It is never too early to start planning for the next fantasy football draft. At this point, most free agents have signed with their new teams, and only minor changes in rankings will occur for players. Unlike the past few seasons, there are no top running backs projected in this year’s rookie draft class. That means it is the perfect time to start ranking out running backs to target for the next fantasy season.
This is part two of a four-part series that separates the running back class into four tiers and counts down to the top back.
Fantasy Football: Tier Three Pre-Draft Running Back Ranking
27. Mike Davis
There are many who wonder why the Chicago Bears were willing to give up Jordan Howard for so little, considering that he had been relatively productive for them the past few years. Well, it could be because the team acquired Mike Davis as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks. Davis was behind Chris Carson on Seattle’s depth chart but showed he can play when given the opportunity.
In two games filling in as the starter for Carson, Davis ran for 159 yards on 32 carries, good for almost five yards a tote. Carson runs hard and fast, and can catch as well. One game, he even caught eight passes for 63 yards. He has a good shot to be more involved in the game than Howard was in Chicago because of this.
However, the passing game is something that could hurt Davis as well. The Bears have the swiss-army-knife player Tarik Cohen, who head coach Matt Nagy loves to use frequently. This, along with Davis’s lack of snaps makes him a risky back to target. However, he has a chance to greatly outperform his ADP.
26. Jordan Howard
Speaking of Howard, he moved into a much better situation. With the Philadelphia Eagles, he should be their bell-cow. But, the key word is should. Last season, the Eagles started the season with Jay Ajayi, the talented running back who the got from the Miami Dolphins.
Ajayi was acquired midway through the season in 2017 and split time with LeGarrette Blount. However, it looked like he was going to take over the job in 2018. That didn’t happen, as Ajayi split time with other backs like Corey Clement and Darren Sproles before being injured in week five.
Head coach Doug Pederson has not shown a willingness to stick with one running back. Even before Ajayi arrived, Blunt never got more than 16 carries in a game. After Ajayi went down, Pederson refused to stick with one guy. Josh Adams ended the season as the team’s leading rusher, but only had two games with more than 20 carries.
Howard is a back that needs to be fed to get going. His yards-per-carry (YPC) increase dramatically when he is given at least 20 carries in a game. Now, Pederson might well change his tune and start sticking to one back more, but Howard remains a high risk back until proven otherwise.
25. Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram decided to leave the New Orleans Saints for what he hopes are greener pastures with the Baltimore Ravens. In New Orleans, he had to split time with Alvin Kamara, limiting his production. Now with the Ravens, he has less competition for carries. Or does he? Last season, undrafted free agent Gus Edwards came in late in the season and played extremely well.
Edwards didn’t see any significant game action until week 11, where he rushed for over 100 yards. He took over the starting job after that, and only had one game for the rest of the season where he put up less than 75 yards. Nicknamed, “Gus the Bus,” Edwards came in and bulldozed defenders for 5.2 YPC.
So, Edwards won’t give up playing time so easily. This will undoubtedly remain a running back by committee. However, it could still be better than what Ingram saw with the Saints. Edwards is a pure runner and only had two receptions all season. This leaves Ingram as the go-to back for catching passes. And with Lamar Jackson quarterbacking for the Ravens, this offense remains a run-first team that will give Ingram plenty of opportunities.
24. Nick Chubb, 23. Kareem Hunt
Nick Chubb didn’t start in his first NFL game until week seven. Still, he fell just shy of 1,000 yards rushing, boasting a nice 5.2 YPC. After an RB17 finish last year, he was on track for a top-ten finish coming into his second season as the starter. But then Kareem Hunt happened.
After his off-the-field incident, the Kansas City Chiefs cut ties with their star running back. The Cleveland Browns claimed him knowing he’d be dealt a suspension, which ended up being eight games. Prior to his suspension, Hunt was a top-three back. Now, with the two on the same team, it takes two of the best fantasy running backs and destroys their value.
Chubb will be the guy early in the season. But, once Hunt comes back, he’ll be impossible to keep off the field. Chubb is good. Hunt is better. Hunt will probably be the player that performs when it counts: the championship game, but will it be worth it to keep him on the bench at least half the year? A good strategy would be to target both as late as possible.
22. Derrius Guice
Washington Redskins back Derrius Guice hasn’t played a down in the regular season yet, his college tape shows a player who is ready for the NFL. Obviously, there is a ton of risk, and the team did re-sign the living legend, Adrian Peterson. However, Guice is a lot younger and has a lot more upside at this point in his career. He’s well on track to return as good as ever to start the season.
