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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Dynasty Rankings
Running Backs
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends

It is much better to be predictive than reactive in fantasy. In fact, that statement is one of the core principles of my Preseason Matchup Analysis series. After a fairly straight-forward ranking of quarterbacks in my first installment of my dynasty series, the running backs will almost certainly surprise. Let’s get right to them, shall we?:

Considerations for RB

  • Four years of elite production remaining (priority given to younger players)
  • Age
  • Age/skill of supporting cast
  • Talent
  • Durability
  • Proven consistency
  • Coaching/scheme stability

With running back being such a short-term position in the NFL, it is unrealistic to expect a player to maintain much more than four years’ worth of stellar production. Because I trust my eye when it comes to “scouting talent”, I don’t mind ranking some younger upside backs over more proven (read: older) veterans simply because the truth of the matter is that a 28-year-old stud back today may be an over-the-hill 29-year-old next season. As much as dynasty owners want to win now, the goal is to set the team up for success in the long-term. Per usual, nearly all of my leagues use PPR scoring and six points for all touchdowns, so that will be the basis for these rankings as well.

 Running Backs
Chg Rk Player Team Bye
1 Doug Martin TB 5
2 Adrian Peterson (MIN) MIN 5
3 Arian Foster HOU 8
4 Jamaal Charles KC 10
Tier 2
5 LeSean McCoy PHI 12
6 Trent Richardson Risk CLE 10
7 C.J. Spiller BUF 12
8 Ray Rice BAL 8
9 Matt Forte CHI 8
10 Marshawn Lynch SEA 12
Tier 3
11 Alfred Morris WAS 5
12 Stevan Ridley Risk NE 10
13 David Wilson Risk NYG 9
14 Montee Ball DEN 9
15 DeMarco Murray Risk DAL 11
Tier 4
16 Le’Veon Bell PIT 5
17 Chris Johnson TEN 8
18 Darren McFadden Risk OAK 7
19 Lamar Miller Upside MIA 6
20 Giovani Bernard CIN 12
21 Steven Jackson ATL 6
22 Reggie Bush DET 9
23 Maurice Jones-Drew Risk JAC 9
24 Chris Ivory Risk NYJ 10
Tier 5
25 Vick Ballard IND 8
26 Frank Gore SF 9
27 Jonathan Stewart Upside CAR 4
28 Isaiah Pead Upside STL 11
29 Darren Sproles NO 7
30 Johnathan Franklin Upside GB 4
31 Bryce Brown Upside PHI 12
32 Eddie Lacy Risk GB 4
33 Mark Ingram NO 7
34 Ben Tate RiskUpside HOU 8
35 Marcus Lattimore RiskUpside SF 9
36 Rashard Mendenhall ARI 9
37 Ryan Mathews Risk SD 8
38 Shane Vereen NE 10
39 Mikel Leshoure DET 9
40 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 12
Tier 6
41 Daryl Richardson STL 11
42 Andre Brown NYG 9
43 Christine Michael SEA 12
44 Zac Stacy STL 11
45 Bernard Pierce BAL 8
46 Joseph Randle DAL 11
47 Latavius Murray OAK 7
Tier 7
48 Pierre Thomas NO 7
49 Denard Robinson Upside JAC 9
50 Stepfan Taylor ARI 9
51 Ronnie Hillman DEN 9
52 Mike Gillislee MIA 6
53 Kendall Hunter Risk SF 9
54 Shonn Greene TEN 8
55 LaMichael James SF 9
56 Knile Davis RiskUpside KC 10
57 Brandon Bolden NE 10
58 Andre Ellington ARI 9
59 Michael Bush CHI 8
60 Robert Turbin SEA 12
61 DeAngelo Williams CAR 4
Tier 8
62 Ahmad Bradshaw FA 0
63 Ryan Williams ARI 9
64 Travaris Cadet NO 7
65 Kerwynn Williams IND 8
66 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 6
67 Fred Jackson BUF 12
68 Danny Woodhead SD 8
69 Mike Tolbert CAR 4
70 Marcel Reece OAK 7
71 Daniel Thomas MIA 6
72 Chris Thompson WAS 5
73 Mike James TB 5
74 Rex Burkhead CIN 12
75 Toby Gerhart MIN 5

