Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Let’s talk big picture here. We know running back is a fool’s errand this year. It’s been Streaming City with all the injuries to the position. But even with all the chaos, a few standouts have emerged. Some of the heavy hitters are new faces: David Johnson is a relative newcomer while Ezekiel Elliott is fresh out of college. Le’Veon Bell is always in the conversation for top back when he’s not hurt or suspended. And then there’s DeMarco Murray, who is back from last year’s Chip-Kelly-induced purgatory and looks better than ever.
It’s unlikely you’d ever have to choose between them—owners in season-long leagues are holding onto these players for dear life. But hypotheticals are part of what makes this job so enjoyable. So indulge me here, guys. Which of these workhorses are you buying for the rest of the season? I think there’s a case to be made for all four, but let’s hear from you guys first.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): You can definitely make a case for all four. They are playing at elite RB1 levels and seeing elite RB1 usage. I wouldn't forget about LeSean McCoy from the top-shelf group. He has been a monster against the NFL's toughest run-defense schedule, faces the 49ers and Dolphins next, and gets the Browns and Dolphins in the fantasy playoffs.
Christine Michael was a tale of underachievement his first few years in the league but also belongs in the ROS elite conversation. He plays in a hyper-efficient offense that lives in the red zone and benefits from consistent run-friendly scripts due to a shutdown defense. He’s also being fed passing-game targets and is running as well as any back in football.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): Le'Veon and then walk off the stage. In the 19 career games in which Le'Veon has FAILED to score a touchdown, he's still averaged 15.3 PPR points and has been outside the top-24 scorers just three times. He's already been the RB4 and the RB6 so far and he hasn't even scored yet. Regardless of any position, that type of floor is how you stack victories and win leagues.
David Johnson is right there, too. We've just had a much smaller sample size. Those two are in a tier of their own, even though all the other guys Jesse and Evan mentioned are having excellent seasons and have been outstanding fantasy options.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): I would say there's not much reason to worry about any of those four. A case might be easiest to make for Murray, as he's on a bad team and has a capable, highly-drafted backup in Derrick Henry. With the Titans perpetually in evaluation mode, perhaps Henry will get more run down the stretch in a lost season.
I'd like to say, I'm not worried about Lamar Miller, either. He's averaging 23 touches through five games and Thursday Bill O'Brien said he would continue to ride him. Even in a bad offense, positive touchdown regression should be coming, and in a big way.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): Le'Veon Bell is absolutely incredible and the best back in football. The Steelers have not been shy about feeding their stud running back since his return and his receiving game work is very encouraging for fantasy owners as well. You can't go wrong with any of the top-tier backs mentioned here, but I think Bell edges them out.
I also agree with Pat's thoughts on Lamar Miller. We whined enough about Miller's lack of usage in Miami that I feel like we can give him more than a month before burying him now that he’s finally being used as a workhorse. This week's matchup with Indianapolis looks like a great spot for him to rebound.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I am actually very worried about Miller. Brock Osweiler is not football good, the offensive line is a mess, and Miller is not making anything happen on his own. According to PFF, Miller is averaging 1.97 yards after contact and has forced 10 missed tackles on 115 touches. The Texans do not have anyone else, but at some point three yards and a cloud of dust is just not going to get it done. I will be trying to sell if he manages to fall into the end zone a couple times in the coming weeks.
Bell is the answer for me. In two games he is already 14th among backs in receiving yards and is on pace for 2,158 total yards despite sitting out three games. As Rich mentioned, he has yet to find the end zone, but he is still the top PPR back in per-game scoring. He is the GOAT.
Pantuosco: I thought there might be more dissension here but it seems that we’re all universally in love with Le’Veon, and for good reason. But have we ever seen Le’Veon and David Johnson in the same room together? I’m starting to think they’re the same person. In my Power Rankings the other day (excuse my shameless self-promotion) I referred to Johnson as “West Coast Le’Veon.”
The similarities are striking. For starters, they’re about the same size—Johnson is 6’1/224 while Bell is listed at 6’1/225. Meanwhile both are getting absurd workloads aided by huge roles in the passing game (21.6 touches per game for DJ, 26 for Bell). Neither has competition for carries (you’ll notice DeAngelo Williams has touched the ball six times for nine yards since Bell’s return) and both play in well-equipped offenses that have no trouble getting down the field. Bell has been doing it longer but to this point, I think Johnson has been just as reliable and his touchdown rate is much higher than Bell’s (one TD every 15.8 touches compared to one every 38.7 for Bell).
It’s crazy Todd Gurley isn’t in this conversation but what can you say about a guy who’s averaging 2.7 yards per carry? If you take away the brilliant four-game stretch where he averaged 141.4 rushing yards per game last season, Gurley’s career yards per carry is 3.37. To put that in perspective, Melvin Gordon’s career yards per carry is 3.45. Oh how the mighty have fallen.