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Exit Interview, RB: DeMarco and Le'Veon make the leap, rookies were curiously quiet

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The running back position was a minefield of injuries, suspensions and disappointments in 2014. So, basically, it was a typical year. If you were one of the Zero RB zealots back in August, let's hope you drafted Jeremy Hill late and snagged C.J. Anderson off the wire. Otherwise, you were probably pummeled by Le'Veon, DeMarco or Marshawn at some point, just like the rest of us.

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More Exit Interviews: Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends

If we exclude free-agent-to-be DeMarco Murray from the discussion, name the one running back who's unattached in 2015, poised to make the biggest fantasy splash next season.

Brandon — RYAN MATHEWS. He's been dogged by injuries throughout his career, but you can't deny that he's talented - he's averaged a rock solid 4.4 YPC in his career despite San Diego grading out as subpar in run blocking for the majority of his NFL tenure. I'll be very interested to see where he winds up in '15.

Dalton — This truly matters 100% on where these players land, but I’ll say JUSTIN FORSETT, who will likely enter 2015 as a top-20 ranked fantasy RB (at minimum) if he re-signs in Baltimore. Pro Football Focus has Forsett ranked as the No. 6 ranked running back this season. 

Scott — My guess is that the Seahawks will move on from MARSHAWN LYNCH, and he'll have at least one more dynamic year with a new team. (Hey, this entire series is about speculation; you can't knock me for taking it a step further). Head East Mode. 

So the 2014 rookie class of running backs was, um ... well, Jeremy Hill was very good. The rest of 'em, not so much. Every rookie back except Hill was outscored this season by Matt Asiata. Looking ahead to the 2015 class, which rookie-to-be interests you most?

Brad — Without a doubt Melvin Gordon will be the most desirable rookie in 2015, but don't overlook Nebraska's AMEER ABDULLAH. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound dynamo is an Andre Ellington-type who's outstanding low pad level allows him to pounce off would-be tacklers routinely. Deceptively powerful, versatile and durable he's a future workhorse back. The past two seasons in Lincoln he averaged 6.2 yards per carry. 

Andy — I think it's fairly clear that Melvin Gordon has the potential to be a star, but I'll throw TODD GURLEY into the mix, too. That kid was obscene this season, in limited duty. He appeared in just six games, yet ran for 911 yards (7.6 YPC) and nine TDs. No doubt the ACL injury will impact his draft spot, but with a smooth recovery he should be clear for the opening weeks of 2015. Gurley's highlights are of the highest quality, in case you'd forgotten.

Brandon — MELVIN GORDON. The Badgers product runswith the kind of effortless speed that invites comparisons to Jamaal Charles. The leading rusher in the FBS in '14, Gordon had four games with 200-plus rushing yards, including a 408-yard effort against Nebraska. He also had a run of 40-plus yards in nine different games. With all the physical tools, Gordon could be the rare RB (at least for this day and age) that finds his way into the NFL draft's first round.

Yeah, um...good effort, Hawks. But you couldn't stop Melvin Gordon (Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)
Yeah, um...good effort, Hawks. But you couldn't stop Melvin Gordon (Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

OK, expert, which running back is set to make the greatest value-leap from this year to next? That is, who's going to be the Mark Ingram of 2015?

Dalton — CARLOS HYDE. I want to make two things clear, I’m a 49ers homer and Andy wrote in his answer below before I did. But San Francisco theoretically should bounce back next season, and there’s a real chance Frank Gore isn’t even on the team. Hyde could have a nice path to a big fantasy performance in 2015. 

Andy — For me, the player with the clearest path to a massive value leap is clearly CARLOS HYDE. He's a kid with full-workload ability, and he could very well be the lead back in San Francisco next season if Frank Gore relocates. Hyde was a terror at Ohio State, and he's had some impressive moments in limited duty this season (4.0 YPC, 4 TDs).

