2014 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings… or, Tiers, Not Fears

“After the laughter I guess comes the tiers…”
Photo Credit: Paul Sableman

“Tiers, Not Fears” is a series on the (worth discussing) fantasy football positions. Players are in rank order, but are grouped in tiers with players who are very close in value. Whether drafting or doing an auction, having your positions organized in tiers helps you to decide during your draft/auction if you need to strike on a positional need, or if you can afford to wait a round or two before filling a position.

The pass-heavy lean the NFL has been making over the last few years has led to fantasy running backs being more valuable than ever. Think about it. Backup players who will touch the ball seven or eight times are widely owned at only one position… running back.

Stevan Ridley is owned in 88% of leagues despite the fact that he has, like, 12 RBs that he has to share carries with in New England. Fred Jackson is owned in 51% of Yahoo! leagues. Shit, even Knowshon Moreno has found his way into 39% ownership. I don’t know if these early season ownership rates mean anything, but it does tell me that enough people, right now, are worried enough about their running back depth to own Knowshon “Naw Son” Moreno.

I’m not saying that any of those players are not worth owning. They totally, legitimately deserve to be owned in most 12-team leagues. Most leagues start two running backs. That means there’s a good chance that most teams are starting at least one back who is in a time-share on his NFL team. A dip in playing time or inconsistent touches make such platoon backs a potential liability.

It’s imperative to draft well at the RB position if you want any shot at winning your league. Usually, I go with the “best player available” approach through at least the first three or four rounds. Not anymore kid.

I went with the “best player available” method in a keeper league of mine last year, and all the worth-starting RBs were gone by round four. I had to piece-meal the position all year and ended up trading one of my “best players” for a solid RB2. If it can happen to me, it will probably happen to you.

If you are in an auction league, try to set aside at least 90-120 bones for your RB position. This way you can either get at least three upside-laden RB2 types, or a top-shelf option with a quality second-back and a flex-type third option.

The best advice I can give anyone about their fantasy football snake draft is to target at least three RBs within the first four or five rounds. You do not want to be caught offering blowies for backs (not that I know anything about that… :).

Shhhh! You hear that? It sounds like, l-like… tier drops sucka:

The Billfold Billionaires
1. LeSean McCoy
2. Jamaal Charles
3. Adrian Peterson

4. Matt Forte
They can get numbers in a variety of ways and are the focal points of their respective offenses. They’ll also cost you an arm, leg, and kidney.

Tallying over 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs last year, LeSean McCoy enters 2014 as the no. 1 overall fantasy player. Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense is built around McCoy and his tremendous all-around game. He’s had a really serious workload in his NFL career, averaging over 21 touches per game. Last year, he racked up a staggering 391 touches. Still, considering the other backs in this tier also figure to see a semi-decreased workload, McCoy’s touches shouldn’t be too much of a concern. He will still be a high-usage back with incredible game-breaking ability. And thanks to his offensive surroundings, he should have ample opportunities to rack up scores and yards in open space.

The Chiefs offense is a mess after Jamaal Charles. With a better supporting cast, he could’ve wound up as the top RB in fantasy. Yet even though Charles will be facing more stacked boxes than a UPS driver, you shouldn’t expect anything other than excellence. With over 1,900 rushing/receiving yards and 19 TDs last year, Charles proved that he can handle being the focal point of the offense despite being an undersized back. He’s a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands, so despite an expected increase in touches for Knile Davis, this Kansas City team will still be leaning heavily on Charles to carry them this season (as they should… he really is their only hope on offense).

It seems foolish to expect anything other than greatness from Peterson. Dude literally had one of the best all-time seasons for a running back after coming back from ACL and MCL tears (when people, myself included, wondered if he would ever be the same player after coming off such an injury). Yet we can’t forget that this is the NFL, and all RBs come with an expiration date (even the all-time greats). Peterson is 29 years old and has amassed over 2,000 NFL carries. While Peterson had another great season in 2013, he didn’t look as explosive or dominant as in years past. That’s not to say he wasn’t one of the more brilliant backs in football last year, but the fact that he took a step back is a concern. I’m not the only one who saw this. New Vikings OC Norv Turner has already gone on record as saying that they are planning to use AP a bit differently to get him the ball in the open field more (by getting him more involved in the passing game). Turning some of his in-between-the-tackle runs into dump off passes should help keep Peterson fresh and will actually increase his fantasy value by giving him more receptions and allowing him to use his dangerous gifts to blow past (or through) opposing defensive backs and linebackers. While I don’t see Peterson as the clear-cut no. 1 player in fantasy anymore, I think the creative Turner (who has a history of getting the best out of his backs) will still keep AP in elite territory and just a smidge below Shady McCoy and Charles.

