The Top Thirty-Five Running Backs For PPR Leagues
By Jack Concannon
The most important position in fantasy football is the running back position. Running backs come off of the board early and often and for good reason. There are not enough good running backs to go around so they have to be targeted early. In PPR scoring leagues knowing which running backs to take becomes even harder as both the running game and passing game are critical to putting up points.
For those unfamiliar, points per reception scoring (PPR for short) is a scoring system for fantasy football that not only awards points for touchdowns and yardage but also awards points for receptions. This extra one point per reception changes fantasy strategy because players who rack up catches have added value. Anyone in a PPR league has to be aware of the scoring before the draft because it has a considerable effect on your strategy.
The following running back ranking is for PPR scoring leagues that award one point per reception. I am going to place the players into tiers and discuss each tier briefly after. Let’s start with the cream of the crop: the elite.
Tier 1- The Elite
1. Jamaal Charles Kansas City Chiefs
2. Adrian Peterson Minnesota Vikings
3. LeSean McCoy Philadelphia Eagles
4. Matt Forte Chicago Bears
5. Marshawn Lynch Seattle Seahawks
There are only five truly elite running backs in fantasy football this season. These guys will require high first round picks to land but they are worth the cost. When healthy, they are almost guaranteed to put up big points. The top player in fantasy this year is Jamaal Charles. Charles had nineteen touchdowns, seventy receptions, and 1980 combined yards rushing and receiving last year. No one else even came close to numbers like those. Peterson takes the second spot over McCoy because the newly acquired Eagle Darren Sproles figures to eat into McCoy’s receiving stats. Forte’s excellent production last year and expanded role in Chicago’s passing game makes him an elite PPR running back. The Christine Michael discussion continues in Seattle and that really doesn’t scare me at all. Marshawn Lynch is still a beast and will still get the football enough to be worthy of the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Tier 2- Not Quite Elite
6. Eddie Lacy Green Bay Packers
7. Arian Foster Houston Texans
Both of these guys were extremely close to elite status but weren’t quite on the level of the five elite guys that I chose. Eddie Lacy was almost elite last season but he is a great value in the mid first round and a solid RB1 in any format. Houston just named Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback so they will have to lean on the running game. Arian Foster is healthy and ready to go. Draft accordingly.
Tier 3- Low-end RB1s
8. Reggie Bush Detroit Lions
9. DeMarco Murray Dallas Cowboys
10. Le’Veon Bell Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Montee Ball Denver Broncos
12. Giovani Bernard Cincinnati Bengals
These five guys are all likely to be second round picks but that doesn’t mean that they won’t put up huge points. Reggie Bush is a PPR monster that is perpetually underrated in fantasy. DeMarco Murray is great for fantasy owners when he’s healthy. His health has always been an issue, although to his credit he did play in fourteen games last year. Le’Veon Bell is a second year NFL player ready to build off of a great rookie year and have another excellent season. Newcomer Legarrette Blount will vulture some of his goal line carries but it should be another great year for Le’Veon. Another NFL sophomore- Montee Ball is looking to fill in for Knowshon Moreno in Denver and the Broncos coaching staff is raving about him. If he cuts out the fumbling Ball is ready to make the leap into running back one territory. Now that Giovani Bernard has officially supplanted BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the top of the Bengals depth chart he is ready for a huge year. He’s PPR threat that logged 56 catches last year while splitting carries with BenJarvus “The Law Firm” Green-Ellis (best nickname in sports by the way).
Tier 4- Young Guys With Big Potential
13. Zac Stacy St. Louis Rams
14. Andre Ellington Arizona Cardinals
15. Alfred Morris Washington Redskins
Young players in fantasy football are challenging to evaluate because you aren’t really sure what you’re picking when you draft them. Questions swirl regarding their respective roles in their offenses and you have to guess what those roles are going to be. Let’s start with a player whose role is more or less determined: Zac Stacy. Stacy was one of the best running backs in fantasy last year after taking over the Rams’ starting job in week five. Stacy will look to keep that momentum going this year. Tre Mason could take some carries away and Stacy wasn’t really a great receiving back last year posting twenty six catches but he is still in position for another good year. Andre Ellington is an excellent receiving back who despite getting just 118 carries his rookie year was targeted out of the backfield fifty-seven times. He’s player who catches the ball and averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie. He is extremely underrated and has the potential to be a top ten PPR back. Alfred Morris on the other hand isn’t really a receiving back. He had nine catches last year. Nine. He’s a good running back but I’m willing to bet someone in your league will use a second round pick on him and that person shouldn’t be you. Take someone else unless he slips.
Tier 5- The San Diego Chargers
16. Danny Woodhead San Diego Chargers
17. Ryan Matthews San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are one of those rare teams that’s offense has two starting caliber fantasy running backs when both are healthy. The two Chargers running backs also happen to have similar PPR value. Danny Woodhead was eleventh out of all running backs last year in PPR. He had 76 receptions. The arrival of Donald Brown in San Diego could hurt his potential a bit but his production is still worth a third or fourth round pick although you can probably steal him in the sixth. In Ryan Matthews’ last seven games last year he eclipsed 100 yards four times and had four touchdowns. Matthews does have a problem staying healthy but he put up solid numbers all of last year (especially in the second half) and is being under drafted.
