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Offseason Extra: RB tiers for 2014

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Early Tiers for 2014: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

Whether you stick to your guns and hoard running backs early or embrace the idea of taking a non-rusher with your first- and/or second-round choice, there's no denying that when you have good running backs, Fantasy is easy. Setting a lineup is a snap. The pressure's off, the drama is minimized and the roster seems better when you have rushers to spare.

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Does it mean absolutely, positively taking one in Round 1? That's a different story.

The turnover at the position is sickening. Over the last seven seasons, anywhere from four to six backs (no more, no less) repeated as Top 12 finishers from year to year. And if that's not bad enough then get this: Only once in the last five years have more than half of the running backs with a first-round draft average finished in the Top 12.

Still want to take a running back with your first pick no matter what?

The work is where it's at

There's no magical mystery to know what it takes for a running back to be great for Fantasy. Guys who touch the ball a bunch will deliver. Last year, there were nine running backs that had at least 300 touches (carries plus catches) and all nine finished in the Top 12. Another six had between 275 and 299 touches -- one was a Top 12 back, the other five finished in the Top 20. And two of the three backs with 250 to 274 touches finished in the Top 12 (the one that didn't -- Ray Rice -- finished a gross 30th overall).

More touches, more numbers
2013 RB workload Finished Success rate
300+ touches (9) Top 12: 9 Top 24: 0 100 pct.
275-299 touches (6) Top 12: 1 Top 24: 5 100 pct.
250-274 touches (3) Top 12: 2 Top 24: 0 66.7 pct.
225-249 touches (4) Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2 50.0 pct.
200-224 touches (7) Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2 28.6 pct.
175-199 touches (5) Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2 40.0 pct.
150-174 touches (6) Top 12: 0 Top 24: 1 16.7 pct.

All of this is evidence that touches are where it's at, and when it comes to drafting backs this summer it'll be the guys with the potential for the most work to fly off the draft boards first. The ones with goal-line potential will supersede those that rely on their receiving prowess for productive numbers.

The only issue left is knowing when to take them.

Rush for running backs?

In the past I've been accused of being the guy who drafts too many running backs. Even in the mock we did during the playoffs I took seven running backs over 15 rounds and only two receivers! I'm not changing form now -- I still want as many running backs as I can squeeze onto my roster -- but I might change when I get my first few.

Think about why backs like Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy go ahead of ones like Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris. There's nothing wrong with Stacy and Morris, but the feeling is that they aren't going to be as productive and Charles and McCoy. I'd use the term "difference maker" to describe Charles and McCoy, and that appeal -- the potential to deliver big Fantasy points every week rather than only in favorable matchups or when they get near the goal line -- makes them unique to their position.

The same idea works for a select few at other positions, and it's those difference makers that should be considered among the other elite and near-elite running backs when it comes to drafting. And the premium placed on players like Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- guys who are roundly considered as close to sure things as you can find -- makes them more desirable to me than, say, a good running back who has big potential but also has an injury history, or a back that has potential and only potential (think David Wilson from 2013).

As big of an advocate as I am for taking running backs, I'm more comfortable taking the studs at other positions so long as there isn't a great running back to go after. Once those non-running back elitists are gone I'll go back to going after running backs. So I would consider a non-running back in the first and second rounds.

What I will stick to is aiming for running backs in the middle rounds -- more than I normally might if I take a lot of non-rushers early on. When I do chase them I'll go after the ones with a chance at 200 touches. Those are the ones with a good chance to finish as a Top 24 option. I'm sure I'll end up drafting pumpkins but the whole "lottery ticket" theory is in play: The more chances you take, the better chances you have of winding up with a productive player. Owners who drafted Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Ryan Mathews, Le'Veon Bell and Fred Jackson -- all taken on average between 60th and 122nd overall last year -- will appreciate this philosophy.

Fighting through the tiers

The very best way to organize your running backs when preparing to draft is to sort them by expectations into groups, or tiers. The bigger stats you expect a player to have, the higher tier. Once you do this exercise you'll have a good feel for when the talent pool begins to shrink and can draft accordingly.

Obviously you should expect changes between now and August. I hope so, because there's a lot of white space in the first two tiers and the fifth tier. There are a bunch of rookies that will impact this as well as free agent movement. Consider this simply a first draft of what will eventually be a sensational, dynamic, mega-awesome tier system come August (cue the fireworks!).

2014 running back tiers
1,600+ total yards, 11+ TDs 1,400+ total yards, 9+ TDs 1,250+ total yards, 8+ TDs 1,100+ total yards, 7+ TDs
Jamaal Charles Eddie Lacy DeMarco Murray Giovani Bernard
LeSean McCoy Adrian Peterson Doug Martin Chris Johnson
Matt Forte Le'Veon Bell Arian Foster Knowshon Moreno
  Marshawn Lynch Alfred Morris Ray Rice
    Ryan Mathews C.J. Spiller
    Zac Stacy Steven Jackson
    Reggie Bush Maurice Jones-Drew
      LeGarrette Blount
1,000+ total yards, 6+ TDs 900+ total yards, 5+ TDs High-end backups Low-end backups
Shane Vereen Donald Brown Stevan Ridley Latavius Murray
Frank Gore Chris Ivory DeAngelo Williams Marcus Lattimore
Ben Tate Andre Ellington Rashard Mendenhall Darren McFadden
Fred Jackson Andre Brown Montee Ball Bryce Brown
  Lamar Miller Shonn Greene Mike Tolbert
  Joique Bell BenJarvus Green-Ellis Mike James
  Rashad Jennings Pierre Thomas Daniel Thomas
    Danny Woodhead James Starks
    Khiry Robinson Mark Ingram
    Trent Richardson Jacquizz Rodgers
    Darren Sproles  

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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Player News
Last hurrah for Khiry Robinson?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(3:33 pm ET) While the Saints didn't accomplish much Week 4 at Dallas, one thing they did do is confirm that Khiry Robinson is indeed their preferred ball carrier with Mark Ingram sidelined by a broken hand. Of course, with the reports of Ingram coming back in Week 7 and the Saints on bye in Week 6, Week 5 against Tampa Bay might be your last real opportunity to start the second-year back. And it's one I advise you to take.