Tier 1

Most owners will opt for the consistency and greatness of Adrian Peterson at the top of the coveted running back position. While there is a strong case to be made for him (some may even call him the obvious choice), his age suggests he will begin his decline sooner than later and history says he will have trouble topping 1,500 yards rushing this year (none of the previous six running backs to top 2,000 yards in a season rushed for more than Barry Sanders’ 1,491 in 1998). On the other hand, Martin’s star should only get brighter. He is nearly four years younger and played a lot of his rookie season without his two starting guards. Combined with the fact that Martin is a quality receiver and really did not start announce his arrival until about midway through the season and there is plenty of reason to like Martin to rival “All Day” this year. Peterson could very well be on his last NFL legs when Martin should hit his physical prime in about three years, making Martin the better long-term choice.

After watching him tear up the postseason, reports of Foster’s demise were greatly exaggerated. While his critics will be right in a couple of years, there’s plenty of reason to believe Foster’s “slippage” had as much to do with the right side of the offensive line as it did from overuse due to all the injuries backup Ben Tate dealt with in 2012. Foster enjoys the perfect marriage of skill set and offensive fit, so 2-3 more years of elite production should be attainable so long as Tate – or a reasonable facsimile of the 2011 Tate – exists on the Houston roster. Charles’ owners may bemoan HC Andy Reid’s hiring in Kansas City, but it isn’t as if Reid’s predecessors believed in force-feeding him either. At least in Reid’s offense, the running back is almost certain to be a high-volume pass catcher. Just 26 years of age with 784 career carries (and no more than 230 in a season), a strong case could be made for Charles at the top spot.

Tier 2

Although he is at a prime age and there is ample reason to believe that he will get all the touches he wants in new HC Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offensive attack, McCoy begins the second tier because he’ll cede touches to Bryce Brown. More importantly, however, is that Kelly is unlikely to supplement McCoy’s PPR numbers the same way Reid did. While some will knock Richardson for his less-than-gaudy 3.6 YPC as a rookie and may even consider him injury-prone, the mere fact he played at all through broken ribs is a testament to how strong-willed he is. He caught 51 balls in an offense ill-suited for most of the team and will almost certainly find life easier in an offense run by new OC Norv Turner and HC Rod Chudzinski. Richardson could easily find himself atop this list next year.

Speaking of challengers to the throne, Spiller fulfilled former HC Chan Gailey’s draft-day notion that Spiller would eventually be “our Jamaal Charles”. Unfortunately, Gailey tended to underuse him in much the same way. Regardless, when Spiller had the chance to be the feature back during parts of the first half of the season, he dominated. It is unclear just how much Fred Jackson will be in the picture in 2013, but new HC Doug Marrone appears set on rolling with the “hot guy” and, more often than not, that should be Spiller. There’s also a strong sense that Spiller knows this is his big break, so assuming he can avoid the durability and conditioning issues he has faced at various points, Spiller could be the top dynasty back at season’s end. Rice falls down the board a bit for the simple fact that Bernard Pierce appears to be ready for a substantial role in the Ravens’ offense. While Pierce isn’t a threat to Rice per se, he will probably see 8-12 touches on a fairly regular basis. That’s enough action to view Rice in a mid- RB1 light as opposed to the elite RB1 he has been for several years.

If there is one running back that figures to benefit more from a coaching change more than any other, it could easily be Forte. Michael Bush makes too much money to be an afterthought, but Chicago’s offense under new HC Marc Trestman could easily be a sleeping giant for unsuspecting fantasy owners. Trestman has already raved about Forte abilities as a receiver – which were often underutilized by previous play-callers – and believes he is a complete back. Forte could easily be in line for his best season since his rookie year, so age (will be 28 in December) is the only thing keeping him from being higher on this list. Whereas Forte has been underutilized, Lynch has been one of the few backs in the league consistently given a heavy workload. Lynch’s season really took off in 2012 when the Seahawks loosened the reins on QB Russell Wilson and given the success of the new offense, there’s no reason to believe Seattle will go back to its old ways. Lynch’s age (turned 27 in April) along with his running style make him a candidate for a dramatic falloff over the next couple of years, which makes him slightly less attractive for owners taking more of a long-term view.

