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2014 Draft Prep: The RB landscape

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Overviews: QBs | WRs | TEs | Draft Averages | Rankings | Draft Index

The running back position has become somewhat polarizing for Fantasy owners. The new-school player will tell you running backs don't matter anymore because it's a passing league. The old-school player clings to the theory of running backs win championships.

The side you're on usually comes down to past success. If you've won going heavy with running backs on Draft Day you'll likely stick to that strategy. But if you were burned last year by guys like Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson -- all first-round busts -- you're probably drafting Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Demaryius Thomas or Drew Brees in the first round.

The owners who avoid running backs in the first round -- some wait multiple rounds -- buy into the idea of loading up on mid-round value picks and playing the waiver wire. There's proof that each side is right -- if you pick the right players.

For example, based on win percentage data on CBSSports.com from 2013, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte were Top 10 overall in this category, and all three were drafted in the first round. What that means is they helped Fantasy owners win at least 55 percent of their games, but it had no impact on championships.

Conversely, the other running backs who were Top 10 at their position in win percentage included Knowshon Moreno (55.2 percent), Eddie Lacy (54.1 percent), Zac Stacy (53.7 percent), DeMarco Murray (53.6 percent), Shane Vereen (53.3 percent), Le'Veon Bell (53 percent) and Adrian Peterson (52.8 percent). Of those running backs, only Peterson was drafted in the first three rounds in the majority of leagues. Moreno and Stacy were late-round picks or not drafted at all.

I take the middle ground of these two approaches to running back. I lean toward running back in the first round, but my goal is to get two Top 10 receivers through my first three picks unless I can also lock up a Top 3 tight end in Graham, Rob Gronkowski or Julius Thomas.

Now, I don't entirely avoid drafting running backs with my first two picks because finding workhorses nowadays is virtually impossible. There were only two running backs with at least 300 carries in the regular season last year in McCoy and Marshawn Lynch, and just nine had at least 300 touches. In 2012, five running backs had at least 300 carries and 10 had at least 300 touches.

Obviously, the goal should be to draft a standout rusher early, lock up a couple of stud receivers and then land some exceptional talent at running back with mid- to late-round picks and off the waiver wire. And that's what we're here to do.

We're looking at running backs to target in specific rounds, and I'll evaluate guys I like and the ones I tend to avoid based on their current Average Draft Position. And depending on the type of owner you are, either you'll consider these running backs with early-round selections or wait and just hope the running backs you end up with turn out to be good, if not great.

Top 12

1. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
4. Matt Forte, Bears
5. Eddie Lacy, Packers
6. Montee Ball, Broncos
7. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
8. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
9. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
10. Arian Foster, Texans
11. Le'Veon Bell, Steelers
12. Alfred Morris, Redskins

Range: Rounds 1-2 (Picks 1-21)
Guys I want: Charles, McCoy, Peterson, Forte, Lacy, Ball, Murray, Bernard, Bell and Morris
Guys I tend to avoid: Lynch and Foster
It's easy to select Charles, McCoy, Peterson and Forte if you have a Top 4 overall pick in standard and PPR leagues. Barring injury, those four should be elite in all formats. Your goal should be to lock up a receiver or even two with your next two selections. ... Lacy is an easy choice at No. 5 overall in standard leagues, but he drops behind Calvin Johnson and Graham in PPR formats. He's still a Top 12 overall pick in PPR. ... I like Ball and Murray in the first round in all formats because they have the chance to be outstanding. We saw Moreno get 301 touches last year (60 catches) with 1,600 total yards and 13 total touchdowns as the starter for the Broncos playing behind Manning. That's Ball's upside, and he's worth the risk if healthy coming off the appendectomy. Murray shouldn't be far behind coming off 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and he should see an increase in receptions with Scott Linehan calling plays. ... Bernard and Bell typically fall into a range where you can pair either one with a Top 6 receiver like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall or A.J. Green. Whether that's Round 1 or 2 it doesn't matter, you'll love your first two picks if that's how it works out. Bernard also gets a bump in PPR since his receiving skills should be on display this year. ... Morris loses value in PPR leagues, so drop him down to Round 3 in that format, but he should once again rush for at least 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns with a much higher ceiling. ... I'm nervous about Lynch coming off a 400-touch season last year when you include the playoffs, but he's OK with a pick in the middle to end of Round 2. The problem is he's going at No. 14 overall, and I'd pass on him there, especially in PPR leagues. Foster also is a risk coming off the back injury and missing time in training camp with an undisclosed injury. I don't want him at his ADP of No. 16 overall.

