2014 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 50 Running Backs

Zach Wilkens provides his 2014 fantasy football tiered rankings for NFL running backs (RB), including PPR and non-PPR leagues. These RB rankings are your draft guide.

Zach - RotoBaller

While we already published our Top 50 Running Back Rankings in four separate tiers, we thought it was time to update these rankings just a little bit considering all the news out of training camp and preseason. This is not an knee jerk overreaction based on preseason performances, just some basic accounting for injury news and the opportunities that players are winning or losing.

To make things easier for you, our dear RotoBaller reader, we consolidated all the different tiers into one massive article. You can consider this the only running back rankings guide you need in order to help you formulate your fantasy football draft strategy. This 10,000 word monster has it all: rookie running backs, sleepers and breakouts, overvalued players and potential busts, PPR Analysis, etc. So, first things first, bookmark this bad boy…done? Okay, now sit back, relax, get a cup of coffee and a bacon, egg and cheese, lock yourself away for the next hour in a “meeting”, and sink your teeth into all of that goodness all at once. Enjoy!

 

Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings - Top 50

These rankings are tiered, and within each tier you can interchange players to your liking. Separate tiers signify where I think there are clear distinctions in value. For example, Tier 1 recognizes the elite at the position, feature backs and proven studs. Tier 2 has guys I would consider great, but with potential concerns, and so it goes down the list. I’d love to read your comments and disagreements below! Hit me up on twitter @LopsidedTrades anytime.

 

Tier 1 Running Backs

1. Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs – 5’11″ 199 lbs

2013: 259 Att – 1,287 Yards – 12 TD / 70 Rec – 693 Yards – 7 TD

Coaching Change: None

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-jamaal-charlesJamaal Charles had a pretty good year purely as a runner. Throw in the receiving aspect and it was a phenomenal season. It’s hard to imagine Charles repeating that performance again, but he is the safest pick in the game.

He did miss one game in 2013, but in the games he played he had just one game under 90 total yards (in the one outlier he managed a respectable 72 yards).

Charles remains at the top because he is one of the few backs who will remain the hands-down top option in his team’s offense. Alex Smith loved dumping the ball off to Charles, who led all RBs in targets and receiving yards. Expect plenty more of the same in 2014.

 

2. LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Eagles – 5’11″ 208 lbs

2013: 314 Att – 1,607 Yards – 9 TD / 52 Rec – 539 Yards – 2 TD

Coaching Change: None

Rotoballer-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Analysis-LeSean-McCoyA fantastic runner, McCoy led all backs in attempts and rush yards last year. It’s safe to say he had a seamless transition into the uptempo offense of Chip Kelly, and he is every bit as talented as Charles.

The only reason McCoy slides in at number two is that there is simply no way he can get the number of receptions that Charles can. There are too many talented options in this Eagles offense.

The only concern – a minor one considering it’s hypothetical - is that the leading rusher in both ’11 (MJD) and ’12 (Foster) failed to play more than eight games the following year. If you go back farther it’s not prevalent, but with RBs running the ball less and less, it’s worth noting.

 

3. Matt Forte - Chicago Bears – 6’2″ 218 lbs

2013: 289 Att – 1,339 Yards – 9 TD / 74 Rec – 594 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: None

Rotoballer-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Analysis-Matt-ForteMatt Forte enjoyed a nice boost in Marc Trestman’s offense–his receiving game went from very good to exceptional. The Bears almost never used a third wide receiver, as the wide receivers outside of Marshall and Jeffery combined for 264 yards. That means Forte is guaranteed a fair share of receptions in addition to being a true feature back.

Another somewhat surprising fact is that Forte has never had fewer than 1,400 total yards in a season, including when he played just 12 games in 2011. In Trestman’s offense, he is almost a lock for another 1,400+, especially after surpassing 1,900 last season.

Forte’s main drawback in the past has been a lack of use at the goal line. However, last year a majority of Forte’s rush TD came from within five yards. Michael Bush did nab two one-yard touchdowns, but he is no longer a concern. The Bears brought in Ka’Deem Carey, but Forte should still be able to take a healthy number of goal line snaps.

 

4. Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Vikings – 6’1″ 217 lbs

2013: 279 Att – 1,266 Yards – 10 TD / 29 Rec – 171 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Mike Zimmer, OC – Norv Turner

fantasy-football-waiver-wire-week-15The best pure runner in the game, Peterson is likely a little past his prime. He is one of just three active backs with over 2,000 rushing attempts, and he’s the only one of the three that is still considered elite.

I expect Peterson has at least one more excellent year in him, but he did look a bit worn down at the end of the year, missing two of the final four games. He will be expected to carry the team again with a rookie QB likely starting, although that’s what he’s been doing for most of his career.

There is a new coaching regime, but with the best runner in the game there is no worry about his usage. Even if he does show some aging this year, he’ll find the endzone plenty and get his yardage in.

 

Tier 2 Running Backs

5. Eddie Lacy - Green Bay Packers – 5’11″ 230 lbs

2013: 284 Att – 1,178 Yards – 11 TD / 35 Rec – 257 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

I was not high on Lacy going into his rookie season. Needless to say, I was dead wrong on that one. Lacy is a big, tough back that had little trouble finding his way into the end zone last season. I don’t think he’ll ever be a big factor in the passing game, and he probably won’t break a ton of huge runs, but he’s proven himself effective as a workhorse back. Those short TD runs are his bread and butter. Expect him among the league leaders in rush attempts and touchdowns.

 

6. DeMarco Murray - Dallas Cowboys – 6’0″ 219 lbs

2013: 217 Att – 1,121 Yards – 9 TD / 53 Rec – 350 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: Passing game coordinator – Scott Linehan, Running Game Coordinator – Bill Callahan

Of all the feature backs in the league (which I’ll qualify as 200+ carries for this purpose), DeMarco Murray led the league with 5.2 YPC. He also took his receiving game to the next level in 2013. Scott Linehan is now in charge of the passing game, and he managed to find 107 receptions between Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. I have to believe that is a big positive for Murray, who should remain a focal point in the Dallas offense. The one drawback for Murray is his inability to stay on the field. The 14 games he played last season were the most he’s had in three professional seasons. However, even if he does miss a game or two he should provide great value early in the draft.

 

7. Alfred Morris - Washington Redskins – 5’10″ 218 lbs

2013: 276 Att – 1,275 Yards – 7 TD / 9 Rec – 78 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Jay Gruden, OC – Sean McVay

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-alfred-morrisMorris is the first back on the list that has almost no value in the passing game. In the days of change-of-pace backs, this is a huge shot to his fantasy value. However, he has proven himself to be an extremely reliable workhorse back.

