Last Updated: September 4th at 2:35pm ET.
TIER ONE: Christian McCaffrey (RB1) > Saquon Barkley (RB2) > Alvin Kamara (RB3) > Ezekiel Elliott (RB4) > David Johnson (RB5)
Overview: In some order, these are your first five picks in season-long leagues. McCaffrey is set back up for LaDainian Tomlinson usage under Norv Turner after Carolina’s backfield additions consisted only of fifth-round college underachiever Jordan Scarlett and 4.74 slowpoke UDFA Elijah Holyfield. Barkley led the NFL in total yards (2,028) in his first year and caught 91 passes, most ever by a rookie running back. However, Barkley averaged 11.7 fewer yards and 4.6 fewer PPR points in Odell Beckham’s four games missed. Daniel Jones‘ promising preseason does instill confidence in the Giants’ offensive competence for whenever they grow the cajones to move on from Eli Manning. Previously my overall RB2, I bumped Zeke behind Barkley and Kamara due to his holdout. If I’m drafting Zeke fourth overall — and I still probably am — I’m making absolutely certain I come away with Tony Pollard later in the draft. Kamara drew 100-plus targets and topped 1,500 yards in each of his first two years. Latavius Murray is probably a slight downgrade from Mark Ingram. Kamara has 32 touchdowns in 31 career regular season games. Johnson will have more space moving from ex-OC Mike McCoy’s bunch formations to Kliff Kingsbury’s spread, and Kyler Murray’s dual threat will create additional lanes. The Cardinals hope to lead the NFL in offensive plays, which would significantly boost Johnson’s touches projection after last year’s team ranked 31st in play volume.
TIER TWO: James Conner (RB6) > Nick Chubb (RB7) > Dalvin Cook (RB8) > Le’Veon Bell (RB9) > Joe Mixon (RB10)
Overview: Tier one consisted of proven difference makers. Tier-two backs are capable of entering the first tier, but still have something to prove. Conner outproduced his Pittsburgh predecessor before suffering a late-season concussion and high ankle sprain. Conner was the overall RB3 in Weeks 1-10. Chubb should be a touchdown-scoring machine in the season’s first half, and the Browns’ trade of Duke Johnson enhances his receiving outlook. The only thing keeping Chubb out of the first tier at this point is Kareem Hunt‘s Week 10 eligibility, which could limit Chubb’s workload in the fantasy playoffs. The Vikings are all in on Cook, letting Latavius Murray walk despite Cook’s 17 missed games through two NFL seasons. Finally healthy for the final five weeks last year, Cook averaged 104 total yards and 5.7 yards per carry. He should benefit from Gary Kubiak‘s outside-zone scheme, where first-round C Garrett Bradbury provides immediate help. Cook’s 85-yard touchdown run in the Vikings’ third preseason game didn’t hurt for confirmation-bias purposes. I dropped Le’Veon from RB7 to RB9 with beat reporters speculating Ty Montgomery could eat into Bell’s early-season role and a daunting schedule consisting of Buffalo, Cleveland, New England, Philadelphia, Dallas, New England again, and Jacksonville in Weeks 1-7 with a Week 4 bye mixed in. I dropped Mixon from RB6 after the Bengals lost LT Jonah Williams (shoulder, I.R.), LG Clint Boling (retirement), and A.J. Green (ankle surgery). After averaging 20 touches per game, Mixon’s workload projection remains intact. He hiked his yards per carry from 3.5 as a rookie to 4.9 as a sophomore behind a similarly-poor line, and Green missed half the season.
