Fantasy Football Pre-Season Preview: Running Backs

Fantasy Football Pre-Season Preview: Running Backs


Fantasy Football Pre-Season Preview: Running Backs

OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Receivers

2014 was the year of DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell since both ended up with similar fantasy scores and yet were clearly more productive than any other running backs. Interesting too was the return of a rookie running back into the top ten with Jeremy Hill sneaking in around 9th or 10th best in most leagues despite having a slow start. Both Hill and Bell had such furious ends to their season that they propelled many fantasy teams into their the league championship. Like so many other previous seasons of late, all other rookie backs disappointed and none offered much fantasy value. Bishop Sankey was a bust and only gained 569 rush yards and two scores. But the draft this year served up two running backs early in the first round and that should spark much optimism.

Running Back Totals by Year

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD Tot Yd Tot TD
2007 12,612 52,365 348 3,502 2,529 18,889 55 71,254 403
2008 12,518 53,170 418 3,338 2,416 18,926 88 72,096 506
2009 12,410 53,181 376 3,358 2,437 19,275 84 72,456 460
2010 12,138 50,698 344 3,358 2,462 19,571 71 70,269 415
2011 12,078 52,034 324 3,373 2,430 19,694 75 71,728 399
2012 12,042 51,029 332 3258 2,361 18,849 66 69,878 398
2013 11,915 48,784 344 3,510 2,581 20,030 84 68,814 428
2014 11,715 48,338 324 3,463 2,530 20,368 100 68,706 424

The rushing totals continue their descent and only get worse every season. And given the proliferation of committee backfields and specialists the situation is even more dire since the workload is split up among more players. The saving grace is the small rise in receptions by running backs over the last two seasons. Those may not often end up with the primary rusher but at least they provide more fantasy options in reception point leagues.

Top Ten Running Backs Totals

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD FFP
2007 2,797 12,292 95 592 451 3,668 18 2,285
2008 2,950 13,163 116 516 394 2,959 17 2,413
2009 2,866 14,238 101 577 415 3,401 11 2,772
2010 2,751 12,872 100 607 463 4,033 17 2,393
2011 2,544 11,688 97 616 456 4,112 21 2,289
2012 2,974 14,287 105 519 381 2,953 10 2,396
2013 2,686 12,176 92 662 505 4,319 26 2,358
2014 2,614 12,457 91 663 508 4,243 26 2,372

Even with the monster seasons by Murray and Bell, the totals of the top ten backs from last year were at best flat across most categories. There will always be one or two players who turn in a monster year who are true difference makers for a fantasy team. But that also means those other backs in the top ten are slipping more and more.

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Arizona Cardinals

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 316 971 3.1 9 52 373 0 1344 9 32 25
2013 389 1508 3.9 12 75 644 1 2152 13 11 20
2014 356 1217 3.4 6 76 662 5 1879 11 23 21

(Camp Watch) The Cardinals have spent big on their offensive line and that could pay dividends – and it needs to badly. Consistently one of the lower ranked rushing teams in the NFL, the Cardinals tried to make Andre Ellington into a full-time starter in 2014 but the results were poor. Ellington would only run for 660 yards and three touchdowns and missed four games while playing injured almost all year with a bad foot. He’s back and will open the year as the primary rusher but the Cardinals are not going to rely again on that mishmash of other running backs from last year who failed to help. Instead they spent their 3.22 pick on David Johnson who was the seventh overall back taken. Johnson is is a good receiver out of the backfield who will supply a third down role with upside to do more. Ellington has not proven to be the answer and Johnson will carry that optimism that he possibly can be the starter. This isn’t a great rushing team but within that lies an opportunity for Johnson if he can take advantage. Bottom Line: Watch David Johnson in camp.

Atlanta Falcons

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 335 1228 3.7 11 107 763 3 1991 14 22 12
2013 303 1185 3.9 11 127 831 6 2016 17 19 5
2014 336 1316 3.9 10 101 830 6 2146 16 16 11

(Camp Watch) The new coaching regime made some changes. Head coach Dan Quinn hands the offense over to Kyle Shanahan and he’ll install a zone scheme instead of just relying on a power rushing attack. Gone is Steven Jackson who was already past his expiration date when he arrived two years ago. Devonta Freeman was a fourth round pick who never really got on track as a runner or a receiver. He’ll be the favorite to start in training camp purely because he is the veteran but the coaching staff has nothing invested in him and drafted Tevin Coleman with their 3.09 pick. Coleman broke 2000 yards for Indiana last year and is expected to become the primary back if only eventually. He has far more pedigree and higher expectations than Freeman. The offensive line is average but the schedule is a bit lighter than last year. With a great passing game already in Atlanta, a formidable rushing attack is easier to create and Coleman is the only one who can – if he can adjust to the NFL quickly enough. Bottom Line: Watch Tevin Coleman in camp.

