Fantasy Football: Top Five Running Back Tiers

11971049-largeI am a true fanatic of not just football, but fantasy football. The game within the game. But fantasy football is more than a game for most, it’s a lifestyle. It brings people together. It brings joy to saddened hearts (It also sometimes saddens joyful hearts, so there’s that). It is trivial most of the time, but for a lot of people it helps them keep their heads above water when things like work, health, or relationships are bringing them down. I plan on doing my own “rankings” and tiers here for the next couple of weeks, posting about players whose upside is looming large, and other players who may go overlooked for whatever reason. Of course the top pickups (i.e. Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees, Calvin Johnson) will get tossed around, but I hope to bring out some new perspectives on various “underground” players if you will.

Today I’d like to start with a simple Tier system for running backs across the NFL. I feel as if running backs are the easiest to diagnose from year to year due to their consistency (or lack thereof sometimes). The hardest thing to predict with this position would be the health factor. Guys like Darren McFadden, Demarco Murray, and even Ryan Matthews could all be great players for fantasy if their health would allow it. With that caveat aside, health is what it is and each player’s injury history will influence where I rank them.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 running back tiers…

Tier One

Adrian Peterson

He stands alone. He had the second most rushing attempts last year, rushed for over 2,000 yards (!!!), and he had by far the most runs of over 20 yards with 27 of them (next highest was C.J. Spiller with 12). I would take him number one even if he had Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback… not that Christian Ponder is Peyton Manning or anything…

Tier Two

Doug Martin

Dougie Fresh is the real deal. He had 319 carries last year, which put him at fourth in the NFL. He had 11 rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown last year. With one of the best offensive lines in the league, I expect Martin to pick right up where he left off.

Jamaal Charles

With the the huge changes to the Chiefs organization this offseason, the biggest constant has been Jamaal Charles. He will be the focus for the Chiefs, whether on the ground or through the air. Charles only tallied 35 receptions last year, but this year under Andy Reid I expect that number to nearly double and be around 60-70 receptions.

Trent Richardson

Trent Richardson has been the workhorse for his team for years. With one year under his belt I expect him to notch up the touchdowns totals from 12 to closer to 15. Also, Norv Turner (Browns offensive coordinator) has recently said he expects Richardson to get around 300 carries this year (he received 267 in 2012).

C.J. Spiller

Spiller was tied among running backs for most rushing yards per attempt at 6.0 with Adrian Peterson. With a run first head coach in place Spiller should finally be utilized the correct way. The only question is, can he do it with Kolb or Manuel at quarterback?

Tier Three

Ray Rice

I am lower on Rice than most due to the emergence of Bernard Pierce for the Ravens, and the loss of Vonta Leach. If Leach does come back to his old team, I would definitely bump Rice up to tier two. Rice is still an elite back having rushed for over 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns last year, but I expect the Raven’s backfield to be a 70-30 split in Rice’s favor.

Marshawn Lynch

Last year Beast Mode reached 1,590 yards, which put him at the third most yards in the regular season among running backs. It will be really interesting to see how his team’s improved receiving corps and Russell Wilson help keep defenses balanced and in return open running lanes for him.

Arian Foster

Foster has been a dominant force for a few years now, but towards  the end of 2012 we started to see his decline. His yards per game, receptions, and yards per reception all have dropped enough to matter since 2010. The question is, is this Foster’s downfall or is it really an another factor such as the ability and skill of his offensive line. Since losing Eric Winston the right side of his O-Line has not been up to par. Either way, I’m not so sure he’s a risk I want to take in fantasy this year.

Alfred Morris

I am pleased to say Alfred led me to second place in one of my fantasy leagues last year! I got lucky enough to grab him in the preseason just when the hype was beginning, and it really paid off. Morris is a bruising back in a high octane offense. The Redskins would be wise to stop rushing RGIII when they get close to the goal line, and that could potentially increase Morris’ touchdown total from the 13 he had last year.

