Our 2014 dynasty ranking series rolls on with a thorough look at the running back position.
Running backs are the trickiest to rank because of the constant turnover at the position. One year, you have a 27 year old superstar. The next year, you have an overworked, broken-down 28 year old. That being the case, I tend rank running backs based on a shorter outlook than that of the other three key offensive positions. I want guys, regardless of age, who can help me over the next three or so years, particularly in the upcoming season. That, of course, is not to say that I’m avoiding big upside kids in favor of veterans on their last legs. It’s simply the difference between going with Matt Forte over Andre Ellington, or Adrian Peterson over Gio Bernard.
Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2014, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. The draft year and round is also shown for each player. Non-PPR scoring is assumed.
Be sure to also check out our 2014 Quarterback Dynasty Rankings
Our first tier includes your elite dynasty running back options. Jimmy Graham and the top wide receivers should be your primary focus early on in the first round of your dynasty draft, but each of these four backs should be top-10 picks.
LeSean McCoy was a fairly easy choice for the top spot. Still only 25 years old, a strong case could be made that McCoy should be the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 redraft leagues. McCoy put up 2,147 total yards and 11 scores in 2013 – his first as the centerpiece of the run-heavy, Chip Kelly offense. A year and a half younger than Jamaal Charles, McCoy gets the edge for the top spot.
Charles was easily fantasy’s top running back of 2013, coming up just 19 yards short of 2,000 total yards. He scored 19 touchdowns, which was fueled by 70 receptions and seven scores via the passing game. Charles is only 27, locking him in as Kansas City’s featured offensive weapon for a few more seasons. Ultra-conservative Alex Smith isn’t going anywhere, either, which means 60-plus catches each season is a near lock.
After only one season, Eddie Lacy has vaulted his way to the first round of dynasty drafts. The youngest back in our Top 5, Lacy will enter 2014 at age 23. He was fantasy’s No. 7 running back as a rookie, racking up 1,435 total yards and 11 scores. The Packers are making a real effort to keep the running game involved in the offense, which takes away some scoring opportunities from Aaron Rodgers and the team’s receivers, and passes them along to Lacy. A plus talent who is locked in as the feature back in an elite offense, Lacy is an outstanding player to build your squad around.
Set to enter the 2014 season at age 29, Adrian Peterson is oldest among our top-25 backs. Of course, considering how dominant Peterson has been over the last seven years, it’s hard not to view him as an elite dynasty tailback. That’s the case even if he only lasts another two or three years at his current level. Peterson missed two games in 2013, but was still fantasy’s No. 6 running back. He’s reached 1,200 rushing yards in six of his seven seasons and figures to see more targets with Norv Turner now calling the shots in Minnesota. A contender to be chosen No. 1 overall in 2014 redraft leagues, Peterson remains a strong dynasty hold.
Our next tier includes middle-of-the-pack and back-end RB1 options. This is a much deeper tier than our first, but includes a similar mixture of youth and veterans.
The most intriguing attribute of emerging Bengals’ feature back Gio Bernard is his age. Only 22, he’s almost three full years younger than a majority of our Top 18 backs. That’s what gets him inside the Top 5 despite a short NFL resume. In 2013 – his rookie campaign – Bernard was No. 16 in scoring at the position despite racking up only 170 carries. He scored eight times and his 56 receptions ranked eighth among running backs. Going forward, Bernard will surely see a larger workload, which locks him in as a RB1, especially in PPR formats.
Following an impressive rookie performance, 2013 was a lost season for Doug Martin. His 3.6 yards-per-carry mark was a full yard lower than in 2012 and he lasted only six games before a shoulder injury landed him on Injured Reserve. Still, the Buccaneers offense improved drastically when Mike Glennon took over (around the time Martin went down) and the team’s coaching staff was overhauled during the offseason. Martin is clearly the top talent in this backfield and should easily average close to 20 touches per game over the next several years. Only 25, Martin remains a quality dynasty tailback.
Lynch is one of the NFL’s best runners and works out of the league’s run-heaviest offense. He was fantasy’s No. 4 back this past season despite only catching 36 balls. That’s the good news. The concern here is Lynch’s age (turns 28 before Week 1) and the potential emergence of 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael. Lynch remains an excellent short-term play, but one injury could quickly end his reign as a fantasy standout.
The perpetually-underrated Murray proved his skeptics wrong with another impressive showing in 2013. The real difference this time around was that he appeared in 14 games after missing a total of nine during his first two seasons. Murray was fantasy’s No. 8 running back, racking up nearly 1,500 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Durability remains a concern, but Murray is only 26 and without much competition for reps in Dallas.