Tier 3

As opposed to the traditional “Thunder and Lightning” concept that teams have employed in recent years with their running backs, Morris represented the thunder to Robert Griffin III’s lightning last season with great success. Morris isn’t the most exciting back to watch, but it’s hard to argue with the results or how often Mike Shanahan-coached backs make good fantasy players. The reasons Morris finds himself outside of the second tier are due to the unpredictability of Shanahan and the lack of production he brings as a receiver. Ridley surpassed even the wildest expectations owners had for him entering last season, becoming the hammer in a New England offense that had gotten too finesse in recent years. Ridley’s goal-line role is probably secure going forward, but there are a number of reasons why this 24-year-old back in a high-scoring offense finds himself in this tier: 1) Ridley is not the best receiver, 2) HC Bill Belichick will play matchups and situations, some of which include trusting his back to be able to make plays/blocks in the passing game that aren’t his strong suit and 3) fumble issues. A healthy Shane Vereen is a real threat to steal substantial touches from him in the coming years.

Wilson is poised to be the next Jamaal Charles (a big-play back that doesn’t require a lot of carries), but there’s no guarantee he’ll be allowed to become a featured back for a coach in Tom Coughlin who has enjoyed great success using committee backfields. Maybe the Giants allow likely goal-line back Andre Brown to hit free agency next season, but it might be asking too much for Wilson to become much more than a more durable version of Ahmad Bradshaw. Ball is the first rookie to make the list in large part because it is possible he may not be the focus of the offense for most of his early career. In a Peyton Manning-led offense, that’s a good thing. In recent years, Manning has helped boost the fantasy fortunes of backs like Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes and Willis McGahee. Ball is certainly no less talented than any of those backs and joins an offense in Denver that has an embarrassment of riches in the passing game. Ball’s rookie year may be a bit of a rollercoaster given HC John Fox’s preference for veterans, but he should be a solid fantasy force in dynasty leagues as long as Manning is calling the shots.

Several players earn “injury-prone” tags while others are hit with them somewhat unfairly. Murray is such a case. During his college days, Murray suffered a turf toe, dislocated kneecap and ruptured hamstring. In two pro seasons, he’s faced a broken ankle and a foot sprain. In short, he sounds more prone to bad luck than injury since the argument could be made than none of these serious injuries seem to be related, at least not in the order they occurred. Either way, it should be noted that Murray – behind a porous offensive line – has averaged 4.8 YPC in his short Cowboy career. With only a season’s worth of carries to his credit (324) in those two seasons, it is not unthinkable that he could be a top 5-10 back in fantasy if he can finally play a full 16-game schedule behind what should be a better offensive line.

Tier 4

Bell has about everything a dynasty owner could want from a running back (good size, good receiving skills, durability, won’t turn 21 until August, clear path to feature-back duties, etc.) except that he isn’t a special talent. While “special talent” isn’t a necessity for a player to be an elite fantasy back, it is the one trait holding him back from a top 10-15 spot on this list. McFadden is a strong bet to enjoy one of his finest seasons, but durability (nearly five missed games per season) is always going to be his biggest shortcoming. Fortunately, his price tag is down from last season, which could allow owners to snag a pretty solid-producing RB2 later than usual. Johnson would undoubtedly be ranked higher if the Titans hadn’t signed free agent Shonn Greene to reprise the role of LenDale White. Johnson isn’t losing his job to Greene, but Tennessee has pretty much closed the book on CJ2K in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Throw in the fact that Johnson doesn’t get near the work in the passing game that he should and owners are left with a player that will be dependent on breaking a long run to put up the kind of fantasy numbers he used to. Johnson will turn 28 in September, meaning he may not be all that far away from losing a bit of his legendary speed.

