Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Running Back Busts

Eric Mack@@EricMackFantasyFantasy Football Lead WriterAugust 14, 2013

Give this story and fantasy analyst the stiff arm on his top running back busts like Trent Richardson and prepare for your fantasy doom this season.
Give this story and fantasy analyst the stiff arm on his top running back busts like Trent Richardson and prepare for your fantasy doom this season.Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The QB busts preview went over like a lead zeppelin with the masses, so we are fully in the football-ready, breakdown position and prepared to duck here.

We next present Bleacher Report's top five fantasy football running back busts. Again, we have to attack and try to punch holes in the reasoning for picking these well-liked players below at their expected draft positions—or give you reasons to avoid them all together.

A bust only comes from a player many like enough to pick relatively early. You like these players; he likes these players; everybody likes these players. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn't, though. They have the highest potential to disappoint relative to where they will be picked.

To change things, slightly, from the quarterback busts listbecause running back is drafted so early and oftenwe are going to present the bust picks by round:

Round 1: Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

Among the backs to be picked in the first round this year, Richardson is the youngest. That is not the bad thing, though. It is his seemingly plodding running a year ago that rendered just a 3.6-yards-per-carry average.

He ran like a 30-year-old back, not one that just turned 22 this July.

He is the only back with a Round 1 draft position to have posted under 4.0 yards per carry. Breakaway threat, he is not. 

Sure, Richardson's yards per carry was dragged down by his short-yardage and goal-line work—he did score well as a rookie with 12 combined touchdowns (one receiving)—but if you have played fantasy football long enough, you cannot guarantee short touchdowns to come consistently year to year or week to week. They are more a function of fortune and circumstance.

Just ask Browns fans how often fortune lies in their favor.

Also, that Browns offense is going through another coordinator change and no one can be quite sure how productive it will be this season, particularly with that huge question mark hanging over second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden's helmet.

Richardson is not only a plodder getting picked among game-breakers or the only one in a questionable offense (C.J. Spiller is, too), but the Browns workhorse also is the most banged-up back among all of the first-rounders. Name a strain, leg, ankle or foot ailment, Richardson has been in the injury news for it through one season and two offseasons.

You will be better off picking LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, Chris Johnson or even Stevan Ridley and skipping on Richardson.

Round 2: Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons

Some people might even be considering picking Jackson late in Round 1. That is crazy talk. A 30-year-old is never worth a premium pick—no matter what you think of the Falcons offense and the upgrade it can get him near the goal line with short touchdowns.

Fantasy football has a notorious curse put on 30-year-old running backs. It is the age of breakdown for a position that requires young, quick legs and fast-recovering muscles. Backs take a beating every week. That recovery time takes a lot more than five or six days when you approach your 30s.

Ask Michael Turner owners a year ago. They picked him in Round 3 or 4 and got a fantasy backup running back. Jackson won't be a backup on your roster, but at his early Round 2 draft position you are getting a back that is at risk of being banged up for weeks on end.

He was already troublesome physically last season, carrying the ball more than 20 times in a game only four times.

Sure, you can be excited about the potential for more passes going Jackson's way in Atlanta's potent offense—and you can expect more short touchdowns—but you will have to draft Jackson around backs who are multiple years his junior and far more capable of carrying a 20-plus-touches-per-game workload.

When you are weighing Jackson's name late in Round 1 or early in Round 2, take an elite wide receiver out of the top five at that position or the best of Chris Johnson, Ridley, Matt Forte or DeMarco Murray still available at running back.

Round 3: Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

Speaking of 30-year-old backs with some injury history, Gore has to be near the top of that list this season. He is a third-rounder in ADP at CBS Sports, an early fourth-rounder at Yahoo! and (gasp) a late second-rounder at ESPN. Even Yahoo!'s ADP presents a risk.

Yes, San Francisco is one of the most run-heavy teams in football, and Gore is its feature and goal-line back still, but the likes of LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are almost a decade younger and much quicker. Gore lost a step down the stretch of last season, never breaking 100 yards after Week 7.

There is the potential Gore might not rush for 100 yards again, especially if Hunter proves healthy coming off his Achilles injury and James continues to make the strides he is showing in his second training camp. You don't draft Gore as your No. 2 starting running back and be resigned to him not rushing for 100 yards in any game this season.