There are widespread concerns that Morris will lose carries as a result of the new coaching staff, but I don’t agree. Based on his time with the Bengals, Gruden is very willing to commit to a guy, which I would infer means 270+ carries for Morris. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson received more than 270 carries combined, and they are far less talented than Morris. I remain fully confident that he can maintain 270+ carries with a 4.5 YPC, which will keep him very relevant in fantasy.

 

8. Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 5’9″ 215 lbs

2013: 127 Att – 456 Yards – 1 TD / 12 Rec – 66 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Lovie Smith, OC – Jeff Tedford

Following a phenomenal rookie season, expectations were very high for Martin’s sophomore campaign. It started out poorly as he managed to exceed 100 rushing yards just once in the first five games, despite plenty of carries. The salt in the wound was a shoulder injury that put him on the IR after only six games. A casual player might see his 3.6 YPC and immediately write him off, but in his small sample he faced the two toughest run defenses in the league last year (the Jets and Cardinals). Take out those two games, and he averaged a more than respectable 4.55 YPC, which is in line with his rookie season. That gives me confidence that he is still very much the same player. New OC Jeff Tedford is great with RBs–while coaching at Cal he coached Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. That’s a pretty impressive stable given that Cal is not an elite football school.

8/17 Update: Rookie Charles Sims was turning heads in training camp with some impressive play. He was expected to play a significant role in the offense but unfortunately went down with an ankle injury that could sideline him for half the season. While Bobby Rainey and Mike James are in the mix, Doug Martin should still be one of a few backs that is the uncontested #1.

 

9. Marshawn Lynch - Seattle Seahawks – 5’11″ 215 lbs

2013: 301 Att – 1,257 Yards – 12 TD / 36 Rec – 316 Yards – 2 TD

Coaching Change: None

Lynch has been one of, if not the best volume back in recent memory. He is the only back to surpass 280 carries each of the last two years, and he has done it the last three years. He’s also been exceptionally consistent touchdown-wise as well, finding pay dirt 12-14 times in each of those three seasons. However, with his usage, age and talent, his upside is the lowest of anyone in the top 10 (and probably top 15). An unrelated but equally troubling concern is Lynch’s potential loss of carries to fantasy expert darling Christine Michael. That said, I believe that any reports of Lynch’s demise are over-exaggerated. Even if Michael steals some carries, Lynch should still receive upwards of 270. Keep in mind that Robert Turbin had 77 carries last year, and that is where Michael is likely to siphon carries from, not Lynch. Goal-line carries are still going to the feature back as well, so Lynch will remain a top 10 fantasy running back.

8/17 Update: Lynch started the preseason by holding out which made me pretty nervous. Thankfully the Seahawks caved in and gave him a little more money this year and the holdout should not affect Lynch at all.

 

10. Montee Ball - Denver Broncos – 5’10″ 215 lbs

2013: 120 Att – 559 Yards – 4 TD / 20 Rec – 145 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

If the far less-talented Knowshon Moreno was elite in one of the most prolific offenses of all-time, the sky is truly the limit for Montee Ball. The Broncos tried to get Ball more involved last season, but an early case of fumblitis kept him off the field for the most part. Knowshon Moreno then established himself as the #1 back, and the door closed on Ball. He was able to reestablish himself down the stretch with 13+ touches and 80+ total yards in three of the final five regular-season games. I really like Ball to break out in 2014, and I would not be surprised at all if he ends up as a top-five or top-six running back this year. However, I do worry about what may happen if he fumbles a couple times early in the season. I am certain the Broncos are not as strict about fumbles as the Patriots or Giants, but a few mistakes and who knows. However if he is still on the board at this point, he is a no-brainer pick with huge upside.

8/17 Update: Ball will miss the preseason after having an appendectomy. It may lead to a slightly lighter load in the first game or two but my opinion of Ball in this offense remains unchanged.

 

Tier 3 Running Backs

11. Arian Foster - Houston Texans – 6’1″ 227 lbs

2013: 121 Att – 545 Yards – 1 TD / 22 Rec – 183 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: HC/OC Bill O’Brien

Foster is the first guy on this list that didn’t have a great season last year. Even if you factor in that he missed half the season, two touchdowns in eight games is pretty disappointing. But the Texans reaffirmed their confidence in Foster by letting Ben Tate walk and not drafting a running back until the 6th round. With the oft-injured Andre Brown as the #2, there is no doubt that Foster remains a feature back. He also remains a qualified receiver as well, and he’s one of the best in YAC. With many fantasy players wary of Foster’s health, he could end up being a great value outside of the top five. I still believe him to be a feature back in the prime of his career.

 

By I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license: (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons12. Le’Veon Bell - Pittsburgh Steelers – 6’1″ 244 lbs

2013: 244 Att – 860 Yards – 8 TD / 45 Rec – 399 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Those who drafted Bell with the injury discount last season ended up getting a steal. While his YPC was less than desirable, he saw plenty of touches and was a pleasant surprise as a pass catcher. I’m willing to attribute some of the poor YPC to the offense struggling as a whole at times. The Steelers often found themselves down early in the game, and as a result they were throwing much more than normal. The Steelers did add LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer, but I don’t think that affects Bell’s value too much. I think Blount may even aid Bell’s value by helping to wear down the defense on some of the tougher runs.

8/17 Update: LeGarrette Blount is going to be the goal line back which puts a dent in Bell’s value for sure. He should still get a ton of carries and plenty of receptions as well. Don’t be afraid to spend a high draft pick on him.
 
 

13. C.J. Spiller – Buffalo Bills – 5’11″ 202 Lbs

2013: 202 carries – 933 Yards – 2 TD / 33 Rec – 185 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

I was extremely high on Spiller last season. In 2012 he was literally breaking off 30 yard plays every game, and had a truly impressive 12 games with a play of 20+ yards. In 2013 that number dropped to seven, although four of those came in the final five games where he was pretty much an afterthought. However that does give me hope for the coming season. Even though Spiller played in 15 games, he was seriously hobbled in several of them and was often coming out of the game immediately after every touch. When he finally started looking healthy and getting 20+ touches again at the end of the season, he was putting up the numbers I expected from him going into the year. Spiller will always be an intriguing pick given his awesome speed and big play ability, but I have to acknowledge that there is a lot of risk in a smaller back who can’t always be the 20-carry workhorse. Bear in mind though that Spiller did exceed 1,100 total yards in what seemed like a worst-case scenario, which I think justifies my ranking here.

