Fantasy Football Rankings 2014: Early Breakdown of the Top 10 RBs
Change your Round 1 fantasy football strategy all you want. Go ahead and pick quarterbacks, wide receivers and even—gasp—a tight end. You will be doing it at your own peril.
The NFL is decidedly a passing league, you say? You forget the fact the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year with the 26th-ranked passing offense. The Baltimore Ravens won it the year before that.
The NFL is still a running back-friendly game. And so is fantasy football.
We take an early look at the top 10 fantasy running backs for 2014. In years past, this would tell you how your first round unfolds. We should probably suggest it still should be close to you how the first 10 picks fly off the board.
10. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Expert consensus rank: No. 14
2013 stats: 16 games, 1,275 yards rushing, seven touchdowns, nine receptions for 78 yards
Alfred Morris is inexplicably left out of the elite running back conversation too often. It is apparently lost on people how integral he is to the Washington Redskins' success. If not for backup Roy Helu vulturing three short touchdowns against the Chicago Bears in Week 7 last year, Morris could have reached the 10-touchdown plateau for the second time in two years.
He might have slipped from his outstanding rookie-year numbers (1,613 yards, 13 TDs), but he still led the fifth-ranked Redskins rush offense with 1,275 yards rushing. The Redskins have been built on a power running game, and the switches to head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay shouldn't leave Morris out of the mix. This offense should only be more potent, which will mean plenty of scoring opportunities for Morris, who is his own goal-line back.
If there is a place that he needs to improve to become an elite fantasy back, it is pass receiving. He has just 20 catches for 155 yards and no touchdowns in his two years. That is something Gruden intends to improve, telling Andrew Walker of the Redskins' official website:
You can tell that Alfred's got great vision. He's a great zone-scheme runner. He's got good power, low center of gravity, he runs through the first arm tackles usually, and does a great job securing the ball. ... There are some things that Alfred can work on. You know, pass blocking, pass catching. There are some things he's not totally refined yet.
If Gruden can get Morris involved in the passing game, a No. 10 ranking is going to be too low for Morris' 2014 draft position this summer.
9. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Age: 27, but he turns 28 in August
Expert consensus rank: No. 9
2013 stats: Eight games, 542 yards rushing, one touchdown, 22 receptions for 183 yards and one TD
Last season was a disaster for Arian Foster owners and the Houston Texans. It was an abrupt, hard fall for the former No. 1 fantasy running back, who required surgery on his season-ending back injury. He told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain he is healthy and recharged under a new regime.
Very few running backs in the NFL are more critical to their team's success than Foster, particularly with the lack of a surefire quarterback in Houston right now. Foster is going to help whomever starts at quarterback by getting involved in the short passing game, something he once excelled at for fantasy owners, as he told Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston:
(New head coach Bill) O'Brien has expressed many times how he wants to use me a lot out of the backfield. That's one of my strengths as a running back, so I'm excited about it. ... They have a lot of zone schemes, runs, every offense does. The way they want to use me out of the backfield as far as different alignments and matchups they want to have against linebackers and things like that.
Since Foster is in the twilight of his career as a fantasy running back, you have to assume some risk at picking him among the top 10 backs, but his past success suggests he has at least one more solid year in him at age 28.
8. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Expert consensus rank: No. 10
2013 stats: Six games, 456 yards rushing, one touchdown, 12 receptions for 66 yards
A season-ending shoulder injury ruined Doug Martin's sophomore season, but it shouldn't deter you from expecting a rebound year from the powerful, compact back. At least the injury was not related to anything below the waist.
He is going to be the bell cow for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, particularly with defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith installed now. The Bucs are going to play tough defense and feature the running game often next season. Martin has proved capable of carrying the load to the tune of nearly 2,000 combined yards and 10-plus touchdowns.
Sure, the Bucs have some question marks with the league-worst passing game from a year ago, but Martin will aid new quarterback Josh McCown out of the backfield too, when the Bucs don't throw the ball to their large targets downfield. Don't count on rookie Charles Sims taking too much of that action right away.
Martin is still the Bucs' best weapon and should be in the conversation as a late first-round pick in all fantasy leagues.
7. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Expert consensus rank: No. 7
2013 stats: 14 games, 1,121 yards, nine touchdowns, 53 receptions for 350 yards and one TD
DeMarco Murray hasn't been a pillar of health in his three years with the Dallas Cowboys, but he has been as productive as anyone when he has played. The Cowboys drafted a run-game mauler, first-rounder Zack Martin, who should help clear holes for Murray at left guard—perhaps even keep Murray healthy.
Tony Romo to Dez Bryant will be the more dangerous way for the Cowboys to test a defense, but Murray is going to get his with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who vowed to 105.3 The Fan, per Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News, to lean on Murray and the running game:
Things that were done last year in the running game with DeMarco, the running style that was created here is really a good fit. That's going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past.
Obviously, with this offensive line, this is going to be something that's going to help our passing game. The looks that Dez [Bryant] started to get as the year went on, people started giving him the attention that Calvin [Johnson] and Randy Moss would get as far as getting those double coverages. You need to have those other facets of your offense as far as your running game.
Also, fantasy owners will remember how Murray was a monster down the stretch a year ago, scoring seven of his 10 combined touchdowns in the second half of the season. Fantasy players are a loyal bunch, and it could help him get picked in the first round of all leagues this summer.
6. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Expert consensus rank: No. 5
2013 stats: 15 games, 1,178 yards, 11 touchdowns, 35 receptions for 257 yards
The Packers should boast one of the NFL's most productive offenses again—they were No. 3 despite being without Rodgers for almost half of the season—and Lacy will benefit, capping drives with short touchdowns. He scored his 11 touchdowns in the final 12 weeks of the season after he got his rookie legs under him. Most of those came in the weeks Rodgers was out, but that shouldn't bother you.
Lacy is a very important piece of the offensive puzzle now, as head coach Mike McCarthy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Mike Vandermause (subscription required). Lacy is so intriguing to fantasy owners that he might not even make it out of the top five on draft day.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Expert consensus rank: No. 6
2013 stats: 16 games, 1,257 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns, 36 receptions for 316 yards and two TDs
Marshawn Lynch became "Beast Mode" in Seattle once he started popping Skittles and has been a fantasy monster for the past three seasons. You probably shouldn't let him fall out of the top five picks in drafts, even if you are skeptical about him keeping his production into his late 20s.
The Seattle Seahawks are decidedly one of the most run-heavy teams in football, and they haven't shown much interest in having either Robert Turbin or Christine Michael share the load. Turbin averaged just 3.4 yards per carry as the backup, and Michael received a mere 18 touches as a rookie.
Lynch will need more of a timeshare to stay healthy as a 28-year-old, but those breaks won't happen near the goal line, which is what we are really concerned about in fantasy. He still has a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season in him as Seattle's feature back at age 28, so consider him a mid-first-round pick in all fantasy leagues again.
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Expert consensus rank: No. 4
2013 stats: 16 games, 1,339 yards rushing, nine touchdowns, 74 receptions for 594 yards and three TDs
Matt Forte might be getting up there in years, but he is a three-down back in a balanced West Coast attack that features a rhythm passing game. He is a points-per-reception league monster and a must-have after the top three running backs are off the board.
Marc Trestman's system is pass-happy and makes Forte a modern-day Roger Craig, someone who once both rushed and received for 1,000 yards. Heck, in this offense, if he was 25, Forte would be a candidate to go No. 1 overall in PPR formats.
Alas, there is some risk involved with him. The years and number of touches will eventually take their toll, so you have to consider handcuffing him with his backup—rookie Ka'Deem Carey—perhaps more than any other back in our top 10.
Forte was always a solid fantasy running back, but he became a monster with Trestman after taking over the scoring role at the goal line a year ago. Even if your league doesn't give points per reception, Forte is a top-five back because of his usage and combined yardage.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Expert consensus rank: No. 3
2013 stats: 14 games, 1,266 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns, 29 receptions, 171 yards and one TD
Adrian Peterson fans won't like hearing this, but NFL running backs don't last forever. Peterson is approaching 30, so he should not be considered a candidate to pick No. 1 overall any longer. But, hey, third-best status here is not a bad consolation prize.
He fell off from his near record-setting, age-27 season a year ago, but he still managed to post 10-plus touchdowns for fantasy owners for the seventh consecutive year. That is a remarkable stat, considering he had reconstructive knee surgery in there.
Unlike most running backs, he is clearly the best weapon in an offense that just shouldn't scare defenses, regardless of whom is the quarterback next season. That is the good news and the bad. Peterson will be the lone finisher for the Vikings, but that also will mean a lot of attention from defenses and safeties playing in the box.
Expect another 10-touchdown campaign, even if he struggles to play 16 games and get over 1,000 yards. His career cachet makes him a worthy top-three fantasy pick, even if his age suggests he will be a bit disappointing.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Age: 25, but he turns 26 in July
Expert consensus rank: No. 2
2013 stats: 16 games, 1,607 yards, nine touchdowns, 52 receptions for 539 yards and two TDs
The NFL's reigning rushing leader, LeSean McCoy is the feature back in arguably the most explosive offense in football. A hidden aspect of coach Chip Kelly's frantic, relentless attack is the fact that it is run-heavy. The Philadelphia Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards by a wide margin.
So, even if you are tricked into thinking the addition of soon-to-be 31-year-old Darren Sproles will cut into McCoy's production, you have to remember just how vital the running game is in Kelly's system. A healthy McCoy sprinting through gassed defenders is a vision you should repeat over and over in your head as you make the first or second overall selection on draft day.
Like every elite fantasy running back, McCoy is not truly challenged for carries or goal-line opportunities either. Sproles might only affect McCoy's reception total, Chris Polk is a nobody, and Bryce Brown was traded off to the Buffalo Bills.
You should still be so excited about McCoy's potential in that uptempo offense. You can consider picking him No. 1 overall this summer.
1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Expert consensus rank: No. 1
2013 stats: 15 games, 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns, 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven TDs
After the legendary season Jamaal Charles posted for the Kansas City Chiefs, you probably shouldn't debate his status as the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football. We will try to do so anyway here, before gushing about the lead back's abilities.
He is not exactly a safe pick because of his build—listed at just 199 pounds by the NFL—and injury history. Also, those long touchdown receptions he broke a year ago are not exactly something you can expect on a regular basis. Remember how Chris Johnson's long touchdowns disappeared and his fantasy value plummeted?
But Charles is the workhorse in a running back-friendly, Andy Reid offense, and he is the reigning scoring leader thanks to his added use in the Chiefs' short passing game. He can take the ball to the house on any given play with the best of them in NFL history, and he projects to touch the ball well over 300 times again, if he stays healthy.
Charles, very clearly his team's No. 1 weapon, also happens to be at his physical prime of age 27, which is the same year Adrian Peterson went over 2,000 yards. A.P. is too close to 30, and McCoy might lose some receptions to Darren Sproles. Charles is rightfully No. 1 heading into the summer.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. 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.