Throughout the week, the Yahoo! fantasy team will review each of the four major positions, with an eye toward 2014 drafts. Taking a Q&A approach, we're looking at trends, sleepers, rookies, free agents, potential busts and breakouts, priming the pump for plenty of offseason debate. Today we analyze running backs, a position that royally screwed largely inactive owners.
The number of first-round busts this year at the RB position was staggering. Trent Richardson, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller all failed to meet expectations. Out of that group, who has the strongest odds of reclaiming RB1 value in 2014?
Brandon – MARTIN. Foster has entered the twilight of his career while Trent Richardson is a pedestrian talent. But I'm down with both Martin and Spiller returning RB1 value in '14, just like they did in '12 (Martin 2, Spiller 7 at RB). They are versatile, low-mileage backs with proven upside - but Martin has the clearer return to significant workload.
Brad – MARTIN. Mike James and Bobby Rainey were sporadically flashy in their short tenure as starter, but the busted back is one season removed from one of the finest rookie seasons in NFL history. Behind a solid offensive line and better-than-expected Mike Glennon he should regain top-12 status.
Andy – MARTIN, because I don't question the workload, the role or the talent. Everyone else here is facing a competition for carries and/or regime change. Or they simply aren't as good as we'd thought — I'm lookin' at you, TRich.
Scott – Maybe I'm wishing on a star, but I still think SPILLER can be a special back if deployed right. The Buffalo coaching staff has a full offseason to figure this out, and while I love Fred Jackson, he turns 33 in February.
Dalton – MARTIN. Spiller is a close second since he won't be coming off season-ending surgery (like Martin will be), and Fred Jackson will be 33 years old. I have zero confidence in Richardson, Rice or Foster moving forward, while Martin will be playing for a Tampa Bay team that has a lot of potential.
For the second-straight year, first-year rushers shot out of the gate as Le'Veon Bell, Zac Stacy, Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington each contributed meaningful production. From that bunch, who has the best chance of venturing inside the RB top-five next season?
Brandon – LACY. He edges Stacy and Bell, who I also think have real top 5 potential. But Lacy has been a top 8 fantasy RB this season, higher than the others here, and already in the top 5 neighborhood - and he's produced that without the benefit (threat) of Aaron Rodgers for the second half of '13. Assuming a full season from Rodgers next season, Lacy has easy top 5 upside.
Brad – BELL, by a nose-hair. Extrapolate what the rusher accomplished in 12 games over a full season (1,562 total yards, 9-10 TDs) and he's essentially Matt Forte. Expected to shoulder a full three-down workload and with a likely improved offensive line opening up avenues for him, he should tap into his mammoth upside.
Andy – LACY, easy. In fact, I'd probably draft him top-five right now, after only Jamaal, AP, Shady and Lynch.
Scott – It has to be LACY. The Cardinals and Bengals are in no hurry to feature their young backs, and for all the plaudits thrown at Bell, let's not overlook the ordinary YPC.
Dalton – LACY. I'm a fan of all five of these RBs and will rank Bell and Stacy as top-10 fantasy backs in 2014. But Lacy will be a top-five option who should be a no-brainer first round pick.
Several standout names could wear different colors next season. Among this year's group of UFAs, who are you keeping the closest tabs on?
Brandon – TOBY GERHART. I'd be very interested if Gerhart were to land a featured role this offseason. He's not a game breaker, but he has shown the skills that another team could value in a lead back role - in addition to averaging an eyebrow-raising 7.9 yards per carry this season, ProFootballFocus has always given him a respectable grade as a receiver and pass blocker. He could be somebody's Zac Stacy next season.
Brad – RASHAD JENNINGS. The Raiders have already made overtures Latavius Murray is their running back of the immediate future. With Darren McFadden also a free agent, it appears a changing of the guard will be in order. Jennings was marvelous in seven starts netting 90.8 total yards per game, 4.43 yards per carry and four touchdowns. His resulting 14.9 fantasy points per game in extended action ranked No. 7 among RBs. He'll be 29 next season, but the smasher could follow the career arc of another late-bloomer, Fred Jackson.