The Bears are now armed with a dynamic pass offense, but don’t think that they’ll just stop going to the Matt Forte well. In fact, because Forte is so heavily involved in the passing game, he could again wind up with 70 catches. Like Charles, Forte topped over 1,900 yards from scrimmage in 2013. While he doesn’t have the HR ability of a Charles or McCoy, Forte firmly belongs in this tier due to his volume of touches, opportunities to have the ball in the open field, and consistency. He also no longer has to worry about ceding all the goal-line carries in Chicago as nine of his 12 TDs last year came from within six yards.

The “Can’t Be Mad” Committee
5. Eddie Lacy
6. Marshawn Lynch
7. Montee Ball
8. Andre Ellington
9. DeMarco Murray
10. Giovani Bernard
If you miss out on the top three RBs, you really can’t complain about landing these “consolation prizes.”

Prior to last year, the Packers ran through middling RBs like it was nothing. Then Eddie Lacy came along and rumbled for over 1,400 yards and 11 TDs in 2013. The power back figures to see the lion’s share of the carries in Green Bay’s backfield, and is a lock for goal-line duties. While there’s a lot to love about Lacy from a pure talent/workload perspective, there are some drawbacks. Green Bay’s run-blocking unit is shaping up to be a below-average one, and the Packers also figure to throw it a ton with Aaron Rodgers. Also of note is Lacy’s injury history. He battled a tender ankle most of last year, and was injury-prone in his college career. Overall, I think the per-game production of Lacy will prove fruitful, but he could also wind up being one of those annoying players to own who is always battling some injury.

The allure of drafting someone who has gotten the job done the last couple of years sometimes lures fantasy owners into ignoring the warning signs of a player on the precipice of decline. This might wind up being the case with Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks are coming into the season running a run-heavy approach again, and why not? It won them a Super Bowl. Problem is, the Seahawks offensive line is not as good at run blocking as they’ve been in years past. It’s a unit that has been wrecked by injuries and inconsistency. Another issue: Lynch’s workload. Dude has rocked over 300 touches each of the last three years and is an in-between-the-tackles bruiser who has taken a beating in his pro career. Seattle is in love with the development of upside-repping Christine Michael, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lynch’s carries go down in 2014 (albeit slightly). There is no denying that Lynch comes into the season as a heavy-usage, TD-friendly fantasy RB, but because of the aforementioned concerns, he’s not as safe a pick he has been the last couple of years.

The hype on Montee Ball was pretty serious last year, and the owner who took him with an early-mid-round pick got nothing to show for their faith. In 2014, the hype has become deafening. Ball is going regularly as a late-first-round/early-second-round pick. The Broncos have a world-class offense that should give the strong, all-around back ample goal-line opportunities and plenty of space to work in. Ball himself isn’t elite in one facet of his game, but can do it all and has the size to presumably handle feature back duties. The key with Ball will be how he handles pass protection. If you remember, the reason Knowshon Moreno was even given an opportunity for bell cow duties last year was because he was the only back on the roster who could be trusted to protect Peyton Manning. Both Ball and Ronnie Hillman consistently blew assignments and allowed pressure to reach their star QB.  By all accounts, Ball has improved his pass pro (as well as other parts of his game) and is seen as the unquestioned starter in Denver. However, will all those positive feelings remain if he gets Peyton Manning blown up Week One on a missed block? I think Ball belongs in this tier because of his amazing opportunity in this offense and because he is the best back Denver has. Yet his floor could end up being rather low if he isn’t on point with his blocking in passing downs.

