Drafting RBs in fantasy football should be separated into these eight tiers
Tier based drafting is an important strategy to consider when drafting your fantasy football teams. It is a much more powerful strategy than just looking at a rankings list cheat sheet because it forces you to draw lines in the sand on players and decide where the value drop offs are for each position. It is enormously helpful in deciding if you can wait to grab a certain position or if there is danger in waiting because you are nearing the end of a tier. These are fluid rankings and will certainly change when we find out what teams draft the rookies, where players move in free agency, and as offseason injuries occur. This week we look at the running backs.
These are your gold standards at the running back position in 2013. If you are picking in the top 10 you really should try to land one of these guys because you know someone is going to take Calvin Johnson before 1.10. If someone takes a QB or TE early one of them might even be there at 1.11 or 1.12
After Adrian Peterson, who clearly has to be the number one pick in any format, I can see ordering these next eight guys in a number of ways. Peterson got close to the single season rushing record last year. While it has never happened, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 2,000 yard season in 2013..
Jamaal Charles is my #2 guy. I really think he is in for a big year in 2013 and is a value anywhere else in the first round. With only rookie Knile Davis, who can’t hold on to the football, Charles could see a career high in touches under Andy Reid.
LeSean McCoy is going to get a lot of carries in 2013. Chip Kelly ran the ball 686 times at Oregon last season. While I don’t think the total will be that high, I think McCoy could be near 300 carries next season and could catch 50+ passes. A monster in PPR leagues.
Ray Rice is one of my favorite players, but I do have some concerns with him. His workload has been monstrous since his 2nd season in 2009. In the last 4 regular seasons he has 1,109 carries and 278 receptions. The Ravens have also gone deep into the postseason every year since he entered the league and has totaled 191 postseason carries 37 receptions in that time. His postseason workload adds up to a full season of work for many running backs. Add in the fact that he had well over 300 carries in each of his last two years in college (335 and 380 respectively) and you have a very well worn running back. I do think he has several good years left but I think we see at least a 10% decrease in his workload for 2013 as the Ravens begin to work Bernard Pierce into the lineup more frequently.
Martin and Richardson took the NFL and the fantasy football world by storm as rookies in 2012. Both were likely value picks where you were able to draft them. They won’t be value picks this year but both are easily inside of the top 10. I have Martin ahead of Richardson because of Richardson’s perceived durability issues and the fact that he has to play the Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore run defenses twice a year. The report about the shin issue that at first was “ain’t a big deal” now has him sidelined until training camp. That’s enough for me to slide him to the bottom of the first tier
Spiller is ready to explode if he receives a starter’s workload. Fred Jackson will be back again but I don’t see the Bills taking their best playmaker off the field very much in 2013.
Outside of ADP, Arian Foster has been as close to a sure thing as we have at the RB position in fantasy football. He has been shut down until training camp as well due to a strained calf muscle. If I’m drafting today I have to drop him down to about RB7. If all is well come training camp he will be back in the top 5.
I was a Lynch doubter going into the 2012 season. Basing my argument on what we saw in Buffalo, I thought that after getting a big contract, Lynch might have gotten lazy. Boy was I wrong. He finished as the 2nd most productive fantasy running back in 2012 behind only Adrian Peterson. Marshawn Lynch is a top 10 fantasy RB option on a Seattle team that should only get better.
Morris was probably the steal of the draft / waiver wire last season. We didn’t hear much about him being the starter until late in the preseason so if your league drafted early you likely had to get him as a waiver wire pickup. If you did he probably helped you to the playoffs. I don’t see much changing in the Washington backfield, but Roy Helu and Evan Royster should be back. The Redskins also drafted talented rookies Chris Thomas and Jawan Jamison so there is always the chance of more Shanahanigans. I personally think Mike Shanahan has found his guy and is going to stick with him, at least through 2013.
Sproles was a monster in ppr leagues in 2011, but struggled in 2012. Maybe it was because Sean Payton wasn’t there to call plays, but Sproles simply wasn’t part of the game plan in some weeks. I can definitely see him getting back to the fantasy RB1 levels in ppr leagues in 2013.
