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Regular Season, Updated: 9/4/17


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 David Johnson, ARI (Bye: 8)
1
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 224   DOB: 1991-12-16   Age: 26
College: Northern Iowa   Draft: 2015 Round 3 (22) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2015ARI16125 581 8 36 457 4 175.8 11.0
2016ARI16293 1,239 16 80 879 4 331.8 20.7
2017 (Projected)ARI 265 1,165 13 69 725 4 291.0  

Outlook: David Johnson touched the ball a league-most 373 times last season, which he turned into an impressive 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns. His 80 catches in the passing game were best among running backs in the NFL - five more than Le'Veon Bell and 20 more than third-place finisher James White. Needless to say, Johnson is a player who can truly do it all for your fantasy team and it makes sense why he's practically locked in at No. 1 or No. 2 overall in most leagues. What's interesting is that while Johnson had a monster season, the Cardinals as a team still finished 18th in rushing yards. Johnson accounted for a whopping 71.5 percent of the team's ground game and no other player in the offense had even 200 rushing yards on the year. Those numbers are extraordinarily high and indicate that Johnson might be the biggest bell-cow of any running back in the entire league. However, it also means that he's bound to have some wear and tear by the end of the season.

The Cardinals offensive line remains a liability in pass protection but they're actually a solid run-blocking offensive line with the likes of guards Evan Boehm and Mike Iupati. That, combined with his high usage, make Johnson one of the safest first round running backs - if there is such a thing - that we've seen in recent years. The added concerns of legal issues over the past few seasons for the other top backs, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, should give Johnson an even stronger case to be selected as the No. 1 player drafted in fantasy drafts.


 Le'Veon Bell, PIT (Bye: 9)
2
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 244   DOB: 1992-02-18   Age: 25
College: Michigan State   Draft: 2013 Round 2 (18) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2014PIT16290 1,361 8 83 854 3 287.5 18.0
2015PIT6113 556 3 24 136 0 87.2 14.5
2016PIT12261 1,268 7 75 616 2 242.4 20.2
2017 (Projected)PIT 284 1,365 10 60 496 2 258.1  

Outlook: A long commentary on Bell is hardly necessary. He is in the mix as the top overall fantasy player, and this will remain the case even if he holds out into training camp. After a smashing 144-yard 2016 debut against Kansas City in Week 4, Bell struggled on the ground in the next five games, as he was able to top 4.0 yards-per-carry only once. But his role in the passing game easily made up for it, as he caught 40, yes, 40 passes over that stretch. He started his dominant tear in Week 11 against Cleveland, culminating in a mind boggling 38-236-3 line on the ground against Buffalo.

There are two reasons why I'd hesitate to take Bell over David Johnson in any format. First, the lack of touchdown consistency is concerning. Sure, he ended up with 9 total scores in only 12 games, but he went a five-game stretch without sniffing the endzone, and only has one season in his career where he scored in double digits. Even though he and Johnson are both 25, Bell has much more wear on his frame, suffering several serious injuries to his lower body. Foot, ankle, knee, and groin injuries have ended his season early in recent years, and it's been quite some time Bell hasn't had to recover from off-season surgery of some sort. Extrapolated out to a full season, Bell would have had nearly 2,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns; simply ridiculous numbers. But those numbers were nearly matched by Johnson, AND he accounted for 20 scores. The bottom line is you really can't go wrong if get "stuck" with Bell, and he'll provide the centerpiece to many fantasy winning teams in 2017 if things go according to plan.