Miller is generating a lot of buzz in fantasy this offseason for a second-year player who managed 57 touches as a rookie. Few will question that he has the talent to be a lead back or the confidence the team seems to have in him, but his pass blocking needs to improve a lot from last season – a skill that just happens to be a strength of rookie Mike Gillislee. Miller’s talent should win out in the end, but he’s a definite risk-reward pick at the moment for an owner looking for a RB2. Bernard would appear to have a bright future ahead of him as the most talented back on an improving team that likes to run the ball and is starved for big-play ability from its running backs. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t represent the greatest of obstacles, he is under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable rate and a superior short-yardage/goal-line option, so Bernard may not be able to reach his fantasy ceiling until 2015. Owner Mike Brown and HC Marvin Lewis have also long preferred a bigger back to lead the offense, so Bernard will likely have to show he is clearly the best back on the roster in order to be featured at any point before then.

Jackson joins Atlanta about 2-3 years too late (at least) to really maximize his fantasy value since he’ll turn 30 later this summer. Still, Jackson is such a rare physical specimen and so uniquely talented that he is one of the few rare good bets to produce into his early 30s. His receiving skills and place within an explosive offense further enhance his chances at being an effective fantasy back to the end of his three-year deal. Bush leaves his feature-back role in Miami for a slightly reduced role in Detroit, but there’s every chance he’ll see his PPR value increase. The Lions plan on using Bush in much the same way he was used in New Orleans (or how they used Jahvid Best), but he’ll trade in the natural grass of Sun Life Stadium for the Field Turf of Ford Field. On the surface, that hardly seems like a concern, but it is notable that his injury woes stopped about the same time he joined the Dolphins in 2011. Either way, more than 12 games in an offense as high-powered as Detroit’s should be good enough to make Bush a very solid RB2 in dynasty leagues over the next three-plus years.

Jones-Drew has endured an eventual past year. There was a holdout, a Lisfranc injury and the alleged misdemeanor battery of a security guard. The last item doesn’t appear likely to stick, but MJD’s two-month reluctance to have surgery on his foot and his contract are bigger concerns for his owners. Entering the final year of his contract (with the strong likelihood nothing will get discussed until after the season), Jones-Drew could easily opt to finish his career with a winner. Many fantasy owners seem to be viewing Ivory through rose-colored glasses. There is no question he saw far less work in “The Big Easy” than he should have and that, at age 25 and 220 pounds, he can handle a big load. However, he runs as if he has complete disregard for his own well-being and that style doesn’t tend to lend itself to 16 games per year. He is certain to be a favorite of HC Rex Ryan and Jets fans, but it is hard to see him holding up long enough each year to be a true feature back.

Tier 5

Regular readers likely remember I was on the Ballard bandwagon fairly early in the game last season. Ballard is by no means a special talent (and thereby replaceable), which is part of the reason why he begins this tier despite being in a pretty good offense with little to no competition for his job. It’s a highly likely, however, that Andrew Luck will not be attempting 627 passes in new OC Pep Hamilton’s offense and a solid bet that Ballard will be used much more as a receiver as Indianapolis moves from a vertical-based offense to a more of a West Coast attack. Gore is very likely entering the final two seasons of his fine NFL career – at least with San Francisco. He has a great supporting cast, one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league and a scheme that fits his skill set to a tee, but turned 30 in May and will be a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. It is entirely possible that his workload will start tailing off next season if rookie Marcus Lattimore is ready to roll in 2014.

