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Dynasty Ranks: Running Backs

Rotoworld

Our dynasty ranking series rolls on with today’s breakdown of 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. In fact, these days, even younger running backs are going from hot commodities to fantasy afterthoughts in a matter of a few months. Remember Steve Slaton? How about Roy Helu? Jahvid Best? Kevin Smith? Joseph Addai? The list goes on and on.

That being the case, I tend to 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 Adrian Peterson over Trent Richardson, or Frank Gore over Mark Ingram.

This is going to be a long one, so let’s get on to the rankings.

Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2013, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. The draft year and round is also shown for each player.

Click it here for 2013 Quarterback Dynasty Rankings

Tier 1


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

1

Adrian Peterson

MIN

28.4

2007-1

2

Arian Foster

HST

27.0

2009-U

3

Doug Martin

TB

24.6

2012-1

4

Marshawn Lynch

SEA

27.3

2007-1

5

Jamaal Charles

KC

26.6

2008-3

6

LeSean McCoy

PHI

25.1

2009-2

7

C.J. Spiller

BUF

26.0

2010-1

8

Ray Rice

BLT

26.6

2008-2

9

Trent Richardson

CLV

22.1

2012-1

10

Alfred Morris

WAS

24.7

2012-6

I was back-and-forth on how many backs to include in the top tier, but 10 ended up being the magic number. We have a mix of 2012 stars, 2013 breakout candidates, and a few bounceback candidates. Although our first tier of backs is deep, be careful not to wait long (if at all) to address the position. Running backs always fly off the shelves due to the lack of depth after the first 15 or so players. Despite an intriguing group of young backs in the fourth and fifth tiers, there is still a drop-off in reliability as we cross over from tier one to two.

The first running back off the board in startup leagues this year should be Adrian Peterson. Sure he's closing in on 28, but after what he did coming off a torn ACL during the 2012 season, Peterson is the only logical No. 1 back. Even if he takes the likely step back in 2013, he’s the most consistently-dominant back of the last six years. Draft him with confidence and enjoy the ride over the next few seasons.

Spending the past few years as the feature back in one of the league’s run-heaviest offenses, there’s certainly reason to believe Foster could begin to fade in 2013. His yards-per-carry marks have declined each of the past two seasons, but it’s worth noting that his postseason YPC marks were better than his regular season marks both years. On paper, the touch numbers are scary, but the guy keeps producing, is only 26-years-old, and there is no sign Houston will move away from a run-first attack.

Martin exploded onto the scene as a rookie last season, locking himself in as the team’s long-term feature back. A three-down player, there’s not much to be concerned with here in terms of another back stealing pass-down or, to a lesser extent, goal line reps. If Martin is your top dynasty back, you’re in good hands. Had he been one or two years younger, he’d be on top of the rankings…Lynch is one of those guys who always seems older than he actually is. About to turn 27, he's seen a career resurrection since getting traded to Seattle during the 2010 season. The Seahawks figure to be one of the league’s better teams over the next few years, which will give Lynch, their clear feature back, a ton of opportunities to handle the ball.

Charles is one of the league’s best backs, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll see a significant drop in carries now that Andy Reid is calling the shots. Of course, we’ve seen before that Charles can do a lot of damage without 20-plus carries every week (not unlike Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy under Reid in Philadelphia). Additionally, Charles figures to see a boost in targets going forward, especially with conservative Alex Smith under center…Speaking of McCoy, his role will be tweaked a bit now that Chip Kelly has taken over the Eagles’ offense. Kelly figures to roll with a run-heavy offense, which will mean plenty of work for both McCoy and Bryce Brown. The Eagles’ recent struggles and the emergence of Brown have made it easy to overlook McCoy, but he’s still only 24-years-old and unquestionably one of the league’s most-talented backs.

The first six names on our list are relatively safe picks, but Spiller is definitely not in that category. The good news is that he doesn’t have much tread on his tires (388 career carries), has been extremely dominant thus far in his career (5.5 YPC), and should benefit from the Bills’ new, up-tempo offense under Doug Marrone. The negatives include the presence of veteran Fred Jackson and Spiller’s lack of experience as an every-down back. Regardless, his upside significantly outweighs any potential roadblocks to a top-10 finish at the position. Still only 26-years-old, Spiller is primed for a breakout 2013 season.

Rice is a guy I know I’m lower on than most. One of the primary reasons for this is the emergence of Bernard Pierce during the later stages of the 2012 season. Pierce went from averaging 3.3 carries-per-game during the team’s first seven games to seeing 9.5-per-game over the final 13. Even more important, Pierce was extremely effective, averaging 5.0 YPC. Rice, of course, is still a premier talent and won’t lose his job as the team’s lead back. He remains a middle-of-the-pack RB1.