Baltimore Ravens

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 390 1768 4.5 12 91 680 1 2448 13 7 14
2013 385 1135 2.9 6 91 482 1 1617 7 30 31
2014 402 1936 4.8 14 76 599 1 2535 15 4 13

The rushing effort here is likely to decrease this year for a variety of reasons. Mostly because new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is noted for passing offenses – not rushing attacks. His Chicago Bears ranked 31st in rushing attempts (302) in 2014 but ranked 4th in running back receptions (108). The Ravens have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL though and that will help. What is most interesting this season is that Justin Forsett returns as the starter after a freakish 2014. He is on his fourth team and had never been anything more than a journeyman running back with a moderate amount of receiving experience. But with the Ray Rice fiasco draining the Ravens backfield, Forsett went on to a shockingly good season with 1266 yards as a runner and 263 more as a receiver. But he is 30-years-old and breaking out unbelievably late in his career. This 2014 season was the result in part from what proved to be one of the lightest schedules in the NFL plus the offensive line play improved. Just one season prior the Ravens only ran for 1135 yards combined. Now Forsett was re-signed to a three-year contract for $9 million. But the Ravens also drafted Javorius “Buck” Allen with their fourth round pick. To many, he is the one to watch in this backfield. Lorenzo Taliaferro is the #2 back but that may not be true at the end of training camp. Allen is worth a speculative depth pick since there are so many reasons why Forsett may have just had his one magic year and returns to being a pumpkin. Bottom Line: New coaches, new offense, much worse schedule and Forsett’s 2014 just smacks of that magic year phenomena that almost never repeats. Forsett has value since he catches the ball as well. But Buck Allen could make some waves as early as training camp.

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Buffalo Bills

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 377 1908 5.1 10 82 694 3 2602 13 5 13
2013 456 1999 4.4 12 92 663 2 2662 14 8 17
2014 366 1400 3.8 5 114 860 2 2260 7 11 28

The Bills are installing a new offense with Greg Roman as the coordinator bringing a power rushing scheme that can make use of newly acquired LeSean McCoy. The problem is that Roman’s unit in San Francisco ranked 31st for the last two seasons for catches by running backs. That means McCoy is going to likely see a decrease in catches considering that no 49er back had more than 25 catches under Roman the last few years. The Bills line is only average at best but at least the schedule strength is not problematic and McCoy will be used heavily as a runner. He’ll have no worries about another back chipping away at his workload and even the aged Fred Jackson will likely be phased out in this new offense with new coaches. Bottom Line: Have to love McCoy as a runner, but a decrease in receptions devalues him slightly in reception point leagues.

Carolina Panthers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 323 1256 3.9 13 57 612 3 1868 16 26 7
2013 360 1396 3.9 8 62 568 3 1964 11 23 22
2014 354 1378 3.9 5 52 409 2 1787 7 28 31

Finally, DeAngelo Williams is gone and with that Jonathan Stewart becomes the primary back in an offense with above average run blocking. The 28-year-old gets a chance to restart his career right before he hits the 30 year wall in a couple of years. Stewart was very effective down the stretch of 2014 and ended with three 100 yard efforts. He’s a capable receiver but the Panthers already have plenty of other targets and have not made much use of their backfield for receptions. Cameron Artis-Payne was drafted in the fifth round and is expected to fill in as the #2 but he’s not expected to be anything more than just relief. His stock obviously shoots up if Stewart is injured. The touchdowns will always be capped in this offense because Cam Newton runs so many in every year. Bottom Line: This is clearly the best situation that Stewart has been in for the last six years and the schedule is even much better than 2014. Artis-Payne is a reasonable handcuff later in drafts but doesn’t have the upside of many other rookie rushers.

