Many people nowadays declare the NFL to be a passing league, given the rule changes and offensive schemes that tend to reward throwing the ball down field. But the running back position is still one of the most crucial positions on the field because a solid running game can open so many more options in the passing game. While it's true that finding a franchise quarterback can mask many running game deficiencies (just look at Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this season), there is no substitute for a truly talented runner who can carry the team and control the pace of the game.
This list looks at the current starting running backs for each NFL roster (these are the running backs that either started the most games in 2016 or finished the season as #1 on the depth chart). It takes into account their statistics, both career and what they achieved in 2016, to determine the true rank of each team's starting running back. Fortunately for many of the lower ranked teams, running back appears to be a position in which it is possible to find late round gems. In fact, many of the names listed in the top 15 of this list were not first round draft picks.
This ranking also considers the fact that the league has transitioned to more of a passing league and boost players who have the dual threat (rushing/receiving) ability that allows them to be a true three down back in today's NFL. Without further ado, here is the current ranking of each NFL team's starting running back.
32 Zach Zenner - Detroit Lions
While it is highly likely that Ameer Abdullah is given the opportunity to regain his starting running back position once his regains his health during the offseason, he’s going to face stiff competition from current starter Zach Zenner. Zenner was recently declared to be the “best white running back in the NFL” by the Seattle Seahawks outspoken defensive linemen Michael Bennett. As entertaining, or insulting, as that statement may be, it does have some truth to it.
Zenner displayed an ability to gain positive yards on the ground, while also providing quarterback Matt Stafford with a reliable check down option coming out of the backfield. While Zenner’s starting dreams may be dimmed by the revelation that Abdullah should be healthy by the beginning of next season, it will at least be entertaining to watch Zenner compete. On another note, look for Christian McCaffrey to quickly establish himself as the “best white running back in the NFL” during his rookie season next year.
31 Terrance West - Baltimore Ravens
Sometimes teams just need a player to run the ball just to keep a defense honest. That was the case in Baltimore in 2016, when Terrance West was appointed as the starting running back for the Ravens despite never showing much production in his career. West was solid, albeit uninspiring, as he finished the season with 774 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. In fairness to West, the Ravens offensive line failed to consistently open-up any running lanes for 5’10”, 225-pound bowling ball.
West began to cede carries to rookie Kenneth Dixon towards the end of the season and Dixon showed a promising blend of strength and speed that has the organization believing that he could be a future franchise back. This puts West in a precarious position of being the “stop-gap” player that fills in a present need for the team while allowing their future back (Dixon) to develop and mature. Fortunately for West, he remains the starting running back for the Ravens until someone takes it from him. Unfortunately for West, he comes in at #31 on this ranking.
30 Devontae Booker - Denver Broncos
The Broncos running back situation was a mess in 2016, reaching such a low point that they were forced to start over-the-hill veteran Justin Forsett as they fought for a playoff spot down the stretch. Devontae Booker, the Broncos' rookie second round draft selection, came into the season with a lot of hype and for good reason. Booker was a stud while in college, rushing for over 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns during his two seasons at Utah.
Booker quickly realized that things weren’t going to be as easy in the NFL when he fumbled the ball on his very first NFL carry. This landed him in Coach Gary Kubiak’s doghouse early on, but Booker began to receive more opportunities as the season continued although he did very little with his increased role. The potential is still there but Booker must have a breakout season next year to remain the starting running back for the Broncos. The only reason he is ahead of Terrence West is because of his higher ceiling in terms of potential.
29 Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers
This season was supposed to be Eddie Lacy's redemption year. In 2015, Lacy failed to live up to expectations because of serious weight gain/stamina issues. Entering 2016, Lacey had shed his excess weight and was back to his ideal size that allows him to bully opposing defenders, while also having quick feet to jet through small holes in the offensive line. Lacy was dependable to start the season but unfortunately suffered a season ending injury.
The Packers struggled to find a reliable replacement for Lacy and began plugging wide-receiver Ty Montgomery in at running back. This conversion to running back was surprisingly successful and Montgomery took over the starting position through the Packers' incredible late season push for the playoffs. While his size doesn't project as being a future NFL starting running back, his production rushing and receiving out of the backfield may have the Packers thinking twice about re-signing Eddie Lacy this offseason. If Ty can show he can be a full-time running back, look for him to climb in this ranking next season.
