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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
Report: Broncos LT Ryan Clady suffered torn ACL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:45 pm ET) Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady suffered a torn ACL in practice on Wednesday and will miss the 2015 season, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter. 

This is a crucial blow for the Broncos offense, which will rely a lot on its offensive line under Gary Kubiak. Options to replace Clady at left tackle are Michael Schofield or rookie Ty Sambrailo.

Sambrailo was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft and Schofield was a third-round pick in the 2014 draft. 


Agent: Absence of Browns RB Duke Johnson due to family issue
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:42 pm ET) Browns running back and unsigned third-round pick Duke Johnson did not miss voluntary OTAs this week because of any contract squabble, the Northeast Ohio Media Group is reporting. Rather, he was sidelined due to a family matter.

"We did not instruct him to miss OTAs," said agent Alex Gavilla. "We're not trying to take an aggressive negotiating strategy. Duke is very close to his family and he had a personal matter to attend to. He has no plans of holding out of anything."

Johnson, who will compete with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell for playing time, is the only one of 12 Browns draft picks to remain unsigned. But the two sides are close.

"We're looking at all of the deals that relate to Duke and just trying to find a middle ground with the team," Gavilla said. "We're in constant communication with the Browns front office and having good dialogue."


Titans WR Hakeen Nicks seeking comeback season
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:28 pm ET) Fading wide receiver Hakeem Nicks claims he can still be the premier player he was with the Giants now that he is wearing a Titans uniform. But he also understands that he must prove it.

"(I'm) motivated, determined and ready to work," he told The Tennessean. "I am ready to bring it all and lay it on the line, man. I just want to get back in the rhythm of being talked about as one of the best receivers in the league, as I was in the past. ... I need to go out there and prove it. No need to say words."

Nicks enjoyed successive 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011 and tallied 24 touchdowns in his first three years in the NFL. But he faded to the point in which he caught a career-low 38 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.

"I feel like where I am at in my career - I just turned 27 - I feel like I still have a lot in my tank," he said. "I wanted to go somewhere and prove I can still be a No. 1 receiver and be the guy I was in the past, statistically and being a guy that likes to make plays and be on the feld consistently.

"With six years of experience, playoff experience and a Super Bowl, I thnk I can definitely bring (leadership) to a team. And I want to compete for Super Bowl teams here."


Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles wants to play another six years
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:45 pm ET) Jamaal Charles is 29 but hasn't showed any signs of slowing down. 

In his battle to prove that you can hit the 30-year mark in age and still be a capable running back in the NFL, Charles said it's his goal to continue playing this game for an additional half-decade.

“I want to play another six years so, my form is to keep on taking my diet," Charles said, via the Chiefs' official team site. "I’m seeing guys at 37 or 38 still playing football in the trenches and that’s somewhere where you don’t want to play. So I just want to change the game with the running backs. I want this to last longer and then when I retire, I’ll be happy with where I end my career at.”

Charles ran for 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns while going for 291 receiving yards and five touchdowns. 


Eagles' Chip Kelly on Tim Tebow: 'He's a quarterback'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:29 pm ET) There's no longer a mystery as to what the Eagles brought Tim Tebow in to do. He's a quarterback.

Coach Chip Kelly said the team is not looking for Tebow to play another position, per NFL.com.

"He's a quarterback," Kelly said. "That's how we're looking at Timmy. We're not looking at him at any other position."

Kelly emphasized that Tebow has improved behind center.

"You guys will see him today. Watch him throw. I think he's improved," Kelly said of Tebow. "He's spent a lot of time in the last few years in terms of working on his game."

Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since 2012.


Kelly: 'We've to plenty of time' to wait for Eagles QB Sam Bradford
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:20 pm ET) Chip Kelly has stated that Eagles presumed starting quarterback Sam Bradford must get back on the field and prove something before he is proclaimed as such.

It hasn't happened yet. He was limited in workouts this spring and has been absent from OTA drills, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. Chief competitor Mark Sanchez has recieved the first-team reps instead.

Bradford is just nine months removed from a torn ACL, his second in two seasons. Kelly stated that Bradford is on schedule with his rehab and could do some 7-on-7 work next week.

"We've got plenty of time," Kelly added.


Russell Wilson's agent: Contract talks 'encouraging'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:11 pm ET) Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has greatly outplayed his rookie contract and the two sides have been working on negotiations for some time. Mark Rodgers, his agent, has a positive outlook on the talks, per The Seattle Times.

“I would characterize our talks as ongoing, fluid, robust at times, thoughtful,” Rodgers said.  “And we’ve made progress. I would characterize them as positive and encouraging.”

Wilson's agent, Mark Rodgers, said that his client is prepared to play this season without a new deal despite the ongoing negotiations.

“There really are no deadlines,’’ Rodgers said. "Financially, we planned long-term for him to play for the $1.5 million dollars (in 2015). So there isn’t any expectation of additional money coming in from the Seattle Seahawks this coming year.’’

Wilson threw for 3,475 yards with 20 touchdowns last season, leading the Seahawks to their second-consecutive Super Bowl appearance.


Lions G Manny Ramirez ahead of Laken Tomlinson on first unit
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:03 pm ET) Many believed that guard and first-round pick Laken Tomlinson was a shoo-in to start for the Lions this season.

Not so fast.

Fellow newcomer Manny Ramirez, for whom the team traded in a swap with Denver, began OTAs this week working with the first team. Tomlinson was on the second unit.

Jim Caldwell explained why, praising the 32-year-old Ramirez along the way.

"He's a guy that's certainly going to add some girth and power and experience in the (interior)," Caldwell told MLive.com. "But, also, you can just tell from a leadership standpoint, I mean, he's tremendous. Real solid guy, just a person that's well-rounded, has a good sense of what being a real pro is. ... I think you'll see some of that wear off on some of our younger guys."

Ramirez was a full-time starter with the Broncos in each of the last three seasons.


Packers OLB Julius Peppers sent home from OTA's with illness
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers was absent from organized team activities on Thursday, per Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Peppers was sent home because of an apparent illness before practice started for the day.


Healthy QB Tony Romo providing optimism for Cowboys
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) A Tony Romo ahead of the game is a rather scary thought for NFL defenses. But such is the case for the Cowboys quarterback, who for the first time in three years is healthy at this point in the offseason.

In 2013, he was recovering from the removal of cyst. Last year he was battling back from a discectomy. But he's fine now and is performing quite well.

"It's been great," Romo told ESPN. "I think just to be able to kind of have an offseason. You're always rehabbing, but at the same time, I'm kind of able to build during this offseason. It's exciting really."

It's more exciting considering he is coming off his finest year, which featured a league-best completion percentage (69.9) and passer rating (113.2) with 34 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.

In training camp he never practiced more than two straight days, then sat out every Wednesday during the regular season. It remains to be seen if a healthy offseason translates into even better production for the 35-year-old Romo in 2015. The team will be careful in regard to his health.

"Tony's obviously further along," Jason Garrett said. "He didn't have an offseason surgery, so he was able to get a lot more things in our offseason program up to this point. ... You want to make sure you monitor him. ... He's handled everything we've asked him to do to this point really well."


 
 
 
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