Running backs are stressful. You nab David Johnson with your first pick and feel amazing about it! Then he breaks his wrist in Week 1 and you're left scrambling to fill the crater-sized hole in your roster. This year the drop-off in talent and opportunity between the RB1’s and the RB2’s is astounding. You may think it is a great idea to grab a Round 3 receiver and that there are PLENTY of viable running backs on the board! But for or five get taken and next thing you know, you have Rex Burkhead as your RB2... I'm here to help you avoid that. Each tier is filled with similar players to the one you were hoping to land. If you just missed, I will help you get another solid option, no need to panic.
This year running backs are key, I know the no RB strategy is popular, but I'm not a fan. In my opinion, you should come out of Round 5 with no less than two running backs, and three receivers if you can make it happen. This will set you up for success, even if you have a major injury. Let’s make sure your team is ready for a championship in 2018! You can fine-tune your tiers based on your league settings with our draft guide cheatsheets.
RB Tier 1:
- David Johnson
- Todd Gurley
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Le’veon Bell
These are your obvious elites. An argument could be made for any of the four as your number one pick. Johnson is healthy again.. Enough said. With an improved offensive line and an upgrade at QB, he could possibly improve on his 2016 campaign. Todd Gurley is the reigning fantasy football MVP and returns to a McVay lead offense, in its second season. The addition of Brandin Cooks and continued maturity of Jared Goff could put this offense over the top.
Ezekiel Elliott will be carrying the load with Dallas’s own version of who’s who. He should be given all he can handle behind an improved offensive line. Le’Veon Bell is the most consistent running back in fantasy. With a weekly floor of an RB2 and WR3, he is as close to a shoe-in top five as you can get. He should push 300 touches again if he stays healthy.
You may also be interested in our quarterback draft tiers.
RB Tier 2:
- Saquan Barkley
- Melvin Gordon
- Leonard Fournette
Tier 2 is filled with running backs who are near locks for 250+ touches but aren’t proven elite options. Any of the three could finish as a top-five option.
Barkley has no true competition and is an excellent receiver. He has a good chance to hit 300 touches in the mold of Le’Veon Bell. Melvin Gordon has not been flashy so far in his career but has always gotten the job done. Behind an improved offensive line, this could be the year he truly breaks out. Leonard Fournette was a beast as a rookie. With the addition of Andrew Norwell, he could be even better in 2018.
RB Tier 3:
- Dalvin Cook
- Kareem Hunt
- Alvin Kamara
Tier 3 is your polarizing players. Injuries, offseason changes, and workload questions make up this group.
Alvin Kamara is a lot lower on my list than most people would agree with (Kurt included). I just can’t get on board with drafting a committee back in the first round. I know he posted insane numbers as a rookie and Ingram is suspended for four games. This prediction could really burn me, but I am letting someone else take the chance in Round 1.
Dalvin Cook is coming off a torn ACL and has a good back up in Latavius Murray behind him. But if he can reach pre-injury form, he is a steal in the second round. Kareem Hunt was a revelation in his rookie season. With an inexperienced quarterback and a new play caller, it’s tough to see a repeat season.
RB Tier 4:
- Christian McCaffrey
- Devonta Freeman
- Jerrick McKinnon
- LeSean McCoy
Tier 4 are your supposed three-down backs with questions. Either good back-ups, injuries or suspensions pose threats to all of these players.
McCaffrey is sharing the backfield with C.J. Anderson this year. An upgrade over Jonathan Stewart but still not on McCaffrey’s level. I do not think the Panthers will feed him the ball 25- 30 times a game, but his preseason usage is promising. Freeman missed time with injury last year and still managed to finish top 15 in PPR scoring. If he can stay healthy for a full season, this time next year, he may be back in the conversation as a first-round pick.
Shanahan pumps out RB1 seasons. Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman, and most recently, Carlos Hyde has proven that. Mckinnon could be next in line with a healthy season. An insane athlete with three down back ability, this is potentially McKinnon’s year. What a fall for LeSean McCoy. Many drafters took McCoy in the first five picks last year, myself included. With so much uncertainty at QB between raw rookie Josh Allen and pick machine Nathan Peterman, you should let someone else take that gamble.
RB Tier 5:
- Joe Mixon
- Jordan Howard
- Lamar Miller
Tier 5 is filled with picks that aren’t exactly exciting but that will give you solid if unspectacular scoring at the RB2 position. Joe Mixon was a disappointment last year for many who drafted him early. In his second season, the front office made upgrading the offensive line a priority. A slimmed down Mixon could be a solid RB2.