28 Rashad Jennings - New York Giants
Rashad Jennings has been a dependable running back in the NFL for many years and is now considered one of the veteran leaders on the New York Giants. He did a commendable job in 2016, but stayed within his career statistical range by rushing for almost 600 yards and adding another 200 yards receiving. What dropped considerably was his yards per carry average. Jennings has a career average of 4.1 yards per carry, but that number dropped to an embarrassing 3.1 in 2016.
With his noticeable drop-off, Jennings began losing carries to rookie Paul Perkins. Perkins, who was outstanding during his college career at UCLA, showed an impressive blend of size, speed, and skill. During the final weeks of the season and playoffs, Jennings was still the listed starter but Perkins received the majority of the touches. As of now, Jennings remains the starter but given his age and drop off in production, the Giants are sure to give Perkins the opportunity come 2017.
27 T.J. Yeldon - Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't had a true running back since the days of Fred Taylor, who manned the position for nearly a decade for the franchise. Since then, it has been miss after miss at potential long-term replacements for the Jaguars. The team drafted T.J. Yeldon out of Alabama in the second round of the 2015 draft with hopes that he would develop into the bell-cow style back that the Jaguars offense so desperately craves. Yeldon, who was a beast at Alabama, showed promise in his rookie season when he rushed for over 700 yards in only 12 games.
This gave the Jaguars confidence to make Yeldon the legitimate starter heading into 2016, but the results were pitiful. Yeldon struggled mightily as the main starter and only rushed for 465 yards and 1 touchdown. It's worth noting that his counter-part, Chris Ivory, equally struggled in 2016. For that reason, look for the Jaguars offensive to improve with their new coaching staff and for Yeldon to hover around the 800-900 yard mark next season.
26 Ryan Mathews - Philadelphia Eagles
Ryan Matthews was a solid running back during his time with the
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers (it's going to take a while for the L.A. Chargers to sound normal), but injuries always seemed to stifle his production. After the Chargers released Mathews, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles to create a two headed-monster with then Eagles running back DeMarco Murray. That project never truly panned out and Murray eventually landed in Tennessee, making Mathews the de facto starting running back entering this season.
The 2016 season was all too reminiscent of Mathews' history in that he ran the ball well when he had the opportunity (averaged 4.3 yards per carry), but injuries ultimately crept up again this season. Matthews was reliable near the goal-line, finishing the season with 8 rushing touchdowns, but the Eagles often turned to minute third-down back Darren Sproles in search of greater production. It's hard to see the Eagles relying on the 29-year-old Matthews next season given his age and injury concerns.
25 Robert Kelley - Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins entered the 2016 season with the hopes that opening day starter Matt Jones would continue his rise in production and become one of the go-to options behind quarterback Kirk Cousins. Jones was inconsistent in the first seven weeks and showed ball-security issues that caused head coach Jay Gruden to lose trust. An apparent knee injury opened the door for Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie running back out of Tulane.
Kelley immediately provided the Redskins with what they needed. His running style is not flashy, but it's effective as Kelley very rarely gets tackled for a loss. His downhill running style forced defenses to be aware of the Redskins ground game and opens more options for Cousins through the air, especially during play-action passes. Kelley's real breakout game came in Week 11 when he ran for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns in a victory against the Green Bay Packers. Look for a big year from Kelley in 2017.
24 Thomas Rawls - Seattle Seahawks
There was a lot of talk last offseason about Rawls becoming the next Beastmode, referencing former Seahawks great Marshawn Lynch, but that never played out in 2016. Blame it on injuries or the shoddy Seahawks offensive line, but regardless it is clear that the expectations on Rawls need to be lowered going forward. He's not, nor will he ever be Beastmode 2.0. Stop fooling yourselves 12th man, it will only make it more difficult in the long run.
In saying that, Rawls is still a very effective starting running back by NFL standards. While in 2015 he averaged an insane 5.6 yards per carry, in 2016 that number dropped dramatically down to only 3.2 yards per carry. Rawls is only 23 years old and should remain the bell-cow back for the Seahawks, while C.J. Prosise works his way into the third-down back role. Rawls will certainly bounce back next year, but don't expect him to ever average over 5 yards per carry for a season again in his career.
