Fantasy Football 2013: RB “Tiers, Not Fears”

The Steal McCoy
Photo Credit: Matthew Straubmuller


RBs in fantasy football are like clues: nobody has one, but people are always looking for one. 


There was a movement over the last few years to avoid drafting two RBs early. The rationale was that QBs and WRs had become way more valuable in the pass-happy NFL. It also didn’t hurt that the RB position seems to have a higher probability for injury. While the days of leaning on two star RBs to carry your fantasy team are clearly in the past, the position demands careful consideration when making your picks since there is less reliable talent to choose from than any of the other skill positions.


At some point, perhaps several times during this season, you will start a RB whom you know has no business starting in a fantasy football league. It could be during a bye week. Or perhaps injuries straight up wreck your crew and force your hand. It will happen. That’s as certain as death and taxes.


I’m not saying you have to go out there and grab mad RBs, but you do need to be aware of how your team is building at that position as one mistake could be the end of your title aspirations.


With that in mind, you’ll notice that we only have 41 RBs on this list. That’s because, in my opinion, handcuffs are only appropriate when we are talking your mom and the bedroom. There is no point in grabbing handcuff players. They waste roster spots and can kill you during the bye weeks. Only a few backup RBs were considered for this edition of “Tiers, Not Fears.” 

As for how many RBs you should grab… that really depends on the size of your league. If you are talking a 12-teamer, I’d say grab four dudes from this list to ensure some level of viable depth. That may seem like a lot, but remember, RBs are like clues. You don’t want to be the fantasy owner soliciting blow jobs in exchange for a Week Nine starter, do you?


More after the jump:


The High & Mighty Hooligans

That’s right. There’s seven dudes worthy of the top tier. AP deserves to sit above them all, but the difference between him and rest of these RBs is not enough to warrant a separate tier. That said, expect the science-defying Peterson to dominate (again). The rest of the RBs in this tier may not possess Peterson’s superhuman-like physical ability, but they make a bigger impact than AP on the PPR circuit. Also, it is entirely plausible that ANY of these RBs can finish the season as the best fantasy option in the game. 


Martin is elusive, gets yards after contact, and should see better blocking from his O-line. He should finish first or second in overall touches. The shifty Spiller is a phenomenal fantasy option who will even see goal-line opportunities this season. McCoy is going later than he should in most fantasy drafts, but he remains one of most talented backs in football. With Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense that makes heavy use of the running game, McCoy should go off. T-Rich was a favorite of mine last year, and I’m still very high on him. He can literally do it all and the best is yet to come with this gifted back. The presence of Bernard Pierce and a heavy workload over the years is concerning to some fantasy owners, but Ray Rice has showed no signs of slowing down. He saw 83 targets last year and should again be relied upon to lead Baltimore’s offense. Though Andy Reid is known to sometimes underuse the running game, Charles’ receiving skills will keep him very involved in KC’s game plan. He is a true HR threat every time he touches the ball.

1. Adrian Peterson, Min

2. Doug Martin, TB

3. C.J. Spiller, Buf

4. LeSean McCoy, Phi

5. Trent Richardson, Cle

6. Ray Rice, Bal

7. Jamaal Charles, KC


The “Wish They Could” Contingency

Is it out of the realm of possibility for any of these backs to play like a first-tier RB this season? No, but there’s a reason they aren’t sitting in first class. Lynch totaled 1,590 rushing yards and 12 TDs last year, but can we really expect the Seahawks to run as often now that Russell Wilson is establishing himself as a star? The TDs should still be there, but expect his yardage totals to dip a bit. The arrival of new coach Marc Trestman in Chicago means more receptions and, reportedly, more goal-line opportunities for Matt Forte. I’m not fully buying that Michael Bush won’t be vulturing some short-yardage scores, but Forte should still be a reliable RB1. Foster has been tumbling down my ranks thanks to his continued calf and back problems. He was supposed to be back by now, and his cloudy timetable is making him an increasingly risky option despite his terrific fantasy potential. Normally, dudes named Alfred aren’t tough. That’s not the case with Morris, who bruised his way to over 1,600 yards and 13 TDs. The only concern here is that Mike Shanahan will starting messing around with his RB rotation (as he is wont to do) and deflate Morris’ value. The Falcons should help Steven Jackson earn more TDs, but because Atlanta will throw it a ton, it’s hard to expect him to put up vintage S-Jax numbers. Tennessee’s offensive line should be better, and with Chris Johnson enjoying a resurgent camp, it’s possible he’ll turn in a nice draft day profit. Then again, the Titans added Shonn Greene to handle goal-line and short-yardage situations, so a full-blown return to CJ2K’s once dominant days isn’t a guarantee. I can’t understand why Reggie Bush isn’t getting more love. Even though the Lions were insanely pass-happy last year, the plan is for Bush to play a big role in the aerial attack and he could very well lead all RBs in receptions this year.

