by Brendan Cassidy for BigBlueInteractive.com
The Slow Death of the Fantasy Running Back:
Finding solid fantasy football running backs seems to be a more difficult task each year. As the NFL continues to progress into more of a passing league, reliable fantasy running back options seem to be dwindling. Add in all the running back time-shares across the league, and it is of upmost importance to snag at least one if not two quality running backs in the first few rounds of your draft. The last six years running back carries and touchdowns have decreased, and I see no reason why this trend will end in 2015. Grab the studs while you can, because the drop off will be steep and could ultimately end your fantasy season before it even begins.
Any running back list for 2015 should begin with Le’Veon Bell at the top of it regardless of scoring format. Not only is he the top running back, he is the top overall fantasy player heading in to 2015. Bell finished the season second in rushing yards with 1,361; however, where he really added his value was the receiving game where he lead all running backs with 854 receiving yards and had 83 receptions (second only to Matt Forte.) He is an every down and back and one of Rothlesberger’s favorite targets in the receiving game (behind only Antonio Brown, who, by the way lead the entire NFL with 129 receptions in 2014.) If you have first pick in your draft, I would be confident grabbing him and if you are in an auction league, spending a pretty penny on him may very well be worth it.
- Eddie Lacy:
After a promising rookie campaign where Lacy took him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, the second year back got off to a horrid start in the 2014 season. To the dismay of fantasy owners who invested a first round pick in him, Lacy was barely start-able the first quarter of the season. However, for those who managed to hold on to him through his struggles, it would soon pay off. The biggest reason Lacy was so inadequate the first month was most likely due to the fact Lacy started the season against three of the top run defenses (Seahawks, Jets and Lions.) After the tough stretch, Lacy was able to pick it up, averaging an elite 20.1 PPG the last twelve games of the season. This the type of production you should expect from him in Green Bay’s high powered offense as the feature back. Despite the slow start, Lacy finished 6th in fantasy points in the season in PPR season. Look for him to improve even more going into his third year and be in the running for top fantasy player of 2015.
- Jamaal Charles:
Jamaal Charles, the top fantasy player of 2013, took a small step back in 2014, but still finished with a very respectable season. The biggest reason for his regression was the dismantling of his offensive line and an injury that seemed to bother him throughout most of 2014. Despite missing almost two full games, Charles was able to finish 7th overall in fantasy points with 253.4 Charles gets a large chunk of his value through the receiving game (hence increasing his value even more in PPR leagues; whereas, he is around the 5th best option in a standard scoring league. Look for Kansas City to address the offensive line in free agency and/or the draft increasing Charles’s value for 2015.
- Demarco Murray:
Murray was the most difficult for me to rank. The Cowboys workhorse is coming off an incredible season where he was the most reliable running back in fantasy football, he scored in the top 12 in fantasy points among running backs every single week; a feat hard to come by, and reliability fantasy owners have to drool at. What scares me is he is coming off a season where he had over 400 touches and there is a good chance he could be suiting up for a different team next season. Aided by the top offensive line in football, Murray was able to rush for a league best 1,845 yards while taking home the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award. The biggest knock against Murray in 2015 will be the wear and tear he endured throughout the season. It truly seemed the Cowboys were running him into the ground in anticipation that he will sign elsewhere next season. Of the last 27 running backs to have 400 or more touches in a season, 22 saw a decrease in fantasy production the following season. Furthermore, of those 27 players, a third suffered an injury the following season leading to a significant amount of time missed. Murray has all the talent in the world, but fantasy owner should have tempered expectations in 2015, especially if Murray signs elsewhere.
- Arian Foster:
After missing the majority of the 2013 season due to injury, Arian Foster had a huge rebound campaign in 2014. Despite missing 3 games to injury, Foster finished the 2014 season as a top 5 back. When Foster did play he was elite, and worth every bit the mid 2nd round price tag fantasy owner paid for him. You can expect him to miss a few games each season, making it extremely important to grab his back up as a handcuff in 2015. If relatively healthy in 2015, you can expect Foster to put up another elite fantasy season.
- Matt Forte:
Forte is the running back most dependent in the receiving game on this list. Take away his receptions and receiving yards and he is nothing more than a middle of the road running back heading into his age 30 Season with a subpar offensive line. Having said that, Forte finished the 2014 season with an unreal 102 receptions for 808 yards. To put that in perspective, only three wide receivers had more receptions than Forte in 2014 (Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones.)
