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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
Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart still feeling pain in rib
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart said he is still feeling the rib contusion sustained Thursday against Tennessee, per the Florida Times-Union.

The team has yet to issue an update on his condition, but the problem could prevent him from playing in the season finale Sunday at Houston. If his season is indeed over, he will end it with just 318 yards on 97 carries.

Those are not strong numbers considering he entered the year as the team's featured back.


Jaguars DT Roy Miller still optimistic about playing Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller is still optimistic about playing in Sunday's season finale against Houston, the Florida Times-Union reports. Miller sat out Week 16 against Baltimore with a knee injury. A previous report had him missing the rest of the season and in order to have surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

"I'm trying to get it right and hopefully tomorrow or Wednesday, I'll feel a lot better," Miller said.


Russell Wilson could be in for strong finish
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(11:50 am ET) With the Cardinals struggling to get anything going offensively behind third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley, the Seahawks offense got repeated opportunities to shine Week 16 in Arizona. And quarterback Russell Wilson took advantage, throwing for a season-high 339 yards while rushing for 88. For the second time in three games, he contributed three total touchdowns, two in the air and one on the ground.

The Seahawks have gotten back to winning with their defense in recent weeks, making Wilson at times an afterthought. But when pressed to make plays, he's shown he's still capable of putting up big numbers.

Chances are he'll need to make plays in Week 17 against a Rams team that has played well of late, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Wilson's previous season high in passing yards came in his first meeting with them back in Week 7, when he threw for 313 and ran for 106. Despite his up-and-down tendencies, you'll want him active for the season's final week.


Bears' Trestman will talk to Jimmy Clausen before naming starter
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday morning on WBBM Newsradio 780 that he'll talk to Jimmy Clausen before naming a starter for Sunday's season finale against Minnesota, CBS Chicago reports.

Clausen earned his first start since his rookie year with the Panthers in 2010. He compiled 181 yards while completing 22 of 39 passes. He added two touchdowns and one interception in a 20-14 defeat to Detroit.

"We'll talk about it today," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I thought he had a good performance. He needed some help. He didn't get it -- had a few drops along the way, had a couple missed assignments up front in the running game, where we could've had a little bit more yardage. But I thought he handled himself (well), for two practices and having not played (much) for four years. It was certainly a good performance."

Chicago is currently a 6 1/2-point underdog at Minnesota.


Eagles coach Chip Kelly: Mark Sanchez is our quarterback Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:32 am ET) Eagles coach Chip Kelly said on Sportsradio 94WIP in Philadelphia that he'll start Mark Sanchez against the Giants in Week 17, per Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Sanchez has been picked off 10 times since taking over as the starter in Week 9. He threw a costly interception at the end of Saturday's 27-24 defeat to Washington that ruined Philadelphia's postseason hopes. The Eagles won't rush Nick Foles back from a collarbone injury now that Philadelphia was officially eliminated following Dallas' win over Indianapolis on Sunday.

"Mark's our quarterback, and I thought Mark played a really good game [Saturday]," Kelly said. "He goes 37 of 50, he was 36 of 49 before that last pass.

"I'm sure he wants that pass back, everybody wants that pass back, but I think Mark played a good game and we'll continue to go with Mark."

Philadelphia is a 4-point favorite at N.Y. Giants.


Report: Cardinals won't release WR Fitzgerald
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will not be cut, as some expect due to the team's salary cap issues, a source has told Pro Football Talk.

Fitzgerald has a cap number of $23.6 million for 2015. He could be traded or have his deal restructured. He could also decide to negotiate an extension.

Few non-quarterbacks have cap numbers anywhere near $20 million. Committing that much to a fading Fitzgerald, who hasn't totaled more than 34 yards receiving in his last four games, could prove disastrous. But the Cardinals are apparently willing to take that chance.

Fitzgerald has also been victimized this year and in recent seasons by inconsistent quarterback play.


Lions RB Joique Bell was benched for 'violation of team rules'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell told reporters that running back Joique Bell was suspended for the first quarter of Sunday's 20-14 victory over Chicago for what he deemed "violation of team rules," reports ESPN.

Bell took a backseat to Reggie Bush early on before emerging late in the second half. After logging only three carries in the first half, Bell finished the game with 74 yards on 13 attempts and a 17-yard score midway through the fourth quarter that gave Detroit the lead to stay. 

Detroit is a 7 1/2-point underdog at Green Bay in Week 17. The Lions have a 22-game losing streak at Lambeau Field, an NFL record for most consecutive road losses against a single opponent. The winner will clinch the NFC North title.


Bears K Robbie Gould shuts down for season finale
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:03 am ET) Bears kicker Robbie Gould told WSCR 670 AM radio in Chicago he'll sit out the final game of the season because of a nagging right quadriceps injury, reports the Chicago Tribune. Gould converted 9 of 12 field goal attempts, adding 28 extra points. Jay Feely will take over as the starter for the fourth consecutive game.

Report: NFL will review Dominic Raiola's ankle stomp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:51 am ET) The NFL will review Lions center Dominic Raiola's action during the third quarter of Detroit's 20-14 victory over Chicago, according to ESPN.

After walking away from a pile, Raiola was caught on camera stepping on Chicago defensive lineman Ego Ferguson's ankle. Following the game, he told reporters his actions were "not intentional."

"It was totally unintentional," Raiola said. "I remember I was stumbling out. I didn't see the end of it. I apologized at the end of the game, told him it was unintentional and we shook hands and that was it."

Raiola got slapped with a $10,000 fine for cut block in the final minute of a Week 12 loss to New England and could be in line for a heftier fine this time around. The league will likely make an announcement before Detroit's Week 17 showdown at Green Bay.


Browns' Johnny Manziel: 'I want to be the guy' next season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:03 am ET) Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel could be in danger of missing Sunday's season finale against Baltimore, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Manziel completed 3 of 8 passes for 32 yards before exiting the second quarter of Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Panthers with a hamstring injury. Following the game, Manziel began making a case for the starting job next season during the postgame press conference.

"I want to be the guy," Manziel said. "That's what I want to do and that's what I want to be for this organization, so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason."

Manziel has only led his team to two scoring drives out of 15 tries this season. Coach Mike Pettine will likely reveal the severity of his injury on Monday. If Manziel is unable to play, Brian Hoyer will get the start against the Ravens.

Cleveland is currently a 7-point underdog at Baltimore.


 
 
 
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