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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
Speculation begins on a Jamaal Charles holdout
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7/22/2014) CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City reported Tuesday evening that Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is planning to hold out of training camp. When asked about the subject, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said Charles might indeed not show up for the start of camp. The Chiefs expect him to show up according to the Kansas City Star

Camp opens on Wednesday for the Chiefs with the first practice on Thursday. Charles is allegedly seeking a new deal as he's paid $9 million per year less than Adrian Peterson and doesn't make as much as Reggie Bush and Ray Rice. Charles scored 19 touchdowns for the Chiefs last season.


Ace Sanders leaves Jaguars camp
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7/22/2014) Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders announced Tuesday that he was taking a leave of absence from training camp and beyond because of "personal issues." Sanders wouldn't specify except to say he's going to get some counseling and that he expects to receive a four-game suspension from the NFL for violating their substance abuse policy. He's not expected to participate in training camp or the preseason. 

"I've decided to go seek help, get [the] attention that I need -- hopefully somebody can help me out," Sanders said per the Florida Times-Union. "I should be OK; I just want to get better and come back and be ready to play. Sometimes life hits and it's hard."


Larry English's release suggests Dwight Freeney will be ready
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) The Chargers' release of outside linebacker Larry English means the team is confident Dwight Freeney will come back strong from the torn quad that ended his 2013 season in Week 4, reports ESPN.com. Freeney, 34, was limited during offseason workouts but has vowed to be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener at Arizona, the report said.

Two Rams land on injury list
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) The Rams put safety Christian Bryant (ankle) and defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks on the non-football injury list. They can be removed at any time and start practicing.

X-rays negative on Jameel McClain
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) X-rays on Giants linebacker Jameel McClain's foot came back negative, reports ESPN. If McClain is still feeling soreness Wednesday, the team might follow up with an MRI.

McClain is a candidate to start at middle linebacker while Jon Beason recovers from his own foot injury. McClain suffered his injury in the team's first practice Tuesday.


Eric Fisher getting an early start
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, last year's No. 1 overall pick, practiced with rookies and fringe players at Tuesday's minicamp ahead of the full-squad training camp that opens Thursday, reports ESPN.com. Fisher is coming back from shoulder and sports hernia surgeries.

"I had the surgeries, so I needed to get out here, get situated before the vets get here," Fisher said. "I’m glad to be here early so I can get a jump on things."

Fisher played right tackle last year, so the extra time should help him adjust to protecting Alex Smith's blind side. He said he hasn't lost strength despite not being able to bench press following the shoulder operation.

"I’ve been in there working," he said. "When you can’t bench, there’s other things you can do. That’s what I was doing."


Jaguars put four on injury lists
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) The Jaguars put receiver Ace Sanders and cornerback Aaron Colvin on the non-football injury list and cornerback Alan Ball and linebacker Dekoda Watson on the PUP list.

Marcus Lattimore, Ian Williams head list of unavailable 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) The 49ers placed six players on the non-football injury list, including second-year running back Marcus Lattimore (knee). Also on the list are receiver Bruce Ellington, center Marcus Martin, fullback Trey Millard, cornerback Keith Reaser and guard Brandon Thomas.

In addition, the team placed nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle) on the PUP list along with linebacker Aaron Lynch (hamstring) and defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey

All the players can come off the list and start practicing at any time.


Texans make roster moves
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) The Texans cut fullback Brad Smelley and defensive tackle Tim Jackson and signed tight end Chris Coyle.

Bernard Pierce fully cleared
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/22/2014) Ravens running back Bernard Pierce, who had offseason rotator cuff surgery, said he's been fully cleared by doctors, reports the Baltimore Sun. Pierce also said he's lost weight and now weighs 223 pounds.

Pierce could be in for a big early-season workload if Ray Rice is suspended as expected.


 
 
 
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