When planning a fantasy draft, everything starts with the running backs. It's a stark contrast to reality, where the position has been devalued in recent years. The good news is there are an overwhelming number of runners to target who can put your squad over the top.
In fact, we are in such a deep era for running backs that you don't have to get one of the top five this year to build a successful stable. You can even wait longer than usual to get your No. 2 back and still find great value.
This is where we have come to help. Everyone wants to find a great value pick, but in doing so, certain players end up getting overdrafted because you convince yourself that someone has to be taken so your opponent doesn't get him.
Instead of having to panic on draft day, we are going to tell you about the best sleepers to grab. Before we get to that, though, here are our official rankings for the top 20 fantasy running backs in 2014.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Andre Ellington was a last-minute cut from the top 20 through no fault of his own. In fact, in a just world, the Arizona Cardinals running back would already be a top-10 player at his position after just one season.
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Unfortunately, due to Bruce Arians' desire to use big, bruising backs, Ellington figures to split carries in 2014. Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic wrote that the team wants to limit the second-year back's "carries inside the tackles."
That means in goal-line situations, the Cardinals are more likely to go with Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. Unless Ellington is able to break long runs or they call a lot of sweeps in the end zone, the touchdowns won't be there.
However, since Arizona's offense likes to spread the field, it opens up lanes on the outside for Ellington to hit and pile up the yardage. He should also play a bigger role in the passing game after catching 39 passes last year.
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
Now that the Tennessee Titans have officially moved on from the Chris Johnson era, the future is bright and wide open at running back. That future starts with Bishop Sankey, the first running back taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
Sankey goes to an enviable situation for a running back, which is all fantasy owners can ask for. The quarterback position is unstable with Jake Locker still trying to establish himself.
If you are someone who reads into preseason numbers, Marc Sessler of NFL.com pointed out Sankey's debut against Green Bay was quite bad:
Seven of Bishop Sankey's 13 attempts went for 1 yard or less against GB. #Titans— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) August 14, 2014
Since we all know people who put far too much stock into exhibition stats, Sankey's value is going to get better because fellow fantasy owners won't touch him until late in the draft.
We are talking about a 21-year-old running back going to a team that ran the ball 462 times in 2013, 10th most in the NFL. Sankey will get his touches, and his wide 209-pound frame should play well in the red zone for a lot of touchdowns.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
With Ray Rice's two-game suspension at the start of the season, Bernard Pierce immediately becomes the featured running back in Baltimore. Prior to last year, the Ravens had one of the best and most consistent running games in the NFL.
Rice ran for at least 1,143 yards and five touchdowns every season from 2009-12. Pierce was on his way to becoming one of the best backups in the NFL two years ago, running for 532 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Last year, everything fell apart for the Ravens up front. The team had the worst offensive line in 2013, according to FootballOutsiders.com, which explains why Baltimore averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
What makes Pierce such a valuable option for the Ravens and fantasy owners in 2014, ahead of Rice, is how well he fits with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's zone-running system.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com wrote on August 5 that Pierce has looked like the best back in camp, writing he "played in a similar running scheme in college, and he has had the best transition to Kubiak's stretch, zone-blocking runs."
Even if that doesn't result in Pierce becoming the every-down back once Rice returns in Week 3, it does suggest that he will be a much bigger part of the offense moving forward than he has been in his first two years.
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