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NFL Fantasy Preview; Tiered RB Rankings

The title says it all, really. These are the official PSF fantasy RB tiered rankings based on our Fantasy Preview series (check out the series for more in-depth analysis on each player). It assumes full PPR 12-team leagues and everything else is standard as it would show up in any of the typical host sites. Players in each tier are listed in order of descending projected points per game, but if they are in the same tier then they can be considered pretty similar. Without further ado, let’s dive in:

Elite RB1

David Johnson
Le’Veon Bell
Todd Gurley

These 3 RBs are the most likely candidates to lead all RBs in fantasy scoring. All 3 will be used extensively in both the running game and passing game, with a high likelihood of surpassing 400 total touches… Johnson is attached to a risky offense, but is also the primary conduit for that offense. He may not be efficient, but the touches alone will guarantee elite numbers… Bell is an injury risk, especially as he yet again sits out preseason, but he’s likely in his final season in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have no reason not to run him into the ground… Gurley is the primary conduit for a good offense, but catches fewer passes than the other 2 which will hold him back a little in PPR.

Surefire RB1

Alvin Kamara
Ezekiel Elliott
Melvin Gordon
Saquon Barkley
Kareem Hunt

These 5 RBs may not quite reach the heights of the elite 3, but they should consistently provide top-12 RB numbers every week… Kamara would have to be the second coming of Barry Sanders to keep up his efficiency from last year, but he should also see more touches. Keep in mind that he didn’t do much the first 4 weeks while Adrian Peterson was still in town. This year, instead of being limited the first 4 games he’ll be featured… Zeke may very well be in contention for rushing champion, but he doesn’t catch enough passes to be ranked higher in PPR. His offensive line falling apart is also concerning… Gordon is particularly inefficient running the ball, but he’s given a ton of carries and catches. Volume alone make him a reliable RB1… Will Barkley be the next Zeke or the next Trent Richardson? It’s always tough to judge high profile rookie RBs. The Giants offense was a dumpster fire last year, but they were also decimated by injuries. Maybe a more balanced offense opens the door… Hunt has all the talent in the world, but the Chiefs defense is poor which may lead to a lot of negative game scripts for Hunt.

Risky RB1

Jerick McKinnon
Leonard Fournette
LeSean McCoy
Dalvin Cook

These 4 RBs are likely to provide regular top-12 weeks, but for one reason or another pose significant risk… McKinnon is being paid like a feature back and doesn’t have much in the way of competition for the starting role. However, he’s been given opportunities to start before and has consistently underperformed. He’ll be buoyed by his receiving ability regardless of efficiency, but may lose touches to someone else on the roster if he flatlines once again… Fournette has all the makings of the RBs in the next tier up, but opponents stack the box against him because the Jags’ passing game isn’t much of a threat. His injury history is also a concern… I’m not too worried about McCoy’s current off-the-field issues as this seems like the kind of thing that will take a long time to sort out. What I am concerned with is the dumpster fire that is the Bills offense. McCoy is good, but he’s no spring chicken anymore and will likely be the focus of every defense the Bills face… Cook is the opposite; a young back in a good offense, but will likely lose at least some touches to power back Latavius Murray. How many he loses will determine his fantasy relevance.

Premier RB2

Derrick Henry
Mark Ingram
Lamar Miller
Kenyan Drake
Christian McCaffrey
Devonta Freeman
Jordan Howard
Joe Mixon

These 8 RBs will post scattered top-12 weeks but will mostly fall to 13-24 in the weekly rankings… Henry will be splitting time with Dion Lewis, but there should be plenty of touches to go around and he should be quite efficient with what he does get… Ingram’s suspension is a huge mark against him and it’s unlikely he matches his efficiency from last year, but once he returns he should certainly provide reliable points… Miller frequently struggles to maintain effectiveness when thrust into a feature back role, but he should get enough touches as the feature back to mitigate the efficiency issue. It will also help that he will not be the focus of opposing defenses while sharing the field with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins… Drake, McCaffrey, and Freeman all figure to be on the strong side of 65/35 split backfields. They all are instantly RB1s if their backfield mates are taken out of the rotation, but will still put up reliable RB2 numbers in the meantime… Similar things could be said about Howard and Mixon, except they focus more on the running role than a pass-catching one. Howard could contend for a rushing title but is held back in fantasy by his lack of pass-catching ability. Mixon could be an elite workhorse but is held back by a mediocre offense and has to overcome some inconsistencies in his game.

