Fantasy Football 2014: Ranking and Evaluating Top PPR Running Backs

Jamal Collier@@JCollierDAnalyst IIIAugust 28, 2014

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) runs against Cincinnati Bengals defense in the first half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

Running backs who catch the ball regularly are the holy grail of PPR (point-per-reception) fantasy football leagues. The first tier of rushers in this format include not only fantasy’s most talented performers but also Norv Turner and Andy Reid’s current featured backs.

Actually, Reid used to coach a third one.


Tier 1: The Consensus Top Four

1. Jamaal Charles, KC: 1,408 rushing yards, 9 TD; 78 rec, 706 receiving yards, 4 TD

2. Adrian Peterson, MIN: 1,430 rushing yards, 13 TD; 55 rec, 393 receiving yards, 2 TD

3. LeSean McCoy, PHI: 1,450 rushing yards, 11 TD; 53 rec, 475 receiving yards, 3 TD

4. Matt Forte, CHI: 1,247 rushing yards, 7 TD; 69 rec, 554 receiving yards, 3 TD


Tier 2: The Nearly Elite

Evan Vucci/Associated Press

The next tier is riddled with second-year running backs, with a couple of veterans sprinkled in. It’s hard to argue with any of these guys in your No. 1 RB spot.

With the exception of DeMarco Murray—who has missed 11 games in his three-year career—I did not project any of them to miss any time. It's not because they won’t, but it's for two different reasons: I don’t like projecting absences, and if I didn’t throw a little cold water on my own Murray love, he would easily be in the top five.

(Keep that in mind when you notice that No. 28 on this list is still projected to run for 1,000 yards.)

He might still finish there. Someone in this group is probably going to miss games. We just don’t know who.

Keep an eye on Giovani Bernard, who is working with former Oakland Raiders OC/head man Hue Jackson this season. Under Jackson’s tutelage (2010-11), Darren McFadden averaged 5.27 yards per carry and 3.3 catches per game.

In the two seasons before and two since (2008-2009, 2012-2013), he averaged 3.55 yards per carry and 2.3 catches per game.

5. Arian Foster, HOU: 1,140 rushing yards, 9 TD; 46 rec, 424 receiving yards, 2 TD

6. Giovani Bernard, CIN: 1,020 rushing yards, 7 TD; 69 rec, 554 receiving yards, 3 TD

7. DeMarco Murray, DAL: 1,080 rushing yards, 7 TD; 54 rec, 375 receiving yards, TD

8. Marshawn Lynch, SEA: 1,324 rushing yards, 13 TD; 28 rec, 241 receiving yards, TD


Tier 3: The Second-Year Rushers

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The next tier is riddled with second-year running backs. It’s hard to argue with any of these guys in your No. 1 RB spot, but the chance that one or more of these guys suffers a sophomore slump is a real thing.

Now that Aaron Rodgers is healthy, will Eddie Lacy see a ton of space and watch his yards per carry—and fantasy points—soar through the roof, or will he just not see the ball as much? Is Montee Ball’s role going to be too much for him? Will Andre Ellington rush for 1,000 yards in Arizona?

Is Le’Veon Bell going to be suspended?

9. Eddie Lacy, GB: 1,160 rushing yards, 14 TD; 41 rec, 284 receiving yards

10. Montee Ball, DEN: 1,225 rushing yards, 11 TD; 56 rec, 386 receiving yards, TD

11. Andre Ellington, ARI: 980 rushing yards, 6 TD; 66 rec, 617 receiving yards, TD

12. Le’Veon Bell, PIT: 1,092 rushing yards, 9 TD; 54 rec, 452 receiving yards, TD


Tier 4: The Specialists

Mike Groll/Associated Press

The upside of C.J. Spiller keeps him among the ranks of the top 20 fantasy running backs. He, along with Chris Johnson—who has never failed to run for 1,000 yards in a season—are the two names in this tier with any shot at finishing top-five at their position this year.

Other than those guys, you’ll start to find players who may not even see 100 carries this year in this tier. Nevertheless, they belong because they could catch 70 passes and be consistent No. 2 options in fantasy.

13. Doug Martin, TB: 1,214 rushing yards, 6 TD; 42 rec, 333 receiving yards, TD

14. Reggie Bush, DET: 1,016 rushing yards, 6 TD; 61 rec, 551 receiving yards, 2 TD

15. Shane Vereen, NE: 650 rushing yards, 4 TD; 78 rec, 729 receiving yards, 3 TD

16. C.J. Spiller, BUF: 1,097 rushing yards, 5 TD; 47 rec, 329 receiving yards, TD

17. Toby Gerhart, JAX: 1,175 rushing yards, 5 TD; 47 rec, 374 receiving yards, 2 TD

18. Alfred Morris, WAS: 1,368 rushing yards, 8 TD; 10 rec, 80 receiving yards

19. Chris Johnson, NYJ: 1,123 rushing yards, 6 TD; 38 rec, 266 receiving yards, TD

20. Pierre Thomas, NO: 374 rushing yards, 2 TD; 87 rec, 649 receiving yards, 3 TD


Tier 5: Not So Shallow After All

Matt York/Associated Press

Last year, the big problem with running backs across the fantasy landscape was the immense drop in quality from the elite to everyone else. If you didn’t get two of the top 15, you were probably scrambling early and often to fill the position.

