Running back has got to be the toughest position to solidify in fantasy football.
There’s a plethora of options, but only a handful of them are reliable enough to produce on a weekly basis.
Now that teams have started going to a two-back system, it’s killing the value of running backs in fantasy drafts.
It’s forcing owners to reach for the best available rushers, rather than taking the top quarterback or receiver.
Tailbacks are also the most injury-prone players.
Once you draft one, you’re almost compelled to select their backup or “handcuffed” option at the end of your draft.
There’s always cases like last year, where you can draft a player recovering from a major injury and reaping the benefits of the value being low in pre-draft rankings.
Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles were classic cases last year.
No matter what they did in the past, owners were skeptical as to how durable and effective they would be.
If you took a shot on either one of them, you were vastly rewarded.
It’s almost gotten to the point where owners can’t afford to be skeptical of players returning from major injuries, because they are so desperate to get that feature-back.
Many owners just use the strategy of drafting a running back in the first three rounds, in order to have that position somewhat locked down.
Others have found that you will get burnt taking that route and should instead go after the top receivers or quarterbacks, only to work the waiver wire for those breakout running backs later.
Both strategies have worked in the past, but option two is really starting to be the best trend.
When you’re trying to select the right tailback, there’s a couple of options that you want to look for: are they a dual threat (rushing/receiving), do they have a formidable backup that will eat into their carries total, and how important they are to their offense.
You always want dual-threat players in any fantasy sport, but elite running backs are used in the rushing and passing game.
Like I mentioned before, a lot of teams are using a two-back system.
It’s going to happen, so don’t think that it won’t.
With that being said, there are teams that have that solid feature-back that will carry the bulk no matter how talented the guy behind them on the depth chart is.
Finally, you want to analyze how important they are in their respective team’s offense.
Mark Ingram is a talented back, but he plays for a spread offense that is built on passing the ball 90% of the time.
On the other hand, a Trent Richardson is the heart and sole of a less-talented unit that needs him to be successful.
It’s a headache, trust me I know.
You really can’t afford to over-analyze the situation, because an Andre Brown or Bryce Brown can pop up win you a championship.
Let’s take a look at the top tailbacks that you have to be targeting early and often in your draft this year…
This is actually debatable in some owners’ minds. The top running back, much less the first pick in your draft, can vary based on your personal opinion. We saw how AP has a ridiculous comeback season last year, and what’s even crazier is that he wasn’t 100% healthy. Now that he is, it’s even scarier to think how much better he will be. All you need to know is that he fits everything that you’re looking for: the Vikings’ offense sucks, he is their offense, he’s a dual-threat, and he is trying to break Eric Dickerson’s record once again. Those facts alone make him the no-brainer option to go no.1 in your draft.
This guy is one of my favorite backs to draft. Out of all of the players that left the Ravens this offseason, that was the best news for Rice. After they randomly traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, his fantasy value got a steroid shot. Like the Vikings, the Ravens’ offense isn’t anything to lose sleep over. C’mon, you’re telling me that Jacoby Jones is all of sudden going to be a Pro Bowler? That’s what I thought. Rice is a dual threat, he’s a focal point of their offense, Bernard Pierce is getting a slightly increased role, but not around the red zone. Ray Rice should be the second rusher off the board, no question. Baltimore is in for a rough season, but he’ll still be productive.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Foster is undoubtedly one of the best fantasy running backs, but he has to share the spotlight with Andre Johnson and now DeAndre Hopkins. I’m not saying that the Texans’ offense is about to become the Saints, but Foster is just going to have to share some snaps with the new passing weapons. Now, this could also be a boost for him. With two receivers stretching the field and distracting defenders, that could open holes for Foster. You don’t have to worry about if he’s an elite option, just be mindful that he’s going to be part of an expanded offense this season. It also doesn’t hurt that he plays against some weak run defenses in the AFC South.
If your peers thought that you reached for this guy in the first round last year, then they were regretting that they didnt’ think of doing it first. He has the potential to be a future top two fantasy running back option, but we want to see him get over 1,000 yards first. He got close last year, but it will probably happen this year. Josh Gordon is going to be missing for the first six games after violating the substance abuse policy, so the Browns will need Richardson more than ever. He’s a dual threat, he’s the focus of the offense, and there is no competition to take carries away from him in Cleveland. You can’t go wrong with making Richardson one of the first backs off the board.
