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Fantasy football tiers: Running Backs

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Running backs are back! After a short time where the position saw a decline in value, runners are once again at the top of the fantasy football mountain. You'll see that in the first three rounds of your draft, which will be littered with backfield battlers in an effort to secure at least one of the NFl's elite. As a result, having a solid list of tiered runners is more important than ever when it's time to draft.

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 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 the start of the regular season:

Tier One - The Four Horsemen



Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Notes: Apologies (or not) for the wrestling mention, but these four backs will be your "workhorses" in both the running and passing games. While Barkley has become the most popular top overall pick, I can see any one of these four players go in the top spot in drafts. This quartet of "backs" combined for a ridiculous 356 receptions last season, and all of them averaged no fewer than 4.55 yards per rushing attempt. You also don't have to worry about any backfield committees with these backs, which makes them even safer investments for all fantasy owners. Don't pass if you have a chance to get one. If there's one concern, it's with Elliott who is holding out of training camp over a contrast. Stay tuned.

Tier Two - Elite Potential, But...


Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Notes: It would be a shock to no one in the know to see these six backs finish in the top five in fantasy points at the position this season. As a result, at least four are first-round locks while the other two won't last beyond Round 2 in most drafts. Unfortunately, each of them also come with question marks. Bell didn't play last season and he's not in Pittsburgh's offense anymore. Johnson was a disappointment a season ago, and while his arrow is pointing up there's no guarantee that he'll return to the 2017 version under new coach Kliff Kingsbury. I love Mixon, but the Bengals offensive line is well, offensive. Our friends at Pro Football Focus rank is 27th in the league. It didn't help that first-round pick Jonah Williams suffered a torn labrum, either. Conner was a stud a season ago, but there has been chatter that a committee is possible. (I don't buy it, but it's out there). Chubb is a potential stat-sheet stuffer who was a league winner a year ago, but will he retain a featured role once Kareem Hunt returns from suspension? Time will tell, but his value rose when the Browns traded Duke Johnson ot the Houston Texans. Chubb is a borderline No. 1 fantasy back. Questions about Gurley's knee and the addition of rookie Darrell Henderson has dropped the fantasy star's stock into Round 2.

Tier Three - Runners With RB1/RB2 Upside


Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions

Notes: Cook has all the talent in the world, but he's played in just 15 games in his first two NFL seasons due to injuries. However, he has huge potential in fantasy leagues. Williams showed flashes of brilliance at the end of last season in an Andy Reid offense that's been very back friendly, but can he handle a featured back's workload for a full year? Fournette has dealt with injuries and off-field issues, though he could easily be a top-10 back in a best-case scenario. He's a boom or bust fantasy selection, likely in the third round. Carson might lose more work to second-year back Rashaad Penny, but he did record almost 250 carries for the run-based Seahawks offense in 2018. He's also primed to see more chances as a pass catcher. Jones has averaged 5.5 yards per rushing attempt at the pro level. Freeman has been a high RB1 in the past and he's had a great camp, so the veteran's value is on the rise in fantasy drafts. K.J. might not be a true featured back for Detroit, but he's a virtual lock to see around 18 touches per game in an offense that will look to run under coach Matt Patricia. The release of Theo Riddick adds to his value too, but will C.J. Anderson eat into his touches?

Tier Four - Youth and Experience


Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
James White, New England Patriots
Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Notes: Jacobs will take over the reins of the Oakland backfield, and his potential volume and pass-catching chops puts him on the RB2 radar. Mack's stock fell when Andrew Luck retired, but he still has RB2 potential and could be a steal if you can land him as a flex. White makes a ton of sense in PPR leagues (obviously). In fact, only McCaffrey and Kamara have more combined catches over the last two years. Ingram landed in a great spot to succeed in a Baltimore offense that will run the football an absolute ton, and at 29-years-old he still has some gas in the tank. Henry, who started to break out in the second half of last season, should be an absolute touchdown machine as the Titans top running back. Johnson will take over a feature role with Lamatr Miller (ACL) done for the season, so his stock is soaring. Reports about Montgomery's skills and abilities during OTAs have him moving up on fantasy rank lists, but Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis are also in the mix. The rookie has moved into the fourth round in fantasy football drafts and is now bordering No. 2 or 3 running back status.

