Running Back (RB) is the most important position in fantasy football. The reason for RB being the most important fantasy position is for the sheer fact that they set the foundation for you team. You can try the wide receiver-wide receiver approach in the first two rounds of your draft, but by the third round, all the elite and upper echelon RBs will be gone, leaving you to pick the running backs in 2 back sets, or RBBCs. The best strategy for most leagues, especially points per reception leagues (unless it’s 3 points/reception) is the RB-RB approach the 1st 2 rounds, then WR in the 3rd, then WR, RB or TE (if an elite option), then QB in the fifth. The rationale for this approach will likely become more evident once the first few RBs are ranked, and for the noted disparity in talent level after the top names.
These rankings are tailored for Major League Fantasy Football (MLFF), but are applicable for any type of leagues.
Tier 1.1: Exception to the rule
1.) Adrian Peterson – If you have the 1st overall pick in your draft and you don’t draft Peterson AKA “All Day,” then what is wrong with you? His performance last season after destroying his knee in late 2011 wasn’t enough to convince you? All AP did last season was post 2,097 rushing yards (RUSH YD) and 12 TDs. What will he do for an encore this season? Break the single season rushing yard record and record 17 TDs.
Tier 1.2: Bonafide studs
2.) Arian Foster – If you miss out on AP, then seriously consider Foster. He’s über consistent, has proven to be durable, and is 2 years younger than Peterson. Over the past 3 seasons, not only has he averaged over 1,400 rushing yards/season, but he’s also recorded 159 receptions over that span, good for over 1,400 yards receiving and receiving TDs. Is the workload concerning? Yes, but he still warrants picking 2nd in most drafts. Another day at the office for him at 1,400 rushing yards, 14 TDs to go with 350 receiving yards, and 2 TDs should be in store.
3.) Trent Richardson – Personally, in dynasty formats I’d be extremely tempted to take TRich before Foster. Bursting onto the scene last season as a rookie, he has some of the best hands as a pass-catching RB, and can flat out hit once he gets a full head of steam. This season, provided his health holds up, there is nothing that can stop him from posting 1,250 RUSH YDs, 14 TDs to go with 55 receptions for 450 yards, and 3 TDs.
4.) Ray Rice – Has anyone ever tried to tackle a bowling ball? Ask NFL defenders what it’s like to try to tackle Rice, as it isn’t easy. Not only is he tough as nails to tackle (converted an absurd 4th and 29 last season), he also might be the best pass-catching RB in the game today, and with Anquan Boldin’s departure, he could see even more touches. He’ll be a lock for another 1,110/10 TD season rushing this year, but could also post 75 receptions for 710 yards and 4 TDs. Boldin’s passes have to go somewhere, and at least a fair chunk of them will find Rice’s hands.
5.) Doug Martin – I’ve heard talks of him going as high as 3rd overall in fantasy drafts, but I wouldn’t take him there because the names above him on this list all have better hands, and of the two second year running backs, TRich has by far more upside. Don’t worry though, Martin is still an elite complete package with great speed, hands, and acceleration. As long as Josh Freeman makes at least nominal improvements going forward, Martin’s stats should only continue to rise. I’ll put him down for 1,550 rushing yards, 12 TDs, but also expect 40/400/2 TD receiving stats-wise. The Ray Rice comparisons are legit.
6.) Jamaal Charles – Health, new coach, new beginnings. One season removed from an ACL injury, Charles explodes for 1,745 total yards from scrimmage. His recovery season (1,745 total yards, 5 RUSH TD) was vastly overshadowed by Adrian Peterson’s, but, considering the state of the Chiefs last season, Charles deserves to be a top 6 selection. He’ll easily set a career high in passes out of the backfield and may even break the 8 TD clip this season. Don’t be surprised to see another 1,400 rushing yards season, 8 rush TDs, and 2 receiving TDs this season.
7.) Marshawn Lynch – Beast Mode is in his last year of his contract in Seattle, and it may well be his last, so expect big numbers. For starters, if you haven’t seen his earth shaking TD run against the Saints in the playoffs, you shouldn’t be playing fantasy football. The addition of Percy Harvin to the passing game might curb his carry numbers slightly, but BM will still net you 1,600 rushing yards and 12 TDs this season. Not top five material, but still pretty elite production-wise.
