2013 ended up rather poorly for running backs with 60% of the backs taken in the first two rounds ending up as flops despite the heaviest year for early round backs in a decade. Nine of the first ten picks went for tailbacks and the reward just was not there for most. But hope springs eternal and you can still be certain that six or more will be taken in the first ten picks in almost every draft.
Running Back Totals by Year
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Targets||Comps||Receiving Yards||Rcv TD||Tot Yd||Tot TD|
The overall decline in rushing continues and the number over all carries and rush yards by running backs has never been lower. Conversely, the amount of receptions by backs has returned to the levels of 2007 back when running workloads were at their peak. This is all bad news given how many teams like to throw to third-down backs and fullbacks. The committee backfields mean more players are doing less and less as runners and only more receiving overall,
Top Ten Running Backs Totals
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Targets||Comps||Receiving Yards||Rcv TD||FFP|
The 2012 rushing totals reflect the freakish year by Adrian Peterson that one has to wonder if it can happen again anytime in the near future since backs are just not getting the work. There was an increase to the amount of receptions which was pretty healthy at the top and that reflects the sort of offenses that are being installed over the older power rushing schemes. .
(New Starter) No denying that the new offense (and quarterback) helped the Cardinals rocket up the rankings from the worst rushing attack to being average – rare air for a franchise that has featured only one back to break 1000 rush yards in the last seven years (2011 Beanie Wells – 245-1047). The offense is much better now that the passing game is back and there is reason for optimism that more fantasy value comes out this year. Rashard Mendenhall remembered he was already broken down and won’t be back and that leaves a curious batch behind. Jonathan Dwyer shows up after four mostly invisible seasons in Pittsburgh. Stepfan Taylor ran 36 times last year but only gained 3.2 yards per carry and never scored. Andre Ellington was only the 6.19 pick by Arizona last year but he ran for 652 yards on 118 carries with an average carry of 5.5 yards. He added 39 catches for 371 yards and scored four times in all. Ellington doesn’t have that much pedigree but he is clearly the best talent there. He carried more than 11 times only twice last year so full-time work is harder to forecast for the smallish Ellington.
Last year the Falcons crumbled due to injuries and bringing on the aged Steven Jackson did nothing to improve the offense. Jackson only ran 156 times for 542 yards and six scores while he missed four games with a hamstring issue. Jacquizz Rodgers only gets worse every year and his window is already closed. The difference here will be 4.03 pick Devonta Freeman out of Florida State though he only stands 5-8 and weighs 206, This is a committee backfield and Jackson is too old to be running more than 15 times in any game. That means Freeman will be a fantasy factor at least for relief carries and catches that could be significant. And should the 31-year-old Jackson get injured again, Freeman could surprise.
(New Offensive Scheme) The Ravens rushing attack went from top tier to nearly worst in the NFL over just two seasons. Leading the reverse was Ray Rice who fell from stud to dud in a shockingly rapid fashion and without the normal reason of injury. He only gained 3.1 YPC and shared time with Bernard Pierce who was really no better. Now the Ravens brought in Gary Kubiak to transport his Houston success at rushing the ball to Baltimore. Added onto that is a suspension for Rice and an open plan to share the backfield between Rice and Pierce regardless. Rice was coming off four straight seasons with 340+ touches in each before taking a nosedive into the dirt for 2013. It’s worth tracking in camp to see how long RIce will miss but otherwise a rather ineffective committee is still lead by an average offensive line. The only fantasy value here is that both Pierce and Rice will come cheaply.
This has been a top ten backfield – overall – and could do better for 2014. The personnel is mostly the same with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson there to share but the Bills added Bryce Brown from Philadelphia. This was one of the heaviest rushing teams in the NFL last year with their 456 carries and that stands to benefit Spiller the most since they want to increase his workload and he’s been stuck around 200 carries for the last two seasons. There are ample carries to go around and the plan is to not use Fred Jackson as much given that he’s 33-years-old but he’s one of those players who have always exceeded expectations and that you can never count out. Brown is a reasonable replacement for Jackson since he has a 4.6 YPC over his two year career. The plan is more Spiller, less Jackson and mixing in Brown. Then again they always mean to do something like that and invariably Jackson is the leading rusher and Spiller never quite does as well as it seems he should.
This rushing attack not only gets worse each year, but it gets more split up as well. The rankings may not seem so bad until you realize how much that gets split up. It has been 12 years since a 300 carry back existed in Carolina (Stephen Davis, 2003). It is going on five years since any back ran more than 221 times in a season for Carolina. When DeAngelo Williams ended with 842 rush yards last year, it was the highest since 2008 for any running back there. Now that Williams is 31-years-old, they intend on using him less and Jonathan Stewart claims to be as healthy as any time in several years. Both runners will mix with Mike Tolbert and yet again end up with none of them having more than RB3 value. Stewart is the one to watch here, but in the end they are all going to share and then watch Cam Newton run in the touchdown.