Chicago Bears

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 418 1705 4.1 11 60 471 1 2176 12 16 18
2013 352 1536 4.4 12 83 697 4 2233 16 10 9
2014 302 1196 4.0 6 108 864 4 2060 10 20 23

The Bears move into the new era with head coach John Fox who brought along Adam Gase from Denver to run the offense here as well. That changes the scheme significantly given that Matt Forte spent the last two seasons with Marc Trestman and turned in 75 and 103 receptions over those years. Forte turns 30 but has not shown any real sign of slowing down. He is still saddled with a below average offensive line. But there is no other back worthy of a committee there and Gase has no problem riding the starter almost exclusively. The Bears added Jacquizz Rodgers but there is no fear that he’ll impact Forte’s workload. Ka’Deem Carey is the main back-up for Forte but the rookie Jeremy Langford will also be in the mix for running back depth. Bottom Line: Forte will continue to be used heavily and his carries may increase but his receptions will definitely decrease. Marginal line play also will impact Forte’s rushing success as well against a tougher schedule this year.

Cincinnati Bengals

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 359 1498 4.2 7 43 257 1 1755 8 28 26
2013 398 1468 3.7 12 60 536 3 2004 15 20 14
2014 414 1874 4.5 15 80 640 2 2514 17 5 6

Hue Jackson’s new scheme saw not only a nice uptick in carries but in yardage and yards-per-carry. Not only was the rushing better, but the number of catches by running backs increased as well. This all had little to do with Giovani Bernard who now has two back-to-back seasons of nearly identical moderate stats. The difference maker was the rookie Jeremy Hill who rekindled the success that rookie backs would have a decade ago and ran for 1124 yards and nine scores plus 27 catches for 215 yards. He was getting better and better as the season progressed and turned in five 100+ rushing games over the final nine weeks. The Bengals have one of the premier offensive lines in the league and the only downside here is that his schedule turns much more challenging. Bottom Line: Hill is already one of the better runners in the league in an offense that sports a great offensive line. Bernard will remain the same moderate player as the last two years.

Cleveland Browns

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 348 1305 3.8 12 80 593 1 1898 13 25 17
2013 302 1006 3.3 4 96 645 4 1651 8 29 28
2014 427 1615 3.8 16 32 226 1 1841 17 27 7

Once again the Browns are heading in a new direction with head coach Mike Pettine second season relying on John DeFlippo as the offensive coordinator. The Browns have one of the best offensive lines in the league and yet produce below average numbers every year if only because every season has new coaches and/or new players to incorporate. Once again there will be a new quarterback and Ben Tate is gone. Third round pick Terrance West was out played by undrafted Isaiah Crowell who will start the season as the primary back. But the Browns also spent a third round pick on the smaller Duke Johnson (5-9, 206) who hopes to provide some big plays for a team without any other runner capable of much more than getting past the line. Johnson will be used as a receiver in addition to helping the rushing effort. The schedule is also much tougher this season. Bottom Line: This is still a mess and while Crowell should remain the primary runner, the Browns are excited to see if Johnson can bring a new dimension to the offense. West is the odd man out barring an injury.

Dallas Cowboys

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 321 1212 3.8 7 83 691 2 1903 9 24 23
2013 310 1447 4.7 12 72 507 1 1954 13 24 21
2014 473 2287 4.8 16 80 657 0 2944 16 1 8

(Camp Watch) The Cowboys seemingly entered into some other dimension last year when the always-injured DeMarco Murray remained healthy. And he ran better than ever behind that Emmitt-quality offensive line (maybe even better). Murray led the NFL in almost every rushing category with 393 carries for 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns plus 57 receptions for 416 yards. It was over twice as good as his average season. But the Cowboys apparently did not believe it either since they allowed him to go to Philadelphia to hopefully break down there as do so many over-used backs the next season. That opens the door to a monster opportunity that the Cowboys shockingly ignored in the NFL draft. That means they enter the season with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar as the most likely to play backs. Randle has never carried more than 54 times in a season and was considered the #3 going into last season. McFadden is now five years removed from his only decent season and spent the last two seasons on one-year contracts. The offensive line is very good and that will help out anyone running the ball. Lance Dunbar remains the third down back that the Cowboys vow to use more every year and yet never do. Bottom Line: Unless the Cowboys pick up someone like Chris Johnson (who would only make the backfield even more muddled), Joseph has the starting job and McFadden will be used as well. Very unsettled backfield with so much upside to distribute. Watch camp and hope Randle makes his owners feel better about that third or even second round pick.

