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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
Chris Harris targeting midway point of preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who's coming back from ACL surgery, told ESPN he expects to be cleared for full participation by the midway point of the preseason. Harris said the exact timetable hinges on his upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris told the network. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."

Harris had 65 tackles and three interceptions last year before getting hurt in the playoffs.


Dimitri Patterson a starter by default
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Unable to land a high-end free agent cornerback, the Jets "were forced to settle for journeyman Dimitri Patterson as a consolation," notes The Star-Ledger. Patterson, who projects to start opposite Dee Milliner, is on his sixth team in 10 seasons and has played all 16 games just once in his career.

If Patterson falters, third-round pick Dexter McDougle could get a shot.


Fred Jackson in danger of losing carries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Bills running back Fred Jackson might not approach the 207 carries he received last year. According to WGR550.com, Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller but also potentially lose snaps to the team's additions at running back, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon.

The website said Jackson, 33, who's entering the last year of his deal, will be trying to prove how much he has left.


Teammate: Bitterness won't linger from Jimmy Graham standoff
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told ESPN that the the team's arbitration fight with Jimmy Graham over whether he's a receiver or a tight end won't have a longterm detrimental effect. Watson is hopeful the sides will reach a multiyear contract agreement by Tuesday's deadline.

"I’m very confident that it’ll be resolved the right way and guys can move forward," Watson said. "Obviously it’s always tough when you go through litigation with somebody, and it can probably get heated. And I’m sure there are emotions on both sides. But that is the business side of the game. 

"And it’s unfortunate that it came to that and that it was so public. But I really think -- I know, I don’t think -- I know that Jimmy loves New Orleans and I know that he loves our team and the organization and he loves playing here. And we love him, everybody wants him here, coaches included. So when it comes down to contract situations, that’s just a necessary evil ... not even evil, but just a necessary progression of getting a player here."


Dallas Thomas eyes starting job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named Dallas Thomas one of the team's most improved players, and he has a good chance to start at left guard, according to the team's website. A third-round pick in last year's draft, Thomas played only four offensive snaps last season.

Thomas worked with the first team during spring drills and is much further along than he was in 2013. He stayed in South Florida throughout the offseason to get better prepared.

"You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast," Thomas said. "You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field."


Spencer Nealy hit with four-game ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The NFL suspended Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, the 24-year-old Nealy did not play in a game last season.

Nealy apologized and took responsibility in a statement, saying he took a supplement containing a banned stimulant.


Jarrett Boykin will be 'hard to dislodge'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Jarrett Boykin improved dramatically last season and "will be hard to dislodge" from the Packers' No. 3 receiver job, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boykin will have to hold off second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-rounder Jared Abbrederis and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis.

Boykin, 24, caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.


Trent Richardson might not get long leash
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Averaging 2.9 yards a carry, like he did last year, will get Trent Richardson benched quickly, reports ESPN.com. Richardson "will have to produce right away because it's unlikely the Colts will wait for him to get going" if running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are healthy and productive, the website said.

Richardson likely will get the first shot at the starting job. He has a much better grasp of the playbook than he did in 2013 and the belief is he'll be able to run on instinct as opposed to overthinking, the report said.


Bruce Ellington trying to overcome stature
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(7/11/2014) At 5-foot-9, Bruce Ellington is the shortest receiver on the 49ers' roster. But the fourth-round pick out of South Carolina should not be discounted, his high school coach, Jerry Brown, told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown said Ellington is relentless at finding open space and catching everything thrown his way. "Football's played on a big field and it's hard to track someone like Bruce who's got so much agility," Brown said.

Ellington believes he has lots of room for growth because he only gave up basketball last year. Also a former track competitor, Ellington clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine.

"I'm just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream," he said.


Colts dump LaVon Brazill, sign Aaron Burks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The Colts waived suspended wideout LaVon Brazill and signed receiver Aaron Burks, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. Brazill, 25, is suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Burks caught 18 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch.


 
 
 
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