13-24

13. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
14. Zac Stacy, Rams
15. Andre Ellington, Cardinals
16. Reggie Bush, Lions
17. C.J. Spiller, Bills
18. Toby Gerhart, Jaguars
19. Bishop Sankey, Titans
20. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
21. Frank Gore, 49ers
22. Shane Vereen, Patriots
23. Ray Rice, Ravens
24. Chris Johnson, Jets

Range: Rounds 2-5 (Picks 24-56)
Guys I want: Martin, Stacy, Ellington, Spiller, Gerhart, Sankey and Vereen
Guys I tend to avoid: Bush, Mathews, Gore, Rice and Johnson
This group has the chance to make or break your Fantasy team as much as the Top 12 guys. If you lean on receivers early, this is the group of running backs you could be choosing from as starting options. And there are plenty of risks. ... Martin was expected to be in a timeshare, but Charles Sims (ankle) being out for almost three months pushes up his value. He's a great option late in Round 2 or early in Round 3. ... I wouldn't worry about Tre Mason impacting Stacy, which is the lone knock on him this year. Like Martin, you can target Stacy toward the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3 in all formats. ... Ellington is one of my favorite players this year. His ADP is getting pushed up to a point where he might be too expensive at No. 32 overall, but he could be worth it if he stays healthy all year. ... If I draft two receivers toward the end of Round 1 and beginning of Round 2, four running backs I plan to target are Spiller, Gerhart, Sankey and Vereen based on their ADP of No. 37-50. ... Spiller can only go up after last year's disaster. He played hurt last season with knee and ankle injuries, but he's healthy now and the Bills are still a run-dominant team. Fred Jackson will hurt Spiller, but he's worth the price in Round 3 or 4. ... Gerhart should get 300-plus touches if healthy, and his workload will allow him to finish as a Top 20 Fantasy running back ... Sankey has drawbacks with a crowded backfield in Tennessee, but don't be afraid of Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster ruining his upside. He'll be the best Fantasy option on that team and finish as a Top 20 running back if healthy. ... Vereen would have been a Top 15 running back in standard leagues if he didn't break his wrist in Week 1 last year. I'd draft him in Round 4 in standard leagues this season and in Round 3 in PPR formats. ... I'd pass on Bush in standard leagues based on his ADP at the end of Round 3 or beginning of Round 4 and wait for Joique Bell in Round 5. Bell has more upside this season with his scoring potential, and he should get more carries. In PPR, this is a great spot for Bush. ... I'm OK with Mathews as my No. 2 running back, but I'm nervous about the addition of Donald Brown and the Chargers regressing on offense. If I can get him toward the end of Round 4 or beginning of Round 5 then I like it better, but clearly he's a good running back to consider if you draft receivers early. ... I want little to do with Gore, Rice and Johnson based on their ADP toward the end of Round 4 or beginning of Round 5. All three have talented backups that will cut into their playing time, and Rice is out for the first two games. Someone else can draft these guys here.

25-36

25. Trent Richardson, Colts
26. Rashad Jennings, Giants
27. Joique Bell, Lions
28. Ben Tate, Browns
29. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
30. Steven Jackson, Falcons
31. Maurice Jones-Drew, Raiders
32. Pierre Thomas, Saints
33. Terrance West, Browns
34. Lamar Miller, Dolphins
35. Fred Jackson, Bills
36. Knowshon Moreno, Dolphins

Range: Rounds 5-9 (Picks 57-102)
Guys I want: Richardson, Bell, Ridley, Thomas, West and Miller
Guys I tend to avoid: Jennings, Tate, Steven Jackson, Jones-Drew, Fred Jackson and Moreno
If you start your team with one running back, two receivers and a tight end then this could be the group you're looking at for your second rusher. It should work out OK if you get the right guy. ... I'm willing to gamble on Richardson and Ridley despite last year's failures. Both were early-round flops in 2013, but the value this year makes them well worth the risk since they have Top 12 potential as we saw in 2012. ... As I said earlier with Bush, I'd rather wait for Bell at No. 59 overall since he could easily be the better Fantasy option in standard leagues. ... Thomas is a solid option in PPR formats after he led all running backs in receptions in 2013, and the Saints are now without Darren Sproles. We'll see what happens with Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram, but don't be afraid of Thomas at No. 84 overall. Remember, the Saints are still a pass-happy team, and Thomas should lead all New Orleans running backs in playing time. ... I'm more than willing to pass on Tate at No. 60 overall and wait for West at No. 92 overall. The Browns will split touches, and even though Tate should be better, the value for West makes him the better buy on Draft Day. ... Miller has been the best Dolphins running back this offseason with Moreno nursing a knee injury. We'll see how the Dolphins use Moreno, but he'll hurt Miller in some regard, especially on passing downs. Still, for a mid-round flier, Miller is worth it at No. 93 overall. He's a No. 3 running back with upside. ... I'd be OK with Jennings in a PPR league, but I'd rather pass on him at No. 58 overall and wait for Andre Williams later. ... I also have no interest in aging and/or brittle running backs like Steven Jackson, Fred Jackson, Jones-Drew or Moreno. They might have some good weeks during the year, but they will likely provide just as many headaches, so why bother.

