There are two competing schools of thought on drafting running backs for fantasy football in today’s NFL.
Some take the Chip Kelly approach who, even though he peddled LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills this offseason, invested big free agent dollars right back into the position signing DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. The idea is be willing to pay a high price at the position – early round draft picks for fantasy players – so you aren’t left with scraps.
The opposite approach is the old Mike Shanahan post-Terrell Davis, carried over to Gary Kubiak to a degree, philosophy. Give me just about anybody who can follow three simple instructions – run, cut, run – and I will have success in the running game. For fantasy players, this means forgoing the early, somewhat safer but still risky “studs” at RB in favor of other skill positions, and stockpile mid-tier running backs later on. Surely one or more will hit.
While we won’t get into a discussion today about whether you are better to use an early draft pick on Le’Veon Bell or Dez Bryant or Rob Gronkowski, so-called every down backs are a rare breed, and you don’t have to get very far down this list to find players with some potentially significant warts.
Regardless, we’ve got to rank them. Here are running back rankings for 2015 redraft fantasy football leagues, before the NFL Draft.
1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Equally adept as a runner and receiver, Bell surpassed the lofty expectations placed upon him during his second season, emerging as a workhorse back and finishing the season with the 2nd most yards from scrimmage with 2,215 behind DeMarco Murray’s 2,261. Better yet, Bell managed to reach that mark with 76 fewer touches than Murray. He rates as the current consensus top pick in fantasy drafts and we aren’t going to buck that trend Expect his suspension to be reduced from three games to two.
2. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Let’s face it – the Seahawks offensive success hinges on Lynch’s ability to run the ball. While that equation may change slightly in 2015 due to the addition of Jimmy Graham, Lynch will still be the main go-to of this offense when the going gets tough. His rushing yardage, yards-per-carry, receiving yards, yards-per-reception and touchdown totals all increased last season. It doesn’t appear that he is slowing down as he approaches 29 years of age, and backups Robert Turbin and Christine Michael have done precious little to warrant a reduced workload for Marshawn.
3. Eddie Lacy, Packers
While his yardage totals didn’t increase appreciably and his touchdown total only went up by two, Lacy was clearly a far superior back in 2014 than during his rookie season. He looked more explosive while continuing to run hard giving us reason to believe another step forward should be expected in 2015.
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
In 2012, AP nearly broke the single season record for most rushing yards a few short months after tearing his ACL. We expect another big season (although not as spectacular) when he returns in 2015 after missing all but one game last season. An angry and motivated AP should return to glory even after passing the age of 30.
5. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
After accumulating 329 touches and 1,980 total yards in 2013, Charles managed just 1,324 yards on 246 touches last season. Here’s to the notion that head coach Andy Reid will learn from his mistake of not using Charles enough in 2014.
6. Matt Forte, Bears
After being the centerpiece of the Bears offense during former head coach Marc Trestman’s two years with the team, Forte is in line for a major reduction in his workload in 2015. About to turn 30 and entering the final year of his contract, Forte will need to adapt to life under John Fox, who is a big believer in splitting carries at the running back position. Since the Bears have precious little behind Forte, he should still see a healthy workload making him a mid-tier RB1.
7. Arian Foster, Texans
Foster’s injury history negatively impacts his booster club membership amongst fantasy football players since his heyday (just two seasons removed, 2012), but generally far more than it should. When healthy, he averaged the 2nd most fantasy points per game amongst the league’s running backs last season. Foster is a talented dude and the Texans have almost no choice but to rely on him heavily.
8. DeMarco Murray, Eagles
While Murray went to Philadelphia and got paid, he won’t see the opportunity he had in 2014. Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles will see to that. A top five finish at running back will be hard to achieve and injury risk after so many touches last season has to be a concern.
9. LeSean McCoy, Bills
Sorry, Chip Kelly fans, but I’m putting my money down on McCoy proving ole’ Chip was wrong in trading a 27-year old Pro Bowl quality running back. The Bills offensive line is no match for the Eagles but new offensive coordinator Greg Roman knows a thing or two about running the ball, as San Francisco 49ers fans can attest to.
10. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
It would be a shock if Giovani Bernard regains his starting position in 2015 after Hill chalked up 929 rushing yards and six touchdowns over the final nine games of the season. Hill took his opportunity, seized it, and the coaching staff genuinely seems to prefer Hill to Bernard as the main contributor out of the backfield.
