Tiers, Not Fears: RBs

Hell Fucking No
Photo Credit: Arvee5.0

Because of the lack of true every-down backs in the NFL, fantasy owners have shied away from the old method of drafting RBs early and often. However, the reality is, the increased platooning of RBs league-wide has made good players at the position more valuable than ever. The few three-down backs are treasured items as there are only so many of them, making it well worth it to take the plunge in the first few rounds. At the same time, the running back position is physically demanding, putting RBs at a higher risk of injury as they serve as human pinballs bouncing around giant bodies.

The bottom line is this: while taking a top-tier WR or QB early is the safe choice, landing reliable RBs is invaluable. Go ahead and look at the league champions of the past couple of years. Chances are, they all had very good RB play (even if their QB was Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Maybe some of those champs were able to pick up a back late in the year and ride that to a title, but the point is that you don’t get very far without good RB play.

Admittedly, the RB position is the hardest to predict thanks to the risk of injuries and loss of playing time. Knowing which RBs are worth taking a chance on? Well, that’s what I’m here for. We’ve got 80 backs ranked and tiered for your info-tainment. Enjoy.

More after the jump:

The “Top Of The Mountain” Trio
These are the clear lead dogs at the position and should be drafted with the first three picks of all snake drafts.
1. Arian Foster
Can get it done through the air, at the goal line, and between the 20s. Clearly the best back in football.

2. Ray Rice
Though the high mileage (college included) is a concern, the monster yardage and PPR appeal is too strong to keep him out of the second spot.

3. LeSean McCoy
McCoy is shifty as fuck and can rip off a big play at any moment. We wish the Eagles would run it more often, but he’s the best playmaker on a team loaded with them.

The “High-Risk/Higher-Reward” Hooligans
Though not as safe as the above tier, these players all have the talent to finish as the top player at the position. Just be ready to assume a considerable amount of risk.
4. Darren McFadden
The Raiders will run it like crazy and they aren’t afraid to let DMC do work until the wheels fall off. He’s crazy injury-prone, but when he’s on the field, his per-game production is at the level of the gentlemen in the above tier.

5. Ryan Mathews
Another injury risk with huge potential. Mathews can do it all and now that Mike Tolbert is out of the picture, he will have the goal-line carries all to himself.

6. Trent Richardson
He is coming at too steep of a discount due to the latest knee scope. He should be back at full strength soon and will be a true feature RB when he returns. T-Rich is well worth the risk, even as a rookie.

The “High Ceiling” Conglomerate
These dudes are not locks to be among the best at their position, but they are loaded with upside.
7. Fred Jackson
Though head coach Chan Gailey indicated that he wasn’t sure how carries would shake out between Jackson and C.J. Spiller, it’s pretty obvious who the better overall back is. Jackson can get it done on the ground and through the air. If he’s playing close to the level he was at last year, Spiller will be a clear backup to the Pro Bowl-caliber F-Jax.

8. Chris Johnson
He still has home run speed, but Johnson is also prone to disappearing some weeks. CJ2K will win you a couple of matchups with a monster effort, but teams can zero in on the run thanks to Tennessee’s modest pass offense.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew
The longer he holds out, the longer fantasy owners will have to wait for MJD to see starter’s carries. Though Rashad Jennings should return to a clear backup role once Jones-Drew is acclimated, MJD’s value takes a hit this season as RBs with lengthy holdouts tend to struggle upon their return.

The “Workhorse” Warriors
You know these players will be carrying the rock often, making them quality RB1s.
10. Steven Jackson
His 19 runs of 15-plus yards last season were second among all RBs. Not bad for a player running behind an atrocious offensive line who sees more stacked boxes than a UPS deliveryman. Yes he’s getting older and more susceptible to injury thanks to his physical style, but he will still deliver when healthy.

11. Michael Turner
Turner is getting shit on in fantasy circles as people think he’s too old and one-dimensional, but when Atlanta gets to the goal-line (which they will often with their offense), guess who will be punching it in? Another double-digit TD season is upon us.