 LeSean McCoy, BUF (Bye: 6)
3
Height: 5’11”   Weight: 208   DOB: 1988-07-12   Age: 29
College: Pittsburgh   Draft: 2009 Round 2 (21) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2014PHI16314 1,319 5 30 155 0 177.4 11.1
2015BUF12203 895 3 32 292 2 148.7 12.4
2016BUF15234 1,267 13 51 356 1 246.3 16.4
2017 (Projected)BUF 227 1,065 10 40 326 2 211.1  

Outlook: After posting the second-most rushing touchdowns (13) in his eight-year NFL career, Shady McCoy vaulted himself back into a consensus first round draft pick in all formats. Despite losing 8 rushing touchdowns to former Bill Mike Gillislee, McCoy was still able to score 14 total touchdowns in 15 games last season.

McCoy is set to surpass the 2000-carry plateau this season to go along with over 400 career receptions, begging the question when the oft-injured 29-year-old running back will finally break down for good.

When healthy, McCoy is still one of the most dynamic players in the game, as evident to his impressive 4.7 career yard per carry average. As the lead back for a Buffalo team that led the NFL in rushing yards over the past two seasons, McCoy has a chance to finish the season as a top 3 running back in both standard and PPR formats. But owners who draft McCoy may want to consider investing in a viable replacement option or handcuff Jonathan Williams, as McCoy has managed to play a full 16-game schedule in only two of his eight seasons, and has yet to do so with the Bills.


 Devonta Freeman, ATL (Bye: 5)
4
Height: 5’8”   Weight: 206   DOB: 1992-03-15   Age: 25
College: Florida State   Draft: 2014 Round 4 (3) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2014ATL1665 248 1 30 225 1 59.3 3.7
2015ATL15264 1,061 11 73 578 3 247.9 16.5
2016ATL16227 1,079 11 54 462 2 232.1 14.5
2017 (Projected)ATL 232 1,045 8 55 449 2 209.4  

Outlook: As expected, Devonta Freeman's workload and production decreased in 2016 due to the presence of Tevin Coleman in the Falcons' RBBC. What wasn't expected was that Freeman still managed to be a top ten fantasy running back. The Falcons finished the 2016 regular season placing fifth in yards per carry (4.6) and yards per game (120.5) despite ranking only twelfth in rushing attempts per game (26.3). It's no wonder that the efficient work of Atlanta's ground game made them one of only four teams to score 20 rushing touchdowns. The lead dog in Atlanta has now posted back-to-back years with double digit touchdowns. Excluding his six-carry performance of Week 14 as an outlier, Freeman notched 7.95 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) in the seven regular season games he failed to score last season. Then again, when Freeman wasn't being asked to run the ball into the end zone he was being targeted in the passing game (17 red zone targets in 2016). After riding the ground game all the way to the Super Bowl, the Falcons only have more reason to let their horses run wild this year. Freeman's high ceiling, high floor and ability to be a RB1 despite being in a RBBC make him a sound investment at the back end of the first round.


 Melvin Gordon, LAC (Bye: 9)
5
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 215   DOB: 1993-04-13   Age: 24
College: Wisconsin   Draft: 2015 Round 1 (15) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2015SD14184 641 0 33 192 0 83.3 6.0
2016SD13254 997 10 41 419 2 213.6 16.4
2017 (Projected)LAC 264 1,055 8 49 378 2 203.3  

Outlook: After a terribly ineffective rookie season (833 total yards, 0 TDs), Melvin Gordon turned it around with a huge sophomore season where he totaled 1,416 yards, 12 TDs and 41 catches. This excellent fantasy performance came despite an offensive line that was far below average across the board. Much of Gordon's success was volume-based as he rushed for just 3.9 yards per carry, including 58 total red zone touches which put him at No.5 among running backs in that category, but there doesn't seem to be any indication that the Chargers will be looking to lighten his workload in 2017. The team replaced head coach Mike McCoy with Anthony Lynn, who has spent most of his coaching career as a running backs coach for various organizations. The Chargers also drafted guards Forest Lamp and Dan Feeney in Rounds 2 and 3, while signing tackle Russell Okung, who should improve the o-line performance in 2017.