This is about the time where the dual-threat factor can be made up with reliable productivity. Don’t get me wrong, ol’ Skittles can catch a ball every now and then. Just don’t expect him to be doing it a lot. What you can expect is a player that’s going to get you around 100 yards every week. That kind of consistency makes up for not being much of a dual threat. Even with the emergence of Russell Wilson and the addition of Percy Harvin, expect Lynch to continue to be a fantasy force. Seattle is a high powered offense, Lynch is a key part of it, and he doesn’t have anyone cutting into his carries.
Who wouldn’t want a player that carries the ball 335 times in a season? You know that Mike Shannahan loves to run the ball, and Morris might be doing even more running in order to take pressure off of RG3. He can catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s not a major dual threat. What you are going to get is a player that is a key feature of his offense, is a red zone threat, and will provide consistent production. The one issue is Shannahan’s love for tailbacks. He practically collects them to the point that he could throw any of them into the mix. Morris is set to be the feature-back in Washington, which should solidify his value. A quarterback’s best friend is a strong running game, so expect Morris to get the bulk of the workload as RG3 eases back into game action.
The muscle hamster was one of the most reliable running backs last season and could move up the rankings this season. One thing about his game that you’d like him to improve on is the fact that he only had five 100-yard games. If he didn’t have that one scrimmage against the Raiders when he ran for 251 yards and 4 touchdowns, you’d probably think he had a subpar season. You started seeing him be a fantasy force in the second half of the season, which is a good sign this year. Martin will have an expanded role, with a year under his belt, and could be relied on more with Tampa’s quarterback struggles. He is more of a dual-threat, excelling in the passing game, which is why he was so consistently productive. Look for him to take his game to the next level this season, because Schiano loves to run the ball.
You’ve seen what Andy Reid can do with running backs in his system, right? Well, throw in the fact that Alex Smith is the quarterback. That all equals out to be the fact that the Chiefs are going to run the ball a lot. Charles is no slouch in the receiving department as well. His touchdown totals were down last season, but he put together an impressive season during his return from a major injury. Charles could end up having an even better season than last year. He doesn’t have any competition for carries, he’ll play a key role in the offense, and he’s a great dual-threat.
If he didn’t suffer a concussion in mid-season, he would’ve had better numbers last season. Shady is one of the best running backs in the league, but he has a couple of options going against him this year. Chip Kelly is bring his offense with him to the NFL, which favors a lot of rushing, but from everyone. Bryce Brown was productive enough last year to make him a threat to break into McCoy’s carry totals this year. McCoy will be productive as a dual threat, but he will have to spread the carries around this season. I’m not saying to not draft him, I’m just saying that he’s not a top five running back anymore.
Don’t think for a second that the Bears are just going to become purely passing offense, just because they brought in Marc Trestman. Matt Forte is one of the best dual-threat backs in the NFL and he will be utilized in any offensive system. He really hasn’t been the same type of back that he was during his rookie year, but that could all change this year. He does have Michael Bush behind him that could steal some goal line opportunities, but Forte will be a great asset for your team overall.
He started off in the doghouse after the first snap of the season, fumbling the ball too much against the Cowboys, limiting him to kickoff duties. Towards the end of the season, Tom Coughlin started to use him more. Wilson showed flashes of why he was a first round choice. He has the ability to be a dual threat, has excellent straight-away speed, and should be the feature-back for the Giants. Andre Brown made a name for himself in mid-season, but primarily in the Red Zone. He’s already starting to pick up some hype this offseason, so just make sure you’re not the person that overlooks him in the draft.
CJ Spiller Bills
-Still has to share the ball with Fred Jackson, which keeps him from consistently posting 100-yard outings. Don’t sleep on him either in the 2nd round.
Steven Jackson Falcons
-Went to a great situation with a fast-paced offense. The only issue is the fact that he’s the fourth option in the offense, behind Julio, White, and Gonzalez. Expect him to be a productive dual-threat and maybe get some cheap goal line touchdowns.