Guice somehow fell to the second round of last year’s draft, but he is certainly a first-round talent. He conjures images of vintage Marshawn Lynch, running violently, yet still showing burst and speed. It’s tough to predict where Guice will land but is a prime candidate to shatter is ADP value.
21. Aaron Jones
The Green Bay Packers will come into the 2019 season with a new head coach for the first time in the Aaron Rodgers era. It could be the breath of fresh air the team needed. Or, it could end in a dumpster fire. Either way, running back Aaron Jones will try to weather the storm in his first year coming in as the lead back for the team.
Jones was inexplicably underutilized for most of the season. He missed the first two games of the season for violating the NFL’s performance enhancement policy, but once he got back, he split time with Jamaal Williams. Jones was much more effective, however. Although he only had 12 more carries on the season, Jones put up almost 300 more rushing yards.
Like many of the running backs ranked around here, Jones has questions on how much his workload will be. Williams is still on the roster, and though he wasn’t quite as good as Jones, he wasn’t terrible either. If the Packers stay with a RBBC, Jones will not reach his full fantasy football potential.
20. Sony Michel
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel suffers from a similar issue to what Howard dealt with, and now Davis will deal with in Chicago. Michel is a talented running back. The Patriots took him at the end of the first-round last season. He was expected to carry a large load, and though he was productive, didn’t quite have the output many hoped he would last season.
A big factor for this was the fact that Michel only started eight games last season, so he wasn’t even really the lead back. He also missed three games with injury, hurting his production. However, one has to like what he does when given a chance. Michel did put up three 100-yard games and fell just two yards short of a fourth. He still had over 900 yards and six touchdowns.
Looking at the numbers, it would seem like his role should increase next season, but it also might not. James White is just too productive in the passing game to keep off the field. He finished as the RB11. Michel, on the other hand, was the RB25. If he starts 16 games this season, he is will undoubtedly top that mark. But by how much remains to be seen.
19. Chris Carson
Second-year running for the Seattle Seahawks Chris Carson had a quietly good year last season. Carson finished as the RB15 last year, averaging a healthy 13 points-per-game. Even with above average players like Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny breathing down his neck, Carson refused to give any leeway to be taken off the field.
Carson piled up 1,151 rushing yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games. Health is a concern for him since he also missed most of 2017 after breaking his leg. Davis went to the Chicago Bears, but Penny is still breathing down his neck and could see his role increased next season. He comes with risk but has a ton of upside as well.
18. Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack is similar to Carson. Mack came into his second season far from established as his team’s lead back with the Indianapolis Colts. He had a solid first season in 2017, but couldn’t quite beat out Frank Gore for the starting position. Mack looked to have speed, but there were questions about his size and power. He looked a lot bulkier and stronger in 2018 however.
He also hasn’t started a full NFL season yet either, missing four games last year. When he did play, he was electric though. Mack had four games with more than 100-yards rushing and ten total touchdowns. Unlike Carson, Mack doesn’t have a ton of competition at the position either. Nyheim Hines operates as the change of pace back, but he isn’t a threat to take over Mack’s workload.
With Andrew Luck looking like he’s back to his old self, if the two stay healthy, Mack will enjoy a great fantasy season.
17. James White
The final running back for the tier three list can hardly be considered a running back. James White of the New England Patriots only had 425 yards rushing but finished as the RB11 even in standard leagues. White just gets so much volume as a pass-catcher that the rushing yards almost seem like a bonus. He had also scored a lot, cashing in on 12 total touchdowns last season.
Many will be afraid that Michel is going to steal some of his thunder. This is unlikely. Julian Edelman is basically the only wide receiver on the roster at this point, and the Patriots also lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement. It’s not crazy to think that White could see even more targets in the passing game than last season. Small doses of rushing attempts will add up in games and raise his floor as well.
He shouldn’t be expected to threaten top-ten status, but White should be a lock for a top 20 finish, especially in PPR leagues.
Last Word on Tier Three’s Pre-Draft Fantasy Running Back Rankings
There is sure to be some controversy with these rankings. Who should be higher? Who needs to be dropped back? And what running back hasn’t been mentioned that some of these guys will do better than? Be sure to stay tuned for the next ranking tier.
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