Running backs are tough to project because of the rough nature of the position. Every NFL season, several quality running backs go down with injuries, forcing fantasy football owners to search the waiver wire for the best replacements.
Here are our rankings of the top 20 running backs for the upcoming fantasy football season.
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 6)
2015 stats: 327 carries, 1,485 yards, 11 TDs
Peterson didn’t play much in 2014, but he bounced back well last season by leading the league in rushing yards and notching another campaign of 10 or more touchdowns. He’s still the safest running back choice for fantasy owners.
2. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (Bye Week: 8)
2015 stats: 229 carries, 1,106 yards, 10 TDs
Gurley was by far the most impressive rookie running back last season and finished third in rushing yards overall. The lack of a good quarterback and other weapons on the Rams’ offense is a concern, but Gurley still is a legit RB1 in any fantasy league.
3. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (Bye Week: 9)
2015 stats: 194 carries, 872 yards, 7 TDs
Miller is higher in these rankings than you might have anticipated, but we’re anticipating him to receive a ton of touches as both a rusher and a receiver in what could be an explosive Texans offense this season. Miami didn’t use Miller properly, and that should change in Houston.
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 6)
2015 stats: 288 carries, 1,402 yards, 6 TDs
Martin followed an abysmal 2014 season with an excellent 2015 campaign. He finished second in the NFL in rushing yards and averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry.
5. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (Bye Week: 9)
2015 stats: 125 carries, 581 yards, 8 TDs
Johnson had 12 total touchdowns last season and also racked up 36 receptions. As the No. 1 running back in the league’s second- highest scoring offense of 2015, Johnson should have an even better 2016 season.
6. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 11)
2015 stats: 264 carries, 1,061 yards, 11 TDs
Freeman was a PPR beast last season with 73 receptions and three touchdown catches, in addition to his impressive rushing statistics. He should have another tremendous season as long as he’s healthy.
7. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 5)
2015 stats: 71 carries, 364 yards, 4 TDs
A knee injury forced Charles to miss 11 games last season, which ended a three-year run in which he played in 15 or more games. When healthy, Charles is a top-five running back with his excellent receiving ability, but his durability always will be a concern.
8. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 8)
2015 stats: 113 carries, 556 yards, 3 TDs
Bell was the No. 1 running back in most fantasy rankings entering last season, but he suffered a season-ending injury and played in just six games. He’d be a top-three RB this season except he’ll be suspended for the first three games after reportedly skipping a drug test.
9. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 5)
2015 stats: 166 carries, 769 yards, 6 TDs
Most people think of the Saints’ offense as pass-heavy, but its running game is solid as well. Ingram ran an impressive 4.6 yards per carry last season, but his most impressive improvement came in the passing game, where he caught a career-high 50 passes for 405 yards. He has become a solid PPR option.
10. Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 5)
2015 stats: 147 carries, 830 yards, 4 TDs
Rawls came out of nowhere last season and became the Seahawks’ No. 1 running back when Marshawn Lynch was injured. Rawls tallied four 100-yard games and ran 5.6 yards per carry. Expect a breakout campaign from Rawls this fall.
11. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 7)
2015 stats: Rookie
Elliott was the No. 4 pick in the draft and will run behind what many experts consider the NFL’s best offensive line, but he still trails veteran Alfred Morris on the Cowboys’ depth chart.
12. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills (Bye Week: 10)
2015 stats: 203 carries, 895 yards, 3 TDs
McCoy missed four games last season and still almost ran for 1,000 yards. He’s also a great option for owners in PPR leagues because he’s a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield.
13. Matt Forte, New York Jets (Bye Week: 9)
2015 stats: 218 carries, 898 yards, 4 TDs
Forte missed a bunch of games because of injuries last season, but if healthy, he’s an excellent PPR choice. He’s a good bet for at least 40 receptions and multiple receiving touchdowns.
14. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 9)
2015 stats: 223 carries, 794 yards, 11 TDs
Hill should continue to split time with Gio Bernard in the Bengals’ backfield, but his ability to find the end zone makes him a must-start each week as an RB2.
15. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 7)
2015 stats: 242 carries, 989 yards, 6 TDs
Stewart nearly ran for 1,000 yards in his first season not splitting carries with DeAngelo Williams in the Panthers’ backfield, but Carolina quarterback Cam Newton runs a lot in the red zone. That’s a problem for Stewart owners.
16. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 4)
2015 stats: 187 carries, 758 yards, 3 TDs
Lacy was among the most disappointing fantasy running backs last season, as his attempts, yards, yards per carry and touchdowns all decreased by sizable amounts. He’s a high-risk/high-reward option entering the 2016 season.
17. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 11)
2015 stats: 152 carries, 720 yards, 5 TDs
Anderson was the most disappointing player in all of fantasy football last season. He was better in the second half of the campaign, but by that time, many owners had given up on him. Anderson should bounce back, at least a little bit, in 2016, with the Broncos potentially relying more on the run because of their shaky quarterback situation.
18. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 8)
2015 stats: 115 carries, 470 yards, 3 TDs
Injuries ruined what could have been a breakout 2015 season for Hyde, but he’s still a low-end RB2 if healthy.
19. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (Bye Week: 10)
2015 stats: 266 carries, 1,066 yards, 6 TDs
Murray got his chance as the No. 1 running back for the Raiders in 2015 and did a very nice job. In addition to above-average rushing statistics, he also proved his worth in PPR leagues with 41 receptions.
20. Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 9)
2015 stats: 264 carries, 1,064 yards, 8 TDs
Lewis missed nine games after suffering a major knee injury last season, but before that, he was among the most valuable fantasy running backs because of his receiving ability and knack for finding the end zone. Lewis should be able to post similar pre-injury numbers if he’s healthy in 2016.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images