Thor Nystrom


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Tiered CFB Fantasy RB rankings

Wednesday, August 9, 2017



Note: These rankings are intended for PPR formats.


Tier I


1. Saquon Barkley (Penn State)

2. Derrius Guice (LSU)

3. Ito Smith (Southern Miss)

4. Jalin Moore (Appalachian State)

5. Phillip Lindsay (Colorado)

6. Mark Walton (Miami)

7. Royce Freeman (Oregon)

8. Justin Jackson (Northwestern)

9. Rashaad Penny (San Diego State)

10. Kyle Hicks (TCU)

11. Devin Singletary (FAU)

12. Alexander Mattison (Boise State)

13. Ronald Jones (USC)

14. Larry Rose (New Mexico State)

15. Justice Hill (Oklahoma State)

16. Devwah Whaley (Arkansas)




  • Barkley and Guice get all the ink, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Smith outperforms both of them on the stat sheet this fall. Southern Miss’ offense is explosive, its schedule is cake, and Smith is the superior collegiate receiver of the three.


  • Don’t discount Freeman based on last season. He was dinged up most of the year and became a victim of circumstance as Oregon’s season cratered. Freeman will be the focal point of an improved Ducks attack this fall, especially after the team dismissed Darren Carrington.



  • Hicks never gets mentioned as one of the nation’s best backs, and that’s a shame. Last year, on an offense that was utterly dysfunctional outside of him, Hicks led the Frogs in rushing yards (1,042), receptions (47) , and touchdowns (14). I expect TCU’s offense to be much better this fall, and I think it’s possible that Hicks could have an even better fantasy season.


  • Singletary went off in the second half of last season as a true freshman and is now playing in Kendal Briles’ wide-open system, which is extremely RB-friendly. He’s risky, though, because he’ll lose some touches to Gregory Howell Jr. FAU coach Lane Kiffin likens the Howell-Singletary combo to a couple legendary backfields he’s coached before: USC’s LenDale White-Reggie Bush and Alabama’s Derrick Henry-Kenyan Drake.


  • Playing in one of college football’s best offenses, Hill could easily outperform this projection. Oklahoma State is going to live in the red zone this fall.


  • As for a sleeper, take a long look at both Mattison. Mattison takes over for Jeremy McNichols in an offense that always produces huge rushing numbers.



Tier II


17. Ryquell Armstead (Temple)

18. Jarred Craft (Louisiana Tech)

19. Jordan Chunn (Troy)

20. D’Angelo Brewer (Tulsa)

21. Benjamin Snell (Kentucky)

22. Nick Chubb (Georgia)

23. JaMycal Hasty (Baylor)

24. Terry Swanson (Toledo)

25. Myles Gaskin (Washington)

26. Mike Weber (Ohio State)

27. Bryce Love (Stanford)

28. Trayveon Williams (Texas A&M)

29. Ray Lawry (Old Dominion)

30. D’Ernest Johnson (South Florida)

31. Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt)

32. Jalen Rhodes (UTSA)

33. Damarea Crockett (Missouri)

34. James Gilbert (Ball State)

35. Kalen Ballage (Arizona State)




  • I may have Craft rated too low. A returning 1,000-yard rusher, he’s also a great receiver out of the backfield. In an explosive offense that lost a ton of receiving production (Carlos Henderson, Trent Taylor), Craft will be counted on more heavily in 2017.


  • Snell ran for 1,091 yards (5.9 ypc) and 13 touchdowns last year as a true freshman while splitting time with Boom Williams. Boom's gone now, and Kentucky has fully embraced the run-first philosophy they'll roll with this fall. Snell will get as many touches as he can handle.


  • I’ve long been high on Love, a burner who’s taking over for Christian McCaffrey. He's not nearly the receiver that C-Mac is, but I expect big things.


  • Rhodes made noise as UTSA’s No. 2 RB last year. With Jarveon Williams gone, Rhodes is potentially in line for a star turn this fall.


  • RB Terence Williams is no longer draftable in standard leagues following HC Matt Rhule's announcment that he’d miss at least non-conference play with an injury.


