Running Backs

Welcome back, old school fantasy football days. The rave of quarterbacks in the first round is (or should be) over. Back are the days of a first round that should consist of all running backs and maybe one or two wide receivers. As you've read in my previous articles, the quarterback pool is deeper than JaMarcus Russell's previous gut. R.I.P Russell's belly. So running backs are the way to go and it is a necessity to draft if not one, but two or three in the first four rounds this year.

Not only is there a ridiculously deep quarterback class but the wide receiver pool is just as deep too. Greg Jennings and Cecil Shorts ranked 29th and 30th? Gimme dat value! So while you can wait for your quarterback and wide receivers, stock up on running backs this year. After the top ten to twelve running backs, it is an absolute crap shoot. How's a running back who has never played more than 13 games in a season sound? Or a guy who once ran for 2,000 yards and has yet to come anywhere close since? Or a man who held out then was injured for most of last season? Trust me, it's not good. Just ask the guy who ended up with Vick Ballard and Eddie Lacy as his starters in my first mock draft. I still cringe thinking of that.

So get your running backs. Get five or six of them and pray that two of them will turn out alright. Remember, the gap between the 1st running back and the 20th is typically around 200 points. The difference between the 1st and 10th quarterback was 74 points. The difference between the 1st and 20th wide receiver was 89 last year. Do the math. You can miss out on elite wide receivers and still be alright. You can get Tony Romo in the 10th round and be just fine. But if you wait on a running back, you might just have Ballard and Lacy. Don't wait. At last, here are the 2013 tiers.

Tier 1: The Elite
1. Adrian Peterson (ADP 1.2)
2. Arian Foster (ADP 2.4)

This is the most straight forward you can get. If you pick first or second, you will get either Peterson or Foster. And while the odds are against Peterson to replicate last season, both are clearly above the rest.

Who I want the most: Peterson. Not even a question. He really could be his own tier.

Tier 2: The Near Elite
3. Marshawn Lynch (ADP 4.0)
4. Doug Martin (ADP 5.5)
5. Ray Rice (ADP 5.5)

Lynch has proven himself over the past two seasons, Rice over the past four, and Martin, as I predicted, killed it last year. None of them have to worry about a running back committee (although Bernard Pierce will get his fair share) and all should remain top five options. No matter which one you pick, just know that they, Beast Mode, Muscle Hamster, and Little Ray boast some of the better nicknames.

Who I want the most: If you are going for year in and year out consistency then Rice is your guy. But Marshawn Lynch is second in rushing yards and third in touchdowns over the past two seasons. He should be your guy here. Seattle is committed to running the ball and Lynch will remain the center of their offense. The Muscle Hamster's stats are a bit skewed by his two monstrous games and Rice may have just enough carries taken away that Lynch should outshine them both this season.

Tier 3: The Rock Solid
6. Jamal Charles (ADP 7.1)
7. C.J. Spiller (ADP (9.3)
8. LeSean McCoy (ADP 12.7)

The rock solid backs here might just be the speediest backs in the game. Charles will get a boost with Andy Reid as his new head coach and a stable quarterback in Alex Smith. And Spiller, despite limited touches, had over 1,700 total yards and a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry. With Fred Jackson often injured, Spiller is finally the main main in Buffalo and will get plenty of touches this year. I have McCoy higher than most people but think he is bound for a comeback season. After injuries and Andy Reid not feeding him the ball enough, McCoy can only get better. The Eagles drafted Lane Johnson to bolster and accommodate a fast paced offense. So behind Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense and a revamped line, McCoy should be able to return to his 2011 form.

Who I want the most: This is a tough on but I'll take Charles. Charles is still the most proven and has just as much explosiveness as the other guys here. And imagine what having a real NFL quarterback will do for Charles. I am expecting big things this season.

Tier 4: The Borderline 1's
9. Trent Richardson (ADP 9.9)
10. Steven Jackson (ADP 16.8)
11. Alfred Morris (ADP 10.6)
12. Stevan Ridley (ADP 20.8)

Richardson has the most upside here but is the most injured of the bunch. Jackson has been a rock with eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Despite his age, he should be an upgrade over Michael Turner and he brings his pass-catching ability to the Falcon's passing attack. Morris surprised just about everyone as coach Mike Shanahan finally chose just one guy to carry the rock. But will he do it again? Ridley figures to be featured more with the New England offense that has lost Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and possibly Rob Gronkowski. Expect Ridley to be relied on in New England. And over the past three seasons, New England has the most rushes inside the 10 yard line. Get it, Ridley.

Who I want the most: Do I dare say Steven Jackson? He's still a workhorse and does not have as many question marks as the others. But Richardson is the obvious stud here. If the Browns vertical passing scheme really takes hold, expect Richardson to have plenty of room to run. But fantasy football is about minimizing your risk while still getting productivity. So I'll take Jackson.

Tier 5: The Question Marks
13. Matt Forte (ADP 18.9)
14. Maurice Jones-Drew (ADP 26.8)
15. Frank Gore (ADP 23.4)

All these guys have great track records. But the future for all of them is up in the air. Forte, while solid when healthy, has missed six games in the past two seasons. Jones-Drew's holdout and injured season raises many questions marks. Fortunately, he is still just 27 and is in a contract year. And Frank Gore is getting more and more limited in carries (just five games with 20+ carries). He also has a crowded backfield in San Francisco. 

Who I want the most: As a Packers fan it pains me to say Matt Forte. Gore has held steady but is due for more of a decline and MJD is just so uncertain at the point. Forte and the Bears' steadily improving offense should provide plenty of fantasy points.

Tier 6: The Oh Boy I Have to Take One of These Guys?
16. Chris Johnson (ADP 24.6)
17. Darren McFadden (ADP 35.8)
18. DeMarco Murray (ADP 42.2)
19. Darren Sproles(ADP 44.2)
20. Reggie Bush (ADP 46.6)

Questions marks all over the place. Can CJ2K regain his 2,000 yard season form? Can McFadden last more than 13 games? Can Murray stay on the field? Will Sproles get enough touches in the crowded Saints backfield? Can Bush put up a quality season in Detroit?

Who I want the most: Can I say none? If it's a PPR league, it's obviously Sproles. If it's a standard league, well... The Raiders, whose zone blocking scheme did not fit McFadden, are switching back to a favorable power run scheme. Bush could shine but also disappears often. And the odds of Murray staying healthy are slim. So I'll take my chances on McFadden. None of these options are safe. None of them.

Tier 7: Can We Just Draft a Quarterback Now?
21. Le'Veon Bell (ADP 66.3)
22. David Wilson (ADP 37.3)
23. Montee Ball (ADP 40.1)
24. Lamar Miller (ADP 59.8)
25. Chris Ivory (ADP 57.7)

Two rookies, two second year players, and a guy with 256 career carries. At least Ball and Bell figure to be the main guys on their teams. Wilson and Miller even have the chance to be the unquestioned starter. So maybe it is not that bad. Wilson has Spiller-like potential, Ball will take over for long-gone Willis McGahee and injury-prone Knowshon Moreno, and Bell figures to replace the horrid combo of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. And Ivory has a chance to bring his career 5.1 yards per carry average (on just 256 carries) to the pitiful New York Jets.

Who I want the most: I'll take Bell. He will be good value by the time you pick him and could put up Rashard Mendenhall hay day numbers.

Tier 8: Dear God, We're Still Going
26. Ryan Mathews (ADP 61.6)
27. Benjarvus Green-Ellis (ADP 70.9)
28. Eddie Lacy (ADP 56.5)
29. Ahmad Bradshaw (ADP 72.0)
30. Shane Vereen (ADP 86.7)
Bonus. Tim Tebow

Mathews has been a major disappointment with more broken collarbones than touchdowns last year. BGE is a slow, non-feature back and has competition with rookie Gio Bernard. Lacy could gather lots of touchdowns but is in a crowded backfield with Alex Green, DuJuan Harris, and Jonathan Franklin all in the picture. Bradshaw has Vick Ballrd and injuries to deal with. And Vereen should at least be relevant as he should take Danny Woodhead's touches.

Who I want the most: Mathews still has the highest upside here. But if Lacy wins the starting job outright, I'll take him. He could compile many of Aaron Rodger's short touchdown runs and passes and even John Kuhn's touchdowns. Lacy may not quite run for 1,000 yards, but I wouldn't be surprised to see 10 touchdowns. Just take that with a grain of salt as that number could also be 0. And you can't go wrong with Tebow. I hear the Canadian Football League has started online fantasy leagues. Oh wait, the Patriots signed him?

So there you have it. Have fun and get the aspirin ready for your running back situations. To help you out some more, here's a nice chart I made of the top running backs. It's pretty self explanatory but lets you see their consistency and ceiling based on last year's stats.

NameDouble Digit Games20+ games
Adrian Peterson138
Arian Foster144
Marshawn Lynch114
Doug Martin123
Ray Rice114
Jamal Charles93
CJ Spiller122
LeSean McCoy10/12 (4 injured)0
Trent Richardson11/15 (1 injured)1
Steven Jackson70
Alfred Morris123
Stevan Ridley92
Matt Forte9/15 (1 injured)1
Maurice Jones-Drew2/6 (9 injured)1
Frank Gore110
Chris Johnson91
Darren McFadden6/12 (4 injured)0
DeMarco Murray5/10 (6 injured)0
Darren Sproles9/13 (3 injured)0
Chris Ivory2/6 (10 no carries)0
Reggie Bush72
David Wilson2/3 (with 10+ carries)1
Montee BallN/AN/A
Lamar Miller1/2 (with 10 carries)0
Le'Veon BellN/AN/A
Ryan Mathews1/12 (4 injured)0
Benjarvus Green-Ellis7/15 (1 DNP)0
Eddie LacyN/AN/A
Ahmad Bradshaw7/15 (1 injured)2
Shane Vereen2/2 (with 10+ carries)0
Tim Tebow00


2012 Fantasy RB Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite
1. Arian Foster
2. LeSean McCoy
3. Ray Rice

Who I want the most: LeSean McCoy. I love Arian Foster. I love Ray Rice. But like last year, I really love LeSean McCoy. And after these guys, well, let's just say the running backs are a crap-shoot. These are hands down the elite, the most proven, and the closest to a surefire running back you will get this year. So why McCoy? In the explosive Eagles offense, McCoy piled up 1,600 all purpose yards and twenty touchdowns. Even if his touchdowns decrease, he will still be a top five back. "Shady" had only 273 carries last year and is just 24 years old. He also does not have a Ben Tate guy who could steal his carries. And while Rice might be the safest choice here, I'll take McCoy and his ridiculously high upside.

Tier 2: The Sigh, I Don't Get an Elite Running Back...
4. Maurice Jones-Drew
5. Chris Johnson
6. Ryan Mathews
7. Matt Forte

Who I want the most: Matt Forte. As consistent as MJD has been, this could be the year he falls off. MJD just tallied a 380 touch season and to his dismay, he has Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback. Meanwhile, Forte now heads up what could be the best Chicago offense in years. Even if Michael Bush takes away some carries, Forte will still be the center of attention. Last year, Forte was on pace to lead the league in yards from scrimmage and he has the chance to do the same. As sad as I am to say to draft a Bears player, Forte is your guy.

Bust alert: Chris Johnson. For a guy who ran for 2,000 yards in 2009, he has been on a steady decline since. His yards per carry have gone from 5.6 to 4.3 to 4.0. Will he ever run again like he did in 2009? Maybe his "get away from the cops speed" will return. Or maybe he will disappoint multitudes of owners again.

Tier 3: These Guys Might Really Be My Best Running Back?
8. Marshawn Lynch
9. DeMarco Murray
10. Steven Jackson
11. Trent Richardson

Who I want the most: Steven Jackson. He may actually go a round later than most of these guys and he should be a pretty safe pick. Then again, no one outside the top 3 is safe this year. He isn't flashy, nor is his offensive line any good, but he gets the job done. Only Isaiah Peed can take away carries but, Jackson will still be the man. Richardson has the highest upside here as will be the best playmaker on the Browns. With that said, he could be line for a Adrian Peterson rookie-like year. Then again, he is on the Browns...

Tier 4: The Hospital Bed
12. Darren McFadden
13. Jamaal Charles
14. Adrian Peterson
15. Fred Jackson

Who I want the most: Adrian Peterson. He's a freak. He's a monster. He can overcome a little ACL injury. Well, maybe. If you take a look at previous great running backs before and after ACL injuries, then you know things do not look bright. But of all the players here, Peterson is your guy. Even if he doesn't start the season healthy, he will be back sooner than later and can put up his usual numbers. Charles is splitting with Peyton Hillis. McFadden, I'm pretty sure has a spot reserved in the Oakland hospital. And Fred Jackson now has C.J. Spiller to split carries with. Go with Peterson. And pray. Lots.

Tier 5: The Okee Dokee
16. Michael Turner
17. Frank Gore
18. Roy Helu
19. Darren Sproles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw

Who I want the most: Michael Turner. Many are predicting a steep decline for Turner. While the age is there and the carries are piling up, I do not see Turner declining as much as people think. Atlanta is still a run first offense and Turner has been stellar the past two seasons. Gore is risky. So is Bradshaw. And my goodness I do not think I will draft another Redskins running back as long as Mike Shanahan is there. Roy Helu looks like the man which probably means he is indeed not the man. And Darren Sproles is a fantastic PPR option and just an average standard league option.

Tier 6: The Cedric Benson Tier
21. Benjarvus Green-Ellis
22. Reggie Bush
23. Shonn Greene
24. Jonathan Stewart
25. Ben Tate

Who I want the most: BGE. Hands down. He will get plenty of carries and will "thrive" like Benson in the Bengals pound it relentlessly offense. He has yet to fumble in his career and in the past two seasons, he has 24 touchdowns! You can definitely expect Benson-like numbers or better this season.

Bust alert: Shonn Greene and Reggie Bush. Bush has Daniel Thomas AND Lamar Miller, both of whom may cut into his carries. And Shonne Greene. Man, I'm starting to dislike this guy. My favorite sleeper the past two seasons were met with nothing spectacular. He did end the season strong, but with Tim Tebow there, he may actually lose some goaline carries. Of course, the year I predict him to do nothing is the year he will break out. Just wait, feel free to take him just because I said he will continue to be the worthless underachieving running back he is.

Tier 7: The Uninspiring
26. Jahvid Best
27. Wilis McGahee
28. Isaac Redman
29. DeAngelo Williams
30. Beanie Wells

Who I want the most: Isaac Redman. None of these guys may get through a full season. Best is the definition of a boom or bust player. McGahee is the definition of a 31 year old running back. Wells is a lock for less than 16 games and Williams will be running alongside Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. Did I convince you on Redman?

Tier 8: The Backups
31. Mark Ingram
32. Stevan Ridley
33. C.J. Spiller
34. Peyton Hillis
35. Michael Bush
36. Doug Martin

Who I want the most: Doug Martin. If only LeGarrette Blount would just go. Or fumble the ball away lots like last year. Martin has perhaps the highest upside here given he will get a good chunk of the carries. But all the guys here are great options especially if injuries happen to their counterparts.

Tier 9: What? There's Actually Starters Here?
37. James Starks
38. Donald Brown
39. Toby Gerhart
40. LeGarrette Blount
41. David Wilson
42. Daniel Thomas

Who I want the most: Donald Brown. He could be a nice surprise this season. If Andrew Luck and the offense get rolling, Brown figures to play a key role. Of all these guys, he has little competition and could be a great late round flier.

Tier 10: The Rest
43. Kevin Smith
44. Pierre Thomas
45. Shane Vereen
46. Brandon Jacobs
47. Jonathan Dwyer
48. Ryan Williams
49. Felix Jones
50. Bernard Scott

Who I want the most: Kevin Smith. He had his out of nowhere game last year against Carolina, then managed just two okay games after. He still has the highest upside of the bunch and is emerging as the possible starter in Detroit. Take a chance.


2011 Fantasy RB Tiers

1-3: Best of the Best: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster
       Player I want most: Adrian Peterson: For the past four years, he has been in the top 5 despite not ever being number 1. Even with his quarterback situation, he has never been hurt by the likes of poor quarterbacks like Tavaris Jackson so I expect more greatness from All Day.
       All of the 3 RB's here have a case to be number one and you can't go wrong with any with the exception of Foster. When it was found out Foster played all last season with a knee injury, it made his season that more incredible. Still, after just one season, he is the least proven of the three and will find it hard to match last season's numbers.

4-7: Elite: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice
       Player I want most: Jamaal Charles. He has the freshest legs of any and has an electrifying 6.0 yards per carry for his CAREER.  
       In PPR leagues, these guys are studs as they are great out of the backfield. I would elevate McCoy to 4th overall because he is bound to have lots of catches from Vick. Once again, these four are all fairly proven and have solid upside.  The only concern here is with MJD and his injuries. But if healthy, you can expect around 1,600 yards and 8-10 TD's.

8-10: Rock Solid: Rashard Mendehall, Michael Turner, Steven Jackson
       Player I want most: Steven Jackson. Often a late 1st rounder, Jackson is a mark of consistency and is unchallenged at the running back position in St. Louis. And in PPR leagues, he goes ahead of Mendenhall and Turner. Despite a career low in yards per carry for Jackson, I'll take him anytime.
       Michael Turner is my next favorite here as the Falcons constantly pound the ball with him.  Mendenhall averaged just 3.9 yards a carry last year, but his 12 TD's more than made up for it.  Why do I rank Mendenhall ahead of both then? His upside is higher and unlike Jackson and Turner, he is far from age 30. 

11-13: The Iffy Good: Frank Gore, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden
       Player I want most: Peyton Hillis. Why? He's white. 
       All kidding aside, I do not trust McFadden and every year Gore seems to be hurt. Nonetheless, this trio is decent early to mid second round options. But it would not surprise me if the Madden curse hits Hillis, Gore gets hurt, and McFadden returns to uninspiring.  
       Player I do NOT want: Darren McFadden

14-16: Matt Forte, Knowshon Moreno, LeGarrett Blount
       Player I want most: Forte. Despite being a Packers fan, I think Forte will be a great value pick and a solid option.  Blount and Moreno each have good potential, but are a little more unsure picks.

17-21: The Free Agents and Young'ins:  Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jahvid Best
       Player I want most: Green-Ellis.  With an annoyingly long name, I think the Pats will run the ball enough to get Green-Ellis some quality scores and yardage.
       What to do with Stewart, Williams, and Bradshaw? All are pending free agents and it's very hard to tell of their value till they sign.  Stewart right now looks to be the safest as he should return to Carolina where he will certainly run the ball a lot.  With Best most likely splitting carries, it will tough for him to produce.

22-25: Redemption Backs: Cedric Benson, Ryan Matthews, Shonn Greene, Felix Jones
       Player I want most: Shonn Greene. All of these backs were in some way a disappointment last season but I expect Matthews and Green in particular to put up good, if not great numbers.  Greene will be of tremendous value for where is being picked and definitely worth a chance.

26-29: Fred Jackson, Ryan Grant, James Starks, Daniel Thomas
       Player I want most: Ryan Grant. If Grant does retake the starter's role in Green Bay, I think he will pick up where he left off.  That is about 1,200 yards and 4-6 TD's. But this is a big IF.

30-37: Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Torain, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Williams, Joseph Addai, Mike Tolbert
       Player I want most: Brandon Jacobs.  If Bradshaw leaves, Jacobs will see his value spike.  Either way, for a running back committee, he certainly makes the most of it and should produce touchdowns.

38-47: The Rest: C.J. Spiller, Michael Bush, Beanie Wells, LaDanian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, Danny Woodhead, Montario Hardesty, Mike Goodson, Rashad Jennings, Ronnie Brown
       Player I want most: Not really anyone besides Woodhead. I mean, who doesn't like that little guy. He's only got 2 inches on me.  But of all of these, Spiller for sure has the most athletic potential and should see a fair amount of carries as Fred Jackson's backup. Rashad Jennings is a very necessary handcuff for MJD.