The 49ers are an elite contender and will manage Gore's workload the entire way, because they need his 30-year-old body fresh for the postseason. Don't pick Gore among the top 20 backs in fantasy and do pick up Hunter and James as sleeper handcuffs later.

Round 4: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

No, MJD is not 30. He is just 28. But he is the next worst thing to a 30-year-old running back in fantasy: Coming off a Lisfranc injury.

That foot issue has crushed and, in some cases, abruptly ended NFL running back careers throughout time—namely Shaun Alexander at a similar age. 

A lot of fantasy football leagues are loaded with people who don't read Eric Mack at Bleacher Report—or any fantasy analyst anywhere. They merely remember a name that did served them well in the past and formulate their own conclusions about the upcoming season.

Jones-Drew is a name that still carries weight in the average fantasy owner's conscious. He is certain to be over-drafted. In fact, he might not even make it to Round 4. He is a second- or third-rounder in ADP at the major draft sites.

He is a suspect pick even in Round 4. You are better off going with Reggie Bush, David Wilson, one of the rookies (like Montee Ball or Le'Veon Bell) or even (get this) Darren McFadden or Ryan Mathews. At least in the case of those latter two injury-prone backs, they are under the age of 27 at 26 and 25, respectively.

Round 5: Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

If you are following yours truly, you will notice we also listed Drew Brees as a quarterback bust. It is not a dislike of the Saints. It goes back to the fact football is a kid's game. Sproles is—you don't even need this to be said by now—30.

Sproles has age and his slight stature both working against him for those who are crossing their fingers he can stay healthy for a full 16 games this season. You already saw him break down physically a year ago, missing three games and being limited in a few others. It will just get tougher at age 30.

Now, we do have to provide a caveat here: Sproles is a viable pick in PPR formats, because he can still post his five catches a game. Those catches are less likely to come with big gainers and touchdowns, though. Also, those PPR leagues don't have Sproles on the board in the fifth round. He might go as early as late in Round 2 in those formats.

Mark these words: Sproles is not worth drafting in any format before Round 6. You won't have him on your team in that event, but you will be better off for it.

Select any of these backs before considering Sproles: Lamar Miller, Rashard Mendenhall, Eddie Lacy, Chris Ivory, Giovani Bernard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Mark Ingram and even BenJarvus Green-Ellis—who will at least serve as a goal-line back for the Bengals.

Emack's bust-warning list

If you are looking for more running backs to be wary of, here is a list of backs who won't be on this writer's fantasy rosters this season for various reasons, most specifically because of their respective draft positions:

  • Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs—His early preseason foot strain should scare you the heck out of picking him in the top half of Round 1. MJD and others had foot injuries before that wound up hampering them for weeks and eventually became known as the dreaded Lisfranc. Also, Charles hasn't proven to be a durable 20-plus-carry feature back week to week or year to year. In the top half of Round 1 go with safer picks like Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice and Spiller.
  • Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders—It isn't just the years of injury woes or the 2012 ineffectiveness. Most important is the expectation the Raiders are just going to be terrible, particularly on offense. It is a bad move to pick a running back on a poor offensive team, because game situations can marginalize them. Also, there are fewer short touchdowns to be had.
  • Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts—He has had his moments in fantasy in his career, but he has had even more injury woes and almost all of them are related to his chronic foot issues. He might say he is 100 percent eventually, but that problem is just going to come back. Make sure you have his replacement, Vick Ballard, on your radar.
  • DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers—Hey, have you heard the one about the 30-year-old running back who walked in the bar? Yeah, he was washed up and decided to watch the games on TV with the rest of us. Williams has ruined fantasy teams for years, and now the Panthers are hoping they can turn the feature back role over to Jonathan Stewart (ankle) finally.
  • Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens—It is not that Pierce is not intriguing. It is that everyone likes him far more than this analysts does. Rice is still the Ravens workhorse, no matter what change you might have thought you saw last postseason. Pierce was just the fresher back, perhaps. Rice is still the bell cow. Pierce won't last long enough in drafts for us to pick this mere handcuff at a reasonable value.

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.


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