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Andrew Swanson | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Way Too Early Running Back Rankings
Saquon Barkley

Dual Threat: Saquon Barkley's 91 receptions in 2018 would've ranked 10th among wide receivers.

Last week I shared my way-too-early top-12 quarterback rankings, complete with the disclaimer that a multitude of things will have an effect on these rankings as we go forward. Perhaps the single most significant factor that will change the outcome of the top-12 running back rankings will be the landing spot for Le’Veon Bell.

Should Bell land in an attractive situation like Indianapolis or Tampa Bay, it is not out of the question for the former No.1 fantasy pick to leapfrog into the top-5. However, should Bell find free agency not as lucrative as his agents predicted and a sub-prime landing spot like Oakland is his best option, Bell could fall out of the top-12 altogether.

1) Saquon Barkley, NYG - Barkley became only the third rookie in NFL history to reach 2000 total yards last year, joining Edgerrin James and Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson. Not only is Barkley supremely talented, his volume in both the ground and passing game makes him a fantasy goldmine. Todd Gurley would be the No. 1 pick here based on his past performances and the value of playing in the Ramsí offense, but his health and playing time issues in the playoffs raise too many red flags.

2) Ezekiel Elliott, DAL - It may shock some readers to see Elliott ranked No.2 over Gurley, especially considering that Zeke posted a mere six rushing touchdowns last season. The reason why I am so high on Zeke is the fact that his low rushing touchdown total was somewhat of an anomaly. For a player to receive 304 carries and post a 4.7 yard per carry average and finish with just six touchdowns, that player was incredibly unlucky and should have reached at least double figures. When you also add in the fact that the Cowboys finally wised up and gave Zeke a career-high 77 receptions for 576 yards and three touchdowns, you can see how Zeke has the volume to lead the league in fantasy points.

3) Todd Gurley, LAR - It pains me to rank someone who has 40 total touchdowns over the last two seasons like Gurley as anything but the No.1 player in fantasy this season, but I canít stop thinking about his odd usage and ineffectiveness in the playoffs. The talent is still there, and so is the elite surrounding cast of skill players and elite coaching. I just fear that the Rams will continue to use more of a shared backfield approach based on what they saw from Gurley late last season. As my No.3 RB, he is still elite, and I would love to have him on my fantasy team next year. But he does have some question marks, and I feel that Barkley and Zeke are safer picks.

4) Christian McCaffrey, CAR - With 1965 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018, McCaffrey proved to be one of the best values in the draft for those lucky enough to get him in the second round. With a league-high 107 receptions (most for running backs), McCaffrey was an elite player in full point PPR formats, worthy of a top 5 pick. You will need to use a high first round pick to get CMC this season, but he will be well worth it as a versatile player who proved he can score rushing touchdowns and be durable between the tackles player.

5) Alvin Kamara, NO - The regression that was such a favorite topic in the fantasy community did not come to fruition for Kamara. Not only did the second-year player post nearly three points per game higher than his rookie campaign, but he also finished second with 14 rushing touchdowns. I donít count on getting over 200 carries this season even if Mark Ingram leaves in free agency, but that should not matter based on his elite ability to score touchdowns from anywhere on the field.

6) Melvin Gordon, LAC - Many people will look past Gordon this year based on injury concerns and the way he finished the 2018 season. Donít be the one in your league to make that mistake. Gordon was an absolute stud and averaged more fantasy points per game than Barkley, Kamara, McCaffrey, and James Conner. The Chargers look to be a powerhouse on offense once again and Gordon could be the steal of the first round for the second year in a row.

7) David Johnson, ARI - Those who drafted David Johnson last season will likely tell you that they will never make that mistake again. Johnson stumbled out of the gate with fewer than 50 rushing yards in his first three games and only one game in which he topped the century mark all year. While Johnson was clearly not the premier back that he was in 2016, he did finish as an RB1 with 1387 total yards and 10 touchdowns in one of the worst situations in the league. With a new offensive scheme from Kliff Kingsbury and hopefully a focus on bolstering the offensive line via free agency and the draft, Johnson could be a massive value late in the first or early in the second round of drafts.

8) Joe Mixon, CIN - Mixon thrived as the primary running back for the Bengals last season with 1464 total yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games. Like David Johnson, Mixon will have a new offensive scheme from a new coaching regime, and the return of A.J. Green from a season-ending foot injury in 2018 will give the offense a boost. I am bullish on the Bengals offense this season and Mixon could break into the top 5 at the position if he stays healthy.

9) LeíVeon Bell, FA - As I mentioned in the introduction, Bell is the most fascinating and difficult player to rank this season. You could make a viable argument that until we find out where he lands he should not be ranked in the top 12. But you can also make a case that if he falls in an attractive situation like in Tampa Bay, he could be the No.1 player in fantasy.

10) James Conner, PIT - I am not as bullish on Conner as some in the industry based on the fact that I am not sold on him getting bell cow volume. The team clearly likes Jaylen Samuels, especially in the passing game, and the two could be headed more for a 60-40 split in 2019. Conner is still a top 12 running back, but expectations should be tempered.

11) Nick Chubb, CLE - I liked Chubb a whole lot more before the Browns made the head-scratching move of signing free agent Kareem Hunt. Hunt is still on the commissioner's list and who knows how many games he will play in 2019. But assuming Hunt does play in the second half of the season, he could eat into the volume Chubb would have enjoyed as the sole first and second down back.

12) Dalvin Cook, MIN - Cook posted five straight double-digit performances to close of out the fantasy season after killing people for most of the year with a lingering hamstring injury. When on the field and healthy, Cook flashed the dynamic speed and agility that he showed before suffering a knee injury in 2017. Iím not sold on the offensive system in Minnesota under Kevin Stefanski, but I do think Cook could put up 1400 total yards and 10 touchdowns if he can stay on the field.

Just missed the cut: Leonard Fournette, Aaron Jones, Sony Michel, Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry