There was a time when you could safely predict which players would finish the season as quality fantasy options at running back. Unfortunately, those days appear to be behind us as running backs struggle to stay on the field and new players emerge every season.
In 2013, several consensus RB1’s suffered through dreadful seasons as they were hit with injuries, were ineffective or some combination of the two. Fantasy owners who gambled on the likes of Arian Foster, Ray Rice or C.J. Spiller saw their fortunes plummet while player such as Knowshon Moreno (considered a 1st round bust), Eddie Lacy (a rookie) and DeMarco Murray (an injury plagued player) emerged as top players at the position.
Expect more of the same in 2014 with several question marks at the position as we enter what proves to be another intriguing offseason.
1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles – While Jamaal Charles may have been the top rated fantasy running back in 2013, McCoy lands the number one spot in my early 2014 rankings. He topped 2,000 total yards (2,047) for the first time in his career and will have just turned 26 when the season opens. The Eagles run it a lot under Chip Kelly and that should mean close to 400 touches for McCoy once again in 2014.
2. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Andy Reid turned over a new leaf in 2013, leaning heavily on Charles as both a runner and receiver. He had 259 carries in just 15 games while catching 70 passes and scoring a career-high 19 times on his way to becoming the top rated fantasy running back. Expect more of the same in 2014 although the Chiefs offensive line is a bit of a concern with left tackle Brandon Albert headed for free agency and unlikely to return.
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – A year after nearly breaking the single season record for most rushing yards, Peterson was simply solid in 2013 gaining 1,266 rushing yards and scoring ten touchdowns in 14 games. While that is impressive production, the 28-year old Peterson averaged “just” 4.5 yards per carry, the second lowest average of his seven-year career as he battled a nagging groin injury for a large portion of the season. With Norv Turner bringing his power running, play action offensive philosophy to Minnesota, Peterson is a solid candidate for a bounce-back season in 2014.
4. Matt Forte, Bears – After posting career lows in receptions (44) and yards (340) while averaging just 7.7 yards per reception in 2012, Forte was rejuvenated in his first year in Marc Trestman’s offense. He reached career-highs in rushing yards with 1,341, rushing touchdowns with nine, receptions with 75 and receiving yards with 592. Expect Forte to be used more by the Bears new coaching staff and for him to emerge as a low-end RB1 in 2013.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – Lynch put together another solid season in 2013 but he wasn’t the Beast on the ground as his rushing yards dropped from 1,590 to 1,257 and his yards per carry plummeted from 5.0 to a still respectable 4.2. You can certainly lay part of the blame for those numbers on the offensive line’s inability to stay healthy but there is no guarantee that will change next season. Lynch made up some production in the passing game, hauling in 36 receptions (his most since 2008) for 316 yards and two touchdowns (both career-highs).
6. Eddie Lacy, Packers – Green Bay used a second round pick in last year’s draft to acquire Lacy and they were rewarded. He set a franchise rookie record with 1,178 yards despite missing nearly two full games with a concussion and was surprisingly solid as a receiver with 35 receptions on 44 targets for 257 yards. At 5’11” and 230 pounds, Lacy has the ability to be the Packers first true workhorse running back since Ryan Grant. With James Starks likely to leave in free agency, Johnathan Franklin having struggled in his rookie season and DuJuan Harris missing all of 2013 due to injury, look for Lacy to average 20 plus touches once again in 2014.
7. Arian Foster, Texans – Fantasy Football is about finding value throughout your draft or auction and Foster has the potential to bring huge value to your roster in 2014. First off, the FF world is far too down on him. Secondly, he could be in line for a huge workload next season with Ben Tate all but certain to leave in free agency.
8. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers – Head coaches blow smoke all the time but Mike Tomlin’s assertion that he would have taken Bell over Eddie Lacy if he had a re-do of the 2013 rookie draft had a ring of truth to it. While not as physical as Lacy, Bell ran hard during his rookie season, finishing the year with 860 rushing yards and eight touchdowns despite missing the first three games with a foot injury that impacted his effectiveness when he returned to the lineup. He also chipped in 45 receptions for 408 yards. Add it all up and Bell should emerge as a solid RB1 in 2014 with 1,700 total yards and double-digit touchdowns not out of the question.
9. Giovani Bernard, Bengals – You’ve seen this dude play, right? You’ve seen the highlight reel plays, right? You know he’s getting way more touches in 2014, right? Future stud here, folks. Note to Dynasty Leaguers. Overpay now, smile later.
10. C.J. Spiller, Bills – A big play machine in 2012 while averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception while racking up 1,703 total yards and eight touchdowns, Spiller was arguably the biggest fantasy bust of the 2013 season. While he rushed for a respectable 927 yards, he scored just two touchdowns and was completely neutralized as a receiver, catching just 34 passes for a paltry 197 yards and no touchdowns. An ankle injury was the main cause of his disappointing season and a bounce back year in 2014 is expected.
11. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys – Murray was a pleasant surprise in 2013, reaching career highs in games played (14), carries (217), rushing yrds (1,124), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (53), receiving yards (348) and receiving touchdowns (one). Okay, the receiving touchdown was piling on but it helped prove a point. Murray was exemplary in 2013. The truth is, the Cowboys should have used him even more than they did. Here’s to hoping they get that figured out in 2014 and that Murray remains (mostly) healthy once again. Let’s face it though; this guy is unlikely to ever play in 16 games in a season.
12. Ray Rice, Ravens – The shine came off Ray Rice quickly in 2013. Expected to be a fantasy stud after averaging 1,877 yards and 9.75 touchdowns during his previous four seasons, Rice’s production plummeted as he battled a strained left hip flexor and a quadriceps injury on his way to a 981 total yards and four touchdowns. With the Ravens expected to address their shortcomings along the offensive line and Rice just 27, a bounce back season seems likely.
13. Doug Martin, Bucs – Martin wasn’t healthy in 2013 (a torn labrum ended his season in Week 6) and he wasn’t effective when he did play, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per reception. After nearly topping 2,000 yards as a rookie in 2012 (he was just 74 yards shy of that plateau), Martin is certainly worth gambling on in 2014. And with the FF world down on the Bucs and Martin, he should come at a deep discount.
14. Alfred Morris, Redskins – While Morris’ production plummeted to 1,275 rushing yards from the 1,613 he put up as a rookie in 2012, it would be foolhardy to blame the Redskins talented rusher. Not known for his pass catching ability (20 receptions in two years), his touches declined from 346 to 285 as the Redskins played from behind in several games. For fantasy purposes, Morris’ value lies in the ability of the Redskins to play with a lead. Let’s face it – nobody is banking on them winning the NFC East in 2014 and that limits Morris’ upside.
15. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Despite ceding his pass catching duties to Danny Woodhead, Mathews had a solid season in 2013. He rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards with six touchdowns and hit double digit fantasy points in nine of his last ten games, averaging 11.7 FPts for the season. While Woodhead will once again eat up playing time in passing situations, Mathews performance last season ensures that he will approach the 19.4 touches per game he had in 2013. His talent is undeniable and he managed to play in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career, making him less of a risk on draft day.
16. Zac Stacy, Rams – While Stacy will get plenty of consideration as a RB1 in 2014 given that he ran for 969 yards in 12 games after stepping into a prominent role in Week 5, lowered expectations are in order. The rookie fifth round pick owned the backfield during that stretch of games but that won’t be the case next season. Look for the Rams to add to their stable of running backs given the disappointing seasons of Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead and their lack of faith in Benny Cunningham. Cunningham had just 15 touches in six games as a backup to Stacy.
17. Reggie Bush, Lions – Bush was pretty much everything the Lions hoped he would be in 2013 with one caveat. Fumbles. Playing in 14 games, Bush amassed 1,512 total yards with seven touchdowns while adding a second big play element to the lineup (along with Calvin Johnson). Expect more of the same in 2014.
18. Ben Tate, Texans – Destination unknown but we can be pretty sure Tate and Arian Foster won’t both be back in Houston. Frankly speaking, Tate was mostly unimpressive subbing in for Foster this season, totaling 771 rushing yards in 14 games including seven starts. A subpar receiver, he totaled 34 receptions but for only 140 yards. Tate doesn’t look like he will be a value play in 2014.
19. Chris Johnson, Titans – While Johnson may have finished the season as the 9th ranked fantasy running back with 1,077 rushing yards, 345 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, he is likely to have a new home in 2014. With a large salary cap number and a reduced ability to generate big plays, Johnson will likely be released unless he agrees to a salary reduction, which he has vowed he will not accept. Regardless, he will find a home as a starting running back somewhere in 2014 and figures to be no worse than a mid-tier RB2 wherever he lands.
20. Frank Gore, 49ers – The FF world keeps waiting for Gore to fall off a cliff but he keeps resisting. He finished 2014 as the 13th ranked fantasy running back after finishing 11th in 2012 and 13th in 2011. While there is some concern he will be a cap casualty this offseason, that seems unlikely given the 49ers have a roster worthy of winning the Super Bowl. Look for the youngsters in the San Francisco backfield to eat into his playing time but for Gore to once again finish in RB2 territory in 2014.
21. Shane Vereen, Patriots – Vereen opened the 2013 season on fire, gaining 101 yards on the ground to go along with 58 receiving yards. The only issue was that he broke his wrist in that game causing him to be absent from the lineup until Week 11. When he returned, Vereen looked dynamic but he finished the season with a thud, gaining just 76 yards in his last three regular season games and 126 yards in the Patriots two playoff games. It’s all about usage and Vereen’s usage is inconsistent as is his fantasy production.
22. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – There might not be a more polarizing fantasy option at running back in 2014 than Moreno. The 2009 1st round pick finished the year with career highs in rushing yards (1,039), rushing touchdowns (10), receptions (60), receiving yards (548) and receiving touchdowns (three) on his way to finishing as the fifth ranked fantasy running back. Next season, 2013 second round pick Montee Ball and the Broncos salary cap situation stand in the way of Moreno replicating that production. While Moreno played too well not to warrant a return invitation, he rates as no more than a low end RB2 with upside in 2014.
23. Stevan Ridley, Patriots – Despite Shane Vereen’s ten-game absence from the lineup, Ridley was a major disappointment in 2013. After posting career highs in 2012 in rushing yards (1,263) and rushing touchdowns (12), Ridley managed just 773 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as fumbling issues caused the team to reduce his role. At this point, Ridley is as likely to open next season in the starting lineup, as he is to be unemployed. Okay, maybe not unemployed but there are no guarantees that he will be in New England to open the season.
24. Montee Ball, Broncos – Denver rode the hot hand at running back in 2013 and that was Knowshon Moreno. It could just as easily be Ball in 2014.
25. Andre Brown, Giants – While Giants struggled mightily for much of the season, Brown’s return from a broken leg in Week 10 helped solidify the team’s offense. In eight games, he amassed 595 total yards and three touchdowns with the Giants winning five of those games (they were 2-6 without Brown). While Brown isn’t flashy, he is effective and 2012 first round pick David Wilson might not play next season.
26. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – For all the slogging MJD took in 2013, he still finished the season with 1,117 total yards and five touchdowns in 15 games despite playing in the Jaguars putrid offense. Of course, his 3.4 yards per carry average was wholly unimpressive but at least some of that can be laid at the feet of the team’s offensive line. Either way, MJD’s days as a solid RB1 are clearly behind him at the ripe old age of 28.
27. Andre Ellington, Cardinals – Pretty much no clue where to put Ellington since there’s pretty much no clue on how the Cardinals plan to employ him in 2014. Despite being more productive than Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington had 80 fewer touches.
28. Darren Sproles, Saints – After averaging 11.6 and 10.7 PPG in 2012 and 2011, Sproles crashed landed in 2013, finishing the season with just 220 rushing yards, 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns, the lowest totals during his three-year stay in New Orleans. He missed one game with knee and ankle injuries, barely played in another due to a concussion and had three other games with five or fewer touches. Sproles will be 31 years of age on opening day and there has to be at least some concern that the diminutive back is on the downside of his career, particularly given his lack of explosiveness in 2013.
29. Steven Jackson, Falcons – While Sjax has always been a warrior, his years of heavy usage seemed to catch up to him in 2013. In his first year in Atlanta, he missed four games and most of another with a hamstring injury and certainly seemed to be playing hurt when he returned to the lineup. His string of eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards came to an abrupt halt as he finished the season with just 542 yards on the ground. A complete non-factor against the league’s better run defenses, he is no more than a RB3 in 2014 provided he is back in Atlanta.
30. Lamar Miller, Dolphins – Watching Miller run last season, you couldn’t help but feel that he was underutilized by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. With Sherman out of the picture and former Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo taking over that role, Miller is worth taking a shot on in 2014. One major caveat is what the team does to reinforce the offensive line in the offseason.
31. Darren McFadden, Raiders – Some talented players just never seem to put it together and McFadden needs to be lumped into that group. In six years in the league, he has topped 1,000 rushing yards once, he has just one season with ten or more touchdowns, he has never played in 16 games and he has topped 30 receptions just twice. In fact, he’s been such a disappointment that it will be a shock if the Raiders re-sign him, despite being flush with salary cap space and just veteran journeyman Rashad Jennings at running back. End of story.
32. Trent Richardson, Colts – Ditto for Trent Richardson. While he showed some talent and toughness as a rookie with the Browns in 2012, he was a complete non-factor in both Cleveland and Indianapolis in 2013. He topped 60 rushing yards once, averaged 3.0 yards per carry and was usurped on the depth chart by former first round bust Donald Brown.
33. Danny Woodhead, Chargers – Woodhead was solid in 2013, reaching career highs in total yards with 1030, touchdowns with eight and receptions with 76 (on just 87 targets). However, Ryan Mathews came on strong as the season ended and the Chargers figure to be healthier at wide receiver in 2014. That should add up for fewer opportunities for Woodhead next season.
34. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Consistent with prior years, it’s best to avoid the Panthers crowded backfield. If you have to go there, Williams is your man.
35. Fred Jackson, Bills – Old Freddie stole the show from C.J. Spiller in 2013, totaling 1,271 yards and a career high 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Fjax will be 33 years old when the 2014 season begins and at some point, the Bills have to hand the reins over to Spiller. There will still be a role for Jackson but he rates as a lower end RB3 for next season.
36. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – You’ve seen Giovani Bernard play, right? The Law Firm’s days as a number one back are clearly over and it won’t be a huge shock if the Bengals attempt to replace him after he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.
37. Donald Brown, Colts – Sorry, folks, I’m not a believer.
38. Rashad Jennings, Raiders – Ditto.
39. Chris Ivory, Jets – Ditto.