8. Marshawn Lynch, Sea

9. Matt Forte, Chi 

10. Arian Foster, Hou

11. Alfred Morris, Wsh

12. Steven Jackson, Atl

13. Chris Johnson, Ten

14. Reggie Bush, Det


The Still Simmering Symphony
Even in this tier, there is still a considerable amount upside. Of course, there is plenty of risk associated with these dudes. Run DMC will benefit from Oakland’s return to a power running system, but he needs to stay healthy to really turn in a draft day profit on a horrible Raiders team. Similarly, MJD also has some health concern’s per Don Brown’s perspective. Jones-Drew has the potential and track record to pay off on draft day, but he also has a horrible team around him and will need to dig deep to revert back to his once-elite ways. The Patriots should remain a pass-first team, but with a revamped receiving corp, they may lean on the run more often and allow Ridley to cruise to another double-digit TD campaign. At the very least, it looks like Ridley should put up numbers similar to what he did last year. Of course, Shane Vereen could always steal some touches and the fact that Ridley has zero involvement in the passing game lowers his ceiling. 


Few players in these ranks have the upside of David Wilson, who has CJ Spiller-like potential. Of course, his pass protection is atrocious, and that means something to Tom Coughlin and the Giants (who played him sparingly last year after fumble issues and the failure to pick up the blitz made Wilson a liability). New York could also employ a two-back system (something they’ve historically been a fan of) with Andre Brown, giving Wilson few goal-line carries in favor of the bruising Brown. The upside with DeMarco Murray is huge as he can literally do it all. Of course, health is the main obstacle keeping Murray from rising a tier or two. It seems like no one is really taking Daryl Richardson seriously, but they should. He’s got the starting job sewn up at this point and has worked hard to become a complete back capable of churning forward for maximum yardage. While it does seem like the Rams want Isaiah Pead to have a large role in this offense (he’s started two preseason games), it’s clear that Richardson has earned the right to start and should see a healthy touch total week-to-week. Gore is getting up there in age and has LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter waiting in the wings, but he hasn’t really lost a step over the last two years and is running behind a premiere run-blocking unit. I think he’s got at least one more quality fantasy season left in him.

15. Darren McFadden, Oak

16. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac

17. Stevan Ridley, NE 

18. David Wilson, NYG 

19. DeMarco Murray, Dal 

20. Daryl Richardson, StL 

21. Frank Gore, SF


The Upside-Laden Lunatics

There’s certainly potential in this tier, but some things will have to break right for these dudes to kill it. Mathews has perennially been on the verge of a break out, but fantasy owners are reaching for him less than ever. San Diego’s offensive line will be bad, and Danny Woodhead is now around to steal his PPR shine. Mathews is still talented enough to provide an ample draft day return, but it’s just as likely that he’ll once again be a maddeningly inconsistent fantasy option. Lamar Miller is a way more talented RB than Daniel Thomas and should see most of the carries in Miami’s backfield. However, the team hasn’t given up on Thomas yet and Miller offers nothing in the way of PPR value, so he’ll have to really make it happen on the ground (and in the end zone) to produce a true breakout season. Mendenhall is dealing with a bum knee, but should be ready for Week One. The problem is, he has been hampered by knee issues in the past, and with Bruce Arians as coach, the Cardinals could very well be a pass-heavy offense that uses the rush as a complement. If that’s the case, then the receiving-deficient Mendenhall may have to score a good number of TDs to really make a serious fantasy impact. Even if Eddie Lacy is the real deal, Green Bay will still lean on Aaron Rodgers. Of course, Lacy is far from a guarantee. There have been multiple reports that he’s an out-of-shape lard ass (though the coaching staff has repeatedly said they are fine with his conditioning). Even if Lacy was the picture of physical excellence, he’d still have to contend with John Kuhn for goal-line duties, not to mention the bevy of RBs on Green Bay’s roster capable of stealing carries. Lacy is tough to bring down and could score double-digit TDs if everything falls into place, but my money is on him being an overrated draft day option. 