Denver Broncos

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 449 1825 4.1 12 66 529 1 2354 13 10 15
2013 423 1853 4.4 15 92 812 3 2665 18 7 3
2014 400 1749 4.4 15 68 550 3 2299 18 10 4

Gary Kubiak is back as the head coach this time and he brings along offensive coordinator Rick Dennison from Baltimore. They are installing a new zone scheme and that always throws uncertainty into the equation. Monte Ball’s golden opportunity last year evaporated with a groin injury that limited him to only five games played. Ronnie Hillman tried to fill in for Ball at first but he suffered a foot injury that made him miss from week ten onward and C.J. Anderson made the most out of his chance. He was one of the highest scoring backs for the rest of the season and scored ten touchdowns while topping 100 total yards in nearly every game. Now all three players are back, but Anderson holds the primary spot with the approval of Peyton Manning. Monte Ball will also be involved but only as a definite #2 while Ronnie Hillman will only have spot play. Bottom Line: Unless Ball can show much more than he ever has, Anderson should safely turn in a big year in an offense that wants to run more and save wear and tear on Manning.

Detroit Lions

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 336 1349 4.0 13 99 793 1 2142 14 17 11
2013 400 1690 4.2 13 111 1079 3 2769 16 3 6
2014 346 1300 3.8 9 113 930 6 2230 15 13 15

(Camp Watch) The Lions switched to HC Jim Caldwell OC Joe Lombardi from New Orleans and the rushing effort took a downward turn in 2014. Mostly complicit was Reggie Bush who suffered ankle and back issues all season and missed five full games. Joique Bell was nothing special but shouldered most of the load and managed to gain 1182 total yards and eight touchdowns. But Bell has only averaged 3.9 yards per carry these last two seasons. Now Bush is gone and Bell is coming back from off season surgery on his Achilles and knee. The 29-year-old Bell is not a long-term answer and the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah with their second round pick on the hopes that the Nebraska product can contribute immediately if not become the primary back. Bottom Line: Bell is not going to bring anything new to the table and he’s been consistently marginal in most games. Abdullah is where the focus will be in training camp and he’s expected to increase his role once he shows he understands the offense.

Green Bay Packers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 365 1314 3.6 7 54 452 0 1766 7 27 28
2013 402 1816 4.5 16 62 457 1 2273 17 9 4
2014 371 1621 4.4 12 65 601 4 2222 16 14 10

The beauty of the Packers offense and Eddie Lacy is stability and consistency. OC Tom Clements enters his fourth season in Green Bay and Lacy produced nearly identical stats in both of his years. He nets a little over 300 touches per year and catches around 40 passes. He ends right around his average of 1500 total yards and a dozen touchdowns per season. James Starks offers relief but not enough to ever merit a fantasy start. So far Lacy is durable and Starks is nothing more than an insurance pick by the Lacy owner who never needs him. Bottom Line: Lacy offers rare consistency each week and belongs in the top echelon of running backs.

Houston Texans

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 479 2077 4.3 18 54 304 2 2381 20 8 2
2013 393 1639 4.2 6 77 490 1 2129 7 13 29
2014 474 1931 4.1 10 61 555 6 2486 16 6 9

HC/OC Bill O’Brien turned around a 2-14 team in 2013 and made them 9-7 in his first season while returning the rushing game to its prior high levels. Arian Foster turned in a solid season with 1573 yards and 13 total touchdowns while missing three games due to a groin injury. Alfred Blue rolled up 641 yards and three scores substituting for Foster in those three games and chipping in around five to seven carries in the others. Bottom Line: No changes here though Foster is 29 years old and is getting less durable as he ages. He’s still an above average back whenever he plays but owning Alfred Blue made a lot of sense for the Foster owner.

Indianapolis Colts

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 365 1378 3.8 6 34 338 2 1716 8 30 27
2013 336 1328 4.0 11 84 712 4 2040 15 17 13
2014 337 1313 3.9 6 92 770 7 2083 13 18 18

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton enters his third season and the Colts rushing effort remains below average in nearly every category. The Trent Richardson trade is finally erased from memory with his release. Relying on Ahmad Bradshaw despite his lengthy injury history also proved to be misguided. This year Frank Gore comes over from the 49ers and brings more NFL success with him than any other Colts back since Edgerrin James. But Gore is 32-years-old which is concerning no matter how durable he has been in the past. There are reasons to be optimistic though since this offense passes so well that Gore may feel like he is running through an empty school yard compared to what he faced with the 49ers. Dan Herron is expected to be the #2 here though Josh Robinson was a sixth round pick last April and may challenge Herron. Bottom Line: So long as Gore remains healthy – and he almost always has – he gets a late career move that could really pay off in this offense. Drafting his backup doesn’t make much sense since the depth chart may be changing.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 317 1231 3.9 4 64 499 1 1730 5 29 31
2013 336 1157 3.4 7 82 552 1 1709 8 28 27
2014 298 1180 4.0 9 76 585 1 1765 10 29 25

