Our post-draft dynasty ranking series rolls on with 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 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.
Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2013, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season.
Check out our quarterback dynasty rankings here.
Prior to the draft, I had 10 backs in my first tier. Post-draft, I feel more comfortable splitting out the top-three.
The first running back off the board in startup leagues this year should be Adrian Peterson. Sure he turns 28 this year, 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 obvious 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 a top of the rankings.
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 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 five 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 25-years-old, Spiller is primed for a breakout 2013 season.
Rice is a safer option than the likes of LeSean McCoy and C.J. Spiller, but I feel like his ceiling a bit lower going forward because of 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.
One of those guys who always seems older than he actually is, Lynch turned 27 on April 22. The six-year vet has seen a career resurrection since getting traded to Seattle during the 2010 season. The NFL’s run-heaviest team last 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. I did drop Lynch a bit from my pre-draft rankings, simply because of a potential 2013 suspension, as well as, the team’s addition of Christine Michael and Spencer Ware during the draft.
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 offensive 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.
Ridley benefited from facing more nickel defenses, by far, 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 significant number of targets. Still only 27, he remains in the RB1 discussion in 12-team leagues.
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…Durability is a concern for Murray, but he’s a guy I’m high on. He’s only 25 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.
Jones-Drew suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 season, but is expected back in the saddle as Jacksonville’s workhorse in 2013. His age (28) is a concern, but Jones-Drew should be fresh after nearly a full year off, not to mention motivated in a contract year…After back-to-back strong seasons in 2010 and 2011 (when healthy), McFadden took a giant step backwards in 2012, averaging just 3.3 yards-per-carry, while scoring just three total touchdowns. The good news is that he doesn’t have much competition for carries, and Oakland will dump its zone-blocking scheme in order to maximize his ability. McFadden will be motivated for a big bounce back as he enters a contract year
The first rookie tailback selected in April’s draft, it won’t be long before Bernard takes over as the Bengals’ feature back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be heavily-involved this season, but Bernard will play quite a bit off the bench. It’s only a matter of time until Bernard, the superior back, takes control. He’s a future three-down contributor… Johnson isn’t the fantasy superstar of old, but he remains one of the league’s most-talented backs. Set to turn 28 during the season, there’s still some gas in the tank. He’ll return in 2013 as Tennessee’s workhorse, making him a decent No. 2 dynasty back.
Following a 2011 season in which he racked up over 1,500 total yards on 272 touches in only 14 games, Mathews was a massive disappointment last year. He missed four games, averaged 3.8 yards-per-carry, and scored one touchdown. Going forward, there is some good news. He remains the team’s feature back, and will be under a new coaching staff led by Mike McCoy, who made Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno relevant in Denver last season. On the other hand, Mathews barely plays on passing downs, which won’t change with Danny Woodhead now on the roster, and the Chargers’ offense isn’t as productive as it was a few years ago. There’s still upside here, but you’re playing with fire if you’re relying on Mathews as your top back.
Gore and Jackson are in a similar boat. Both fit the bill as career-workhorses who will be 30-years-old prior to Week 1. Gore has 1,911 career regular-season carries, while Jackson has 2,395. After a strong, healthy 2012 season, 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 signed on with the Falcons, and will take over as the lead back in a highly-productive offense. Both guys are running out of productive years, but they figure to have borderline RB1 redraft value for at least one more year.
Lacy, Ball, and Bell are each expected to play significant roles in their respective backfield as rookies. Of course, in addition to the inherent unknown that comes with drafting rookies, each carries an additional roadblock to immediate and/or long-term fantasy success. Lacy fills the Packers’ need for a feature back, but Green Bay went ahead and drafted Johnathan Franklin two rounds later. Lacy is the more-talented of the two backs, but a slow start, or any struggle with durability, and Franklin could pounce on the team’s lead back job. Ball is the future lead back for Denver, but is currently dealing with a crowded backfield (Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, and Ronnie Hillman) and a head coach (John Fox) that is usually wary of utilizing rookies as workhorses. Bell is the least-talented of the three backs, but he has almost no competition for the team’s lead back gig from day-one. The door is open for the club to add a veteran like Ahmad Bradshaw to the mix, but Bell is certainly expected to be their long-term feature back. One year from now, we could be talking about a trio of sophomore lead backs in highly-productive offenses.
With Reggie Bush now in Detroit, 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 and rookie Mike Gillislee – but there’s a ton of upside here. A 4.9 rookie-season YPC provides plenty of reason for optimism…Ivory was traded to the Jets during April’s draft. He has a history of strong production (5.1 career YPC on 256 carries), but is all but not existent in the passing game (three career targets) and has struggled with durability. Only 25 and set to take over for Shonn Greene as the Jets’ workhorse, Ivory makes for a borderline RB2.
Bush latched on with the Lions where he’ll, at least, share lead back duties with Mikel Leshoure. Although the latter will handle a chunk of the between-the-tackles and most of the goal line work, Bush will be a featured target in the league’s pass-heaviest offense. Over the next few years, Bush figures to rack up a ton of receptions. Of course, he just turned 29 and is nearing the end of his prime, which is why he’s no more than a borderline top-25 dynasty back.
Arguably the league’s top No. 2 tailback, Tate is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He figures to generate significant interest on the open market next offseason. Beat the hype and snatch the 24-year-old up now… Pead showed flashes of dominance on a small sample of rookie-season touches. St. Louis’ 2012 second-round pick will compete with Daryl Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy for the team’s lead back gig this season. His upside gives him an edge on Richardson, who slowed down after a strong first-half to his rookie season. The presence of Stacy, a bruiser, figures to at least cost Pead scoring opportunities for years to come.
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 has a few effective years left as Drew Brees’ well-fed underneath option on passing downs.
Lattimore may not play during the 2013 season because of a devastating knee injury suffered at South Carolina last season. Arguably the best talent at the position in this year’s rookie class, Lattimore is set up for a great opportunity in San Francisco once he’s healthy. You’ll hear this everywhere you read about Lattimore: he’s well worth the wait…Franklin is one of the top rookie talents at the position, but he’ll need to unseat fellow rookie Eddie Lacy in order to maximize his potential. He’s worth stashing in dynasty leagues, but it may be some time before he’s averaging the coveted 15-plus touches-per-game.
Stewart remains stuck in a timeshare with DeAngelo Williams 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-three.
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. Ballard’s age (22) and current situation make him appealing, but he his ceiling figures to be that of a borderline RB2…As mentioned earlier on in this piece, Pierce is a threat to Ray Rice for early-down snaps after a strong rookie season in which he averaged 4.9 yards-per-carry on 108 attempts.
Vereen could be a threat to some of Stevan Ridley’s workload between the 20s, but he’s unlikely to get much work inside-the-five and will be at the liberty of the Bill Belichick tailback committee as long as he’s in New England. The good news is that he’s expected to take over for Danny Woodhead as the team’s primary passing-down back. Vereen could easily finish in the top-five in receptions among all tailbacks…Mendenhall follows coach Bruce Arians to Arizona where he’s the favorite to take over as the team’s feature back. Only signed to a one-year deal, his future as a workhorse in question, but Mendenhall is only 25 and has a history of strong play in an every-down role.
Brown is stuck behind LeSean McCoy for at least the next few seasons, but he’s only turning 22 this May and the Eagles figure to go with a run-heavy approach under Chip Kelly. He was excellent in a small sample of work as a rookie, averaging 4.9 YPC…With Reggie Bush in town, Leshoure is far from locked in as Detroit’s long-term feature back. The good news is that he’s still only 23 and, at the very least, has future as a goal line back.