No one has a problem with Ellington’s talent, but the big question seems to surround how much playing time Arizona will give him. He is a smaller back, and despite clearly being the best RB on Arizona’s roster last year, they were hesitant about using him as a true feature back. To be fair, Bruce Arians has actually uttered the word “bell-cow” to describe Ellington coming into the 2014, so there is hope that Ellington will see 20 or more touches per game. It would make sense. An explosive player with soft hands who can kill opposing defenses in open space, it’s possible the Cards can make him a featured player without worrying too much about the beating he’ll take. That could mean five catches and 15 carries a game for Ellington. Keep in mind that he averaged just 10.47 touches a game last year and still generated 68.2 yards a game. If you extrapolate that production over even just 18 touches a week, you are talking about 115-plus yards a game. Ellington’s talent is legit, and he doesn’t need 20-plus touches a week to provide RB1 production. Granted, the TDs may not come in bunches as the Cards could go with a couple of other options in goal-line situations, but regardless, he should put up enough numbers all around to be a weekly stalwart in fantasy lineups.

The Cowboys are simply a better football team when DeMarco Murray gets a lot of work, and Dallas knows it. The team is 11-0 during Murray’s career whenever he sees 20 or more carries. Dallas’ offensive line, while leaky when protecting Tony Romo, actually shines in run-blocking, and that helped Murray amass 1,474 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs last year. New OC Scott Linehan has already said the team will focus on getting him the ball plenty in 2014. While all the stars point to a productive campaign for Murray, he has one chief obstacle to overcome that always seems to hold him back: his health. Injury-prone throughout the duration of his NFL career, the prospects of a big workload can be seen as a detriment to his fantasy value. Dallas is certainly not abandoning the pass as they have the personnel to be one of the better aerial offenses in football. Yet if they do plan on leaning on Murray to lead the way, his risk of injury certainly increases. The draft day price for Murray is perfectly reasonable, but try to draft an extra RB so that you have the depth necessary to cover for Murray in the event that he misses time.

The Bengals will be employing a run-heavy offense and Gio Bernard should be the primary ball carrier between the 20s. Much has been made of his explosive ability, and the Bengals plan to take advantage of it. They are lining Bernard up in the slot and seem committed to get him very involved in the passing game to get him in open space. Jeremy Hill figures to siphon most of the goal-line carries and will probably see double-digit touches per game, but if Cincinnati runs it as much as everyone expects them to, that should still leave the supremely talented Bernard with enough touches to be an RB1-caliber fantasy option.

The “Touch-Dependent” Terrorists
11. Le’Veon Bell
12. Alfred Morris
13. Zac Stacy
14. Toby Gerhart

15. C.J. Spiller
16. Ryan Mathews
There’s no denying the talent that each of these RBs possess, but there are some questions about how consistently they will be featured in the offense.

Le’Veon Bell is a poor, or should I say “slightly less rich man’s” Matt Forte. He’s an all-around back who should be a consistent point-earner in 2014. Despite a 3.5 YPC last season, Bell averaged 3.5 receptions and 96.9 yards from scrimmage a game. That’s over 12 PPR points per game and that’s without factoring in TDs (he had eight in 13 games last year). Of course, TDs is where things get complicated for Bell. LeGarrette Blount is not a legit goal-line threat. In fact, the Blount Object has been pretty poor in short-yardage situations throughout his career. That said, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin has come out and said that both Blount and Bell will “get their share.” Not only that, Bell himself has said that Blount is the likely goal-line back in Pittsburgh. It is possible that Bell becomes more of a 18-20 touch-per-game back with limited TD upside. Here’s hoping Blount’s short-yardage struggles surface in 2014 and allow Bell to become the type of RB1 he’s capable of being. If not, he’ll still be a consistent source of points as a PPR-friendly yards accumulator.

Washington is switching gears with their offense, going with a more power-based running attack and a more pass-happy approach, and Alfred Morris will lose touches a result. He doesn’t offer much of anything in the passing game, so when the team falls behind in games, he could find himself off the field more often than not. Backup Roy Helu is a perfect fit for this offense thanks to his pass protection prowess and ability to make plays out of the backfield, but he’s not overtaking Morris as the primary back on first and second down. Morris can still run with power and bully his way to scores when the Redskins get into the red zone, and because his high-octane offense figures to open up more running space, he should be able to make the most of his touches. Just don’t expect him to put up the insane kind of numbers he posted two years ago.

Like Morris, Zac Stacy is a power back who offers no PPR boost. However, the Rams figure to run it a lot and feature a sneakily-good offensive line that should do well blocking for a decisive runner like Stacy. Tre Mason might work his way into some carries as a change-of-pace back (along with Benny Cunningham), but neither should prevent Stacy from seeing 18-plus carries a week. How productive Stacy will be depends on St. Louis’ passing game. With Sam Bradford healthy, Tavon Austin more familiar with the playbook, and Kenny Britt looking like a “Comeback Player of the Year” candidate, it’s possible this aerial attack could surprise and keep defenses honest. Yet even if opposing teams stack the box against the Rams, Stacy’s O-line and his TD-friendly upside make him one of the better RB2s to target on draft day.