23 Frank Gore - Indianapolis Colts
If this list were created five years ago, Gore would have found himself ranked well within the top 10. Gore is one of the all-time greats at the running back position despite hanging below the radar most of his career, but father time has begun to take its toll on Gore's skill set. Incredibly, Gore rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2016 and in doing so earned the distinction of being the oldest running back (Gore is 33 years old) to ever reach that milestone in a season.
While it's evident that Gore still has the horsepower to carry the ball 20-plus times a game, his yard per carry average continues to decrease. At one point in his career, Gore was nearly unstoppable. Now, his role has been reduced to rushes up the middle and making sure that Andrew Luck doesn't get killed. His status for next year is currently unknown, but if he returns you can guarantee he will average 3-4 yards per carry and attempt to wear-down opposing defenses.
22 Matt Forte - New York Jets
Matt Forte is in a similar boat as the previously mentioned Gore. Both players are former superstars who are now playing past their primes for franchises that they have no real connection with. Forte, who played his entire career with the Chicago Bears before joining the New York Jets in 2016, was expected to add a solid ground game to complement the Jets high performance air attack led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker.
For the most part, Forte lived up to his end of the bargain as he rushed for 813 yards and had another 263 yards receiving. But due to poor quarterback play and injuries at the receiving position, the Jets offense never took flight in 2016. In what could be the beginning of a rebuilding process for the Jets, as they attempt to find their franchise quarterback, Forte could get lost in the mix. At his age and slowing production, it will be interesting to see what's in store for Forte in 2017.
21 Jeremy Hill - Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals had a rough year in 2016, as they fell far below their high expectations. Most people viewed the Bengals as a potential playoff team entering the season but it was apparent by mid-season that the team was just missing their mojo in 2016. With an offense led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Hill is often a secondary option who is primarily used to control the tempo of the game and keep opposing defenses honest.
Giovani Bernard is also a talented Bengals running back and helps form a strong one-two punch for the Bengals rushing attack. But Hill is still the unquestioned starter and flashes his brilliance every couple of games, but he stays consistently average. The past two seasons he has averaged 3.6 ypc and 3.8 ypc, respectively. Given his consistency in mediocrity, Hill finds himself near the middle of the pack on this list.
20 Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart has the skills to be a 1,000 yard back every season, but because of injuries he has only reached that milestone once in his 9-year career. Between himself and DeAngelo Williams, Carolina once had an amazing two back system working late in the last decade. Now with the evolution of Cam Newton, Stewart is tasked with ball security and gaining positive yardage more so than carrying the Panthers on his back.
Although the Panthers offensive scheme has changed given the fact that Newton takes many snaps that are designed quarterback runs, Stewart continues to run low and powerful which makes him tough to bring down. Stewart's best playing days appear to be behind him, however, and it's time for Carolina to begin the search for his future replacement. Many mock drafts have Carolina selecting Leonard Fournette out of LSU to be the heir apparent to Stewart.
19 Latavius Murray - Oakland Raiders
Coming off an impressive 1,000-yard season in 2015, expectations were very high for Latavius Murray entering the 2016 season. Murray struggled through injuries for much of the season but was still able to rush for over 800 yards in only 12 starts. Also, due to the high success of Oakland's offense, Murray benefited from many red-zone opportunities by adding 12 rushing touchdowns.
Because the Raiders suffered terrible, misfortune injuries late in the season, which required their top two quarterbacks to miss the playoffs, Murray was desperately needed to carry the offense. Unfortunately for the Black Hole fans, Murray was practically non-existent down the stretch when the Raiders needed him most. For this reason, Murray finds himself at #19 on this list instead of being ranked higher.
18 Isaiah Crowell - Cleveland Browns
It might shock some of you to hear that the Cleveland Browns actually have some decent players on their roster; Isaiah Crowell is one of them. The Browns, who managed to only win one game, started three different quarterbacks this season and often found themselves playing from behind early in most games, which makes what Crowell did in 2016 that much more impressive. Crowell started all 16 games for the Browns and finished with just under 1,000 yards on the season.
Where Crowell differentiates himself from other running backs ranked lower than him on this list is that Crowell averaged nearly 5 yards per carry for the league's worst team. This stat clearly indicates that Crowell would have well surpassed the 1,000-yard mark had his team not been trailing every game and forced to throw the ball more. While it's tough to get excited about any Browns player, Crowell is a guy to keep your eye on as a potential sleeper in next year's fantasy drafts.