Stewart has been a dynasty darling since he entered the league. Still only 26 with 818 NFL carries, Stewart is clearly the best back in his backfield. But Carolina’s insistence on splitting up the carries – as well as the goal-line effectiveness of Cam Newton – figures to only reinforce Stewart’s reputation as a fantasy tease. Pead – along with maybe Miami’s Miller – is one of the few veteran “projections’ on this list. The University of Cincinnati product attributed his disappointing rookie season to falling behind due the NFL rule that prohibits rookies from attending offseason workouts before their college class graduates. No such obstacle will be in his way this season and, given the likelihood that St. Louis will spread defenses out on a regular basis, Pead’s speed and quickness could be the perfect complement to rookie Zac Stacy’s power game. Pead will have to battle 2012 rookie surprise Daryl Richardson for his role (as well as a season-opening one-game suspension), but the former is the more talented player.

Sproles is a tricky player to rank. As a 30-year-old back (as of June 20), Sproles should be about ready to hit the “old man’s cliff”. However, with only 691 offensive touches in his career, there’s probably little reason to believe the “Rule of 30” applies to him. Kevin Faulk – a back that played the same kind of role (albeit less effectively) – was still moderately productive at age 32 and wasn’t in Sproles’ class in terms of speed, quickness or talent. The Saints know how to use him and, just as importantly, how much to use him, so it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he produces at a high level for 2-3 more years. Franklin is the first back on this list that will not likely be the top player on his team’s depth chart, but as a durable back that can excel in the passing game, I firmly believe he will be a better long-term fit in Green Bay than fellow rookie Eddie Lacy. GM Ted Thompson is one of the best in the business, so it’s a safe bet that Green Bay will have a good plan to utilize both backs. In PPR leagues, however, I’ll take Franklin’s hands and durability over Lacy’s touchdowns and injury history.

It took about three weeks for Brown to go from the ridiculous to the sublime. Following a two-game run in which he ran over and through Carolina and Dallas for 347 yards and four scores on 43 carries, Brown rushed for a total of 76 yards on 40 attempts to close out 2012. Obviously, neither small sample provides an accurate picture for Brown as teams caught on to his desire to take everything outside and penchant for fumbling. Despite serving behind one of the best backs in the league, Brown’s talent alone is a reason to value him in fantasy. A secondary reason – besides his age (22) – is the fact he will be playing for new HC Chip Kelly. The new coach will almost certainly find enough carries for two backs in his up-tempo offense, which emphasizes running the ball. Lacy is a huge improvement over Cedric Benson and every other veteran runner on the Packers’ depth chart. He should provide Green Bay with the kind of physicality that it has lacked for years, but it is difficult for me to imagine a situation in which he isn’t at least sharing touches with Franklin – whether it be because Franklin is a superior player in the passing game, Lacy is dealing with injury or Franklin emerges as the better back. Lacy’s scoring upside is huge in this offense, however, so even a partial role would probably be enough for him to serve as a fantasy RB2.

Ingram finally got healthy toward the end of the 2012 season and it started to show in the box score. Still the Saints’ goal-line back, Ingram is expected to serve as the early-down hammer. His upside is obviously capped by the fact he will leave the field in favor of Pierre Thomas on occasion and Darren Sproles in come-from-behind and passing-down situations, but a healthy Ingram could produce that elusive double-digit touchdown season many expected him to have as a rookie. Injuries have cost Tate from having much of a pro career to this point (with the exception of 2011), but it’s a near-lock he will not return to Houston when his contract runs out at the end of the season. As one of the league’s top backup running backs, owners would be wise to pay a bit more for him in hopes that he finds himself in a lead-back/feature-back role in 2014. It is also entirely possible he runs into some value in 2013 should Foster’s heavy workload catch up to him at some point.

It is uncommon – to say the least – that a running back coming off severe injuries to both knees with little chance to play in 2013 warrants a spot among the top 40 dynasty running backs, much less is deserving of a roster spot. Lattimore is not only the exception, but a good stash for owners that have the luxury – like San Francisco – to play the waiting game on his recovery. Few teams have the ability to wait on a player for a year, but no team would have spent a fourth-rounder on a back with his injury history if they felt they would have to wait on him for two years. A healthy Lattimore would have been the most talented back in this draft and his work ethic makes him as good of a bet to produce on the field in 2014 as anyone trying to make his way back from the type of injuries he suffered. Mendenhall has proven to be a capable workhorse back when healthy and new HC Bruce Arians figures to give him a chance to do it again given the familiarity between the two from their days in Pittsburgh. Entering his age-26 season, Mendenhall could find himself much higher on this list if he is able to recapture the numbers he posted as a Steeler.

