Our post-draft dynasty ranking series rolls on with a thorough look at 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. That being the case, I tend rank the top 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. Once I’ve essentially set my starting lineup, it’s all about choosing players with the highest ceilings. It’s here where ‘age’ is a key component, making rookies and sophomores quite attractive in the middle rounds.
Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2014, which is just prior to Week 1 of the upcoming season. The draft year and round is also shown for each player. Non-PPR scoring is assumed.
Be sure to also check out our 2014 Quarterback Dynasty Rankings
Our first tier includes your elite dynasty running back options. Jimmy Graham and the top wide receivers should be your primary focus early on in the first round of your dynasty draft, but this trio of backs should be top-10 picks.
LeSean McCoy was a fairly easy choice for the top spot. Still only 25 years old, a strong case could be made that McCoy should be the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 redraft leagues. McCoy put up 2,147 total yards and 11 scores in 2013 – his first as the centerpiece of the run-heavy, Chip Kelly offense. A year and a half younger than Jamaal Charles, McCoy gets the edge for the top spot.
Charles was easily fantasy’s top running back of 2013, coming up just 19 markers short of 2,000 total yards. He scored 19 touchdowns, which was fueled by 70 receptions and seven scores via the passing game. Charles is only 27, locking him in as Kansas City’s featured offensive weapon for a few more seasons. Ultra-conservative Alex Smith isn’t going anywhere, either, which means 60-plus catches each season is a near lock.
After only one season, Eddie Lacy has vaulted his way to the first round of dynasty drafts. The youngest back in our top tier, Lacy will enter 2014 at age 23. He was fantasy’s No. 7 running back as a rookie, racking up 1,435 total yards and 11 scores. The Packers are making a real effort to keep the running game involved in the offense, which takes away some scoring opportunities from Aaron Rodgers and the team’s receivers, and passes them along to Lacy. A plus talent who is locked in as the feature back in an elite offense, Lacy is an outstanding player to build your squad around.
Our next tier includes middle-of-the-pack and back-end RB1 options. This is a much deeper tier than our first, but includes a similar mixture of youth and veterans.
The most intriguing attribute of emerging Bengals’ feature back Gio Bernard is his age. Only 22, he’s almost three full years younger than a majority of our Top 25 backs. That’s what gets him inside the Top 5 despite a short NFL resume. In 2013 – his rookie campaign – Bernard was No. 16 in scoring at the position despite racking up only 170 carries. He scored eight times and his 56 receptions ranked eighth among running backs. Going forward, Bernard will surely see a larger workload, which locks him in as a RB1, especially in PPR formats. Cincinnatti’s acquisition of Jeremy Hill in the second round of May’s draft is all that keeps Bernard from the top tier.
Set to enter the 2014 season at age 29, Adrian Peterson is oldest among our top 40 backs. Of course, considering how dominant Peterson has been over the last seven years, it’s hard not to view him as a strong dynasty tailback. That’s the case even if he only lasts another two or three years at his current level. Peterson missed two games in 2013, but was still fantasy’s No. 6 running back. He’s reached 1,200 rushing yards in six of his seven seasons and figures to see more targets with Norv Turner now calling the shots in Minnesota. A contender to be chosen No. 1 overall in 2014 redraft leagues, Peterson remains a strong dynasty hold.
Following an impressive rookie performance, 2013 was a lost season for Doug Martin. His 3.6 yards-per-carry mark was a full yard lower than in 2012 and he lasted only six games before a shoulder injury landed him on Injured Reserve. Still, the Buccaneers offense improved drastically when Josh Freeman was benched (around the time Martin went down) and the team’s coaching staff was overhauled during the offseason. Martin is clearly the top talent in this backfield and should easily average close to 20 touches per game over the next several years. Only 25, Martin remains a quality dynasty tailback.
Lynch is one of the NFL’s best runners and works out of the league’s run-heaviest offense. He was fantasy’s No. 4 back this past season despite only catching 36 balls. That’s the good news. The concern here is Lynch’s age (28) and the potential emergence of 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael. Lynch remains an excellent short-term play, but one injury could quickly end his reign as a fantasy standout.