17 Melvin Gordon - Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon was a stud in 2016. Labeled by many as a draft bust after his poor rookie season, Gordon put the nay-sayers to rest with his performance this past season in which he ran for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 410 yards and another two touchdowns. Gordon was able to provide the team with the rushing spark they needed, but unfortunately got injured early in their week 14 game.
While the injury doesn't appear to be too serious, it did keep Gordon from returning to the field in 2016. Now that he has gained the trust of the Chargers franchise, it's possible that he becomes the face of the franchise now that they have moved to Los Angeles. Gordon must continue to run with the determination he showed in 2016 if he wants to outshine and possibly steal endorsement opportunities from the other Los Angeles running back.
16 Todd Gurley - Los Angeles Rams
That "other Los Angeles running back" referred to the Los Angeles Rams lead back Todd Gurley. Gurley was a remarkable story last season as he busted onto the NFL scene being out of football for an entire year due to an excruciating knee injury he suffered at the University of Georgia. Gurley showed explosiveness and speed that drew early comparisons to Adrian Peterson.
His second season wasn't as kind to Gurley. He averaged a terrible 3.2 yards per carry in 2016, which was over a yard and a half worse than his rookie year average. What was most discouraging was Gurley's attitude during his struggles, as the young running back lashed out at teammates and media several times. Still, Gurley is supremely talented and will be a force for many years to come in the NFL. The 2017 season could be a big year for the Los Angeles area running backs.
15 Carlos Hyde - San Francisco 49ers
Nobody will benefit more from the firing of Chip Kelly more than Carlos Hyde. While the quarterback situation in San Francisco dominated the headlines most of the season, Hyde continued his normal dominance of opposing defenses. Granted, Hyde wasn't spectacular in 2016 but the inability of his quarterbacks hindered his ability to be fed consistent carries.
Hyde still managed to average 4.6 yards per carry last season. Had Chip Kelly simply ran the offense through Hyde instead of putting most of the burden on two inept quarterbacks, he would probably still have a job. The Niners are about to fully enter a rebuilding period and if they are wise, they will keep Hyde as the primary weapon on offense and build around him. Hire a head coach that will feed this beast!
14 Spencer Ware - Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most dynamic, game-changing running backs in the NFL. Unfortunately for them, he can't stay healthy. This is referring, of course, to the Chiefs' former starting running back Jamaal Charles. Charles has groundbreaking speed and elusiveness, but his recent injuries appear to have derailed his career. Spencer Ware has been the main beneficiary of his teammate's poor luck and is well deserving of the full-time starting role in for the Chiefs.
Ware earned the starting role after filling in admirably for the injured Charles in 2015, in which he averaged 5.6 yards per carry. In 2016, he picked up right where he left off and ultimately finished the season with over 1,300 yards from scrimmage. His ability to run between the tackles and catch check downs from Alex Smith makes him a great fit for the Kansas City offense. The Chiefs would be wise to name Ware as the permanent starter and allow Charles to regain health as the third-down back, if he can ever return to the field.
13 Mark Ingram - New Orleans Saints
For some running backs it takes a few years to adjust from the college game to the NFL, but when they do the league better look out! This appears to be the case with Mark Ingram. Although the former Heisman Trophy winner was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster in 2014, his true breakthrough season happened this past season.
In 2016, Ingram finally surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the first time in his career and would have had a double-digit touchdown total too if back-up running back Tim Hightower had not scavenged several goal-line opportunities. Ingram helped relieve pressure on Drew Brees by averaging an incredible 5.1 yards per carry in 2016. If Ingram can stay healthy, the 4-year, $16 million contract extension he signed in 2015 will look like a bargain for the New Orleans Saints.
12 Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin quickly made a name for himself as a rookie in 2012 when he rushed for over 1,400 yards and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster. He then had several injury riddled seasons before making his second Pro Bowl appearance in 2015, after again rushing for over 1,400 yards in the season. Martin experienced another injury induced drop-off in production in 2016, when he missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.
Despite having injury concerns, which appears to be common among running backs, Martin is too talented to not land in the top half of this list. The fact he has rushed for over 1,400 yards twice in his young career speaks volumes about his rushing skills. The Buccaneers were in playoff contention in 2016, so look for Martin to bounce back in a big way to try and help the team over the playoff hump for the first time since 2007.
