It’s that time of year. The time of year when friends become enemies, blood feuds are forged, and only the strong survive. I am of course talking about fantasy football. Every year as fantasy ballers draft their teams in the hope of chasing irrelevant greatness, we’re faced with tough decisions. Receiver or running back in the first round? How early do I draft a quarterback? Also, what really happened when the screen cut to black during the last episode of The Sopranos? This year is no different. There is drama and scrutiny to be had at every position. But the running back position, is especially drama-filled this year. As the value of three, usually top-rated fantasy football running backs is in question.
Drama For Fantasy Football Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and Melvin Gordon are three of the top players in all of fantasy football year in and year out. While their value can vary based on whatever scoring system a league uses, each of them carries a strong RB1 designation when available. However, this year presents some drama and a level of uncertainty for these running backs in fantasy football. Each player has their own individual baggage that can and should, affect where you draft each of them.
Bell was the second-highest scoring running back in fantasy football (standard scoring and PPR) the last full season he played in 2017. He sat out the 2018 season, and now that he’s back he is once again in the forefront of fantasy. Bell can do it all as a running back. He led the league in touches in 2017 and because he catches the ball so well, he has even more value in PPR or half-point PPR leagues. Despite his previous success, do not view Bell in the same manner as previous seasons.
To begin with, Bell is on a brand new team in the New York Jets. This Jets team was 23rd in points per game last year and Bell is the only real significant upgrade. Sam Darnold has potential and is poised to have a solid second year in the league, but this Jets offense is a far cry from the Pittsburgh Steelers offenses we’ve seen Bell in. For me, there aren’t enough weapons to draw defenses away from Bell.
Furthermore, there’s head coach Adam Gase. According to reports, Gase didn’t want the Jets to sign Bell at all. That makes me wonder what Bell’s usage will be like during the year. Also, last year with the Miami Dolphins Gase preferred a timeshare at running back with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake. The season prior we expected big things from Jay Ajayi and he didn’t even finish the year with Gase. Having a head coach who may not have wanted Bell, who doesn’t always get the most out of his running backs, and who is comfortable with a timeshare at the position, doesn’t bode well for Bell to return to his previous levels of production. Picking him in rounds two to three is ideal.
Zeke was the fifth-highest scoring running back in fantasy football in 2018 in both standard and PPR scoring. The only reason he wasn’t higher is because the four running backs above him had ridiculously productive seasons at their positions. If this were a no drama, no holdout regular year he’s a top-five lock for his position and for fantasy overall. But because of that drama, this year he’s not.
I personally believe Zeke shows up before the start of the season and plays week one. Jerry Jones loves him and knows how important he is, and will get a deal done. Also, it doesn’t make sense for Zeke to miss the season or regular-season games.
That being said, you can never be completely sure of the future and thus Zeke doesn’t hold his normal surefire value. If the holdout ends, he’s a stud who is set up to succeed and bring you fantasy points like he did last year when he led the league in touches. He plays behind one of the best offensive lines in football and the offense runs through him. It’s an ideal situation. When there isn’t a holdout. Except this year, there’s a holdout. Ugh.
Zeke is still a first-rounder, just not in the class with Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, or Alvin Kamara like we’d expect. I’d even rank him below receivers Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins. Look to draft Zeke in the back half of the first round come draft day or more comfortably in the early second.
Gordon was a top-six fantasy football running back in 2018 in standard scoring and eighth in PPR scoring. In 2017, he was fifth in both. He’s a quality back on a great team with a great offense and a great quarterback. Regardless, I don’t care to stay away from him.
His holdout is obviously the biggest detractor right now, but even without that you have the injury history. In 2015, 2016, and 2018 Gordon suffered injuries that caused him to miss significant time in the fantasy football playoffs. It’s hard to win fantasy championships when your best players don’t play. Then there’s the holdout itself.
The Los Angeles Chargers (I still want to say “San Diego Chargers”) do not seem to be budging at all in this dispute. And why should they? They have a great overall team, and backup running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson have both proven to be viable when Gordon has missed time. Plus, in today’s NFL teams find quality running backs all over the place and are less interested in paying top-dollar for a position with a low level of longevity. Especially in Gordon’s case because he has a decently sized injury history.
If Gordon is there in your mid to late rounds and you’re comfortable with your roster, take a flyer on him. But stay away for now until there’s some clarity. You cannot take someone early when you have no idea how many games they’ll play and when they also have problems with durability.
What to Do With These Fantasy Football Running Backs?
You could just stop playing fantasy football. It’s stressful and addictive and tears families apart. But if you still choose to play this year, be careful with these three running backs. Each of them presents their own individual dose of drama in their own individual ways. Fantasy football is all about minimizing risk on a weekly basis and creating the highest scoring floor possible. You have to take a chance every now and then, but not in your first round, and not when there’s so much uncertainty.