Tier 2: Elite-Lite
8.) LeSean McCoy – His ranking here is entirely dependent upon 2 things: Has he entirely recovered from his concussion last season (does any football player ever “truly” recover)? How exactly will he be utilized in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense? If the answer to the first question is yes, then, he should be the focal point of the Eagles offense and return to his old self. If he shows signs of lagging, or recurring headaches, Bryce Brown will take over for him and McCoy slips. If you feel the former is the case, draft him as a 1,250 rushing yard, 11 TD RB, with another 3 receiving TDs; if the latter, pass on him, as he could then struggle to eclipse the 700/5 plateau rushing-wise.
9.) Alfred Morris – It’s hard to trust any Redskins back these days, but Morris is one to grab once the big names are off the boards. He is a physical runner, who has speed to burn, and was Robin to Batman last season. The only downside to him is he isn’t that great of a pass catcher, which hurts his value in PPR leagues, but rushing-wise he may more than make up for his top 10 selection. This season, with a healthy RGIII, expect 1,500 rushing yards and 12 TDs from Morris as your RB1.
10.) C.J. Spiller – This is the season the dynamite could completely go boom! He is the de facto starting running back in Buffalo, and should be yours too. He is one of the leagues most elusive running backs, and has a propensity for yards after contact, which is always a plus. The bad news is he isn’t that physical around the goal line and often struggles to score in the red zone. Regardless, Spiller should be among the first 12 picks in most drafts, and expect around 1,600 rushing yards, but only 8 TDs from him this season.
11.) Steven Jackson – Some people don’t like Steven Jackson in Atlanta, but I do. Jackson was one of the most consistent running backs in the NFL all of his healthy seasons in St. Louis, and now goes to an offensively stacked team, that creates enormous holes for running backs to hit. He’s a more physical runner, better pass catching RB, and younger than the late Michael Turner, and is one of the toughest runners to tackle. I see 280 carries for Jackson this season, which should easily translate to 1,250 rushing yards and 11 TDs, and then tack on another 2 receiving TDs.
12.) Darren Sproles – One of the shortest players in the NFL is also one of the better running backs in the NFL. The bowling ball keeps rolling forward, but his main asset is as a receiver. Averaging near a whopping 690 yards as a receiver the past 2 seasons, Sproles has put his name up with the big boys. He’ll never be an elite runner, but as long as he keeps producing 700 receiving yards, 7 TDs, and then throws in 500 rushing yards and 3 TDs, you have a complete package.
13.) Steven Ridley – Ridley will be an even bigger part of the Patriots’ game this season, and rightfully should be. The team lost Aaron Hernandez to off field matters, and Gronkowski is out till September, leaving the Patriots thin on offense. All’s well though, as the Patriots had one of the most efficient running games last season, and Ridley was a big part of that. He’s a tough fella between the tackles, and should get another 1,250 rushing yards and 10 TDs this season. Just a shade below the best of the bunch.
14.) Chris Johnson – He has regressed to a shell of his 2,000 yard season and looks to never be truly elite, but there’s still upside, just not for touchdowns. The entrance of Shonn Greene into the short yardage and goal line game means CJ2Ks stock continues to fall. Johnson will still burst for runs of 85+ yards and finish the season with 1,100 yards, but will likely only net 6 TDs.
15.) Maurice Jones-Drew – The question with MJD is does he want to commit to football? If so, and he stays healthy, he’s a near lock to be a top 5 pick, but the problem is he seems unhappy and wanting out in Jacksonville. A healthy, fully committed season for MJD would be 1,275 rushing yards and 11 TDs, but the risk here is also very high. If you can snag him in the mid second round, by all means, do.
16.) Frank Gore – At least for this season, the drafting of Marcus Lattimore does nothing to threaten Gore. However, after this season, the situation muddies as Gore’s age rises. Steady is his game, and for this season he will net you another solid, yet quiet, 1,200 rushing yard/9 TD campaign.
Tier 3.1: More suited as an RB2, but some have tremendous upside
17.) Reggie Bush – Reggie! Reggie! Reggie Bush is now in Detroit, which should affect his status that much in the running game, but should lead to an uptick in receptions. In Detroit his optimal value would come if he is an RBBC approach with Mikel Leshoure, as Bush’s body can’t take the pounding of a full workload of 270-300 carries. However, in the pass game, he should be one of Matt Stafford’s favorite targets, and see enough looks to net 4 TDs and 450 receiving yards, to go along with 800 rushing yards and 7 TDs. Matt Stafford threw a whopping 144 passes to his running backs last season, and Bush is better than the ones the Lions had then.
