Fantasy Football 2014: Analyzing Running Backs to Avoid Early in Draft

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Fantasy Football 2014: Analyzing Running Backs to Avoid Early in Draft
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

It's hard to believe the middle of July is already approaching.

In roughly two weeks, each NFL franchise's training camp will be in full swing, and we'll finally get an early glimpse of each 2014 squad in its entirety.

For fantasy football enthusiasts, it's also time to start compiling player rankings for upcoming drafts.

A common strategy for many fantasy owners is to select running backs early in the draft. After all, it's an important position that's not entirely deep. However, selecting the wrong running backs early this year could lead to a rather disappointing fantasy season.

So, who are these backs to avoid? Let's take a look.

 

Marshawn Lynch

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

It may sound strange to avoid the man known as "Beast Mode" early in this year's draft, but that's absolutely the smart move at this point in the offseason.

Lynch has been unhappy with his contract of late. He's looking for a nice pay raise from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The running back went as far as to threaten retirement earlier this offseason, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

It seems logical to think the running back who accumulated 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns just one season ago would have all the leverage in this situation, but he doesn't.

Earlier this offseason, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned using a change in the team's backfield approach when speaking to a group of season-ticket holders, via Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times:

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell softened comments he made about Seattle being "running back by committee" this season.

Bevell clarified what he meant when he told a group of season-ticket holders last week, "We're going to be a running back by committee." That statement came in response to a fan’s question about the role of second-year running back Christine Michael.

Michael is a talented running back, and the team apparently likes the former second-round pick enough to consider him to split carries with Lynch. The Seahawks also have Robert Turbin hanging around as well.

There are simply too many questions revolving around Lynch and Seattle's running back situation to warrant any confidence in the veteran as a first-round selection.

 

Arian Foster

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

There's a lot to like about the Houston Texans entering the 2014 season. The team bolstered its already stout defensive unit by selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the draft's first overall selection and made some nice additions to its offensive line.

However, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of the Texans, as well—especially from a fantasy football standpoint. 

Foster has been the team's workhorse for the past four seasons; however, he's only played all 16 games in two of them. Last year, a back injury shortened his season to just eight games.

Now, while he's still recovering from surgery, several changes have already been implemented in Houston's offense.

For one, Matt Schaub is no longer under center, and in his place is Ryan Fitzpatrick—not exactly an upgrade. To make things worse, wide receiver Andre Johnson is upset with his contract and may want out of Houston, according to a tweet from Rapoport:

Also, the team brought in former New York Giants running back Andre Brown to replace the departed Ben Tate.

So, what does all of this have to do with Foster? Everything.

Houston's aerial attack could actually get worse in 2014. If that's the case, the running backs will be relied on heavily.

At first glance, that seems like a good thing. It's not.

Increased carries for a rehabbing Foster only furthers concerns about his durability, and the lack of a passing game will only make it more difficult to establish a running game due to an increased defensive presence in the box.

Foster is certainly talented, but with these factors taken into consideration, he just looks too risky to warrant a selection in the first round.

 

Le'Veon Bell

Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

Bell played in 13 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and didn't exactly take the NFL by storm.

In those games, he carried 244 times for 860 yards—an average of 3.5 yards per carry—and eight touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes for 399 yards.

His workload, along with Pittsburgh's offensive success near the end of the season, has many fantasy football enthusiasts coveting Bell this season. That may be a big mistake.

Last season, the Steelers were in the bottom half of the league's run-blocking category with a negative-6.9 grade, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). While the team was dealing with some injuries, it didn't make any major attempt to upgrade any position over the offseason.

This could lead to similar results next season.

Aside from potential offensive line issues, Pittsburgh's backfield alongside Bell has become deeper and more talented.

LeGarrette Blount joined the team after a surprisingly successful run with the New England Patriots, and the speedy Dri Archer was selected in the draft's third round.

Blount is a bruiser who could see some goal-line carries, and Archer's speed should warrant him some touches in the short passing game.

Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus tweeted a concern regarding Bell's goal-line touches:

Simply put, Bell wasn't impressive enough last season for fantasy owners to overlook these significant changes and consider him as a potential first-round running back in 2014.

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