Le’Veon Bell is an interesting case study. On one hand, he was a second-round pick one year ago and Pittsburgh immediately installed him as their feature back. That led to a massive volume of touches (289 in 13 games to be exact) and eight touchdowns. On the other hand, Bell averaged a miserable 3.5 yards-per-carry and failed to score on any of his 275 touches from 10-plus yards away from the end zone. That sounds a lot like Trent Richardson circa 2012. Bell is only 22 and the team’s clear feature back heading into 2014, but it’s fair to wonder if he has the talent to keep the job long term.
The Redskins took a major step backwards last season, which put a damper on what was quietly a pretty good season for Alfred Morris. The big man was No. 14 among running backs in fantasy points despite catching only nine balls (72 backs caught more). Already one of the league’s top, young between-the-tackle runners, Morris figures to see more passing game involvement with Jay Gruden now in control of the offense. Only 25, Morris has plenty of years left as a top fantasy back.
Matt Forte hasn’t done it with a lot of flair, but he’s been one of the most reliable backs in fantasy over the last half decade. Forte has appeared in 15-plus games in five of his six seasons and has never been below 204 carries and 44 receptions in a single year. He was fantasy’s No. 3 back in 2013 thanks to 1,933 total yards and 12 scores. With Marc Trestman running the Chicago offense, it will continue to score points. Forte’s age (28) is becoming a concern, but he remains a solid short-term dynasty play.
Our third tier starts to dig into the top available No. 2 dynasty running backs.
C.J. Spiller spurned those who spent a first-round pick on him in 2013, but he remains one of a handful of backs who could emerge into a fantasy superstar. Injuries derailed a majority of his season, but Spiller still managed borderline RB2 numbers despite scoring only twice. Goal line work continues to be a concern – amazingly he only has two career carries within three yards of the opposing end zone – but there aren’t many backs with his playmaking ability. At 26, age is no longer a major asset to his value, but he only has 589 career carries to his name. Spiller remains a borderline top-12 dynasty running back option.
Zac Stacy was only a fifth-round pick in 2013, but he proved a worthy fantasy asset after carrying the Rams’ offense down the stretch. After taking over as St. Louis’ lead back in Week 5, Stacy racked up 1,113 total yards and eight scores, which was good enough to rank him eighth in fantasy points at the position. Only 22 and the feature back in an improving offense, you’re in good shape if Stacy is manning your No. 2 RB slot.
An elite dynasty running back as recently as this time last year, age and injuries have Arian Foster at his lowest value since he exploded onto the fantasy scene in 2010. It may seem hard to believe, but Foster has managed only two 16-game campaigns in his career. Of course, he scored 12-plus touchdowns in all three seasons spanning from 2010 to 2012. Touchdown deficiencies aside, Foster’s 2013 season was actually going pretty well (725 total yards) before a back injury cut it short after eight games. Foster returns as Houston’s lead back, but he’s closing in on 28 and the offense will throw more with Bill O’Brien in charge. Foster has a few more effective years in the tank, but his days as a top-3 back are likely over.
Placing a dynasty value on Shane Vereen is a bit tricky as he’s unlikely to lead his team in carries, at least in the short term. Of course, when you’re averaging over eight targets per game like Vereen did last season, it’s still reasonable to expect RB2 production. In the eight full games Vereen appeared in last season, he was fantasy’ No. 14-scoring running back. He only carried the ball 44 times during that span. It’s fair to wonder if Vereen’s ceiling will be limited in a Darren Sproles-like role, but he’s shown an ability to handle more carries, something he’s expected to do in 2014 and beyond. Only 25 and working in Bill Belichick’s offense, Vereen is a major breakout candidate.
It’s hard to find a player who disappointed more than Ray Rice this past season. Once one of the most reliable weekly plays, Rice was fantasy’s No. 30 scoring running back despite appearing in 15 games. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per reception – both easily career lows. Although there is justifiable concern about Rice’s massive workload over the last five years (1,660 touches in 79 regular season games), he just turned 27 and is expected to remain Baltimore’s lead back. On the downturn of his career and having to compete for snaps with Bernard Pierce, Rice is risky, but it’s not crazy to think he has another season or two of RB1 production left in the tank. Of course, his off-the-field issues could make all of this moot.
Ellington and Ball are second-year backs set to take over as their respective team’s lead back in 2014. Ellington was extremely impressive on 118 rookie-season carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Ball played second fiddle to Knowshon Moreno during his rookie season, but strong play earned him an expanded role in the second half. Ellington gets a slight edge here, as he’s shown signs of having a higher ceiling, but note that he’s already 25 years old. Ball will be 23 when Week 1 rolls around and is working in Denver’s high-scoring offense.