  • Baylor will now ride RB JaMycal Hasty, who skyrocketed up the rankings after the Williams news broke. Rhule has said he’s going to run an up-tempo offense that blends Chip Kelly principles with the power-run Temple mantra. Sounds perfect for Hasty's skill set. Hasty is a home-run hitter. Not only that, but Baylor co-OC Jeff Nixon said he thinks of him as a three-down back. Baylor has very little depth at running back until Williams returns, and there’s no assurance about Williams’ timetable.

Tier III


36. Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)

37. Rodney Smith (Minnesota)

38. Akrum Wadley (Iowa)

39. Justin Crawford (West Virginia)

40. Markell Jones (Purdue)

41. Josh Adams (Notre Dame)

42. Jeffrey Wilson (North Texas)

43. L.J. Scott (Michigan State)

44. Jarvion Franklin (Western Michigan)

45. John Kelly (Tennessee)

46. Tyrone Owens (New Mexico)

47. Shaq Vann (Eastern Michigan)

48. Chris Warren (Texas)

49. Kamryn Pettway (Auburn)

50. Milo Hall (Wyoming)

51. Mike Boone (Cincinnati)




  • Between sharing a depth chart with studs Damien Harris, B.J. Emmons and Najee Harris (the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017) and having a dual-threat QB like Jalen Hurts stealing carries, Scarbrough won’t receive nearly as many carries as other top backs. Not only that, but he isn’t a receiving threat, which really hurts in PPR formats.


  • Ballage has become an internet folk hero for people who work jobs like mine. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is one of the sport's freakiest athletes. A former defensive end, Ballage has been clocked at 21.6 mph. Arizona State HC Todd Graham predicts he'll run a 4.4 or better in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Graham spent time with the Patriots' offensive staff this offseason to figure out more ways to get Ballage more involved in the passing game. Any uptick to Ballage's 44-469-1 receiving line from 2016 could make him a fantasy monster. So why am I not higher on him? Ballage has never equaled the sum of his parts. At least not yet. He finished with only 536 rushing yards last year despite the Leonard Fournette-like measurables while splitting carries with Demario Richard (126 carries for Ballage, 155 for Richard). Graham swears he'll get Ballage on the field more this fall -- he's hinted at 80 snaps a game -- but there's a little too much uncertainty in Ballage's profile for me to bump him into Tier II. 


  • Wadley was ranked No. 10 prior to the news that James Butler was transferring to Iowa in early July. He’s still in line for a strong season, but the combination of Butler’s presence and Iowa’s low-scoring offense makes him less attractive than he may seem on the surface.


  • Crawford is an explosive talent who’s either ranked 20 spots too high, or 20 spots too low. I'm lower on West Virginia's offense than others, and I'm concerned that Crawford will be stuck in a touch-erasing timeshare. 


  • Scott is a battering ram who Sparty’s coaching staff has built the offense around. He isn't much of a receiver, and it's fair to wonder how many points Michigan State can score this fall, but Scott is going to be given every opportunity to live up to his Le'Veon Bell comps.


  • Speaking of bruisers, I’d be higher on the rough-and-tumble Pettway if he didn’t have to cede carries to Kerryon Johnson. Pettway is a complete non-factor in the passing game, further complicating his PPR outlook.


  • Hall takes over for Brian Hill. He's in a great spot to hit the ground running in a high-powered, pro-style offense. Defenses will be far more concerned with slowing down QB Josh Allen than flooding Hall's running lanes.


  • Compared by his position coach to Jerome Bettis, the massive Chris Warren takes over for 2,000-plus yard rusher D’Onta Foreman. Warren and Foreman split carries in 2015. They would have done so again last fall had Warren not gotten knocked out for the campaign. All of this said, Warren missed the spring while dealing with a case of the mumps. He's coming off a knee injury and was running with the second-team offense behind Kyle Porter in early August. And that was before Warren suffered a concussion, causing him to miss more time. I still expect Warren to emerge as the No. 1 back, but he's running out of time. Before drafting him, make sure to do a quick Google search to check in on his status.


  • As for a sleeper, I return to Shaq Vann, who was also one of my favorite sleepers last year. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury suffered early wrecked his campaign. If healthy, he’ll be productive in an offense that vastly improved last year and remains RB-friendly.


