Skip to main content

Fantasy Football 2016: Running Back Tiers and Rankings

Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell

Preseason fantasy rankings are tough because things change every day. Players get injured, players still get added to teams, and position battles are ongoing. Keep that in mind when looking at any preseason ranks. However, when looking at tiers, unless something devastating happens (see Jordy Nelson, August 2015), the tiers usually stay about the same from the preseason leading up to draft day.

Image placeholder title

Positional Tiers/Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K


Here is a look at this year’s running back tiers. Running back is one of the toughest positions to predict in fantasy football. Some owners prefer to wait and fill other positions first. Others want to take running backs early and often because they are so prone to getting injured.

Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com

Whichever strategy you choose, be aware of the running backs in each tier. Twelve running backs make up the first two tiers of the position. It's highly unlikely that everyone in the draft room will get one of these backs; not everyone will want one. Some owners may want to wait and grab a few of the third- and fourth-tier running backs. Pick a strategy, be informed, and hopefully these tiers will help.

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Image placeholder title

Tier 1

Here are elite running backs that will likely be the first RBs off the board on draft day. This is the first group, and the order is simply personal preference as each has flaws, but each also has the potential to be the guy who carries your team to the playoffs. Running back is always tough with injuries, but if these guys can stay healthy, they should be a strong, consistent running back on your team.

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Despite being 31 years old, Peterson is still one of the best in the game. He's kept in shape and is one of the few running backs that unquestionably has the starting job. He'll be out there for all downs, running and catching the ball. He'll be in for goal-line work, and he certainly has the potential to rush for at least 1,000 yards again in 2016. He's consistent, which in this running back market, is key.

2. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Gurley is set to have a great season. He's another guy who is the only back for his team, so the carries are all his. Now almost two years removed from his knee injury, he should put up even better numbers than last year. When he received double-digit carries in 2015, he had either a touchdown or more than 100 yards in every game. He's going to have to be able to escape stacked boxes, though, because opposing defenses are going to know the Rams' strategy.

3. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

While it seems like Johnson is a clear-cut RB1, there is some mixed feelings in Arizona that he won't be the bell-cow running back in every game. Even though Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are still in the picture, this will likely be David Johnson's show. However, he didn't come into true fantasy relevance until late last season, so the question remains: how good is he over a full season? What he showed last season is enough to draft him as a RB1 with hope that he maintains it this year.

Related: Why David Johnson Will Score More Fantasy Points in 2016 Than Todd Gurley or Adrian Peterson

4. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

A change in scenery will do Miller good. After being under-utilized in Miami, Miller will be the lead back in an offense that will use him in both the running and the passing game. He's only 25 and he's had one 1,000-yard season so far. He had 10 touchdowns in 2015, and this season he should have more than 1,000 rushing yards, double-digit touchdowns and 50-plus receptions.

Image placeholder title

Tier 2

The second tier of running backs is made up of guys that carry a little more risk. Whether it be because of recent (last season) injuries or just being a little unproven, these are guys that have the potential to be a top-tier running back, but aren't quite there right now. This group will serve as RB1s on plenty of fantasy teams and there's nothing wrong with that, just know the risks involved.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

All indications coming out of Cowboys training camp point to Elliott having a major role on offense. Rumors of more than 375 carries have circulated, and while that seems a little high (DeMarco Murray had 392 when he lead the league in rushing in 2014), Elliott will be the workhorse back in an offense that will use him any way it can. It's hard to predict how a rookie will do in the NFL, but some running backs have come in and been difference-makers for their teams. That's the hope for Elliott owners.

6. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

Charles is coming back from his second ACL surgery in four years. He should be fine to play in Week 1, but health will be a concern. The Chiefs used Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West last year after Charles went down and they had a lot of success. It is possible that they are going to look to take away from Charles' workload with the other backs in 2016. Charles has the talent to be a top back, but fantasy owners will want to see that he is healthy.

7. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In 2015, Martin showed that he still could be an elite running back, finishing second in the NFL in rushing with 1,402 yards and scoring seven total touchdowns. He posted 33 receptions as well and should be involved in the passing game moving forward. While 2015 was a contract year, Martin did prove that his rookie year wasn't a fluke. He will be given the opportunity to succeed; fantasy owners just hope he can match his production from 2015 rather than revert to his ’14 or ’13 form.

8. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

McCoy has a clear path to success, in an offense that likes to throw the ball and no clear backup. If he can stay healthy, he will put up solid RB1 numbers. Karlos Williams was the threat to McCoy, but he showed up to training camp out of shape and now faces a four-game suspension. McCoy will be given all of the carries, and if he excels, expect him to retain that role. 

9. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

At age 26, Ingram hasn't been able to put it all together for a full season yet. In 2014, he had 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, but last season, he had 769 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He did step up his role in the passing game, however, with 50 receptions for 405 passing yards. If he can continue to be part of the passing offense, he has more value – as long as he can stay healthy.