Richardson is a guy I’ve seen ranked as the No. 1 dynasty back, but I just can’t commit to him there right now. Still only 21-years-old and fresh off a season that saw him handle over three-quarters of Cleveland’s carries, there’s a lot to love about the Browns’ long-term workhorse. Still, he showed questionable durability, struggling with injuries throughout the year, and averaged a putrid 3.6 YPC. Time will tell if the injuries were to blame for the ineffectiveness, but right now, he’s risky enough to warrant going elsewhere at the running back spot.

Morris had an outstanding rookie season, averaging 4.8 YPC on 351 carries. He’s basically a non-factor in the passing game, but was working as an every-down back in a run-first offense that scored a ton of points down the stretch. None of those factors figure to change in the near-future, but don’t forget that Mike Shanahan is the coach here. Morris could be an ankle tweak away from losing a chunk of his workload to Roy Helu or Evan Royster. Morris is more of a borderline top-10 dynasty back than he is a player you want to build your team around.

Tier 2


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

11

Maurice Jones-Drew

JAX

28.4

2006-2

12

Stevan Ridley

NE

24.5

2011-3

13

Matt Forte

CHI

27.7

2008-2

14

DeMarco Murray

DAL

25.5

2011-3

15

David Wilson

NYG

22.2

2012-1

16

Chris Johnson

TEN

27.9

2008-1

Jones-Drew suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 season, but is expected back in the saddle as Jacksonville’s workhorse in 2013. He’s closing in on 28, but should be fresh after nearly a full year off, not to mention motivated in a contract year…Ridley benefited from facing, by far, more nickel defenses than any other back in the league in 2012. Still, he was effective when called upon and defensive schemes don’t figure to change against New England any time soon. Shane Vereen is a long-term threat for snaps, but Ridley is the lead and clear goal line back. He remains a borderline RB1 option.

As long as short-yardage bulldozer Michael Bush is in the picture, touchdowns will be hard to come by for Forte. The two backs split 10 rushing scores evenly during the 2012 season, and Bush is signed through 2015. Of course, Forte will continue to see a heavy chunk of the offensive snaps, which will include a handful of targets. Still only 27, he remains in the RB1 discussion in 12-team leagues…Durability is a concern for Murray, but he’s a guy I’m high on. He’ll be 25 when the season starts and Dallas has not been afraid to use him as a workhorse when he’s healthy. His YPC was down to a mediocre 4.1 in 2012, but his career mark remains at a stellar 4.8.

Wilson is the first back on our list without 100 career carries to his name. New York’s 2012 first-round pick will need to compete with Andre Brown for the team’s lead back job, but all bets should be on the talented 21-year-old out of Virginia Tech. With Ahmad Bradshaw long gone, it’s the speedy Wilson’s gig for the long-term. The risk of the unknown is the only thing keeping Wilson out of the top 12, but he has enough to upside to be top-five on this list one year from now… Johnson isn’t the fantasy superstar of old, but he remains one of the league’s most-talented backs. Set to turn 28 this year, there’s still some gas in the tank. He’ll return in 2013 as Tennessee’s workhorse, making him a decent No. 2 option in most formats.

Tier 3


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

17

Darren McFadden

OAK

26.0

2008-1

18

Ryan Mathews

SD

25.8

2010-1

19

Jonathan Stewart

CAR

26.4

2008-1

20

Frank Gore

SF

30.3

2005-3

21

Steven Jackson

SL

30.1

2004-1

It makes sense for us to group McFadden and Mathews together, as both were colossal busts during the 2012 season. The bad news is that neither back is looking like a potential superstar at the position. The good news is they they’re both still under 26 and entering a 2013 season under a new coaching staff. Oakland will dump its zone-blocking scheme in order to revolve the offense around McFadden, who, by the way, is entering a contract year. Mathews, meanwhile, will work under Mike McCoy, who made Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno relevant in Denver last season. The two backs figure to start for their respective team in 2013, but it’d be unwise to bank on workhorse-like roles. Marcel Reese will push McFadden, and San Diego will add some competition for Mathews. There’s still upside here, but you’re playing with fire if you’re relying on either back as your No. 1 option.

Stewart is one of the riskier names in the top-20. He’s stuck in a timeshare with DeAngelo Williams (for now) and Mike Tolbert, and has missed nine games due to injury over the last three seasons. Entering his sixth season, Stewart only has 818 carries to his name, and has never eclipsed 221 in a single season. His 4.7 career YPC mark is impressive, but it was a career-low 3.6 in 2012, and there’s no sign he’ll be asked to handle a feature-back role in 2013. Still only 26, however, he’s a guy with one of the highest ceilings at the position. If Williams is cut loose, bump Stewart to tier-two.