Fringe Starters RB2/3

Isaiah Crowell
Alex Collins
Royce Freeman
Marlon Mack
Rex Burkhead
Dion Lewis

These 6 RBs aren’t locks to be start-worthy on any given week, but they should regularly be in the mix to be a top 24 RB… Crowell appears to be attached to a subpar offense, but they overachieved last year and could do so again. He also is shaping up to be a borderline feature back, which helps his value… Collins is in a similarly subpar offense, and while he can catch passes he frequently loses that work to Buck Allen. Plus, last year was something of an anomaly for his career. Has he grown as a player or was that a flash in the pan?… Freeman will start the year in a full-blown timeshare, but should work his way up to being at least a lead back if not an actual bellcow. He has a very high ceiling… Marlon Mack is the opposite; should start as something of a feature back but will likely cede touches as the season wears on… Burkhead is subject to Beli-tricks, but at the moment there doesn’t appear to be much competition for the lead back role in New England… Dion Lewis will likely specialize in the 3DRB role, but he should also be given opportunities to run the ball. His ceiling is capped unless Derrick Henry gets injured, but he should provide a safe floor.

Flex-Worthy RB3

Marshawn Lynch
Jay Ajayi
Chris Thompson
Tarik Cohen
Tevin Coleman
Peyton Barber
Duke Johnson

These 7 RBs will put in a few top 24 weeks, but more often than not will be better used as a flex starter… Lynch figures to be the lead back for Oakland, but there are a lot of other RBs in that backfield. It’s hard to judge exactly how the work will be split. Same thing for Ajayi in Philly… Thompson and Cohen are both explosive scatbacks who rely on highly efficient production on very few touches. Their production is mostly catch-based so their floor should be solid in PPR, but they should also have boom weeks when they manage to rip off 50-yard touchdowns… Tevin Coleman is on the low side of a 65/35 split, but is productive enough to see a solid floor… Peyton Barber surprisingly beat out Ronald Jones for lead back duties in Tampa, but it’s hard to believe that they won’t try to force RoJo in there anyway. Barber’s ceiling is capped unless RoJo is a complete bust… Duke is similar to Thompson and Cohen in that most of his production is catch-based, but is less likely to break the big plays. Safe floor, lower upside.

Backup RB4

C. J. Anderson
James White
Javorius Allen
Theo Riddick
Matt Breida
Bilal Powell
Sony Michel
Chris Carson
Jamaal Williams
Ty Montgomery
Tavon Austin
Devontae Booker

These 12 RBs should put up occasional flex weeks, but should really only see starting lineups during bye weeks or after injuries start wearing down the starters… Anderson is definitely on the lower volume side of the Panthers split backfield, but he does figure to fill the old Jonathan Stewart role. He won’t get many catches, but could put up surprising rushing numbers… White gets plenty of catches, but rarely gets carries for the Patriots which limits his ceiling… Allen, Riddick, Breida, and Powell figure to fill similar roles for their teams, though Allen and Powell may get a few more carries if Alex Collins and Isaiah Crowell struggle this year, respectively… Michel is slated to fill Dion Lewis’s role from last year, but injuries limited his time in camp so he’ll start slow. He’ll also need to get a handle on his fumbling issues if he wants to avoid Belichick’s doghouse… Chris Carson will open the season as the lead back for the Seahawks, but it’s hard to believe that rookie Rashaad Penny won’t also be heavily involved… The Green Bay backfield is crowded with Williams and Montgomery fighting for time, along with Aaron Jones. Montgomery is the main scatback of the group which will give him some value in PPR, but Williams figures to be the lead back as he is the best equipped to handle the no-huddle that Green Bay likes to run… Austin doesn’t have a clear role in Dallas, but the Cowboys’ brass insists that they will find a way to use him. Assuming his role is similar to what he did with the Rams, he’ll be a boom-or-bust play… Booker will start the season in a timeshare with rookie Royce Freeman, but it seems likely that Booker will get phased out as Freeman gets comfortable with the pro game.