Once again the Jaguars are installing a new offense with Greg Olsen coming over from the Raiders to be the offensive coordinator. This has been one of the worst rushing units for the last three years since Maurice Jones-Drew had his final good season in 2011. Bringing in Toby Gerhart did not meet expectations in 2014 since defenses were no longer just happy he wasn’t Adrian Peterson. Denard Robinson strung three straight good games at mid-season but then returned to his mediocre ways. The Jaguars wisely spent their second round pick on T.J. Yeldon from Alabama as the third overall back taken. The problem is that the Jaguars still have one of the worst offensive lines and Blake Bortles must take a significant step up in order to make defenses respect the pass. Bottom Line: Yeldon is a talented runner who will make a difference but he plays for a bad offense with a bad offensive line. Toby Gerhart is the direct backup but already proved that he’s not worth drafting.

Kansas City Chiefs

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 453 2183 4.8 8 124 945 2 3128 10 1 21
2013 348 1561 4.5 16 159 1480 10 3041 26 1 1
2014 365 1651 4.5 17 95 729 9 2380 26 8 1

The Chiefs offensive line isn’t the class of the NFL as it once was, but no matter – Jamaal Charles still averages 5.0 yards per carry each year. He was slowed with knee and ankle problems in 2014 but only missed one game and turned in 1324 yards and 14 touchdowns anyway. Knile Davis has been a very adequate replacement when needed though his role is minor unless Charles is out or the game got out of hand by half time. Bottom Line: Charles remains one of the elite backs in the NFL but turns 29 in December. Snagging his back-up Knile Davis makes more sense with every passing season.

Miami Dolphins

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 383 1582 4.1 13 86 799 5 2381 18 9 5
2013 298 1154 3.9 6 49 330 3 1484 9 32 26
2014 333 1549 4.7 11 74 610 2 2159 13 15 17

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor enters his second season and the Dolphins enjoyed more success running the ball in 2014. They still ranked only average at best but the offensive line is above average. The Fins used six different running backs last year and while Lamar Miller broke out with 1099 rush yards and eight scores, he only ran 216 times and never had more than 19 carries in any game. But he was used more heavily at the end of the year with much success in the final two home games. He’ll start the year as the primary back and is expected to take a heavier load for 2015. Daniel Thomas is gone and the Dolphins drafted Jay Ajayi with their fifth round pick. Bottom Line: Miller is the starter and while rookie backs tend to spawn optimism, Ajayi is not expected to do more than add into the rotation. He’s draftable as a speculative pick but Miller remains the only back here with certain fantasy value.

Minnesota Vikings

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 401 2275 5.7 13 64 409 1 2684 14 4 9
2013 359 1715 4.8 15 54 317 1 2032 16 18 11
2014 315 1248 4.0 9 73 465 1 1713 10 31 26

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner enters his second season with the Vikings but this time around he’ll get Adrian Peterson for more than one game. Rushing totals fell notably last year as would be expected but Peterson is back and so should be one of the leagues most feared running games. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata will also figure in with McKinnon slated for more third down duty as a receiver. Bottom Line: Peterson is 30-years-old but he’s never been completely mortal anyway and no doubt has a chip on his shoulder after last season. The stars have aligned to give Peterson at least one more monster year.

New England Patriots

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 485 2091 4.3 21 56 657 4 2748 25 2 1
2013 435 2035 4.7 19 84 741 3 2776 22 2 2
2014 379 1556 4.1 13 73 540 3 2096 16 17 12

The Patriots rushing attack had been collectively one of the best in the NFL for several years but last season fell off significantly. Historically that meant splitting the load up among many different runners, even within the same game. But the Patriots drafted no backs and acquired just Travaris Cadet as a free agent. Shane Vereen and Stephen Ridley are gone making LeGarrette Blount at least appear to be the clear #1 in this backfield at least for early down and short yardage runs. Travaris Cadet, James White and Dion Lewis are contending for the passing down role. Bottom Line: Blount is the only reasonably safe back to draft. This will continue to be the backfield that always changes otherwise and in many drafts, only Blount is taken from the Pats.

