Running backs are the cornerstone of fantasy success. They can’t make a team whole, but hot damn, they can ruin your season.
Which is why it’s smart to draft as many as possible.
There’s a number of factors to consider with running backs: offensive line schemes, offensive line personnel and health, offensive schemes, and red zone tendencies.
That also includes changes in coordinators, which can make a huge difference year to year. But because one coach or coordinator liked to run a lot before, doesn’t mean things can’t change.
Gary Kubiak, for instance, was the head coach of the Texans two seasons ago. He ran the ball a lot. But he didn’t have Peyton Manning, he had the worst part of Matt Schaub, and an Andre Johnson who couldn’t stand playing there.
Does that mean C.J. Anderson is being overvalued? No, it absolutely doesn’t. Anderson is a fine player. But just because Kubiak is there, doesn’t mean he’s going to play a lot. It means that Gary Kubiak is there. And nothing more.
In the case of the Broncos, there’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time, though on the decline, and a beat up and shallow offensive line.
The incumbent starters have played in two consecutive AFC Championship games. They’re hurting. And the defense within the division is only getting better.
Mathis missed the first half of 2014. McCoy did nothing else but disappoint during that time. But when Mathis returned, McCoy looked like the guy who was a sure first round pick.
The only guy who’s proven that his production isn’t impacted by the offensive line is Jamaal Charles, who lost two starting offensive linemen in the 2014 offseason, and lost another this last offseason.
I’d still recommend Charles, though I’d still issue the same words of caution: he’s a player who uses his agility and acceleration as his primary weapons, and has been on a team without a passing game.
The most important factor, he’s had 895 touches over the last three seasons, nearly 300 per year.
Age isn’t the biggest worry for Charles, and neither is the offensive line. It’s that no human can sustain that type of use and still be as quick as he was before in the time before the sample.
So take a lot of backups, especially Knile Davis.
The following list disallows running backs currently projected to be drafted in the first 12 picks. But because of the lack of productive fantasy backs, anything past that is fair game.
If those guys are there in the second round, go for it. Any player projected to go after the fifth round will be marked with an asterisk (*).
1. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati
Hill has all the talent. All the ability. And he’s used it all. He’s primed for a huge year.
2. Ameer Abdullah*, Detroit
Abdullah comes in as a rookie, with a much improved offensive line, and a team who throws to running backs often — which is his specialty.
3. Tevin Coleman*, Atlanta
Coleman is a power runner with exceptional burst and agility. He carries some injury risk, but plays in a division that can’t defend the run.
4. Melvin Gordon, San Diego
Gordon broke the run of backs not being taken in the first round of the NFL draft. He’s the most Adrian Peterson like of any class since Adrian Peterson. And that’s promising.
5. Roy Helu Jr.*, Oakland
Helu is as elusive as anyone on this list, and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave likes him a lot. He’s a sneaky favorite to start as the number one in some people’s mind, which makes him even more valuable.
6. Lorenzo Taliaferro*, Baltimore
Taliaferro should have started last season after Ray Rice was suspended. Justin Forsett is old, and while he had a terrific season, it’s not going to last. And Taliaferro is just better.
8. Tavaris Cadet*, New England
Cadet has been a favorite of mine for a few seasons now, but was part of the mess of talented New Orleans backs. Now with the Patriots, Cadet should get a real chance in the same role Shane Vereen filled.
9. Lamar Miller, Miami
Miller quietly played a 2014 season as a low end RB2, with some weeks in the top 10 running backs. I expect him to be taken in the fourth or fifth round, on average.
10. Anthony Dixon*, Buffalo
Dixon is the only Bills running back who can run power, which makes him even more valuable given some of the questions surrounding LeSean McCoy. He could become the starter for Buffalo early in the season. He’s currently not being looked at as a draftable player.