11 Lamar Miller - Houston Texans
Originally drafted by the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Miller had a slow start to his career but eventually began garnering serious attention in 2014 when he rushed for 1,099 yards. His speed and elusiveness makes him a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. Although he's not a huge running back, he's very effective as a bell-cow back because he continues to get stronger as the game goes on.
This past season was Miller's first in Houston and big things were expected of him after signing a big free agent contract. Miller did not disappoint, rushing for 1,073 yards in only 14 games. What is intriguing about Miller is that he has never finished a season with a yard per carry average below 4.0. Miller is still young at 25 years old and has shown great durability at the running back position. Good signing by Houston.
10 Jay Ajayi - Miami Dolphins
One of the main reasons that the Miami Dolphins felt comfortable letting the previously mentioned Lamar Miller go in the offseason was because of the promise that Jay Ajayi showed in his rookie year in Miami. Although the Dolphins signed Arian Foster in free agency, it was apparent that they wanted to see what exactly Ajayi could do as a featured back. Surely many Dolphins fans were questioning that decision in the first five weeks of the season, but then the floodgates opened in Week 6.
In Week 6, Ajayi rushed for 204 yards on only 25 carries. The following week he rushed for 214 yards on 29 carries. With those performances, a potential superstar was created. Ajayi continued to successfully carry the Dolphins through the season and again rushed for over 200 yards in Week 16. In total, Ajayi earned 1,272 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns in 2016. The future is bright for the young Miami running back.
9 Jordan Howard - Chicago Bears
After cutting Matt Forte in the offseason, the Chicago Bears were looking to find a potential replacement for the former face of the franchise. While Bears fans remained irate about losing Forte, the Bears were busy creating a contingency plan that included naming Jeremy Langford the full-time starter and drafting Jordan Howard in the fifth round. While many experts picked Langford to be a potential fantasy sleeper, nobody could have foreseen the season Howard had in 2016.
Due to injuries, Howard was forced into the starting role early on in his rookie season and ultimately started 13 games for the Bears. Howard quickly made everybody forget about Forte and Langford with his incredible performances nearly every week. By season's end, Howard had rushed for over 1,300 yards and 6 touchdowns. Needless to say, it appears the Bears found a late round steal in Howard and are set at the running back for the long-term future.
8 LeGarrette Blount - New England Patriots
LeGarrette Blount is a baaaaad man! This 6'1", 245-pound bruiser brings an old school rushing mentality to the Patriots in the sense that he is going to hurt whatever defender is trying to tackle him. Blount has been known as a trouble-maker in his career but has been stellar under the tutelage of the great Bill Belichick. In previous years, Blount would share rushing duties in the Patriots backfield but in 2016 the Patriots wisely made him the lead-back.
With Blount's size and physicality, he can help control the pace of a game and wear a defense out. This makes the game much easier for Tom Brady and the offensive coordinator. This season, Blount has rushed for 1,161 yards and an insane 18 touchdowns. Yes, 18 touchdowns. Although his age is creeping up on him, Blount has shown no signs of slowing down. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017 and could see a huge payday this offseason.
7 Devonta Freeman - Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the NFL and much of the praise goes to quarterback, and MVP candidate, Matt Ryan. But this offense would not nearly be as powerful or efficient if it didn't include Devonta Freeman. Measuring at only 5'8", Freeman is not the most intimidating player on the field but his speed and footwork certainly strike fear into opposing defenders who must try and tackle him in the open-field.
Freeman had his coming out party last season when he ran for over 1,000 yards and caught 73 passes for another 500 yards. He followed this up with a very similar statistical season in 2016. His rushing and receiving abilities make him a true dual-threat running back that can score from anywhere on the field. Freeman is in line for a major pay day once his rookie contract expires after the 2017 season.
6 DeMarco Murray - Tennessee Titans
Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to revive a superstar career. Or perhaps it's as simple as escaping Chip Kelly's running back torture chamber. Whatever it was, DeMarco Murray certainly bounced back in a big way with the Tennessee Titans in 2016, after spending one forgettable season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Murray became a household name while with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 when he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Many believed that he was a product of the Cowboys uber-talented offensive line and would experience a drop-off in statistics when he signed with the Eagles. Those critics looked right after he struggled mightily in the Eagles system in 2015. The Eagles then traded him for practically nothing to the Titans. This season Murray proved his critics wrong by rushing for 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns. Murray was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career.