 

14. Giovani Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals – 5’9″ 208 lbs

2013: 170 Att – 695 Yards – 5 TD / 56 Rec – 514 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Hue Jackson

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-Giovani-BernardGiovani Bernard had a fantastic rookie season where he lived up to most of the expectations. His touchdown run against Miami was arguably the best play by a running back the entire season–seriously, look it up if you forgot/never saw it. Bernard is immensely talented, but his situation may put a limit on his potential.

The Bengals still have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and drafted bruiserJeremy Hill, who I expect to get some carries in his rookie season. With those two expected to do most of the ground and pound work, I have a hard time imagining Bernard exceeding his carry total from last year. A best-case scenario would be a 2012 Ray Rice-type season, but a more realistic comparison is to Darren Sproles. Sproles’ best season with the Saints (2011) saw him go for 1,300 yards with nine touchdowns on 173 touches. Bernard nearly matched that in carries alone last year. I expect Bernard’s receptions to go up, which should more than replace the loss in value that a potential decrease in carries might bring.

 

Tier 4 Running Backs

15. Reggie Bush – Detroit Lions – 6’0″ 203 lbs

2013: 223 Att – 1,006 Yards – 4 TD / 54 Rec – 506 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Jim Caldwell, OC – Joe Lombardi

While some were bullish on Bush to the point that they were expecting 90-100 receptions with the Lions offense, his 277 touches and 1,500 total yards were solid enough to make him the 12th best running back last season. With Scott Linehan gone the offense probably won’t be as pass-happy, which hurts his value a bit. Even with the very talented Joique Bell sharing duties, Bush should maintain a 60-40 split of the carries with a healthy number of targets to boot. Bush is now 29, but has considerably less mileage than other backs his age, which gives me confidence he’ll still be a solid fantasy running back.

 

16. Andre Ellington – Arizona Cardinals – 5’9″ 199 lbs

2013: 118 Att – 652 Yards – 3 TD / 39 Rec – 371 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-andre-ellingtonAfter head coach Bruce Arians stated that Ellington will get 25-30 touches a game, preseason hype and expectations are at an all-time high. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see that happening. They may try, but much like CJ Spiller “running it until he pukes”, I don’t see them sticking to that plan.

Like Spiller, Ellington isn’t built for that style of play and wouldn’t be as productive getting it that many times a game. He topped out at 17 touches last season. 15 carries and five receptions a game is reasonable, and with his talent those numbers will yield a healthy amount of fantasy production. Used properly, Ellington should have no problem exceeding 1,200 total yards this year. However, he isn’t going to get many goal line carries, so his touchdown totals may be limited.

 

17. Zac Stacy – St. Louis Rams – 5’8″ 224 lbs

2013: 250 Att – 973 Yards – 7 TD / 26 Rec – 141 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

By Johnmaxmena2 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsI am low on Zac Stacy heading into 2014. He had a great rookie season, but he appeared to falter down the stretch while also being phased out of the passing game. He managed to average over 4.0 YPC just once in the final five games, and that was against the Saints porous run defense.

In addition, Jeff Fisher acknowledged that there will be an open competition for the starting job. While Stacy will likely be the starter, I love Tre Mason and I think the Rams do as well. He may cut into Stacy’s carries quite a bit. If that is the case I would be pretty concerned about Stacy as a top back. The only games in which he totaled over 100 rushing yards he had 26, 27, 28, and 33 carries. If he isn’t getting 25+ touches a game he simply isn’t that good. His ranking here is based on the fact that he will still probably get 18-20 carries a game, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mason has the starting job at some point this year.

8/17 Update: Stacy appears to be pretty secure as the starting RB at this point. While Mason should definitely eat into his touches Stacy can be a low-end RB1 or very nice RB2.

 

18. Toby Gerhart – Jacksonville Jaguars – 6’0″ 231 lbs (formerly Minnesota Vikings)

2013: 36 Att – 283 Yards – 2 TD / 13 Rec – 88 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Toby Gerhart has a significant role change, going from handcuff to potential feature back in one offseason. Gerhart fell into a perfect situation in Jacksonville, and will get his fair share of carries this year. Over his four-year career he has what essentially amounts to one full season’s worth of carries: 276 attempts for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns. While you can’t simply project those as his numbers for this season, it still shows he has the talent. He’s also had some pretty extensive work in the passing game for a back that doesn’t specialize as a pass-catcher. If he can catch 20 balls as a backup, I am pretty confident (especially with a rookie QB) that he can catch more than 40 passes this season. He could be a top 12, every week RB1, but keep in mind that he has never been a starter (save for one small period in 2011). If he struggles early, the Jags may switch to Jordan Todman or Storm Johnson. But out of the gate it’s going to be the Toby Gerhart Show in Jacksonville.

 

19. Chris Johnson – New York Jets – 5’11″ 203 lbs

2013: 279 Att – 1,077 Yards – 6 TD / 42 Rec – 345 Yards – 4 TD

Coaching Change: None

Rotoballer-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Chris-JohnsonChris Johnson is a popular running back to hate on, having never come close to his one record-setting year (2009). However, CJ2K did manage to finish among the top 10 RBs in scoring last season, despite having only two games where he rushed for more than 100 yards.

Johnson had sneaky value as a receiver last year, catching four TD passes while still exceeding 1,400 total rushing yards. I’m not confident that he can do it again, but I think 1,200 yards is reasonable. Draft with caution–he can put up awful games against bad defenses and very good games against tough defenses. You really have to throw him out there every week and take the good with the bad, which certainly isn’t for everyone.

 

20. Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers – 5’9″ 217 lbs

2013: 276 Att – 1,128 Yards – 9 TD / 16 Rec – 141 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Does Gore have one more good year in him? Although he was a little less efficient last year at 4.1 YPC, he put together another productive season and found the end zone plenty of times. The 49ers are certainly preparing for the future with Carlos HydeKendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore, but as long as Gore proves himself capable he should still be the top back in San Fran. Playing against the stout defenses in the ultra-competitive NFC West, Gore may no longer be a “set it and forget it” running back, but he should be able to do plenty of damage against non-elite defenses. My biggest concern is just how many carries he can get with all the mouths to feed. If he can stay at or above 250 (which I am cautiously optimistic on) he will be a great value, as many pass over him due to his age.

8/17 Update: With Hunter out for the season and Marcus Lattimore struggling to come back from his injury, Gore’s path to plenty of carries is more clear. Carlos Hyde will definitely be in the mix but Gore should be seeing plenty of touches on a weekly basis.