Gore and Jackson are in a similar boat. Both fit the bill as career-workhorses who will turn 30 prior to Week 1. Gore has 1,911 career regular-season carries, while Jackson has 2,395. After a strong, healthy 2012 season that lasted 19 games, Gore is locked in as the 49ers’ feature back. Any sign of decline, however, and Kendall Hunter and/or LaMichael James could quickly take on a larger role. Jackson will be a free agent next week, but figures to sign on with a contender looking for an every-down back. Both guys are running out of productive years, but they figure to have borderline RB1 redraft value for at least one more year.

Tier 4


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

22

Lamar Miller

MIA

22.3

2012-4

23

Mark Ingram

NO

23.6

2011-1

24

Darren Sproles

NO

30.2

2005-4

25

Vick Ballard

IND

23.1

2012-5

26

Ryan Williams

ARZ

23.3

2011-2

27

Reggie Bush

FA

28.5

2006-1

With Reggie Bush likely headed elsewhere, Miller is the favorite to take over as Miami’s lead back. Only a fourth-rounder in 2012, he’s risky – and will share with Daniel Thomas – but there’s a ton of upside here…Ingram finally started to come on during the second half of the 2012 season, but his short-yardage/early-down role doesn’t figure to change going forward. His ceiling is low as long as he’s in his current situation, but there’s enough talent and touchdown potential here to warrant your attention…Sproles is about to turn 30, but he’s one of the league’s most unique running backs in that he doesn’t really do much running. He figures to have a few effective years left as Drew Brees’ well-fed underneath option on passing downs.

There’s a chance Ballard enters the 2013 season as the Colts’ workhorse tailback, but he was only average as a ball-carrier as a rookie (3.9 YPC) and Indianapolis figures to roll with a pass-first offense with Andrew Luck running the show…Williams is one of the league’s most injury-plagued players of the last two years, but it seems he’ll be getting the first shot at the team’s primary tailback job this season. His 2.8 YPC was downright ugly this past season, but he only had 58 carries, many of which were against stacked defensive boxes. Still only 22-years-old, there’s a lot upside here with Bruce Arians now in control…Bush doesn’t have a team just yet, but figures to land somewhere that allows him, at least, a share of lead back duties. Bush proved he could carry a decent share of the workload in Miami, but he’s about to turn 28 and nearing the end of his prime.
Tier 5


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

28

Ben Tate

HST

25.0

2010-2

29

Mikel Leshoure

DET

23.4

2011-2

30

Bernard Pierce

BLT

22.3

2012-3

31

Isaiah Pead

SL

23.7

2012-2

32

Kendall Hunter

SF

24.9

2011-4

33

Shane Vereen

NE

24.5

2011-2

34

Daryl Richardson

SL

23.3

2012-7

35

Ronnie Hillman

DEN

21.9

2012-3

36

Andre Brown

NYG

26.7

2009-4

Arguably the league’s top No. 2 tailback, Tate is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He could generate significant interest on the open market next offseason. Beat the hype and snatch the 24-year-old up now…Leshoure is far from locked in as Detroit’s long-term feature back, but he’s still only 22 and, at the very least, appears to have a future as a committee/goal line back…As mentioned earlier on in this piece, Pierce is a threat to Ray Rice for early-down snaps after a strong rookie season. He's one of a few No. 2 backs who should be on everyone's radar…Pead’s 2013 may get off to a slow start if Steven Jackson is re-signed, but he showed flashes of dominance on a small sample of rookie-season touches. St. Louis’ 2012 second-round pick is an excellent buy low option. His upside gives him an edge on Richardson, who slowed down after a strong first-half to his rookie season.

When Frank Gore finally begins to slow, Hunter is the man who figures to take over as the run-heavy 49ers’ lead back. LaMichael James seems primed to eventually work as a passing-down compliment, not unlike Darren Sproles or Jacquizz Rodgers…Vereen could be a threat to some of Stevan Ridley’s workload between the 20s, but he’s unlikely to get much work inside-the-five and will be at the liberty of the Bill Belichick tailback committee as long as he’s in New England…The undersized Hillman needs work as a pass-blocker, but he’s only 21 and has the skillset to work himself into a Ray Rice-like role…Brown is a serious threat to David Wilson for the Giants’ lead back gig in 2013. At the very least, he figures to see 6-to-8 carries-per-game as well as most of the goal line work.