The perpetually-underrated Murray proved his skeptics wrong with another impressive showing in 2013. The real difference this time around was that he appeared in 14 games after missing a total of nine during his first two seasons. Murray was fantasy’s No. 8 running back, racking up nearly 1,500 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Durability remains a concern, but Murray is only 26 and without much competition for reps in Dallas.
The Redskins took a major step backwards last season, which put a damper on what was quietly another great season for Alfred Morris. The big man was No. 14 among running backs in fantasy points despite catching only nine balls (72 backs caught more). Already one of the league’s top, young between-the-tackle runners, Morris figures to see more passing game involvement with Jay Gruden now in control of the offense. Only 25, Morris has plenty of years left as a top fantasy back.
Le’Veon Bell is an interesting case study. On one hand, he was a second-round pick one year ago and Pittsburgh immediately installed him as their feature back. That led to a massive volume of touches (289 in 13 games to be exact) and eight touchdowns. On the other hand, Bell averaged a miserable 3.5 yards-per-carry and failed to score on any of his 275 touches from 10-plus yards away from the end zone. That sounds a lot like Trent Richardson circa 2012. Bell is only 22 and the team’s clear feature back heading into 2014, but it’s fair to wonder if he has the talent to keep the job long term.
Matt Forte hasn’t done it with a lot of flair, but he’s been one of the most reliable backs in fantasy over the last half decade. Forte has appeared in 15-plus games in five of his six seasons and has never been below 204 carries and 44 receptions in a single year. He was fantasy’s No. 3 back in 2013 thanks to 1,933 total yards and 12 scores. With Marc Trestman running the Chicago offense, it will continue to score points. Forte’s age (28) is becoming a concern, but he remains a solid short-term dynasty play.
Our third tier starts to dig into the top available No. 2 dynasty running backs.
Zac Stacy was only a fifth-round pick in 2013, but he proved a worthy fantasy asset after carrying the Rams’ offense down the stretch. After taking over as St. Louis’ lead back in Week 5, Stacy racked up 1,113 total yards and eight scores, which was good enough to rank him eighth in fantasy points at the position. Only 23 and the feature back in an improving offense, you’re in good shape if Stacy is manning your No. 2 RB slot.
An elite dynasty running back as recently as this time last year, age and injuries have Arian Foster at his lowest value since he exploded onto the fantasy scene in 2010. It may seem hard to believe, but Foster has managed only two 16-game campaigns in his career. Of course, he scored 12-plus touchdowns in all three seasons spanning from 2010 to 2012. Touchdown deficiencies aside, Foster’s 2013 season was actually going pretty well (725 total yards) before a back injury cut it short after eight games. Foster returns as Houston’s lead back, but he’s closing in on 28 and the offense will throw more with Bill O’Brien in charge. Foster has a few more effective years in the tank, but his days as a top-3 back are likely over.
C.J. Spiller spurned those who spent a first-round pick on him in 2013, but he remains one of a handful of backs who could emerge into a fantasy superstar. Injuries derailed a majority of his season, but Spiller still managed borderline RB2 numbers despite scoring only twice. Goal line work continues to be a concern – amazingly he only has two career carries within three yards of the opposing end zone – but there aren’t many backs with his playmaking ability. At 26, age is no longer a major asset to his value, but he only has 589 career carries to his name. Spiller remains a borderline top-12 dynasty running back option.
Placing a dynasty value on Shane Vereen is a bit tricky as he’s unlikely to lead his team in carries, at least in the short term. Of course, when you’re averaging over eight targets per game like Vereen did last season, it’s still reasonable to expect RB2 production. In the eight full games Vereen appeared in last season, he was fantasy’ No. 14-scoring running back. He only carried the ball 44 times during that span. It’s fair to wonder if Vereen’s ceiling will be limited in a Darren Sproles-like role, but he’s shown an ability to handle more carries, something he’s expected to do in 2014 and beyond. Only 25 and working in Bill Belichick’s offense, Vereen is a major breakout candidate.