37-48

37. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
38. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
39. Darren Sproles, Eagles
40. Danny Woodhead, Chargers
41. Bernard Pierce, Ravens
42. Khiry Robinson, Saints
43. Christine Michael, Seahawks
44. Darren McFadden, Raiders
45. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
46. Andre Williams, Giants
47. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
48. Chris Ivory, Jets

Range: Rounds 9-12 (Picks 106-135)
Guys I want: Freeman, Woodhead, Pierce, Robinson, Michel, Hyde, Andre Williams, Hill and Ivory
Guys I tend to avoid: DeAngelo Williams, Sproles and McFadden
This might be my favorite group of running backs because of the young options who have the chance to shine. Freeman, Michael, Hyde, Andre Williams and Hill can all play prominent roles, even though none of them are starting options. ... Freeman and Hyde are playing behind two aging running backs in Steven Jackson and Gore, respectively. If either breaks down and has to miss time, these two rookies would be considered must-start Fantasy options. ... Michael is a lottery ticket because if Lynch suffers from his workload last year then Michael would be the starter for an awesome running team in Seattle. ... The Bengals will be more run-centric this season with Hue Jackson calling plays. While that benefits Bernard, don't be surprised when Hill plays a big role even as the No. 2 rusher. ... Andre Williams could lead the Giants in rushing touchdowns and make this a 50-50 split for carries. Jennings has more value as a receiver in this offense, but Williams is a late-round gem at his current ADP of No. 125 overall. That will only continue to rise as we get closer to the season. ... Woodhead is an OK option in standard leagues, but his value lies in PPR formats, where he complements Matthews well out of the backfield. Brown will also hurt Woodhead, but he's an excellent choice in Round 10 in standard leagues and likely Round 7 in PPR. ... Pierce gets a two-game audition to prove the Ravens should make this a tandem when Rice's suspension ends. I'm expecting that to happen since Pierce, at this point in his career, might be the better talent than Rice, who broke down last year as he tried to play through a hip injury and is likely headed for a decline. ... Sproles, like Woodhead, is better in PPR formats, but I don't want him in standard leagues. And for those of you wondering what would happen if McCoy got hurt, the Eagles would likely use a tandem of Chris Polk and Sproles. It's unlikely Sproles would be a featured back if McCoy were out. ... DeAngelo Williams would be an OK bye-week or injury replacement if needed, but his value remains limited, especially if Jonathan Stewart is healthy and Mike Tolbert's ability to vulture touchdowns remains. I'd lean toward a younger rusher with more upside. ... McFadden is a great value buy at No. 124 overall, but his injury history and the addition of Jones-Drew makes him hard to trust. I'd rather pass on McFadden for Hyde, Andre Williams and Hill, who are all being drafted after McFadden based on ADP.

49-60

49. Tre Mason, Rams
50. LeGarrette Blount, Steelers
51. Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
52. Mark Ingram, Saints
53. James White, Patriots
54. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts
55. Dexter McCluster, Titans
56. Charles Sims, Buccaneers
57. Knile Davis, Chiefs
58. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos
59. Shonn Greene, Titans
60. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

Range: Rounds 12-13 (Picks 139-156)
Guys I want: Blount, Taylor, Ingram, White, Bradshaw, McCluster, Davis, Hillman and Greene
Guys I tend to avoid: Mason, Sims and Stewart
This will be the handcuff portion of your draft, and you want to make sure you own the backup running back to your early-round stud. Why not? Go back to last year when, at some point in the season, running backs like Fred Jackson, Jennings, Blount and Tate were considered must-start options, whether due to injury or poor play. If Charles goes down, Davis is a Top 15 running back in all leagues. Same for Hillman with the Broncos and likely Blount with the Steelers if Ball and Bell, respectively, have to miss any time. ... On their own, Taylor is intriguing since he could work at the goal line for the Cardinals as a complementary option to Ellington. ... White could be this year's version of Blount if Ridley struggles with fumbles or Vereen gets hurt. ... McCluster has upside playing the Woodhead role in Ken Whisenhunt's offense in Tennessee, and Greene could be working at the goal line. We're not downgrading Sankey, but those two running backs can still be useful with late-round picks. ... Bradshaw, who is coming off neck surgery, could see a boost in production if Richardson has another down year. ... And Ingram might surprise Fantasy owners in a contract year if the Saints give him consistent carries. I don't want Ingram in PPR leagues, but he could lead New Orleans in rushing touchdowns this season. ... Mason could be the handcuff for Stacy, but if he gets hurt we'd likely see a committee approach with Benny Cunningham in the mix. Mason hasn't helped himself with a disappointing training camp, so Fantasy owners aren't investing anything but a late-round pick on him this year. ... Sims was someone I wanted prior to his ankle injury, but now I don't think we'll see the best of him until 2015. If you want him with a late-round flier in deeper leagues then go ahead, but I'll pass now that he's hurt. ... Stewart could do well for the Panthers this season, but he can't stay on the field. Tolbert might prove to be the best running back in Carolina this season because of his scoring prowess. ... Some other running backs who didn't register with their ADP yet include Lance Dunbar (Cowboys), James Starks (Packers) and Jonathan Grimes (Texans). All three are handcuff options on their respective teams, but Dunbar is a sneaky sleeper in deep PPR leagues.

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