There is no question that Toby Gerhart will see a lot of carries this year. He can even make some catches and provide PPR pop. The big question is, will the stacked boxes he’s destined to see make his YPC so low that even 25 touches a game will yield just 80-yard-per-week performances? I like to think that Jacksonville came out of this year’s draft pretty well by upgrading their QB and WR positions. If Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee can make the passing game at least palatable, then the sheer volume of work Gerhart inherits should be enough to make him a strong weekly RB2.

Fred Jackson is declining and the rest of Buffalo’s running back depth chart is made up of backup options. This alone makes C.J. Spiller an intriguing RB2. Now if the Bills stubbornly let F-Jax hog the goal-line work like they did last year, then Spiller will have to show better than the 74.1 yards from scrimmage per game that he mustered in 2013. He certainly has the defender-missing shiftiness and elite speed necessary to be a weekly highlight reel, and he can also chip in the passing game. Spiller’s inconsistent career may leave many fantasy owners tired of investing in him on draft day, but I think his price tag is more than reasonable considering the upside.

Ryan Mathews knows he is sharing carries, and he even went on record as referring to the San Diego backfield as a “three-headed monster.” However, though Danny Woodhead will be plenty involved in the passing game and Donald Brown will be worked into the offense, Mathews should still clear 15-plus touches a week without issue. On top of that, he figures to see the most goal-line work out of the Chargers RB rotation. Coming off a season in which he totaled 1,444 yards from scrimmage, Mathews has reportedly added muscle and is hopefully past some of the injury woes that bothered him over his first three NFL seasons.

The “Mixed Bag” Mongrels
17. Reggie Bush
18. Doug Martin

19. Arian Foster
20. Joique Bell
21. Lamar Miller
22. Trent Richardson
23. Shane Vereen
There’s a lot of intrigue and a solid amount of risk that goes along with drafting any of these players. You could be getting a player who becomes a difference-maker and an MVP of your team. You could also lose your shirt on the investment.

Though he’s in a 55/45-ish time-share with Joique Bell, Reggie Bush should still clear 225 touches. That’s because he’ll be featured in the passing game a ton, as new Detroit OC Joe Lombardi was part of the Saints offense last year that saw two backs clear 70 catches. Bush should have ample open space to work with thanks to the pass-happy style of the Lions, and we all know how deadly he can be with a little wiggle room. Fantasy owners should be cautioned, however, as Bush has played a full 16 games just twice in his career. Even if he doesn’t miss any games, a nick here or a dent there could potentially sag his numbers as he is 29 years old and has seen a pretty big workload over the last three seasons.

It’s possible that Doug Martin could be the steal of the draft in a lot of leagues. He is being heavily discounted in some leagues, being passed on more often than a blunt at a Snoop Dogg concert. Yeah he missed most of last season because of a shoulder injury, but when he’s at the top of his game, he’s an elusive, tough runner that can be fantasy gold. The Bucs are talking about running an RB committee and they have depth at the position, but Martin figures to lead the pack and wind up with around 17-18 touches a game. The key for Martin will be the offensive line. They are a flawed unit that could have issues opening up holes for the run game. With fewer touches than in year’s past and a crowded backfield to contend with, Martin will have to be at his best to overcome his O-line’s shortcomings. If he does that, then he’ll wind up being a sly draft day choice. If he fails to distinguish himself in Tampa Bay’s new regime, then he could find himself on the waiver wire in many fantasy leagues by year’s end.

There will be a lot of non-playoff fantasy football teams that have Arian Foster on their roster this season. That’s because he’s going in the first round of too many leagues. People look at Foster’s elite track record and are enticed by the idea of owning a feature back who will dominate the touches on his team. I do think that when Foster plays this year, he will be worth starting for sure. Problem is, his body is starting to fail him. He managed to play in just eight games last year, and has been bothered by a hamstring issue in camp. Entering the 2014 season, Foster is the “high-risk/high-reward” RB in fantasy.