Tier 6- Bounce Back Candidates
18. Doug Martin Tampa Bay Buccaneers
19. CJ Spiller Buffalo Bills
First round picks getting injured or not panning out is extremely frustrating; but they still retain some value going into the season after their poor performances. Doug Martin and CJ Spiller were both first round picks last season that suffered from injuries and had low production when they were healthy. Doug Martin has is ranked higher since Spiller has to compete with Fred Jackson for carries but they are similar in value. These guys could burn you this year like they did last year but they could end up being great values.
Tier 7- Mid Round Values
20. Bishop Sankey Tennessee Titans
21. Frank Gore San Francisco 49ers
22. Ben Tate Cleveland Browns
23. Shane Vereen New England Patriots
24. Chris Johnson New York Jets
25. Rashad Jennings New York Giants
26. Pierre Thomas New Orleans Saints
These players are all fourth and fifth round values with boom or bust potential. Some of these guys will probably flop but if you can pick one of the two or three that have big years you’re well on your way to a fantasy championship. Bishop Sankey is going to have a large workload in Tennessee this year. Drafting rookies is always risky but he will have a large workload and could be this year’s Eddie Lacy. Frank Gore is thirty-one years old and is competing with a lot of younger running backs for carries but he’s still at the top of San Francisco’s depth chart. Ben Tate finally has a starting role in Cleveland and showed a lot of potential to be a star filling in for Arian Foster in Houston. Shane Vereen is a receiving back who could have a big year. He could have a lot more value but Bill Belichick just doesn’t give him the ball enough in the run game. Chris Johnson is an inconsistent running back that had a bit of a resurgence at the end of last year but he’s competing with Chris Ivory for carries in the Jets offense which figures to be average at best this year. Rashad Jennings had a great year filling in for Darren McFadden in Oakland last year and now he’s getting a chance to start in New York. He’ll be a fourth or fifth round pick that has the potential for a big year. Pierre Thomas caught 77 passes last year and now Darren Sproles is out of town. He could catch 90 balls this year and that’s huge for his fantasy value. His limited role in the red zone (just two touchdowns last year) caps his value.
Tier 8- Flex Appeals and Bench Players
27. Toby Gerhart Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Lamar Miller Miami Dolphins
29. Stevan Ridley New England Patriots
30. Ray Rice Baltimore Ravens
31. Joique Bell Detroit Lions
32. Steven Jackson Atlanta Falcons
33. Fred Jackson Buffalo Bills
34. Knowshon Moreno Miami Dolphins
35. Darren Sproles Philadelphia Eagles
This final tier is no longer “starting caliber” running backs. These are guys who may have flex appeal but will probably end up on somebody’s bench. Having at least one good bench running back is crucial. Don’t get lazy in your draft because the first five or six rounds are over. These picks can end up being just as important as the first few rounds. Toby Gerhart moves to Jacksonville and I’m expecting much out of him. The Jaguars averaged 78.8 rushing yards last year and there’s no reason to think adding Gerhart will raise that number. Knowshon Moreno is reportedly out of shape at Dolphins camp and taking reps with the third team. If this is true it could mean a second chance for Lamar Miller. Miller had a terrible season last year but he’s young and if Moreno continues to disappoint he could get a second chance. Stevan Ridley disappointed last year but his ability around the goal line will make him valuable again. Ray Rice’s off the field problems and ineffectiveness last season make him extremely unattractive for fantasy. Stay away form him. Joique Bell will be a top fifteen PPR running back if Reggie Bush gets hurt but if not he has little value. Stash him on your bench in case anything happens to Bush. Steven Jackson is old and Jacquizz Rodgers is on the rise but Jackson is still the starter and still has some flex appeal. Fred Jackson is thirty-three but he’s coming off of a great season. Jackson could have potential as a flex player or bye week fill in but with the more athletic, younger, and healthy CJ Spiller also on the roster he will not get the ball enough to replicate last year. Knowshon Moreno is currently out of shape and taking reps with Miami’s third team but he could turn it around and have a good season but I wouldn’t bet on it. He is worth a bench spot though. Darren Sproles comes in at thirty-five because the Eagles went out of their way to get him and they are going to use him somehow. He won’t vulture anything from McCoy in terms of the ground game but the out of the backfield passing game could favor Sproles.
The Near Misses
DeAngelo Williams Carolina Panthers
Williams is a good running back but the potential timeshare with Jonathan Stewart limits his value. He’s definitely worth a spot on your bench but don’t draft him to be a starter.
Trent Richardson Indianapolis Colts
Trent Richardson was ineffective in his time with the Browns and Colts last year. This year he’ll be sharing the ball with Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. Don’t draft him to be a starter just because he was a first round pick last year. Pass on him unless you can get him in the ninth or tenth round.