TIER THREE: Devonta Freeman (RB11) > Aaron Jones (RB12) > Leonard Fournette (RB13) > Kerryon Johnson (RB14) > Todd Gurley (RB15) > Chris Carson (RB16) > Derrick Henry (RB17)
Overview: Third-tier backs carry RB1 upside but also injury and/or usage concerns. With Tevin Coleman in San Francisco, Freeman’s volume projection is the highest of his career on a team that spent two first-round picks on offensive linemen and signed three more in free agency. Yet it’s fair to wonder if Freeman’s best days are behind him; he sprained multiple knee ligaments in 2017, missed three 2018 games after reinjuring the knee last Week 1, sprained his foot in Week 6, and wound up needing year-ending groin surgery. Jones is an undeniable talent — he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in back-to-back years to begin his career — but multiple torn MCLs and a suspension cost him eight games. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst suggested at the Combine that Jones needed to get in better shape. Jones took the callout seriously, trimming his body fat in half only to miss a big chunk of camp with a hamstring strain. Fournette is an ongoing injury risk, but I think the Jaguars’ Nick Foles-quarterbacked offense will be better this year, and Fournette’s passing-game expectation increases with T.J. Yeldon out of town. Kerryon has been bouncing all around this tier, first benefiting from Theo Riddick‘s release, then falling back after the Lions used him in first-team preseason rotations with C.J. Anderson and Ty Johnson. I can’t justify taking Gurley near his ADP in drafts myself and have accepted that I’ll own none of him this year. Carson finished seventh in the NFL in carries (247) and top five in rushing yards (1,151) despite missing two games, and by all accounts has separated from Rashaad Penny. Seattle is the run-heaviest team in the NFC, and 2018 third-down back Mike Davis‘ 146 touches are gone to Chicago. The Seahawks are placing an organizational emphasis on throwing to running backs more, and their coaching staff views Carson as one of the best pass catchers on the team. If everything comes together for Henry, no NFL back has a higher rushing-volume ceiling. Unfortunately, I was forced to drop Henry to the bottom of this tier when LT Taylor Lewan drew a four-game suspension and Henry missed several weeks of training camp with a foot injury.
TIER FOUR: Mark Ingram (RB18) > David Montgomery (RB19) > Sony Michel (RB20) > Marlon Mack (RB21) > Josh Jacobs (RB22)
Overview: A small tier of upside RB2s with committee and/or environmental concerns. Ingram’s landing spot sets up well from a rushing standpoint — the Ravens are the favorites to lead the league in carries — yet Ingram will see minimal receiving usage, and Baltimore’s backfield is among the deepest in football. I hiked up Montgomery a full tier as it became increasingly clear in mid-August that he’d already sewn up lead-back duties on a Bears team returning all five offensive line starters. Tarik Cohen will drain his passing-game usage, but Chicago’s stout defense should keep Montgomery in run-friendly game scripts. Including playoffs, Michel averaged 18.7 touches with 12 TDs over New England’s final 14 games. Michel’s history of knee troubles is concerning coming off May surgery, but he was all systems go for almost all of camp and may see at least a slight uptick in passing-game usage based on August practice reports. I was a huge supporter of Mack until Andrew Luck‘s retirement, which lowers the Colts’ weekly scoring projection by at least seven points. Mack’s role is secure, but his ceiling severely capped. Although Jacobs’ first-round draft position indicates he’ll be given every opportunity at workhorse treatment, passing-down specialist Jalen Richard poses at least some semblance of competition behind a downright atrocious offensive line that lost LG Richie Incognito (two-game suspension) and RG Gabe Jackson (knee, out indefinitely) early in camp. And based on the utter ineptitude of his offensive lines historically, I have no idea how Raiders OL coach Tom Cable still has a job.