New Orleans Saints

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 350 1541 4.4 9 141 1179 10 2720 19 3 4
2013 347 1424 4.1 7 171 1244 6 2668 13 6 19
2014 369 1608 4.4 14 132 939 4 2547 18 3 3

This is more exciting than usual. The Saints are another team that liked to mix in various running backs during the course of the season and inside games. This is a stable team with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael entering his seventh season with the Saints. Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet are gone. C.J. Spiller was signed. Mark Ingram finally comes off a good season with 964 yards and nine scores as a runner and was re-signed to a four year contract worth $16 million. While the Saints again profess wanting to run the ball more, they already ran it plenty last year. Ingram’s role is not going to change but the addition of Spiller adds a significant element to the offense that already loves to throw to the running backs. Spiller was banged up last season but he’s been as good as 1244 rushing yards and 43 catches for 459 yards with eight total scores in Buffalo. There are reasons to believe that Jimmy Graham’s receptions are now going to Spiller and not another tight end. Bottom Line: Ingram remains an unspectacular back but with consistently moderate results each week. Spiller has the chance to explode in this offense that ranked #1 in running back receptions the last two seasons.

New York Giants

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 385 1829 4.8 18 50 415 2 2244 20 13 3
2013 356 1239 3.5 10 58 370 1 1609 11 31 23
2014 426 1542 3.6 12 62 469 0 2011 12 21 19

The Giants picked up Shane Vereen in the offseason which mostly serves to make a messy backfield even worse. The Giants want to run and ranked #4 in rushing attempts by running backs (426) but with a 3.6 yard per carry average, they were barely average in yardage overall. Rashad Jennings went from surprise power back in Oakland for half a season to cashing in as the Giants primary back who rushed just like the journeyman bench player he’s otherwise been for his five year career. Andre Williams was plugged in as a rookie but trudged to a 3.3 yard average while scoring seven times on 217 carries. Jennings is still cast as the primary rusher and Vereen has impressed the Giants’ staff enough to lock up being the pass down back and possibly more. Bottom Line: This is a committee backfield and Jennings remains the uninspiring choice for primary back duties. Vereen is the one to watch here even though the Giants haven’t ranked better than 25th in running back receptions for many years. A shaky offensive line could force Eli Manning into tossing outlet passes to Vereen.

New York Jets

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 426 1716 4.0 12 44 341 0 2057 12 20 19
2013 393 1688 4.3 4 53 378 0 2066 4 15 32
2014 393 1647 4.2 8 57 431 3 2078 11 19 20

The Jets have a softer rushing schedule this year but that seems the case almost every season and they rarely take any advantage. There is a whole new set of coaches and Chan Gailey will install his version of a zone rushing scheme. The Jets dumped Chris Johnson but Chris Ivory is joined by Stephen Ridley and Zac Stacy along with Bilal Powell. Gailey has a history of committee backfields and the Jets have not featured a top runner since Curtis Martin nine years ago. Bottom Line: A decent offensive line but the Jets continue to make do with the cast-offs from other teams. Ivory remains the primary back but will mix in with the other runners.

Oakland Raiders

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 343 1322 3.9 2 120 1022 3 2344 5 11 29
2013 328 1338 4.1 14 94 800 2 2138 16 12 10
2014 303 1139 3.8 4 106 709 3 1848 7 25 30

The Raiders install yet another new offense this year with coordinator Bill Musgrave coming down from Philadelphia with a power rushing scheme. The Raiders have one of the weakest run blocking lines and only managed a 3.8 yard per carry average last year. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are gone and are replaced by Roy Helu and Trent Richardson as the newest recyclables in their backfield. Latavius Murray enters the year as the primary back mostly on the basis of two long touchdown runs he made in one game last year (and the only scores he’s ever had). Trent Richardson has been nothing more than a colossal bust and that was on a team with an elite passing game to concern the defense. Helu is a third down type who will contribute as much as a receiver as a runner. Bottom Line: This is a new offense with new players and the only rusher with any pedigree is the bust Richardson. Poor line blocking will not help. Murray gets a shot to start but nothing here shouts fantasy difference maker.

