2013 Fantasy Football: Evaluating the Second Tier of Running Backs
After previewing the elite tier of running backs in fantasy football a few weeks ago, it's time to move on to the even more controversial second tier.
But if you draft in the second half of the first round, you could have some real decisions to make between a bunch of similar running backs along with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, as well as wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
I'm a firm advocate of taking a running back in the first round, no matter what, and that's why I have done a lot of research on this second tier of backs.
The guy I like most in this second tier is none other than the perennially underrated Ray Rice. Rice finished as the top fantasy back in 2011, and was the fifth best running back in 2012.
Rice has finished with over 1,100 rushing yards in every season since 2009, and he has been a consistent threat in the passing game as well.
There are concerns, both about Rice's huge workload in the past as well as the presence of backup Bernard Pierce, who is bound to steal a good amount of touches this season.
Still, I think Pierce, combined with the losses of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (free agency) and tight end Dennis Pitta (injury), could actually end up benefiting Rice.
Rice is still only 26 years old, and he hasn't missed a single game since 2008, his rookie year. And with Boldin and Pitta now gone, the Ravens will undoubtedly lean on their running backs more in 2013.
The added reliance on running backs—even with Pierce's emergence as a backup—could still give Rice right around last year's 318 touches.
Next up is LeSean McCoy, who is coming off a disappointing season where his touchdown total dropped from 20 to five, and he also ran for 469 less yards.
But McCoy is in a new situation in Philadelphia, with Chip Kelly bringing his up-tempo, run-heavy offense to town.
The Eagles' offensive line had a dreadful 2012, but they should be a lot healthier than last year, and rookie Lane Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft, is an exciting tackle prospect.
Expect McCoy to approach 300 carries, even with Bryce Brown behind him. There should be plenty of carries to go around, and Shady will recapture his magic from 2011.
I'm a little lower on Marshawn Lynch than others, but I still think he is a very good RB1 this year. There are just a few concerns I have.
Lynch is pretty one-dimensional because he does not have a big role in the passing game. He was third in the NFL in rushing yards in 2012, but only 29th in receiving yards among running backs.
He is only 27 years old, but has suffered through a number of injuries in his career thus far. Lynch has had ankle problems and has also dealt with back spasms, which are usually unpredictable and could flare up at any point.
I am also a little concerned about the guys behind Lynch, who I think have some potential to swoop in and steal carries from "Beast Mode," especially if he misses any time with an injury.
Robert Turbin proved that he could shoulder some of the load last year, averaging 4.4 YPC on 80 attempts. But now, I'm more concerned about rookie Christine Michael.
Michael was a huge talent at Texas A&M, but off-the-field issues kept his draft stock low. However, he is an outstanding all-around rusher who had 16 carries and 89 yards in Seattle's first preseason game.
Trent Richardson is a really talented second-year back who will be the focal point of his offense, but the main problem is that the offense around him is dreadful.
Brandon Weeden is a below-average quarterback, and Richardson will be running behind a below-average offensive line.
Josh Gordon is the only other weapon with legitimate talent on Cleveland's offense, but he's got his own problems, including a two-game suspension to start the 2013 campaign.
Richardson has also dealt with some injury problems over the last few years, which is worthy of concern. But he is still immensely talented, and if he plays all 16 games, then 350 touches is a possibility.
Jamaal Charles also has his own injury issues to deal with, which is one of the main reasons why he is in this second tier.
Who Is Your Favorite Second-Tier Running Back?
Rookie Knile Davis will be looking to vulture carries from Charles, who tore his ACL in the first game of the 2011 season and, according to Dave Skretta of the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo! Sports), is now out for an unknown period of time.
While the injury is not believed to be too serious, a foot issue is never good for a running back.
The other major reason that Charles could take a hit this year is new coach Andy Reid's pass-happy tendency. There will be some weeks where Charles, even as the feature back, gets 10 or less carries.
His receiving totals should be boosted, but it will come at the expense of his rushing workload, which could end up canceling each other out.
Finally, we get to the last member of this second tier, Alfred Morris. The out-of-nowhere star of 2012 will be looking to pick up right where he left off after finishing as the NFL's second leading rusher last season.
Heading into his second season, however, there are a couple things that concern me about Morris. The first is that he is virtually nonexistent in the passing game and caught just 11 balls last year.
The second is that eclipsing 1,600 rushing yards twice in a row is nearly impossible for anyone, and the former sixth-round pick will have to prove that his rookie year wasn't a fluke.
Mike Shanahan has also been known to fall out of love quickly with running backs, and if Morris struggles out of the gate, there's always the chance that Roy Helu could step in and steal some carries.
I also think Morris' value is somewhat tied to quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is still recovering from his second reconstructive knee surgery in the past four years.
Morris was still effective when Griffin missed time last year, but with defenses getting a full season of tape to watch and an entire offseason to view it, I'm not so sure Morris' incredible success will continue.
Stay tuned for more analysis of running back, wide receiver and quarterback tier rankings in the coming weeks.
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