I've written previously about how it's going to be very easy to disregard the running back position early in drafts in 2017. The way I see it, there are three excellent guys at the top (David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott - in whatever order), followed by a guy in a tier by himself in LeSean McCoy, then two pretty solid, high-ceiling guys in Devonta Freeman and Melvin Gordon.
After that, look out.
Unlike the last few years, it's going to be very easy to get a top-flight wide receiver in the first round. First round wide receiver Average Draft Positions (ADPs) according to FantasyPros are as follows:
Antonio Brown - 4th overall
Julio Jones - 5th
Odell Beckham Jr. - 6th
Mike Evans - 8th
A.J. Green - 9th
There's a decent chance that you'll end up with a wide receiver in the first round, and a very good one at that. In a world where people may think they need a running back on the way back in the second or maybe even the third, we need to know what we're working with. And, again, I would recommend that you address that position early.
In a 10-team league, there are seven running backs between Devonta Freeman (RB6, 11th overall) and the end of the third round. Let's take a quick look.
DeMarco Murray - ADP: RB7, 13th overall; Donald's rank: RB7, 14th overall
Murray surprised many last year, as his dominant days from Dallas seemed to resurface in his first season in Tennessee. In 2017 between he and Derrick Henry, Murray had 73% of the total carries and 9 out of the 14 total touchdowns scored between the two. There is still plenty of concern that that 73-27 split is going to drift closer to 60-40 as a result of the desire to work the 22-year-old Henry and take some of the load off of the 29-year-old Murray.
Jordan Howard - ADP: RB8; 15th overall; Donald's rank: RB9; 18th overall
You've probably heard by now that Howard quietly had the second-most rushing yards in the NFL in 2016, and he didn't even start until Week 4. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and only had two games that he started in which he failed to reach 77 rushing yards. Howard clearly has the ability and seems to be easily the most talented person on that offense. I am very concerned, however, that defenses will hone in on him and the Bears will drift away from the running game since they'll be down a lot, probably.
Jay Ajayi - ADP: RB9; 17th overall; Donald's rank: RB8; 17th overall
Ajayi is a very polarizing player heading into 2017. In 2016, Ajayi's yardage numbers were either 111, 204, 206, 214, or less than 80. He averaged 4.9 per carry, but again those numbers are inflated from the big games when he may as well have become the chancellor of Buffalo - twice. Ultimately, Ajayi should be a workhorse running back in an improved offense (don't we say that every year about the Dolphins?), but I'm a little hesitant considering the drastic inconsistencies.
Marshawn Lynch - ADP: RB10, 19th overall; Donald's rank: RB10; 21st overall
He's back. According to ProFootballFocus, the Raiders had the fourth-best offensive line in 2016, and Derek Carr's continued emergence can only help to keep defenses on their toes. We know the story with Lynch: he's a beast, he's a touchdown specialist, and he's - eh - maybe a little fragile. Ultimately no one knows if the year off helps or hurts him, but there's only one way to tell. If Lynch turns into himself from 2012, I wouldn't be surprised.
Todd Gurley - ADP: RB11; 20th overall; Donald's rank: RB13; 27th overall
Lettuce (see what I did there?) not forget that we're only a year removed from drafting Gurley as an early first rounder and claiming he was the next Adrian Peterson.
I'm very concerned about exactly what happened last year. Defenses will try to shut him down, and the Rams won't be able to pass to keep them honest, and he'll average 3.2 yards per carry on like 16 carries and everyone will be sad. I hope the arrival of Sean McVay's offensive prowess helps the passing game and gets Gurley justttttt a little bit of space.
Leonard Fournette - ADP: RB12; 23rd overall; Donald's rank: RB11; 23rd overall
I wish I could see what this ADP would look like had Zeke not lit the world on fire last season.
Fournette was drafted to be the focal point of this offense, and plenty of people think that will be the case. The Jags leading rusher in 2016 was T.J. Yeldon with a whopping 465 yards, followed by Chris Ivory at 439; both averaged less than 4 yards per carry.
At a minimum, Fournette should be a workhorse, and there's only a handful of those in fantasy football. Hopefully Jacksonville can keep games close so they can feed Mr. Fivenette.
Lamar Miller - ADP: RB13; 26th overall; Donald's rank: RB12; 26th overall
Ultimately the entire Texans offense was very odd (bad) in 2016. They've now upgraded? from Brock Osweiler to Tom Savage, so time will tell if Miller can get back to the explosiveness we saw in 2015 and, to be fair, glimpses of in 2016. Miller only had three games over 100 rushing yards, and two of them were against the Colts. Another area of concern is that Miller only recorded 31 catches for 188 yards in 2016 - down from 47 for 397 in his last year in Miami. If this offense gets rolling, Miller may be great, but I can't really see myself paying this price for a guy with Tom Savage as his quarterback.
If I had to categorize them:
High floor: Fournette, Miller
High ceiling: Lynch, Ajayi
Scared about game flow: Howard, Gurley
Should be fine but I'm still kinda nervous: Murray, Ajayi, Howard
If you're a fan of mystery: Lynch, Fournette
Would make me sad if I drafted them: Gurley, Miller
Could make an argument that he has a feminine name: Gurley
In the end, there are plenty of question marks with all of these guys, whether it's their job security, their physical shape, or just their team in general. Keep in mind that if you already have or plan on getting a safe RB (McCoy, Gordon, even someone later like Isaiah Crowell), you can take a chance on someone like Lynch. If you want to roll the dice with someone like Joe Mixon or Ameer Abdullah later, you may want to drift towards a safety net like Miller.
A bunch of these guys will win you championships. A bunch will win you something like a cup of tap water. Here's to hoping we get the right ones.
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