There’s a saying among those who play fantasy sports that holds true every year. It doesn’t matter if you play fantasy football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, (cricket? Is that a thing?), this general rule of thumb applies.
“You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it.”
Meaning, you’ll rarely win your league with your first selection of the draft. But if you take the wrong guy, or your main-man is lost for the year, typically you’re S.O.L.
I mean, you can’t predict an ACL tear, a year-long suspension, or any other type of negative circumstance that would derail your blue-chip, bellcow running back’s season. Hell, it’s Week 1 of the preseason and we already saw one of those guys, Arian Foster, go down for what looks to be half the year in a best-case scenario. Nobody, no matter how divine they claim to be, can predict the future. The best thing to do, if and when you decide to go running back in round one and/or two, is to bet on consistency and a track record of durability and success.
Now, for the final countdown. The top 12 running backs for the 2015 fantasy season.
12) C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
This dude had a major second half last season. I mean, odds are if you nabbed this guy off the waiver wire last year, you made the playoffs at the very least. I’m sure Mr. Anderson was a vital part of many championship rosters in 2014.
Let’s take a good look at what C.J. Anderson really did over the second act of the NFL season in 2014.
From Week 10 on, Anderson had 162/767/8.
That’s one hell of a season he had, IN THE SECOND HALF. Imagine those numbers extrapolated over the course of a full season? Those are clear-cut RB1 numbers.
However, remember what I said earlier? When spending an early pick on a running back, bet on consistency and a track record. Anderson, while he put up fantastic second half numbers, hasn’t sustained any sort of tangible track record.
Prior to Week 10 of last season, he had a career line of 24/120/0. Mind you, he was buried on the Bronco depth chart, but still, you want consistency and a track record at this stage in the draft.
Also, let’s not forget that he had two games (one quarter of his second-half production) against that Swiss Cheese Raider defense. Two games that produced 26/177/3, or 23% of his second half yards and 37.5% of his total touchdowns in the second half.
Also, he has a healthy Montee Ball to compete with in training camp. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a 50/50 shot that Ball steals the job from Anderson. Hell, the odds that Anderson loses the gig to the oft-injured Ball is slim to none. However, the opportunity does present itself. At the spot you would have to grab Anderson, I’d rather take a low-risk, high reward player such as one of the top WR talked about in this week’s edition of “Sauer Notes”.
If you are feeling lucky, the risk could pay major dividends. Gary Kubiak and his staff have gone on record to not only say that they want a three-down back, but they also plan to run more in the red zone, improving on the 37.2% running rate in the red-zone and 41.3% inside the opposing ten from a year ago. Kubiak will lean on the run game more than Adam Gase and John Fox did in their Bronco tenure, and it appears that there will be one back to rule them all. Let’s just hope they stick with the incumbent.
11) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Hill, much like the aforementioned Anderson, had a monster second half after being somewhat buried on the depth chart. Despite not having a game with 20+ carries until Week 9, Hill still produced a line of 222/1,124/9. Hill was a mid-to-late round pick who rewarded fantasy owners who were patient with him with major second-half production.
From a pure talent stand point, he is a superior back to Anderson. Despite sharing a backfield with Gio Bernard, he should get his carries. Even with a 60/40ish split in carries favoring Hill, he should still produce low-end RB1 numbers.
As far as running back committees go, there aren’t many better than the one in the Queen City. Not too many back fields have two 1,000+ yard rushers. The thunder-lightening combo that the Bengals deploy is a difficult one for opposing defenses to bottle up. Cincinnati ran the ball 49.4% of the time in 2014. I expect close to the same volume of rushing opportunities in 2015.
As the re-occurring theme of this article, I need a track record and more of an opportunity if I’m taking Hill. He only had half of a season of RB1 production, and even though this time-share with Bernard is top-notch, it still is a time share. Again, I’d much rather grab the Jordy Nelson, A.J. Green type of receiver at this spot in the draft. If I’m grabbing a running back early, he must be a no-brainer, bellcow type.
10) Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
The 2015 NFL draft included many fantastic running back prospects, and Melvin Gordon is the cream of the crop. As much as I love Todd Gurley, both as a fantasy owner and a Rams fan, Melvin Gordon will be the rookie running back who will make the biggest impact in 2015. Gordon and Gurley are rookie running backs 1A and 1B. Both are phenoms who will be franchise backs for their respective clubs for years to come. In a few years, we will be talking about Gurley and Gordon the same way we discuss Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles today. I firmly believe that both backs have that type of potential.
What separates Gordon from Gurley, from a fantasy standpoint, in 2015 is Gurley’s health and
Gordon’s clear path to playing time. The Chargers brought in Gordon to be a feature back, and I expect nothing less than that come Week 1. Early on, Danny Woodhead may sneak in some time during third down and other passing down situations, but I fully expect Gordon to be that three-down bellcow by season’s end.
I wrote about Gordon in my rookie preview back in June. I really do believe in his talent. However, I probably won’t look his way until the third round at the very earliest. He is a blue-chip prospect with all the potential in the world, but he is also just that, a prospect.
Hell, even his own mother won’t rock her son’s jersey until he proves himself.
“You’ve got to show me a little something, but it won’t be this year,” she said. “So you might see me in the stands, but I won’t have the jersey on. I did the same thing in college because I just want to hear what people are saying,” Carmen Gordon, mother of Melvin Gordon, told ESPN’s Eric D. Williams.
See? Even his own mother is taking a “wait and see” approach to the Chargers’ rookie. Let someone else reach for him and fill your roster with proven commodities before taking a risk in the early rounds.
9) Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
This might be a little high for some, but again, bet on consistency early in your drafts. In his first three years in the NFL, Morris has had an average season of 292/1,319.7/9.3. Does his game tape wow anybody? No. Will he ever grace the cover or Madden? Probably not. Do opposing defenses stay up at night, dreading the thought of having to stop this guy? Not likely. But at the end of the season, he ends up with very solid numbers. You know exactly what you are getting out of Freddy Morris. Scooping up Morris in the second or third round probably won’t wow anyone, but there isn’t much of a reason to not expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-300 carries, 1,000+ rushing yards and 7-9 touchdowns.
8) LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Many fantasy players, pundits, and analysts alike fear the thought of drafting LeSean McCoy. I’m not entirely sure why. Is it because he’s going to Buffalo? Is it because their quarterback game is far from being on point? I honestly don’t get it.
Here are a few “Shady” facts to put your mind at ease:
In 2013, McCoy won the NFL rushing title.
In 2014, despite playing behind an offensive line that saw FIVE starters miss significant time, McCoy still ended the year with a 314/1,319/5 line.
Rex Ryan hired former 49ers’ OC Greg Roman to run his offense. Both Roman and Ryan LOVE to run the ball. Whether you like it or not, LeSean McCoy will see an exorbitant amount of carries. Expect at least 300 carries in 2015.
Opponents may stack the box against the Bills, but in 2014, Frank Gore saw more defensive fronts of eight or more defenders than anyone in football. At 31, he still produced a line of 255/1,106/4. He played under Roman.
Let’s implement a little Murphy’s Law here. Say McCoy has an underwhelming 3.5 yards per carry. Let’s pretend for a second that he turns into Trent Richardson. 3.5 yards a carry over 300 carries is still 1,000+ yards.
No, we don’t know for sure how LeSean McCoy will fare in Buffalo from a production standpoint. We do know he will be fed the rock until he pukes, and that is valuable, especially given his track record.
7) Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
From this point forward, you can make a case for any of these running backs to be number one. It really comes down to personal preference.
However, among the bunch of running backs at the top, Forte has the lowest ceiling and the lowest floor. You know exactly what to expect from the Bears’ feature back. Something to the effect of 250/1,100/5-7 paired with 50/500/2-4. These are lines that mirror the average Matt Forte season.
Last season, under Marc Trestman, Forte caught over 100 passes. Something that is unheard of from a running back. In fact, his 102 receptions were more than any other running back in NFL history. Don’t expect an encore performance under John Fox and Adam Gase in 2015. However, what you can expect from the Bears’ offensive unit in 2015 is a more run-heavy offense, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. 300 carries from Forte is not out of the question.