Chris Ivory Jets
-He was a highly productive dome running back. Now he goes to a horrible offense that plays outside. Ivory averages around 5 YPC, but that might not be the case with the Jets. He could see an increased role, because their passing attack is so weak, so keep an eye on him in the early rounds.
Maurice Jones-Drew Jaguars
-The once elite tailback has been injury prone the past couple of seasons. He also has attitude issues. New Head Coach Gus Bradley could fix that, bringing Seattle’s type of mindset to Jacksonville. MJD could be one of the biggest bargains this season.
Darren McFadden Raiders
-If this guy could just stay healthy, he’d be a top 5 fantasy running back. He’s playing on a contract year, which means he’ll be extra motivated to perform well and stay healthy. D-Mac is another risky value pick because of his history of injuries.
Frank Gore 49ers
-You’re just waiting for this guy to regress, but it doesn’t seem to happen. What will regress is his amount of carries, because of all of the young running backs being brought in. Gore is still a productive option, but you can wait and get him at a discount this year.
Chris Johnson Titans
-Talk about boom or bust. “CJ2K” has been the poster child for players that crash and burn after they get paid. He’s another risky pick that could end up paying off for the round that you get him at in your draft. Remember, this guy was the consensus no.1 overall draft pick just two seasons ago.
Reggie Bush Lions
-He goes to a great situation, where he can be the Reggie Bush he was with the Saints. He’ll be used more in the passing game, than the rushing, because the Lions set the league record last year for passing attempts. He also has to share the ball with Mikel Leshoure.
Lamar Miller Dolphins
-This guy was almost my sleeper, but then you’d start thinking that I was a Dolphins fan…no one in Miami is a Dolphins fan. I did cover Lamar Miller when he was at UM and he flashed ability of being an NFL feature back. Now that Reggie is out of town, it’s Miller time in Miami. Keep in mind that the Dolphins will only run the ball as much as they do in Green Bay. He’s worth taking a chance on in the mid-rounds, because he is used to carrying the ball 25+ times. He didn’t get a real chance to showcase his ability last year, so expect him to be a breakout this year.
Stevan Ridley Patriots
-He may not rack up 100 YPG, but he’ll score a cheap touchdown in just about every game. That kind of stat will get you the “reliability” label in any fantasy league. Given the issues that the Patriots’ passing game is taking, you can expect Ridley to get some extra carries early and often.
DeMarco Murray Cowboys
-If he could just stay healthy, Murray has the talent to be one of the best backs in the league. He has two problems going for him: 1. he plays for the Cowboys and 2. he plays for the Cowboys. They are all about the flash and glam of trying to throw for a touchdown every five second with Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. Murray can be productive, when healthy, but he’s no one that you need to reach for.
Ryan Matthews Chargers
-He’s a feature-back by default in San Diego, but he has never been able to stay healthy. Everyone is waiting for him to breakout, so mark this down as another year where he could be that buy-low option that you get extremely late in your draft. He can be a dual-threat, but his health is why he won’t ever crack the top 15.
Giovani Bernard Bengals
-If there’s a rookie running back to draft, it would be this guy. Yes, he still has to beat out BenJarvis Green-Ellis, but Bernard was drafted for a reason. Expect him to develop into a dual-threat and one that could be more of a second half contributor.
Montee Ball Broncos
-You saw how much he ran at Wisconsin, but just don’t expect him to go that much in the Pros. He’ll have to share the running back duties as first, but could develop into a feature back in the second half of the season. It’s still the Peyton show in Denver, but that doesn’t mean that a rushing game couldn’t factor in. Draft Ball as a late project.
Le’Veon Bell Steelers
This rookie is a big back. Pittsburgh enjoyed having a rotating system of backs last year and Bell isn’t exactly solidified as a feature back for the Black and Gold. View him as a late round pick with a lot of upside for cheap goal line touchdowns.
Isaiah Pead Rams
-If you draft this guy, it’s because you’re desperate for a running back and you’re going after anyone that is the starting back on a team.
Ahmad Bradshaw Colts
-Could be an interesting pick, as he’s been productive in the past with the Giants, but always seems to find a way to get injured. Bradshaw is an intriguing late pick, with some value.