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2014 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit: Running Back Rankings

August 14, 2014 | By Josh Johnson | comment on this post
Eddie Lacy finally gives the Green Bay Packers a useful running game.
Can Eddie Lacy be Green Bay’s rock? (

By J.R. Anderson, Josh Johnson, Michael Seff and Nick Wagner

The 2014 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit continues to chug along as we dissect the running back position from all angles. In this cheat sheet we give you our top 50 running backs, so a have seat and take notes.

The Death of the Handcuff Running Back

Now that the running back by committee trend has swept over the NFL, it’s time to admit that a long-trusted Fantasy draft strategy is outdated. There is no longer a need to handcuff a stud running back with his backup. First of all, very few teams have an unquestioned feature back these days — probably less than 10 — so over 20 teams could be using committees. Having two committee backs from the same team is not advised, just look at how every year mental health organizations are overrun in the fall by those who drafted DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and were driven insane trying to determine which one to play each week! Who needs that kind of stress?

Another reason to abandon the handcuff backs is the lack of separation on the depth chart between the reserves behind the elite runners. If Adrian Peterson goes down in Minnesota, Toby Gerhart is no longer there to shoulder the load, leaving Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon likely splitting carries. The same possible scenario exists in Seattle, where both Christine Michael and Robert Turbin have shown enough potential to warrant extended playing time if Marshawn Lynch were to suffer an injury.

Looking at every depth chart, only four players look like decent handcuff options this year: Chris Polk in Philadelphia, Knile Davis in Kansas City, rookie Ka’Deem Carey for Chicago, and following the news that Johnathan Franklin is no longer with the Packers because of a likely career-ending injury, James Starks sneaks onto the list. Because of the possibility of timeshares, many backups will likely be drafted to be flex options higher than you typically want to draft a handcuff. While we may miss the sense of security our handcuff runners used to provide, on the plus side less security also means even more excitement awaits this upcoming Fantasy Football season. — NW

Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.

1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (5): Shady’s back and in Year Two of Chip Kelly’s magically poetic offensive scheme, he will continue to flourish and be a multi-dimensional back for your Fantasy squad as part of a nice group that Nick Foles has to throw to. Unlike other top backs, McCoy hasn’t been forced to carry the load, getting run into the ground in the process. Fresh legs… fresh offense — what more do you want from your RB? Oh, and make sure you target Darren Sproles later on in your draft to fully maximize the Fantasy impact of Kelly’s offense, as he should hawk a few receptions from McCoy. — JA

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (1): There is not much left to say about AP that hasn’t already been said. He is the best running back in the league. Period. Don’t even think about it. But being the best NFL running back doesn’t necessarily mean he is the best Fantasy RB. Peterson lacks the pass-catching skills out of the backfield to threaten the impact of other top backs such as Jamaal Charles or McCoy in PPR formats. But even with that being said and even with a new young backup chasing him, AP will rack up enough yards and TDs necessary to warrant top RB status. –- JA

3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (6): Relax, Fantasy owners, the holdout is over. Charles is a legitimate No. 1 overall Fantasy pick, a year after he led the league in total touchdowns (19) and rushing touchdowns (12). He has answered durability questions after starting 31 games over the past two seasons, and provided owners an explosion in receiving numbers with 70 catches in 2013. And a 5.6 yards-per-carry average will win your heart every time. Best of all, Charles doesn’t even need a QB to make a completion (see video below). — MS

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (11): Chicago Bears: Forte is starting to age in running back years (28), but fear not, his skills appear to be as sharp as ever. He has missed just five games in six seasons, and last year he set career highs in rushing yards (1,339), rushing touchdowns (nine), first downs (74), receptions (74) and receiving yards (594). Forte is equally worthy of your top pick, even if you cringe when you think about how often Jay Cutler might want to throw deep to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. — MS

5. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (22): The Pack believes it has a rock in Lacy. After a concussion scare as a rookie, he exploded. It seems what was ruled a concussion was more of a wake up call. Eleven TDs and 1,178 yards later, Lacy was the AP Rookie of the Year. The pressure is certainly on his broad shoulders, but are firm in our conviction that he’ll become a top five back this season. Lacy will carry teams in standard formats and his 35 receptions with appease the PPR guys. — JJ

6. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (10): After tying a career high with 12 rushing touchdowns in 2013, the 28-year-old power back held out for a while, but is now back in the fold. Okay, so the answer to the question we posed on our special Super Bowl Roundtable Podcast (can Lynch rush for 100 yards in the big game?) was a resounding “no.” So what? You know you will be getting a full season from Lynch, who has missed just one game the past four years. — MS

7. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams (NR): The Vanderbilt alum had a solid rookie year, but looks like a fringe first-rounder at this point based on the fact that his overall numbers weren’t all that spectacular last year. Stacy rushed for 973 yards in 14 games (12 starts) in 2013 with seven touchdowns, and the question is whether the Rams can open up the passing game enough to make defenses back off the line of scrimmage. He should improve on his rookie season, but isn’t likely to crack most first rounds this year. — MS

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (19): Murray looks like a solid second-round option in a year in which the Cowboys will supposedly run the football more consistently. He posted career-high numbers last year, including 1,121 yards, 10 touchdowns and 53 receptions. Murray comes with some injury risk, having missed 11 games over the past two seasons, but his talent speaks for itself. — MS

9. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (9): A battered Robert Griffin III made Morris much less effective last year, and therefore Fantasy owners should be somewhat wary of him this season. Morris is a good second tier back, but is virtually non-existent in the passing game. He caught just nine passes for 78 yards a year ago despite rushing for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns. Morris’ rushing totals were down significantly from his phenomenal rookie campaign, in which he posted 1,610 yards and 13 scores. — MS

10. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (29): When we think of Bell, the first thought that enters our heads was from Thanksgiving 2013. He scored an apparent TD but he lost his helmet, the ball and consciousness all at the same time. We bring this up because Bell didn’t miss a game after that and he found the end zone in three of the last four weeks. His 45 receptions really tell us his worth and while we don’t see him catching that many this year we know Ben Roethlisberger trusts him. Don’t get bent out shape about the LeGarrette Blount signing — he is just an insurance policy. — JJ

11. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos (28): Though the departure of Knowshon Moreno was Ball’s primary reason for vaulting to top back status in Denver, we’re not sure his talent wouldn’t have given him the same opportunity anyway. Whatever the case may be, Peyton Manning likes to throw the ball. Ball can catch the ball. Denver will score a lot of TDs. Ball will score some of those TDs. Even in Denver’s wildly generous offense, he will carve out his share of Fantasy generosity for his owners. — JA

12. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (36): It is unclear whether Bernard will emerge as the Bengals’ top running back option with second-round pick Jeremy Hill in the mix, hence us keeping Bernard out of the top 10. Bernard was a great dual threat a year ago, but could see more time in the slot this year. So will he be able to improve upon his 695 rushing yards? You might want to sit back and see if Bernard slips in your draft. He may not, but he probably isn’t worth a high selection. — MS

13. Arian Foster, Houston Texans (3): Foster led the league in carries in 2012 and broke down the next season. Tell us if you’ve heard this story before. There is plenty of history to suggest that Foster could follow the same demise of other overworked RBs such as Shaun AlexanderLarry Johnson and Jamal Anderson, but for every Christian Okoye there is an Eric Dickerson or Walter Payton. There is a chance that Foster comes back and beasts all over the stat sheets again, but he is no Dickerson and sure as hell is no Payton… but he could fall somewhere in between those guys and the countless other RBs whose careers were never the same after carrying the rock too often and running themselves right into the ground. — JA

14. Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (NR) Rookie RBs rarely provide Fantasy returns right off the bat and even with the strong rookie campaigns put together by Lacy and Stacy, We’re not sure Sankey will deliver the same impact. But given Sankey’s lack of competition on the Titans and the team’s willingness to set him free, he will certainly get the chance to prove his Fantasy football critics wrong. –- JA

15. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions (16): Health is and will always be Bush’s biggest hurdle in becoming a top-flight Fantasy RB. If you decide to roll the dice, his PPR capabilities are going to be your biggest reward — if he stays healthy. Yes, that’s a big if! Just make sure you have reliable backups and a strong faith in your Fantasy gods when drafting Bush. — JA

16. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (20): At times last season Mathews appeared to be a top 10 RB. The signing of Donald Brown added a confusing logjam to a backfield already featuring Danny Woodhead. With a fledging WR corps (besides Keenan Allen, that is), Matthews should be the focal point of the Charger offense. — JJ

17. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (7): Is this the year Spiller finally breaks out? He made 10 starts a year ago and is listed No. 1 on the depth chart ahead of Fred Jackson, but in reality, both are factors in the Bills’ rushing attack. Spiller is still a risk given that he has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier just once in four seasons (1,244 in 2012) and has scored just 10 touchdowns on the ground in his entire career. He is explosive and at age 26 this is the year he needs to prove that he is the real deal. Fantasy owners could reap big rewards, especially if they get him later on. — MS

18. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (NR): The opportunity is Ellington’s. Does he have the durability to go between the tackles? Ellington’s size might actually help him with that. Plus, he added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason. Ellington racked up over 1,000 yards in total offense as rookie despite making just one start, so bear that in mind. — JJ

19. Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars (NR): Finally, Gerhart will get a chance to make a name for himself in both NFL and Fantasy circles as the guy in Jacksonville, where he’ll get 20-plus carries a game. What he does after that is completely up to him. Gerhart has the size and has shown flashes in his limited run in Minnesota, so we would expect some good return on investment for those that draft him this season. — JA

20. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (42): We view Vereen as quite possibly the most multi-dimensional back in the NFL. Last season he was a PPR dynamo as he hauled down 47 receptions in just eight games. Lost on many was his 4.7 YPC average, so given that it’s clear he’s ready to break out. It is also a contract year for Vereen, so cha-ching! Please remember he is a Patriot and a dreaded RBBC could hamper his production at times. — JJ

21. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (12): Old man Gore refuses to quit. No reason to doubt him, right? Well, the 49ers continue to draft draft RBs, so what do you think? This is what we know: Since Gore became a starter in his second season, he has averaged at least 16.1 rushing attempts per game and gone over 1,000 yards every season (except 2010 when he had 853 yards in 11 games before fracturing his hip). He is consistent and no other back in San Francisco’s camp has prominent experience. — JJ

22. Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders (17): New life could be hatched here with MJD in Oaktown. Darren McFadden will see some carries, but we see the majority swinging Jones’ way, even if RunDMC stays healthy (like that could happen). — JJ

23. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins (27): The Dolphins appeared scared to run the ball last season. Who can blame them with such an awful O-line? Miller knows this system and that’s why we have him higher than the newly acquired Moreno. Miller also has much better big play ability. Moreno without Peyton Manning is just sauce to Miller’s steak. — JJ

24. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions (NR): A sore knee is never a good thing for a running back. Bell’s knee woe caused him to miss the start of training camp, yet he seems to be everyone’s sleeper. Before you close your eyes, however, don’t forget that Bell will be prepared for this year. Teams know his strengths and they make him work for yardage. — JJ

25. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4): After gaining over 1,900 yards as rookie in 2012, Martin destroyed his shoulder in the sixth game of his sophomore season. We expect him to bounce back, to full health at least. Unfortunately, we see Martin’s career dwindling slightly. He is still the feature back — hence his ranking — but don’t think he is going to be the next Barry Sanders or even Charles. — JJ

26. Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (NR): Another year, another crowded backfield for the G-Men. Andre Williams and David Wilson (if healthy) will loom like underclassmen hungry and ready to steal Jennings’ job. Jennings has the best hands of the bunch and the most experience. His age (29) is not a factor as he has only started 17 of his 53 career games. Jennings was a beast for a troubled Oakland offense last season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, pulling 36 receptions and racking up 1,025 yards from scrimmage. — JJ

27. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (2): What’s done is done with Rice’s domestic violation situation, at least from a Fantasy perspective. Yes, he’s likely to be vilified, but the suspension is only for two games, so he won’t drop too far in many drafts. The Ravens offense was meek in 2013 and Rice suffered through his worst season as a pro. PPR alert: he still caught 58 balls! If you avoid Rice this summer you better be sure you are going with someone else special. He is not done and we expect him to start exploding through holes come Week Three. B-more will be better and Rice will be a big reason why — regardless of his popularity decline. — JJ

28. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts (8): So many of you spat on the T-Rich casket that was the 2013 season. “See I told you, he’s a bum,” you shrieked. With mid-season trades being virtually non-existent in the NFL, we cannot truly compare Richardson’s season to someone else’s situation. Yet what will he who casts the first stone do when that rock becomes a boomerang embed in his face? Look, you can avoid Richardson all you want. Andrew Luck is still his QB and, yes, Luck has many weapons to pass to. Let us also bring up the name Ahmad Bradshaw who will play second fiddle to T-Rich now that Vick Ballard has been lost for the season. But Bradshaw is damaged goods and the expiration date is near, so don’t let him dissuade you from plucking T-Rich. — JJ

29. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints (41): Thomas is the clear front-runner for carries in the Big Easy. However, the Saints are never committed to the run. Thankfully, he had the hands to catch 77 balls last and that was with Darren Sproles as a backfield mate. With Sproles now donning a feather on his helmet in the City of Brotherly Love, Thomas has a more intriguing upside. — JJ

30. Chris Johnson, New York Jets (13): Johnson’s glory days are behind him and now he is on a new team. The Jets are doing what they can to surround Geno Smith with talent. Johnson is an upgrade and we expect he will get around 60 per cent of the workload. — JJ

31. Terrance West, Cleveland Browns (NR): Apparently, West failed the initial conditioning test at training camp. This is a very concerning situation and it should monitored. He did run wild in college and his game should translate well as long as he can take things seriously. Ben Tate is currently ahead of him but almost all backup RBs in today’s NFL should viewed as potential starters. –- JJ

32. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons (18): We didn’t like Jackson last summer yet we still ranked him 18th. We still don’t like him and now he is 32nd. There are 32 teams in NFL. Can you smell what we are squirting? — JJ

33. Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins (40): What’s troublesome about Moreno is that is already hurt and his QB is no longer named Peyton. Also, Miller appears to ready shine. Here’s the part where we quote stats but, frankly, in Moreno’s new situation, that doesn’t matter. Keep close tabs on Moreno’s injury and Miller for that matter. –- JJ

34. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles (21): Adding Sproles was a good move for the Eagles, but it will put a serious dent in his Fantasy value. We love him as he’s a mismatch nightmare and he will have his moments, but he is at best a situational flex option. — JJ

35. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (14): We labeled Ridley as a possible bust last summer. We weren’t exactly right, but his fall from grace will probably continue. #SirFumblesaLot — JJ

36. Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns (NR): Just when you think Cleveland is moving in the right direction it becomes an even bigger mess. The Johnny Manziel side-show and the Josh Gordon suspension are underscored by the patchwork running attack of the talented but brittle Tate. This is Tate’s opportunity to become a special player. He did have over 700 yards rushing and 34 receptions last season in which he mostly played through broken ribs. — JJ

37. Andre Williams, New York Giants (NR): Prior to the Combine, Williams appeared to be a shoo-in to be drafted in the second round. Then he flashed hands of stone while doing pass-catching drills. What is now clear is that Williams never had to catch a pass in college. He has now dedicated himself to becoming a better well-rounded player. We think Williams is a budding Fantasy stud, but we aren’t too high on him this season. — JJ

38. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (33): Would you really trust in a 30-something RB who is seemingly never healthy? The Panthers are, even though they swear Jonathan Stewart is healthy. Basically the only reason we ranked Williams is because he is a starter, but we would not recommend him at all. — JJ

39. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (NR): Remember Warrick Dunn? We do and Freeman will be better. He is as well-rounded as they come. Scoop Freeman up before S-Jax is off the board and minds will be blown. –- JJ

40. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (NR): If Bernard falters north-south wise, Hill could be a battering ram. — JJ

41. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (39): Bryce Brown was acquired in a trade and Jackson is not getting any younger. The good news is, Spiller sits at top depth chart and he’s had eggshell tendencies so far in his young career. — JJ

42. Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams (NR): It was hard to not love Mason as he ran wild in the SEC. We all wished our team would draft him. Right now Mason is Stacy’s backup, but his potential is enormous. — JJ

43. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers (45): PPR specialist is what Woodhead has become. He has some nice competition in San Diego these days, but his talent to elude tackles will surely garnish him many touches. — JJ

44. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (35): Former Heisman Trophy winner Ingram has had many chances. He will get another this year, but it may be his last. — JJ

45.  Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NR): Here we have a third down back with superstar potential. Sims should be on your radar late in drafts as he will be worth the roster spot. — JJ

46. LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers (NR): Blount will get drafted too high, but the only reason to own him is as a handcuff to Le’Veon Bell (if you still believe in handcuffing, that is). — JJ

47. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens (50): Pierce is extremely capable and with the Rice suspension, he has the first two weeks to prove he’s more than a backup. — JJ

48. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (15): McFadden has never played more 13 games in a season. Now he’s been reduced to a backup role and is on a one-year prove it team-friendly deal. — JJ

49. Jordan Todman, Jacksonville Jaguars (NR): Todman is clearly a backup, but spend those FAAB dollars if Gerhart gets hurt. — JJ

50. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (NR): If Gore was 28, Hyde would not make this list. But given Gore’s advancing age and the Kendall Hunter ACL tear, Hyde should see some regular carries. — JJ

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