A worst-case scenario from a healthy Forte is 258/929/4. Which is the line he produced in his sophomore season in 2009. Expect RB1 numbers from the Bears’ feature back. Expect consistency. Draft consistency. Draft Forte if all the other exciting options are off the board.
6) DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles
Owning Murray in 2014 was fun. So was his league-leading line of 393/1,845/13, paired with 57/416/0 was fun too. He left Dallas for rival Philadelphia, another offense that loves the zone-run.
Murray, like the Eagles’ running back before him, is another shifty runner that is more than capable of handling a heavy work load. No, he won’t see almost 400 carries like he did in 2014, but is 300 out of the question? Of course not.
In his only two season in Philly under Chip Kelly, LeSean McCoy saw exactly 314 carries per season. In 2013, when the Eagles’ offensive line was actually healthy, he lead the league in rushing.
I firmly believe that Murray did not get enough credit for the Cowboy resurrection in 2014, and he will be sorely missed in Dallas. Murray took less guaranteed money to play in Philly than other teams such as Oakland threw at him so that he could play for Chip Kelly and stick it to the Cowboys twice a year. This is a man on a mission, a man with a ‘chip’ on his shoulder. He’s out to prove that he’s more than just a guy who only thrived because of the men in front of him. I expect big things from Murray in 2015.
5) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
In his first two seasons in the NFL, Lacy has been nothing short of a solid RB1. He is a lock for about 260/1,100/9-10 as per his career average (health provided). Like I’ve been saying, at the top of your draft, draft consistency. Lacy has been nothing but productive since his arrival to the NFL.
I’ve seen him go as high as number one in some drafts, which is a mistake in my opinion. Sure, Lacy is dependable, productive, and plays in an offense that lights up the scoreboard with the best of them, but here’s a little food for thought when considering taking Eddie Lacy: In 2014, Eddie Lacy had only three games of 20+ carries and eclipsed 100 rushing yards three times. Despite being a bellcow running back, he plays in a pass-first offense. His value is very touchdown-dependent. Just keep that in mind. He also had ten games where he didn’t crack 75 rushing yards last season.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel also reports that Coach Mike McCarthy might look to further limit the amount of touches given to Lacy.
If you’re drafting Eddie Lacy, the most you’ll get is 1,100 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Very good numbers, but I can’t see him going off for anything more than that. Solid production, but not worth my number one pick.
4) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Beast Mode has lived up to his name since arriving in Seattle. Since 2011, his first full season in the Emerald City, he has never had fewer than 280 carries, 1,200 yards, 11 touchdowns, and has missed exactly one game. You wanna talk about consistent RB1 numbers, look no further than the Skittle king himself. There’s a reason why people call him Beast Mode.
Over the offseason, he told Conan O’Brien, of all people, that he considered retirement. That was until Seattle “put 12 in front of you for a year, you start to think, maybe I could do this again,” Lynch told O’Brien. The deal has $12 million guaranteed in 2015, everything else in the three-year $31 million deal is non-guaranteed, giving him the option to retire if he gets tired of being fined, or whatever. Just something to keep in mind for those in keeper leagues.
In exactly half of his games in 2014, Lynch had 20+ carries. He also reached the rushing yard century mark five times. Oh, and he can catch the ball a little bit too. Lynch finished with a receiving line of 37/367/4. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a 2014 all-purpose line of 337/1,673/17. He might even be a little underrated.
If you wanna grab Lynch at number one, I wouldn’t question the decision at all. Beast Mode gunna Beast.
3) Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Every time somebody brings up a big-body running back with potential, they compare him to Le’Veon Bell. Bell has now become the standard as to which all hefty running backs are to be compared to. And for a good reason.
At 6’1″, 244 lbs, Bell is deceptively quick and shifty for his size. In addition to his outstanding agility, he is also really tough to physically bring down given his size, as evident by his outstanding sophomore campaign where he produced a line of 290/1,361/8 and 83/854/3 receiving. That’s nucking futz.