The game has changed.

There are still featured backs available at this stage of the game, who will fall because of age, lack of catches or both.

Take Frank Gore, for example. The San Francisco 49ers veteran has run for at least 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns—while playing all 16 games—each of the last three seasons. There’s only one reason he’s sandwiched between Ryan Mathews (missed 10 games in four years) and Ray Rice (suspended to begin the 2014 season).

He’s 31.

21. Zac Stacy, STL: 943 rushing yards, 8 TD; 23 rec, 135 receiving yards, TD

22. Joique Bell, DET: 595 rushing yards, 7 TD; 53 rec, 515 receiving yards

23. Ben Tate, CLE: 980 rushing yards, 5 TD; 43 rec, 209 receiving yards, 2 TD

24. Ryan Mathews, SD: 1,175 receiving yards, 6 TD; 26 rec, 181 receiving yards

25. Frank Gore, SF: 1,085 rushing yards, 9 TD; 25 rec, 217 receiving yards

26. Ray Rice, BAL: 761 receiving yards, 7 TD; 52 rec, 365 receiving yards, TD

27. Trent Richardson, IND: 903 rushing yards, 5 TD; 45 rec, 403 receiving yards, TD

28. Bishop Sankey, TEN: 1,078 rushing yards, 7 TD; 25 rec, 196 receiving yards, TD

29. Knowshon Moreno, MIA: 824 rushing yards, 6 TD; 28 rec, 222 yards, TD

30. Steven Jackson, ATL: 773 rushing yards, 7 TD; 41 rec, 243 receiving yards, TD


Tier 6: More Veterans

Tom Lynn/Associated Press

There’s more production to be had here, with age-related injury risk priced into the rankings—but not the projections—for many of these experienced rushers.

31. Rashad Jennings, NYG: 805 rushing yards, 4 TD; 21 rec, 168 receiving yards

32. Fred Jackson, BUF: 730 rushing yards, 4 TD; 37 rec, 299 receiving yards

33. Maurice Jones-Drew, OAK: 840 rushing yards, 6 TD, 50 rec, 400 receiving yards, 2 TD

34. Danny Woodhead, SD: 384 rushing yards, 3 TD; 69 rec, 578 receiving yards, 5 TD

35. Darren McFadden, OAK: 655 rushing yards, 4 TD; 27 rec, 191 receiving yards, TD

36. Stevan Ridley, NE: 840 rushing yards, 5 TD; 7 rec, 49 receiving yards

37. Ahmad Bradshaw, IND: 656 rushing yards, 4 TD; 23 rec, 186 receiving yards

38. Mark Ingram, NO: 593 rushing yards, 5 TD; 10 rec, 69 receiving yards

39. Darren Sproles, PHI: 207 rushing yards, 2 TD; 49 rec, 419 receiving yards, 4 TD

40. DeAngelo Williams, CAR: 779 rushing yards, 4 TD; 23 rec, 160 receiving yards

41. Jonathan Stewart, CAR: 550 rushing yards, 5 TD; 16 rec, 131 receiving yards, TD


Tier 7: Handcuffs and Upside Plays

John Froschauer/Associated Press

Because the running backs ahead of these players on their respective depth charts mostly have full 16-game projections on this list, their handcuffs will have comparatively modest totals.

42. Knile Davis, KC: 316 rushing yards, 4 TD; 10 rec, 73 receiving yards

43. Ka’Deem Carey, CHI: 459 rushing yards, 2 TD; 9 rec, 88 receiving yards

44. Jonathan Grimes, HOU: 222 rushing yards, 2 TD; 4 rec, 23 receiving yards

45. Christine Michael, SEA: 140 rushing yards; 2 rec, 18 receiving yards

46. C.J. Anderson, DEN: 395 rushing yards, 3 TD; 10 rec, 69 receiving yards

47. Dri Archer, PIT: 192 rushing yards, 2 TD; 22 rec, 211 receiving yards, 2 TD

48. Tre Mason, STL: 428 rushing yards, 2 TD; 14 rec, 126 receiving yards

49. Carlos Hyde, SF: 534 rushing yards, 7 TD; 10 rec, 69 receiving yards

50. LeGarrette Blount, PIT: 373 rushing yards, 4 TD; 3 rec, 27 receiving yards


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