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Fantasy Football preview: Gap separates elites, others at RB

Douglas Fritz • Updated Jul 16, 2017 at 10:29 PM

Running backs have taken on a dramatically different role in fantasy football over the past few years.

What used to be a must-have position has morphed into a select few in the elite group, followed by a wide gap, followed by a bunch of interchangeable parts.

In Part 2 of the Northeast Tennessee Fantasy Football Outlook, we’re going to focus on the guys in the backfield.

To simplify things, this will be based on a 12-team league where running backs receive six points for a rushing or receiving touchdown, three bonus points for any TD from 50 yards out or longer, one point for every 10 yards rushing and minus-one for a fumble.

TOP TIER

There are only three guys in this group, and for good reason. They are the only guys who figure to get enough touches — plus goal-line work — to threaten a big game every single week.

The experts say: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott.

THE TAKEAWAY

Elliott’s potential suspension (four games?) is the biggest reason he’s ranked No. 3 in this group. But really you could throw these three guys in a hat, and be happy with whichever one you drew. They are the true elite, free from any question marks surrounding every other running back in the NFL.

SECOND TIER

Just to emphasize the gap between The Big Three and the second tier, there only one running back in this group who could give you supreme confidence heading into 2017: Melvin Gordon. He’s a stud if he gets most of the goal-line work.

The experts say: LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Devonta Freeman, Jay Ajayi, Jordan Howard, DeMarco Murray.

THE TAKEAWAY

Here’s the issue with the other Tier 2 guys:

— McCoy (injury history; goal-line work?)

— Freeman (Tevin Coleman’s presence)

— Ajayi (enormously big games followed by big whiffs; he had 35, 27 and 26 points in three games while totaling nine single-digit efforts in 2016)

— Howard (has a lot to prove in a questionable offense)

— Murray (age and Derrick Henry)

THIRD TIER

As one might expect, this is a very interesting bunch. It’s filled with guys who could become Top 5 — or have little value at all.

The experts say: Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Lamar Miller, Isaiah Crowell, Marshawn Lynch, Carlos Hyde, Joe Mixon.

THE TAKEAWAY

Gurley may have the most upside because of a new offense where he will be used differently than he was in Jeff Fisher’s stale approach.

Fournette is the biggest wild card. Behind a questionable offensive line he could flop, but he’s talented enough to be the league’s top rookie.

If you pick Miller, Crowell, Lynch or Hyde, you will get what you pay for. Buyer beware.

That leaves Mixon, who has star potential. However, the off-field issue may never leave his side.

FOURTH TIER

These are the value guys. Sometimes they are just “touches” away from being the steals of the draft.

But also they are in situations where they simply may not flourish.

Hence, this is where the experts tend to disagree the most. For example, three of these guys are ranked outside the top 50 by at least one expert. Only two of them drew a top 10 pick.

The experts say:

Ty Montgomery, Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson, Spencer Ware, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Tevin Coleman, Frank Gore, Dalvin Cook, Ameer Abdullah, Bilal Powell, Paul Perkins, LeGarrette Blount.

THE TAKEAWAY

The two runners who stand out the most in this group are Ware and Cook as they each drew a top-10 look from the experts. The Cook pick looks like a stretch, but Ware should put up big numbers if he holds the job all season.

If Green Bay sticks with Montgomery, he should consistently get yardage while touchdowns may be infrequent.

The wild-card sleepers in this group are Gillislee (if you really want to put your eggs in the ever-changing Bill Belichick basket) and Coleman (who should score decently as is, but could become a top 5 guy if Freeman gets hurt).

BEST OF THE REST

Here are a few lower-ranked guys who could outperform their current status and become great value picks:

No. 31 Adrian Peterson

No. 36 Samaje Perine

No. 37 Derrick Henry (a DeMarco Murray injury away from being a stud)

No. 38 Robert Kelley (if he beats out Perine)

No. 43 Latavius Murray (if he tops Cook for touches)

No. 49 Thomas Rawls (if Lacy doesn’t stay healthy, but C.J. Prosise is a problem, too)

No. 50 Jamaal Charles (it’s all about the knee)

No. 55 Alvin Kamara (in a great position to succeed).

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