One year didn’t exactly change my mind in regards to Mathews’ talent, it has to do more with his body not showing the ability to cooperate. He also ran behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines last year when he was healthy. His offensive line – and obviously his durability – did not improve substantially in the offseason while San Diego also added Danny Woodhead to the mix, making it increasingly likely Mathews will see the same kind of limited third-down work he did last season. Vereen had his coming-out party in the playoffs against Houston and could shoot up this list in 2014 if he is able to consistently steal significant touches from Ridley. But as we discussed earlier, a member of a Belichick backfield isn’t usually one that fantasy owners can feel safe putting into their lineups each week.

Leshoure surpassed many preseason expectations since Jahvid Best was never cleared to return to the field and had his moments in fantasy, but was largely disappointing as he was outplayed by Joique Bell on a number of occasions. Leshoure will probably keep the short-yardage/goal-line chores over the next 2-3 seasons, but Bush is very likely to dwarf his statistical production and steal most of the work in between the 20s. A similar scenario could play out in Cincinnati with Green-Ellis, although it doesn’t seem likely to happen this year. Bernard is easily more talented than the “Law Firm”, but it remains to be seen how stubborn the Bengals will be in remaining a team that wants to grind it out with a bigger back. Like Leshoure, Green-Ellis is a near lock to retain short-yardage/goal-line duties if/when Bernard proves to be the superior option, but finds himself lower on the list because he is nearly five years older than his Detroit counterpart.

Tier 6

Despite Pead’s disappointing rookie season, Richardson is expected to play second fiddle to him for the right to see the most touches between the 20s in 2013. Richardson has more than enough talent to hold off Pead for a second straight season, but both figure to lose short-yardage and red-zone carries to Stacy. One of the more interesting storylines at the running back position this offseason will be just how much Andre Brown can eat into Wilson’s workload. Brown will almost certainly claim the goal-line duties and play the Brandon Jacobs role in this offense. While Brown is a better player now than Jacobs was in his final years in New York, Wilson is more talented and figures to be more durable than Ahmad Bradshaw. The Seahawks didn’t need to draft Michael, but he is a serious threat to Robert Turbin’s backup job right away and could ascend to the top spot sooner than later if Seattle decides to part with Lynch in 2014 (when the guaranteed money on his contract runs out). Then again, Michael could be forced to wait until 2016 if the Seahawks decide to keep Lynch until the end of his contract.

Stacy is the most certain of the Rams’ backs to keep his projected role, but seems to be the least likely to be the lead back. In St. Louis’ improving offense, his short-yardage and goal-line work will mean more than it used to for Steven Jackson, but not so much where he should be a regular fantasy starter anytime soon. Pierce became the young complement the Ravens have wanted to emerge alongside Rice and made enough of a dent to drop Rice’s fantasy value a bit. Still, Rice isn’t giving up his starting job or sharing carries anytime soon, so Pierce appears to be locked into a backup 8-10 touch role for the foreseeable future. Randle might as well be in the same boat as Pierce (albeit less talented with a worse offensive line), with virtually no shot to challenge the starter. However, those disadvantages are counterbalanced by the fact he will be backing up DeMarco Murray, who has yet to show he can withstand the weight of a feature-back workload.

Like McFadden, Latavius Murray (6-2, 223) has great straight-line speed and is built to succeed in a power-running game. Like Randle, there is a good chance he’ll have 3-4 opportunities to show it each season – assuming he can beat out Rashad Jennings for the backup job. The return of HC Sean Payton should also mean that Thomas resumes being a useful flex play in fantasy. When used correctly, Thomas is a solid 8-10 carry-per-game back who will supplement those yards with the occasional score and a healthy number of receptions. Even as Ingram appears to be angling for more touches and Sproles will return as his passing-game complement, there is room for a player like Thomas who can do both very well. Many will likely think Robinson is ranked way too high for a college quarterback learning another position, but the uncertain nature of Jones-Drew and lack of quality depth behind him make a compelling case for a naturally-talented runner like Robinson. The rookie has essentially been promised 10-15 plays already and may find himself atop the Jags’ depth chart in 2014 if the team (or Jones-Drew) opts to go in a different direction next year.