Detroit’s offense looks so nasty, even the backup RB is a top 20 fantasy player at his position. Joique Bell had 219 touches and figures to get a bit more in 2014, which means he’ll have the ball more often than a lot of “starters” on other NFL teams. A dynamic playmaker with soft hands, Bell should clear 1,100 rushing/receiving yards for the second year in a row.

Lamar Miller has the size, speed, and elusiveness to be an elite fantasy (and reality) RB. Miami has always seemed hesitant to trust him with true feature back touches, signing Knowhon Moreno this offseason and keeping Daniel Thomas’ corpse around the last two years. Yet with both Moreno and Thomas hurt/bad at life, this could be Miller’s best opportunity to run away with the starting gig. New Dolphins OC Bill Lazor (who was with Philadelphia last year) envisions Miller filling a LeSean McCoy-like role in 2014, meaning his workload could be enormous. Miller is also entering his third year in the NFL and should see more room to run as this offensive line looks like the best run-blocking unit he’s had in his pro career. Alas, Miller’s ultimate value likely hinges on stubborn coach Joe Philbin. If Philbin continues to be wary of trusting Miller as anything other than a platoon back, then Miller will once again be a frustrating fantasy RB to own. Fortunately, the price tag is quite low for Miller, so you aren’t taking on an insane amount of risk if you decide to take the plunge with him (though I would draft an extra flex-type RB just in case he doesn’t pan out).

I’m willing to give Trent Richardson a pass on his hellish showing with Indianapolis last year. Having no time to digest the playbook and going to an inferior run-blocking O-line, Richardson flopped in his first run with the Colts. Now with a full offseason to acclimate himself, he should be a lot better entering 2014. Richardson is a tremendous all-around talent who can make plays out of the backfield. The reports in camp depict a more instinctive T-Rich, who is pounding into open holes and taking what the defense gives him rather than dancing at the line of scrimmage. Yet while all of these positive traits are… well, positive, he is far from a sure thing. Injury-prone in his college and pro career and already dealing with a hamstring issue in camp, Richardson will need to prove he can handle feature back duties. Fortunately, his backups aren’t really “starter” material, so Richardson should be given every opportunity to cement himself as the lead dog in Indy. Whether his body can handle it is a different story.

The shifty Shane Vereen has a real opportunity to carve out an important role with the Pats. Their receiving corps is riddled with injury-prone players and Vereen has shown flashes of being an effective, short-field option for Tom Brady. The potential for great weekly numbers is there, but Vereen has some obstacles to overcome. For starters, New England has a glut of RB options (what else is new?). Of even more worry is Vereen’s health. He reportedly is not 100-percent recovered from wrist surgery and may not be for some time. That’s important to keep in mind because Vereen dropped nine passes last year and seemed to fall out of favor a bit with Brady late in the season. In order for Vereen to be a weekly RB2 option, he’ll need to be featured in the passing game as the carries will likely be spread around New England’s 20 backs. If his wrist prevents him from becoming a big part of the pass offense, then Vereen could wind up being merely a bye-week option.

The Lead-Back Legion
24. Ben Tate
25. Frank Gore
26. Chris Johnson
27. Rashad Jennings
28. Ray Rice
29. Pierre Thomas
30. Bishop Sankey

31. Maurice Jones-Drew
The RBs in this tier have one thing in common: they figure to lead their respective NFL backfields in touches. What they do with those touches will is another story…

While everyone is all hot and bothered about Terrance West, it seems Ben Tate is being overlooked. The big, effective back landed in an ideal spot with Cleveland, as they have a good run-blocking unit and will lean on the ground game. Plus, Tate is very familiar with new Browns OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. West will get his, but I think there are enough carries to go around to keep both relevant in fantasy. The reason Tate is the more enticing Cleveland RB is because he should gobble up the goal-line totes. The one red flag with Tate is his health. He has yet to play a full 16-game schedule in his NFL career, so it remains to be seen how his body will hold up now that he’s a starter instead of a backup. Still, with a very fair ADP, I think Tate is a pretty solid RB2 target.