TIER FIVE: Duke Johnson (RB23) > Austin Ekeler (RB24) > Miles Sanders (RB25) > Tevin Coleman (RB26) > Damien Williams (RB27) > LeSean McCoy (RB28) > Phillip Lindsay (RB29) > Matt Breida (RB30) > Melvin Gordon (RB31) > Kenyan Drake (RB32) > Latavius Murray (RB33) > Darrell Henderson (RB34)
Overview: Johnson skyrocketed when the Browns traded him to Houston, where I was projecting Duke to pass Lamar Miller as the Texans’ lead back even before Miller suffered a year-ending knee injury in the third week of preseason. Keke Coutee‘s ankle injury is another feather in Johnson’s cap, as he can play both tailback and slot receiver. Gordon’s holdout became serious enough by the middle of August that I dumped him from RB6, to RB13, to RB25. I’m simply unwilling to draft Gordon near his RB15-ish ADP at this point. Although the Eagles have generally stuck with RBBCs under Doug Pederson, they gave Jay Ajayi an average of 14.4 touches over his final ten games in Philly, and Sanders is a much-more talented and versatile back. I like investing in affordably-priced players on high-octane offenses, and Sanders fits the bill at his sixth- to seventh-round ADP. Coleman is the favorite to lead San Francisco’s backfield in touches, especially with Jerick McKinnon (ACL) out of the near-term picture. Last year, 49ers running backs collectively combined for the fifth-most yards from scrimmage in the league. Williams plummeted from RB11 when the Chiefs signed LeSean McCoy. Pollard was among the league’s most-explosive runners this preseason and caught 104 passes in three years at Memphis. His ranking jumped when Jerry Jones seemed to promise Ezekiel Elliott wouldn’t be with Dallas by Week 1, but reports emerged on Saturday that the sides were nearing a long-term accord, putting Pollard’s ranking in a holding pattern. The Broncos sound intent on increasing Royce Freeman‘s role at Lindsay’s expense. Gordon’s ongoing holdout has steadily increased the fantasy appeal of all-purpose threat Ekeler, who dominated the Chargers’ backfield when Gordon missed time in 2018. After topping 1,000 total yards and averaging 5.3 yards per carry on a high ankle sprain last season, Breida is on the rise following McKinnon’s multiple setbacks. I’m expecting a split backfield in San Francisco where Coleman handles about 60% of the work and Breida 40%, at least to begin the year. Williams plummeted and McCoy skyrocketed here after the Chiefs signed Shady, reuniting him with Andy Reid. I tend to doubt what McCoy has left in the tank, but he’s now a proven workhorse on the NFL’s premier offense. Drake deserves a longer look from new OC Chad O’Shea after Adam Gase underutilized him. Including college, however, Drake has gone seven years without clearing 140 carries. Mark Ingram averaged 13.3 touches last season, a reasonable expectation for Murray behind Alvin Kamara. Murray upgrades from Minnesota’s league-worst offensive line to one of the best in New Orleans, where his touchdown upside is immense. Henderson became one of this year’s most-intriguing rookies when the Rams traded up for him at No. 70 overall, landing in an optimal offense behind knee-hobbled Todd Gurley. Henderson was one of the most-explosive runners in NCAA history.
TIER SIX: James White (RB35) > Rashaad Penny (RB36) > Tarik Cohen (RB37) > Royce Freeman (RB38) > Derrius Guice (RB39) > Devin Singletary (RB40)
Overview: White should remain a PPR asset, but the Pats are long on tailback depth, and White’s role shrank to RB3/4 territory once Sony Michel got fully healthy down the stretch. Seahawks 2018 first-round pick Penny has a realistic shot at flex viability behind Chris Carson on the NFC’s run-heaviest team, and would enter league-winning position if Carson went down. The Bears’ additions of David Montgomery, Mike Davis, and Cordarrelle Patterson indicate they’ll keep Cohen pigeonholed in a niche role with frustrating week-to-week instability. The Broncos’ new coaching staff is giving power back Freeman a longer look at pushing 184-pound Phillip Lindsay. Infections in Guice’s surgically-repaired ACL required doctors to perform three additional procedures on his knee. His competition for touches is stiff with Adrian Peterson returning and Chris Thompson back to cap everyone’s receiving usage. Singletary soared here following LeSean McCoy‘s release, although the third-round rookie is now a candidate to be over-drafted in fantasy leagues. Frank Gore is going to get work, and Buffalo’s offense is not conducive to running back catches, where T.J. Yeldon looms as the best receiving back on the team.
TIER SEVEN: Tony Pollard (RB41) > Justin Jackson (RB42) > Kalen Ballage (RB43) > Justice Hill (RB44) > Jordan Howard (RB45) > Kareem Hunt (RB46) > Damien Harris (RB47) > Jaylen Samuels (RB48) > Alexander Mattison (RB49) > Peyton Barber (RB50)
Overview: Seventh-tier backs can turn into RB2/flex options if they catch the right breaks. Northwestern’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards, Jackson has a bellcow background and significantly increased opportunity if Melvin Gordon‘s holdout extends into the season. A Speed Score freak with plus receiving ability, Ballage totaled 218 yards on 32 touches over last year’s final three games. Kenyan Drake hasn’t nailed down a featured role since high school and suffered an ankle injury in camp. This year’s No. 1 SPARQ athlete among drafted running backs, Hill is an electrifying 4.4-flat speedster who should earn change-up duties behind Mark Ingram. Howard’s 2019 fantasy value will likely be heavily dependent upon how many goal-line touchdowns he scores. Hunt won’t be eligible until Week 10 but is a potential late-season fantasy difference maker in an exciting Browns offense. Nick Chubb was no stranger to injuries at Georgia. Harris’ stock elevated as Sony Michel’s knee problems recurred in May, requiring arthroscopic surgery. Year over year, the best way to approach the Patriots’ backfield in fantasy football has been to draft the cheapest member. That’s Harris this season. Samuels is a clearly-superior talent to Benny Snell behind James Conner. Neither Mattison’s college production nor his pre-draft measurables stand out, but he is a plus-sized one-cut fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme at 221 pounds. Dalvin Cook has missed 17-of-32 games through two seasons. Barber’s ceiling is severely capped as a touchdown-dependent, two-down plodder, but he remains the favorite for carries on a high-scoring Bucs team.
