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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
Owen Daniels' targets on the rise
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:16 pm ET) Owen Daniels' touchdown Week 7 against Atlanta was his first since his two-touchdown performance against Pittsburgh in Week 2. Of course, back then, he was still playing second fiddle to Dennis Pitta. Now, he's the Ravens' top option at tight end.

So where have the touchdowns been? Well, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't been especially consistent about getting Daniels the ball, but hopefully that's beginning to change. In addition to the touchdown in Week 7, Daniels also led the Ravens in targets with nine only two weeks after having seven at Indianapolis. He went for a season-high 70 yards in that game.

With what Pitta has done over the last few years, the Ravens clearly know how to make use of a tight end, and Daniels showed he could make an impact in the passing game during his time with Houston. If you find yourself lacking at tight end, a position that can thin out quickly in leagues of 12 teams or more, Daniels might be an undervalued option.


Teammate says Eagles C Jason Kelce could return Nov. 2
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:15 pm ET) Eagles center Jason Kelce is ahead of schedule in his rehab from sports hernia surgery and could return Nov. 2 at Houston, guard Evan Mathis told CSNPhilly.com. Kelce was injured Week 3 against the Redskins.

Kelce has not been cleared to return to practice.


Marcus Martin gets first chance at replacing injured 49ers center
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:14 pm ET) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday rookie Marcus Martin will get the "first shot" at replacing center Daniel Kilgore, who is out for the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury Sunday at Denver. Martin has yet to appear in a game for San Francisco.

49ers center Daniel Kilgore to be placed on IR
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:07 pm ET) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday center Daniel Kilgore will undergo season-ending surgery Tuesday after suffering a broken ankle Sunday against the Broncos. He will be placed on injured reserve.

Resurgence all too short for Larry Fitzgerald
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:02 pm ET) Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald looked like he'd get back to being a Fantasy mainstay with the return of quarterback Carson Palmer to the starting lineup Week 6 against Washington, catching six passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. But he followed up that performance Week 7 at Oakland with one that looked an awful lot like what he did all those weeks without Palmer.

In fact, in terms of yardage, it was his worst performance of the season. He caught four passes for 21 yards.

Apart from that Week 6 showing, he has averaged just 37.0 yards in five games, and though the return of Palmer was widely credited for the outlier performance, Palmer was also healthy for Fitzgerald's second-worst showing Week 1 against San Diego, when he caught one pass for 22 yards.

In the long run, Fitzgerald figures to be better off with Palmer than Drew Stanton, but as was the case in 2013, the lows for him figure to be extremely low. In points-per-reception leagues, you can roll the dice on him a little easier than standard formats, but clearly, the return of Palmer isn't the key to his success.


Eagles G Evan Mathis cleared to practice this week
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:55 pm ET) Eagles guard Evan Mathis has been cleared to return to practice on Wednesday, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia reports. Mathis was placed on short-term injured reserve list with a knee injury. He won't be allowed to play until Week 10 against Carolina.

"I won't jump back into it full speed, Mathis said. "There's no rushing into it. I have three weeks of practice before I have to play."


Touchdowns not what Allen Robinson does best
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4:50 pm ET) Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson scored his first career touchdown Week 7 against Cleveland, connecting with fellow rookie Blake Bortles on a 31-yard catch-and-run late in the second quarter.

Describing the play as "catch-and-run," though, makes it sound like the run aspect was by design, which simply isn't true. Robinson caught the pass with his back to the defense for what looked like a simple 10-yard gain. But he shook off one defender, kept his balance and managed to elude three other defenders on his way to the end zone.

It was a special play by a player not often put in a position to make special plays. The Jaguars have used Robinson more as a possession guy, targeting him on plays designed to gain only 10 yards or so. And he's done fine in the role. His four catches in this game were actually his fewest in the last five.

There's something to be said for a player who catches five balls every week, even if he doesn't have many big plays or touchdowns to show for it. Certainly, in points-per-reception leagues, Robinson has some appeal. Owners in standard leagues might need to see a couple more touchdowns from him before taking the plunge, though.


Titans LBs Shaun Phillips, Quentin Groves dealing with injuries
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(4:49 pm ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday linebacker Shaun Phillips suffered a hip injury and linebacker Quentin Groves suffered an ankle injury Sunday against the Redskins. Phillips is headed for an MRI and Whisenhunt added he didn't know the status of either player for Week 8 vs. Houston.

Giants LB Jon Beason to visit foot specialist again
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:42 pm ET) Giants linebacker Jon Beason is expected to make another visit to the foot specialist this week, coach Tom Coughlin told reporters during his Monday news conference, according to the New York Daily News. Beason had only 17 defensive snaps before his toe gave out again in a Week 7 defeat to the Cowboys.

The Giants have a bye week before returning to action Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Matchup holds Cecil Shorts in check
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4:37 pm ET) After struggling much of the season, Browns cornerback Joe Haden was back in shutdown form Week 7 at Jacksonville, preventing Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts from following up his 10-catch, 103-yard effort from the week before. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Haden shadowed Shorts much of the day and was physical with him at the line of scrimmage.

That didn't stop rookie quarterback Blake Bortles from throwing the ball Shorts' way, but the two connected on only three of nine targets for 12 yards.

The Jaguars offense being what it is, you can't expect Shorts to be consistent in Fantasy, but if you were excited about him just a week ago, you shouldn't be so quick to dump him based on this performance. It's clear Bortles wanted to get him the ball. The matchup just prevented him from doing so.


 
 
 
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