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Fantasy Insider: 2017 Running Back Preview and Position Rankings

Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com returns for his seventh season of Fantasy Football analysis on seahawks.com. Scott is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association’s Hall of Fame and a former FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year Award Winner. He can be heard on FNTSY Radio every morning and seen on FNTSY Sports Network daily on CenturyLink’s sports package.

If you have one of the top two picks in any type of Fantasy Football league this season, you are in what many consider to be an enviable position. You’ll have an opportunity to pick one of the two most coveted players. David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are widely regarded as the most desired choices in Fantasy Football this year. Their versatility and excellent production in workhorse roles place them above the rest of the field at running back.

Johnson was the highest scoring player at the position on NFL.com last year, which defaults to a standard format. He finished with 327.80 points, and he caught 80 passes for 879 yards and four touchdowns, which further boosts his already outstanding appeal in Point Per Reception (PPR) formats. Knowing your scoring system is the first key to making the right choices in Fantasy Football, but Johnson will likely be off the board first overall in most leagues that start one quarterback. He is once again expected to be a major volume producer in rushing and receiving, and in the current Fantasy world, workhorse running backs, especially dual purpose types, are perceived as scarce and prized choices.

In many leagues, super elite RBs are highly sought after because you have to start at least two, and the wide receiver position is perceived to be deeper overall. Johnson, Bell and Ezekiel Elliott are considered to be guys that dominate their team’s workloads and are expected to perform at the highest levels possible on a pretty consistent basis. Johnson is the consensus No. 1 overall choice in NFL.com leagues right now.

Bell played in 12 games last year, and still finished fourth on NFL.com at RB with 242.40 points. He was a PPR superstar, catching 75 passes for 616 yards. The reception numbers Johnson and Bell put up arguably place them in a tier of their own in PPR formats. Elliott was the second highest scorer at the position last year, with 293.40 points. Elliott led the league with 1,631 rushing yards and 15 TDs. It is uncertain if he will miss any games at the beginning of the season in 2017, otherwise he could be considered in a class with Johnson and Bell. Of the three, he is the most dominant pure runner and it translates to any Fantasy scoring format. He won’t match the other two in receiving production, but his pure rushing totals compensate for what he may be perceived to lack in the pass-catching department. He is still sitting at third overall in NFL.com Average Draft Position (ADP).

LeSean McCoy, the third leading scorer at RB last year who had 13 rushing TDs, is next off the board at RB with an ADP of 8.25. Despite coaching changes in Buffalo, he should still be a major focal point of the offense and should be picked in the Top 6 at the position. Devonta Freeman is the seventh RB off the board at 13.97 ADP, but he is my fourth ranked player at the spot. The Falcons ball carrier is the finisher of drives for what should be one of the best offenses in the NFL again, and he had 13 total TDs and 462 receiving yards in 2016.

DeMarco Murray, who has an ADP of 10.89, was fifth in NFL.com standard scoring last season, and with a solid offensive line and a healthy workload again this season, he is a very safe early selection. Melvin Gordon, who had a big second year in standard formats, rushed for 10 TDs last year, and he has the talent to boost his rushing production this year, as he ran for 997 yards in 13 games last year. Gordon’s current ADP is 11.49, just ahead of Freeman.

Jay Ajayi is the eighth RB off the board at 14.57 overall, after he had a big breakout year, rushing for 1,272 yards and eight TDs in 12 starts. A trio of 200-yard games demonstrated Ajayi’s significant upside last season, and he could be more consistent on a week to week basis in 2017. Rookie Jordan Howard was a major surprise last season, rushing for 1,313 yards and six TDs in 13 starts. His ADP of 14,61 is fair, as defenses could load up more against the run when facing the Bears this season. Howard may have to work harder for his yards in 2017.

Marshawn Lynch returns after a season of retirement to much enthusiasm in his hometown of Oakland, as reflected by his ADP of 19.32, which puts him in the second round. That may be a bit too high to take Lynch after a year off. He can still be productive in terms of TDs, though. Todd Gurley is the first RB off the board in the third round at 21.48. The Rams’ new coaching staff can boost the offense more this year, and I would consider taking Gurley as a RB2 if I landed one of the prime players at the position early on.

Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette has an ADP of 22.61, and he has a workhorse profile and is a dual package of power and speed who has drawn comparisons to a young Adrian Peterson. Jacksonville is looking to get back to a power running game this year and he has some real promise. Lamar Miller, with an ADP of 26.80, may see his workload reduced as the Texans look to not overwork him and keep him healthy.

Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey has considerable upside in PPR formats, and is a fine newcomer to pinpoint. Carlos Hyde, with an ADP of 36.51, will be the lead RB for the 49ers again. Isaiah Crowell is considered a value to many Fantasy analysts with an ADP of 36.63. He had over 1,250 yards from scrimmage last season and a lot of experts expect him to improve in 2017.

There are two very exciting rookies that are drawing a lot of buzz and may continue to see their ADPs rise as we get closer to the season. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon (40.89) and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (52.33) could quickly become the featured RBs for their new teams and can be nabbed after the first four rounds. Ty Montgomery (66.33) may play a larger role over a full season for Green Bay this season. Frank Gore’s ADP has him going in the seventh round, but he was the 12th best RB on NFL.com last year and can still be dependable.

With an ADP of 71.40 right now, new Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy is being drafted in the eighth round. He may turn out to be a value selection there as he competes to be the goal line finisher for the Seahawks offense this season. With the Seahawks bringing in Lacy in an effort to revive the power running attack and threaten defenses with the read option, he could play a very significant role in the offense. Lacy has definite potential as a Fantasy RB type this season.

Thomas Rawls will be the natural “handcuff,” or Fantasy backup to Lacy this season. Many Fantasy owners like to draft the second player on the RB depth chart as insurance for their starters. Drafting handcuffs is not always essential, as you should simply take the best player left on the board when it’s your turn to fill a need. Also, the primary backup to a starter may not always be clear on draft day. But if you can grab a Kenyan Drake to back up Ajayi, for instance, the handcuff approach can be useful.

As Seahawks fans saw last year, C.J. Prosise has the ability to make big plays from anywhere on the field, and he is a fine pick in the later rounds in PPR formats. Bilal Powell (74.39 ADP) is a solid PPR pick as a RB3. Mike Gillislee (98.27) will be a quality TD producer. Rookie Samaje Perine (119.61) may be a real nice fit behind a solid Washington offensive line. Another first-year player, Kareem Hunt (120.38) may also seize a starting job this year.

Other RBs to nab late include Kenneth Dixon, who should eventually start for Baltimore, Green Bay rookie Jamaal Williams, who has electric moves, Denver’s Devontae Booker, who could take over as a starting RB, and Dwayne Washington, a deep sleeper candidate behind Detroit’s improved offensive line.

Here are my Top 20 Fantasy RBs for PPR players this season, with full ranks available in the RotoExperts.com Xclusive Edge Fantasy Football package. Use promocode “seahawks” at checkout for a special discount at rotoexperts.com/discount.

  1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
  1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
  1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
  1. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
  1. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
  1. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
  1. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
  1. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
  1. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
  1. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
  1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
  1. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
  1. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
  1. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
  1. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
  1. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
  1. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
  1. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

19. Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks

  1. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

For more rankings and insights from Scott Engel and his team, register for the Xclusive Edge Fantasy Football package at rotoexperts.com/discount. Seahawks.com readers get 10 dollars off with promocode “seahawks” at checkout.

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