Fantasy Football: Early Ranking of Top 20 Running Backs for 2014-2015

Fantasy football never ends.  You can never be too prepared for your draft, so here’s a ranking of the top 20 running backs for 2014 to get you started.

First, let’s look at some running backs who failed to make the cut.

As recently reported by Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford does not want to rely heavily on a single back.  That’s bad news for Doug Martin, whose stock was already dropping after a weak showing in the first six games of the 2013 season, not to mention his shoulder injury.

Arian Foster is coming off back surgery, and it looks like the immense number of touches he has had since 2010 has taken its toll.  Foster will be 28 before the 2014 season begins and is a very risky proposition.

Fred Jackson has surprisingly not hit the proverbial wall yet but will turn 33 in February, and the wall is close.

Depending on their landing spots, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Auburn’s Tre Mason are two rookies that can make an instant fantasy impact.

20. Maurice Jones-Drew

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Maurice Jones-Drew will be a 29-year-old free agent, who averaged a sickly 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.  Despite a down year on a putrid Jacksonville offense, Jones-Drew managed 1,117 yards from scrimmage.

Jones-Drew is only two years removed from a campaign in which he had 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.  If the UCLA product lands in the right situation, he may prove that he is being dismissed way too early in fantasy circles.

19. C.J. Spiller

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C.J. Spiller was a 2013 bust but can be a steal in 2014.  The common misconception is that Spiller had less of a role in Buffalo’s offense in 2013 after a breakthrough 2012.  The truth is that the Clemson standout only had five more carries and 10 more receptions in 2012.  The difference was that Spiller averaged an eye-opening 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception in his career year.

Fred Jackson is still in the way, but Spiller is too talented to miss the top 20.

18. LeGarrette Blount

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LeGarrette Blount will be a free agent at the end of the season, but the New England Patriots will likely make a play to keep the breakout back.  The fantasy world took notice when Blount steamrolled the Indianapolis Colts with 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns during the AFC Divisional Round.

With Stevan Ridley‘s fumble problems and Shane Vereen serving more as a receiving threat, Blount could be the Patriots’ feature back in 2014.

17. Chris Johnson

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16. Ryan Mathews

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The San Diego Chargers offense came to life in 2013, and Ryan Mathews played a big part.  The Fresno State star had 1,444 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns.

While Danny Woodhead will cut into Mathews’ workload, he will be the go-to back in a strong offense.  The knock on Mathews is his propensity for injury.

15. Frank Gore

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Frank Gore continues to be unspectacular but steady.  In each of the last three seasons, Gore has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gore will be 31 next season but will continue to be the feature back behind a good line in a run-heavy offense.

14. Giovani Bernard

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In his rookie season, Giovani Bernard had 1,209 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.  His value was increased in point-per-reception leagues because of his 56 receptions.  The potential for more is there, but will the Cincinnati Bengals increase his workload?

BenJarvus Green-Ellis was clearly less productive in 2013, but there is no guarantee that his role will be diminished in Bernard’s favor.

13. Zac Stacy

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Zac Stacy can be a workhorse back as he amassed 972 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the St. Louis Rams’ final 12 games of 2013.  Stacy only had one carry for one yard in the Rams’ first four games.

Stacy continued to find holes and crash through defenses even after Sam Bradford had a season-ending injury.  The potential for a monster season is there, but can Stacy stay healthy for an entire season with his punishing brand of football?

12. Alfred Morris

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Alfred Morris was 2012’s most pleasant fantasy surprise, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Morris followed up his rookie campaign with 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns.  While Morris still had nice numbers in 2013, fantasy owners were undoubtedly disappointed.

While Morris can easily be a top-10 running back, the uncertainty of Robert Griffin III‘s health and desire to leave the pocket hurt his value.  If RGIII chooses to remain in the pocket in 2014, the Washington offense will sputter.

11. Ray Rice

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Before 2013, Ray Rice was the model of consistency, gaining more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive years.  Then the bottom fell out.  In 2013, Rice only gained 981 yards from scrimmage, burning down every fantasy campaign that he was a part of.

Rice will be only 27 come the start of the 2014 season, and we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.  While Rice’s 2013 may be an aberration, it may also signal the beginning of the end for the Rutgers product, as there is a lot of wear and tear on his legs.

10. Reggie Bush

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Reggie Bush was everything fantasy owners envisioned in 2013.  A versatile back in a high-octane offense resulted in 1,512 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in 14 games.  Bush will build on his 54 receptions as a result of his increased chemistry with Matthew Stafford.

Bush’s size will always make him susceptible to injury, but he will continue to be an underrated fantasy star.

9. Knowshon Moreno

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Knowshon Moreno’s value is completely dependent on whether he is a Denver Bronco.  He is a top-10 running back in Denver and falls completely out of the top 20 if elsewhere.

With Peyton Manning, Moreno had 1,586 yards from scrimmage while scoring 13 touchdowns.  Moreno will continue to be the man if re-signed by the Broncos.  Montee Ball may have an increased role, but Manning is comfortable with Moreno.

8. Le’Veon Bell

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In his rookie campaign, Le’Veon Bell gained 1,259 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns in only 13 games.  The bad news is that he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry, which is reminiscent of Trent Richardson‘s rookie season.

Bell is definitely more versatile than Richardson, making 45 receptions, and Pittsburgh’s offensive line was among the worst in the league.  Also in Bell’s favor, Pittsburgh loves to run.

7. DeMarco Murray

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In 2013, DeMarco Murray gained 1,471 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns.  Murray is an elusive runner (5.2 yards per carry) in a potent Dallas offense.

The only thing holding Murray back is his frailty.  Murray has missed eight games in the last two seasons.  A full season for Murray could be earth-shattering, but the odds are against it.

6. Eddie Lacy

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Eddie Lacy is everyone’s favorite newcomer after accumulating 1,435 yards from scrimmage and scoring 11 touchdowns in 15 games.  Lacy became the Green Bay Packers’ workhorse in Week 5 and never looked back.  Lacy is everything his Alabama teammate, Trent Richardson, was supposed to be.

Fantasy owners are salivating about Lacy’s potential production with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback for a full season.  

5. Marshawn Lynch

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Marshawn Lynch turned on the beast mode to the tune of 1,573 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns.  Lynch was supported by a very good offensive line and, more importantly, the league’s top defense.  Seattle was first in the league in points allowed (14.4), giving Lynch the opportunity to run excessively, often to burn the clock.

Lynch is turning 28, and one has to wonder how much longer he has with his physical running style.  As of now, he is more likely to find continued success in 2014.

4. Matt Forte

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3. Adrian Peterson

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There is no doubt Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL.  The question is whether the Minnesota Vikings can find an adequate quarterback.

Constantly going up against creeping safeties, Peterson still mustered 1,437 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.  Peterson will turn 29 before the start of the 2014 campaign, and injuries are starting to become a serious issue for him.  Still, no one will laugh if Peterson is drafted first overall.

2. Jamaal Charles

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Is Priest Holmes back with the Chiefs?  Jamaal Charles had an explosive fantasy season with 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.

Charles is in his prime and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.  If only he had a better signal-caller than Alex Smith.  Charles is also a candidate for top-overall fantasy selection.

1. LeSean McCoy

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In 2013, LeSean McCoy gained more yards from scrimmage than anyone in the NFL (2,146) and scored 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.  What is there not to like?

McCoy is young (25), elusive, versatile and part of Chip Kelly’s dynamic offense.  If Nick Foles continues to progress, McCoy can surpass his career year.  The touchdowns will come.

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