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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
Chip Kelly says 'there's no set number' for LeSean McCoy's touches
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:55 am ET) After totaling 366 touches last season (314 carries, 52 catches), it was presumed that the Eagles would make sure they didn't over-utilize LeSean McCoy this season. Adding Darren Sproles and keeping Chris Polk seemed to speak to that. But the Eagles' official website caught head coach Chip Kelly telling SiriusXM NFL Radio that there is no limit on McCoy. 

"I don't know if there's a set number," Kelly said of McCoy's touches. "Some guys can handle it, but our strength and conditioning staff and our athletic trainers do an unbelievable job of evaluating our players weekly. There's times where I say, 'Hey, do we need to back off?' They're like, 'No, we can even go harder with him,' because all of our players are investing in themselves. They're getting the proper amount of sleep. They're eating the right way. They're doing what we've asked them to do. They understand it because they feel really good."

On those 366 touches, McCoy had a career-best 1,607 rush yards, 2,146 total yards and 11 total touchdowns (his second-best). Another big season is in store. 


Patrick Peterson lands a mammoth extension
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:39 am ET) The Cardinals announced that they've signed cornerback Patrick Peterson to a five-year extension worth $70 million that includes just over $48 million in guarantees. Peterson announced the deal himself on Twitter. He's now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. 

Through three seasons, Peterson has 161 total tackles, 12 interceptions, 42 passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries. He also has four punt returns for a touchdown, all coming in his 2011 rookie year.

Most impressive of all, Peterson has not missed a game in his short career. 


Cowboys rookie DE Demarcus Lawrence out up to 12 weeks
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:29 am ET) Cowboys rookie defensive end Demarcus Lawrence broke his right foot on Tuesday and will miss 8 to 12 weeks, NFL Network reported. His timetable suggests he'll be back by, at the earliest, Week 5 vs. the Texans. 

Andre Johnson still sitting out practice
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:24 am ET) Texans receiver Andre Johnson has missed a second straight day of practice, Comcast Sportsnet reported Wednesday morning. Johnson tweaked his hamstring while making a diving catch two days ago. There is no definitive word on when he'll be back. 

Arian Foster back at Texans practice
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:22 am ET) After missing a couple of days with what was believed to be a hamstring injury, the Texans got running back Arian Foster back on the practice field on Wednesday, Comcast Sportsnet reported. Foster figures to be the primary running back for the team this season. 

Coach: Stephen Hill 'healthy and confident' unlike last year
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/29/2014) Jets receivers coach Sanjay Lal notices a major difference with Stephen Hill as he enters his third year in the NFL.

"Healthy and confident," Lal told The Star-Ledger. "That’s the biggest thing. I think he’s believing, and believing in himself – and it’s starting to show."

Hill struggled with knee injuries, inconsistency and dropped passes his first two seasons.

"It’s been the injuries that have hindered it and kind of somewhat made it harder than it could have been," Lal said. "He’s taken the coaching the whole time. Now, he’s able to do it physically, so it’s just kind of coming together right now."

Hill has a chance to be the No. 2 receiver behind Eric Decker.


Steven Jackson misses practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/29/2014) Falcons running back Steven Jackson missed Tuesday's practice, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The team has not said whether Jackson is hurt or just getting a day off.

Colin Kaepernick: Michael Crabtree 'a step or two quicker'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/29/2014) 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said top receiver Michael Crabtree was not fully over his Achilles injury late last season. "He’s a step or two quicker now," Kaepernick told CSNBayArea.com. "He has a burst out of his routes. He has burst when he catches the ball. (He) looks really good out there."

Crabtree missed the first 11 games last year due to a torn Achilles he suffered in May 2013. "Even at the end of last season, he wasn’t 100 percent," Kaepernick said. "And he was making plays for us. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do, now that he’s 100 percent."


Matt Johnson's injury woes continue
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/29/2014) Cowboys safety Matt Johnson will miss at least a week with a hamstring injury, reports ESPN.com. He missed most of his 2012 rookie season with hamstring injuries and was out all of last year due to foot surgery.

Pete Carroll hopes Marshawn Lynch 'will figure it out'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/29/2014) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Tuesday addressed the contract holdout by running back Marshawn Lynch. "I love this kid," Carroll said, per the Seattle Times. "I hope he will figure it out and it will all make sense and it will come to a resolution somewhere."

Lynch can be fined $30,000 for every day he misses, and the team could try to go after a portion of his signing bonus.


 
 
 
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