TIER EIGHT: Jalen Richard (RB51) > Dion Lewis (RB52) > Frank Gore (RB53) > Ronald Jones (RB54) > Chase Edmonds (RB55) > Ty Montgomery (RB56) > Giovani Bernard (RB57) > Dare Ogunbowale (RB58) > Darwin Thompson (RB59) > Gus Edwards (RB60) > Chris Thompson (RB61) > Ito Smith (RB62) > Dontrell Hilliard (RB63) > T.J. Yeldon (RB64) > Carlos Hyde (RB65)
Overview: Late-round RB5s with reasons for optimism. Richard and Lewis are complementary backs worth rostering in PPR leagues. I wasn’t a believer in Jones coming out of USC and have little reason to support him after a miserable rookie year. Edmonds is a versatile backup in an intriguing Cardinals offense. Montgomery won the Jets’ No. 2 back job behind Le’Veon Bell, who averaged 3.6 missed games over his first five NFL seasons and sat out all of 2018. Some Bengals beat writers have suggested Bernard’s role will expand under new coach Zac Taylor’s staff. Ogunbowale emerged as the favorite for passing-down work in Tampa Bay by the end of training camp; neither Peyton Barber nor Ronald Jones has ever excelled as receivers in college or the pros. Edwards brings nothing to the table in the passing game but has a shot at 9-11 touches per week behind Mark Ingram in the NFL’s run-heaviest offense. Chris Thompson will serve as Washington’s third-down/change-up back whenever healthy. Gore isn’t the least bit sexy, but it’s not crazy to suggest he could lead the Bills in touches following LeSean McCoy‘s release. I’m worried Smith will lose the Falcons’ No. 2 back job to Brian Hill, a bigger back and superior stylistic complement to smallish slasher Devonta Freeman. I dropped Hilliard out of the top-60 backs when he appeared to fall behind AAF alumnus D’Ernest Johnson in Browns camp. Hyde is a trap pick in Houston, where he will struggle to find running room behind a horrific offensive line and lacks any semblance of passing-game value.
TIER NINE: Mike Davis > Malcolm Brown > Adrian Peterson > Rex Burkhead > C.J. Anderson
Overview: Probable non-starters in deep backfields with long-shot bids at relevance. The Bears’ trade up for David Montgomery took wind out of Davis’ sleeper sails, but he shouldn’t be entirely dismissed as a potential factor with plus versatility on a balanced Bears team. Darrell Henderson’s ceiling is far higher, but Brown is second in line for between-the-tackles carries behind knee-nagged Todd Gurley. If Gurley misses time, I think Henderson would play the Alvin Kamara role to Brown’s Mark Ingram. Peterson will battle Derrius Guice for early-down touches while Chris Thompson plays on passing downs and changes the pace. Burkhead’s role is entirely uncertain with James White returning, third-round pick Damien Harris joining the Patriots’ backfield, and Sony Michel probably safe as the lead runner when healthy. Anderson will spell Kerryon Johnson on early downs and perhaps at the goal line.
TIER TEN: Alfred Morris > Brian Hill > Darren Sproles > Benny Snell > Nyheim Hines > Jamaal Williams > Dexter Williams > Devontae Booker > Jordan Wilkins > Myles Gaskin > Mike Boone > Jordan Scarlett > Ty Johnson > Theo Riddick > DeAndre Washington > Doug Martin
Overview: Other guys on the radar.