Philadelphia Eagles

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 334 1495 4.5 8 76 496 3 1991 11 23 20
2013 400 2019 5.0 14 64 684 2 2703 16 5 8
2014 418 1820 4.4 15 71 558 0 2378 15 9 14

Head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur enter their third seasons and by now have cast away all previous offensive stars. LeSean McCoy is gone and the Eagles signed both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Murray comes off a dramatic career best season where he had 393 carries and 54 receptions. That was 78 carries more than the second busiest rusher who was coincidentally LeSean McCoy. Both Murray and Mathews will figure in this year while trying to avoid breakdown that almost all running backs with such heavy use incurs the following season. Bottom Line: Murray won’t get another 393 carries but he’ll still get significant use behind a better than average offensive line. And with over 400 rushes sure to happen again this year, there’ll be enough left over for Mathews to carry fantasy value even if Murray remains healthy.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 370 1373 3.7 7 79 640 2 2013 9 21 22
2013 357 1272 3.6 8 76 592 1 1864 9 27 25
2014 376 1683 4.5 10 102 954 3 2637 13 2 16

The Steelers backfield finally came to life when LeGarrette Blount wore out his welcome and left after week ten. Bad timing on his part since that Le’Veon Bell then faced some of the worst defenses in the league and roll up eight scores in his final seven weeks. Bell had five straight games with over 20 carries and blew up in yardage on the Titans, Saints and surprisingly the Bengals. But Bell has been suspended for the first two games this year and has been recuperating his right knee that he hyper extended in week 17 last year. DeAngelo Williams was signed to be the #2 and to start for the first three weeks while Bell is out. The Steelers have a far tougher schedule this year than last but also sport a formidable passing attack that must be respected. Bottom Line: Bothersome that Bell’s knee has not been 100% going up to training camp and the schedule is a concern. But as long as you believe you can live with two zeroes to start the season, Bell’s role as a receiver ensures he never turns in a bad game.

San Diego Chargers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 378 1395 3.7 4 123 837 1 2232 5 14 30
2013 447 1873 4.2 9 112 847 7 2720 16 4 7
2014 358 1251 3.5 6 83 624 1 1875 7 24 29

The second season of Frank Reich’s offense needs to be better after only scoring a total of seven touchdowns in all of 2014 and producing a paltry 3.5 yards per carry average from the backfield. Ryan Mathews is gone and the Chargers opted to grab Melvin Gordon with their 1.15 pick in the draft. That prompts much enthusiasm since Gordon enters with possibly as much potential as LaDainian Tomlinson had. The Chargers needed to use six different backs last year thanks to injuries that included losing Danny Woodhead in the third game of the season after he had caught 76 passes in 2013. Woodhead is back to health but is now 30 years old. The offensive line remains below average though a lack of rushing talent has been no help as well. Bottom Line: Gordon is getting the hype this summer but deserves it since he brings three down talent to a team that needs an offensive star. Woodhead will figure in as well but this should be the Gordon show for many years to come.

San Francisco 49ers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 388 1813 4.7 12 52 407 1 2220 13 15 16
2013 401 1614 4.0 14 48 443 0 2057 14 16 18
2014 353 1467 4.2 8 44 379 3 1846 11 26 22

Time for some change. The 49ers lost their top coaches and elected to just promote all positions from within so that Jim Tomsula (defensive line coach) became the head coach and Geep Chryst (quarterbacks coach) is now the offensive coordinator. So it is much the same offense now run by the previously junior members of the coaching staff. The offensive line is better than most when rush blocking but for the first time in 11 years there will be no Frank Gore. Now second year back Carlos Hyde takes the reins after rushing for 333 yards and four scores in 2014. The 49ers also brought in Reggie Bush in the hopes that he can add some veteran presence and help out on third downs and as a relief player for Hyde. His problem is that the 49ers have ranked 31st in each of the last two seasons in receptions by running backs. Just 44 last year and fullback Bruce Miller led the unit with just 18. Bottom Line: Hyde has the talent and could surprise as a rusher but will miss out on big stats because he doesn’t catch the ball much, the 49ers haven’t thrown it to backs much and Reggie Bush is there with his bucket at the faucet before any other back. Slight concern that Colin Kaepernick might hawk a few more rushing scores this year as well.

Seattle Seahawks

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 407 1993 4.9 11 55 503 3 2496 14 6 10
2013 402 1613 4.0 12 54 465 3 2078 15 14 12
2014 389 1793 4.6 13 57 598 7 2391 20 7 2

The Seahawks kept the wildly successful status quo with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell entering his fifth season in Seattle and signed Marshawn Lynch to a new three-year contract worth $31 million. He’s been a lock to gain 1500 total yards and at least a dozen touchdowns for the last four seasons. Robert Turbin remains the #2 back who has yet to rush in a touchdown in his three seasons in the NFL. Christine Michael still has yet to step up and make any difference. He’s on the roster bubble and may not make it to September on the team. Bottom Line: Marshawn Lynch all day, every day. Not even any need to draft his backup.

