Fantasy football is all about the running backs and everyone knows it. They are expensive, they are hard to find and most of them are inconsistent year from year (due to injuries and coaching changes). Rookie running backs can be a great source of points for fantasy owners without having to overspend on them (most of the time). But you first need to be aware of the type of situation they are walking into. Who else is in the backfield? What type of offense do they run? Are there injury concerns to other backs on the roster? What is the offensive line situation? Is there a passing game and weapons to loosen up the defense? Does the quarterback demand respect and force the defense to operate with two deep safeties? So much goes into the success of a running game and to be honest, much of it is simply overlooked. But that is why I am here, to do the dirty work for you.
The running backs below are listed based upon their post draft rankings. Meaning, all of the above was taken into account to predict their potential success level for the 2014 season. Some guys may have more talent but are ranked lower because they are in bad situations and some guys have lesser talent and are ranked higher because they are in great situations. Just because a guy was a high draft pick does not mean its a good situation and he will score you a lot of fantasy points. You want to fine the running backs with the clearest line for carries/catches and ones that will be put in a position to succeed by their coaches and the other offensive players around them. For instance at the tight end position Eric Ebron is in a great situation because he has Calvin Johnson to distract opposing defenses and a QB who is going to be throwing the ball 40+ times a guy. Identifying sleeper fantasy contributors is about identifying potential situations where they can succeed.
*I will mention it a few times in the player analysis below, but if you own any of the premier running backs starting ahead of these guys for their respective teams, they are all must adds to save yourself in case of an injury to your top running back. The whole goal for fantasy owners should be to try and get carries/catches from the running back position, not talent, carries/catches… So lean to the teams who lean on their running backs and get the starter, then get his backup. So no matter what you know week in and week out you can plug a 20 carry/catch a game back into your lineup. That is what I look for from the running back position. Carries/catches….not talent.
Height: 5’10 Weight: 209lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Bishop Sankey walks into the best situation of all the rookie running backs. He immediately becomes the best running back on the Titans roster and should be the first rookie running back selected in all fantasy leagues. Sankey can easily put up similar number to those of Chris Johnson last year as the Titans main RB (1400 total yards, 10 touchdowns). That is a ton of value for someone not going in the first few rounds.
Player Comparison: Knowshon Moreno
Height: 5’9 Weight: 207lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Not as clear cut as Sankey is for full time carries but Tre Mason is simply just more talented than any other running back the Rams have on their roster. Zac Stacy is a fine running back, but Tre Mason should work himself into the starting running back role at some point during this season. At worst Mason will split carries with Stacy which seems to be the thing to do these days anyways. Any injury to Stacy or Mason being declared the starter makes him an instant threat to be a top 10 RB overall in fantasy leagues. Grab him late and you will be glad you did.
Player Comparison: Ray Rice
Height: 5’11 Weight: 230lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Once again a good situation for a rookie running back to come in and immediately contribute. No other back on this roster have proven themselves as a #1 back in this league, so pay attention to summer notes and depth charts because Andre Williams could be a major sleeper to come away with the starting job in New York.
Player Comparison: Toby Gerhart
Height: 5’10 Weight: 203lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Sure, Alfred Morris is averaging roughly 1,500 rushing yards and 10 scores over the last two years so fantasy owners will probably over look Lache Seastrunk. But Seastrunk is no slouch (in fact he is probably more talented than Morris) and we all know how fragile the running back position can be. Seastrunk is a must own for all Morris owners and could put up similar type numbers if something ever happens to Morris. Yes, he could rush for 1,200+ yards if given the type of work load Morris gets.
Player Comparison: Lesean McCoy
Height: 6’1 Weight: 233lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Expect another time share here in Cincinnati but that’s not always a bad thing. Jeremy Hill is a very talented running back and brings a different dimension to this Bengals backfield. His powerful running style could get most of the goal-line carries and be a sleeper for 10 touchdowns this year. Not to mention this Bengals offense is full of weapons which creates a lot of running room for whoever is getting touches in Cincinnati.