Tier 7

For owners looking for this year’s Vick Ballard (steady but unspectacular rookie producer who could find himself featured next season), consider Taylor. The Stanford standout possesses a similar game, the same level of talent and even gets the same play-caller (Arians) as Ballard had in 2012. However, the big difference is that unlike Donald Brown, Rashard Mendenhall has proven himself in the NFL and is the clear starter in Arizona if he has fully recovered from his 2011 ACL tear. Hillman generated a lot of buzz last summer as the back that could eventually steal the lead-back role in Denver’s high-powered offense, but one year later it appears he has clearly settled in as little more than a change-of-pace back. The second-year back bulked up in the offseason after reportedly weighing 175 pounds at one point last season. Ideally, he settles in as a 30-40 catch back that is able to give Montee Ball a breather on running downs. Lamar Miller may be generating the most buzz in Miami and possess more talent than Gillislee, but don’t discount the rookie’s chances at stealing a few of his snaps. Gillislee doesn’t have much of a “wow” factor to his game, but his blocking skills will almost certainly get him on the field while his ability to fight for extra yards may make him the preferred short-yardage/goal-line option down the road.

Hunter will be about eight months removed from his Achilles’ tear when training camp starts, but it might be closer to the end of the season before he can be expected to show the same kind of explosiveness he did before the injury. With that said, he appears to be a better long-term bet to carry RB2 duties in San Francisco than LaMichael James. Greene trades in his ill-suited feature-back role in New York for a complementary role that he is more suited for in Tennessee. The one problem is that he is far from a great short-yardage/goal-line runner, which makes him a poor complement to Chris Johnson. Still, given the Titans’ willingness to give goal-line carries to Jamie Harper last season, Greene is probably going to remain in his role for the foreseeable future. James, especially in light of Hunter’s injury, is the explosive complement in San Francisco. His dynasty stock hinges directly on the ability of Lattimore and Hunter to recover from their injuries. If Hunter’s return remains ahead of schedule, James may be lucky to see more than a handful of snaps per game.

The fact the Chiefs took a player with an injury history like Davis before more durable players like Franklin or Taylor should serve as a pretty good indication how much Kansas City liked him. Davis isn’t going to start anytime soon – barring a Charles injury – but he has talent to be a fantasy factor should Charles be sidelined for any length of time. It is very rare that a third-string running back can ever be described as having a lot of upside, but Bolden is probably another Ridley fumbling problem away from seeing significant time. Make no mistake: a Ridley and Vereen backfield makes the most sense, but HC Bill Belichick’s backfields are typically far from predictable. Ellington’s stock has about as great of variance as any player on the bottom half of this list. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which he sees little time on offense his rookie year and is subjected to a strict backup role. He could also work in tandem with Taylor (the Vereen to Taylor’s Ridley) in 2014 or his big-play ability could be too tempting to sit and he could be the feature back next season. This low ranking suggests Mendenhall will stick in Arizona after this season.

Bush has been one of the better backup running backs in the league for a while, but his run at fantasy relevancy may be coming to an end sooner than later. In addition to the fact he will turn 29 in mid-June, Trestman’s offense will almost certainly feature Forte more as a receiver than any other play-caller he’s had as a Bear. Obviously, Bush can contribute in that regard as well, but with Trestman smitten with Forte, Bush may see his regular touches outside the red zone cut. Turbin was as good of a backup running back as there was in the NFL last season, but Christine Michael is a superior talent. It would come as little surprise if Michael becomes the lead back after Lynch moves on, leaving Turbin in the same role he filled in 2012. For all the talk about his declining role, DeAngelo Williams received more touches in 2012 than he did in 2011. With that said, the end is near for D-Will, who will either retire or be looking a bit role with another team in about three years. Williams is hard to start in any fantasy league given Carolina’s insistence on sharing the backfield workload, which includes losing rushing attempts to Cam Newton and splitting running back work with Stewart. At this point, he’s the running back version of Devery Henderson – capable of providing 2-3 huge games and doing little else in the rest of the season.

