In this year’s Fantasy Football landscape, the top four running backs for 2014 are a no-brainer.  If you land in the top four, your decision should be made for you.  You can’t go wrong with LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson or Matt Forte.  We may have our preferences; but I don’t feel anyone else gives you the consistency, the workload or the talent of these 4 RBs.

The real question is what to do after those guys come off the board.  I think an argument could be made for any number of players when picking at 5 including Peyton Manning, Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray or a few other top RBs and WRs.  But I don’t want to discuss the quarterbacks, tight ends or wide receivers here.  This article will focus on the running back who should go off the board as the 5th RB whether that is at pick #5 or pick #12.  To switch things up a bit, I will be looking at PPR scoring systems in this stud.

The leading candidates as per Fantasy Football Calculator Average Draft Position (ADP) are as follows: Eddie Lacy at 1.07,  Montee Ball 1.11, DeMarco Murray 2.01, Marshawn Lynch 2.02 and Arian Foster at 2.04.  I will dissect these players inside and out and give you my recommendation.

I ran some serious numbers, looked for statistical trends, injury risk, roster changes, coaching changes, age/workload, and made some projections.  The biggest thing I learned is that I may be selecting a wide receiver sooner than typical in 2014.

Player

GP

Att.

Yards

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

Points

Lynch

16

301

1257

12

36

316

2

280

Lacy

15

284

1178

11

35

257

0

251

Murray

14

217

1121

9

53

350

1

247

Foster

8

121

542

1

22

183

1

107

Ball

16

119

558

4

20

145

0

114

Looking at 2013, we see that Marshawn Lynch produced the most fantasy points.  If we assume that 2013 and 2014 will be identical, then he is your choice from this list.  However, smart fantasy players know that things change from year to year and even week to week.  Obviously the two players above who don’t belong as far as total points would be Foster and Ball.  Foster played only 8 games before being place on IR due to a back injury.  Montee Ball was initially given the lead role but was deemed not ready for playing with Peyton and that job was handed to Knowshon Moreno.  Moreno excelled in this role and Ball found limited action in 2013.  Another interesting observation is the 53 receptions Murray had in Dallas, which is nearly 20 more than the rest of the group.  This equates to 20 more points in PPR leagues.  Not too shabby.  Another interesting note was how few touchdowns Arian Foster scored.  He had just one rushing touchdown which is incredible for a RB who from 2010-2013 averaged 1 TD on every 25 carries.  Using that math, Foster should’ve had 5 more TDs and 30 more fantasy points in 2013.

Montee Ball – Denver Broncos (Age 23)

Let’s consider Knowshon Moreno’s 2013 for a way to help determine Montee Ball’s 2014 projections.

Player

GP

Att.

Yards

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

Points

Moreno

15

241

1038

10

60

548

3

290

Are we to assume that Montee Ball will be able to seamlessly take over the 290 fantasy points from Moreno because of playing with Peyton Manning?  I surely don’t think so.  However, being in the backfield with Peyton has been a good spot for running backs: 10 of 15 RBs playing with Peyton have had a top 10 Fantasy season.  Moreno has limitations as a starting NFL running back, but he has shown much more in the NFL than Montee Ball.  Ball was uninspiring in his touches last year in Denver.  His play was so poor at times that it allowed the much-hyped and even more underwhelming Ronnie Hillman to get 85 carries.  Ball does not possess the pass catching ability of  Moreno, so do not pencil Ball in for 60 catches.  I generously projected him for 39 catches in 2014 due to his likelihood to be on the field and the fact Peyton will throw to anyone who is open.  Question marks still remain whether Ball will get the majority of the carries in this offense.  In 2013 in his ADP was a 4th round pick which proved to be a wasted pick.  My concerns stem from that since Denver is in a win now mode, Ball may have a very short leash similar to Stevan Ridley in New England.

The Broncos made a few off-season changes to the offense which probably will have limited affect Ball in 2014.  Eric Decker left to the NY Jets via free agency and was replaced by the more dynamic Emmanuel Sanders.  The Broncos also drafted a big target and good blocking WR in the second round in Cody Latimer.  The Broncos have a high-powered passing offense, a great offensive line, the best regular season QB of all time, and a plethora of good targets.  The pass catchers will be able to open up wide running lanes for Ball.  He will need to prove he is an NFL caliber player or we may see CJ Anderson getting his crack at the starting lineup.  I feel Ball is a high risk and high reward player in 2014. I prefer not to take that type of player in the first round of a fantasy draft.  He will represent good value in the 2nd round, but I will still likely pass.