The Chargers moved more towards a run-heavy attack during the second half of 2013, which allowed Ryan Mathews a massive workload down the stretch. Strong play has earned him a firm grasp on San Diego’s lead back role. Only 26, he has a few years of RB2 production in the tank…Stevan Ridley is a bit tricky to evaluate. He’s only 25 and a talented back, but he lost a significant portion of his workload to LeGarrette Blount last season due to fumbling issues. If Blount is re-signed, Ridley’s short-term stock will take a plunge. That’s a good time for savvy owners to snatch him up on the cheap.
Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce, and Michael represent some of the most talented reserve backs in the league. Tate actually has a shot at a starting gig going forward, as he’s the first unrestricted free agent in our rankings. Only 25 and with loads of talent, his value will see a nice boost if he lands a gig that allows him 15-plus carries per game. Pierce remains behind Rice in Baltimore, but that could change quickly if Rice doesn’t improve on a dismal 2013 campaign or misses time due to off-the-field issues. Pierce is only 22, which will allow him a lengthy shelf life. Michael – a second-round pick one year ago – remains stuck behind Lynch in Seattle. If the veteran goes down with an injury or shows signs of his age, expect Michael to surge past Robert Turbin and into a major role in the league’s run-heaviest offense. He’s an elite handcuff option in every type of league.
Trent Richardson and David Wilson were among the top busts in fantasy football last season. Richardson managed a wretched 3.0 yards per carry, which was even lower than his poor 3.6 rookie-season mark. An early-season trade to Indianapolis ended up dramatically hurting his 2013 fantasy value. On the bright side, Richardson is only 22 and will enter 2014 as the lead back in the Colts’ improving offense. Wilson appeared in only five games before a serious neck injury cut his season short. Also 22, Wilson has a ton of talent, but there are plenty of question marks, including his health and struggles with fumbling and pass protection. Both players own massive upside, but have disappointed thus far in their short careers.
Bush was fantasy’s No. 10 running back this past season, but failed to appear in all 16 of his team’s games for the sixth time over the last seven seasons. He’ll remain heavily involved in the Lions’ high-scoring offense this season, but he’s now 29 years old and will share the workload with emerging Joique Bell…Moreno is a free agent, which means his ranking will move a bit once he finds a landing spot. The 26 year old was outstanding for Denver in 2013, busting out for nearly 1,600 total yards and 13 touchdowns. He was No. 5 among running backs in fantasy points.
Marcus Lattimore destroyed his knee while still at South Carolina back in 2012, but is expected to be fully healthy for the 2014 season. He remains buried behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in San Francisco, but was considered a first-round talent prior to his injury.
style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; font-size: 12px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: #ffffff; color: #000000; font-family: sans-serif, Georgia, Arial; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; font-weight: normal; letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 16.799999237060547px; orphans: auto; text-align: start; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: auto; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px;">Lattimore is expected to eventually replace Gore as the team’s franchise back. Gore had another strong season in 2013, but his fantasy value is limited by a lack of involvement in the passing game. Set to enter Week 1 at age 31, his days as a lead back are surely numbered.
Bryce Brown and Knile Davis are both young, talented backs stuck in a reserve role on their respective teams. Brown is competing with Chris Polk for work behind McCoy, while Davis is backing up Charles. Brown and Davis would find themselves on the RB1 radar if either starter went down with an injury. Both set to turn 23 this year, these future stars should be stashed on dynasty benches.
Lamar Miller and Mark Ingram are similar in that they’ve both underwhelmed when given a chance to lead their respective team’s backfield. Miller is only 23 and is entering a make-or-break seasons as Miami’s ace. The team’s hiring of Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator will only improve Miller’s effectiveness and likely raise his involvement. Durability remains an issue for Ingram, as he’s now missed 11 games during his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s only 24, however, and averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry in 2013. With Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles on the decline, Ingram is a logical post-hype breakout candidate in 2014.
Chris Johnson is expected to be cut by Tennessee this offseason, which leaves us without any clue as to where he’ll be or what sort of role he’ll play in 2014 and beyond. On the plus side, Johnson was fantasy’ No. 9 back of 2013 and hasn’t missed a single game over the last five seasons. On the other hand, he turns 29 this year and is unlikely to land a clear feature back role wherever he lands…We discussed Blount’s impeding free agency earlier. Although he played a situational role for most of the 2013 season, Blount emerged as a force down the stretch, racking up eight touchdowns during one three-game stretch. Blount is 27 and wouldn’t be anything more than a committee back if he re-signs with New England. His lack of involvement as a receiver lowers his fantasy ceiling even further.