 

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21. Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers – 6’0″ 220 lbs

2013: 285 Att – 1,255 Yards – 6 TD / 26 Rec – 189 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Frank Reich

Mathews finally provided a season that showed why he was so coveted by the Chargers when they moved up to take him 12th overall. He easily exceeded his previous high for carries, and also did well to shed his reputation as a fumbler. In the first five weeks of the season he didn’t really do much, recording a high of 73 rushing yards. From that point on he recorded seven different games of 99+ rush yards and all six of his rushing touchdowns. His best games came in the final four weeks of the season, where he averaged 27 carries for 118 yards and touchdowns in three of four games–that type of players wins championships. I’m not sure if he can do it again. His 4.4 YPC wasn’t overly impressive, and his role in the passing game was also reduced due to Danny Woodhead‘s emergence. The team now has a true #2 back in Donald Brown, and also added Marion Grice in this draft. As a result, Mathews will likely see a reduction in carries, and without a role in the passing game his effectiveness will be limited. However, based on his very strong finish to the 2013 season he remains a promising RB2 in all formats.

 

22. Ben Tate – Cleveland Browns – 5’11″ 217 lbs (formerly Houston Texans)

2013: 181 Att – 771 Yards – 4 TD / 34 Rec – 140 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Mike Pettine, OC – Kyle Shanahan

week-14-fanduel-sleepers-fantasy-footballWith enough searching you can find projections ranging from stud feature back to potential non-starter. Tate is undoubtedly talented, and showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 while backing up Arian Foster. There are some health issues, but playing through cracked ribs last season proved he is can tough things out.

There is a lot of upside, but a lot would have to go right for it to all pan out. Without Josh Gordon the Browns should be looking to run a ton, so even if rookies Terrance West or Isaiah Crowell find themselves in the mix, Tate should see plenty of action. Tate also saw a big step up in the passing game in 2013 in the few games he started. He could easily surprise people as a PPR stud with the lack of offensive options outside of Jordan Cameron. I don’t think he is destined to be a star, but I do think he can be started almost every week.

 

23. Joique Bell – Detroit Lions – 5’11″ 220 lbs

2013: 166 Att – 650 Yards – 8 TD / 53 Rec – 547 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Jim Caldwell, OC – Joe Lombardi

We arrive at the first RB2 for any team, well before the top options for a few unfortunate teams. It may seem aggressive to have both Bush and Bell ranked in the top 24 until you realize that they both finished in the top 16 last year. Joique Bell is arguably just as talented as Bush, but should see the lesser half of the split between duties. Despite the coaching change I fully expect both to continue to see plenty of touches–they are just too talented not to. While Bell’s 3.9 YPC suggests he was the worse runner, he was used disproportionately at the goal line, evidenced by his eight rushing touchdowns. Per Pro Football Focus, Bell’s percentage of targets caught and yards after the catch were better than Bush’s as well. Overall Bell may in fact be the better player, but he would have to be noticeably better than Bush to get the majority of touches, and I don’t quite expect he will be able to do that.

 

Tier 5 Running Backs

24. Rashad Jennings – New York Giants – 6’1″ 231 lbs (Formerly Oakland Raiders)

163 Att – 733 Yards – 6 TD / 36 Rec – 292 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Ben McAdoo

Jennings blew his first chance in a starting role with the Jags in 2012. When he got a second chance last year, he ran with it. During a 7-game stretch ending in week 16, Jennings averaged over 100 total yards per game with 6 touchdowns. He has parlayed that into a crack at the starting job with the Giants. While he does have the easy lead going into the preseason, I think people have underrated his competition. If David Wilson can be cleared for contact he should get a decent number of touches even if he doesn’t start. Rookie RB Andre Williams is a bruising back that put up huge numbers in college. Those two can easily put a hit on Jennings value, limiting his ability to have a major fantasy impact. Jennings did excel as a receiver last year, catching 36 of 39 targets. He should be able to grab 12-15 carries with another 3 catches or so per game which is enough for RB2 numbers if he continues to show the talent he exhibited last season.

8/17 Update: I’ve been pretty impressed with Jennings’ play in the preseason. Since the original writing David Wilson has announced his retirement leaving Jennings and Andre Williams as the two fantasy relevant backs for the Giants. Williams does not catch at all. Even if he cuts into Jennings’ carries a bit Rashad should maintain decent value with his receiving skill and makes for a nice PPR RB2.

 

25. Bishop Sankey – Tennessee Titans – 5’10″ 203 lbs (drafted via Washington Huskies)

2013 college stats: 327 Att – 1870 Yards – 20 TD / 28 Rec – 304 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Ken Whisenhunt, OC – Jason Michael

Sankey was the first rookie running back drafted, and the first one listed in the rankings. While many expected Carlos Hyde to go first, the Titans apparently preferred Sankey, and it’s easy to see why. In Tennessee he’ll be in a great situation, with little competition for the starting running back job. It would not at all shock me to see Sankey higher on this list next year. For now he is nothing more than an unknown at the professional level, albeit a very talented one with a great opportunity. The Titans believed in him enough to make him the first running back off the board and he has shown at the college level he is capable of carrying a team on his back. A best case scenario sees him with 280+ touches and 10+ TD. Once you get outside of the top 20 running backs, you have to take a chance here.

 

26. Stevan Ridley – New England Patriots – 5’11″ 220 lbs

178 Att – 773 Yards – 7 TD / 10 Rec – 62 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching change: None

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-stevan-ridleyThis next sentence is going to surprise some people BUT – In a world where Stevan Ridley has a more forgiving coach (Basically anyone but Belichick or Coughlin) he would probably be as highly regarded as Alfred Morris. Ridley has been in the league one year longer, but has just over 50 fewer attempts with the same number of touchdowns (20). They are also similarly unused in the passing game. The real surprising stat? Ridley has 9 fumbles and 6 lost while Morris has 9 fumbles and 7 lost.

If their teams were switched the rankings would probably be about an exact switch as well. But unfortunately Ridley remains on the Patriots where his leash will be very short. With LeGarrette Blount gone Ridley should resume full time duties as the feature back to start. It looks like Vereen will be almost unused as a runner. 4th round rookie James White will certainly have a shot at running duties as well, but he is 15 pounds lighter than Ridley and unproven. Ridley remains high-risk high-reward because one slip up could ruin the season for him, but if he can prevent that he has a great shot at double-digit touchdowns as a feature back.