Tier 6


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

37

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

CIN

28.1

2008-U

38

Ahmad Bradshaw

FA

27.4

2007-7

39

Bryce Brown

PHI

22.3

2012-7

40

Daniel Thomas

MIA

25.8

2011-2

41

Robert Turbin

SEA

23.7

2012-4

42

Jacquizz Rodgers

ATL

23.5

2011-5

43

DeAngelo Williams

CAR

30.3

2006-1

44

Shonn Greene

FA

28.0

2009-3

Green-Ellis is still just 27-years-old and, although he’s a relatively underwhelming back, he was solid on nearly 300 carries during his first season with the Bengals. He’ll have more competition this year, but figures to have another year or two left as a feature back…Bradshaw is a free agent and can’t yet pass a physical. He’s still only 26, however, and is an excellent pass-blocker, and decent runner. He figures to earn a respectable workload wherever he lands…Brown is stuck behind LeSean McCoy for at least the next few seasons, but he’s only 21 and the Eagles figure to go with a run-heavy approach under Chip Kelly…Like Brown, Turbin is a young player stuck behind a talented lead back for the near future. He’ll need a Marshawn Lynch injury to find a fantasy-relevant workload.

Thomas is the underdog, but will be pushing Lamar Miller for the feature back job in Miami. After averaging a poor 3.5 YPC during his first two seasons, however, his ceiling appears to be that of a crawlspace…With Michael Turner on to the unemployment line, Rodgers is currently atop the Falcons’ depth chart. That doesn’t figure to last long, however. A passing-down specialist, Rodgers has struggled between the tackles during his first two years in the league, averaging just under 4.0 YPC…It appears Williams is in the Panthers’ 2013 plans, but he struggles to find more than a dozen snaps when Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are both active. He has a ton of talent, but is about to turn 30 and needs a new home in order to find fantasy-relevance…Greene’s days with the Jets appear to be over, but he’s quietly been an okay back despite his lack of explosiveness. He should be able to find work as a situational bruiser.

Tier 7


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

45

Bilal Powell

NYJ

24.8

2011-4

46

Chris Ivory

NO

25.4

2010-U

47

Rashard Mendenhall

FA

26.2

2008-1

48

Willis McGahee

DEN

31.8

2003-1

49

LaMichael James

SF

23.8

2012-2

50

Beanie Wells

ARZ

25.0

2009-1

51

Knowshon Moreno

DEN

26.1

2009-1

52

Brandon Bolden

NE

23.5

2012-U

53

Fred Jackson

BUF

32.5

2006-U

A case can be made for Powell higher on this list, but I don’t see him as any more than a committee back. The Jets figure to add a body to handle a chunk of the workload, but it’s possible Powell could be their stopgap lead back…Ivory is a perennial sleeper (and deservedly so), but he hasn’t been able to find consistent playing time in New Orleans. He’ll be tendered as a restricted free agent again this season, but the 24-year-old is worthy of a long-term stash…Mendenhall figures to move on from Pittsburgh, but he’s unlikely to land a lead back role on the open market. Still just 25-years-old, however, he shouldn’t have much trouble finding a part-time role…McGahee is closing in on 32 and will head into 2013 in a competition for reps with sophomore Ronnie Hillman and a rejuvenated Moreno. Even if he manages to swing 15-plus touches-per-game in 2013, his days as an effective back are numbered…Speaking of Moreno, he’s only 26, but has an unclear role and is due $1.7 million. The trade block is a possibility.

A 2012 second-round pick, James profiles as a passing-down/change-of-pace back. He’s currently buried behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter…Wells has been a bust since being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. The box was stacked against Wells all of 2012, but his 2.7 YPC was still inexcusable. New coach Bruce Arians figures to move on to Ryan Williams or a rookie/free agent…Undrafted last season, Bolden was extremely productive on a small sample of carries for the Patriots. He’s buried on the depth chart, but is worthy of a stash…Jackson is about to turn 32 and is no longer atop the Bills’ depth chart. He needs a C.J. Spiller injury in order to land a significant number of touches

Tier 8


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

54

Danny Woodhead

FA

28.6

2008-U

55

Pierre Thomas

NO

28.7

2007-U

56

Joique Bell

DET

27.0

2010-U

57

Michael Bush

CHI

29.2

2007-4

58

Toby Gerhart

MIN

26.4

2010-2

59

Roy Helu

WAS

24.7

2011-4

60

DuJuan Harris

GB

24.9

2011-U

61

Michael Turner

FA

31.5

2004-5

Woodhead’s best bet for continued fantasy-relevance is a re-up with the Patriots. Nevertheless, he’ll be pushed by Shane Vereen for passing-down snaps…Very much like Vereen, Thomas is his team’s No. 2 back on early and passing downs, doing both very well, but not getting enough reps for real fantasy relevance…Bell was strong as a passing-down back for Detroit last season, but it appears he’ll have additional competition for snaps going forward, limiting any potential breakout…Bush isn’t going to see many snaps behind Matt Forte, but remains the team’s top goal line back, and one of fantasy’s better handcuffs.