Tier Five - For The Zero RB Crowd


Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

Notes: If you're one of those folks who likes to target an elite tight end and wide receivers in the first three rounds, these backs are good targets in the fourth and fifth stanzas. Michel's knee will always be a concern, but he's looked healthy in the preseason. Lindsay should be good to go coming off wrist surgery, and his 5.4 yards per rush as a rookie is hard to overlook. Coleman, 26, had his best fantasy season under his new coach, Kyle Shanahan, and figures to lead a backfield committee in San Francisco. Sanders is the favorite fantasy option in the Eagles backfield, but Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles are also in the mix for touches. Ultimately, I still like Sanders to lead Philadelphia's backfield in touches. Drake is a Zero RB favorite, and Frank Gore is no longer in Miami to steal work. However, Kalen Ballage is a major threat to Drake's value. This is a battle to watch. Gordon is continuing to hold out of camp, and new reports suggest he's very likely to miss regular-season games. Cohen ranked as the RB11 a season ago and reports suggest he'll see a similar role, even with Montgomery in the mix. His ceiling isn't as high as it was last season, however.

Tier Six - Steals Or Stinkers


Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Notes: These backs should be seen as potential flex starters in PPR formats, but none are guaranteed featured back touches. Ekeler's stock has risen in the wake of Gordon's camp holdout, but I wouldn't reach for him too high in drafts. Rounds 7-8 is about right (for now). The Redskins figure to have a shared backfield, but Guice is the target for fantasy fans. Henderson's ADP has cooled down considerably in recent weeks, but he's still an interesting get in PPR formats. Ballage's stock is on the rise, as he's seeing first-team reps in training camp. That's a situation to watch in the preseason, especially for the Drake, Zero-RB truthers out there. A committee is likely under new OC Chad O'Shea, one in what Drake could play the "James White role" in the offense.

Tier Seven - Veterans and Handy Handcuffs


Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles
Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins

Notes: Pollard's stock is on the rise (and will remain so) until we get some closure on the Elliott holdout. Murray can't fill the Ingram role because he's not as good in the passing game, but you can't discount his value as Kamara's handcuff. Penny and Howard should see their share of carries for their respective teams, but neither has gained much fantasy steam in the preseason. Freeman could (and likely will) see an increase in carries but remains behind Lindsay in Denver. McCoy is the leader of a crowded backfield in Buffalo, which limits him to being more of a No. 4 fantasy back. Peterson's ADP has moved up a bit, but Guice still holds the most fantasy upside for the Redskins.

Tier Eight - Low Ceiling Backs and Handcuffs


Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers
Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Notes: Breida is a committee back and hard to trust as more than a RB4, but Jerick McKinnon's knee problems does make him more attractive. He's a worthwhile target in the later rounds. Thompson could be a steal in PPR leagues ... if he can avoid injuries. The Redskins and Buccaneers backfield battles are among the top ones for fantasy fans to watch in training camp, but none of them have a whole lot of upside in the stat sheets. Lewis could be a decent bargain in PPR leagues, but his standard league value has sunk with Henry's emergence. Smith would have some late-round value if he emerges as the No. 2 back in Atlanta, but he'll get competition from Qadree Ollison.

Tier Nine - More Handcuffs and Why Nots


C.J. Anderson, Detroit Lions
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs
Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers

Notes: Most of the backs in this tier would need an injury to a starter to make a big fantasy impact, though Samuels, Richard and Hines could all etch up complementary roles for their respective teams. Jackson is a nice late flier as long as Gordon's holdout continues (and it might last awhile), and Thompson is a worthwhile dart throw simply because of the success of backs in Andy Reid's system.

Tier 10 - Late-Round Dart Throws


Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
Ty Montgomery, New York Jets
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots

Notes: Singletary could push for touches if he has a strong camp. He has the most fantasy upside in what is an older Buffalo backfield. Harris is a popular dart throw with Michel's knee always a concern, and Armstead, Edmonds and Mattison will battle for No. 2 duties on their respective teams.


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 the latest fantasy football news and analysis!

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