  • Boone is another post-hype sleeper. He ran for 1,283 yards and 16 scores (7.4 ypc) over his first 17 career games but regressed to 504 yards and four touchdowns (3.7 ypc) over the past 12. He missed the first three games last year and was banged up thereafter, ruining what could have been a breakout year. Cincy's new coaching staff figures to build the offense around him. I'm bullish.


Tier IV


52. Dedrick Mills (Georgia Tech)

53. Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma)

54. Ryan Nall (Oregon State)

55. Jordan Huff (Northern Illinois)

56. Jawon Hamilton (Central Florida)

57. Chris Evans (Michigan)

58. Ty Johnson (Maryland)

59. Jordan Scarlett (Florida)

60. Dontrell Hilliard (Tulane)

61. Chris James (Wisconsin)

62. Warren Wand (Arkansas State)

63. Alex Gardner (FIU)

64. Nyheim Hines (North Carolina State)

65.  Zack Moss (Utah)

66. Duke Catalon (Houston)

67. Isaiah Saunders (Idaho)

68. Travon McMillian (Virginia Tech)

69. Marquis Young (Massachusetts)

70. Jordan Wilkins (Mississippi)

71. Tim McVey (Air Force)

72. Tre Watson (Cal)

73. Cam Akers (Florida State)

74. Wesley Fields (Georgia Southern)

75. Tre Bryant (Nebraska)



  • Mills could significantly improve upon this projection by getting on HC Paul Johnson’s good side again.


  • Nall’s stock has fallen in recent weeks due to re-emergence of Thomas Tyner, the former Oregon Duck who transferred to the Beavers as a graduate over the spring. Formerly medically disqualified, it now appears as though Tyner will bite into Nall’s touches.


  • Anderson is a former stud recruit who missed the past two seasons with injuries. I had him ranked far higher in my first draft of these running back rankings. He's fallen down the board after being a limited participant early in camp, wearing a green non-contact jersey. Depending on who you read, Abdul Adams may or may not now be viewed as the odds-on favorite to start Week 1. With both Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon out the door, there are plenty of touches available in the Sooners' backfield.


  • McVey is the lead back in Air Force's triple-option attack. He doesn't offer anything as a receiver, but is extremely effective in hitting the crease and bounding upfield. Last fall, McVey got only 83 carries, but he converted them into 708 yards and 10 touchdowns, ranking No. 3 in the FBS with 8.5 ypc.


  • Scarlett is being undervalued in summer drafts. With Luke Del Rio and Austin Applebee behind center, defenses could stack the box against Florida. Whether Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks wins the gig, that will no longer be an option, and Florida’s elite receiving corps ensures that safeties can’t sneak up. As an added bonus, Florida's coaching staff has raved about Scarlett's improvements in the passing game.


  • Catalon is one of the few post-hype guys that I want no part of. A popular breakout candidate last year, he did no such thing. If you want to spend the fall checking on his injury status only to see him mysteriously not play in a handful of contests he's supposedly active for, than you’re a more patient man than me.


  • James and Akers take over for NFL running backs (Corey Clement and Dalvin Cook) in offenses that have consistently produced big numbers for lead backs. Neither cracked my top-50 because both will have to share carries.


  • Akers may or may not be the next Dalvin Cook, but I'd leave him for another owner if you’re in a re-draft league. With where he’s been going in drafts, there’s an extremely low chance that his value exceeds his draft slot. Remember: Jacques Patrick is one of the ACC’s best backs, and Patricks has been running with the first-team in camp. Looks like we'll have a timeshare in Tallahassee.


  • My Rotoworld colleague Mark Lindquist calls Ty Johnson a “maddening fantasy player,” which is spot on. Johnson was a boom-or-bust proposition week-to-week last year, and probably will be again due to Maryland’s shoddy passing game and difficult schedule. That said, they don't come much more explosive at this price point.


  • Armand Shyne was removed from the rankings after he suffered an injury in fall camp. With Shyne out indefinitely, Zack Moss has been named the starter. Devonta'e Henry-Cole, listed below, will function as the No. 2.


