Fantasy Football Draft Guide 2014: Running Backs
Running backs have long been the cornerstone of any good fantasy roster and this year is no different; 7 of my top 10 overall players roam the offensive backfield. But in 2014, the name of the game is positional scarcity. We already talked about the depth at quarterback this season, and wide receiver has countless potential studs, but running back gets ugly fast. Going though the list, how many RBs do you truly feel good about? 6? Maybe?
After Marshawn Lynch (who I am not sold on this season, but more on that later), there is a steep drop off at the position. Arian Foster, Doug Martin, and Demarco Murray are all walking hospitals. Zac Stacy, Monte Ball, and Giovani Bernard are all somewhat unproven second year players (albeit with enormous upside). And finally, are you really going to pin your fantasy season hopes on C.J. Spiller once again?
One of the worst kept secrets in fantasy football drafting is minimizing risk, especially early. Your top two picks are going to carry the point total load all season long, and if one of those players gets hurt or busts, you my friend are screwed. Moral of the story: GET YOUR RUNNING BACK EARLY. It’s the safest way to go. If you have a top 5 pick, there is no excuse for passing on an RB.
Yet the funny thing is, the order of the top 5 is basically drawn in sand. I have no problem drafting LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles ahead of Peterson. And Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, and Marshawn Lynch are all interchangeable as well depending on how you feel about each player.
Some plausible combinations for round 1/2:
(Pick 4) Round 1: Matt Forte; Round 2: Monte Ball
-Now that you’re stocked up on RBs, make sure to go heavy on WRs for the next few rounds before getting a Tier 3 or 4 QB.
(Pick 3) Round 1: Jamaal Charles; Round 2: Dez Bryant
-Your team is looking as sexy as can be right now, but you’ll need a reliable RB2 and high-upside WR2 before taking a QB from Tier 3 or 4.
(Pick 5) Round 1: Eddie Lacy; Round 2: Drew Brees
-Now that you have your bell cow RB and Tier 1 QB, the rest of the draft board is your playground. With WR so deep this year you should be able to find plenty of great options from here on out.
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (no. 1 overall)
As I mentioned above, I have no problems with taking Jamaal Charles or Shady McCoy ahead of Peterson in the draft. But given the choice? C’mon, give me All Day every day. First of all, the dude has never played less than 12 games in any given season over the course of his career which is no small feat considering the type of punishing style he runs with. Furthermore, AP has eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in 6 of his 7 seasons and has never scored less than double-digit touchdowns as well. The numbers speak for themselves. If we’re talking about minimizing risk, then Peterson is about the furthest thing from a red flag in fantasy.
- LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (no. 2 overall)
At this time last year, we thought Chip Kelly was a mastermind. Now, we know his offensive acumen has reached almost Bill Walsh level proportions. The up-tempo style that Philly plays allows McCoy to get a boatload of touches both on the ground and through the air. More touches means more opportunities for fantasy points, and with a year of experience in the system under his belt, Shady should be even more productive in 2014. While there is cause for concern that his reception total might dip with Darren Sproles coming to town, McCoy’s talent is far too good to let slip very far in your draft.
- Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (no. 3 overall)
In a year when Trent Richardson, Ray Rice, and Doug Martin were all picked in the same range as Charles, the Chiefs’ running back was a welcomed breath of fresh air for fantasy owners in 2013. He was the main beneficiary of the new west coast offense implemented by new coach Andy Reid, an offense that regulated his carries (259) but boosted his receptions (70). The added catches allowed Charles to get the ball in space more which led to 14 plays of 20+ yards (third most among RBs). If Charles can stay healthy this year he’ll certainly be worthy of a first round pick.
3 Guys with Breakout Potential
- Montee Ball, RB, Broncos (no. 14 overall)
Every insider around the league was bullish on Ball last year, but it turns out that they picked the wrong Broncos running back. Knowshon Moreno actually outscored the likes of Adrian Peterson, Demarco Murray, and Eddie Lacy in 2013 on his way to being the 5th best fantasy RB. But now Moreno resides in Miami and the Broncos didn’t even put up a fight to retain him. That means that they see potential in Ball who will now get the Lions’ share of the carries in 2014, especially with no top-flight competition for touches. Montee is a younger and more talented player than Moreno, which should serve him well when defenses only put 6 guys in the box to stop Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos offense. A second round selection of Ball could go a long way towards securing your league title.
- Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals (no. 24 overall)
It’s hard not to like Bernard’s potential. His elusiveness in and out of cuts and straight-line speed can get any potential fantasy owner very excited. Yet where my enthusiasm comes from with the Bengals’ RB is from his new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson; the same man who was the OC for the Raiders in 2010 and somehow managed to get 1,157 yards rushing, a 5.2 average YPC, and 7 rushing touchdowns out of Darren McFadden. McFadden also had 47 receptions for 507 yards and 3 touchdowns that season. If Bernard can even approach those numbers, he’ll be a roaring success, yet his talent makes me think he can do even better. It’s a risky proposition considering that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still in town and Cincinnati just drafted RB Jeremy Hill… but Bernard’s upside is too good to pass up.
- Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals (no. 37 overall)
If Hue Jackson is a running back guru then Bruce Arians (Arizona Cardinals Head Coach) is the exact opposite. Instead of cutting Ellington loose last season when he was clearly the best RB on the team, the aforementioned coach chose to keep feeding the rock to a washed-up Rashard Mendenhall (for over 200 carries, I might add). Now that Mendenhall retired and the combination of Jonathan Dwyer/Stepfan Taylor provides more giggles than fear to opposing defenses, Ellington should see a lot more touches in 2014. This is welcomed news to all since the Cardinals’ RB led the entire NFL with 5.5 YPC last season.