If Jordan Howard can be even an average receiver this year, he could be a steal. He went over 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons and scored 15 total touchdowns since he came into the league. With Matt Nagy running things, Howard could turn into a star. Lamar Miller is one of the most boring picks you could make. But with Foreman hurt for the foreseeable future, there is little to no competition in the backfield. A fully healthy Watson could mean a top 15 finish for Lamar Miller.
RB Tier 6:
- Jay Ajayi
- Mark Ingram
- Alex Collins
- Kenyan Drake
- Carlos Hyde
Tier 6 is pretty much boom-or-bust. There isn’t much to work around here. Either you will get an RB1 at a steal of a price or you won’t get so lucky and you’ll waste a round 5-6 pick on a fantasy bust. These backs enter week 1 with starting roles, but with good running mates with each of them, the workload may not be there for an entire season.
Ajayi will be running behind arguably the best line in the league and should get more goal-line carries with Blount out of the way. Ingram is suspended for four games, but the touch split between him and Kamara is overblown. Ingram averaged 17 touches a game over the last 5 weeks of the season. Alex Collins looked like the man for the Ravens last year, but Dixon is healthy again, and Buck Allen is not going to just go away.
A lot of people are writing off Kenyan Drake due to the backfield additions the offseason brought. How much gas does Frank Gore really have left though? Drake overcame the pack last year and should be able to do it again. Even with the presence of Gore, Drake should still be a solid RB2. They say Hyde is washed up, I say he’s a steal. He has gotten all the first team reps with the starters and has looked fantastic. The Browns have an improving offensive line and Tyrod Taylor can keep defenses honest.
RB Tier 7:
- Royce Freeman
- Dion Lewis
- Chris Carson
- Derrick Henry
- Rashaad Penny
- Chris Thompson
Right at this moment, Tier 7 is stocked up with full-blown timeshares. If any of these backs manage to separate themselves from the pack, they could move up the list. Should they lose their respective battles, they could have no value at all.
Royce Freeman is risky, but his upside is enormous. A second-round rookie does not ride the pine for long. Even if he is not the week one starter, Royce should become the bell cow by Week 3 or 4. Dion Lewis is the better back for the Titans in PPR formats. He is an effective runner between the tackles and a fantastic receiver. He should provide a nice safety blanket for Mariota. Penny was a first round pick but was already being outplayed by Carson before breaking his hand. If Carroll is any indication, Carson will have a role in 2018.
Henry is the better Tennessee running back to own in non-PPR leagues. He should get most goal line and clock killing work. The Titans improved their defense this year; therefore, game flow should work out more often in his favor. Carroll has never been afraid to sit high profile players for a more unheralded player that plays better on Sundays. If Penny does not come back swinging, he could find himself on the bench barring injury. Chris Thompson is a much more attractive option in PPR formats. With the addition of Adrian Peterson, it seems this backfield is going to be a full-on timeshare.
RB Tier 8:
- Marshawn Lynch
- Peyton Barber
- Rex Burkhead
- Tevin Coleman
- Duke Johnson
- Jamaal Williams
- Marlon Mack
- Sony Michel
- Kerryon Johnson
- Adrian Peterson
To wrap up our Running Back tiers, we have the dart throws. Each player is either a high upside backup or in a murky timeshare situation. The position of tier 7 Running Backs could fluctuate on a dime.
Gruden loves to run the ball. If Lynch is able to remain healthy, he could benefit from that. Lynch was an effective starter last year and with an expected bump across the board in offensive production, could be even better. Barber may end up holding onto the starting job if Ronald Jones continues to look awful. Even then, he is not particularly talented and would always be looking over his shoulder. Tevin Coleman has to stand alone value in PPR leagues as a solid RB3. If Freeman were to go down, he would automatically become a high-end RB1, as we have seen in previous seasons. I expect the entire offense to have positive regression and all skill players should benefit.
Jamaal Williams is the next man up in the Green Bay backfield and with Jones suspended. He has a shot to capture an early lead and make the starting job his. He was solid last season with Hundley at QB and could improve on that with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. Marlon Mack has been on the shelf almost all offseason with a myriad of injuries. No RB in that time has really stuck out, so it hasn’t hurt him too badly. Irsay said he could see Mack being a 1500 yard player. While I do not believe a season like that is likely, it shows the team has a high opinion of the young back.
Sony Michel has been out since preseason started. The 2018 first round pick will return to a role once he gets healthy, but no one is sure how much of a role that will be. Kerryon Johnson has Blount, Abdullah and Riddick stealing touches… capping the upside of all three. At this point, Adrian Peterson is just a flier in the late rounds. If he wins the job there is RB2 potential. Sure he is old and many say he is washed up, but Washington provides the best offensive line that he has had the opportunity to run behind.