Eddie Lacy – Green Bay Packers (Age 24)

For a guy who was overlooked in the draft and called fat at his pro day, Lacy exceeded his rookie expectations.  Lacy was a 1000 yard back in Green Bay which has been without a solid RB since Ryan Grant in 2009.  Lacy showed good burst and pass catching for a bigger running back.  He also has a second gear to break big runs.  He played all three downs and at the goal line which boosts his fantasy stock.  For all the injury concerns regarding his fused toe, he missed only one full game in 2013.  I had concerns that Lacy’s seasons totals were inflated due to the fact that Aaron Rodgers was injured for a large of 2013 which forced Green Bay to lean more on the running game.  When comparing Lacy’s numbers with Rodgers to without; Lacy had more rushing yards and rushing attempts while Rodgers was under center.  If we extrapolated per game averages for Lacy with Rodgers and without Rodgers over 16 games the numbers were very similar.  And very good for an RB1.

2013

GP

Att.

Yards

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

Points

Rodgers

16

355

1395

10

38

250

0

261

Without

16

305

1301

14

40

318

0

288

The biggest difference between 2013 Packers and 2014 will be a healthy Aaron Rodgers.  Reports say he has been practicing yoga in the off-season and feels in the best shape of his life.  I believe he will have a fantastic 2014 campaign and  I may keep an eye on him falling in drafts.  A healthy Rodgers will not negatively impact Lacy as demonstrated above.  The Packers will have some new players in the passing game, but I think Green Bay will be potent in 2014 and Lacy should have ample room to run.  His offense line is solid and a repeat of 2013 should be his floor.  This guy is a first round talent for sure, but is he RB5?

Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Seahawks (Age 28)

Lynch has been fantastic since moving to Seattle from my hapless Bills.   He averages and impressive 1192 yards and 10 TDs per season with the Seahawks.  Those numbers are strong enough to allow him to be an afterthought in the passing game.  Lynch is a straightforward running back on a good team with a good offensive line.  I do have some concerns about his declining stats.  From 2012 to 2013, Lynch’s YPC dropped from 5.0 to 4.2.  In that same time period, Lynch had a 20% decrease in yards.  He also has had the largest NFL workload at 1753 carries and is oldest of these backs.  To his credit, Lynch has been amazingly durable over his career averaging 14.8 games played per season.

Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell has hinted at running back by committee in 2014 which causes some concerns about competition this year from young studs, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.  Russell Wilson may be asked to shoulder more the of the offensive responsibility this year which could also spell trouble for Lynch in 2014.  I don’t foresee Seattle completely changing course and becoming a high-flying offense, but even 10% more passing would negatively affect Lynch in 2014.  I feel Lynch will be a good RB1, but I will not be selecting him in the first round.

Arian Foster – Houston Texans (Age 27)

Foster is quite the enigma in 2014.  His team has undergone significant change with a new coach, new QB and his best offensive teammate is threatening to hold out.  In 2013, he missed 8 games due to injury and had off-season back surgery.  After being a top 4 scorer in fantasy for 3 straight years; Foster disappointed in 2013.  There were plenty of warning signs of a possible breakdown heading into 2013 and luckily I was fortunate enough to avoid him last year.  Could his back injury mean he is done and will never repeat his gaudy fantasy numbers again?  Possibly, but I am not ready to write him off yet.  He has reported to OTA’s and looked good from all accounts.  His back surgery was minor and was performed in November 2013.  His surgery was intended to trim the portion of herniated disc that is applying pressure to a spinal nerve to alleviate pain.  He was cleared by his doctors in March 2014, which  I assume means he was able to start light training.  He will have 6 months to help prepare and condition himself for the rigors of the  NFL Season in August.  It is likely that we see a return of Arian Foster to the top 10 fantasy running backs in 2014.

In his 8 games in 2013, Foster’s numbers were not terrible.  He averaged 4.5 YPC which is the same as his YPC throughout his excellent 2010-2012 seasons.  Had Foster played 16 games his receptions would have been just 1 catch under his average.  His fantasy points suffered due to a terrible touchdown output.  He scored only 2 TDs over 8 games.  Which is insane because he typically scores 6 times more frequently!