Gordon is a very safe option due to the lack of talent behind him now that Danny Woodhead is gone. It's rare to find a "bell cow" back these days, which should mean he's locked in as a mid-first round pick in most fantasy drafts. Gordon is not without risk however, as he has dealt with injury issues in both of his two NFL seasons, having not played a snap in Weeks 16 or 17 in either season.


 Jordan Howard, CHI (Bye: 9)
6
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 230   DOB: 1994-11-02   Age: 23
College: Indiana   Draft: 2016 Round 5 (11) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2016CHI15252 1,313 6 29 298 1 203.1 13.5
2017 (Projected)CHI 266 1,225 7 41 306 2 207.1  

Outlook: I'm going to make a crazy assumption that Jordan Howard won a few fantasy titles last season. The 5th round rookie from Indiana came out of nowhere to pile up 252 carries for 1,313 yards 6 touchdowns, in essentially only 13 games, as he didn't play Week 1 and saw only 12 carries combined in Week 2 and 3. From Week 4 on, Howard was one of fantasy's most consistent running back plays, putting up double digit points in all but two of his final thirteen games. More impressive is that fact Howard did all of this on a team that went 3-13, and rarely ever had 4th quarter leads to protect.

A deeper look shows Howard racked up these amazing numbers on a fairly limited set of carries. He only reached 20 carries in four games, as he averaged a silly 5.2 yards-per-carry, great numbers for a runner that doesn't possess elite speed or quickness. What Howard does have is a relentless, one-cut running style that jibes with the strong run blocking of the Chicago line. He fits through tight spaces, finishes runs with gusto, and has the power and vision to make his own yards when necessary. So can Howard repeat the magic and be worthy of an early round selection in 2017? In early drafts he's being picked in the top-10 at his position, a place I think is fair. Barring injury (which he did have quite a few of his senior year in college), he should push for 250 carries once again. 250 carries is nearly a shoe-in for top-10 status, as only Frank Gore and Lamar Miller had 250 or more carries last season and didn't finish in that area. Howard's touchdown upside is going to be limited on a poor, conservative offense, but has a little room to grow from last year's total of six.

What I don't see improving greatly are his yards per carry average and reception totals. With totally unproven quarterback options and receivers who scare no one right now, 8 and 9-man fronts should be the norm against Howard. Also consider the fact he led all running backs with 8 dropped passes, and had only a 58% completion rate on passes thrown his way. Compare that to a similar player in Melvin Gordon who had a 72% rate, and you'll see why Chicago went out and added Benny Cunningham in free agency and the Darren Sproles-like Tarik Cohen in the draft. Cohen was a dynamo at North Carolina A&T and offers the Bears a skillset that is unique to their roster.

Howard's volume and skill-set are going to be enough to make him a RB1, but you are going to have to pay a significantly higher price this season to get that production. He's going to be a solid, reliable player, but asking him to meet or surpass his 2016 totals might be a stretch.


 Jay Ajayi, MIA (Bye: 1)
7
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 221   DOB: 1993-06-15   Age: 24
College: Boise State   Draft: 2015 Round 5 (13) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2015MIA949 187 1 7 90 0 33.7 3.7
2016MIA15260 1,272 8 27 151 0 190.3 12.7
2017 (Projected)MIA 260 1,195 8 36 246 1 198.1  

Outlook: The sophomore season for running back Jay Ajayi was one of the more bizarre storylines of the 2016 season, with the Dolphins doing everything in their power to not play the former Boise State Bronco. The Miami front office tried unsuccessfully to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver, and then settled on an aging Arian Foster to start the season. Instead of using Ajayi as a backup in Week 1 against the Seahawks, the Dolphins front office deactivated the second-year player, citing attitude issues as the reason for the move.

A career-ending injury to Foster forced the staff to give Ajayi the start Week 5 against the Titans. Although the former fifth round pick struggled with only 42 yards on 13 carries, he did manage to find the end zone and post double-digit fantasy points. Ajayi would then follow with consecutive 200-yard performances against Pittsburgh and Buffalo, before posting 111 yards and a touchdown at home against the Jets Week 9.