Since entering the league via the second round of the 2010 draft, Gerhart has been stuck behind Adrian Peterson. He’s entering a contract year in 2013, but needs a Peterson injury in order to find more than a few passing-down reps…Helu is a forgotten name after Alfred Morris’ 2012 breakout, but he’s still only 24-years-old and expected back healthy in 2013…Harris was strong for the Packers down the stretch in 2012, but he doesn’t appear to be a serious threat for the team’s lead back job in 2013…Cut by the Falcons, Turner will look to latch on as a situational, short-yardage back. His days of fantasy prominence are over.

Tier 9


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

62

Felix Jones

FA

26.3

2008-1

63

Montario Hardesty

CLV

26.5

2010-2

64

Cedric Benson

FA

30.6

2005-1

65

Mike Goodson

FA

26.2

2009-4

66

Marcel Reece

OAK

28.1

2008-U

67

Travaris Cadet

NO

24.5

2012-U

68

Jonathan Dwyer

PIT

24.1

2010-6

69

Evan Royster

WAS

25.7

2011-6

70

Donald Brown

IND

26.3

2009-1

71

Peyton Hillis

FA

27.6

2008-7

72

Alex Green

GB

25.1

2011-3

73

Isaac Redman

PIT

28.8

2009-U

74

Cedric Peerman

FA

26.8

2009-6

75

Jason Snelling

ATL

29.6

2007-7

76

Mike Tolbert

CAR

27.7

2008-U

77

Michael Smith

TB

25.0

2012-7

Jones, Benson, Goodson, Hillis, and Peerman are somewhat-intriguing free agents looking for shares of someone’s pie on the open market…Hardesty is no real threat to Trent Richardson, but is entering a contract year after a quietly-decent 2012 campaign…Reece is pushing for some goal line/passing-down duties behind Darren McFadden, but isn’t an ideal lead back...Cadet is buried in New Orleans, but showed big-time flashes during the 2012 preseason…Dwyer and Redman could be back with the Steelers (both are restricted free agents), but neither is more than a complimentary back.

Royster will push Roy Helu for a few snaps off the bench behind Alfred Morris...Brown is entering a contract year, but, at best, will be on the short end of a committee behind Vick Ballard…The speedy Green has done nothing to show he was worthy of a third-round pick in 2011 and is very much a longshot for the Packers’ lead back job in 2013…Snelling will only be of interest if the Falcons surprise us all and don’t replace Michael Turner with a prominent free agent or early-to-mid-round draft pick…Tolbert sees goal line and passing-down work for Carolina, but that’s about where his ceiling ends unless DeAngelo Williams is cut or traded…Smith, a seventh-round pick last year, has a ton of speed and could push for the No. 2 job behind Doug Martin.

Tier 10


Rk

Player

Tm

Age

Draft-Rd

78

Bernard Scott

FA

29.5

2009-6

79

Jahvid Best

DET

24.5

2010-1

80

Justin Forsett

FA

27.8

2008-7

81

Anthony Dixon

SF

25.9

2010-6

82

Javon Ringer

FA

26.5

2009-5

83

Joe McKnight

NYJ

25.3

2010-4

84

James Starks

GB

27.5

2010-6

85

Da'Rel Scott

NYG

25.2

2011-7

86

LeGarrette Blount

TB

26.7

2010-U

87

Chris Rainey

FA

25.4

2012-5

88

Chris Polk

PHI

23.7

2012-U

89

Delone Carter

IND

26.1

2011-4

90

Jamie Harper

TEN

23.9

2011-4

91

Ronnie Brown

FA

31.7

2005-1

92

Shaun Draughn

KC

25.7

2011-U

93

Lance Dunbar

DAL

23.6

2012-U

94

Tim Hightower

FA

27.2

2008-5

95

Edwin Baker

SD

22.2

2012-7

96

La'Rod Stephens-Howling

FA

26.3

2009-7

97

Dan Herron

CIN

24.4

2012-6

98

Dion Lewis

PHI

22.9

2011-5

99

Kevin Smith

FA

26.7

2008-3

100

Rashad Jennings

FA

28.4

2009-7

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