Tiered Running Back Rankings: Top 25 in Fantasy Football

Zach Wilkens analyzes the top 25 NFL Running Backs for the 2014 season. These fantasy football rankings should help you choose the right RB on draft day.

Zach - RotoBaller
Zach - RotoBaller

The first segment of the 2014 fantasy football running bank rankings was published Monday, showcasing the top 12 running backs for 2014. Today we’re bringing you the rest of the top 25 running backs, which cover tier 3 and part of tier 4.  Running back is the most volatile position in the game, where guys can go from stars to scrubs in a single season. For example, Trent Richardson and Ray Rice were first round picks last season. They’re still somewhat relevant, but you won’t find them in the top 25 of the RB rankings for 2014.

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!

 

Editor’s Note: For more tiered rankings and analysis, be sure to check out our Wide Receiver Rankings (Top 20Top 40Top 60) and our Quarterback Rankings (Top 10Top 21Top 32Dynasty Top 15), as well as RotoBaller’s overall Standard League and PPR Rankings.

 

Tier 3 Running Backs

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 bruiser Jeremy 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.

 

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. 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.

 

17. 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.

 

18. 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. I caution you on Ellington–at the right price he is a great pick, but if you take him as a top 15 RB you may be overpaying.

 

19. 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 Hyde, Kendall 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.

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20. 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.

 

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. 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.

 

24. 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 4 Running Backs

25. 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.

 

(Tier 4 to be continued in the next RB Rankings piece)

 

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Article by Zach - RotoBaller

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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