Ajayi enters 2017 as the clear lead back for an offense that finished 2016 as the 9th best rushing attack in the league. He is a lock for 250 carries, assuming that he can stay healthy and does not lose the favor of the coaching staff. The health of center Mike Pouncey and the Dolphins offensive line is critical to the success of the rushing game - all but one of Ajayi's big games occurred when the O-line was active.

On a negative note, Ajayi's fantasy production was not consistent in 2016, with 57% of his yardage coming in a quarter of his games. Although he delivered two 27-point performances and a whopping 32.7 points against the Steelers Week 6, he failed to post double-digit fantasy points in nine of his 16 games.


 DeMarco Murray, TEN (Bye: 8)
8
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 227   DOB: 1988-02-12   Age: 29
College: Oklahoma   Draft: 2011 Round 3 (7) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2014DAL16393 1,845 13 57 416 0 304.1 19.0
2015PHI15194 699 6 44 322 1 144.1 9.6
2016TEN16293 1,287 9 53 377 3 238.4 14.9
2017 (Projected)TEN 241 1,062 7 44 315 2 191.7  

Outlook: The Titans knew they needed a true horse to run their "Smashmouth" scheme last season and they got just that when they added DeMarco Murray. They rode him hard too. After seeing 240 touches in 2015, the Titans leaned on Murray 346 times in 2016. The wear and tear did take its toll on the beastly running back causing him to slip from being a top three fantasy running back to playing like a RB2 over the last month of the season. Reports this off-season have noted Murray's desire to remain in a true workhorse role as well as HC Mike Mularkey's intent on working Derrick Henry into the mix. It's hard to imagine the Titans keeping the talented (and younger) Henry in a true backup role again this year so expect Murray's touches to settle in closer to the sub-300 mark. A reduced workload shouldn't deter fantasy owners from trusting Murray to reach double-digit touchdowns and over 1,200 total yards as a RB1. Murray did have surgery on his finger recently but it shouldn't have any impact on his performance in 2017.


 Todd Gurley, LAR (Bye: 8)
9
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 222   DOB: 1994-08-03   Age: 23
College: Georgia   Draft: 2015 Round 1 (10) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2015STL13229 1,108 10 21 188 0 189.6 14.6
2016LAR16278 885 6 43 327 0 157.2 9.8
2017 (Projected)LAR 267 1,066 7 35 286 1 183.2  

Outlook: Perhaps no player in the league was more disappointing as a fantasy performer than Todd Gurley was in 2016. Gurley was a top five overall pick in most drafts but saw his production fall off tremendously from what we saw in his rookie season. He rushed for just 885 yards on 278 carries for a disastrous 3.2 yards per carry. While he was more involved in the passing game, it wasn't enough to salvage what was a very frustrating fantasy season.

The positive to take from this past season is that the Rams - despite falling behind in most games and getting little production out of him - stuck with Gurley through what was a truly awful season. No other Rams back was useful in 2016 and that won't likely be changing in 2017. While the allure has certainly worn off, there's still plenty of upside here for Gurley. The Rams invested heavily in their offensive line this off-season and we likely saw Gurley's fantasy floor last year. His draft day cost won't be anywhere near what it was a season ago but the upside is still about the same as it was given his expected workload, so try not to hold too much of a grudge if Gurley burned you in 2016.