The Bears could be poised for a big year if only in total yardage for Matt Forte. The new offense produced record stats last year and Forte ended with a career best 1931 total yards and 12 touchdowns. He ran with a 4.6 YPC and caught 75 passes for 592 yards and three scores. And his receiving touchdowns came during the final seven games. Forte is 29-years-old and has at least one more big season in him. He was in on 85% of all plays using a running back and his schedule is even better. Fourth-round pick Ka’Deem Carey will become the new #2 but that should not affect Forte’s stats.
(New Offensive Scheme) Hue Jackson is the new offensive coordinator but the scheme won’t vary too much after Jay Gruden left. Jackson was the RB coach in Cincy last year and he already knows exactly what he has to work with and what he wants to do. He is expected to run the ball more than the pass-happy Gruden and that can only benefit the backs who were among the worst in the league until 2013. The committee backfield is expected to continue though slant much more heavily towards Giovani Bernard who already caught 56 passes as a rookie and scored eight touchdowns. Slipping back if not off the team will be BenJarvus Green-Ellis who was a flop for both is seasons in Cincy. The Bengals selected Jeremy Hill as the second back taken in the draft and he’s in the mold of a short yardage back if not a complete back with some experience. Hill can buy more playing time by impressing in training camp. Regardless, Bernard is expected to take a step up to being the primary back this year.
(New Offensive Scheme) (New Starter) The Browns start all over yet again this year but at least the offensive line is better than most and some moves have been made from last season’s disappointments. New head coach Mike Pettine brought over Kyle Shanahan from the Skins to be the offensive coordinator and there is no pretense that this offense is going to run a lot. As much as it possibly can. With either Brian Hoyer or the rookie Johnny Manziel under center, there are no wide receivers of any note t and the passing game is not going to relied on to make any of them stars. Willis McGahee is gone and while trading away Trent Richardson looked like a good move, they did not replace him. This year they brought over Ben Tate from the Texans on the hope that he can be a primary back and maybe even stay healthy for once. They also drafted Terrance West with their 3.30 pick and may use Dion Lewis more after he broke his leg last year. This will be a committee approach and none of these backs are proven starters. Tate is the starter but West is attracting sleeper attention since Tate never stays healthy. If Manziel plays, he’ll be taking up rushes as well.
DeMarco Murray lasted for a season-best 14 games while rushing for a 5.2 YPC on 217 carries. He added 53 catches for 350 more yards and scored ten touchdowns for the the best year by a Cowboys back since… since.. that guy named Emmitt a short 12 years ago. That has led to very optimistic forecasts this year for a player that still has never remained healthy for an entire season including college. The plan, as always, is to run more and better. Lance Dunbar is expected to take a larger role and in particular as a receiving back which could cut into Murray’s production. Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams will fight for the #3 role that becomes relevant once Murray is injured again. When Murray is out, the committee likely gets expanded since none of the other backs are as good as Murray. Dunbar is the one with the most positives coming out of preseason and should see the biggest increase in use.
(New Starter) The effectiveness of Peyton Manning’s passing has meant great things for the rushing attack that really never has to worry about a stacked line. It wasn’t enough that Manning threw more touchdowns than anyone in history, the Broncos also ranked #3 with 18 rushing scores by the running backs. Knowshon Moreno went from a disappointment to a fantasy darling for the last year and a half but he’s gone and may not even be a starter in Miami. Left behind is Monte Ball as the primary, and C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman as the backups that are not inspiring any confidence that they too will matter. Moreno ended as a top five back last year and Ball is more talented. This should be a big year for Ball who has no one of any note behind him. With Moreno, he had to share with the team’s second round pick. Hard to see Ball coming off the field any more than is necessary to rest him.
(New Offensive Scheme) The Lions switch to HC Jim Caldwell who will be joined by Joe Lombardi from New Orleans. That’s going to do two things for this backfield. One – the committee approach is still very much in effect if not more so. Secondly, there will be more passing to the backs. Last year the split was 166 carries and 53 catches by Joique Bell. Reggie Bush ended with 223 runs and 54 receptions. While the Lions had 111 total catches by running backs in 2013, the Saints produced 170. Bush is back in the same sort of offense he had when he was a rookie who caught a career best 88 passes. Bush should catch even more passes this year but likely allow Bell to take the lead as the runner. Both will have fantasy value and for Bush in a PPR league, he could be back to an elite level in fantasy.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers double-dipped on rookie running backs in 2013 but we never got to know Jonathan Franklin because Eddie Lacy was just too good. A rushing offense that had regularly been in the bottom five in the NFL recently suddenly ran in 16 touchdowns. No changes here other than Lacy should be even better now that he’s acclimated to the NFL and become a big part of an offense that dares anyone to stack the line against the run.
