People like to drink their own Kool-Aid when it comes to drafting a running back. If a fantasy owner has their heart set on a particular guy then they are typically going to draft him no matter what. Last season I picked up Adrian Peterson and for one week I was daydreaming about the coming season like it was a romantic comedy movie montage. With Hootie and The Blowfish playing "Hold My Hand," Peterson and I skipped through the weeks without a care in the world. Then reality struck like a belt to the backside. I probably would have never been able to foresee Peterson's suspension, but I vowed to not be caught with my pants down this season. The moral of this story is that you need to know where a player has been in order to know where they are going in 2015.
Most Valuable Player (Standard): DeMarco Murray (DAL)
Last year Murray was the leading rusher with 1,845 yards on 393 carries. Behind the stellar offensive line in Dallas, Murray was cranking out an average of 19 fantasy points per game. Can we expect to see another amazing performance out of Murray? DeMarco Murray left the Cowboys and signed with the Eagles this offseason. I think he will see some success in Chip Kelly’s offense, but there is only one number that you need be concerned with in 2015. That number is Murray’s total number (393) of carries from last season. There is no way Murray, who has never seen that many carries before in his career will continue at that same level in 2015. I also have some doubts about his durability over the coming season after the year he had in 2014.
Most Valuable Player (PPR): Le’veon Bell (PIT)
A double-note bell is one bell that produces two different notes when struck in different places. Le’veon Bell is a double note bell. He can certainly produce on the ground like the running back is traditionally designed to do, but he can also be very productive through the air. Last season Bell was able to average 23 points per game in PPR leagues. He was able to compliment his 1,361 yards on the turf with an additional 854 yards on 83 receptions as the bird flies. Bell will be drafted 1st overall in some leagues this season despite being suspended for the first three games of the season. Bell has the amazing ability to turn receptions into meaningful yards and touchdowns, so his value is certainly there regardless of what format your league is.
Most Touchdowns: Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
There are running backs and then there is Marshawn Lynch. The hard-nosed physicality and impressive yards after contact numbers are the driving force behind beast modes touchdown numbers. Last season the skittle loving, crotch grabbing, all about that action, penalty machine was also a touchdown machine with 13 on the ground and 4 in the air. All in all Lynch accounted for just under half of the Seahawks touchdowns last season, and he will continue to be a featured player in Seattle’s offense as he was last year. The Seahawks acquired Jimmy Graham from the Saints during the offseason, so expect a slight drop in touchdowns this year. There is no question that Graham will be utilized heavily in the red zone as the Seahawks try to avoid any more costly goal-line interceptions. I’m convinced that as long as Lynch is on the field and healthy he will be a valuable fantasy contributor.
Best Rookie Performance: Jeremy Hill (CIN)
There certainly is a lot of hype surrounding last year’s rookie running back that ended up leading the league in rushing yards and yards per carry over the second half of the 2014 season. Last year the rookie ranked 10th among fantasy running backs in fantasy scoring, and he managed an impressive 5.1 yards per carry on average. A big reason for the rookie’s success was due to his ability to gain yards after being hit behind the line of scrimmage. His 3.7 yards after contact behind the line of scrimmage led the league. This season Hill is listed as the number one back on the depth chart in front of Giovanni Bernard. Jeremy Hill shows a lot of promise and can be a great asset to your roster this season, but I think the Bengals will still look to use a running back by committee approach to their backfield. Regardless, both Hill and Bernard proved last season that they could be viable RB2 options in a split backfield, and if Bernard is out for any game, this season Hill becomes an instant RB1. In other words drafting Hill early might pay off big, but there is probably better value for the pick you would use to get Hill this year. Giovanni Bernard remains a great pick up to fill out your bench or RB2.
Biggest Disappointment: Adrian Peterson (MIN)
I drafted Peterson 3rd overall last year… As the news was breaking that Adrian Peterson had been brought in for questioning concerning child abuse allegations, I stared blankly at my phone in the bathroom stall at work for what seemed like 20 minutes. After all of the mess that Ray Rice had gotten himself into I feared the worst, and my fears came to fruition. Peterson gave his fantasy owners the metaphorical switching behind the woodshed when he was suspended after week one for the whole season. This year the 30-year-old running back is no spry chicken, and there are concerns with hefty use the running back has seen over the years. Some people out there on the interwebs seem to believe that Peterson should be looking at a bounce back year after taking an entire season off to rest his legs. If there is one person who could remain fantasy relevant well past 30, it would be Adrian Peterson. The man is an absolute freakish athlete, and the thoughts of drafting a man with 86 touchdowns and over 10,000 yards in nine years is always going to be a wet dream for any fantasy owner. I might have sour grapes from last season, but in my mind there are running backs in the first round that I consider to be a "surer thing." Adrian Peterson might have another 2,000-yard season, but if he does it won't be on my team. Even if Peterson breaks every record in the book I can still win without him. It just doesn't make sense to gamble with such an important draft pick, so it looks like Peterson will be nothing more than a dream for me this season.
Most Underwhelming W/Over 200 Carries: Andre Ellington (ARI)
Ok so I had to reach a little bit for this, but in my defense this still seems like a pretty legit category. Andre Ellington lucked out that Adrian Peterson only played in one game last season otherwise he would have found himself one category up on this list. After flashes of greatness in his rookie season, Andre Ellington was projected to have a breakout year in 2014, but he ended up with 660 yards on 200 carries and five touchdowns. I bought the hype on Ellington last year, and he performed more like a low-end RB2. Luckily that’s also what I valued him at so I got him at the right price in my draft, and he spent the first half of the season behind Marshawn Lynch on my depth chart. Ellington had some troubles with injuries in the latter half of the season, so I ended up dropping him and picking up Jonathan Stewart (who was a much better replacement). Ellington is tiny by NFL standards weighing in at 199 lbs. with a 5’9" frame, so as the Cardinals used him in a workhorse capacity his health declined. I would seriously reconsider drafting this guy as anything more than a bench warmer that you can insert into the optimal matchup scenario. Drafters, you are now warned, this player will be frequently injured this season.
Best Season Finisher: Le’veon Bell (PIT)
Despite having a name that belongs on a French water bottle, Le’veon Bell was an American hero over the last five games of the season averaging 24 fantasy points a game. That coupled with putting up number two fantasy back numbers all season long means that Bell found himself on a lot of championship teams last season. What more could you ask for than to draft a running back that consistently puts up great numbers all season long, and then saves you from chewing your fingernails off during the final five games. You need your fingernails for stuff!
The Sleepiest Sleeper: Jonathan Stewart (CAR)
I’m going to take this opportunity to say I told you so to all the haters out there. According to NFL.com, Jonathan Stewart was only 4.7 percent owned right before the start of week one mostly due to his injury history. During the last five games of the season Stewart played into the top ten in fantasy points, and during the playoffs he was in the top five amongst backs with at least two playoff games. Stewart had a fantastic ending to the season for a guy who didn’t get drafted, so there aren’t as many people sleeping on him this season. However, Carolina Panthers suffer from chronic "Dangerfield’s" disease. They "don’t get no respect," so you should be able to scoop up Stewart at a good price. (I just so happen to have an article on that)