12. Matt Forte
He was having a great season prior to getting hurt, but Chicago finally has a capable goal-line back in Michael Bush. Not only will Bush vulture TDs, he’ll also see some playing time between the 20s as he is an asset in the passing game and can wear defenses down. Forte should still put up a lot of yards and remains a RB1, but the lack of TD upside caps his value.

The “On The Cusp” Corporation
Talented and expected to play a large role in their respective offenses, both of these guys have what it takes to shoot up the rankings sooner rather than later.
13. Jamaal Charles
Charles showed how great he can be two years ago, but Peyton Hillis should see his fair share of touches (especially in the red zone). That lowers Charles’ ceiling, but he should still pile up the yards as he gets further and further away from the Week Two ACL tear that ended his season in 2011.

14. Doug Martin
While the loss of right guard Davin Joseph for the season hurts Tampa Bay’s offensive line, Martin still looks like a productive fantasy back. LeGarrette Blount may poach a few goal line carries, but Martin will be the lead dog in a run-heavy offense.

The “Lead Dog” Lunatics
All of these backs are at the top of their teams’ depth charts and should receive the all-too-important goal-line totes.
15. Ahmad Bradshaw
He’s not the biggest back in the NFL, but he’s tough as nail and has been surprisingly effective at converting red-zone scores. David Wilson may cut into some playing time, but Bradshaw’s value is still higher than it was last season since Brandon Jacobs is no longer stealing goal-line totes.

16. Reggie Bush
Bush is injury-prone and has an awful offense around him in Miami, but he’s a playmaker in the open field and was actually pretty good between the tackles last year. Miami is moving him back to more of a hybrid role this season, but he still carries a good amount of fantasy value.

17. Marshawn Lynch
With quality QB play on tap for Seattle, Lynch should have more room to operate. Not like he needed that much last year. Lynch routinely forced a lot of missed tackles and scored 13 times. He also dropped some weight this offseason and has looked quicker as a result.

18. DeMarco Murray
Murray has size, speed, and a knack for gaining yards after contact. If he wasn’t so injury-prone, he might actually be a tier or two higher. Alas, the risk of him getting hurt is too great to put him any higher on this list.

19. Willis McGahee
The Broncos will obviously throw way more than they did last year, so McGahee’s overall numbers will take a hit. Fortunately, Tim Tebow’s departure means more goal-line carries.

20. Beanie Wells
Always a risk to get hurt, Beanie Wells will frustrate the hell out of you as his injury reports will warrant daily reading. Still, he ran for over 1,000 yards last year on one leg, so it’s clear that even when he’s banged up, he can be an effective fantasy option.

The “Starting To Get Sticky” Squadron
We’ve officially entered the risk zone. While all the below players could jump up a tier or two (or three) by season’s end, they’ll have some obstacles in their path that could bump their value down.
21. Adrian Peterson
ADP’s ADP is a joke. This is as high as I’m willing to take a player coming off such a major knee injury who was already entering the dreaded 1,500 carry threshold in 2012 (when even the best RBs tend to decline).

22. Frank Gore
His asset as a valuable pass-protection piece forced him to stay back on many passing plays, hurting his PPR value. It also doesn’t help that San Francisco brought in Brandon Jacobs, who may poach the goal-line role. Oh yeah, they also have a dynamite talent in Kendall Hunter, who should earn a bigger role in 2012. Gore remains the lead back, but the injury-risk and decline in touches make him a potential fantasy bust.

23. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Cedric Benson 2.0. Not a flashy runner, but BJGE will be given most (if not all) of the goal-line handoffs. He loses points for having a more dynamic playmaker behind him (Bernard Scott) and for being a fall-upon-contact runner.

24. Mark Ingram
Ingram should see the bulk of the goal-line work, but New Orleans loves to use all their running backs. Though a player with double-digit TD potential on a high-scoring offense would normally rank much higher, Ingram is not involved in the aerial attack at all. That’s a problem when your team is as pass-heavy as the Saints.