 Lamar Miller, HOU (Bye: 7)
10
Height: 5’10”   Weight: 212   DOB: 1991-04-25   Age: 26
College: Miami   Draft: 2012 Round 4 (2) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2014MIA16216 1,099 8 38 275 1 191.4 12.0
2015MIA16194 872 8 47 397 2 186.9 11.7
2016HOU14268 1,073 5 31 188 1 162.1 11.6
2017 (Projected)HOU 260 1,120 7 32 235 1 183.5  

Outlook: Lamar Miller's signing prior to last season had many fantasy owners thinking the next coming of Arian Foster awaited them. Although the workload fulfilled those expectations the production lagged far behind as Miller barely rushed for 1,000 yards on his 268 carries. The good news is that the team's offensive scheme will continue to lean heavily on the ground game and Miller is the clear front runner for carries. The team may decide to reduce Miller's workload, but fantasy owners should still be able to count on RB1 level upside. The fact that Miller carried a 4.0 YPC in a year where he consistently faced stacked boxes should give fantasy owners enough confidence in making him a high selection once again this year. Whether Miller returns RB1 or RB2 production will be a result of his ability to find pay dirt. Last season he found the end zone only five times on 15 carries inside the ten-yard line. The year before he scored five touchdowns on eleven similar attempts with the Dolphins. The team could easily look for other options on the ground or via the pass should they ultimately decide Miller isn't getting the job done when they need it most. Though his job security and work in the passing game offsets some of the scoring deficiencies, a lack of touchdown potential makes him a risky bet if drafted to be your squad's top running back in 2017.


 Dalvin Cook, MIN (Bye: 9)
11
Height: 5’10”   Weight: 210   DOB: 1995-08-10   Age: 22
College: Florida State   Draft: 2017 Round 2 (9) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2017 (Projected)MIN 206 885 7 38 305 2 173.0  

Outlook: A projected 1st round pick after a stellar career in the ACC, Cook scored 38 times in his final two years at Florida State, capping his career with a 145 yard night against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. On draft night, Cook tumbled into the 2nd round because of multiple shoulder injuries and a concerning off-the-field record. The Vikings were happy to snag Cook after trading down with the Bengals (who took Joe Mixon). Cook has some flaws to his game which he'll have to overcome in the pros (13 career fumbles), but he represents a serious upgrade in production and talent for Minnesota. He's drawn rave reviews from none other than head coach Mike Zimmer, who rarely puffs his players up with smoke, calling his rooker runner "special" at several points this offseason. Cook has benefitted from Latavius Murray missing time due to an ankle injury, and has made the most of it. But, while he is currently the de facto early down workhorse, the Vikes invested a decent chunk of change in Murray, and still have 3rd down specialist Jerick McKinnon in need of touches. It's certainly possible Cook's talent wins out in the end, but I get the sick feeling that this situation is headed for a three-headed monster scenario. In Dynasty leagues, Cook is a fantastic pick, but he definitely loses value in redraft leagues. Without a majority of touches on a limited offense, Cook could struggle to turn out anything better than RB3/FLEX value. Draft him with upside in mind.


 Leonard Fournette, JAC (Bye: 8)
12
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 240   DOB: 1995-01-18   Age: 22
College: Louisiana State   Draft: 2017 Round 1 (4) 
SeasonTeamGameAtt Yard TDRec Yard TDFPtsFPts/G
2017 (Projected)JAC 252 1,085 7 27 183 1 174.8  

Outlook: The hype surrounding Leonard Fournette in fantasy circles seems to grow by the minute. Few players possess the size, speed and power and the early comparisons to players such as Adrian Peterson and Fred Taylor have created lofty expectations. The success of Ezekiel Elliott last year shows just how valuable an all purpose power back can be in a fantasy landscape riddled with RBBCs. Competition for carries comes in the form of the team's two most recent attempts at finding a lead rusher, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. While both players will have a role in the offense, neither will prevent Fournette from ascending to the top of the depth chart sooner rather than later. Not known for his receiving skills, Jacksonville's rookie horse has received passing grades on his hands during OTAs. Forecasting a few receptions into his early projections makes the former LSU Tiger an appealing fantasy running back with rare double-digit touchdown potential. Early drafters may be able to snatch him up in the middle of the second round but his value may climb to late first round status if he performs well in the preseason.