I love Steven Jackson. If he was on a team that had another threat on offense I believe we could have been talking about him in the same vein as Adrian Peterson. That’s how talented this guy is. That said, he is entering his 10th season in the NFL which as we all know is a very long time for a running back. SJax is now playing with a very talented offense and the holes that are their for him this season are going to be much larger. For perhaps the first time in his career he won’t consistently see eight men in the box. With weapons like Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game teams won’t be able to key in on Steven Jackson. I think he is a near lock for a 9th straight 1,000 yard season and should easily approach double digit touchdowns.
I avoided Frank Gore in every league I was in for 2012. I really thought the wheels were going to fall off and that Kendall Hunter was ready to take over. Instead, he had his 2nd best season as a pro from a yardage standpoint. The 49ers did an excellent job of managing his workload to keep him fresh throughout the season. I’m not avoiding him again this season, but I’m still not going to go out of my way to draft him as my RB2. If he is the best of what’s left I have no problems taking him at his current ADP. One thing that weighs in Gore’s favor is the loss of Michael Crabtree to an ACL injury. I expect this to cause the Niners to use a more conservative gameplan each week and that favores Frank Gore.
Can we call Forte injury prone yet? I hate to apply that label to any player, but it just seems like this guy gets hurt every year and isn’t there for our fantasy teams when we need him most. I still love the talent, but he is another guy I’m betting sees a workload decrease in 2013 to help keep him healthy.
Chris Johnson was extremely disappointing early in the season. Not counting a 141 yard game in week 4 against the Texans, Johnson totaled 69 total rushing yards in weeks 1-3 and week 5. If you look at his year end stats, everything looks good, but on a game to game basis, he was wildly inconsistent. I would much prefer having him as a RB2 than a RB1, especially with Shonn Greene now on the team. Things are looking up though now that the Titan’s have solidified it’s interior offensive line by signing Andy Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack.
I have no doubt MJD can return to the top 10 but I want to see him on the field before I’m prepared to move him up.
I’ve been a huge Demarco Murray fan since his days in college, but here’s another guy that can’t stay on the field. When he finally came back from his foot issues last season he was good, but not great. A full offseason of rest could push him up this tier, but for now I have him at the bottom.
Stevan Ridley is an enigma to me. I really didn’t like his talent coming out of college, but he runs hard and is tough to bring down. He nicely filled in for the departed BenJarvus Green-Ellis except for his fumbling issues. I still think Vereen is the more talented back, but Ridley should continue to see the majority of the workload. I do think it will be much closer to a 50/50 split in 2013.
I like Reggie Bush as the lead back in Detroit quite a lot. I can see him finishing second on the team in receptions to only Calvin Johnson. For a team that threw the ball over 700 times last season that will be very good for a running back that excels at catching the football. I don’t think LeShoure is a threat to touches anywhere other than the goal line which shouldn’t hurt Bush as much as you might think.
The David Wilson hype train is in full gear now that Bradshaw is no longer with the team. I absolutely love his talent and ability, but I think people are forgetting about Andre Brown. As long as Brown has been healthy he has been productive for the Giants and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 50/50 split if Brown can stay on field. I believe Wilson will be over drafted in 2013.
Lamar Miller didn’t get a ton of work as a rookie last season, but he really reminds me of Clinton Portis. Reggie Bush departing in free agency means Miller should get the first shot at a starter’s workload. I hime him to to get at least 45-50% of Miami’s running back touches. I don’t think he will get 60-70% like some are projecting because Daniel Thomas has been productive for them. He has had his problems with health though and if he again misses time next season Miller could be in for a breakout type year in 2013.
The Chris Ivory ranking is perhaps too high but I would rather take the risk on him than the RBs below him on this list. He is the only running back on the Jets roster that I can see carrying a full load. There are very few backs in the league that run with more aggression and violence than Ivory - Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch are the only ones that come to mind. Ivory has high RB2 and possibly borderline RB1 value if he can just stay healthy, which granted, is a big if.