25. Shonn Greene
Greene isn’t as bad as some people make him out to be and he’s the clear lead back on a Jets team that is sure to run the ball a lot. Problem is, New York’s offense is atrocious and he is bound to cede most of the goal-line carries to Tebow.

26. Darren Sproles
It’s hard to see him notching seven receiving TDs again and with Ingram healthy he’ll lose carries in 2012. Sproles is an amazing player with the ball in his hands, but with a dip in touches and meager red zone opportunities, his value takes a hit.

27. Kevin Smith
I’m a firm believer that when all Detroit backs are healthy, Smith is the best of the bunch. Problem is, he’s had trouble staying on the field during his NFL career. He could really end up being a nice value pick in drafts, but there’s a lot of risk here.

28. Cedric Benson
Since joining Green Bay, Benson is soaring up draft boards. As we saw last year, Green Bay does not produce favorable fantasy production at the running back position. Sure he may see some goal-line work, but the yardage and week-to-week numbers will probably be rather underwhelming.

29. Donald Brown
Brown was very effective on a terrible Colts offense last year, but the shifty back may have a tough time playing in new coach Chuck Pagano’s hard-nosed, smash-mouth ground attack. He’s also injury-prone and has some competition for carries on the depth chart.

30. Isaac Redman
The fact that he’s already come out and admitted that his hip injury is likely to linger all year is not a good sign. Throw in the fact that Rashard Mendenhall will be looking to get his starting job back, and things are not looking favorable for Redman’s long-term outlook. I still believe Redman has some early season value while Mendenhall recovers, but you may be looking at a three-to-five week rental.

31. Stevan Ridley
He’s a better version of BJGE, but that’s not saying much. Sure 10 or more TDs is a possibility, but that will come with modest yardage in New England’s pass-first offense (especially with Shane Vereen competing for carries).

32. Jonathan Stewart
Talent-wise, he’s in the discussion for being the best running back in football thanks to his combination of size, speed, hands, and elusiveness. Sadly, he’ll once again share carries with DeAngelo Williams. With Cam Newton stealing goal-line opportunities, Stewart once again has multiple obstacles keeping him from joining fantasy’s elite.

The “Premier Handcuff” Posse
These are the top handcuffs to own in fantasy. Sure they may do jack shit if their teammates do work, but they could also vault up the ranks in the wake of an injury or opportunity.
33. Toby Gerhart
A solid between-the-tackles runner, Gerhart is capable of being an every-week RB2/flex play if Adrian Peterson goes down. People call ADP a freak, but he’s still a human being recovering from a very serious knee injury. For that reason, Gerhart is the most necessary handcuff in fantasy.

34. Ben Tate
Tate is actually a decent flex play in deeper leagues even as Arian Foster’s backup, and we’ve all seen how great he can be when Foster sits. Granted, virtually anyone can produce numbers behind Houston’s offensive line, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Tate would be an automatic top 10 RB if anything happens to Foster.

35. Rashad Jennings
Jacksonville seems pretty serious about their threat to make MJD work his way back into the starter’s role when (if?) he returns, making Jennings a must-own fantasy option (especially for Jones-Drew owners).

36. Michael Bush
The Bears have finally put a competent veteran behind Forte and he’s not just there to steal some goal-line carries. Chicago is financially invested in Forte and they want to keep him fresh. In Bush, they have a versatile back who has shown the ability to shoulder the load when called upon.

37. Peyton Hillis
Jamaal Charles was finally given a chance to shoulder the load last year with Thomas Jones out of the picture, and he lasted less than two games. Even if Charles returns to full strength, Hillis is a threat simply because of his nose for the end zone and the fact that he can chip in the passing game.

38. Jacquizz Rodgers
The Falcons can say whatever they want about Rodgers being a three-down back, but when push comes to shove, he’s still the clear backup to workhorse Michael Turner. A serious decline or injury to Turner, however, could vault Rodgers into fantasy stardom.

39. Ronnie Hillman
He should be a fine weapon for Peyton Manning in the passing game and with Willis McGahee always at risk for injury, Hillman could become a must-start player at any moment.