Ellington and Ball are second-year backs set to take over as their respective team’s lead back in 2014. Ellington was extremely impressive on 118 rookie-season carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Ball played second fiddle to Knowshon Moreno during his rookie season, but strong play earned him an expanded role in the second half. Ellington gets a slight edge here, as he’s shown signs of having a higher ceiling, but note that he’s already 25 years old. Ball is 23 and is working in Denver’s high-scoring offense.
The first running back selected in May's draft, the speedy Bishop Sankey heads to Tennessee where he'll be – at least for now – the lightning to Shonn Greene's thunder. More explosive - and probably already the better back - Sankey should easily pace this backfield in snaps right out of the gate. A 21-year-old rookie with an easy path to a starting gig, Sankey is a strong dynasty RB2.
The Chargers moved more towards a run-heavy attack during the second half of 2013, which allowed Ryan Mathews a massive workload down the stretch. Strong play has earned him a firm grasp on San Diego’s lead back role, but Donald Brown is underrated and a threat to push for snaps. Only 26, Mathews has a few years of RB2 production in the tank.
Stevan Ridley is a bit tricky to evaluate. He’s 25 and a talented back, but he lost a significant portion of his workload to LeGarrette Blount last season due to fumbling issues. Fortunately for Ridley, Blount is gone, which means a much clearer path to retaking the club’s lead back role. It’s a good time for savvy owners to snatch him up.
Only 25, with loads of talent, and finally in position to start, Ben Tate’s value has never been higher. He heads to Cleveland where, if all goes well, he will see 15-plus carries per game. Durability issues, passing-down struggles, and the presence of talented rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell keep him outside the Top 20.
Bernard Pierce and Michael represent two of the most talented reserve backs in the league. Pierce remains behind Ray Rice in Baltimore, but that could change quickly if Rice doesn’t improve on a dismal 2013 campaign or misses time due to off-the-field issues. Pierce is only 23, which will allow him a lengthy shelf life. Michael – a second-round pick in 2013 – remains stuck behind Lynch in Seattle. If the veteran goes down with an injury or shows signs of his age, expect Michael to surge past Robert Turbin and into a major role in the league’s run-heaviest offense. He’s an elite handcuff option in every type of league.
It’s hard to find a player who disappointed more than Rice this past season. Once one of the most reliable weekly plays, Rice was fantasy’s No. 30 scoring running back despite appearing in 15 games. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per reception – both easily career lows. Although there is justifiable concern about Rice’s massive workload over the last five years (1,660 touches in 79 regular season games), he just turned 27 and is expected to remain Baltimore’s lead back. On the downturn of his career and having to compete for snaps with Bernard Pierce, Rice is risky, but it’s not crazy to think he has another season or two of RB1 production left in the tank. Of course, his off-the-field issues could make all of this moot.
Selected in the third round of May's draft, Terrance West will immediately push oft-injured Tate for snaps in Cleveland's improving offense. A capable pass-catcher and big enough to run between the tackles consistently and effectively, West is a candidate for an eventual three-down workload…The 49ers run the ball a ton, which puts Carlos Hyde – a second-round pick this past May – on the dynasty radar. At age 31, Frank Gore’s days as a feature back are winding down. Hyde is the favorite to succeed Gore, but it’s not a lock with Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore in the mix. Hyde has RB1 upside.
At 5’8”/206, Devonta Freeman is likely to eventually settle in on the right side of committee attack in Atlanta. He’s best as a pass-blocker and receiver, but can handle 10-12 carries each week. There’s plenty of short-term appeal here, as he’s already first in line for carries in Atlanta should 31-year-old Steven Jackson miss time. Jacquizz Rodgers is also in the mix, but is an inferior runner…Mason was selected in the third round of May's draft and is the favorite for No. 2 duties in St. Louis. Stacy will handle a bulk of the backfield snaps early, but will need to be more effective than he was in 2013 if he hops to hold off Mason over the long term. The rookie is in a situation where snaps can be had right out of the gate, but he’ll need to improve his pass-blocking.