The Buccaneers are just two weeks removed from a blowout loss at Atlanta, and the Saints are just as explosive on offense. Based on what we've seen from the Buccaneers defense through four games, I don't think it has the chops to keep the game close. And when the Saints pull ahead, that's when Robinson will go to work.

It's a bit of a hunch, but considering Robinson got 18 carries in the first game Ingram missed two weeks ago, the only way he doesn't make a relevant Fantasy contribution (barring injury, of course), is if the Buccaneers jump out to an early lead like the Cowboys did last week. And based on what we've seen from the Buccaneers offense through four games, I don't think it has the chops to do that.

The Buccaneers are lacking in chops, basically.


Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams out for Sunday game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:31 pm ET) As expected, the Panthers have ruled out running back DeAngelo Williams for their Sunday game against Chicago with a high ankle sprain.

Williams who is set to have his cast removed Friday, has already lost two games this season to injury.


Heath Miller should feast in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(3:28 pm ET) The Jaguars have proven nearly incapable of slowing down tight ends this season, a good sign for any Heath Miller owners heading into the Steelers' Week 5 matchup.  

Miller is coming off his best performance of the season, and should be able to keep rolling this Sunday. The Jaguars gave up 52 Fantasy points to tight ends through the first three games, though they did hold Antonio Gates to just three receptions for 30 yards in Week 4.

The Steelers should be able to light the Jaguars up through the air, and Miller should be a big part of that. With this kind of matchup on the way, Miller should be active in all Fantasy formats for Week 5. 


IR might be destination for Cardinals QB Carson Palmer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:27 pm ET) Despite claiming that the shoulder of Carson Palmer is improving, Bruce Arians has indicated that the Cardinals quarterback could be placed on the injured reserve with plans to return list.

He added, however, that such a decision will not be made in the near future, according to Fox Sports.

Palmer has not played since the season opener.


Ben Roethlisberger looking to keep rolling in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(3:27 pm ET) Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is off to the most productive start of his career, and he will look to keep rolling in Week 5 against the Jaguars.

The only concern Fantasy owners should have about Roethlisberger's value in Week 5 is whether he will throw enough or rack up the kind of numbers you are hoping for. Roethlisberger is attempting 35.3 passes per game, and passing for 273 yards as a result. If the Steelers don't open up a lead early and shut the passing game down, he should easily reach his season averages against a defense that is allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 28.0 Fantasy points per game.

The good news is, opposing quarterbacks are attempting 40-plus throws per game against the Jaguars, mostly because it is just too easy to pass against them not to. Roethlisberger should put together another solid game, and should be considered a strong starting option for Week 5. 


Coaches deny trade rumor involving Titans WR Justin Hunter
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:21 pm ET) Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Pettine have denied trade rumors that have underperforming Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter heading to Cleveland.

"There's no basis for that," Whisenhunt told the Akron Beacon Journal.

Hunter has just nine catches for 138 yards and no touchdowns. He managed just one reception for 12 yards in Week 4. The Browns lost premier receiver Josh Gordon through Week 12 to a drug suspension, but have received strong production from Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin.


Bears WR Brandon Marshall full participant Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:12 pm ET) Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall seems back to full health after being limited last week with a nagging ankle problem. He practiced in full Wednesday.

Marshall has not been his usual prolific self on the field. He has just three receptions for 15 yards in his last two games combined, but does have one touchdown during that time and five for the season.


This is the week for Drew Brees
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(3:09 pm ET) Chris Towers said it last week. Now it's my turn to declare Week 5 the week Drew Brees gets back to being Drew Brees.

Which isn't to say he's been Drew Stanton or anything, but he's been a little too Drew Bledsoe for my liking through the first four weeks. Basically, I want to see less of the one- and two-touchdown games and more of the three- and four-touchdown variety.

This matchup against the Buccaneers presents him with his best chance yet to do just that. He has a favorable history against the division opponent, throwing for four touchdowns in three of his last four games against them, and the Buccaneers have been especially susceptible to the pass this year, ranking fourth-to-last in yards allowed (272.5) and giving up the highest passer rating (118.4).

The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns against them in Week 4. The Falcons' Matt Ryan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns against them a week earlier and could have had more if the Falcons let him finish out the lopsided victory.

Most likely, no one was seriously considering sitting Brees this week, but Jamey Eisenberg ranks him No. 1 among all quarterbacks. I'm cool with that.


LB Chad Greenway, TE Kyle Rudolph set to sit Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:07 pm ET) The Vikings have ruled out linebacker Chad Greenway and tight end Kyle Rudolph for their Thursday night game against Green Bay.

The announcement comes as no surprise. Neither was expected to play. Greenway has been dealing with a broken hand and broken rib while Rudolph will likely miss about another month with abdomen and groin issues.


Lions DT Nick Fairley wearing wrap on knee Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was seen limping noticeably before practice, was involved in the media portion of the Wednesday session, according to the Detroit News. But he was wearing a wrap on his right knee and was clearly limited.

Fairley has started all four games this season and has contributed to nine tackles.


 
 
 
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