39. Mikel Leshoure
Injuries have derailed his young career, but Leshoure does have plenty of ability and could develop into a terrific goal-line option if he stays on the field. The good news is that Kevin Smith is also injury-prone, so there’s a good chance Leshoure will be starting at least a couple of times this season.

41. DeAngelo Williams
Williams has big-play potential and a terrific offensive line in Carolina. If anything were to happen to Jonathan Stewart, D-Will would again return to fantasy prominence.

The “You Better Not Be Starting Me” Band
While the players below hold some upside, starting them as even a flex play to begin the season would be foolish.
42. Alfred Morris
Morris is currently the last man standing in Washington’s backfield, but once the other RBs start to get healthy, the Mike Shanahan rotation of death will begin (yes, even as soon as Week One).

43. Ryan Williams
People are still in love with Williams’ talent, but he’s been crazy injury-prone since college and would need Beanie Wells to miss a lot of time in order to have a shot at serious fantasy value.

44. C.J. Spiller
While Spiller can be deadly in the open field, he’s no match for Fred Jackson. The touches will be hard to come by.

The “Wait And See” Contingency
You aren’t about to start them Week One, but these players all have the ability to be fantasy contributors down the road.
45. Mike Goodson
Another handcuff option, but a necessary one for DMC owners. Goodson doesn’t have McFadden’s power, but he can make plays in the backfield and would be a solid fantasy option as a starter in Oakland’s run scheme.

46. David Wilson
Don’t let his size fool you. Wilson is tough as hell and has game-breaking ability to boot. Even if the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw stays healthy all year, Wilson could emerge as a serious fantasy option at some point this season due to his explosiveness.

47. Montario Hardesty
If Richardson comes back strong as expected from his latest knee scope, Hardesty won’t be shit. If T-Rich needs a caddy or ends up missing time, Hardesty could finally cash in on his sleeper hype from the past couple of years.

48. Bernard Scott
The shifty Scott has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. He should see an uptick in carries as Cincinnati plans on using more of a committee in 2012, so if he cashes in on the opportunity, he could blow up.

49. Kendall Hunter
A tremendous talent, Hunter could give the 49ers the playmaker they so desperately need (and yes, I realize washout Michael Crabtree and old-ass Randy Moss are on the team). Considering Frank Gore’s propensity for getting hurt (and the fact that Brandon Jacobs is already banged up), Hunter might get a chance to shine.

50. Vick Ballard
You may not have any idea who Vick Ballard is, but he is a perfect fit for new Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s smash-mouth style of football. In the mold of a young Brandon Jacobs, Ballard is a tough man to tackle who builds up steam as he runs. If Donald Brown falters, look for Ballard (not Delone Carter) to fill a physical presence in Indy’s running game.

51. Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall is worth drafting in most leagues since he will assume the starting job in Pittsburgh once healthy enough to do so, but just be ready to carry dead weight for several weeks.

52. Roy Helu
He’s the most talented RB in Washington’s backfield, but that means little when Mike Shanahan is running the show. It’s nice to dream though.

The “Best Of The Rest” Ruffians
They aren’t anything to write home about, but all of the below players should be names to keep in your head in case injuries/opportunities pave the way for regular playing time. Of course, they’re not getting written individual write-ups in this space for a reason.
53. Robert Turbin
54. Isaiah Pead
55. Felix Jones
56. Pierre Thomas
57. Ronnie Brown
58. Shane Vereen
59. Joe McKnight
60. Dion Lewis
61. Alex Green
62. Jonathan Dwyer
63. Delone Carter
64. Javon Ringer
65. Brandon Jacobs
66. Evan Royster
67. Brandon Jackson
68. Lamar Miller
69. Daniel Thomas
70. James Starks
71. Anthony Allen
72. Kahlil Bell
73. LeGarrette Blount
74. Bernard Pierce
75. Jason Snelling
76. Tim Hightower
77. Bilal Powell
78. Lance Ball
79. LaRod Stephens-Howling
80. Jahvid Best 

*Last updated 8/27/12.



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.