Our dynasty ranking series rolls on with today’s breakdown of the running back position.
Running backs are the trickiest to rank because of the constant turnover at the position. One year, you have a 27-year old superstar. The next year, you have an overworked, broken-down 28-year old. In fact, these days, even younger running backs are going from hot commodities to fantasy afterthoughts in a matter of a few months. Remember Steve Slaton? How about Roy Helu? Jahvid Best? Kevin Smith? Joseph Addai? The list goes on and on.
That being the case, I tend to rank running backs based on a shorter outlook than that of the other three key offensive positions. I want guys, regardless of age, who can help me over the next three or so years, particularly in the upcoming season. That, of course, is not to say that I’m avoiding big upside kids in favor of veterans on their last legs. It’s simply the difference between going with Adrian Peterson over Trent Richardson, or Frank Gore over Mark Ingram.
This is going to be a long one, so let’s get on to the rankings.
Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2013, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. The draft year and round is also shown for each player.
Click it here for 2013 Quarterback Dynasty Rankings
I was back-and-forth on how many backs to include in the top tier, but 10 ended up being the magic number. We have a mix of 2012 stars, 2013 breakout candidates, and a few bounceback candidates. Although our first tier of backs is deep, be careful not to wait long (if at all) to address the position. Running backs always fly off the shelves due to the lack of depth after the first 15 or so players. Despite an intriguing group of young backs in the fourth and fifth tiers, there is still a drop-off in reliability as we cross over from tier one to two.
The first running back off the board in startup leagues this year should be Adrian Peterson. Sure he's closing in on 28, but after what he did coming off a torn ACL during the 2012 season, Peterson is the only logical No. 1 back. Even if he takes the likely step back in 2013, he’s the most consistently-dominant back of the last six years. Draft him with confidence and enjoy the ride over the next few seasons.
Spending the past few years as the feature back in one of the league’s run-heaviest offenses, there’s certainly reason to believe Foster could begin to fade in 2013. His yards-per-carry marks have declined each of the past two seasons, but it’s worth noting that his postseason YPC marks were better than his regular season marks both years. On paper, the touch numbers are scary, but the guy keeps producing, is only 26-years-old, and there is no sign Houston will move away from a run-first attack.
Martin exploded onto the scene as a rookie last season, locking himself in as the team’s long-term feature back. A three-down player, there’s not much to be concerned with here in terms of another back stealing pass-down or, to a lesser extent, goal line reps. If Martin is your top dynasty back, you’re in good hands. Had he been one or two years younger, he’d be on top of the rankings…Lynch is one of those guys who always seems older than he actually is. About to turn 27, he's seen a career resurrection since getting traded to Seattle during the 2010 season. The Seahawks figure to be one of the league’s better teams over the next few years, which will give Lynch, their clear feature back, a ton of opportunities to handle the ball.
Charles is one of the league’s best backs, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll see a significant drop in carries now that Andy Reid is calling the shots. Of course, we’ve seen before that Charles can do a lot of damage without 20-plus carries every week (not unlike Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy under Reid in Philadelphia). Additionally, Charles figures to see a boost in targets going forward, especially with conservative Alex Smith under center…Speaking of McCoy, his role will be tweaked a bit now that Chip Kelly has taken over the Eagles’ offense. Kelly figures to roll with a run-heavy offense, which will mean plenty of work for both McCoy and Bryce Brown. The Eagles’ recent struggles and the emergence of Brown have made it easy to overlook McCoy, but he’s still only 24-years-old and unquestionably one of the league’s most-talented backs.
The first six names on our list are relatively safe picks, but Spiller is definitely not in that category. The good news is that he doesn’t have much tread on his tires (388 career carries), has been extremely dominant thus far in his career (5.5 YPC), and should benefit from the Bills’ new, up-tempo offense under Doug Marrone. The negatives include the presence of veteran Fred Jackson and Spiller’s lack of experience as an every-down back. Regardless, his upside significantly outweighs any potential roadblocks to a top-10 finish at the position. Still only 26-years-old, Spiller is primed for a breakout 2013 season.
Rice is a guy I know I’m lower on than most. One of the primary reasons for this is the emergence of Bernard Pierce during the later stages of the 2012 season. Pierce went from averaging 3.3 carries-per-game during the team’s first seven games to seeing 9.5-per-game over the final 13. Even more important, Pierce was extremely effective, averaging 5.0 YPC. Rice, of course, is still a premier talent and won’t lose his job as the team’s lead back. He remains a middle-of-the-pack RB1.
Richardson is a guy I’ve seen ranked as the No. 1 dynasty back, but I just can’t commit to him there right now. Still only 21-years-old and fresh off a season that saw him handle over three-quarters of Cleveland’s carries, there’s a lot to love about the Browns’ long-term workhorse. Still, he showed questionable durability, struggling with injuries throughout the year, and averaged a putrid 3.6 YPC. Time will tell if the injuries were to blame for the ineffectiveness, but right now, he’s risky enough to warrant going elsewhere at the running back spot.
Morris had an outstanding rookie season, averaging 4.8 YPC on 351 carries. He’s basically a non-factor in the passing game, but was working as an every-down back in a run-first offense that scored a ton of points down the stretch. None of those factors figure to change in the near-future, but don’t forget that Mike Shanahan is the coach here. Morris could be an ankle tweak away from losing a chunk of his workload to Roy Helu or Evan Royster. Morris is more of a borderline top-10 dynasty back than he is a player you want to build your team around.
