2017 Outlook: Johnson's breakout 2016 campaign was the highlight of a comeback year at the running back position. Fantasy's top-scoring running back accrued 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). He carried the ball inside the opponent's 5-yard line 22 times (second most). Johnson's pedestrian rushing efficiency (4.2 YPC, including 1.6 after contact) is far from ideal, but he more than made up for it with volume; Johnson registered a top-10 fantasy week during a position-best 75 percent of his outings. Johnson is in his prime at age 25 and positioned well to again see 22-24 touches every week.
2017 Outlook: Bell was suspended for four games to start the 2016 season but still managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Bell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team's offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn't injured or limited (25 of his past 28 total). During those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. The heavy usage allowed him a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season. There's little reason to expect the 25-year-old to play a reduced role in 2017. His off-field antics are a concern, but Bell is too good to pass on early in the first round of your draft.
2017 Outlook: Elliott paced the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 rushing yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times last season. Not bad for a rookie. Elliott faced an average of 8.0 in-box defenders, which was fifth highest in the NFL. The 2016 fourth overall pick trailed only David Johnson in fantasy points despite being limited to 38 targets (33rd). Elliott's rushing prowess, combined with Dallas' terrific offensive line and run-heavy scheme, will keep him near the top of the running back rankings on a per-game basis, but he's in for some regression to the mean in the scoring department (only 11 carries inside the 5-yard line). Elliott also will need more receiving work to maximize his fantasy contributions, which is likely, following the departure of Lance Dunbar. Elliott's six-game suspension is on hold and he's expected to be eligible to play in each of Dallas' 16 games this season.
2017 Outlook: McCoy turns 29 this summer, but his age and hefty career volume of work didn't seem to slow him in 2016. Far from it, in fact. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years and, thanks in part to elite run blocking, his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy posted a top-10 fantasy week during 53 percent of his 15 outings (sixth best) and finished fourth at the position in fantasy points. McCoy also caught an incredible 50 of 55 targets (91 percent). Buffalo won't be quite as run heavy with Rex Ryan gone, but McCoy is an explosive lead back in an offense that ranked seventh in touchdowns per game last year. He's a quality RB1 option.
2017 Outlook: Freeman registered 57 fewer touches in 2016 than he did when he led all running backs in fantasy points in 2015, but the dynamic young back produced only 32 fewer fantasy points. Freeman posted a healthy 4.8 YPC, thanks, in part, to terrific blocking (3.2 yards before contact per attempt ranked seventh) and high-value carries (his 16 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line ranked fifth). Freeman ranked ninth in rushing yards and fifth in receiving yards at the position. He posted seven top-10 fantasy weeks. The presence of Tevin Coleman, departure of Kyle Shanahan and some offensive regression to the mean will lead to a statistical step back for Freeman, but he's still a back-end RB1 option in all formats.
2017 Outlook: Gordon enjoyed a breakout 2016 season, but it would've been even better if not for a season-ending hip injury suffered in Week 14. Gordon entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was limited to 3.9 YPC on the season but was good after contact (his 2.0 YAC ranked 16th). Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. Gordon is entering his prime years at age 24 and will again be the clear feature back for an emerging Los Angeles franchise. Select him in the second round of your draft.
2017 Outlook: Howard opened his rookie season third on Chicago's depth chart, but it didn't take the intriguing fifth-round pick long to work his way into workhorse duties. The big man ranked 11th in the league in carries, but his terrific effectiveness (5.2 YPC, 2.2 YAC) allowed him the second-most rushing yards. Howard's hands (position-high eight drops) are a concern, but he still managed 48 targets and averaged a healthy 10.3 yards per reception. Touchdowns may elude Howard in Chicago's underwhelming offense, but the 22-year-old emerging star will push for 20 touches every week. Upgrade him slightly in non-PPR.
2017 Outlook: Following a rough year in Philadelphia, Murray reassumed his spot as one of the game's top tailbacks with 1,664 yards from scrimmage in Tennessee last year. Murray averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry despite facing an average of 8.1 in-box defenders (fourth highest). Murray ranked third at the position in carries and sixth in receptions, which helped him to his third top-six fantasy season in four years. Once labeled as injury prone, Murray has missed one game in the past three seasons. Murray is now 29, and Derrick Henry's role only figures to expand, but the veteran remains the lead back and a three-down contributor in one of the game's most run-heavy offenses.
