Running back is quickly becoming a forgotten position early in fantasy football drafts this year, but the veterans know that having a premier ball-carrier is essential to a successful team.
That is why, at UPI, we have ranked our top 100 running backs, in standard format, for your 2016 fantasy football draft kit.
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After a few mock drafts, you will soon notice a trend early on: wide receivers flying off of the board. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the back half of round one, staring into the eyes of some of the NFL’s best players. Yes, you should go into your draft with a strategy in mind, but be willing to be flexible. Don’t pass up a proven player and miss your chance to buy low on a ball-carrier who can churn up yards and score touchdowns consistently.
For clarity, here are some of the best running backs to look out for in five separate tiers, as well as some unheralded sleepers.
HALL OF FAME
1. Adrian Peterson, 2. Todd Gurley
Adrian ‘All-Day’ Peterson eats 1,200 yard, double-digit touchdown seasons for breakfast. There might not be a safer pick, regardless of position, in your fantasy football draft. At age 30, Peterson rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. Minnesota made additions to its passing game this offseason, and Teddy Bridgewater is locked and loaded to improve on his line of 3,231 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. But it is no secret who drives the NFC North Champions. Peterson is the combination of consistency, explosion, and durability that you look for in a first round selection.
Todd Gurley absolutely erupted into the NFL last season. The 22-year-old scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 1,106 yards in 13 games for the then-St. Louis Rams. The Pro-Bowl selection ranked No. 3 in rushing yards last season. Bluntly put, the Rams don’t have better options than Gurley in fantasy or in real life. If he can hold up for an entire season, Gurley should be the 2016 NFL rushing champion.
3. Le’Veon Bell, 4. Ezekiel Elliott, 5. David Johnson
Bell brings unparalleled dynamic talent to the Pittsburgh Steelers and your fantasy team. Without a three-game ban to start the season, many see him as the best running back in fantasy football. I would not recommend drafting Bell early in larger leagues, because it will hurt your team at the beginning of the season to not have a contributing first-round pick. In smaller leagues [8-12 teams], an early selection of Bell might not be so volatile because you have space to afford other skilled running backs.
Elliott is a rare breed in fantasy football. The rookie steps into a fantastic offensive situation in Dallas behind a behemoth offensive line. While many forecast Elliott to step in and produce right away, you might want to slightly temper those exceptions. Overall, Elliott should have a stellar rookie season if he remains healthy, but don’t expect him to immediately turn into 2014 DeMarco Murray.
David Johnson enters 2016 with a similarly opportunist situation, like Elliott. Johnson is part of one of the league’s most explosive offenses and is surrounded by talent. The Arizona Cardinals could be fantasy football’s best offense by the end of the season. The 24-year-old started just five games last season, but cemented himself as the starting running back for Bruce Arians’ squad. Johnson rushed for 581 yards and eight touchdowns and had 457 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns last season. He also scored on a 108-yard kick return. The only downfall for Johnson could be his crowded backfield. With Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington at his side, Johnson will need to be as dynamic as possible to give you a good return on his first round draft price. Johnson was on pace to rush for 1,000 yards last season before going down late in the season to injury.
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6. Mark Ingram, 7. Eddie Lacy, 8. LeSean McCoy, 9. Thomas Rawls, 10. DeVonta Freeman, 11. Jamaal Charles, 12. Doug Martin, 13. Lamar Miller
Eddie Lacy is due. Lacy was one of the biggest busts in recent memory last season for fantasy football owners who drafted him in top 10. The 26-year-old was out of shape last season and it showed. After rushing for more than 1,100 yards and scoring double digit touchdowns in consecutive seasons, Lacy tallied just 758 rushing yards and three rushing scores in 2015. With Jordy Nelson returning, look for the Green Bay Packers to return to its proper standing as an elite NFL offense. Lacy should reap the benefits of space created by the Packers’ passing attack and be able to show off his slimmer frame this season.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll continues to say that Thomas Rawls will start the team’s week one matchup against the Miami Dolphins. Rawls showed enough last season in seven starts to justify his draft spot this season. In 13 games, Rawls rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns. Although he isn’t literally “Beast Mode.” Rawls does offer the grit and versatilely you want in a lead running back for your fantasy team. If his ankle can hold up, Rawls could end up being a steal at his current average draft position.
JUST NAPPING [EARLY TO MID-ROUND SLEEPERS]
14. Matt Forte, 15. Carlos Hyde, 16. Jonathan Stewart, 17. Jeremy HIll, 18. C.J. Anderson, 19. Jeremy Langford
This is the group of running backs to target if you go wide receiver with your early selections. Although they each carry risk of limited production, they also could carry the reward, which has made each of the, high draft considerations in the past.
Matt Forte is in a situation where he is trying to get healthy, while also fending off a loaded backfield. The New York Jets, however, could be even better this season. After finally signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets should be able to improve on its historic passing numbers last season. With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker outside, Forte should have plenty of space to do what he does best: catch the football out of the backfield. Forte is expected to suit up for his first preseason game with the Jets on Saturday against the New York Giants.
Jeremy Hill disappointed fantasy owners who spent high draft picks on him in 2015, but he is an integral part of one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Hill is a great guy to look at in the mid rounds of your draft. Hill has 21 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league. In 2014, Hill averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, in route to 1,124 yards and nine rushing scores. Last season, he averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but scored 12 touchdowns. Hill is boom-or-bust, but should be leaned on more this season in Cincinnati, providing safety and consistency.
DRIFTING OFF [MID TO LATE-ROUND SLEEPERS]
21. DeMarco Murray, 24. Chris Ivory, 27. Giovani Bernard, 28. Melvin Gordon, 29. Frank Gore, 30. Ameer Abdullah, 32. Rashad Jennings, 33. Arian Foster