Embrace Debate: Top RBs

Same thing, but for the RBs. Now to clarify some points, these are NOT fantasy rankings, I am attempting to balance production of the player with the amount of that production attributable to that player’s ability, as opposed to the team. For me, the most telling stats for a RB are Yards Per Carry and Yards Before First Contact, and Yards After First Contact. These three together, tell me how much of a RBs success is attributable to their line, their ability to break tackles, and how much overall they contribute to the consistency of an offense. As well all know, a RB that can consistently gain 4.0 YPC allows a team to have the flexibility to run for first downs and opens up effective play-action-pass. I did not look up these stats for each player, as I am too lazy. However, I think I watched enough games last year to fairly rank most of these players.

My three big questions are these: Does the RB make the first guy miss?; Does the RB have the speed to break long runs?; and Does the RB have the strength to gain yards after contact? For example Barkley is clearly more talented than a guy like Mark Ingram and that is why he is ranked above him despite the fact that Ingram might have better fantasy numbers of a higher YPC, which I think is attributable to their teams and systems. Call my wishy-washy or inconsistent if you want (you would be wrong), but this is my article so deal with it.

One final note, some players are just hard to rank. This may be due to sample size (Ekeler), being a pass catching/change of pace back (Duke Johnson), being a rookie (CEH, Jonathan Taylor, etc.), or by being in a great system (Kamara, Ingram). I did my best to be unbiased and this is why I included my tiers for RBs. Within a tier, I am fine shuffling those players around a bit due to personal preference. For example, within tier 1 some people may prefer a runner like Henry over a guy like McCaffery. In general, my tiers mean the following.

Tier 1: Elite players that I think could play in any system and would remain consistently at the top of their position.
Tier 2: More than capable starters that most teams would be happy to have. Some of these guys are tough to evaluate because they have a small sample size (Jacobs) or have always been in great systems (Ingram).
Tier 3: These guys have had mixed careers and may be system dependent (Bell, Fournette).
Tier 4: These generally consist of either great backups or high end rookies that may not get the opportunity to play a meaningful amount next year. I also include veterans that have shown elite abilities like Gurley and David Johnson who have an opportunity to surprise me, but I think are unlikely to do so. This is easily the most controversial tier, where I had a hard time balancing output this year, talent level/potential, age, and past production.
Tier 5: Whether it be injuries or poor performances, these are guys who did not live up to their billing and I think teams should consider replacing as starters or should not be the primary backup.
Tier 6: Ronald Jones and Kerryon Johnson, because including them in tier 5 is an insult to Michel and Montgomery who might have bright futures.

Again, I will not justify each rank, but let me do a few that might be the most controversial.
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Mark Ingram: Ingram was drafted by the Saints, signed a new contract with the Saints, then signed with the Ravens in free agency. He has played for Sean Payton and John Harbaugh, his QBs were Brees and Jackson. I do not want to diminish his abilities, but including him in tier 1 was not in the cards.

Chris Carson: I had trouble with this one. A late round pick who has absolutely dominated with the Seahawks, but it seems like any RB that plays with Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll Shines (see Thomas Rawls). I could see him being a top guy, I could see him being a bust on a different team. I had to respect him with 10 based on what he has done and my eyes, which deceived me when I traded him away, tell me he is close to a tier 1 guy than a tier 4 guy.

Alvin Kamara: See Mark Ingram.

Joe Mixon: Which guy was he? I get guys can have down years, but his year was VERY down and VERY disappointing. I have to take that into account and he seems to be dependent on talent around him. He might prove me wrong though.

James Connor: One great year with the offense healthy, one bad year the next without his starting QB, No. 1 wideout, no AB, etc. This year is a big one for him and I could see him jumping up within tier 3 or maybe the bottom of tier 2 or falling to tier 4.

Kareem Hunt: I think this will be controversial, as he is the only backup I have in tier 3. The thing is, I think this guy could be tier 1-2 material if he gets another chance at starting.

Duke Johnson: A backup RB everywhere he goes who produces outstanding numbers and is invaluable as a receiving back. I wish someone would give him a chance to be “the guy” so we can see if he is more of a tier 2 guy or a tier 6 guy because it is impossible to know whether it is a sample size issue, play calling, or something else. It is hard to ignore his career YPC of 4.4. It is also hard to ignore that he had very similar rushing stats to Chubb with the Browns in 2018 and much better receiving stats.

Deandre Swift: Love the player, this is the closest I came to a fantasy ranking. He was punished because it is unclear if he is starting over Johnson (should be an easy yes, but the Lions are dumb) and the Lions RBs do not succeed. If he is a star, I could see him jumping to tier 1-2 easy because succeeding in Detroit is almost as hard as succeeding in Cleveland or Buffalo.

Sony Michel: Impossible to ignore last year but also hard to forget his rookie year. The problem with Michel is that if the Patriots struggle this year, he might be replaced with a RB that is more suited for Trevor Lawrence’s play style. I hope he turns it around as that first round pick was a steep price for drafting him, but I watched every game and I did not blame the line.

David Montgomery: For full disclosure, this was my second favorite RB coming out and he had nearly identical stats in 2019 as Jordan Howard, the player he replaced, had in 2018. Perhaps we can look to Trubisky’s decline as the answer, but after spending a high pick on a RB and shipping out Howard, I expected him to produce more than he did. This is very early to place a guy in this tier but I am very worried about his future. I will, however, still trade for him.

RankPlayerTier
1Christian McCaffery1
2Ezekiel Elliot1
3Dalvin Cook1
4Saquon Barkley1
5Nick Chubb1
6Derrick Henry1
7Aaron Jones2
8Josh Jacobs2
9Mark Ingram2
10Chris Carson2
11Alvin Kamara2
12Miles Sanders2
13Austin Ekeler2
14Leveon Bell3
15Joe Mixon3
16Leonard Fournette3
17Marlon Mack3
18Kareem Hunt3
19James Connor3
20Kenyan Drake3
21Raheem Mostert3
22Melvin Gordon3
23Duke Johnson4
24Tevin Coleman4
25JK Dobbins4
26Jonathan Taylor4
27CEH 4
28Cam Akers4
29Latavius Murray4
30Philip Lindsay4
31Todd Gurley4
32Devin Singletary4
33Deandre Swift4
34Jordan Howard4
35David Johnson4
36Carlos Hyde4
37Zach Moss4
38Ke’shawn Vaughn4
39Sony Michel5
40Darrius Guice5
41David Montgomery5
42Kerryon Johnson6
43Ronald Jones6

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