 

27. Shane Vereen – New England Patriots – 5’10″ 205 lbs

44 Att – 208 Yards – 1 TD / 47 Rec – 427 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: None

rotoballer-fantasy-football-shane-vereenFor a while last season it looked like Shane Vereen would establish himself as a premier PPR running back. Through his first five games played (with significant time missed to injury in between) he averaged 8 receptions and 75 rec yards a game. Even mild regression from those numbers would put him on par for one of the greatest seasons for a running back in the passing game. However during the final three regular season games and two playoff games he failed to exceed those averages even once, leaving us unsure what to expect going forward. Furthermore, Pro Football Focus suggests his skill as a receiver isn’t that great. While guys like Pierre Thomas and Danny Woodhead were catching 90% of their targets, Vereen ranked near the bottom at 71% and his average on yards after the catch were also fairly low. One last negative – of the 18 backs with 40+ receptions, Vereen was 16th of 18 in missed tackles.

All of this indicates that Vereen doesn’t profile as an elite receiver and it’s not like that was his specialty in college. Nevertheless, the Patriots seem committed to using him as their pass catching back which makes him a very intriguing option. I have no doubt he is talented but I definitely want to see some improvement.

 
 
28. Trent Richardson – Indianapolis Colts – 5’9″ 225 lbs

157 Att – 458 Yards – 3 TD / 28 Rec – 265 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

It is never easy to switch teams in the middle of a season and try to learn a completely different offense, but that excuse can only go so far and Richardson’s woes went well beyond that. Richardson was seen as an elite prospect coming out of college, but this year will likely define whether he can come close to fulfilling that potential. As bad as the last season was, I remain (very) cautiously optimistic. He had a fairly high number of missed tackles considering his low carries and he was actually a very good receiver, ranking near the top in yards per catch and yards after the catch. I’m not sure how talented he is as a runner, but he should be able to split time carrying the ball while upping his receptions to around the 50 mark. If he can do that, I think he might surprise some with RB2 value. I definitely believe he will provide sneaky value as a pass catching RB this year.

Update: Trent Richardson has continued to look complete unimpressive in the first couple of preseason games. Thankfully these games don’t count so I wouldn’t put too much stock in them. It is definitely a reminder that a draft pick of Richardson could be a waste though.

 

Tier 6 Running Backs

29. Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens – 5’8″ 206 lbs

214 Att – 660 Yards – 4 TD / 58 Rec – 321 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Gary Kubiak

Wikipedia: Keith Allison - http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/3839626019/in/set-72157606560866655/I look at those numbers and I am still baffled by just how bad Ray Rice was last year. He went from being one of the premiere dual-threat RBs in the league to your fantasy bench seemingly overnight. He had just one game with a 4.0 YPC last year. What went wrong? The blocking was pretty bad for the Ravens, but even after acquiring Eugene Monroe, not much changed for Rice. He was dealing with some injuries throughout the season. Joe Flacco took a big step backward. But even all of that can’t really add up to just how poor Rice did last year. His PFF rating was dead last and it wasn’t even close. Of RBs with 200+ carries he was last in missed tackles by more than 10. He was last in yards after contact. He was slightly better as a receiver, but still ranked near the bottom in yards per catch and yards after catch.

As you can see I’m having a hard time playing the role of optimist. I’ve also basically ignored the two-game suspension that Rice faces. With all of that said, for as bad as he was last year, he was that good throughout the rest of his career. Gary Kubiak is a good offensive mind and gives hope for Rice, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented if Rice is simply at the end of his career.

8/17 Update: Rice has looked solid in the preseason. Unfortunately the two-game suspension is still an issue and if Bernard Pierce or any other back wows early on Rice could see a big decrease in touches.

 

30. DeAngelo Williams – Carolina Panthers – 5’9″ 215 lbs

201 Att – 843 Yards – 3 TD / 26 Rec – 333 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

Williams is another back on the wrong side of 30 that still shows a lot of promise. He has put up ridiculous averages as a receiver over the past two seasons, but remains criminally underused in that department. Looking at all RBs that recorded a minimum of 10 catches in 2012 or 2013, Williams ranks #1 and #2 in Yards per catch and average yards after the catch. Yet somehow the Panthers didn’t get him more involved and he caught a total of 39 balls in that span. With the Panthers losing their top three wide receivers from 2013, you’d think Williams would be in line for more receptions. At this point in the draft it is well worth drafting him on that possibility. He remained a solid runner last year as well, though I could certainly see him losing carries to Jonathan Stewart or one of the younger backs. Williams is a potential sneaky PPR guy.

 

31. Fred Jackson – Buffalo Bills – 6’1″ 216 lbs

206 Att – 890 Yards – 9 TD / 47 Rec – 387 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

Ancient for a running back (33 this year), Jackson looked done after a 2012 season which saw him hobble through injuries while seeing his worst YPC ever. At age 32 last year he bounced back to have a really solid year. Unfortunately for Jackson even the most durable and long-lasting backs rarely make it this far with continued success. When it comes to age you are far better off being pessimistic versus an optimistic view that accounts for even a slight dropoff in production. The Bills acquiredBryce Brown in the offseason which is a definite indicator that they are prepared for the worst in FJax. If he can magically defy age once again he will be awesome value this late in the draft. Realistically, all historical evidence points downward.

 

32. Maurice Jones-Drew – Oakland Raiders – 5’7″ 210 lbs (Formerly Jacksonville Jaguars)

234 Att – 803 Yards – 5 TD / 43 Rec – 314 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

On a smaller scale than Trent Richardson or Ray Rice, MJD was a pretty big disappointment last year. Without having the stats in front of you, I think most people would be surprised to see that MJD had over 1,000 total yards. As a runner, he was often dismal, but he actually remained a pretty solid pass-catcher. For what it’s worth, MJD himself has stated that he would retire if he didn’t feel he could be among the best at the position. He will get one more shot at it, and I can imagine a scenario in which he ends up as a decent RB2. According to ProFootballFocus, the Jaguars were by far the worst run-blocking team last year. The loss of Luke Joeckel and the trading of Eugene Monroe basically killed any shot MJD had a good season. The Raiders won’t be one of the best, but they should be better than the Jags run blocking last year. I hemmed and hawed over MJD or Darren Mcfadden, and finally settled on MJD as the better option. They put up similar numbers last year, but MJD was on the worse team and has been the healthier player over his career. MJD is also a better receiver, though they are both decent in this regard. As long as McFadden is healthy, Jones-Drew probably won’t see more than a 60-40 split, so his upside is limited, but I think he can be better than many expect this season.

