The advent of NFL training camps is upon us as teams approach their first preseason games. With the return of football comes the return of our favorite form of legal sports betting, fantasy football. As you scour the internet for the latest news and rankings getting ready for your league’s draft, we’ll be providing you lists of the top fantasy prospects by position for this season. (Note: All fantasy stats are based on CBSSports.com scoring/rankings from last season and projections are based on this year’s CBS Sports’ projections.)
When it comes to fantasy football, having a top running back is often a catalyst in leading your team to victory. However, today’s running backs have to be more versatile than ever in order to be valuable as team’s don’t run the ball with one guy as frequently as they used to. There are still certain backs that separate themselves from the pack due to running ability, but more often, the most valuable guys are factors in the passing game as well.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson broke out in a big way last year taking over the majority of snaps for the Cardinals due to his versatility. He racked up 1,239 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns while also adding 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns in the passing game. This year, he projects to be the top guy once again as he proved himself to be the pivot point of the Cardinals offense last season. CBS Sports projects him for slight drops in both rushing and receiving with 1,052 yards rushing (10 TDs) and 764 yards receiving (3 TDs) for a total of 250 fantasy points. He’s got to be a serious consideration with your first round pick.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell missed the first four games of last season due to suspension yet he was still top five in fantasy numbers among running backs last year. Bell is the new mold of back, equally as dangerous catching the ball as he is running with it. His projections for 2017 have him right behind Johnson with 247 total fantasy points due to his combined rushing and receiving stats. Both Bell and Johnson have even more value in PPR leagues as both are projected for 70+ catches. They’ll be the first two backs off the board in pretty much every league.
Ezekiel Elliott**, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott comes with asterisks here due to the uncertainty over whether he will be suspended and for how long by the league due to multiple off-field incidents since entering the league. Depending on the length of a suspension (if there is one) Elliott is more of a risk in your draft. He showed as a rookie that he’s valuable when on the field, rushing for 1,631 yards and 15 TDs while also adding 32 catches for 363 yards and a touchdown there as well. If he is allowed to play starting Week 1, the folks at CBS Sports project him as the number three back with 219 fantasy points for the season.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
McCoy was the focal point of the Bills offense last season, pairing with Tyrod Taylor for a potent backfield tandem that could gash defenses on the ground. That looks to be the case once more as McCoy enters his third year with the team. While Sammy Watkins will hopefully be healthy enough to help Taylor in the passing game, McCoy is projected to be the same reliably Top 10 back that he’s been over the last three years in fantasy. He’s projected for 1,288 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground with 52 receptions for 374 yards and a touchdown in the passing game. That totals up to 216 points putting him just behind Elliott in the projections.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Freeman has taken over the featured back role in the Falcons offense with Tevin Coleman as his compliment over the past two seasons. He’s coming off back-to-back 1,000+ yard rushing seasons and enters his fourth year looking to make it three in a row. He, like McCoy, Bell and Johnson, has proven an effective receiver as well with 54 catches last year and 73 in 2015. He checks in right behind McCoy in terms of projections for the upcoming season with 1,049 yards on the ground, 564 yards receiving and a combined 11 touchdowns totaling 213 fantasy points for the year.
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
Howard was a rookie in 2016 and he burst into the Top 10 of fantasy running backs with a 1,313 yards and six rushing touchdowns in 15 games for the Bears. The Bears offense, such as it was last season, revolved around consistently getting Howard touches and, with Mike Glennon/Mitch Trubisky at QB and unproven options at receiver, that looks to be the case again this year. CBS Sports is projecting Howard as the sixth-best back this season with 203 fantasy points courtesy of 1,394 yards rushing and six touchdowns with 33 catches for 331 yards.
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
After a disappointing rookie season, Gordon took a step forward in his second year placing eighth among running backs in CBS Sports’ final fantasy rankings producing 198 points (12.3 average). He’s dealt with injuries, having yet to play a full 16 games through two seasons. The Chargers offense has already been dealt significant blows in the preseason with the loss of their top two draft picks (WR Mike Williams and G Forrest Lamp) likely for the season. Every year, the Chargers offensive line is seemingly bitten by the injury bug, so I’m a little more skeptical of Gordon’s potential but, the CBS Sports’ projections have him falling just short of 1,000 yards once again with 990 yards and a total of 194 fantasy points.
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
Murray was a big hit in Nashville after having a down year in Philadelphia in 2015. As part of coach Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” scheme, Murray looked more like his old self recording 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground for 229 fantasy points on the year. This season, Murray returns to an offense that added more weapons for young QB Marcus Mariota, but the running game is expected to still be the focal point. The projections have him taking a step back in terms of rushing yards and TDs with 1,075 and six respectively, but he still ranks as a Top 10 back with 178 projected fantasy points for the year.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley’s stats dropped off dramatically from his rookie year to last season. After averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 85.3 yards per game in 2015, he put up just 55.3 yards per game on 3.2 per carry last season. He finished fifth among running backs in 2015 and, as you might expect, dropped off to 19th last season. This year, the projections have Gurley coming back strong with a 966-yard, seven touchdown season. Granted, if the Rams don’t find some semblance of a passing game, defenses will once again key on Gurley and his numbers could suffer.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Miller was very productive in his first year in Houston, posting 1,073 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year. This season, he’s looking at a slight decline in rushing yards at 1,026, but one more touchdown according to projections along with with 38 catches for 235 yards receiving and a total of 158 fantasy points. Miller could surpass those numbers with an unsettled QB situation in Houston.