David Johnson should top your fantasy football draft board. Flickr

The running back is back.

After a brief hiatus, the running back roared back to the fantasy football spotlight in 2016. The debate between wide receivers and running backs wasn’t even close.

Experts were all in on wide receivers in the preseason, giving three of the top four spots to wide receivers — namely Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.

The only running back considered to challenge that three-headed monster was Todd Gurley, who proceeded to have one of the most disappointing fantasy football seasons among any player this season.

As the record will show once again, if you get the running back position correct in fantasy football, there’s virtually no chance you won’t make the playoffs.

Eight running backs totaled more fantasy points than the top wide receiver — Mike Evans. What’s even better for fantasy owners is that those eight running backs weren’t all identified as RB1’s in the preseason.

Sure, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell, the top-four fantasy running backs in 2016, entered the season as RB1’s. But the next four running backs — DeMarco Murray, Devonta Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Melvin Gordon — were all considered at least RB2’s or worse.

So, with that in mind, there’s no reason to waste your time at the top of your draft board with a wide receiver. I entered the season with a firm belief in the running back…I just chose the wrong one (I was right about Lamar Miller’s volume, but he just didn’t produce).

Instead of the debate being around the top-three wide receivers, 2017 will focus on three running backs — Johnson, Elliott and Bell (sorry McCoy, your injury history and occasional awful games don’t give you the opportunity at the No. 1 pick).

All three are studs, but only one is occupying my top spot. Johnson was a machine this year. He finished with 327 fantasy points, the fourth-best overall, and 24 more points than Ezekiel’s second-place finish of 293 among running backs.

What’s most important about Johnson is that he’s game-flow proof. Outside of quarterback, there aren’t many players who are in that stratosphere, with maybe only Bell and Brown coming close to that category.

No matter what the score is, Johnson can produce. He led all running backs with 879 yards receiving and finished with the seventh-most rushing yards. He amassed more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which also ranked him No. 1 among skill position players.

And while I don’t generally rank players based on touchdowns because it’s generally not indicative of volume or a solid fantasy future, he has a nose for the end zone.

He tallied the most touchdowns among running backs with 20 this season, two better than Blount’s 18 rushing touchdowns. In limited time in 2015, he also was a touchdown machine, going for 13 total touchdowns, only one less than league-leader Freeman.

And he did all of this with a subpar offensive line, something Elliott cannot say. While Elliott has the best offensive line, Johnson was running behind an offensive line that consistently ranked outside of the top-10, according to Pro Football Focus.

We’ve seen far too often (see Gurley in 2016) that running backs who are basically run-first options, struggle without solid offensive lines. Elliott may develop into a better receiving running back, but it’s doubtful Dallas’s offense improves next year. House money is that the offense downgrades, as NFL coordinators have a year to prepare for Dak Prescott.

The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t even that great in 2016, but Johnson was still a force every week, another reason why he should garner the No. 1 pick. If we took out Elliott’s and Johnson’s best and worst performance during the regular fantasy season of weeks 1 through 16, Elliott averaged 16 fantasy points per game, while Johnson managed 19.3 fantasy points per game. Bell, on the other hand, was at 18.76 points per game in fantasy, and that’s even taking out his monster 47.80-point performance.

All three are solid weekly options and should be in the discussion for the No. 1 pick in 2017. But with Johnson, I get a player in his third year, who has proven to be durable and getting better. To me, Bell possibly offers the best upside, but his past behavior off the field and injury issues have me a bit concerned, and I’ll have to see more from Elliott as a pass catcher to trust him as a No. 1 pick in the future.

All three should once again be at the top of the leaderboard in 2017, but I’m going with Johnson as the No. 1 pick.

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