Tier 8

Bradshaw’s recent flirtation with the Colts suggests he is on the verge of signing, be it Indianapolis or somewhere else. At 27 years of age, Bradshaw should be a committee back at worst when healthy. Until he finds a definite landing spot, however, he’s little more than a flyer in dynasty leagues. Ryan Williams is arguably the best talent in the Arizona backfield, but it sounds as if he is still battling some demons more than a year after tearing his patella tendon. Still, it seems likely if he can get past it, he has as good of chance as any player to take the lead-back role in Arizona should Mendenhall fail to meet expectations. Cadet could very well be Sproles-in-training, but it is hard to say he is roster-worthy in most dynasty leagues right now. It’s unlikely he’ll see much playing time in 2013 if Sproles is healthy, which makes him more of a player to track throughout the season and revisit next offseason.

Kerwynn Williams should be the explosive passing-game complement to Ballard that Donald Brown hasn’t proven he can be. If Bradshaw lands in Indy, then the rookie’s first-year impact will be primarily on special teams. There was plenty of reason that Rodgers needed to be Atlanta’s lead back last year, but his stock took a nosedive the day Steven Jackson showed up. Jackson has more left in the tank than Michael Turner does plus he is a significant better receiver. As a result, Rodgers will function as little more than a true backup. Fred Jackson may very well have two years left, but his workload figures to drop off again in 2013 after he averaged 15 touches last season. Buffalo appears ready to feature Spiller, meaning the 32-year-old Jackson is a back-of-the-bench fantasy option with little upside in dynasty leagues. Woodhead also has limited value despite being in the same backfield as one of the more injury-prone running backs in the league and four years younger than Jackson. While he has a chance to reach certain levels of his 2012 line with New England (116 touches and 747 yards), he’s highly unlikely to come close to the seven touchdowns he scored.

Tolbert got a bit more run as the season progressed and boosted his numbers considerably with a two-score game in Week 15 and a three-TD game in Week 17. New OC Mike Shula has promised a run-heavy approach and it wouldn’t be surprising if Tolbert acted as a second goal-line back option behind Newton. Reece had a nice little run during the middle part of the 2012 season and has probably assured himself of a regular role as the third-down back. That obviously would hurt McFadden’s PPR value but may give him a better shot at staying healthy. But with Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray on the roster, Reece’s days of filling in for McFadden are probably over. There doesn’t seem to be much hope left for Thomas, who has already been passed by Miler on the depth chart and will probably be behind Gillislee by the time the season starts. In a best-case scenario, he could serve as a goal-line back in a vastly-improved Miami offense. Any running back on a team coached by Mike Shanahan has to be considered a possibility for fantasy. That back this season could easily be the 5-7, 192-pound Thompson, who has a decent shot at third-down duties provided he can be healthy in time for training camp. Thompson is no threat to Morris, but he could have a future as his explosive passing-game complement.

Like Thompson, James is not threat to the starter in Tampa Bay. He is, however, an upgrade on Michael Smith and Brian Leonard. In all likelihood, the Bucs will be running the ball a lot this season, meaning the backup could find himself usable in fantasy. Burkhead is quicker than he looks and has a certain amount of Jacob Hester to his game. He’s likely only a special teamer in 2013 and maybe even 2014, but could easily take over for Green-Ellis when his contract expires. Gerhart cracks the list only because of the possibility he will land with a team that needs a big back via a training-camp trade or as a free agent next offseason. He is not without ability, but Peterson has a firm grasp on the lion’s share of the touches in Minnesota’s backfield.

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Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and 2011. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday this past season. Doug regularly appears as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.