 

33. Steven Jackson – Atlanta Falcons – 6’2″ 240 lbs

2013: 157 Att – 543 Yards – 6 TD / 33 Rec – 191 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

Jackson is very similar to Frank Gore, as an older back with a long career and a history of excellence. The difference is that Jackson did break down last season, and when he came back it wasn’t pretty. He stumbled to a career low 3.5 YPC. He did score all six of his rushing touchdowns in the final five games, so there is hope that he can be a cheap source of rushing touchdowns, even if it isn’t pretty. I’m inclined to think so, as Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are both smaller backs who are expected to have a bigger role in the passing game. Its hard to expect much out of a running back with Jackson’s mileage and age coming off a bad season, but at this point in your draft, there are very few backs with the potential for as many carries, and that should not be overlooked.

8/17 Update: Jackson suffered a hamstring injury that has kept him from participating in the preseason thus far. For an older back that dealt with injuries last year that is a major red flag. He’s still expected to be the main guy at the start of the season but he is definitely a guy I am avoiding on draft day.

 

Tier 7 Running Backs

34. Lamar Miller – Miami Dolphins – 5’10″ 224 lbs

177 Att – 709 Yards – 2 TD / 26 Rec – 170 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Bill Lazor

June Rivera - Flickr: MIA_vs_OAK_008; cropped from File:MIA vs OAK 008.jpgConsidering how terrible Miller was for several games last year – 7 different games with 20 or fewer rushing yards, including a three game stretch with 27 total rushing yards – it’s pretty impressive he managed a 4.0 YPC. The offensive line was a mess last year so its hard to say how much of it was not his fault but you can only excuse so much of a bad performance, and those several absolutely atrocious games have me worried.

With a new offensive coordinator in town, it is unclear what Miller’s role is. He has the early advantage over Knowshon Moreno, who had offseason surgery, but I don’t believe he can retain it. With an improved offensive line I believe Miller has some upside this year. He did show some talent as a receiver as well, but Moreno was among the best receiving running backs last year (granted, it was with the best offense and quarterback). Miller is one to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses. If he becomes the clear #1, his value could rise considerably.

 

35. Danny Woodhead – San Diego Chargers – 5’8″ 200 lbs

106 Att – 429 Yards – 2 TD / 76 Rec – 605 Yards – 6 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Frank Reich

Woodhead would be ranked a lot higher in a PPR league. He cracked 1,000 total yards for the first time in his career last year. The small and speedy Woodhead saw a surprising number of carries last year even despite the emergence of Ryan Mathews. With Donald Brown now part of the group, Woodhead will likely see a reduction in carries to his previous totals hovering around 75. Woodhead’s value continues to lie in his ability as a receiver. He had the second most receptions of any running back last year, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t happen again. The Chargers lack a strong set of wide receivers after Keenan Allen, and Antonio Gates is on the downside of his career while Ladarius Green is full of potential but we can’t count on him to deliver yet.

 

36. Chris Ivory – New York Jets – 6’0″ 222 lbs

182 Att – 833 Yards – 3 TD / 2 Rec – 10 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Going into last season I was very optimistic on Ivory, mostly due to a complete lack of belief in any other RB on the team, or most of the offense for that matter. Throughout the first eight games Ivory played awful and lost most of his playing time to the truly mediocre Bilal Powell. Something appeared to click after that point and Ivory became the unquestioned number one for the Jets averaging almost 5.6 yards per carry in the final 8 games! That would have put him at 1200 yards and 6 TD over a full season. That would have made him an extremely desirable option heading into 2014 but the Jets signed Chris Johnson who will at least start as the primary runner.

I don’t normally worry about handcuffing my guys, but if I were a Chris Johnson owner I would seriously consider getting Ivory as well. If Johnson flops hard, Ivory has the talent to gain serious value. It’s worth noting that regardless of how much time Ivory gets, he has zero value as a receiver with just five receptions in his career. As a runner, Ivory is talented and one of the bigger backs. He ranked fourth among all backs (min 100 carries) with 3.0 yards after contact last year.

 
 
37. Pierre Thomas – New Orleans Saints – 5’11″ 215 lbs

147 Att – 549 Yards – 2 TD / 77 Rec – 513 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: None

As a rusher, Thomas was mediocre last season. As a receiver, he was one of the most dependable players in the league, and a great PPR option almost every week. He led all running backs with 77 receptions, and perhaps more impressively, he had the highest percentage of converted targets for any back. It didn’t come out of nowhere, but it was still very impressive to see Thomas excel as a pass-catcher. While I expect Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson to take over the majority of carries, I expect Thomas to remain a key piece of the passing game. With Brandin Cooks eating up targets, 70+ receptions is unlikely, but a reception total somewhere in the 50s is more than feasible.

 

38. Knowshon Moreno – Miami Dolphins – 5’11″ 218 lbs (Formerly Denver Broncos)

241 Att – 1,038 Yards – 10 TD / 60 Rec – 548 Yards – 3 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Bill Lazor

Rotoballer-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Analysis-Knowshon-MorenoMoreno may not have been the most talented Denver Broncos RB last year, but he was the only one that could hold onto major time, and it worked out nicely for him. A lot of his value came from being in a record-setting offense where he was often set up with plenty of opportunities to score. Moreno has been one of the biggest ‘losers’ of the offseason. After having knee surgery his fantasy stock plummeted as Lamar Millergained big ground in the battle for the starting spot. I remain optimistic for Moreno for one specific reason: He was surprisingly apt as a pass-catcher and should be a better blocker than Miller. The blocking ability will go a long way in making sure he gets on the field.

Many will write off his excellent season as a receiver simply due to the fact that he had Peyton Manning throwing to him, but I think there is something more to it. As bad as the Dolphins O-line was last year, Lamar Miller had seven different games with 20 or fewer rushing yards which is simply inexcusable. The O-line can only be blamed for so much. If Moreno can show this with his on the field ability, he is in line for a lot of work.

8/17 Update: Moreno’s injury has allowed Lamar Miller to get the clear edge in the backfield, to the point that some have even speculated that Moreno could get cut. I don’t see that as likely with Moreno being a great blocker and better receiver. If anything I see Moreno’s slide as a great chance to grab him at almost no cost.

 
 
39. Ahmad Bradshaw - Indianapolis Colts – 5’10″ 217 lbs

41 Att – 186 Yards – 2 TD / 7 Rec – 42 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Part of me feels like I am not giving Bradshaw a fair shake here. Bradshaw only played three games last year, but he looked really good against the tough 49ers. It was also his only game with Trent Richardson, whom he clearly outplayed. After that, Bradshaw had season-ending neck surgery and Richardson did almost nothing. If they were both to continue their 2013 pace, the Colts would have no choice but to let Bradshaw be the main guy. Of course, things rarely work out that way. Trent Richardson will still get every chance to succeed, and I do believe he should be better. Bradshaw is coming off a season-ending injury– who knows how well he will do? A lot of potential, sure, but I also feel Bradshaw is less likely to end up in a best-case scenario compared to some other guys on this list.

update: Bradshaw hasn’t played in the preaseason but he has risen up the rankings as I am more worried we may see more of the same in Trent Richardson. Bradshaw is definitely an injury risk, but you can afford the risk this late with a guy that could very easily beat our Richardson at some point this season.