Scott — I'd probably go with Carlos Hyde, too, but just to give you a different answer, how about LATAVIUS MURRAY in Oakland? He offers an interesting mix of size, lateral shiftiness, and home-run ability, and he also does well in the passing game. Oakland will have a new head coach next year, and hopefully the collection of veteran backs will be cleaned out as well. 

Just as important: Who's going to be the Zac Stacy of 2015, the early-round running back we should all avoid as if he were a pool of toxic sludge?

Andy — Well, I'm not going to go so far as to call him toxic, but MATT FORTE certainly carries bust potential. He's been a tremendous featured back during his seven years with the Chicago Bears, but he'll turn 30 near the end of next season, and the mileage is high. We also have the strong possibility of total regime change in Chicago, complicating the outlook for all skill players tied to the offense.

Brandon — ARIAN FOSTER. I have nothing but good things to say about his skills. But he's going into his age 29 season in '15, and he's going to be coming off a season in which he missed three games because of groin and hamstring injuries - he also blamed a his 61-yard, 0 TD effort vs. Buffalo (his worst fantasy line of the year) on not being healthy. He's going to likely demand a Round 1 pick given the impressive totals he posted this season, but health concerns are likely going to push me in a different direction.

Brad — DEMARCO MURRAY was one of the biggest profit turners in fantasy this season, but he could leave prospective buyers deep in the red next year. The free-agent-to-be was a throwback in a timeshare age, routinely eclipsing 25 touches in a game. That rigorous workload combined with an injury-plagued past don't bode well for a repeat. His possible change of venue is also a concern. Dallas boasts arguably the league's best offensive line. Be wary. Be very wary. 

It was a banner year for Bells, and none was better than Le'Veon (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)
It was a banner year for Bells, and none was better than Le'Veon (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Give up the new leads, guru. Please rank your top-15 running backs for 2015, if we were drafting today...

Dalton — 1) Le’Veon Bell 2) DeMarco Murray 3) Jamaal Charles 4) Eddie Lacy 5) Matt Forte 6) Marshawn Lynch 7) Arian Foster 8) C.J. Anderson 9) LeSean McCoy 10) Jeremy Hill 11) Adrian Peterson 12) Carlos Hyde 13) Melvin Gordon 14) Tre Mason 15) Alfred Morris 

Brandon — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Jamaal Charles, 3) Eddie Lacy, 4) DeMArco Murray, 5) Adrian Peterson, 6) Marshawn Lynch, 7) Matt Forte, 8) C.J. Anderson, 9) Arian Foster, 10) LeSean McCoy, 11) Jeremy Hill, 12) Carlos Hyde, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Alfred Morris, 15) Lamar Miller

Scott — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) DeMarco Murray, 3) Jamaal Charles, 4) Eddie Lacy, 5) C.J. Anderson, 6) Marshawn Lynch, 7) Matt Forte, 8) Arian Foster, 9) Jeremy Hill, 10) LeSean McCoy, 11) Adrian Peterson, 12) Alfred Morris, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Lamar Miller, 15) Joique Bell 

Andy — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Adrian Peterson (could be as high as No. 2, could be off the board), 3) Eddie Lacy, 4) DeMarco Murray, 5) C.J. Anderson, 6) Jamaal Charles, 7) Marshawn Lynch (they wouldn't really let him walk, would they?), 8) LeSean McCoy, 9) Matt Forte, 10) Arian Foster, 11) Jeremy Hill, 12) Alfred Morris, 13) Melvin Gordon, 14) Carlos Hyde, 15) Tre Mason.

Brad — 1) Le'Veon Bell, 2) Eddie Lacy, 3) Jamaal Charles, 4) C.J. Anderson, 5) Adrian Peterson, 6) Matt Forte, 7) Arian Foster, 8) Marshawn Lynch, 9) Jeremy Hill, 10) Carlos Hyde, 11) Melvin Gordon, 12) LeSean McCoy, 13) Tre Mason, 14) DeMarco Murray, 15) Ameer Abdullah