While I think his receptions will go down a bit in 2015, there is no reason to believe he wont have 80-90 catches to go with 1,000 rushing yards, making him an elite fantasy option for the upcoming season.
- Marshawn Lynch:
Lynch, affectionately known as “Beast Mode” by his fans, is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro finishing with over 1300 yards and 13 TDs. However, questions surrounding his future with the Seahawks and even possible retirement keep him lower on this list than if he had no questions concerning his future. If Lynch, does return with the Seahawks, he is a bona fide first round pick (potentially top 5 overall) who will likely put up 1200 yards and 12-14TDs behind an extremely solid offensive line.
- LeSean McCoy:
McCoy was one of the top fantasy players in 2013, and many had high hopes for him in 2014, even drafting him first overall in many cases. Unfortunately for McCoy owners, while his season was solid, it in no way merited a top 3 pick. To put McCoy’s season in perspective, Matt Asiata (yes Matt Aaiata, arguably the least athletic RB in the NFl) finished with only seven fewer fantasy points than McCoy, while in a timeshare with Jerick McKinnon. Furthermore, McCoy was unfortunate to have had a large share of his TDs vultured by Darren Sproles and Chris Polk. Having said that, he is still the lead back for one of the most explosive and up-tempo offenses in the NFL. Look for him to rebound in 2015 with an increase in yards and touchdowns. I would feel comfortable taking him late in the first or early second round.
- C.J. Anderson:
In 2014 C.J. Anderson was one of the heroes for fantasy owners in the second half of the season. Undrafted in virtually all leagues, Anderson was able to shine as the lead back after both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down with injuries. While his value as a starter is undeniable, it does worry me that the Broncos could use a running back by committee approach if Ball and Hillman are healthy. Factor in Peyton Manning’s age and health, and a lot of question marks surround this offense. If you feel like gambling, he is a solid pick in the beginning to middle of the second round with top 3 overall fantasy upside if he is the starter throughout the season.
- Jeremy Hill:
Jeremy Hill emerged as the top rookie running back (and most likely second most impressive after Odell Beckham Jr.) and a legit RB1 after an injury to Giovanni Bernard. Hill exploded in the second half of the season carrying many teams to fantasy championships. While he is an undeniable talent; the fact they have a talented Giovanni Bernard as a back up and possible sharer of carriers hurts Hill’s value. I would strongly suggest picking up Bernard in the 7th or 8th round if you spend a premium pick on Hill.
AP will be three years removed from one of the best seasons ever for a running back. Approaching the wrong side of 30 and having missed virtually the entire 2015 season after a child abuse scandal, I cannot justify spending a premium pick (1st or 2nd round) with Peterson and all the question marks that surround him. If he is around in the 3rd or 4th and you are feeling adventurous, look to nab him, but know the risks involved when you do.
Ellington was having a solid season after leading the NFL in yards per carry in 2013. However, the former seventh round pick’s seasons was derailed with an ACL injury. While his effectiveness coming off an injury will be in doubt, you could do much worse having Ellington as an RB2 considering the upside he has.
This is somewhat contingent on Frank Gore and the 49ers parting ways in the offseason, which many people expect. In that scenario, Hyde, who was impressive in a limited role is all of a sudden catapulted into the work horse role in the 49ers run heavy offense behind a stout offensive line. He is one of my favorite “value picks” heading into next season if he is indeed the starter.
Miller, the former University of Miami product, has been very boom and bust the past few seasons. Drafted high before the 2013 season, he disappointed many with a very inconsistent season. However, this past season he had a career year while seeing the bulk of the carries. It will be important to monitor the Knowshon Moreno situation, if he does not return to the Dolphins next year, look for Miller to get the bulk of the carries and be a mid to high end RB2.
What have we learned?
As you can see from this list, once you get outside the top 10 RBs there is a steep decline in talent and reliability. On the contrary, the wide receiver position is arguably the deepest it has ever been. You can nab solid WRs as late as the 8th or 9th round. Stack up on the elite RBs early and look to solidify your roster with WRs in the later rounds of the draft.
The guys who get the most carries tend to produce the most. Look to avoid running backs that have strong competition for carries in the earlier rounds, as the value usually isn’t there. Be smart with your running back drafting strategy and you will have a big advantage over your fantasy football foes in 2015.
Brendan Cassidy has over 15 years of fantasy experience, both in league and daily formats. He is also an avid life-long Giants fan.