Jones-Drew suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 season, but is expected back in the saddle as Jacksonville’s workhorse in 2013. He’s closing in on 28, but should be fresh after nearly a full year off, not to mention motivated in a contract year…Ridley benefited from facing, by far, more nickel defenses than any other back in the league in 2012. Still, he was effective when called upon and defensive schemes don’t figure to change against New England any time soon. Shane Vereen is a long-term threat for snaps, but Ridley is the lead and clear goal line back. He remains a borderline RB1 option.
As long as short-yardage bulldozer Michael Bush is in the picture, touchdowns will be hard to come by for Forte. The two backs split 10 rushing scores evenly during the 2012 season, and Bush is signed through 2015. Of course, Forte will continue to see a heavy chunk of the offensive snaps, which will include a handful of targets. Still only 27, he remains in the RB1 discussion in 12-team leagues…Durability is a concern for Murray, but he’s a guy I’m high on. He’ll be 25 when the season starts and Dallas has not been afraid to use him as a workhorse when he’s healthy. His YPC was down to a mediocre 4.1 in 2012, but his career mark remains at a stellar 4.8.
Wilson is the first back on our list without 100 career carries to his name. New York’s 2012 first-round pick will need to compete with Andre Brown for the team’s lead back job, but all bets should be on the talented 21-year-old out of Virginia Tech. With Ahmad Bradshaw long gone, it’s the speedy Wilson’s gig for the long-term. The risk of the unknown is the only thing keeping Wilson out of the top 12, but he has enough to upside to be top-five on this list one year from now… Johnson isn’t the fantasy superstar of old, but he remains one of the league’s most-talented backs. Set to turn 28 this year, there’s still some gas in the tank. He’ll return in 2013 as Tennessee’s workhorse, making him a decent No. 2 option in most formats.
It makes sense for us to group McFadden and Mathews together, as both were colossal busts during the 2012 season. The bad news is that neither back is looking like a potential superstar at the position. The good news is they they’re both still under 26 and entering a 2013 season under a new coaching staff. Oakland will dump its zone-blocking scheme in order to revolve the offense around McFadden, who, by the way, is entering a contract year. Mathews, meanwhile, will work under Mike McCoy, who made Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno relevant in Denver last season. The two backs figure to start for their respective team in 2013, but it’d be unwise to bank on workhorse-like roles. Marcel Reese will push McFadden, and San Diego will add some competition for Mathews. There’s still upside here, but you’re playing with fire if you’re relying on either back as your No. 1 option.
Stewart is one of the riskier names in the top-20. He’s stuck in a timeshare with DeAngelo Williams (for now) and Mike Tolbert, and has missed nine games due to injury over the last three seasons. Entering his sixth season, Stewart only has 818 carries to his name, and has never eclipsed 221 in a single season. His 4.7 career YPC mark is impressive, but it was a career-low 3.6 in 2012, and there’s no sign he’ll be asked to handle a feature-back role in 2013. Still only 26, however, he’s a guy with one of the highest ceilings at the position. If Williams is cut loose, bump Stewart to tier-two.
Gore and Jackson are in a similar boat. Both fit the bill as career-workhorses who will turn 30 prior to Week 1. Gore has 1,911 career regular-season carries, while Jackson has 2,395. After a strong, healthy 2012 season that lasted 19 games, Gore is locked in as the 49ers’ feature back. Any sign of decline, however, and Kendall Hunter and/or LaMichael James could quickly take on a larger role. Jackson will be a free agent next week, but figures to sign on with a contender looking for an every-down back. Both guys are running out of productive years, but they figure to have borderline RB1 redraft value for at least one more year.
With Reggie Bush likely headed elsewhere, Miller is the favorite to take over as Miami’s lead back. Only a fourth-rounder in 2012, he’s risky – and will share with Daniel Thomas – but there’s a ton of upside here…Ingram finally started to come on during the second half of the 2012 season, but his short-yardage/early-down role doesn’t figure to change going forward. His ceiling is low as long as he’s in his current situation, but there’s enough talent and touchdown potential here to warrant your attention…Sproles is about to turn 30, but he’s one of the league’s most unique running backs in that he doesn’t really do much running. He figures to have a few effective years left as Drew Brees’ well-fed underneath option on passing downs.
There’s a chance Ballard enters the 2013 season as the Colts’ workhorse tailback, but he was only average as a ball-carrier as a rookie (3.9 YPC) and Indianapolis figures to roll with a pass-first offense with Andrew Luck running the show…Williams is one of the league’s most injury-plagued players of the last two years, but it seems he’ll be getting the first shot at the team’s primary tailback job this season. His 2.8 YPC was downright ugly this past season, but he only had 58 carries, many of which were against stacked defensive boxes. Still only 22-years-old, there’s a lot upside here with Bruce Arians now in control…Bush doesn’t have a team just yet, but figures to land somewhere that allows him, at least, a share of lead back duties. Bush proved he could carry a decent share of the workload in Miami, but he’s about to turn 28 and nearing the end of his prime.