 

Tier 8 Running Backs

40. Darren Sproles – Philadelphia Eagles – 5’6″ 190 lbs (Formerly New Orleans Saints)

53 Att – 220 Yards – 2 TD / 71 Rec – 604 Yards – 2 TD

Coaching Change: None

Sproles is 31 and coming off his worst year as a Saint. At his age that would often indicate the end of fantasy relevance. But Sproles happened to land in the perfect spot with the Eagles. Yes, LeSean McCoy is easily the better back and a decent receiving back, but Sproles should see plenty of targets even as McCoy gets 40+ catches. In the high-octane offense of the Eagles I can’t help but see good things for Sproles. He’s nothing special as a runner and probably won’t see any more attempts than he did last season. But as a pass-catcher he continues to shine. His numbers were very similar to previous years with the big difference being his lack of touchdowns (seven in ’11 and ’12, just two last year). I’m a big fan of the Eagles offense and I think he can continue to see 70 receptions with an increase in touchdowns similar to the two years before last.

8/17 Update: I have cooled on Sproles a lot as I am finding it hard to find a lot of touches for him. He still maintains a nice PPR value but with LeSean McCoy around it is doubtful he gets many carries at all. It will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly uses Sproles but I’d rather err on the side of caution when drafting Sproles.

 

41. Khiry Robinson – New Orleans Saints – 6’0″ 220 lbs

54 Att – 224 Yards – 1 TD / 0 Rec – 0 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Robinson was probably the best player last season that I had never heard of. He was undrafted and impressed coaches in the preseason, which he was able to turn into some minor playing time throughout the season. It wasn’t until the final two games of the regular season and then the playoffs that he really got an extended look, and he did quite well with it. He was the lead runner for the Saints in their divisional playoff game against the Seahawks, and he performed surprisingly well. With Pierre Thomas likely primarily a receiver, there are quite a few carries up for grabs in New Orleans. And with as well as Mark Ingram played last season, I don’t believe he is that good, so the real problem with Robinson’s value lies in the Saints offense. He didn’t catch a single pass during the regular season; furthermore, the Saints simply don’t run the ball much, and they don’t use a feature back when they do. You have to go back to 2006 with Deuce McAllister to find the last Saints RB with 200 or more attempts. That prevents Khiry from being a huge sleeper, but if he can get 150 carries, he is likely to be valuable for several games in 2014.

8/17 Update: With the departure of Sproles it seems that the Saints are looking to get Robinson involved in the passing game as well.

 
 
42. Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders – 6’1″ 218 lbs

114 Att – 379 Yards – 5 TD / 17 Rec – 108 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsAs you can see, MJD and McFadden are right next to each other in the rankings. I am basically split on who is likely to end up with more touches, or if it will just be 50/50. The main factor in McFadden being further down the list is his health. McFadden has never played a full season and was playing at less than 100% for a lot of last year. I still believe a healthy McFadden could be a positive for any team in the league. That said, he has been nothing short of terrible over the past two seasons, and he could easily end up being a wasted fantasy draft pick. I do think McFadden is underrated from a talent perspective, but the risks are undeniable.

 

(NEW) 43. Jeremy Hill – Cincinnati Bengals – 6’1″ 238 lbs (Drafted via LSU)

2013 College Stats: 203 Att – 1,401 Yards – 16 TD / 18 Rec – 181 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Hue Jackson

For the 2nd straight year, the Bengals took a running back in the second round of the draft. Jeremy Hill is the perfect complement to the agile, speedy, pass-catching Giovani Bernard. Hill is a big bruiser and there should be enough RB touches to go around to make Hill a very enticing late-round draft pick. Despite Bernard’s presence it is very possible Hill could get 200 carries while being the goal line back. He did very well in the tough SEC last year for LSU and new Bengals OC Hue Jackson has to be pretty excited at being able to mix and match the two backs as needed. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 220 carries and 7 rushing TD last year as the bigger back, it would not surprise me at all to see Hill with similar numbers.

 

Tier 9 Running Backs

44. Legarrette Blount – Pittsburgh Steelers – 6’0″ 250 lbs (Formerly New England Patriots)

2013: 153 Att – 772 Yards – 7 TD / 2 Rec – 38 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

It was one heck of a year for Blount, who was completely off the radar at season’s start. With Ridley fumbling his chances away and Vereen hurt, Blount worked his way into the mix and consistently did the most with his carries. By season’s end he was the main guy, with his high point coming in a dominating performance against Indy in the playoffs (166 yards, 4 TD). Had he stayed in New England, he would have been the favorite to be #1; instead he moves to the Steelers, where he will start as nothing more than the alternative to Le’veon Bell. Blount could certainly get 5-10 touches a game while spelling Bell, but that’s not going to be enough to be an impact fantasy back. Bell did average just 3.5 YPC last year– if that continues, don’t be surprised to see Blount in a repeat of 2013.

8/17 Update: Reports indicate that Blount will be the goal line back. I still like Bell a lot more in this offense but Blount is definitely a guy to target late in drafts. He isn’t a very attractive draft pick like the rookies but he has much better chance of giving you some really nice value at some point this year.

 

45. Terrance West - Cleveland Browns – 5’10″ 225 lbs (Drafted via Towson)

2013 College Stats: 413 Att – 2,509 Yards – 41 TD / 26 Rec – 258 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: HC – Mike Pettine, OC – Kyle Shanahan

Talk about jaw-dropping numbers! Terrance West played in the D-1 FCS subdivision, so take the numbers with a grain of salt, but he nevertheless broke records. The small-school back managed to turn his success into a third-round draft pick onto a team where he will have a chance to compete for the starting job right away. As you can see with my rankings, I am a Ben Tate believer, so I don’t see West making big contributions this year. Tate does have an injury history though, and if West manages to start some games, there is a ton of upside. Very few college players get as many touches as West did and that is a little alarming– another one to keep an eye on throughout August.

8/17 Update: While West has supposedly impressed in the preseason, he hasn’t done enough to surpass Tate as the #1 back for Cleveland. He still makes for an intriguing option late in drafts but I’ve seen him go pretty high and I’m not willing to invest a decent pick on a rookie backup.