Bell and Jonathan Stewart are both closing in on age 28 and stuck in a committee on their respective teams. Bell will see plenty of work behind and/or next to Bush during the 2014 season. Stewart simply can’t stay healthy, having missed 17 games over the last two seasons. He’ll continue to share reps with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert in Carolina. Both backs have talent, but age and depth chart status are not on their side.
Latavius Murray is as speculative a player as they come, but the 23-year-old has a ton on his side. A sixth-round pick in 2013, Murray is massive at 6’3, 223 pounds and has 4.38 speed. His 2013 season never got off the ground due to an ankle injury, but with Darren McFadden long gone and Rashad Jennings a free agent, Murray has a serious shot to explode onto the fantasy scene in 2014…Steven Jackson will enter 2014 as Atlanta’s lead back, but he’s nearing age 31 and struggled to a career-low 3.5 yards per carry last season. If the Atlanta offense bounces back, Jackson has a shot at RB2 production this upcoming season, but his days as a feature back are coming to an end.
McFadden, Jennings, and Maurice Jones-Drew are headed for free agency. Each could end up starting a lot of games in 2014, but McFadden continues to struggle with his durability, while Jones-Drew and Jennings are 29 years old. None of these backs have much value after the next season or two…The Jets backfield is well represented here as we see both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Ivory is 26 and is the favorite to lead the team in carries over the short term. Powell is 25 and handles passing down work. Both are pedestrian talents stuck in a poor offense.
Hunter is only 25 and a very talented, productive player when called upon. Unfortunately, he seems destined for a situational role in San Francisco. Gore is on his last leg, but Lattimore is the team’s feature back of the future…Johnathan Franklin has clearly lost out to Lacy for Green Bay’s lead back gig, but he’s only 24 and is the heavy favorite for the team’s primary backup job…Stepfan Taylor is expected to team up with Ellington as a one-two punch in the Arizona backfield over the next few years. With Ellington taking on more of a scat back role, look for Taylor to handle some of the between-the-tackles grind, including some goal line work…Ronnie Hillman is only 22, but he couldn’t even hang on to the No. 3 job in Denver last season. He’ll enter 2014 in a competition with C.J. Anderson for the primary backup job behind Ball.
Vick Ballard, Jacquizz Rodgers, Danny Woodhead, and Roy Helu enter 2014 in clear reserve roles. Ballard tore his ACL last season, which helped pave the way for the Colts to acquire Trent Richardson. Rodgers hasn’t made for a reliable fantasy option even when in the starting lineup. Woodhead is a situational, passing-down back in San Diego. With a new coaching staff in Washington, Helu’s role is unclear, but he’s the current favorite for passing-down work.
Andre Brown, Shonn Greene, and DeAngelo Williams are currently slotted in as their team’s lead back, but all three will struggle to maintain fantasy relevance in the coming years. Brown is 27 and will need to fend off emerging Wilson in New York. Greene will be atop the Titans depth chart when Johnson is cut, but the team will surely add competition, if not a replacement, via the draft or free agency. Williams is closing in on age 31 and shares carries with Cam Newton, Stewart, and Tolbert.
Our sixth tier includes a trio of Saints’ running backs. Khiry Robinson, Thomas, and Sproles will compete with aforementioned Ingram for snaps in the merry-go-round that is the New Orleans backfield. Only 24, Robinson has youth on his side, but is expected to begin 2014 fourth on the depth chart. Sproles is unique in that he doesn’t carry the ball very often, so he figures to be a PPR factor for a few more seasons. Thomas is an excellent all-around performer, but is now 29.
Robert Turbin, Brandon Bolden, Chris Polk, Bobby Rainey, Daryl Richardson, Mike James, and Mike Gillislee are young backs buried on their respective team’s depth chart. Most have a shot at a short-term No. 2 gig, but a situational long-term role is likely in the cards on all fronts…Veterans Donald Brown, James Starks, Toby Gerhart, and Rashard Mendenhall are headed to free agency. There’s a shot a few of these guys end up earning some starts in 2014, but none will be asked to take on a feature back role.
Jordan Todman currently sits atop the Jaguars’ depth chart, but it won’t be long before he’s replaced…Edwin Baker and Dion Lewis are currently in position to lead the Cleveland backfield, but it’s more likely that they’ll be competing for situational snaps. Lewis is a name to watch in PPR…Journeyman Daniel Thomas is expected to back up Miller in Miami this season…Fred Jackson still has some redraft appeal, but is now 33 years old and has Spiller on his heels…Denard Robinson remains intriguing as a long-term project in Jacksonville.