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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
Eagles RB DeMarco Murray sidelined by hydration issue
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:34 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was forced to miss the first day of team drills on Sunday because of poor hydration levels, coach Chip Kelly said per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We did a hydration status test and he was a little bit high and obviously when you see guys that are high from a hydration standpoint, then you kind of pull them back a little bit because that's when they are susceptible for an injury," Kelly said.

"He's probably the most conditioned athlete on our team, but if you don't drink the requisite amount of water and electrolytes and have them in your system, it doesn't matter how fit you are," Kelly said of Murray. "Especially the weather - that was a big factor for us, too. We have had back-to-back, and going into three, 90-degree days. . . .You don't want to lose a guy in the first day."


49ers' Bruce Ellington, Ben Gottschalk dealing with injuries
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:55 pm ET) 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington will be held out of the next few practices because of a strained left leg, reports the Bay Area News Group. Ellington sustained the injury during Monday's practice.

"I'm holding him [out]," coach Jim Tomsula said. "I want to make sure we're good there."

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk underwent a foot procedure and is out indefinitely.


Rams DE Chris Long returns to practice
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Rams defensive end Chris Long was able to practice on Tuesday after missing the first three days with a back issue, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The veteran is expected to anchor a strong defensive line this year after playing just six games last season because of an injury. Long 51 1/2 career sacks in seven seasons in St. Louis.


49ers' Alex Boone shifting from right guard to left
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:37 pm ET) 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone is expected to switch from right guard to left guard for the upcoming season, the veteran said per ESPN.com. He will replace three-time Pro Bowler Mike Iupati at the position.

"It's great," Boone said. "It's different, obviously, [after] playing next to Anthony [Davis] all those years, now you move over play next to Joe [Staley]. Both great tackles. Footwork's a little diferent, handwork is a little different, but at the end of the day it’s come along real well."


Report: RB Pierre Thomas to visit Texans
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:51 pm ET) The Texans could be in the market for a running back now that Arian Foster could be dealing with an injury. Veteran free agent Pierre Thomas is reportedly going to visit with Houston, according to NFL Network. 

He is expected to workout for the team on Wednesday. Thomas spent his entire career in New Orleans where he ran for 3,745 yards and 28 touchdowns in eight seasons. 


Cowboys 'like the fight' in cornerback Tyler Patmon
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) Cowboys cornerback Tyler Patmon made news over the weekend when he got into a skirmish with star wide receiver Dez Bryant running the down the field. For the second-year player, it showed his tenacity and desire to play the game, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"Well, Patmon is a great story for our team," coach Jason Garrett said. "He came to the rookie mimicamp as an undrafted, unsigned tryout guy. For him to do what he did over the course of those three days his first year to show us that, 'hey, he's one of the better guys. I don't care who we drafted or who we signed we need to make sure that he's one of the guys that has a chance to make our football team.'

"So what he is all about was demonstrated right from the start. He's a guy that's all about what he does. It doesn't really matter where he comes from and what has happened to him and other people in the past. He wants to show you what he's all about by what he does each and every day. And I think he’s done that since he's been here. He's a competitor. He's a fighter. He's an instinctive player. He loves to play the game. I think he’s gotten better and better."

Patmon is fighting for a roster spot and the fourth cornerback position on the team. 


Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson misses practice on Tuesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:14 pm ET) Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was unable to practice on Tuesday while dealing with a sore hamstring, according to ESPN.com.

Wilkerson left Sunday's practice while dealing with the injury and is being held out as a precaution. 

"He’s feeling OK, [the hamstring is] tight," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "It’s day to day -- we’re gonna err on the side of caution."


Lions negotiating to re-sign Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:12 pm ET) The Lions are making a big push to re-sign defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker DeAndre Levy, according to The Detroit News. General manager Martin Mayhew said the team is in discussions with both player's agents on new deals. 

"[Levy's] a heck of a football player, just a playmaker on our defense," Mayhew said before training camp Tuesday. "Versus the run and the pass, the guy's an impact player, so we definitely want to keep him on our defense — very important to our football team. His leadership is also excellent, professional in every sense of the word, so he has a lot of value to us. And he's one of our own guys, so we want to definitely keep him around."

Ngata is entering his first season with the Lions after being traded from Baltimore in March.

"He's a phenomenal player," Mayhew said. "He can be an impact player for us as well along the defensive line. I don't really need to see a whole lot more. … I've seen enough to know that I want to have him around."


Eagles release WR Devante Davis, sign Josh Reese
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:08 pm ET) The Eagles have released wide receiver Devante Davis and signed free agent rookie Josh Reese, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Davis a rookie pickup and yet to play in the league.


Report: Eagles waive OLB Travis Long
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) The Eagles have waived outside linebacker Travis Long, according to ESPN.com. Long suffered a torn ACL on Monday and if he goes unclaimed, he will be placed on the team's injured reserve list.

Long has been with Philadelphia since 2013, but is yet to play a game after suffering multiple injuries.


 
 
 
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