There is no debate this year in the fantasy football world as to who the top 3 RB's are going into the 2017 season. It's Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, and LeVeon Bell..in whatever order you prefer.
The debate doesn't set in until after those guys are taken, and the top tier WR's are off the board (Odell, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones). Some people say it's Melvin Gordon, some will say LeSean McCoy, some will say Jordan Howard, and so on. Either way you slice it, if those 3 studs at the top (Johnson, Bell, & Zeke) are "tier 1", then the guys on this list, who will go anywhere from mid-round 1, to the end of round 2, are the "tier 2" back. Here's who I say those guys are...in order:
1. LeSean McCoy- I struggled with this one just because of age (29), but you can't deny production, and the Bills commitment to running the football. Even though they're switching coaches, Sean McDermott will be similar to Rex Ryan in the realm of offensive strategy. The Bills were #2 in the league in average run attempts per game in 2016. Plus, Tyrod Taylor can only attempt so many passes before he becomes a liability. Two more points: 1. The Bills offensive line is one of the best in football. 2. Mike Gillislee was the only player stealing production from McCoy last year in the run game, and he's moved on to the Patriots. Open running lanes, talent, and carries galore. Gatta love that.
2. Jordan Howard- I'm probably slightly higher on Jordan Howard than most fantasy 'gurus' but that's only because what I see is an absolute star in the NFL. He was underrated coming out of Indiana last year, and we should've seen this coming. The only draw back to Howard is the God awful offense that is the Chicago Bears, but my counter to that is this- their offense was bad last year too. Think about this: Ezekiel Elliot led the league in rushing, Howard was 3rd. Here's the kicker, Howard had 92 less carries than Zeke. Again, we love Zeke, he led the league in rushing yards and attempts. This is how efficient Howard is, he was 3rd in the league in rushing, and 12th in attempts. Mull that one over.
3. Melvin Gordon- Raising a players fantasy value based on a quick spike in touchdown production is always a scary practice. Well, that's what we're doing here with Gordon. He compiled zero total TD's in his rookie season, and 12 in his sophomore campaign. That's one hell of a spike. Where we will give Gordon the pass in complete criticism is that we only have a 2 year sample size, and we are going to assume he's much more 'year 2' than he is 'year 1'. He's yet to reach 1,000 yards rushing on a season in his first 2 years, but with an improved, and healthier offensive line he should get there without any issue.
4. DeMarco Murray- Let's start with this very simple fact...the Titans offensive line has about 5 bad-asses on it. They're tough, they're big, and they're probably only behind the Cowboys and Raiders in overall quality. My only deterrents for Murray and the only reasons he's not #1 on this list is 1. Age. 2. Derrick Henry. The Titans will divvy up carries between the two, but given the quality of the o-line and QB, I expect his efficiency with each carry to be among the best in the league. He's one of the safest options in the draft this year IMO.
5. Jay Ajayi- I sound like a broken record at this point, but that damn offensive line (noticing a trend), I probably should've mentioned the Phins in that DeMarco Murray blurb. They too are among the best in the league. When Mike Pouncey was healthy last year, Jay Ajayi wasn't just good, he was the best in the NFL. He had not one, not two, but three 2-hundred yard games last season...that doesn't happen by accident.
6. Devonta Freeman- I am a big believer in Tevin Coleman, I think Coleman is the most talented back in Atlanta, so I'm obviously the 'low guy' on Devonta Freeman. With that said, you can't look past how great EVERYONE in that Atlanta is, and how much they'll all contribute, even with Sarkisian calling the plays now that Shanahan has moved on to SF. Freeman has been the model of consistency: 2 straight years over 1,000 yards rushing, 2 straight years over 10 TD's, and 2 straight years with over 60 receptions.
7. Leonard Fournette- This would be the I hope he turns out like Ezekiel Elliot as rookie pick. Fournette presents incredibly high upside given where he was taken in the NFL Draft, 4th overall. These days, you don't get taken that early unless you have Adrian Peterson type talent to bring to the table. Want AP's rookie year stat line? I'm glad you asked! In 2007 Adrian Peterson was draft inside the top 10 (much like Fournette), he was drafted by a team with a questionable offense (like Fournette), and then he went out and rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns. If Fournette can even touch those stats, he's well worth wherever you draft him. Of course the downside is, he's on the Jags. Your call.
8. Todd Gurley- This is the riskiest pick in the draft this year and the last running back I'd even entertain drafting in the 2nd round (that goes for 10 or 12 team leagues). Let's face it, Gurley was flat out bad last year. Gurley didn't reach 100 yards in one single game last year, compiled only 6 TD's on the ground, and his receiving high on the year was 49. Doesn't make sense. He had a very impressive rookie season, and has the talent to be one of the best backs in the league. Gurley landing 8th on this list is simply because I'm an optimistic guy, and I think he's primed for a bounce back.