Player Comparison: Steven Jackson
Height: 6’ Weight: 235lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Hyde has the potential to be a top 5 overall running back in the league, but there could not be a more worse situation for him (at least for this season). Unless something happens to Frank Gore I expect him to be pretty irrelevant for fantasy owners this season, but a big time guy to add late in keeper leagues as he could be the main guy heading into the 2015 season with Frank Gores contract up. Carlos Hyde would then become an easy top 10 running back and a must have in all leagues heading into next year.
Player Comparison: Legarrette Blount
Height: 5’8 Weight: 207lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Similar situation to Carlos Hyde. Stephen Jackson is the main guy in Atlanta and they also have a more than capable backup in Jacquizz Rodgers. But Jacksons contract is up after this year and Freeman should be the main guy taking over after a year of learning the offense. I can see him having an impact this year more so in real life than for fantasy purposes, but as always if something happens to Steven Jackson, Freeman is a guy that needs to be added in all leagues.
Player Comparison: Ben Tate
Height: 6’ Weight: 209lbs
Fantasy Analysis: Unique situation here as Storm Johnson will pretty much be in a head to head battle with Toby Gerhart for the bulk of the carries in Jacksonville. I expect Gerhart to win this battle at first and Storm Johnson to take a typical sit/learn type of year but if he starts getting carries he could be a major sleeper as his talent level and skills is a perfect fit for this Jacksonville offense.
Player Comparison: DeMarco Murray
9) Charles Sims, Bucs
Height: 6’ Weight: 214
Fantasy Analysis: Doug Martin is one of my favorite running backs when healthy and as of today, he is healthy. When healthy he doesn’t leave the field much and that will make playing time hard to come by. However, Martin has battled some injuries in his career and shoulder injuries are not something to be taken lightly for any running back. If given a chance Sims could give fantasy owners something to smile about in a worst case scenario injury to Martin.
Player Comparison: Matt Forte
10) Ka’Deem Carey, Bears
Height: 5’9 Weight: 207
Fantasy Analysis: Similar situation to the Bucs. Matt Forte is the guy when healthy and he does not leave the field very often. Ka’Deem Carey has some unique skills that will make a him a good running back in the NFL but if he is only getting a handful of carries a game it is not going to matter. It is tough for rookie running backs to transition to the NFL if they are not getting consistent touches, so monitor the situation closely because all your looking for as a fantasy owner should be backs who are getting the bulk of a team’s carries/catches, and Forte gets a ton.
Player Comparison: Arian Foster
Height: 5’9 Weight: 174lbs
Fantasy Analysis: With this wildcard its really all about how the Chiefs are going to use him. Dexter McCluster left this off-season and Thomas should easily slide into that role from day 1 and I can see him putting up very similar numbers. Thomas may not be as good an athlete as Dexter was but this offense has a perfect role for him as more of a receiver than a running back. Think 500-600 yards and a handful of touchdowns (similar to what McCluster put up last year).
Player Comparison: Dexter McCluster
Wildcard- Dri Archer, Steelers
Height: 5’8 Weight: 173
Fantasy Analysis: Dexter McCluster
Player Comparison: Same situation as above, however, the Steelers do not have such a clear and defined role for him. He is more of a receiver than a running back so I expect him to play out of the slot a lot and get a ton of action as a third down back running routes out of the backfield. Probably a none add in normal 10,12 team leagues.
Sleeper- Isaiah Crowell, Browns
Height: 5’11 Weight: 224lbs
Fantasy Analysis: I stand by my statement that Isaiah Crowell is the most talented running back in this class and he is walking into a good situation for potential carries in Cleveland. But...... and its a big question mark..... he is a head case and I do not trust him. However, he is worth a late round draft selection based on potential alone. If he wins the starting job at some point this season (and if he is on the roster I expect he will) you could be looking at a guy with Pro Bowl talent at the running back position and he can be had very cheap in your drafts. I love Ben Tate and think he is a very good back but I would not be surprised at all if things finally "click" with Crowell and he leads the team in rushing and touchdowns this season.
Player Comparison: Marshawn Lynch
*For more details on each player and their skills that they bring to their new team check out the article below