(New Offensive Scheme) The Texans fell apart last year and the rushing offense was not immune with an injured Arian Foster and an unsettled quarterback situation. Ben Tate left for Cleveland and the Texans really did was bring in 28-year-old Andre Brown whose best season was 2013 when he ran 139 times for the Giants but only managed a 3.5 YPC. They also drafted Alfred Blue with their 6.05 pick who will compete for #2 duty with Brown. The offense is doubling down that Arian Foster can return to the same form of the three previous seasons before his crash in 2013. Even then he still averaged 4.5 YPC. Foster has a better schedule this year. Foster is in a spot for a nice bounce back if his health holds up.
The new offense by OC Pep Hamilton certainly helped the anemic rushing game though it did that at the expense of the passing effort and at times seemingly beyond reason. The trade for Trent Richardson was a complete flop so far but the team still stands resolutely behind him as the starter… at least for training camp. All reports are positive about TRich though that is no surprise and mirror what was said last year before he was so ineffective. Hamilton has said he won’t be so heavy handed about running the ball and that may end up with fewer carries but the better the pass effort, the more effective the rushing game can be. Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard will also be involved in this committee but Donald Brown is gone. Either Richardson is going to step up and reward the Colts for their trade or it will just remain a mishmash of backs with marginal and unreliable fantasy value.
(New Starter) The new offense last year had no effect on what was already one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. But for the first time in eight years there will be a new starting tailback. Maurice Jones-Drew left for Oakland and Toby Gerhart comes over from Minnesota where he carried Adrian Peterson’s helmet to and from the field. But the Jags also cleaned house on their offensive line from last year and it will take a while for them all to come together – assuming they ever do. Gerhart has a golden opportunity to be sure but this is a bad offense all around and a questionable offensive line at best. Gerhart gets the primary role and that could end up to be a major chunk of all the running back plays. Jordan Toddman, Denard Robinson and the rookie Storm Johnson will vie for playing time as well.
Kansas City Chiefs
Needless to say with the #1 spot in rush yards and scores it was a very good year for the Chiefs in general and for Jamaal Charles in specific. The Chiefs at least say they want to rest Charles more though he only had 259 carries (and 70 catches). He’s 28-years-old and has at least one more year of “primetime” left in him. There are two other issues to consider here. First, the offensive line was great last season but the left tackle and both guards left in free agency. That alone could be significant for Charles. Add in that he goes from one of the very best rushing schedules last year to just an average one and he’ll be hard-pressed to repeat 2013. His role as a receiver tends to smooth out the effects of a bad rushing game though and despite his challenges, he still has to be considered one of the lowest risk runners in terms of producing RB1 stats.
(New Offensive Scheme) (New Starter) The Dolphins brought in OC Bill Lazor from the Eagles where he was the QB coach but there is no changes expected to the rushing effort – mostly help for Ryan Tannehill and the passing game. Knowshon Moreno was brought over from the Broncos but the guy who just gained over 1500 total yards and scored 13 touchdowns showed up unimpressive and then need arthroscopic knee surgery that will last potentially into training camp. Lamar Miller may be the starter this year even though he’s never been better than 3.7 YPC in his three year career. Daniel Thomas is likely to get even less work and remains another flop for the last three years with some speculation he might not make the 53-man squad. Mike Gillislee is also around to make things even messier. This was clearly one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL last year and there has not been much done to change that. Moreno might have looked like a savior if only he could have brought the entire Denver offense along with him. The only chance anything interesting happens here is if Moreno gets healthy and surprises because the rest of this backfield are already proven to be mediocre.