Bell and Antonio Brown are a big reason why the Steelers’ offense transformed from a ground-and-
pound, dink-and-dunk offense to a very explosive one. Both men have turned Big Ben into a fantasy-relevant quarterback again. This offense expects to put up 30 points a week and I really don’t blame them. This is one of the few offenses that you really should be buying stock in.
Now, we all know about the incident that Bell was involved in last August. Him and the fittingly-named LeGarrette Blount were caught doing their best Cheech and Chong impression, and both men will ‘pay the piper’ at the beginning of 2015 with suspensions. Blount was hit with a one-game suspension. Bell was initially given three, but it was reduced to two after an appeal. Now, this suspension would mean that Bell will only play, in a best-case scenario, 14 out of 17 weeks in the regular season if you include the Steelers’ Week 11 bye.
The suspension, which may seem like a negative, may result in a buying opportunity come draft day. Let’s face it, this guy is an absolute stud. If you have to play your third-best running back for the first two weeks, so be it. If it means that you can draft Le’Veon Bell at a relative discount, it’s well worth it. He’s worth it.
2) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles literally WAS the Kansas City offense in 2014.
Despite having a painfully vanilla quarterback, no receiving talent to speak of, and a questionable offensive line, Charles still managed to put up 5 yards per carry and score 14 all-purpose touchdowns.
If you take away the year he lost to a torn ACL and his rookie year (he only amassed 67 carries), Charles has averaged 234/1,283/7.6. Man, if only this guy was in an offense with actual talent around him. Like, if the Colts magically acquired him some how. My god.
That being said, the reason why I have Charles at number two is mainly because I believe in his physical talent. Among the bellcows, he is the quickest and the focal point of an entire offense. Despite what I said earlier, I do believe that this Kansas City offense improves enough in the passing game to, at least, open things up a little bit for Charles. The addition of Jeremy Maclin will really help things along, and I think Travis Kelce takes a big step forward in 2015.
Charles should bounce back this season. I firmly believe in his talent and I don’t think 1,800 all-purpose yards is out of the question.
1) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith. I firmly believe that a healthy, focused Adrian Peterson is in that class of running backs. He is this generation’s most talented running back and, despite all that has happened legally over the past year, he deserves to be a first-ballet Hall of Famer.
Peterson is a physically superior specimen to all NFL running backs. He simply does things on the football field that many can’t dream about. He is a special type of athlete, a freak. Anybody who has the number one overall selection should be drafting this guy.
Sure, he missed a year of action, but as we all know, it wasn’t injury-related. That means, his 30-year-old legs have had pretty much a full year of rest. A lot less wear and tear in comparison to the average 30-year-old running back.
Coach Mike Zimmer told USA Today that Peterson will get “as much as he can take,” when asked
about what we can expect from AP’s workload. Meaning, he’s fresh, pissed at the world and ready to go.
Over the course of a full season, Peterson’s career low in touchdowns is ten. His career low in yardage, 1,266. Oh, and he’s just three years removed from a 2,000+ yard season. Remember?
Under Norv Turner last season, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combined for a receiving line of 71/447/1 on 104 targets. Not only will Peterson be carrying the ball 300+ times, but if last year’s numbers hold true, he could be targeted over 100 times in the passing game as well. Dang.
Adrian Peterson is an elite talent at the running back position who is playing in an up-and-coming offense with a legitimate passing attack who will face the Raiders, Falcons, Giants, Packers twice, and Bears twice. That’s seven games against less than stellar defenses. AP will have a monster year. Draft him number one. I know I would, given the opportunity.
Well, there you have it! My 2015 running back rankings! Hopefully, it helped shed some light and provided some insight to properly drafting running backs.
Until next time, Cheers!
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Major League Fantasy Football Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Saturday August 22nd from 2-4pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy SportsShow sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in live at 646-915-8596. This week’s topic is team back fields with question marks.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday August 23rd from 7-8:30pm EST for the Major League Fantasy Sports Show sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in live at 646-915-8596. We will be doing our 2015 wrap up.