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2018 fantasy football draft tiers: Running backs

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When I hear the word "tiers," I don't think about fantasy football ... I think about the old '80s Kiss song ""Tears" are Falling. It wasn't even the makeup Kiss, either, it was the hair band version with all the pastel colors. Alright, I get it. Wrong word ... it's "tier" not "tear," but whatever. Anyways let's get back to 2018, and lots of fantasy fans are using tiers to determine the value of their players.

Ultimately, tiers sort players based on their projected level of production and ADP (average draft position). Using tiers assists fantasy owners in knowing where there's a potential decline in value among a position group, thus allowing owners to make a more educated decision on whether or not to draft a position based on who's been picked and who's still on the board. Tiers are useful for all sorts of fantasy drafts, and you can adjust them as needed to suit your league and scoring system.


Here are my own personal running back tiers, which I will be updating (as needed) right up until Week 1:

Tier One - Round 1

Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Notes: No surprises here, as all four of these superstars have recorded at least one top-three finish over the last two seasons. This quartet also has no real competition for backfield opportunities on their roster, which guarantees them 350-plus touches during the course of the season. An argument can also be made for each of these runners as the No. 1 overall selection in fantasy drafts.

Tier Two - Rounds 1-2

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Notes: Kamara was close to being a tier one running back, but he'll lose touches to Mark Ingram after he serves his four-game suspension. Still, Kamara's 1.56 PPR-points-per-touch average and 20.02 PPR point-per-game average puts him right at the top of the second tier. ... Barkley's projected workload, which should hit the 350-375 touch level, coupled with his tools as a three-down back make him a high first-round fantasy choice. ... Gordon has scored 24 total touchdowns and finished as a top-six PPR runner in each of the last two seasons. ... Hunt might see a slight decrease in PPR points after a breakout rookie campaign, but he's still a virtual lock to lead the Chiefs backfield in touches. ... Cook was on pace to score over 260 PPR points before going down with an injured knee. He could be a late first rounder in drafts. ... Fournette missed three games as a rookie and still finished in the top 10 in PPR points among running backs. He's slimmed down to around 225 pounds and will be the focal point of the offense. ... McCaffrey should see an increase in the 197 touches he saw during his rookie season, and his pass-catching chops make him a borderline second to third tier runner.

Tier Three - Rounds 3-4

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Notes: Mixon is one of my favorite breakout candidates among running backs. While his total yards-per-attempt average (3.5) as a rookie wasn't earth shattering, but he did tout a more attractive 5.02 rate in his final four games. He's moving up ADP boards. ... McCoy would be ranked higher if it weren't for his potential off-field issues. He's also entering his age-30 season behind a questionable offensive line in Buffalo. He's a fade for me if he costs more than a third-round selection.

Tier Four - Rounds 5-6

Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Notes: Collins was a league winner in the second half of last season, and Baltimore's lack of offseason movement at running back showed faith in him as their top runner.He could be a nice draft bargain. ... Miller's value is on the rise with D'Onta Foreman (Achilles) looking less likely to be ready for Week 1. ... Ajayi, who is entering a contract year, averaged almost six yards per rushing attempt in his seven games with the Eagles. He's a good bet to lead this backfield in carries. ... Drake has some red flags, but I'd be fine taking him in the fifth or sixth round. He likely won't last that long in most drafts, however, making him a potential fade for me. ... Ingram will miss the first four games, but he'd be one heck of a flex starter for much of the season (if you play your cards right).

Tier Five - Rounds 6-7

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

Notes: Freeman has a chance to move up at least one tier if he continues to look good during the preseason. He's a player to watch. ... Henry will see early-down and goal-line work for the Titans and could be a draft bargain as a flex starter. ... Williams will open the season atop Green Bay's depth chart, but Aaron Jones could push him for that role upon his return from a two-game ban. ... Michel has fallen behind Burkhead on most fantasy draft lists, but he is expected to be back from a clean-up procedure on his knee in time for the start of the season. He could have a slow start, but there's upside as the schedule rolls on. ... Mack projects to be the starter for the Colts, but beware a backfield committee that includes rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins (and Robert Turbin after his suspension). ... Cohen, who could be used more as a receiver than a runner, is slated to see a Darren Sproles role in the offense of new coach Matt Nagy. He's a flex option in PPR formats. ... Lynch still looks like the "Beast Mode" we all know and love, but questions about his usage with Doug Martin in the mix limit his value. I'd target him as a flex starter in standard scoring formats.

Tier Six - Rounds 7-8

Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

Notes: Duke Johnson should see some regression in target and catch totals, but he's still the best PPR option in Cleveland's crowded backfield. Hyde is worth a look as well, and he's a better option in stnadard formats. ... Kerryon Johnson looked tremendous in his preseason debut, but LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick still loom in that Detroit backfield. ... Crowell, Carson and Penny are headed into committee situations for their resepctive teams, but all three have flex-starter upside.

Tier Six - Rounds 9-10

James White, New England Patriots
Bilal Powell, New York Jets
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Javorius Allen, Baltimore Ravens
C.J. Anderson, Carolina Panthers
Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers

Notes: This tier is loaded with pass-catching backs like White, Powell, Bernard and Riddick, all of whom are no better than second on their respective team's depth charts but could still bring some PPR value. .... Booker will contend with Freeman in terms of his season-long value, but he's worth a roll of the dice at his point in the draft. ... Barber has taken a hold of the top spot in Tampa Bay and moved up a tier, but Jones should still have a role in what could turn into a commitee situation. Be sure to monitor that battle throughout camp and the preseason. ... Believe it or not, but Peterson could end up starting in Washington. He's worth a late-round look in most fantasy drafts.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for all of the latest fantasy news, notes and analysis!

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