(New Offensive Scheme) Chances are pretty high that Adrian Peterson will be the primary back here. New OC Norv Turner knows a thing or two about working with running backs who are THE BEST OF ALL TIME. Turner says he wants Peterson to catch more passes and that has been his only shortcoming (if you can call it that). Figure 2013 was a cool down from his 2000 yard season in 2012. He’s as safe a draft pick as there is.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have produced top running back stats for two straight seasons but only Stevan Ridley was a fantasy star for 2012 (290-1263-12). Last season was supposed to be Shane Vereen’s big year but he spent almost all season nursing a bad wrist that to this day is still not 100%. James White was the 4.30 pick and will figure in to some extent. The schedule is actually better than last season and every one starts out healthy except. maybe, for Vereen’s wrist. This offense will almost certainly produce yet another 2000 rushing yards, 700 receiving yards and 20+ touchdowns from the running backs. Guessing who does what when is always the game with the Patriots. The only training camp aspect that might help is to see Vereen playing at a high level. If White looks really good – a distinct possibility – it just makes this backfield yet another mess to figure out.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints saw Pierre Thomas try free agency and after never getting any interest, he is back for a one-year deal. He comes off one of his best seasons ever when he totaled 1062 yards and caught a career best 77 passes.Mark Ingram is also on a final year of his contract and is ready to turn in his fourth straight disappointing year. He has no role as a receiver and only averaged about 120 carries a year. Darren Sproles is gone and the expectation is that Khiry Robinson will step up but his rookie season only saw him run 54 times and he never caught a pass in the regular season. The 70 or so passes that Sproles was catching every year will go somewhere and it could be Robinson but he has little experience in that role. Those passes could go out ot the wideouts just as easily. This is the Saints – they will mix and match every week and prevent anyone from turning in a significant fantasy season.`
New York Giants
(New Offensive Scheme) (New Starter) The Giants offense apparently was used beyond its expiration date and caused projectile vomiting as a result last year. The entire offense in all aspects was ineffective and struggled. OC Kevin Gilbride was shown the door after seven years of directing the offense. Ben McAdoo comes over to blend in aspects of the Green Bay offense and that might have been plenty scary for the rushing effort until last year when Eddie Lacy finally brought running back in vogue there. Rashad Jennings comes over from Oakland where gaining a career best 733 yards on 163 carries apparently nets you a new gig as the primary in New York. David Wilson may be cleared for the season which would only make the backfield harder to read. Wilson has neck fusion surgery and whatever he ends up being is most likely not fantasy relevant. The Giants drafted Andre Williams who has only been noted for being raw and unfamiliar with any role in the passing offense. Peyton Hillis remains and will look to improve the 3.4 YPC from last year. Overall – Jennings has to firmly hold the primary role here or this will end up just another messy committee with marginal and unreliable fantasy value.
New York Jets
(New Starter) The Jets plummeted to only four rushing touchdowns by running backs last year though Geno Smith ran in six by himself. The rushing effort remained mediocre last year with Chris Ivory less effective in an offense with a rookie quarterback than Drew Brees. Ivory remains along with Bilal Powell and the duo split the rushing duties in 2013. But Chris Johnson comes over from Tennessee with the hope that he can dispel any notion that he’s lost a step. Johnson played six seasons in Tennessee and topped 1000 yards in each. According to the team, Johnson is added into the committee and will share. According to Johnson, he’s going to take over and run for 2000 yards. Bottom line, now Johnson is the guy to get in this backfield and he has a nice opportunity to reassert himself as a runner at the age of 29. The Jets have one of the lightest rushing schedules in the league this year.
The Raiders continue to cobble together a backfield that produces decent stats over all and yet almost never has any fantasy relevant players. Darren McFadden not only disappointed yet again, but his trip around the NFL last spring produced zero takers and he ended up back in Oakland on a one-year deal. Rashad Jennings surprised with several nice efforts but then parlayed those few big games into a starting gig for the Giants. Maurice Jones-Drew contemplated retirement but opted to go to Oakland instead where he’ll be the primary back who shares an as yet unknown amount of carries. There are only two notable players here – MJD who has to erase the taste of his first truly bad season when he ran for 3.4 YPC as a career low. And McFadden who may ride the pine or have meaningful work. The offensive line is below average and unless MJD returns to form, the fantasy value here will be marginal.
This is fantasy gold. Not only has the new offense showcased LeSean McCoy. but even bigger things could be in store for 2014 with the offense now using the entire playbook. McCoy ended with 2146 total yards and there’s no pretense that the 26-year-old McCoy needs to be rested more. McCoy could have several big years left ahead. Darren Sproles was added in the offseason but he’s not expected to take much away from McCoy.
The Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell with the 2.16 pick and starting in week four, they rode him for 244 carries and 49 catches. Troublesome that he only gained 3.5 YPC but the offensive line all returns intact and gives promise for an improvement. The intent is to run Bell even more this season and he’s one of the few truly full-time backs. The schedule is not as light as last year but it is still better than most. LeGarrette Blount will help out but there’s no committee forming here. The Steelers want to be more balanced on offense and Bell will allow them to succeed.