McFadden was even more disappointing last year than Chris Johnson, finishing 27th in terms of rushing yards at a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. Most drafted him in the late first-mid second rounds last season so we definitely did not get a great ROI on McFadden in 2012. Most blame the shift to a zone blocking scheme. I don’t know why the Raiders moved to a new scheme when they didn’t have the personnel to do so. They were so successful running the ball in 2011 so why make the change? I don’t think McFadden can escape some of the blame either though. Not only did we get poor production from McFadden in 2012, but he also missed another 4 games, continuing his streak of never playing all 16 games in a season. I still love the talent and may get burned for doing so, but I have McFadden on my avoid list for 2013 unless he falls much farther than what I think his ADP will be.
I have no idea what to do with Ryan Mathews. He has all the talent in the world but it hasn’t come together for him yet. Part of that is the Chargers terrible offensive line which they did improve through the draft by taking right tackle D.J. Fluker at 11th overall. I do think that the Chargers’ offense as a whole will be undervalued in 2013 so Mathews could end up being a great value pick in the 5th round or later.
Montee Ball has a shot to be very productive as a rookie if coach John Fox goes against his usual attitude toward rookie running backs. The most carries a rookie running back has received under John Fox is 184 by Jonathan Stewart in 1989. You are probably going to want more than that out of your RB2 that you take in the fourth round.
Le’veon Bell rounds out this tier as the rookie running back with the clearest path to the starting job. Pass protection is key though and if he isn’t capable of protecting Ben Roethlisberger then Jonathan Dwyer will have a bigger role than some people may think.
Eddie Lacey / Jonathan Franklin
At about RB23 things start to get real dicey. If you can come away with at least 2 and preferably 3 of the running backs before this point, you are looking really solid at the position. If not then you are really going to have to take a leap of faith on some of these guys that follow.
Giovanni Bernard landed in perhaps the best spot of any of the top rookie running backs. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still there and should see the majority of the carries early on, Bernard’s role will certainly grow as the season progresses. He is too talented and the Bengals drafted him too highly to not get him involved in the offense in his first year.
DeAngelo Williams is at the top of this next group. He still has the talent to be an every week fantasy starter, but his value has been dampened by the presence of Jonathan Stewart. Not getting cut by the Panthers was the worst thing that could happen to his fantasy stock. There is a beacon of hope for DWilly in 2013 though. JStew is still nursing that leg injury and if I have to put money on which Carolina running back stays healthy this season, my chips are all going on DeAngelo Williams.
I’m not sure where to put the two rookies in Green Bay, but somewhere in this tier feels right. Lacy will likely get the first crack at the starting job, but I like Franklins talent better. This is a situation to monitor closely during training camp.
Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram continue to share most of the backfield carries but Sproles is still more involved in the offense. Of the two I like Thomas better. Ingram has slightly better goal line value, but if he doesn’t score a touchdown you generally won’t be happy with him in your lineup. Mark Ingram is 100% healthy for the first time in his NFL career and is a breakout candidate (again). I feel his ADP is right this year to take a shot on him if you believe. He is currently coming off the board at RB33 in the 8th-9th rounds.
Ahmad Bradshaw was cut by the Giants but landed in a pretty good spot with the Colts. There will always be health concerns with Bradshaw but he is definitely the most talented running back on the roster. He will likely be a lead back with Ballard having a reduced role. There is nothing particularly special about Ballard, but he is a high effort guy that makes things happen on the field. If Bradshaw does indeed miss time as he usually does, Ballard will pick up right where he left off last season.
Rashard Mendenhall was brought in by Bruce Arians who has familiarity with him from his days in Pittsburgh. With an improved offensive line and better QB play, there could be some holes for Mendenhall to run through. There are three other talented backs on the roster though so it all depends on if the Cardinals use a committee at the running back position or if they let Mendenhall take a lead back role. Arians has come out and said that he wants a workhorse back so Mendenhall has that going for him if he can win the starting job.
With the David Wilson hype train going at full steam, fantasy owners are forgetting about how productive Andre Brown was last season before getting hurt. Brown should see at least 40% of the snaps if he can make it through an entire season. Wilson owners shouldn’t feel 100% safe.