St. Louis Rams

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 365 1571 4.3 4 65 500 0 2071 4 19 32
2013 373 1470 3.9 8 57 399 1 1869 9 26 24
2014 328 1334 4.1 8 82 670 2 2004 10 22 24

(Camp Watch) The Rams haven’t featured a top runner for years and when Steven Jackson left in 2013 there was an unfilled hole. Zac Stacy had a decent 2013 but then was replaced by Tre Mason who also had a decent rookie year. Now Stacy is gone and Tre Mason will be replaced by the first running back taken in the NFL draft this year. Todd Gurley was drafted with the Rams’ 1.10 pick and has three down ability and never fell below six yards per carry while at Georgia. This is the bell cow that Jeff Fisher loves to have but the only problem is that he tore his ACL last November and varying reports have him ready for week one to missing the first several games. The offensive line here may be the worst in the NFL and that is no help to any back, let alone one returning from an ACL injury, playing on the hard carpet and learning a new offense. Bottom Line: Gurley was checked out before the draft and the Rams are comfortable that he’ll bounce back just fine and become a true stud running back. But certainly anyone drafting Gurley needs to get Mason who will be called on more in the earlier part of the season if not substitute for Gurley if the rookie is slower to heal than expected. And again – not a good offensive line here anyway.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 371 1656 4.5 13 76 657 2 2313 15 12 8
2013 381 1502 3.9 6 78 406 1 1908 7 25 30
2014 317 1180 3.7 4 67 567 1 1747 5 30 32

The Buccaneers are onto yet another new offense and this time it will be directed by coordinator Dirk Koetter from Atlanta. This has been one of the weakest units for running backs in the league for the last two years and the Bucs are only at their best when competing for the worst offensive line. The schedule is one of the lightest in the NFL but that’s been true for the last several years thanks to playing in the NFC South. Last year was particularly brutal with just four rushing touchdowns in total. Charles Sims saw his hype train crash and burn as a rookie thanks to an ankle injury. This time, Doug Martin has slimmed down and taken all the first team reps. After posting 1926 total yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie, he’s spent the last two years usually banged up and always ineffective. Bottom Line: Martin carries a bit of upside because most have given up after two bad years and he is cheap to draft. Charles Sims looks to have missed his chance to be the primary and will settle down to a complementary role. The bad offensive line is going to limit what happens but Martin could still exceed his limited expectations.

Tennessee Titans

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 306 1311 4.3 9 45 292 0 1603 9 31 24
2013 393 1514 3.9 11 59 456 4 1970 15 22 16
2014 304 1158 3.8 5 74 541 3 1699 8 32 27

(Camp Watch) Despite the poor results of recent years, the Tennessee offensive line is decent against the run and their schedule tends to be lighter than most every season. The Titans made Bishop Sankey the first back taken last year (right before Jeremy Hill… ouch). The rookie led the team with only 152 carries for 569 yards (5.7 YPC) and scored just twice all year. He never gained more than 61 rushing yards in any game. The Titans are doubling down and drafted David Cobb with their fifth round pick in the hopes he can supply a complement to Sankey if not take over the primary role. Bottom Line: This is not a good rushing offense and they only handed off a total of 304 times in all of 2014. Sankey still mans the primary role unless Cobb can displace him but even that doesn’t mean fantasy gold. Cobb’s best optimistic characteristic so far is that he is not Sankey.

Washington Redskins

  Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2012 375 1768 4.7 15 41 340 2 2108 17 18 6
2013 352 1590 4.5 14 45 403 1 1993 15 21 15
2014 333 1399 4.2 13 84 847 5 2246 18 12 5

Head coach Jay Gruden’s first season proved to be good for the backfield even if Alfred Morris turned in the worst season of his three year career – 265 runs for 1074 yards and eight scores. Gruden upped the use of the backfield for receptions and Roy Helu ended with 42 catches for 477 yards and two scores as a receiver. Now Helu is gone and the Redskins spent their third round pick on Matt Jones out of Florida. Jones is 6-2, 235 lbs and projects as the rather big third down back and pass blocker. He could step in for Morris who was already there when Gruden first arrived. Bottom Line: Morris is the bell cow here though at a reduced workload since Gruden showed up. Jones is intriguing as a pass catching back who could potentially make the Redskins forget about Morris who is only getting $1.5 million in the final year of his rookie contract that doesn’t appear to likely be extended.

OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Receivers

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