- Joique Bell, RB, Lions (no. 48 overall)
It’s hard to call Bell a sleeper because he was a well-known waiver wire commodity last season, but this could be the year where he breaks out in a big way. The only concern with Joique is that Reggie Bush will certainly siphon off touches… but guess what. The worst kept secret amongst Lions observers is that Bell is actually the better running back of the two. Now, Bush is certainly the sexier name and will be more of a factor on third downs, which does indeed provide great value. But as a runner, Bell takes the cake. His physicality between the tackles will earn him all the goal-line touches and he is the more durable back of the bunch as well. I believe that both RBs will be effective this season, but if one tails off (due to injury or otherwise), it’s not going to be Bell.
- Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants (no. 55 overall)
After the annual Darren McFadden injury last season in Oakland, Jennings made himself some money in a contract year and actually entered fantasy relevance for a bit. His big frame and punishing running style always made him a good goal line back, but when given feature back duties in 2013, he thrived. Now with a perfect opportunity in New York, Jennings has a chance to have a career year. Change-of-pace back David Wilson recently retired which leaves rookie Andre Williams as the only viable option to steal carries and that doesn’t scare much of anyone (although I do like Williams as a low risk, high reward fantasy option this year). If new OC Brian McBride can get Jennings 200+ touches, he should do extremely well as an RB2 for your fantasy team.
- Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints (no. 87 overall)
Anyone who has ever owned a Saints running back most likely has a bounty of stories to tell about the torture. Whether it was Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, or Pierre Thomas, the Saints haven’t had a reliable feature back since Deuce McCalister. But now with Sproles gone, Thomas past his prime, and Mark Ingram still Mark Ingram, it seems as though the Saints might deploy a more tradition attack this season. Enter: Khiry Robinson. As a rookie last year, Robinson only managed 54 carries but showed both explosiveness and decisiveness in his runs (4.1 YPC). I wouldn’t be surprised if his number of carries more than triples this season, and if it does, you’ll want to be the one owning him.
- Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks (no. 6 overall)
Obviously I like the guy in fantasy terms; he’s the sixth ranked player on my board. But that fact has to do more with positional scarcity rather than anything else. I’d rather have Marshawn Lynch and a respectable RB2 than have a respectable RB1 and searching the manure pile for an RB2. It’s a numbers game, and Lynch’s fantasy value benefits from it. But to tell you the truth, all signs point to the beginning of the end for Beast Mode. Since 2011, Lynch has received the most carriers in the NFL, averaging more than 300 per season. The past 15 RBs to average 300 carries for three straight seasons have seen 86 less touches the following year. Beast Mode at 200 carries is a lot less appealing than Beast Mode at 300 carries. His physicality doesn’t lend itself to aging well and I’m worried that this might finally be the year where the skittles come less frequently. It’s better to get out a year too early rather than a year too late.
- Chris Johnson, RB, Jets (no. 57 overall)
CJ2K has enough people piling on him already, but just count me among the bunch that won’t be spending a draft pick on him unless I get incredible value. First of all, speed is the first thing to go with age and Johnson just doesn’t have the same burst he did back in 2009. But what worries me most is the fact that the new Jets’ RB is among the leagues worst in yards after contact (45th out of 47 qualified backs). Not only is his speed gone, but the elusiveness has disappeared as well. To make matters worse, Johnson now has to split carries with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. I’m not falling for this trap in 2014.
- Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders (no. 94 overall)
If you think a reclamation project is in order here, think again. In 2011, Jones-Drew won the rushing title and looked to be headed for fantasy stardom for years to come. But that was three years ago, and MJD has been a shell of his former self ever since. A lisfranc injury in 2012 cost him the majority season then, and he just flat out stunk last year as well. For MJD’s similar value I can grab a guy like Khiry Robinson or Tre Mason and monitor the stat sheet instead of monitoring the injury report all season long.
RB Ranks: Top 50 (With Stock Watch)
+ = Stock Up
* = Stock Neutral
– = Stock Down
- Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (*)
- LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (*)
- Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (*)
- Matt Forte, RB, Bears (*)
- Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers (*)
- Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks (-)
- Arian Foster, RB, Texans (-)
- Montee Ball, RB, Broncos (+)
- Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (*)
- Demarco Murray, RB, Cowboys (*)
- Zac Stacy, RB, Rams (*)
- Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins (*)
- Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals (+)
- Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers (-)
- J. Spiller, RB, Bills (*)
- Reggie Bush, RB, Lions (-)
- Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals (+)
- Ryan Matthews, RB, Chargers (*)
- Frank Gore, RB, 49ers (*)
- Joique Bell, RB, Lions (+)
- Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans (+)
- Ben Tate, RB, Browns (+)
- Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (-)
- Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants (+)
- Chris Johnson, RB, Jets (-)
- Stevan Ridley, RB, Pats (*)
- Trent Richardson, RB, Colts (+)
- Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars (+)
- Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots (*)
- Steven Jackson, RB, Falcons (-)
- Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints (*)
- Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints (+)
- DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (*)
- Tre Mason, RB, Rams (*)
- Chris Ivory, RB, Jets (-)
- Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders (-)
- Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (*)
- Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins (+)
- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Dolphins (-)
- Andre Williams, RB, Giants (+)
- Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens (+)
- Terrance West, RB, Browns (+)
- Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks (*)
- Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers (*)
- Shonne Green, RB, Titans (-)
- Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles (-)
- Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals (*)
- Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers (+)
- LeGarrette Blount, RB, Steelers (*)
- Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders (*)