San Diego Chargers
Frank Reich was promoted from being the QB coach to continue the offensive success of 2013. The backfield changed dramatically last year when Danny Woodhead came over and ran 106 times while catching 76 passes – one short of the team high. Ryan Mathews had a magical season when he played for 16 full games and ran for 1255 yards. The Chargers also brought in Donald Brown from the Colts this year to take the “Ronnie Brown” role in this committee backfield. The Bolts are looking at a much tougher schedule this year and it is fair to wonder if Mathews can ever turn in two decent seasons in a row. But the offensive line remains one of the better units in the NFL and the continuity all around will help the offense remain on track. Brown is a reasonable late draft pick for the Mathews owner since he missed at least two games in all other seasons.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers survive mainly by defense and then just enough offense to get the job done. Last year the backs combined for only a 4.0 YPC. But all previous attempts to find a suitable #2 behind Frank Gore have fallen short. Gore ran 276 times last year but is 31-years-old and his 4.1 YPC for 2013 was a career low. He has very little involvement as a receiver anymore but at least has been good for eight or more touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. This season will be different. The 49ers spent their second-round pick on Carlos Hyde our of Ohio State and he’s a 6-0/233 pile mover who will see action this year and likely inherit the primary role in 2015. Marcus Lattimore remains a project but his major knee injury appears to have lost a step. Hyde is one to watch in camp and even more so for dynasty considerations.
The Seahawks may only be average in overall running back production but it almost entirely has been thrown Marshawn Lynch who enters a contract year but at 28-years-old may not be in the future plans for the Seahawks. Lynch logged 901 carries over the last three seasons – more than any runner. The Seahawks drafted Christine Michael with their second-round pick in 2013 but ran 18 times and never had a catch. But he is the heir apparent in the backfield and is slated to see more work now and very possibly take over in 2015. Robert Turbin is just the career #2 guy but whatever Michael can accomplish in camp and preseason games will help him take a larger share of the pie and that comes directly at the expense of Lynch. With 400 carries to share, Lynch still remains a RB1 value even if Michael gets significant work.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams seemed like they were running better last year since Zac Stacy took over in week five and ended with four 100 yard games. But overall they were nothing special and both the entire unit and Stacy only ran for a 3.9 YPC. Stacy had eight games with 17+ carries including 33 runs at home against the Buccaneers alone. He replaced Steven Jackson but was not as good. The Rams spent their 3.11 pick on Tre Mason out of Auburn as the fifth back taken overall. Stacy remains the starter and Mason ostensibly becomes the backup that Isaiah Pead never was but there could be interesting developments in camp. There is already talk that Mason will garner 8-10 carries per game and that cuts into Stacy’s workload. If Mason ends up running better he could take much more of the workload particularly deeper into the season. If you want pedigree, Mason just ran for 1816 yards last year to break Bo Jackson’s record at Auburn and was a Heisman finalist. Either Mason needs to be a flop (unlikely) or take over the primary role (at best takes time) or the backfield in St. Louis will be more split up than last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(New Offensive Scheme) Jeff Tedford leaves the Cal Bears and brings in his pass-heavy scheme that will use running back committees. The Buccaneers struck gold in 2012 when they picked Doug Martin with their 1.31 pick and he ended up with 1454 rush yards, 472 receiving yards and a total of 12 touchdowns. But in last year’s collapse, Martin dropped a full yard less with a 3.6 YPC and and left after week seven with a torn labrum. He’s healthy again but the Bucs spent their 3.05 pick on 6-0/214 Charles Sims out of West Virginia and will use him in a “rotation”. Martin remains the primary back here but what that means is less certain. With SIms drafted and Tedford calling plays, appears highly unlikely that Martin repeats his 319 carry rookie season. SIms is the one to watch to see just how much of the work he might take from Martin.
(New Offensive Scheme) Jason Michael comes over from San Diego to run the offense that new HC Mike Whisenhunt will also influence. That could be almost anything given Whisenhunt’s past of having either top or bottom rushing units. Chris Johnson is gone after six straight years of 1000 yard seasons. Shonn Greene remains as if his 77 runs for 295 yards meant anything. He struggled with a balky knee that eventually had surgery in the offseason but he’s never delivered on his promise and his 3.8 YPC from last year was a career low. Greene gets a little worse every year with the exception of 2013 when he was a lot worse. The Titans picked up Bishop Sankey as the first back taken in the draft. So far yet another committee is expected using Sankey as the primary, mixing in sloth-like Greene and even employing recent hire Dexter McCluster like Danny Woodhead was in San Diego last year. Keep an eye on McCluster in training camp to see if they really are going to start throwing to him a lot this year.
(New Offensive Scheme) Bringing in HC Jay Gruden and his pass-happy offense is not likely to have a major benefit for the rushing effort