The 31-year-old Frank Gore is declining. Ain’t no two ways about it. He was dreadful as the season wore on last year, averaging just 3.65 YPC over his last 10 games. He’s seen a huge workload over the years, and the 49ers see the writing on the wall. San Francisco has depth at the running back position, and they reportedly plan on scaling back Gore’s touches to keep him fresh. It’s a smart idea that should actually help Gore’s fantasy value. While 250-plus touches are usually music to a fantasy owner’s ears, it’s clear that Gore needs his workload managed to keep him as effective as possible. The good news is that he should still see ample goal-line opportunities and still runs behind one of the best offensive lines in football. He’s going too early for my liking in a lot of leagues, but if the price is right (think sixth round or later), then I’m not opposed to taking the plunge with Gore.

Over/under on when Chris Johnson starts bitching about the Jets offensive line? I say Week Four. CJ2K is leaving what is looking like a pretty solid run-blocking unit in Tennessee for an O-line who, although featuring a splendid center in Nick Mangold, are constructed to be more of a power-back-friendly crew. Speaking of power backs, Chris Ivory is still in the picture and he remains the favorite for goal-line carries. Johnson still has PPR value and should put up a solid number of overall yards on a weekly basis in a run-happy system. Just be prepared for some off weeks as Johnson’s inconsistent tendencies, coupled with New York’s spotty O-line play, should once again make him a potential weekly headache for fantasy owners.

The Giants love running committees and seem ready to give rookie Andre Williams the short-yardage and goal-line work in 2014. Regardless, I think Rashad Jennings can provide enough value between the 20s to make him a solid draft day investment. Jennings is the best all-around back NY has, and his ability to run between the tackles, make plays out of the backfield, and (most importantly for grouchy coach Tom Coughlin) provide adequate pass protection. He’s been injury-prone throughout his career, so that is something to keep an eye on. Yet when he’s on the field, I think Jennings could be a steady weekly source of RB2 production.

The Ravens seem loyal to Ray Rice, so after his two-game suspension, he should quickly move back into the starting role. Rice lost weight and looks quicker in camp and in the preseason. Only 27 years old, it’s feasible to think he still has something left in the tank. After all, he’s had double-digit TDs each of the last three years and still caught 61 passes last season in a down campaign. Of course, it ain’t all roses for the Ravens RB. He’s had a major workload over the years and despite his relatively young age, he could be on the edge of a serious decline. Additionally, Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro figure to work their way into carries (with Pierce even a possibility to be the goal-line back). 15-plus touches a game should be in order once Rice returns, and if the weight loss and added burst hold true, then that should be enough ball-handling to make him a quality RB2/flex option.

The Saints running back situation is usually frustrating to deal with, but with Darren Sproles gone and Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson both lacking reliable hands, I don’t think there’s any question that Pierre Thomas is the New Orleans RB to hitch your wagon to. With 77 catches and 513 receiving yards last year, Thomas figures to see an even bigger role in the passing game. Sure he’ll likely be a non-factor at the goal-line thanks to presence of Ingram/Robinson as more competent short-yardage back, but I think he’ll make up for it in PPR leagues as he will be very involved in the offense.

There’s a lot to like about Bishop Sankey. Tennessee’s offensive line is looking pretty damn good, their running back corps is weak after Sankey, and the team plans on running it often. Oh yeah, Sankey himself ain’t too shabby either, offering a nice combination of size, speed, and all-around ability. Sadly, the Titans seem married to the idea of keeping Shonn Greene on the roster to handle goal-line work. They also seem intent on getting Dexter McCluster involved in the passing game, which may sap some of Bishop’s PPR juice. On top of that, there are many talent evaluators who considered Sankey a change-of-pace back coming out of college due to his issues with pass protection (could cost him some playing time in 2014) and lack of explosive athleticism. The Titans have yet to really trust Sankey to run exclusively with the ones, which speaks volumes about where they think he is in his acclimation to the pro game. The ADP isn’t crazy, but Sankey does have a lower floor than some of the other backs being drafted behind him.

The Raiders have a funny way of making fantasy options come cheap. Yes MJD is declining, but let’s not forget that he still managed to churn out over 1,100 yards from scrimmage last season despite having a horrendous supporting cast in Jacksonville. The broken-down Darren McFadden will see some carries, but the expectation is that he will be used as a third-down/pass play weapon primarily. For what it’s worth, MJD reportedly got into sick shape prior to the season to try to get back to where he was physically in his glory years. Obviously he will never be an elite fantasy RB again, but I think he’s a solid flex target with RB2 upside thanks to his workload and the dash of hope that Oakland’s offensive line can be a sleeper unit.