22. Ryan Mathews, SD 

23. Lamar Miller, Mia 

24. Rashard Mendenhall, Pit 

25. Eddie Lacy, GB 


The “At Least You Can Start Them” Society

I wouldn’t be clicking my heels over owning any of these RBs, but at least they are viable starting fantasy options coming into the season. Foot injuries have hassled Bradshaw for most of his career, and he’s always at risk of missing game time. Still, he should see the lion’s share of the rushing duties in Indy and can also chip in the passing game. Sproles is more of a WR3 masquerading as a RB, but his PPR value keeps him useful. I also think Saints coach Sean Payton will increase his usage following a relatively down year for Sproles. The fantasy community is showing a lot of love to Montee Ball, but I just don’t see it. Sure he has a nice, well-rounded skill-set and is part of a high-octane offense, but he has yet to pass Ronnie Hillman on the depth chart (and Hillman has looked bad thus far). Plus, his pass protection has been poor, so that could cost him playing time on passing downs. Ball will be the Denver back you’d most rather own, but that ain’t saying much. My least favorite acronym in the world is BJGE. That’s because it refers to the Human Bowling Pin, a man who falls down more often than a drunk kid on crutches. Alas, the promise of goal-line carries and a role as the early-down back in Cincinnati means he warrants universal ownership. It’s about quantity, not quality with the upside-lacking Bilal Powell. Because Chris Ivory is bound to spend more time on the sidelines than on the field, Powell will be worth starting more weeks than not simply because he’ll be a heavily-used back in a run-heavy system. Carolina’s fantasy production at the running back position has been abysmal over the past couple of years. Still, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the situation completely. Jonathan Stewart’s injury issues may keep him out for the start of the year and could also limit what he does when he gets on the field (he had surgery on both ankles during the offseason). Williams has not looked the same since breaking out in 2008, but he is just one year removed from totaling 971 yards. He’s well worth drafting at his current ADP and could actually surprise some people if the Panthers play a lot better in 2013.

26. Ahmad Bradshaw, Ind 

27. Darren Sproles, NO 

28. Montee Ball, Den 

29. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cin

30. Bilal Powell, NYJ

31. DeAngelo Williams, Car


The “Keep An Eye On” Outfit

I give you the Starbonell blessing to draft from this tier, if only to bring some depth to your roster (although there is definitely some intrigue here). Ingram and Ivory are projected starters for their respective teams, and both players are big dudes capable of racking up red-zone scores. Unfortunately, Ingram and Ivory are also injury-prone, and may cede playing time to their backups. Redman doofs his way onto this tier thanks to Le'Veon Bell's injured foot, but he's not likely to break out in any way. Speaking of Bell, he has a nice overall skill-set and could make a big impact if healthy, but even before his recent foot injury, he wasn't a slam dunk fantasy option thanks to his tendency to dance around instead of taking what the defense gives him. Tate is a must-handcuff player if you draft Arian Foster thanks to the incumbent’s injury concerns. Tate wants to show teams he can be a feature back as he’s entering a contract year, and if he gets that chance, he could be a top five RB. Hillman is listed as a starter for the moment, but he’s looked terrible in his pro career. Bernard, Brown, and Pead are all backups on their respective squads, but each of them can carve out a bigger role. J-Stew is a long-time favorite of mine who never got a fair chance to break out thanks to the meddling DeAngelo Williams. Injuries haven’t helped either, and they might very well make him waiver wire fodder in 2013. The Chargers want to get Woodhead very involved in the passing game this year, which is why he was able to sneak onto these rankings. Think of him as a poor man’s Darren Sproles. Moreno is not as much of a long shot as his ranking suggests. Terribly injury-prone and battling two young backs for playing time, Moreno has a leg up on his young competitors thanks to his excellent pass protection and knack for making plays out of the backfield.

32. Mark Ingram, NO 

33. Le'Veon Bell, Pit 

34. Chris Ivory, NYJ
35. Ben Tate, Hou
36. Giovani Bernard, Cin
37. Isaac Redman, Pit
38. Jonathan Stewart, Car
39. Danny Woodhead, SD
40. Knowshon Moreno, Den
41. Andre Brown, NYG
42. Isaiah Pead, StL

*Last updated 9/2/13.


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.