  • Former Ole Miss HC Hugh Freeze said of Wilkins: "I think he’s going to have a special year." That should perk your ears up, because new OC Phil Longo uses a downhill rushing attack in conjunction with his Air Raid spread concepts. But the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Wilkins remains a mysterious commodity. After rushing for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 72 carries in 2015, he was shelved last year due to academic issues.

Tier V

76. Abdul Adams (Oklahoma)

77. Shane Tucker (Middle Tennessee) - Has dual RB/WR eligibility on Fantrax

78. Dontae Strickland (Syracuse)

79. Rico Dowdle (South Carolina)

80. Andy Davidson (Army)

81. James Williams (Washington State)

82. Arkeel Newsome (UConn)

83. Johnathan Hawkins (Buffalo)

84. Jon Hillman (Boston College)

85. Jordon Brown (North Carolina)

86. Samuel Stewart (Rice)

87. Alex Barnes (Kansas State)

88. Devon Spalding (Central Michigan)

89. Quinton Baker (WKU)

90. Doroland Dorceus (Memphis)

91. Robert Washington(Charlotte)

92. Jacques Patrick (Florida State)

93. Jeremy Smith (Louisville)

94. Justin Rankin (Kent State)

95. Juwan Washington (San Diego State)

96. C.J. Fuller (Clemson)

97. Diocemy Saint Juste (Hawaii)

98. Osharmar Abercrombie (Coastal Carolina)

99. David Montgomery (Iowa State)

100  Warren Ball (Akron)

101. Kerryon Johnson (Auburn)

102. Chawntez Moss (Pitt)

103. James Butler (Iowa)

104. Aeris Williams (Mississippi State)

105. Donovan Wilson (Bowling Green)

106. Nick Wilson (Arizona)

107. Da'Leon Ward (Texas Tech)



  • I was all ready to drive the Shane Tucker Sleeper Bandwagon, but he's failed to differentiate himself early in camp and may began 2017 as a second-string running back. He missed last year with a broken leg and then practiced as a receiver, but has been shifted back to RB. He's among the candidates hoping to take over for I’Tavius Mathers, who had over 2,100 yards from scrimmage last year. In reality, a timeshare is probably coming. If Tucker wins the better half of it, then I've rated him far too low. One added bonus on Tucker: He has dual RB/WR eligibility on Fantrax.


  • I’d love to rank James Williams higher—he’s a talented runner and one of the nation’s best receivers out of the backfield—but Wazzu is also going to play RBs Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington. Morrow, Wicks and Williams combined to rush for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns with 1,014 yards and seven scores through the air last year. Great. You only get to play one at a time.


  • Fuller is the projected starter at Clemson, but he’ll have to fend off junior Adam Choice and sophomore Tavien Feaster this month. Feaster, in particular, is a huge threat to Fuller’s job. Feaster was the nation’s top running back coming out of high school, but he entered the summer as the No. 3 back, perhaps because HC Dabo Swinney wanted to send him a message about expected work ethic. If Feaster had this job locked up, he’d be a top-50 fantasy RB.


  • Rice’s offense stinks, but Stewart should put up solid numbers this year if he can stay healthy. Stewart missed five games last year due to injury.


  • As a walk-on true frosh last year, Rankin logged 511 yards rushing and added a team-best 335 yards receiving on 28 catches despite battling injuries and playing in a directionless offense. Now that the Golden Flashes intend to become even more run-oriented with no-arm Nick Holley at quarterback, the explosive Rankin makes for a legitimate sleeper. His upside is capped only by the sluggish offense he plays in.


  • Hawkins takes over for Jordan Johnson. He was a reliable receiving outlet last year, catching 21 of 34 targets. Hawkins also could add a few sneaky special teams points if your league rewards kick returning stats. The offense is terrible, though, limiting his upside.


  • Quinton Baker was ranked higher in my previous draft, but he took a dive down the board after being suspended for the opener. Baker is an exciting talent in an explosive offense, but now he'll have to work extra hard to get out of the doghouse because the Hilltoppers have two other starting-caliber running backs in D'Andre Ferby and Leon Allen.


