For years the strategy for winning fantasy football leagues was to draft two, if not three, stud running backs in the first few rounds but in 2013 that strategy took a pounding when “reliable” first round backs like Trent Richardson, CJ Spiller, Arian Foster and Doug Martin all fell flat on their faces. Coming in to 2014 fantasy owners are gun shy about spending a high pick on a back and honestly who can blame them? There are about 4-5 running backs this season that I feel are rock solid (barring injury), but the way the league is turning to the pass game I wouldn’t blame anyone for grabbing a receiver, quarterback or Jimmy Graham instead.
I’ll be listing the top 50 running backs but since the posts are pretty long I’m going to break them up in to two parts with running backs 1-25 in this post and running backs 26-50 here. If you missed yesterday’s quarterback rankings you can find them in the 2014 fantasy football rankings page and as always let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Who Are The Top Running Backs in Fantasy Football For 2014?1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles – McCoy and Charles are really 1A and 1B this year and if you have one of the top two picks then consider yourself lucky because the two of them make up their own elite tier. If I had to choose one, I’ll take McCoy because the Chip Kelly offense is fantasy gold and McCoy should get more touches than Charles. Darren Sproles is now in the mix in Philly so McCoy might see a slight drop in receptions, but I anticipate Sproles being used in addition to McCoy, not instead of him. McCoy is as good as it gets and would be my top overall pick this season.
2. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs – Just when you thought Charles couldn’t get any better he took a huge step up in the Andy Reid offense last season. Despite a drop in rush yards, Charles was a PPR monster, catching double the number of passes that he saw in 2012. Charles was used a ton last season and the Chiefs have already talked about working backup Knile Davis in to the mix a little more often to keep him fresh. With his game breaking ability, Charles doesn’t need to be the league leader in carries to be a fantasy stud. He’s my #2 back, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking him #1 over McCoy. *** Update *** Charles threatened a holdout early in camp but they came to a quick resolution with a 2 year, $18M contract extension. Feel free to spend a very high draft pick to acquire Mr. Charles’ services.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – When you take one of the best running backs ever and combine him with Norv Turner’s offense, that can only mean fantasy gold. Peterson had what seemed like a “down year” last season only because he was so incredible in 2012, and even though he’s 29 with a lot of tread on the tires he’s still running strong. Norv is notorious for getting his running backs involved in the passing game as well so I expect Peterson to approach a career high in receptions, which makes him an even better pick in PPR leagues. AP is still a stud and worthy of being one of the top picks off the board.
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears – Under Lovie Smith, Forte was a good running back, but never seemed to be able to take the next step. Under new coach Marc Trestman Forte was a monster setting career highs in rush yards, pass yards, touchdowns and receptions… what a difference a coach makes. Although he played all 16 games in 2013, there are still some durability concerns with Forte but none that would keep me from drafting him in the top half of the first round. I think this Bears offense has another level to reach and Forte could be looking at an even better year in 2014.
5. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers – With questions about his conditioning coming in to 2013, Lacy came at a bargain in drafts, but 1,400 yards later those questions are gone. More impressively Lacy did most of his damage while Aaron Rodgers was injured and defenses were stacking the box without a respectable pass game to keep them honest. After 284 rush attempts (5th in NFL) last season, the Packers have said that they want to reduce Lacy’s carries a bit to keep him fresh down the stretch, but with a healthy Rodgers, Lacy may not need as many carries for the same level of production. I’m not ready to place Lacy in the elite 4 at this point, but he’s a stud running back and is more than capable of joining the elite tier.
6. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys – Murray quietly had a very outstanding season last year finishing 6th overall in PPR scoring despite missing two games. Based on his history, he probably won’t play all 16 games until he learns to stop looking for contact, but the Cowboys passing game will leave Murray with a lot of room to run and with Dallas’ terrible defense they need to pound the ball to keep the opponents off the field. Murray needs to stay upright, but if he does he’s be one of the better RB1 values at his late second round draft price.
7. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers – A foot injury forced Bell to miss the first three games of 2013, but when he returned he was a beast, posting 1,259 total yards and 8 touchdowns in just 13 games. I am a little concerned about his 3.5 yards per carry average and if he wants to have a repeat year he’ll need a big volume of carries, so we’ll need to monitor how Pittsburgh uses Legarrette Blount throughout the pre-season. If Bell maintains his pace from last year he’s a 1,500 yard back with double digit touchdowns, and a sure fire RB1 in all formats.
8. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos – Knowshon Moreno is a Dolphin and Ball, Denver’s second round pick last season, is expected to win the starting job in the league’s best offense. Ball has talent, and was strong down the stretch averaging 6.6 yards per carry over the final five games, but all of that will be for nothing unless he can pass protect well enough to keep Peyton Manning upright. Ball is a more talented player than Knowshon was, and if he gets full time carries in this offense, the sky is the limit.
9. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks – Lynch is one of the best backs in football and I had him ranked 5th in my initial draft rankings, but there have been so many negative news items coming out of Seattle that I had to drop him a bit. First, there was talk of using Lynch and second year standout Christine Michael (and some Robert Turbin) in a committee, then there was talk of Lynch holding out for a new deal, and possibly retiring. So far nothing has come of the holdout news, and he has reported to minicamps as expected, but the committee alone is enough to drop him. Including the playoffs Lynch has received over 1,000 carries in the last three seasons, so there is a lot of mileage on the tires and he’s at the age (28) where many backs start to drop off. I’m not avoiding Lynch by any means, and he may have one or two good seasons left in him, but I’m only drafting him at the right cost. With running backs, I’d rather be out a year early than a year late.
10. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccanneers – After being drafted third overall in most leagues, Martin was a league average back, averaging just 76 yards and finding the end zone just once before a shoulder injury cost him the final ten games of the season. The Bucs were a mess last season and that could explain some of Martin’s struggles but backups Mike James and Bobby Rainey posted solid production in Martin’s absence so some of the blame falls on Martin himself. Heading in to 2014, there is a lot of talk about a committee situation between Martin, James, Rainey and rookie Charles Sims. New coach Lovie Smith has a history of ground and pound offenses so there is some hope for a Martin bounce back in 2014, but at a late first / early second round draft cost, I’d rather draft someone safer.
11. Arian Foster, Houston Texans – Foster had a lot of great years and won a lot of fantasy titles, but he fell off a lot in 2013 missing 8 games after having back surgery. Foster is said to be healthy coming in to 2014, and he will be the only back in Houston with long time backup Ben Tate now in Cleveland, but I’m not ready to go back to trusting Foster this season. 28 year old running backs coming off back surgery don’t age particularly well (see ESPN’s analysis of the age 27 running back cliff). Foster’s late third round ADP is a fair value, and he might have one more good season left in him but there are enough question marks that I’ll probably look elsewhere in this spot.
12. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard’s smallish frame (5’9″, 208lbs) makes me question whether he can withstand a full workload, but like Jamaal Charles, Bernard doesn’t need 300 carries to have a big season. Splitting time in 2013, Bernard’s explosive ability made him a threat to take it to the house on any play, and his fantasy football future looks bright. The Bengals drafting LSU rookie back Jeremy Hill in the second round is a concern, especially given Hill’s talent but for now I’m envisioning a 75/25 split with Hill and/or Benjarvus Green-Ellis and that should still be enough for the dynamic Bernard to perform as a low end RB1 or excellent RB2.
13. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams – After sitting on the sidelines for most of the first four weeks, the Rams’ rookie running back came out of nowhere to put up an 1,100 yard season and become a top 10 fantasy back from week 5 on. Without much of a passing game to speak of the Rams should continue to pound the rock and Stacy will benefit the most. At 224lbs he should be used in a lot of goal line situations, which gives him a good floor as well. The Rams cut last year’s opening day starter Daryl Richardson this off-season, but keep an eye on Auburn rookie Tre Mason to be sure he doesn’t force a committee situation. If he does, we’ll drop Stacy another tier, but for now he’s is a mid to low end RB1 as long as he gets full time work.
14. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals – Like Bernard, Ellington’s size makes me question whether he can be a bell cow running back, but he’s great in space and runs tougher than most people think averaging over 5 yards per carry up the middle. Ellington has very little competition for the starting job and the coaching staff vows to give him 20+ touches a game. With defenses keying on Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, Ellington should find a lot of open space and has the ability to make big things happen. Ideally I’d want him as my RB2, but he could put up RB1 numbers by year-end.
15. CJ Spiller, Buffalo Bills – If not for Trent Richardson, we’d be talking about Spiller as 2013’s biggest bust. Playing the entire season on a high ankle sprain, Spiller’s explosiveness was limited and Fred Jackson was the better back. Coming in to 2014 the Bills backfield situation is murky with Jackson and former Eagles back Bryce Brown, so we’ll need to see how the coaching staff divides the carries in the pre-season. Spiller is still the team’s most dynamic weapon and doesn’t require a ton of carries to be valuable (career yards per carry average over 5) so the RBBC might not hurt him as bad as some backs. He’s a boom or bust pick but we know what Spiller can do when he’s healthy (1,700 total yards just two years ago) so I’m willing to take a shot for the right price. If your league mates are down on him, be could be a real value.
16. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions – Despite missing two games and splitting carries with Joique Bell, Bush posted the best year of his career in 2013 with over 1,500 total yards and 80 receptions on the year. Bush is a PPR stud and is a legit threat to catch 100 passes in that offense, but he can drive fantasy owners nuts with his nagging injuries and game time decisions. Coming in to 2014 the Lions had planned on giving Joique Bell more touches to keep Bush healthier but ironically Bell has missed most of OTA’s with a knee injury. Even if he does split carries, Bush is a solid fantasy contributor who provides good numbers across the board whenever he’s on the field. Draft him as an RB1 in PPR leagues, and a solid RB2 in non-ppr leagues, but do everything you can to handcuff Bell.
17. Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans – Sankey landed in the best situation of any rookie back with the Titans starved for a run game after releasing Chris Johnson. Sankey will only have to beat out the mediocre Shonn Greene to win the starting job in what should be a run first offense under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Sankey is a solid all around back and the Titans offensive line is improved since last year. Quarterback Jake Locker needs to perform well enough to force defenses to respect the pass and if he does, Sankey should finish the year as the most productive rookie RB and should be an RB2 right out of the gate.
18. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers – The league’s best backup running back slayer, fantasy analysts have been predicting the demise of Gore for about a decade now and he’s still standing but at age 31, the end is coming sooner than later. In 2013 Gore’s yards per carry were a career low 4.1 (vs. 4.6 YPC career) but his final numbers were mostly on par with his career norms thanks to San Francisco’s 505 rushing attempts (3rd in NFL). This year Gore will be pushed by second round rookie Carlos Hyde, who is said to be looking sharp in camp but, it has yet to be determined whether Hyde can finally break through Gore’s stranglehold on the job. ESPN’s Bill Williamson (no relation) is expecting Hyde to get “significant work” in 2014, so we’ll need to keep a close eye on the 49ers backfield in pre-season. For now draft Gore as a solid RB2, but know that he’ll fall off dramatically one of these years so draft with a little bit of caution.
19. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers – Left for dead after burning fantasy owners for the three years prior, Mathews put up his best year as a pro with over 1,400 total yards and 7 touchdowns in a resurgent Chargers offense. Mathews played 16 games for the first time in his four-year career, and despite the healthy season, there will always be questions about Mathews’ durability. There’s little doubt that the Chargers will be relying heavily on Mathews again this season and if he’s on the field for all 16 games (a big if), he’s a very valuable running back. Draft him as an RB2, or very good flex.
20. Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars – Finally out of Adrian Peterson’s shadow, Gerhart signed a three-year deal with the Jaguars, letting Maurice Jones-Drew walk in the off-season. Gerhart is a big, bruising running back who can generate yards after contact, but isn’t going to run away from defenders very often. The Jags coaching staff brought in Gerhart to be their workhorse and they’re talking about 250-300 carries this year so don’t sleep on him in drafts. With that kind of workload it wouldn’t be surprising if Gerhart finishes as a top 15 back and he makes a very nice RB2 for owners who want to load up on other positions first.
21. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins – After being drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts last season, Morris saw a dramatic drop off in both yards and touchdowns with nearly 60 less rush attempts than he had in 2012. In 2014 the Redskins have a new coaching staff led by former Bengals coordinator Jay Gruden, who employed a running back by committee approach with Gio Bernard and Benjarvis Green-Ellis in his days in Cincinnati. While I think Morris will start the year as the lead back in Washington, I’m concerned that he could see yet another drop in carries this season. Gruden’s system seems to prefer faster, more elusive backs who can get to the outside quickly (like Roy Helu or rookie Lache Seastrunk), and the system may not be an ideal fit for Morris long term. Until we see how the Redskins plan on using Morris, I would draft him no higher than a mid level RB2 this pre-season.
22. Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns – Now in Cleveland, Tate is finally out of Arian Foster’s shadow and should be a lock for the starting job at least at the beginning of 2014. There are a few reasons for concern with Tate however. He has been one of the most injury prone backs in the league through the start of his career, although he does play through many of them for better or worse. The Browns also brought in two talented rookie RBs in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell and the team is already talking about giving them work (especially West) and both rookies are very capable of winning the starting job this year or in the near future. Tate is a very talented running back and is a solid RB2 as long as he keeps the job, but his health and competition pose a lot of risk so beware of drafting him like he’s a sure thing.
23. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts – Easily 2013’s biggest flop, Richardson has a long way to go to earn back fantasy owners trust. T-Rich is still a young back (just 22 years old) and mid-season trades rarely work out well for any player. The Colts are a young team on the rise, and Richardson has a chance to learn the playbook – something he claimed hampered him last season. His career 3.3 yard per carry average is a big concern, but he’s too talented to have fallen off this quickly. Right now he’s being drafted in the late 5th / early 6th round and I’m comfortable taking the shot there, but I would also have Ahmad Bradshaw close at hand just in case.
24. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots – Coming in to 2013 the Pats had planned on using Vereen in both the backfield and in the Aaron Hernandez role, which got fantasy owners in PPR leagues very excited. Unfortunately a fractured wrist suffered in week 1 cost him 8 games. Although he returned to a 12 reception, 153-yard day in week 14, he limped to the finish otherwise. Reports out of Foxboro say Vereen’s wrist is still giving him trouble, and he may have issues catching the ball, which is his primary value to fantasy owners. If he can get healthy before the start of the season Vereen is a must own in PPR, and a solid RB2 in standard leagues, but his injury situation does not sound good so we will need to watch him closely through the pre-season.
25. Chris Johnson, New York Jets – Over the last few seasons “CJ2K” has been one of fantasy football’s biggest punching bags. A victim of his own success Johnson has failed to live up to his monster 2009 season and his fantasy owners expectations. In spite of the mocking, Johnson has been one of the most consistent backs in the league, playing all 16 games in each of the last five seasons and posting no less than 1,400 total yards in any year. Now playing for the Jets, Johnson will see a somewhat reduced workload sharing carries with Chris Ivory, but Ivory has never been able to stay healthy and Johnson is the most explosive player on the Jets roster by far so they’re going to use him. Even if Ivory does mix in, CJ has proven in the past that he can put up good numbers with a limited workload and it might help keep him fresh. Drafted as the 27th running back off the board Johnson is a solid RB2 as long as you don’t expect him to live up to his career season.
Continue to part two of our running back rankings for 26 through 50.