Andy – LeGARRETTE BLOUNT. No, that's a joke. I've gotta go MAURICE JONES-DREW, who could be a monster if he lands with an upper-tier offense.
Scott – KNOWSHON MORENO has obviously benefitted from his supporting cast in Denver, but his skill set could play anywhere. He's handy on all three downs, can run it and catch it, pick up the blitz. I expect the market to doubt him in 2014 anyway, and that goes double if he's out of town. I'll be taking the other side.
Dalton – BEN TATE. He's constantly hurt and part of his previous success is due to playing for a once dominant Texans run-blocking unit, so this is more of an indictment on the rest of the options than any real optimism for Tate.
Given the recent success of rookie RBs, what rusher expected to enter this year's NFL draft are you most excited about?
Brandon – BISHOP SANKEY. He went for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 19 TDs for Washington this season, and basically brings everything to the table that Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey does, but he'll likely go a little later in the NFL Draft and in fantasy drafts.
Brad – KA'DEEM CAREY. The Arizona product has no weaknesses in his game. Powerful between the tackles, versatile, consistent and, most importantly, an adept pass-blocker, he excelled the past two seasons averaging 5.86 yards per carry while totaling 4,125 yards from scrimmage and 36 touchdowns. Assuming he forgoes his senior season, the stud-in-the-making will easily be a frontrunner for fantasy ROY in '14.
Andy – CARLOS HYDE. Mostly I'm excited to see him leave the Big Ten, but I also think he's an every-downer in the pros.
Scott – It pains me to credit anyone coming out of Ohio State, but CARLOS HYDE is the most polished back I see.
Dalton – This depends so much on where the back lands, but I'll say LSU's JEREMY HILL. He comes with some off-the-field baggage, but Hill's 6.8 YPC is the most among all backs with 100+ carries, and he played in the SEC. If T.J. Yeldon were eligible, he'd be my clear choice, but I'll go with Hill among 2014 rookie runners.
List your top 14 running backs for '14.
Brandon – 1) LeSean McCoy, 2) Jamaal Charles 3) Adrian Peterson 4) Matt Forte, 5) Eddie Lacy 6) Marshawn Lynch, 7) Zac Stacy 7) Le'Veon Bell 8) DeMarco Murray 9) Doug Martin, 10) "Gnat" Gio Bernard 11) Chris Johnson 12) Ryan Mathews, 13) Alfred Morris, 14) C.J. Spiller
Brad – 1) LeSean McCoy, 2) JC of KC, 3) Matt Forte, 4) Beast Mode, 5) Le'Veon Bell, 6) Eddie Lacy, 7) Adrian Peterson, 8) Zac Stacy, 9) Doug Martin, 10) Ka'Deem Carey, 11) Arian Foster, 12) Ryan Mathews, 13) Alfred Morris, 14) DeMarco Murray
Andy – 1) Charles, 2) AP, 3) Shady, 4) Lynch, 5) Lacy, 6) Forte, 7) Martin, 8) DeMarco, 9) Le'Veon, 10) Reggie, 11) [Some rookie, probably], 12) Morris, 13) Foster, 14) Gio.
Scott – 1) Jamaal Charles, 2) LeSean McCoy, 3) Adrian Peterson, 4) Matt Forte, 5) Marshawn Lynch, 6) Alfred Morris, 7) Eddie Lacy, 8) Zac Stacy, 9) C.J. Spiller, 10) Doug Martin, 11) DeMarco Murray, 12) Reggie Bush, 13) Knowshon Moreno, 14) Gio Bernard
Dalton – 1) Jamaal Charles 2) LeSean McCoy 3) Adrian Peterson 4) Matt Forte 5) Eddie Lacy 6 ) Marshawn Lynch 7) Zac Stacy 8) Le'Veon Bell 9) Alfred Morris 10) Reggie Bush 11) Doug Martin 12) C.J. Spiller 13) Ryan Mathews 14) Knowshon Moreno/DeMarco Murray/Unknown rookie