Tier VI


108  Shaun Wilson (Duke)

109. Richard McQuarley (New Mexico)

110. Josh Fields (UTEP)

111. Maurice Gordon (Middle Tennessee)

112. Jaxson Kincaide (Nevada)

113. Bradrick Shaw (Wisconsin)

114. Cade Carney (Wake Forest)

115. Kyle Porter (Texas)

116. Shannon Brooks (Minnesota)

117. Soso Jamabo (UCLA)

118. Derrick Gore (UL-Monroe)

119. Xavier Johnson (South Alabama)

120. Sony Michel (Georgia)

121. Lavon Coleman (Washington)

122. Squally Canada (BYU)

123. Izzy Matthews (Colorado State)

124. Kendrick Foster (Illinois)

125. Demario Richard (Arizona State)

126. Trey Rodriguez (Marshall)

127. Chris High (Navy)

128. D'Andre Ferby (Western Kentucky)

129. Derrell Scott (East Carolina)

130. Thomas Tyner (Oregon State)

131. Xavier Jones (SMU)

132. Dalyn Dawkins (Colorado State)

133. Tyler Natee (Indiana)

134. Devonta'e Henry-Cole (Utah)

135. Bolu Olorunfunmi (UCLA)

136. Robert Brown (Texas State)

137. Braeden West (SMU)

138. Tonny Lindsey (Utah State)

139. Keion Davis (Marshall)

140. Malik Roberson (San Jose State)




  • Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Soso Jamabo. I wanted to call a mulligan for Jamabo after his rough 2016, but he's struggled in camp and ceded the first-team reps to Bolu Olorunfunmi. If either seized the job, I'd be at least vaguely intrigued in deeper leagues. QB Josh Rosen is healthy, the offensive line will be better and the offense is far more run-friendly now that it has imported former Michigan offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to run the show.


  • Derrell Scott, a transfer from Tennessee, is competing with fellow Power 5 transfer Tyshon Dye (Clemson) for the vacant starting gig. If one of them earns the majority of touches, he’ll be a promising play in PPR formats in ECU’s pass-happy system.


  • Brooks, Shaw, Michel, Coleman and Richard are all better players than these rankings indicate, but they're all currently No. 2 backs. An injury above them would cause any of these guys to shoot up the board.


  • Aaron Jones ran for 1,773 yards and 17 touchdowns at UTEP last year with a 28-233-3 receiving line. He’s gone, but the run-first offense and strong offensive line remain. It sure seems like his successor is going to be a true freshman from El Paso named Josh Fields. I've never seen Fields play, but I can tell you that he's been getting comped to Jones since he arrived on campus. If you play in a deep league, he's an intriguing sleeper.


  • Canada has run with the first-team in camp but will likely be in a pure timeshare.


  • Reports out of Huntington in early August had Trey Rodriguez as Marshall's "1A" back, with Keion Davis "1B." As such, Rodriguez was added to the rankings. Meanwhile, Davis clings to the No. 131 post. Marshall's offense is going to be much improved. If one of these backs runs away with the job, he's ownable in standard leagues.


  • With Chris Warren struggling with his health -- coming off a season-ending injury, he dealt with the mumps in the spring and then suffered a concussion in early August -- Kyle Porter has run with the first-team offense in camp. I still prefer Warren in fantasy drafts, but his uncertain status has buffed Porter with a sleeper sheen in deeper formats.


  • I can't tell you how the Thomas Tyner experiment is going to play out. Where I have him ranked, I'm expecting Tyner to play second-banana to Ryan Nall.


  • It was LaJuan Hunt, and not Tonny Lindsey, who got the most first-time reps in the spring for Utah Sate. I expect a timeshare. For fantasy purposes, I lean towards wanting Lindsey, who led the team in rushing last year.


  • Stedman Mayberry (Texas State) was removed from the rankings. He left the team prior to fall camp. Robert Brown and Anthony Taylor are expected to function as the Bobcats’ top-two RBs this fall. Brown is a fantasy option, but only in extremely (and I do mean extremely) deep leagues.

Thor Nystrom is a former associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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