The running back position was already one of the most volatile in fantasy football to strategize for. Ezekiel Elliott's six game suspension makes it even tougher as fantasy players prepare for upcoming drafts.
One thing is for certain: David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell are the top two RBs to roster in fantasy football. Both rushed for over 1,200 yards last season, and their pass catching ability makes them especially valuable in points per reception (PPR) leagues.
On average, Elliott was the third RB taken in drafts before his suspension. His current average draft position (ADP) of 6.3 in NFL.com leagues will likely fall as Elliott's status for the start of the season remains murky. He's appealing the NFL's ruling and his suspension could be shortened. There's a chance that proceedings could drag on, and he might not miss a game if that happens. Whether you draft him depends on your tolerance for risk.
Here's a look at the rest of the top running backs in fantasy based on their average draft positions in many leagues.
- LeSean McCoy caught 50 passes last season, but with the Bills' new West Coast-inspired offense and Sammy Watkins with the Los Angeles Rams, he may have an even bigger role in their passing game. McCoy has an ADP of 8.27, he's 28 years old and plays one of the most grueling positions in football. He's rushed for at least 1,267 yards in three of the past four seasons, and while he hasn't yet shown signs of regression, he has suffered injuries the past two seasons.
- Chargers RB Melvin Gordon scored 10 TDs and caught 41 passes in 13 games last season, however his 3.9 yards per carry (YPC) was pedestrian. The Chargers will use a simpler zone running scheme this season, which could help Gordon's production.
- Titans RB Demarco Murray scored the fifth-most fantasy points among RBs in standard formats last season. He's the sixth RB off the board and he possesses excellent pass catching skills.
- Devonta Freeman is the only NFL back to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. Freeman has averaged just over 52 receptions across his three-year career.
- Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi's critics claim that he's a boom-or-bust back. However, from Week 6 on, he led all RBs in carries and yards rushing. Ajayi has an ADP of 14.59, and unlike 2016, he'll enter this season as the Dolphins' top rusher.
- Jordan Howard averaged 5.19 YPC over the final 13 weeks of the season. He'll be running behind a solid offensive line this season, however the Bears' weak passing attack may cause opposing defenses to key in on their running game.
- At age 31, Marshawn Lynch returns to the NFL after a year off, playing for his hometown crowd in Oakland. His second-round ADP may be ambitious, but he should be productive running behind one of the best offensive lines in football.
- Todd Gurley is the 11th RB off the board. He's struggled since enjoying early success in his 2015 rookie season, however the Rams' addition of Watkins may force opposing defenses to pay more attention to their passing game, which could somewhat help Gurley's production.
- Rookie RB Leonard Fournette is a speedy, powerful runner. With the Jaguars seeking to run the ball more this season, he could have nice value.
- Lamar Miller has an ADP of 28.13, making him a third-round pick. He'll open the season as the Texans' primary back, but he performs better when he carries the ball fewer than 20 times per game. Look for the Texans to lighten his load this season.
- Christian McCaffrey is a dynamic rookie who is quick, elusive and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He is currently being drafted in the fourth round on average.
- Browns rusher Isaiah Crowell is running behind one of the best offensive lines in football and can generate yards after contact. He's being drafted in the late third round, which could turn out to be a value.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon and Vikings back Dalvin Cook are two other rookie RBs who have the potential to produce big seasons.
Mixon is being drafted in the fourth round as the 16th back off the board. He has good instincts and uses his excellent footwork and field vision to make defenders miss. He has outstanding receiving skills as well, and should eventually emerge as the Bengals' primary RB this season.
On average, Cook is being drafted in the sixth round as the 20th back taken. He has tremendous speed, and the ability to quickly change direction and his 58.1 ADP could make him a draft day bargain.
Kareem Hunt (124.7) is another talented rookie who could eventually develop into the Chiefs' primary RB.
Packers RB Ty Montgomery (67.6 ADP), Ravens back Danny Woodhead (105.7), Lions RB Theo Riddick (112) and Washington's Chris Thompson (150.8) are all being drafted after the seventh round and are especially valuable in PPR scoring formats.
Other potential sleepers include Jacquizz Rodgers (150), who is expected to be the Buccaneers' primary back for the first three weeks of the season and could carve out a role for himself the rest of the way, and Darren McFadden (147.6), who is likely to be the Cowboys' primary back if Elliott's suspension is upheld. Eddie Lacy (78.1) can potentially provide value as an eighth round pick as the Seahawks look to get back to basics and run the ball more this season.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com