11. C.J. Anderson, Broncos
Over his last eight games, Anderson produced like an upper tier RB1 with 1,057 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Of course, he hogged the touches because the Broncos didn’t have any other healthy options, including Peyton Manning and his bum quadriceps. You could easily argue that he should be further up the rankings but a new coaching staff plus the return of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman increase Anderson’s risk profile.
12. Lamar Miller, Dolphins
Miller reached statistical highs in every major offensive category last season, finishing the season as the 9th ranked fantasy running back with 1,374 total yards and nine touchdowns. However, he was once again underutilized with just 254 touches over the course of the season. If the coaching staff had more faith so would we.
13. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
Out of all of the running backs with breakout potential, Hyde has to rank right near the top, if not at the top. He will replace Frank Gore as the 49ers bell cow runner and would rank higher if not for the presence of Reggie Bush, who signed as a free agent and figures to handle most of the pass receiving out of the backfield.
14. Justin Forsett, Ravens
Ozzie Newsome believes in Forsett and I generally follow the advice of one of the league’s top talent evaluators. Plus, the Ravens have little behind Forsett. While another 1,500 yard season probably isn’t in the cards, Forsett has the look of an upper tier RB2 prior to the league’s rookie draft.
15. Tre Mason, Rams
In just 12 games, Mason racked up 913 total yards and five touchdowns, averaging a very sturdy 10.1 yards per carry. He is the clear cut starter in the Rams backfield and could emerge as a lower tier RB1 if the team’s coaching staff allows him to handle a larger role in the passing game. He caught just 16 receptions as a rookie in 2014.
16. Alfred Morris, Redskins
While not exactly a great fit in head coach Jay Gruden’s offense, Morris was still a solid fantasy play last season with 1,074 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. That production is basically his floor and his upside is much greater if RGIII can somehow stay healthy.
17. Mark Ingram, Saints
In 13 games, Ingram produced 1,109 total yards and nine touchdowns, averaging a nifty 12.7 PPG. While C.J. Spiller was signed in the offseason, he basically takes over the role of the departed Pierre Thomas. It’s also worth noting Khiry Robinson averaged 3.5 carries per game when Ingram was healthy.
18. Joique Bell, Lions
Bell fits in here at the moment but if the Lions add a high draft pick to the running back position, his fantasy ranking will see a big drop. Let’s face it – Bell works hard but his talent level is amongst the worst in the league for projected starting running backs.
19. Frank Gore, Colts
While Gore’s touches and total yards will almost certainly decline in his first year in Indianapolis, his touchdowns figure to improve, making him a decent fantasy option provided he remains healthy at 32 years of age.
20. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
He’s good when he’s healthy but he’s never healthy enough. And that’s why we’re not allowing ourselves to get too excited by the 738 yards and three touchdowns he posted over the final seven games of last season.
21. Latavius Murray, Raiders
While Murray has obvious natural physical gifts, it’s always a bit disconcerting when a team brings in a pair of veterans to fill out the depth chart. Roy Helu should handle the pass catching role and there is a small chance that Trent Richardson could eat into Murray’s workload, especially in short yardage.
22. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
Despite his struggles last season (three missed games, 4.0 YPC), Bernard still managed to finish 18th in fantasy points amongst the league’s running backs. Which begs the question, why is everyone so down on him? Sure, Jeremy Hill’s strong play as a rookie all but ensures that Bernard will never be a top five fantasy back but this is a dude with amazing big play ability. His floor is 1,000 total yards and 5-6 touchdowns.
23. C.J. Spiller, Saints
Is Spiller washed up at age 27 or was he simply miscast and underutilized during his last couple of years in Buffalo? Who knows, but his upside is limited in 2015 as he is stuck behind Mark Ingram. However, Darren Sproles proved to be a useful fantasy option in Sean Payton’s offense. It stands to reason they signed Spiller to be a somewhat significant contributor to the offense, especially with the receiver departures.
24. Andre Ellington, Cardinals
There are a lot of players to potentially put in this spot, since we are stopping at 24. Teams still without a RB in the first 23 ranked players are the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans. Clearly, the NFL Draft and training camp battles are going to have a big impact on these rankings between now and late-August.
For number 24, lets start at the top of our alphabetical team list, Arizona. It is very difficult to peg projections for Ellington since it is unclear how the Cardinals plan to use him in 2015. He is currently the top of a thin depth chart, on what should be a potentially explosive offense. However, Bruce Arians is motivated to get a bigger body in there and protect QB Carson Palmer. Ellington’s talent is worthy of this spot, but expect the Cardinals to add to the position in the draft.