The “Glimmer Of Hope” Haberdashers
32. Jonathan Stewart
33. Terrance West
34. Andre Williams
35. Chris Ivory
36. Steven Jackson
37. Jeremy Hill
38. Danny Woodhead
39. Bernard Pierce
40. Stevan Ridley
41. Devonta Freeman 
42. Darren McFadden
43. Khiry Robinson

A case can be made for each of these players providing RB2 value when the season is all said and done. Of course, a more compelling argument can be made to say that these guys are just bye-week options.

Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jackson are the no. 1 RBs on their team’s depth charts, but there’s a reason they find themselves relatively low down the totem pole. Jackson looks virtually finished as a viable starting back, running like a plodder with cement shoes in 2013. Stewart has always had beastly upside, but injuries have kept him from breaking through in fantasy. Both backs are worth owning because they have a big workload ahead of them, but whether or not they’ll actually make it through the season as starters is entirely up for debate.

Bringing an intriguing blend of pass-catching ability and tackle-breaking power, West has the goods to be a quality fantasy back should anything happen to Ben Tate (who is injury-prone). Even if Tate somehow makes it through the season healthy, West has some flex appeal. The Browns will run it often and do so behind a solid offensive line, and with Tate limited as a pass-catcher, West should be the one stealing the PPR shine in Cleveland.

If Andre Williams wasn’t essentially being handed over the goal-line work, he’d be virtually off the fantasy radar. Not that he doesn’t have his pros. A power back who fights for yards, he’s in the mold of Giants RBs whom Tom Coughlin loves. If anything happened to Rashad Jennings (who has battled injuries in his career), then Williams would be the lead back in NY. Yet even as the backup, he should see enough goal-line carries to flirt with 8-10 scores.

Speaking of goal-line backs, Chris Ivory, Jeremy Hill, Stevan Ridley, and Khiry Robinson have the size and power to be TD-friendly flex plays. Robinson has the most upside since the Saints have been enamored with him since taking him in the draft, but he has to share time with another plodder (Mark Ingram) in short-yardage situations while also playing second fiddle to Pierre Thomas. Hill and Ivory should see around 10 carries per game while getting red-zone looks, but they would each need an injury to their team’s respective starting RBs to garner a truly significant fantasy role. Ridley is the real wild card of this bunch. He has the lowest floor out of all the backs in this tier since the Patriots can flummox fantasy owners with how they use their RBs, but since New England’s run game figures to be a strength in 2014, he has a shot of establishing steady value and maybe even vaulting himself into the RB2 conversation.

Rounding out this tier are backup RBs with upside, including Danny Woodhead, Bernard Pierce, Darren McFadden, and Devonta Freeman. Woodhead was essentially a WR3 that you could plug into your RB2 or flex spot thanks to his heavy involvement in the passing game. He won’t see enough rushes to keep Ryan Mathews off the field, but his PPR value cannot be denied. Pierce may be in line for goal-line work in Baltimore and showed flashes in his rookie year back in 2012 that made him look like a viable committee back. DMC is behind MJD on the depth chart, but his past greatness leaves me with a sliver (and I mean a thin-ass sliver) of hope that maybe him moving into more of a passing-back role will keep him on the field and allow him to do work in space. Freeman is a smaller back, but he runs with power, has no fear of plowing between the tackles and can chip in the passing game. Steven Jackson is obviously on the decline, so there’s a chance Freeman works his way into a bigger role. That said, I’d be skeptical of Freeman being the true lead back in Atlanta due to his issues with pass protection in an offense that loves to air it out.

The “Damnit I Hate The RB Position” Posse
44. Jonathan Grimes
45. Carlos Hyde
46. DeAngelo Williams

47. LeGarrette Blount
48. Fred Jackson
49. Darren Sproles
50. Christine Michael
51. Ahmad Bradshaw
52. Tre Mason
53. Dexter McCluster
54. Roy Helu
55. Lorenzo Taliaferro
56. Stepfan Taylor
57. Knile Davis
58. Ka’Deem Carey
59. Mark Ingram
60. Shonn Greene
61. Bobby Rainey
62. Chris Thompson
63. Ronnie Hillman
64. Knowshon Moreno
65. Donald Brown
Sure these fliers might come in handy if they pan out and dudes in front of them get hurt, but let’s be real here, you’ll need an injury (or two) for them to become anything more than bye-week fill-ins or handcuffs.

*Last updated 8/24/14.


About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.