Lesean McCoy

The Eagles were a complete mess last year, and as a Giants fan I loved every second of it. Lesean McCoy though, has always been the most dangerous player on the Eagles squad and I am not looking forward to seeing what Chip Kelly may do with him this year. He will definitely bounce back from his paltry 840 yards and 5 touchdowns last year (only 2 rushing touchdowns, 3 were receiving). Kelly will get creative with his best offensive weapon.

Tier Four

Steven Jackson

Michael Turner had 10 touchdowns in the Atlanta offense last year, and Steven Jackson is better than Turner. He is 30 years old now and doesn’t have a lot of tread left on his tires, but in a high flying offense with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez the only question is are there enough touches to go around.

Maurice Jones-Drew

Back from his Lisfranc injury I expect MJD to be the focus once again for the Jaguars. In 2011 Jones-Drew had 343 carries for 1,606 yards and 8 touchdowns, plus 43 receptions for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns. If he can come anywhere near that he will be a total steal in the second round of a draft.

Reggie Bush

Reggie Bush did fine last year as a primary back in Miami, picking up 986 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns, and also 292 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. Now he’s in a skyrocket offense that throws the ball more than any other team, and has Calvin Johnson. The Lions and Reggie Bush were made for each other. I expect him to have over 1,000 rushing yards and around 350 receiving yards.

Matt Forte

Marc Trestman, new coach of the Chicago Bears, has raved about Forte’s skillset this offseason. I expect the Bears to throw the ball a lot with an uptempo offense featuring Brandon Marshall and Forte. With the tall and fast receivers the Bears have in Marshall, Martellus Bennet, and Alshon Jeffrey, I expect a lot of the short yardage passes to be wide open for Matt Forte on runs, draw plays, screens, and passes.

Chris Johnson

CJ2K(?) has a revamped offensive line and with the addition of Shonn Greene at tailback you’d think the Titans plan on pounding the ball down their opponent’s throat. He is still as fast as ever and we all know it only takes one 60 yard touchdown run to save the fantasy day!

Stevan Ridley

No Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and possibly Rob Gronkowski for a few weeks. The Patriots leaned on their running game last year more than you might imagine, and I expect them to do so even more this year. Ridley had over 1,200 yard and 12 touchdowns rushing last year and I expect the yardage to rise, but not too much because the Shane Vereen hype is rising faster and faster…

Tier Five

David Wilson

Wilson has the ability to be a top ten running back if he can put it all together. He is already splitting carries with Andre Brown, and I expect it to be a 60-40 split in favor of Wilson, but he is plenty capable of being a goal line and feature back. He just needs to improve in pass protection, catching, and route running. And maybe he already has…

Darren McFadden

The Raiders do not seem to have any true direction with their personnel lately, and this may contribute to a fantasy boost for McFadden. Having abandoned the zone-blocking scheme, the Raiders will let DMC do his own thing and it will produce better results. He NEEDS to stay healthy this year though. The stats haven’t been there lately to prove he is elite, but with that team maddeningly in flux can you really blame McFadden?

Chris Ivory

Going from the New Orleans Saints to the New York Jets is going to be a change of football culture, but Ivory will finally get the chance to be a feature back. He has run hard his career when given the opportunity and seems like a mini Marshawn Lynch. If he stays healthy he can definitely outproduce his average draft position of the 6th round (via

Darren Sproles

Sproles had 667 reception yards and 7 reception touchdowns last season, and only 244 rushing yards. With Payton back coaching we will see if the rushing yards start going to Mark Ingram or if they stay with an aerial attack and continue using Sproles the way they have been.

Demarco Murray

Demarco Murray is brittle. He is a great running back and if he could stay healthy for a season could reach 1,000 rushing yard, around 8 rushing touchdowns, and 250 receiving yards. I just highly doubt he can stay healthy. If he does he’ll be great. That’s a big if though.

A few clarifications: these tiers are just groups of players I see as “equals” for fantasy, and they are not ranked as they are listed from top to bottom. Also the stats I’ve used have been found on These are my predictions. I have read many other predictions and studied players, and things will surely change once preseason games start showing glimpses of true NFL game simulation.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and feel free to leave me your rankings.

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