5 LeSean McCoy - Buffalo Bills
Including 2016, LeSean McCoy has rushed for over 1,000 yards in five of his eight seasons in the NFL, and two of his seasons were cut short because of injury. The guy is a true star at the running back position and can break a highlight, Madden-esque run at any moment in a game. McCoy, who was traded from the Eagles to Buffalo in 2015, had a turbulent first season with the Bills despite rushing for over 800 yards. Something just felt off and he never looked comfortable that season.
This season, McCoy responded in a big way by rushing for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns. He made several spectacular runs look easy, but that's just how good Shady (his nickname) can be when healthy. McCoy is a perennial 1,000 yard back and the only thing that could prevent him from reaching that milestone yet again in 2017 would be injuries. Let's hope he stays healthy because he sure is exciting to watch.
4 Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Vikings
After watching Adrian Peterson for nearly a decade, it's tough to not rank him #1 overall until the day he retires. Incredibly, Peterson still ranks in the top 5 of this list even though he has essentially missed two of the last three seasons due to injury. While it's safe to assume that Peterson's best days are behind him, it's also safe to assume that he will be as dedicated and passionate as ever when he returns in 2017.
As mentioned, Peterson is ranked so high on this list because of his career resume. In 2012, Peterson returned from an ACL injury to rush for an incredible 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. He returned from another sever injury in 2015 to rush for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. After suffering another serious injury in 2016, will Peterson have one more comeback story in the works? Or will father time have finally caught up to the ageless wonder? I would bet on the former.
3 Ezekiel Elliott - Dallas Cowboys
To all the Dallas Cowboys fans reading this to make sure Ezekiel Elliott was ranked #1, it will be okay. Take a deep breath. Zeke had an outstanding rookie season for the Cowboys, rushing for a league-leading 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. He, along with fellow-rookie Dak Prescott, completely revived and re-energized the Cowboy fan base that had become demoralized after yet another season ending injury to Tony Romo. Between Zeke, Dak, and Dez Bryant, the Boys are well on their way to forming another three-headed monster similar to the 90s unit that featured Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
There is no doubt that Zeke has all the tools to be in the conversation for best running back in the NFL for the next decade, but is he isn't the best yet. The two players listed ahead of him on this list are more versatile at the position with their receiving abilities. And to play devil's advocate, Zeke does have the Cowboys' stacked offensive line opening freeway sized holes for him. With that being said, Zeke is incredible and will be a serious, serious force to be reckoned with going forward.
2 Le'Veon Bell - Pittsburgh Steelers
Every once in a while, a running back comes around that creates a whole new style of running that takes the league by storm. Barry Sanders comes to mind with his willingness to retreat and run sideline to sideline. Emmitt Smith with his patented jump-cut. Le'Veon Bell is that type of running back... and he knows it. Bell's style is patience, followed up with explosiveness.
Bell became a fantasy football sensation in 2014 when he ran for 1,360 yards and 8 touchdowns. In that same season, Bell also caught an astounding 83 passes for an additional 854 yards receiving. With his patient running style (he almost hides behind the offensive line until a hole opens) combined with his receiving prowess makes Bell a true three-down back in today's NFL game. This dual threat ability set him apart from most running backs and really helped pave the way for the #1 player on this list.
1 David Johnson - Arizona Cardinals
Did you know, that David Johnson was the Arizona Cardinals back-up plan in the 2015 NFL draft? Thankfully for Cardinals fans, that back-up plan now looks genius. Johnson proved some draft critics wrong in his rookie season once he took over the starting job from the injured Chris Johnson, but nobody expected Johnson to turn into a potential MVP candidate in only his second season. In 2016, Johnson rushed for 1,232 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Johnson was originally a receiver in college and uses those skills to give opposing defenses headaches week in and week out. In 2016, he also caught 80 passes for 879 yards and 4 touchdowns. Most impressively, Johnson became the first running back in NFL history to start the season with 15 consecutive games in which he earned over 100 yards from scrimmage (Johnson was injured in the first quarter of week 16). Even crazier, head coach Bruce Arians stated after the season that he honestly believes that Johnson could get over 200 yards from scrimmage in every game next season. Look out NFL and fantasy football land, you have a new king and his name is David Johnson.