 

46. Bernard Pierce - Baltimore Ravens – 6’0″ 230 lbs

152 Att – 436 Yards – 2 TD / 20 Rec – 104 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Gary Kubiak

Ray Rice wasn’t the only disappointing RB for the Ravens. The Ravens tried to use Pierce a lot as Rice was hurt and struggling, but he somehow was a worse ball carrier. Of players with 100 carries, Pierce ranked T-53rd out of 55 (tied with Trent Richardson and ahead of the now-retired Willis Mcgahee in yards per carry). So you can understand why I’m lukewarm to the idea that he could steal the job away from Rice when Rice returns from his two-game suspension. I think it is more likely that Lorenzo Taliaferro starts a game before Pierce becomes the #1 back. That said, he is probably the only back this late with a very high chance for 15-20 carries in multiple games. Sometimes opportunity is all that matters with running back value.

8/17 Update: I remain unconvinced that Pierce is that good and I don’t see him playing well enough in the first two games to keep the starting job. He’s a nice pick if you wait on RBs and can see yourself starting him in the first two weeks but I wouldn’t draft him expecting long-term impact.

 
 
47. Devonta Freeman - Atlanta Falcons – 5’8″ 206 lbs (Drafted via Florida State)

2013 College Stats: 173 Att – 1016 Yards – 14 TD / 22 Rec – 278 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

It doesn’t get much better than to be Freeman right now. He was part of the championship Florida State team, and he followed that up by landing in perhaps the best long-term situation of any rookie RB, with a high-caliber quarterback and a job that is his for the taking by next year. For this year,Steven Jackson is still the main guy, as long as he can play well and stay healthy. Freeman is likely being set up for a role as backup rusher and battling Jacquizz Rodgers for the role of receiving back. Freeman is ranked fairly low because there is a strong chance that S-Jax is the primary back while Jacquizz Rodgers is the pass-catcher, leaving very limited opportunities for Freeman. He is one you will want to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses, though.

8/17 Update: As I’ve mentioned earlier I have some pretty big concerns about Steven Jackson. Freeman has had flashes in the preseason. I don’t see an elite running back but he is an intriguing player to consider on draft day for sure.

 

Tier 10 Running Backs

48. Donald Brown – San Diego Chargers – 5’10″ 207 lbs (Formerly Indianapolis Colts)

2013: 102 Att – 537 Yards – 6 TD / 27 Rec – 214 Yards – 2 TD

Coaching Change: OC – Frank Reich

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsI am still baffled by Donald Brown’s 2013 performance. Of all running backs with at least 100 attempts, Donald Brown finished second in yards per carry, while setting a new career-high in touchdowns!?! That doesn’t even include his two touchdowns in the postseason, at which point he’d completely overtaken Trent Richardson. Yep, the former first-round bust was one of the biggest surprises in 201, and he turned this into a nice deal with the Chargers. I’m glad he is getting paid– he earned it– but what a ding to his rising fantasy value. Feature back already in place? Check. One of the best receiving backs in the league as #2? Check. As it stands, Brown just isn’t going to see more than 5-6 touches a game. I justify his ranking on the basis of what could happen if he gets to 10-12 touches or more a game. If he can continue to show the talent he exhibited last year, he may force himself into a bigger role, which would mean fantasy potential even at just 10 touches a game.

 

49. Tre Mason - St. Louis Rams – 5’8″ 207 lbs (Drafted via Auburn Tigers)

College stats: 317 Att – 1,816 Yards – 23 TD / 12 Rec – 163 Yards – 1 TD

Coaching Change: None

NFL-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Analysis-Draft-Rookie-Sleeper-Tre-MasonI love Tre Mason. He was a touchdown machine last year in one of the premier conferences in college football. He was one of just seven players to have 300 rushing attempts in Division I last year, so I have no doubt that if he wins a starting job at some point, he can handle it. The obvious problem here is Zac Stacy, whom I am not a fan of. The Rams have claimed it will be an open competition for the starting job. While that may be true, I expect the odds to be heavily stacked in Stacy’s favor to start after his superb rookie season. That said, I think Mason should see 5-10 carries a game to start, which is enough that if he outperforms Stacy in the first few games, he could easily become the featured back. This late in the draft, Mason is one of my favorite picks based on upside. If you don’t totally buy into Zac Stacy’s talent, Mason is someone you have to be investigating.

8/17 Update: I still really like Mason, but Zac Stacy appears to have the starting job locked down. Mason is still another rookie worth taking a flier on late in the draft.

 

50. Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers – 5’10″ 235 lbs

48 Att – 180 Yards – 0 TD / 7 Rec – 44 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: None

Another disappointing, injury-marred season for fantasy frustration Jonathan Stewart. The big question is: if Jonathan Stewart stays healthy, what is he capable of? This was a guy drafted 13th overall in 2008 who started off his career with 21 total touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has had just 10 total in the last four seasons combined. I still believe a healthy Stewart can be an impact player, which is why he makes this list. Even if Stewart is healthy, for how long can he sustain it? The past two years indicate a breakdown is likely at some point, but the Panthers have one of the worst groups of receivers in the game. We may see a scenario where Williams and Stewart both get plenty of touches until Stewart inevitably breaks down. If he can give you six games of 20 touches before that happens, he’s probably more valuable than a lot of other draft picks this late. It’s also worth mentioning he has been a decent receiver in the past. While I like Williams better, Stewart could be a deep sleeper in PPR leagues.

 

(OUT) Andre Brown - Houston Texans – 6’0″ 227 lbs (Previously New York Giants)

139 Att – 492 Yards – 3 TD / 20 Rec – 103 Yards – 0 TD

Coaching Change: HC/OC Bill O’Brien

andre-brown-fantasy-waiver-week-11When on the field, Brown has been pretty productive, with 11 touchdowns in 214 career attempts. Staying on the field is a big part of the problem, which represents a clear risk to his productivity this season. However, I do think he is the heavy favorite to be the #2 behindArian Foster. Even though there is a new coach in town, the Texans have been able to use multiple backs with success. The passing game is suspect, so the backup RB should get plenty of touches. Brown has good size to be a goal-line back. Considering Foster’s health issues, Andre Brown would be one of the few handcuffs I would seriously consider in a draft.

8/17 Update: Originally an intriguing #2 to the injury-prone Arian Foster, Brown looked slow and clearly was not 100% for the Texans this preseason and was subsequently cut in favor of cheaper younger talent. He will likely find his way to another team but he is doubtful to be fantasy relevant this year.

 

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I am a fantasy baseball and football fanatic. I've been playing for 8 years now and I like to think I learn more every year. I grew up a Yankees fan but came to appreciate the sport as a whole. Follow my Twitter for more sports updates @LopsidedTrades

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