Borderline RB4/5

Latavius Murray
Chris Ivory
Gio Bernard
Darren Sproles

These 4 RBs are right on the edge of being fantasy relevant on a regular basis. You could do worse for desperation flex players, but don’t assume these guys will play to the role… Murray figures to be the backup to Dalvin Cook. He’ll see playing time, but it likely won’t be high volume and likely won’t involve many catches. His main value will be vulturing touchdowns and as a handcuff for Cook… The same can be said for Ivory, though he’s in a much worse offense that will likely limit his production… Bernard will be the scatback for Cincinnati, but starter Joe Mixon is also a capable receiver so there won’t be much there for Bernard. He will be a workhorse if Mixon ever goes down though… Sproles will likely be the scatback for Philly, but at 35 years old he is in no position to fill in a lead role. He should have an OK floor, but his ceiling isn’t much higher.

Depth RB5

Frank Gore
Carlos Hyde
Austin Ekeler
T. J. Yeldon
Nyheim Hines
C. J. Prosise
Ronald Jones
Wayne Gallman
Aaron Jones
Nick Chubb
Kerryon Johnson
Rashaad Penny
Spencer Ware
Corey Clement
LeGarrette Blount
Corey Grant

These 16 RBs are not expected to be worthy of starting on any given week, but have a chance to become relevant with injuries in the right places or if committees clear up… Gore will see a few carries each week, but will only carry real value if lead back Kenyan Drake falls to injury… Hyde should get first crack at carries over Nick Chubb, but both will be involved in what will likely be a hot-hand situation… Ekeler will be the change of pace back behind Melvin Gordon. His primary value is that he would take over as a bellcow should Gordon go down… Yeldon, Hines, and Prosise all figure to be low-volume scatbacks. Yeldon is one of 2 change of pace backs in Jacksonville, Hines has struggled with ball security, and Prosise spends about equal amounts of time playing and injured… Ronald Jones has a decent ceiling, but he needs to prove he can play at the pro level and overtake Peyton Barber before he’ll get a crack at any real production… Gallman appears to be the main change of pace back behind Saquon Barkley. Should Barkley get injured or channel his inner Trent Richardson, Gallman is first in line to claim extra touches… Aaron Jones is probably the best pure runner of the Green Bay backs, but his lack of involvement in the passing game makes it unlikely that he’ll be on the field much in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense… Johnson has a lot of potential, but with so many role-specific RBs in Detroit he’s going to have to be transcendent to increase his workload… Penny is opening the year as a backup to Chris Carson. He could work his way into more touches, but with the state of Seattle’s offensive line production could be hard to come by… Ware and Clement will serve as change of pace backs who see a few touches each week but won’t really be start-worthy unless something happens to the RB in front of them… Blount’s floor is basically 0, but he figures to be the touchdown vulture of Detroit’s offense… Corey Grant is the other change of pace back along with Yeldon in Jacksonville. Grant has less standalone value due to his lack of involvement in the passing game, but would be in line for the majority of carries should Leonard Fournette miss time.

Upside Stashes & Handcuffs

Adrian Peterson
Jalen Richard
Jordan Wilkins
Alfred Morris
Chase Edmonds
James Conner
Doug Martin
Kalen Ballage

These 8 RBs either hold no value of their own or their value is heavily muddled due to murky roles… Peterson has the highest upside among the Redskins’ early down backs, but he does still have to beat out Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine… Richard has been an electric scatback for a few years now. He seems to be buried on the depth chart, but it’s hard to see a scatback failing to make an impact in a scheme that relies heavily on pass-catching RBs… Wilkins wasn’t exactly impressive during preseason, but he does have the best chance of unseating Marlon Mack as the lead back in Indy… Morris will never outshine McKinnon in San Fran, but if McKinnon’s struggles between the tackles follow him from Minnesota Morris could carve himself an early down role… Edmonds, Conner, Martin, and Ballage are all noteable handcuffs behind starters in heavy-use roles.

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