2017 Outlook: Ajayi wasn't pleased about losing Miami's starting gig to Arian Foster last preseason. He may have had a point. After sitting out Week 1, Ajayi rolled to 1,423 yards and 8 touchdowns on 287 touches. He posted a 4.9 YPC (11th best), including 2.5 yards after contact (fifth). Although Ajayi was extremely effective, a hefty chunk of his fantasy production came in three games. He posted a top-three point total in each of those games, which accounted for half of his six top-20 fantasy weeks. Ajayi doesn't add much as a receiver, but he's now the clear feature back in Miami's run-first offense. The 24-year-old should be off the board during the second round of your draft.
2017 Outlook: Gurley's 2016 season was a disaster. He ranked fifth in carries and 12th in targets among running backs, but finished 15th at the position in fantasy points. Gurley failed to finish a single week better than 10th. His YPC fell from 4.8 in 2015 to 3.2 last season. Gurley faced an average of 7.6 in-box defenders, which is near league average, but his line struggled to create open lanes (1.6 yards before contact per attempt was seventh lowest). Gurley was quietly pretty busy as a receiver, handling 57 targets (12th most among backs). Gurley is only 22 and a strong candidate for a bounce-back season, but he will struggle to find running lanes and scoring opportunities if second-year QB Jared Goff fails to improve on a brutal rookie showing.
2017 Outlook: The Jaguars selected Fournette with the fourth overall pick in April's draft. He immediately steps in as the team's feature back. In terms of running backs with elite athleticism, size and upside as a ball carrier, you'll struggle to find a prospect more intriguing than Fournette. The LSU product is 6-foot-0, 240 pounds with big hands, long arms and 4.51 wheels. Fournette was dominant during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but an ankle injury limited his effectiveness during seven games last season. Fournette's receiving and blocking inadequacies may limit his rookie-season contributions slightly, but the 22-year-old's clear path to carries and elite upside as a rusher positions him as a strong RB2.
2017 Outlook: Needless to say, Miller's first season in Houston was a disappointment. After averaging 4.6 YPC during four seasons in Miami, Miller failed to erase concerns that he couldn't handle a bigger role by averaging 4.0 YPC in 2016. He averaged 1.3 yards after contact, which was third worst in the NFL. Miller averaged nearly 20 carries per game but played a minimal role on passing downs and managed only 6.4 YPR. Miller is still only 26 years old and remains clearly atop the depth chart, but it's safe to assume he'll defer snaps and carries to third-round pick D'Onta Foreman this season.
2017 Outlook: Crowell barely managed top-35 fantasy campaigns during his first two professional seasons but increased efficiency and a larger passing-game role helped him leap to a 14th-place finish last year. Crowell was a bit reliant on a handful of big plays but still managed a 4.8 YPC (15th) on 198 carries. He continues to struggle after initial contact -- since he entered the league, his 1.47 YAC is worst in the league among backs with at least 300 carries -- and was helped by 3.3 yards before contact last year (third highest). He doubled his previous career total with 40 receptions, but he'll still play second fiddle to impressive third-year back Duke Johnson Jr. in that department.
2017 Outlook: Hunt isn't the most explosive back, but his tape shows a versatile player who is extremely hard to bring down. Per Pro Football Focus, the 5-foot-10, 216-pound back forced an FBS-best 100 missed tackles on 303 touches during the 2016 season. In turn, he ended up as the site's highest-graded FBS running back. Despite a high 4.6 average depth of target, he caught 93 percent of his targets. Hunt is a potential three-down back at the NFL level and landed in a terrific situation in Andy Reid's running back-friendly offense. A late preseason injury to Spencer Ware may have opened the door for Hunt to carve himself a nice role in the offense.
2017 Outlook: McCaffrey enters the NFL with a ton of pedigree following an absurdly productive and highly publicized collegiate career. The 20-year-old has sufficient size (5-foot-11, 202 pounds) and speed, but truly makes hay with extraordinary elusiveness and vision. McCaffrey converted nearly three-quarters of his third-down carries and only 10 percent of his 253 attempts went for negative yards last season. McCaffrey is also a strong receiver and returner and can block. He killed it at the combine, posting a 4.48 40-yard dash while also dominating the vertical jump, three-cone, short shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. The seventh overall pick in April's draft immediately steps into a significant role in Carolina. He will surely defer some carries and goal-line work to Jonathan Stewart, but McCaffrey's versatility will allow him enough work to provide RB2 production.