Daryl Richardson / Isaiah Pead / Zac Stacy
Ronnie Hillman is an explosive runner and a back that I believe has the tools to be a complete 3 down back in this league. Currently he is getting 75% of the first team snaps to Montee Ball’s 25%. If this continues into training camp then Hillman could be a draft day steal. Even if Ball leads the team in carries, Hillman can do more on fewer touches because he is a threat to score anytime the ball is in his hands.
With both of New England’s starting tight ends in some jeopardy of missing some games at the beginning of the season and the lack of a true WR1, Shane Vereen has an opportunity to catch a lot of passes out of the backfield. Stevan Ridley will likely have more carries, but in a role similar to Darren Sproles’ Vereen could end up leading the team in receptions until Gronk and Hernandez return.
Bryce Brown went on a 2 game tear in week’s 13 and 14 when LeSean McCoy was out but disappeared when he returned. We have to think Brown will be a little more involved in 2013 with Chip Kelly’s system. There is a misconception about Kelly havign a spread based pass first offense when in fact Oregon ran the ball a whopping 686 times in 2012. I don’t think it will be that many but 500+ is certainly in consideration. I don’t see LeSean McCoy getting 400+ touches so there will be plenty of opportunities left for Bryce Brown.
LaMichael James has a real shot to be a fantasy factor in 2013. With Crabtree out for most and possibly all of the season the Niners are going to be running the ball a lot. Frank Gore is still his amazing self, but the team wants to keep him fresh and will give him rest during games. Enter LaMichael James. He is a player that can take it to the house on any given touch and is fantastic in the passing game. James will likely share 3rd down duties with Kendall Hunter if Hunter can make it back from his Achilles injury. If not then James should have a bigger role in 2013 than anyone expects.
With Steven Jackson move on Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and rookie Zac Stacy are competing for lead back duties. Pead has a one game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and Richardson seemed to be more productive when given fewer carries in 2013 so my money is on rookie Zac Stacy. Matt Waldman compares him to a slightly faster Travis Henry. I really like that comparison. All three are going around the same time in drafts between the 9th and 11th rounds so if you like the Rams offense in 2013 and are looking for a RB than you could do worse than putting some chips down on one of these three backs.
Jonathan Stewart has always had a lot of hype surrounding him, particularly what he could do if he ever got a full workload. First he has to stay healthy though as he missed seven games with lingering achilles issues. In the nine games he did play in, the best single outing he could muster was a 10 carry 51 yard performance against the Redskins in week 9. All that said, I do still love his talent. I really don’t understand why the Panthers brought back DeAngelo Williams unless they have no faith in his ability to get and stay healthy. If Stewart can return healthy after the offseason he could still be a productive back and a fantasy flex play in 2013. I would love to have him as a RB4 but for me the risk of his nagging injuries makes him uncomfortable as an RB3.
LeShoure rebounded nicely from his own achilles injury and had a nice season after his two game suspension to start the year. He does have a talented back in Joique Bell breathing down his neck though and I think the Lions might like Bell more than Leshoure (I certainly do) at this point. With Reggie Bush in town LeShoure will likely be relegated to goal line and short yardage work. If he can’t hold onto the football he might not even get that.
Ryan Williams missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and all but 5 games of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury. The Cardinals signed Rashard Mendenhall and also drafted Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, so the RB situation is very murky in Arizona. At this pointI would completely avoid. Once we get into training camp and the pre-season perhaps we will have a bit more clarity on the Arizona running back situation. I do think Williams is the most talented back on the roster so if he can emerge then he is going to move up the list quite a bit.
I still believe in Jacquizz Rodgers’ talent, but unless Steven Jackson gets hurt, it isn’t going to happen for him in 2013. He is only 23 years old though so do not forget about this guy in keeper and dynasty leagues. He will get a shot at some point but it might have to be for a second team.
Chris “Beanie” Wells
Joique Bell really became the finisher in Detroit during the 2nd half of the season.For fantasy purposes, Bell only scored 30 points less than LeShoure and he did it in 120 fewer carries (80 and 200 respectively) He has earned himself at minimum 40% of the workload and I could see some games where he has more carries than LeShoure depending on the game script.