The Texans had a major overhaul since 2013.  Matt Schaub was so terrible he was traded to the Raiders.  The Texans fired Head Coach Gary Kubiak and chose former Bills gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead them into 2014.  Fitzpatrick is not the QB I want him starting for my team.  He possesses good awareness, resiliency, and an ability to pick up first downs with his legs.  He also possesses inexplicably poor accuracy, checks down too frequently and a tendency to throw bad interceptions at the worst possible time.  In 2014, Fitz will love to hand off and toss screen passes to Arian Foster which will boost his PPR totals.  New Coach O’Brien comes from the New England coaching tree.  He helped Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski catch passes from Tom Brady, but how hard can that be?  He employed a balanced attack at Penn State at nearly 50% run-bath ratio, which in the NFL is considered run-heavy.  The Texans removed Foster’s biggest competition when Ben Tate went to Cleveland.  Andre Brown came over from the Giants, but he will not take Foster off the field unless injured.  This article has helped me to see the light on Arian Foster.  He may be very successful in 2014.  Houston may even exceed expectations and actually be a decent team this year!  I’ll consider drafting Foster at the end of the first round.

DeMarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys (Age 26)

With DeMarco, injury concerns are first and foremost.  His talent and situation are fantastic, but he can’t seem to stay healthy.  Murray has averaged only 12 games per season in his career.  2013 was his only season with >1000 rushing yards at 1121.  But his 53 receptions are huge.  While evaluating Murray, I had to change the way I was evaluating all these running backs to more of a per game approach due to his multiple injuries.  In doing this, I created a version of 2013 stats if these running backs played all 16 games.  In Montee Ball’s case I took some liberties and looked at his games with >10 carries and used those games only to create comparable numbers.

Player

GP

Att.

Yards

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

Points

Lynch

16

301

1257

12

36

280

2

280

Lacy^

16

323

1334

13

40

294

0

281

Murray

16

248

1281

10

61

297

1

297

Foster

16

242

1084

2

44

213

2

213

Ball

16

195

1011

5

24

162

0

162

 ^ excluding week 2 from average due to 1 carry in that game leaving game due to injury

This table puts our friend DeMarco Murray as the best point producer per game.  My calculations aren’t fair to Montee Ball, his receptions are too low due to the fact that his best receiving games were in different games than his best rushing games.  Overall I think his rushing stats are fairly well represented, at least.  This chart tells me that DeMarco Murray is the back we should want.  Murray was productive in the games he played.  If he could only just stay healthy for 16 games.  He has valid medical concerns which again affect his ability to stay on the field.  He has had repeated injuries to his right lower extremity, especially his knees: patellar dislocations, MCL sprains, hamstring pulls and an ankle fracture.  The repeated knee issues can affect function and stability of the knee which can increase risk of re-injury.  So is DeMarco Murray going to be injured again in 2014?  Most likely due to his history, but he should be excellent in his starts.

Dallas got worse this off-season by losing three of their best defenders including Pro Bowlers Demarcus Ware (free agent to Denver) and Sean Lee (ACL injury).  Dallas will play from behind which will force Romo and company to pass and score often.  This may be construed as hurting Murray in 2014 but I don’t see that as the case.  Murray is a prolific pass catcher and the addition of Scott Linehan from Detroit as the offense play caller will only bolster Murray’s receiving numbers.  Linehan made both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell relevant pass catchers last season.  Dallas added offensive tackle Zack Martin in the 1st round of the Draft which help an already strong o-line.  Overall DeMarco Murray will be utilized often and will perform well when healthy enough to play.  Murray will give you RB1 numbers for 12-14 games in 2014 and warrants a late first round pick.

So who is RB #5?  It has to be Eddie Lacy.  He has the highest ADP for a reason.  He actually represents safety amongst these players.  I will select Lacy as RB5 and will rank the rest of the competition as follows:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. DeMarco Murray
  3. Arian Foster
  4. Montee Ball
  5. Marshawn Lynch

I feel this article gives you the current landscape on these players, but training camp will help solidify or even change our perspective completely.  Any injuries that slow down Murray, Foster or Lacy could severely reduce my belief in them.  I currently have more faith in Foster playing 16 games than Murray.  And good reports and preseason performances by Ball could move him up into the first round.  Currently, Murray and Foster are both very scary picks due to high injury concerns, but I would feel okay with them as my RB1.  I will wait on Ball or Lynch until the mid to late 2nd round.  I still haven’t decided whether or not to grab Calvin Johnson or Eddie Lacy at Pick #5, but that’s a topic for another article.

*Photo Credit – Jcskid85

About The Author Greg Bucki

Commissioner, Lover, Scientist