Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs (Part 1)

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I kicked off my fantasy ranking series with QBs last week and am moving on to running backs today, which used to be the most important position in fantasy football. It still may be and I will debate the merits of both arguments in detail below.

The age-old strategy of starting your fantasy draft with the two best available running backs is riskier than ever. Over the last five years there has been a 43% failure rate among RBs taken in the first 12 picks. Almost half of the RBs taken early are a bust and if you miss on your first 2 picks it will take some waiver wire magic to save your season. Due to the increased risk, more fantasy owners are leaning towards a QB, WR or Jimmy Graham in the first round and it’s hard to argue with that strategy. The failure rates are lower historically at those positions and with more RBBC approaches the running back value is diluted across more players that can be found in the 3rd round or later.

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There is definitely some risk involved but I still think the easiest road to fantasy glory is on the back of workhorse RBs. Half of last year’s top 10 overall scorers were RBs and if you can start your draft with two good ones than you have an advantage over the rest of your league and their “safer” WR-QB type strategy. Position scarcity is the reason for the advantage. There are way more fantasy viable QBs & WRs then RBs and it’s much easier to get a starting caliber WR in the 4th-8th rounds than it is to find a RB who is going to get 20 touches a game. There are multiple successful roster building strategies out there, but I am a big proponent of at least 1 RB in your first two picks. Check out my picks below to see which RBs I think are the safest bets.

* My rankings are based on Yahoo’s default scoring options with an added .5 PPR and any ADP numbers listed are from Yahoo as well.

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1st Tier: Elite

You can’t predict injuries. Some players are more prone than others and you can knock them down a tier or two in your rankings, but if you let injury risk dictate your drafting strategy you are going to end up with a low-upside team who still may get hurt. These 5 below are the best combinations of talent and opportunity. You can make a valid argument for any of the top four as your number one RB, it all comes down to preference. Lacy is unproven after only one season, but I saw enough talent last year that he belongs in this group.

1.) LeSean McCoy, Eagles – He is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive and will continue to remain the heart of their scheme. His reception total may drop a little with Sproles in the mix but if he stays healthy I’m confident he will be a top 3 producer.

2.) Jamal Charles, Chiefs – Another guy who is the heart and soul of his team’s offense, Charles was the leading rusher and receiver (70 catches) for the Chiefs last year and they haven’t added anyone who will threaten either of those totals. Unlike McCoy, Charles is literally the only reliable weapon the Chiefs have so he should continue to get 20+ touches a game and carry both the Chiefs and your fantasy team on his back. He has had some injuries in the past which is the only reason I have McCoy ranked higher.

3.) Adrian Peterson, Vikings – The only knock on AP is that he doesn’t catch any passes, but that could change this year. New OC Norv Turner has always thrown to his RBs often and I can’t see AP coming off the field for rookie Jerick McKinnon or slo-mo Matt Asiata. Peterson can catch he just hasn’t been asked to do it much in his career. If he can add 3-4 catches per game and rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater is good enough to keep defenses honest… Peterson could be the #1 RB by a significant margin.

4.) Matt Forte, Bears – It’s not discussed much even in Chicago, but the Bears had the 2nd highest scoring offense in the NFL after the Broncos. Considering it was the Bears first year in new HC Marc Trestman’s scheme, there is considerable room for growth and they have the weapons to give the Broncos a run for the #1 offense. The main weapon is Matt Forte who finished 3rd among RBs in receptions with 74 and still had 1,339 rushing yards. His 9 rushing TDs are less than the rest of the premier backs but supposed “power back” Michael Bush was the main goal line option early in the season. Bush is no longer in the mix and Forte should get all the red zone carries this season. I expect Forte to improve on his numbers from last year and make a strong push for the #1 overall fantasy RB.

5.) Eddie Lacy, Packers – I was tempted to drop Lacy into the 2nd tier considering the track record of the players in front of him and his inexperience in comparison, but Lacy put up very respectable numbers as a rookie (1,435 total yards, 35 rec, 11 TDs). The fact that he did most of his damage with Rodgers out of the lineup and their main WRs on sideline makes me very optimistic about Lacy’s 2014. With Rodgers healthy, a full complement of WRs and no more 8 man fronts… Lacy could be in line for a huge year. The fact that Packers coaches have been praising Lacy’s pass-pro and receiving ability is an added bonus. I think 1,600 total yards, 50 rec, & 15 TDs are within reach for Lacy this year.