The Running Back Conundrum


Today, I am going to give my thoughts about the running back position.  The top RB is a no-brainer.  If you land the top pick in your draft, you take Peterson and don’t think twice about it.  Even in years past, the number two back was fairly obvious.  This year, the recent health scare of Arian Foster has put these rankings into a tailspin.  I would have taken Foster with the #2 pick in any draft up until word broke that he is now experiencing pain in his legs due to a back injury.  There hasn’t been a timetable for his return, but we’re running out of time for drafts.  If you have already drafted him at #2, it’s time to cross your fingers and hope everything is fine for the beginning of the regular season.  As of right now, I would still think long and hard about picking him second overall, because he had similar injury concerns over the past few years, most notably with his hamstring.  In 2011, he missed the opener and still had 10 touchdowns.  If you do draft him, handcuffing him with Ben Tate is a must.  Tate has Pro Bowl talent when healthy, so if Foster does go down long-term, Tate can step right in.

After Foster, the next backs may come down to personal preference.  I’m not as sold on Doug Martin as some, as I think his stats were inflated by that monster game against the Raiders.  He had 11 games with less than 100 yards, so consistency was a problem.  However, he was a rookie and should only get better.  I think that Jamaal Charles has the chance to even outscore Peterson this season.  Andy Reid may use him much like he did Brian Westbrook a few years ago, and Westbrook was an elite fantasy option.  It also doesn’t hurt that Alex Smith is his quarterback.  As a Niners fan, I’ve followed Smith throughout his career, and he has shown a tendency to throw to the check down receiver at the first sign of trouble.  That could lead to a ton of receptions for Charles, and he has shown plenty of ability after the catch to make defenders miss.  I almost put CJ Spiller into the #2 spot, but I have my doubts that he can be a feature back for an entire season.  There is a strong possibility that I will eat crow and he could become a superstar, but I haven’t hopped on his bandwagon just yet.  To me, one of more polarizing players is LeSean McCoy.  He was outstanding in 2011, but injuries derailed him last year.  On paper, the move to Chip Kelly’s offense should boost his value, as reports say that Kelly will be emphasizing the run game a great deal.  However, it’s been tough to get a read on the real Eagles offense so far in the preseason since Kelly doesn’t want to give anything away while the games don’t count.  Even though I have McCoy out of the top five, it wouldn’t take much to talk me into taking him a few spots higher.

Rounding out the top ten are a few safer options.  Ray Rice has been the model of consistency the past few years, and I think the fears of him losing touches to Bernard Pierce are overblown.  While he may lose a few touches here and there, I highly doubt the Ravens will drastically reduce his workload, especially with their receiving corps in shambles.  Lynch has been the true definition of a workhorse in Seattle, and Beast Mode was in full effect last season.  While he has a history of back problems and has been a little overworked, I think it’s safe to pencil him in for another 1,100 yards or so and 10 touchdowns.  There is always the chance Seattle lessens his workload since they have very capable backups, especially to preserve him for the playoffs, but he is still well worth a first round pick.  Alfred Morris should continue to thrive under Shanahan, if you have a late first round pick, you can select him and feel safe about the pick.  Rounding out my top ten is Matt Forte, who has looked great so far in the preseason.  I expect him to be a huge part of the passing game in Marc Trestman’s offense, and he has even seen some goal line carries, which has been his kryptonite over the past few years.  If you are in a PPR league, I would rank Forte ahead of Lynch and Morris.  Forte has a chance to be in the top five at the end of the year, even in standard leagues, if the preseason is any indication.

Even backs outside of the top ten are extremely valuable this year.  Ridley is being picked as an RB2, but he could be an absolute stud and set career highs for yards and touchdowns this year.  Two guys that I will probably steer clear of are Trent Richardson and Steven Jackson.  I have legitimate injury concerns for Trent.  He was clearly playing hurt last year, and while he still did quite well, it seems like a pattern is developing.  Remember, he had knee surgery before his first NFL game.  I’m not saying he is removed from my draft board, but I won’t be spending a top pick on him.  I would take him if he somehow fell until the late second or early third round.  The same applies for Steven Jackson.  I think he is being overvalued so far.  I would take him in the third round, but I’ve seen some mocks where he goes at the end of round one or the very beginning of round two, and that’s a little too early for me.  One of the biggest wild cards for the running back class is MJD.  If he bounces back to his pre-injury form, you have an absolute steal on your hands if you land him in the third or fourth round.  If he looks slow and past his prime, it could be a wasted pick.  Depending on the round, he could be too tempting to pass up.

Based on everything we know now, below is my top 20 going into the home stretch of the preseason.  These rankings are for standard leagues, not PPR, and will probably fluctuate based on the Foster situation.  I’ll continue with my position overview later this week with a look at quarterbacks.


  1.  Adrian Peterson
  2. Jamaal Charles
  3. CJ Spiller
  4. Doug Martin
  5. Arian Foster
  6. LeSean McCoy
  7. Ray Rice
  8. Marshawn Lynch
  9. Alfred Morris
  10. Matt Forte
  11. Trent Richardson
  12. Stevan Ridley
  13. Chris Johnson
  14. Steven Jackson
  15. Maurice Jones-Drew
  16. Frank Gore
  17. DeMarco Murray
  18. Lamar Miller
  19. Reggie Bush
  20. Darren McFadden

About Ryan Lewis

I've been participating in fantasy sports for almost a decade. I first started off doing only fantasy football and baseball, but soon grew to love fantasy basketball and hockey as well. For fantasy football, I've participated in a variety of leagues, such as standard, PPR, and auction over the years. In the past 5 years, I've even branched out to fantasy golf and fantasy NASCAR. I've been a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan for 23 years, which has had many ups and downs.

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