18.) Le’Veon Bell – Bell could very well be the best rookie running back this season, and runs similarly to Brandon Jacobs. He is a big, physical back who will hurdle you, and has less tread on his tires than Montee Ball. Pittsburgh is the ideal fit for Bell, as he is a grinder, yards-after-contact type runner, who can convert those short yardage plays, as well as break some for long runs. In his inaugural season, don’t be surprised if he eclipses the 1,000 RUSH YD, 9 TD plateau, but there will be some bumps in the road.
19.) Darren McFadden – It’s a forgone conclusion he is going to miss time every season, but when he is healthy, what he produces could be nice. Honestly, I never jumped on his bandwagon as many did, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t consistent. He is. The problem this season is the QB play (Matt Flynn) is going to be awful, which is going to make the Raiders more dependent upon Run DMC. In the likely 11 games he’ll be healthy this season, McFadden will give you 800 RUSH YDs and 4 TDs, but anything else is gravy. Tread softly and grab another RB if you draft him.
20.) Montee Ball – Being heralded as possibly the Broncos running back of the future, I’m not buying it. Too much tread on his tires from college (873 total carries in 4 seasons). In the Mile High City with Peyton and Co., I see Ball going 950/7, and possibly 1,000/8, but be aware that he could be an injury waiting to happen if the Broncos overuse him in the running game. He is the type RB who would be most effective in an RBBC to keep him healthy.
Tier 3.2: True RB2 material
21.) Matt Forte – He will never be fully healthy. Now that we got that fact out of the way, let’s focus on the good with him: He’s a great pass catching RB, and is shifty and hard to tackle, albeit with knee and ankle issues. Given the Bears’ offensive line in patch-up mode, and Cutler not getting any better as a passer, expect the Bears to continue to rely on Forte in the running game, along with Michael Bush. He’ll produce 1,050 rushing yards and 5 TDs in 14 games, but realize he’ll have the questionable tag on him going into most games.
22.) David Wilson – Wilson was sent to the doghouse last season, as he had fumbling issues early, but over the latter part of last year, and going into this season, he seems to have fixed those issues. He is not as physical, nor as great between the tackles as Andre Brown, but he has more break away speed. This season the Giants will utilize both Wilson and Brown, with Wilson getting the lions share of carries, as long as he doesn’t put the rock on the turf. Expect a solid, yet modest 1,000 rushing yards and 7 TDs, but he’ll also likely have five fumbles. He’s a 4th round pick, but likely will go in the 3rd round.
23.) DeMarco Murray – As a Sooner fan, I hope the kid stays healthy for a 16 game season one day, but I’m also skeptical. He came into the league with injury concerns, but when he’s been healthy for the Cowboys, he has been a stud. Assuming he does stay healthy in his 3rd season in Dallas, he’s a top 10 RB, possibly a top 5 RB as he’d produce a 1,500/10 TD line. Healthy is the key. If he goes down again this season and rookie Joseph Randle impresses, then Murray’s days as RB1 may be history.
24.) Giovanni Bernard – I may be believing in Bernard too much for this season, but by seasons end I expect him to be RB1 in Cincinnati. He is an elusive, quick back who has good speed and great hands, but it remains to be seen how he’ll do between the tackles. Assuming he holds his own between the tackles, his upside could be Ray Rice-like, but if he struggles or gets injured running between the tackles, he’ll be destined for an RBBC. For this season he’ll likely get 750 rushing yards and 5 TDs, but not lead the Bengals in rushing TDs, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis should in his final season.
25.) Ryan Mathews – Mathews has never lived up to expectations, and after breaking two collar bones last season, and the Chargers signing Danny Woodhead, he likely never will. His potential is nice, but the injury concerns outweigh the risk early in drafts. Draft him around the late 4th/early 5th round if he lasts that long, and expect 800 RUSH YDs and 5 TDs, as he’s likely to miss time this season. If he doesn’t miss time, then you got a 4th/5th round steal.