Today we’re following up with part two of our running back rankings and breaking down numbers 26-50. If you missed any of our position-by-position rankings you can find them on the 2014 Rankings page above. Today’s rankings won’t feature the heavy hitters like McCoy, Charles and Peterson, but this is the spot in drafts where leagues are won. Last year players like Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington were drafted in this range, and if you scooped them up in drafts then you were loaded at the position.. Who will be this year’s breakout performers at the position? Let’s continue with our rankings to find out.26. Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks – If you’re in a dynasty league with me you know that I’m a huge fan of Michael and his ability to be a star in this league should anything happen to Marshawn Lynch. With the talk out of Seattle of a committee approach, it appears the Seahawks see it too, and Michael’s time to shine could be coming very soon… especially if there is anything to Lynch’s holdout/retirement talk. If he gets the chance to be the lead back for the Seahawks, Michael has top 5 upside, so I’m drafting him everywhere I can get my hands on him. Even if he only splits carries he’s a solid flex option who could post some RB2 weeks. I’m all in on Michael this season, buy low while you still can.
27. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons – Finally getting his chance to play for a winner, Jackson missed 6 games with a hamstring injury and had his worst year as a pro. Many fantasy owners are ready to write off S-Jax for 2014, but I wouldn’t just yet. A rash of injuries made the Falcons a shell of themselves last season, making it easy for defense to key on what was left. If everyone is healthy in 2014, Atlanta should have one of the league’s best offenses and Jackson will get a lot of touchdown opportunities if nothing else. There’s always risk in drafting a 30 year old running back, but Jackson has always been a physical freak, and with an ADP of the late 9th round, I’m willing to take a shot that he has one more good year left in him. Rookie Devonta Freeman should factor in to the mix as well, but not enough to keep me away from Jackson. If he stays healthy he should be a serviceable RB2, but you’ll probably only need to draft him as a flex.
28. Rashad Jennings, New York Giants – Last season Jennings looked great as the Raiders starting back when Darren McFadden went down, posting 100 yards or more in 5 of his last 8 games. On the flipped side, Jennings looked terrible in Jacksonville two years ago when MJD went down, so I’m not really sure who the real Rashad Jennings is coming in to 2014. Jennings should begin the year as the starting back in New York, but he’s never been a full time back at any point in his career so I’m not sure how well he will hold up with full time carries. Under Tom Coughlin the Giants have employed a committee approach nearly every season, so I would anticipate rookie Andre Williams and/or David Wilson to work in to the mix, but Jennings should still get the bulk of the work. I would draft Jennings as a low end RB2 but I’m not as confident as some are when it comes to his 2014 fantasy outlook.
29. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions – Heading in to 2014 the Lions have already made it known that they want to get both Bell and Reggie Bush involved more often, which would keep both backs fresh throughout the year. Bell has been nursing a knee injury in the off-season and has been held out of OTA’s thus far. He appears to be on schedule for Lions training camp, but it doesn’t look like a sure thing, so this is a situation worth watching. If Bell does get a 50/50 or even 40/60 workload, he’s a very solid flex option and obviously a must own handcuff for Reggie Bush owners.
30. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins – Despite the signing of Knowshon Moreno in the off-season, Lamar Miller has been running with the first team in OTA’s and looks good in Bill Lazor’s system. Whether Miller’s usage is due to his own talent or the coaches sending a message to Moreno has yet to be determined. Miller is a talented back, and the offense that Lazor is installing did wonders for LeSean McCoy, so there is big upside here. Moreno is undergoing a cleanup surgery on his previously injured knee, so it has yet to be seen whether he will be available or not for week 1. If both backs are healthy we’re likely looking at a committee situation, but if Miller can take the job and run with it, he could be in for a breakout year at a cheap price on draft day.
31. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints – The chronically underappreciated Thomas finished 16th in fantasy points amongst running backs last season, but is getting no respect from fantasy owners, being selected in just the 10th round in early 2014 drafts. The Saints backfield is still crowded with Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, but with Darren Sproles in Philly, Thomas should still see plenty of work in one of the league’s best offenses. He’ll never be a breakout RB1, but for the price his level of production is hard to beat.
32. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills – At age 33 Fred Jackson just refuses to go away, posting a near 1,300 total yard season with 10 touchdowns, despite splitting time with CJ Spiller for most of the year. Spiller appears to be healthier coming in to the year and the Bills traded for Bryce Brown, so there’s a good chance Jackson’s rush attempts take a step backwards, and at his age he’s always a risk to drop off dramatically, but worst case scenario he gets work as a goal line back. I’d draft him as a flex and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another good year out of him, but it’s hard to be too confident in a repeat.
33. Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders – After years of wasting away in one of the league’s worst offenses, MJD finally got out of Jacksonville, but unfortunately for him it’s at the tail end of his career and on another struggling offense in Oakland. MJD struggled mightily last season, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry (vs. a career average of 4.6 YPC) but he blamed a lot of it on playing at too heavy a weight, and is reportedly slimmed down this season. MJD will be splitting carries with oft injured Darren McFadden, which should limit both of their numbers, but as we all know McFadden is a lock to miss games. Of the two Oakland running backs I would rather own MJD, but I’m not targeting either in any of my drafts. Unless we see Jones-Drew getting full time carries, he’s nothing more than a flex option at this point in his career.
34. Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins – The 4th best running back in fantasy last year, Moreno is now in Miami and no longer gets the benefit of teams gearing up for the Broncos passing game. What’s worse is he’s losing first team reps to last year’s starter Lamar Miller, and is undergoing minor cleanup surgery on the knee he had injured a few years back. The Dolphins are an improving offense, and upgraded their line the draft, but no matter how much they improve he’ll never duplicate his Denver days in south Florida. Assuming he starts Moreno is a flex option with RB2 upside, but I’m very concerned about the knee injury and I’ll likely target Miller instead.
35. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens – Coming off a disappointing 2013, Rice made things much, much worse with an ugly domestic abuse situation where he knocked his fiancée (now wife) unconscious in an Atlantic City casino. There is no doubt Rice will be suspended,
it’s just a matter of how long, and it’s possible Roger Goodell makes an example of him. *** UPDATE *** The NFL announced that Rice will be suspended for a pathetic 2 games. Good news for fantasy owners, but bad news for the NFL image. His current ADP is the mid 5th round, and there is zero chance I would be drafting him there and you shouldn’t either. If (and it’s a big IF) he avoids a full year suspension there is a chance we might see a return to productivity, but at this stage in his career that appears unlikely. If he comes at a major discount (round 12 or later) he’s worth a shot in drafts, but I would rather let someone else have the headache.
36. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots – If you thought Shanahanigans were awful, Bill Belichick told fantasy owners you haven’t seen anything yet. Despite being the most talented running back on the roster, Belichick played roulette with his backs for most of the year and even when Ridley did get the call, his fumbling problems put his backside on the bench far too often. In 2014 there are already rumors of Wisconsin rookie James White taking over the starting running back job, and a healthier Shane Vereen will factor in as well. Ridley does have talent, and could post a breakout year eventually, but until Belichick settles in on one lead back, Ridley just can’t be relied on. There’s upside in Ridley, but the lack of playing time is too frustrating for me to draft in all but the deepest of leagues.
37. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers – Leaving New England for San Diego, Woodhead became one of the top PPR running backs in fantasy last season, hauling in 76 passes and posting his first 1,000-yard season of his career. The Chargers backfield got a bit more crowded this off-season with the signing of former Colts running back Donald Brown, but I believe Brown was signed more as insurance for the oft-injured Ryan Mathews than to be used a Woodhead replacement. Woodhead should be a solid RB2 in PPR leagues and a flex option in Non-PPR leagues.
38. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles – Coming off back-to-back disappointing campaigns, Sproles was traded from one explosive team to another, landing in Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. At age 30 there is some concern that Sproles has lost a step or two, but Kelly has made worse players fantasy relevant so the fit is very intriguing, especially for PPR leagues. Draft him as a flex, but in that offense he could end the year with RB2 numbers, even in a limited role.
39. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – I have to be honest I didn’t want to rank DeAngelo in the top 50 because he’s simply not very good, but since it appears he’s the Panthers’ lead dog once again for 2014 I’m ranking him here by default. Williams did have a few solid games last season, highlighted by a 120-yard day against the Giants in week 3, but he’s just not consistent enough to rely on in fantasy, failing to top 50 yards rushing in 8 games last year. Trapped in a 3-way committee with a rushing quarterback, D-Will hasn’t topped 850 yards since 2009, and at age 31, I’m not expecting a breakout. His situation makes him worthy of a roster spot, but I wouldn’t want to use him for anything more than a flex at this point.
40. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers – Before the draft, there was a lot of hype for Hyde, with many draft experts ranking him as the top running back in this year’s draft. The 49ers snatched him up in the second round, leading to speculation that he’s San Fran’s newest heir apparent to Frank Gore. As I mentioned in the Gore blurb, there is talk of a significant workload for Hyde in his rookie season, but the 49ers backfield is messy with Gore, Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, so it’s far from a sure thing. Still, Hyde is the most talented and healthy of all the backups, and if he does get a lot of work could be a steal this late in the drafts. Obviously, he’s a must own handcuff for gore with upside for much more.
41. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons – Freeman is a well-rounded rookie back out of Florida State who fits in nicely with the Falcons offense. Assuming he can get the playbook and pass protection down, he’ll figure to work in right away and keep Steven Jackson fresh. While I do think Jackson has one more fantasy relevant year left in the tank, his health is no longer a given and should anything happen to S-Jax, Freeman is a must own. For now Freeman is a handcuff for all Jackson owners and a high upside back to grab in the late rounds of your draft.
42. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens – Coming in to 2013 Pierce was a trendy pick and was expected to either split carries or take the job away from Ray Rice, but instead Pierce (and the entire Ravens running game) fell flat on his face averaging a putrid 2.9 yards per carry. In 2014 he’s the obvious beneficiary of any Ray Rice suspension, but he’ll be pushed by rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro for the starting job while Rice is out. On the plus side, former Texans coach Gary Kubiak is now the Ravens offensive coordinator, and with his ability to manufacture a strong running game, Pierce (or Taliaferro) could wind up being a value in Rice’s absence. If you need a running back late in your draft Pierce is worth a flier, and there’s a chance he returns to the player we saw as a rookie, but if you’re relying on him as a starter you might be trouble.
43. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins – Helu spent 2013 as the primary backup to Alfred Morris, but 2014 brings a new coach and new opportunity for the talented, yet underachieving back to prove himself once again. In Cincinnati, Jay Gruden used a two back system and their scheme called a lot of edge rushes, which might be a better fit for a speedy back like Helu (or rookie Lache Seastrunk) who could play the Gio Bernard role in the offense, albeit a very, very poor man’s Gio Bernard. Although I think Morris is the lead back for now, I’m skeptical that Gruden will use him full time so we’re likely looking at a 50/50 split at a minimum. Draft Helu as a bench running back but don’t be surprised if he’s the Redskins most valuable running back by year end.
44. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnatti Bengals – Despite character concerns, Hill was drafted by the Bengals (of course!) in the second round of the 2014 draft, presumably to take over for BenJarvus Green-Ellis as soon as this season. At 233 pounds, Hill is a big back who can run through contact and should be a very nice complement to Gio Bernard. For this season I would expect Hill to mix in regularly, especially in short yardage situations, which could lead to a some goal line carries. If he can get regular playing time (and if the Law Firm is sent packing) Hill projects as a flex option right away and if anything happens to Bernard, Hill has RB1 upside.
45. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – The sky is blue, water is wet and Darren McFadden missed 6 games with injuries… all is right in the world. The Raiders surprisingly re-signed McFadden to a one-year deal, but their vote of confidence ended when they brought in veteran Maurice Jones-Drew to split time with him. While the Raiders may benefit from an RBBC, fantasy owners will not and this situation has fantasy frustration written all over it. If you need a running back and McFadden is still available in the late rounds of your draft it’s worth a flier to see if he fulfills the potential he always had, but if I had to choose one of the two Raiders backs I would take MJD instead.
46. Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts – In his first year with the Colts, Bradshaw started the year strong before a neck injury ended his season. Trent Richardson was a train wreck last season, and while I think T-Rich is due for a bounce back in 2014, I would also want Bradshaw on my roster just in case. Even if Richardson does return to form, I would expect Bradshaw to see the field a lot, especially on passing downs due to his receiving and pass protection abilities. There’s a lot of mileage on Bradshaw’s tires and his injury history is extensive so I wouldn’t expect the guy we saw in New York, but he should still be a solid flex, with RB2 upside if Richardson gets hurt or benched.
47. Chris Ivory, New York Jets – Ivory had a lot of buzz coming in to 2013, but the oft-injured former Saint, disappointed fantasy owners with just 833 yards on the season as he split carries with the uninspiring Bilal Powell. On a per carry basis Ivory was a top 10 back (4.6 yards per carry), but the volume just wasn’t there and with Chris Johnson in town, it would be unrealistic to expect more than 100-150 carries. Unless Johnson goes down with injury, I wouldn’t want to rely on Ivory for more than a deep league flex option and bye week fill in.
48. Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams – Drafted in the third round, Mason was brought in to be a complement to the larger and more physical Zac Stacy, giving the Rams a nice one-two punch in the backfield. Mason is a much quicker, more elusive back than Stacy, and has more big play potential… something the Rams offense sorely needed last year. While Stacy has the job for now, it wouldn’t shock me to see a time share by midseason and if Stacy struggles the job could be Mason’s by year-end. If you own Stacy (or want to steal from the Stacy owner) Mason is a must own handcuff with a lot of upside if he gets work.
49. Andre Williams, New York Giants – Williams led all of college football with 2,177 yards in 2013 and finds himself on a Giants team in desperate need of a running game. Williams is a big back and a powerful runner so he should see goal line work as a minimum but he’s a better non-PPR back because he’s an absolute zero in the passing game (at Boston College he caught 10 passes in 4 years). The Giants front office is talking up Rashad Jennings as a full time back, but he’s never proven to be able to handle a full time role for an entire year so I believe Williams (or the recovering David Wilson) should mix in quite a bit. If you’re a Jennings owner you should own Williams as a handcuff, but he makes an interesting speculation pick otherwise.
50. Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2013 was a dumpster fire for the Bucs and with a largely ineffective run game, the Bucs brought in the West Virgina rookie in the third round to back up Doug Martin. Sims is a nice running back with good quickness and excellent hands and could be used right away on passing downs. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford has already hinted at (and then denied) that he wants to rotate running backs this season and if that happens Sims could be in line for better than expected production. Draft him as a handcuff to Martin, but his upside is well worth a late round pick, especially in PPR leagues.