Woodhead had several good to great fantasy games a year for the Patriots. Picking the right weeks to plug him in was always the problem. In San Diego he could be extremely productive. If Ryan Mathews struggles again in 2013, Woodhead could see a lot of work.
Ben Tate has the talent to play a lead back role, but for now continues to be saddled behind the great Arian Foster.
Pierce really played well the last half of the season and into the playoffs in relief of Ray Rice. A limited role for sure, but I see him getting as much as 30% of the workload in 2013
Fred Jackson has less tread on the tires than most running backs his age, but you have to think that Spiller is ready to take over the primary back duties. I don’t see how they can keep Spiller’s talent off the field any longer, but the Bills continue to be stubborn with him so Jackson could have flex value some weeks. People forget that 2 years ago FJax was having a pro bowl type season before the series of leg injuries opened up the opportunity for C.J. Spiller.
Shonn Greene will be the short yardage and goal line back in Tennesee. I can see him having value in TD heavy leagues perhaps playing a sort of LenDale White role for the team. The Titans did massively upgrade the interior of their offensive line so I can see some success for Greene in this type of role. For fantasy purposes he is an RB4-5 type guy at best.
I think McGahee can still play. He needs to find a team and carve out a role first though.
Michael Turner, your best days are well behind you. I really hope he settles into a finisher type role somewhere. He will still have value as a goal line back in TD heavy leagues, but otherwise look elsewhere for production out of your RB slots.
Chris Wells should get a job somewhere and it won’t be a team with as bad of an offensive line as he had in front of him with the Cardinals. He still has talent, but can he make it through an entire season without getting banged up? I have my doubts.
Robert Turbin / Christine Michael
Knowshon Moreno will be back with the Broncos in 2013 due to the release of Willis McGahee. I know Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman are getting all they hype right now but don’t forget about Moreno. He could be a sneaky pickup in the last round of your draft. He was very productive once he got on the field late in the 2012 season before his injury. He is also the best pass protecting running back on the roster which is important when Peyton Manning is your quarterback. You can definitely tell a story that ends with Moreno as the leading rusher in Denver in 2013. The best part is that he is an easy drop for the waiver wire flavor of the week should he end up behind Ball and Hillman when the season starts.
I still really believe in Blount’s talent. Remember the last time the Patriots brought in a “troubled” running back by the name of Corey Dillon? Blount has two very talented backs in front of him in Ridley and Vereen, but if he gets an opportunity I believe he will produce
Robert Turbin will compete with rookie Christine Michael for the backup job to starter Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has been known to have back issues in the past so this could potentially be a goldmine.
Kendall Hunter has RB2 talent but has had Frank Gore in front of him. Now he is rehabbing an achilles injury suffered in week 11. The talent is there. The opportunity and the health have not been, but reports out of OTAs are that he will be ready for the start of training camp. If this is the case Hunter will be catapulting up this list.
I really don’t know what to do with Felix Jones. He started off as a speed back that the fantasy community and the Cowboys were excited about but decided to bulk up in attempt to withstand the rigors of an NFL season. That plan has not yet work out for him. He doesn’t look nearly as fast as he did his first two seasons and he still gets nicked up. Now on the Philadelphia Eagles he may see some time on the field but there are a lot of talented running backs on that roster ahead of him.
Rashad Jennings / Marcel Reece
Mike Goodson / Bilal Powell
Isaac Redman / Jonathan Dwyer
There is a role for Thomas in Miami if he can stay healthy. Lamar Miller is the more talented and exciting player but Thomas can be productive given enough carries. He will likely be the 3rd down back in 2013.
Marcel Reece was more productive at times than Darren McFadden and could be again in 2013 if McFadden misses significant time again. Newly added Rashad Jennings could be in the mix as well.
Powell and Goodson would be much higher on this list if it weren’t for the Jets bringing in Chris Ivory who I like quite a bit more than either of these backs.
Michael Bush continues to play the backup with upside role. If Forte gets hurt again look for Bush to have a string of good to great fantasy games.
Redman and Dwyer both are likely going to be behind rookie Le’Veon Bell. Both have marginal fantasy value unless Bell gets hurt.
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