste. Conversely, I would target Hunt in the later rounds – he could provide a great ROI.