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Breaking Down the Running Backs

I’m in the process of analyzing all relevant running backs and am doing so with a variation on the tier system that separates them into groups with similar risk and reward. The first tier is the obvious studs. I will not spend time analyzing these players because I feel most people in a fantasy league can make their own educated decision on them. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any of these three guys.

Where I’ve decided to focus my time is on Tier-2 and Tier-3 running backs. Tier-2 represents Top 5 upside but with some minor risks, and Tier-3 represents a high upside but with more pronounced risks. You will find Tier-2 below and Tier-3 will be coming soon!

The following rankings are Tier-1 and Tier-2 for non-points per reception leagues. Adjust accordingly.

Tier 1 Running Backs

1. Arian Foster

2. LeSean McCoy

3. Ray Rice

Tier 2 Running Backs (Tier 1 potential but with risks)

Ryan Mathews – Ultimately very high upside with some risk due to lack of historical data and minor injury concerns. Still the type of back that could make your opponents worry about your scoring potential. Something Maurice Jones-Drew won’t do.


Lead back in a good offense

Little competition for snaps

Excellent receiver (50 receptions last year for 455 yards)

Coach Norv Turner has said that he will get a large amount of touches

Fifth-easiest Strength of Schedule


Lack of experience in a full-time roll in the NFL

Has missed a couple of games each year with minor injuries

Questions regarding past work ethic

Last Year’s Stats:

1,546 total yards, 50 receptions, 6 TD (14 games)

Maurice Jones-Drew – Won’t scare either you or your opponents with his scoring potential. Only two games where he scored more than 20 points last year but only one in single digits. A consistent performer but won’t dazzle you with big games.



Leading rusher last year



Contract issues

Bad offense

Had a lot of touches last year compared to rest of career  (386 total touches in 2011, 333 in 2010, 365 in 2009, 259 in 2008)

Last Year’s Stats:

1,980 total yards, 43 receptions, 11 TD (16 games)

Trent Richardson – There is a lot to like here. Even with all the physical tools available to him, the thing that stands out most to me is his hands. Richardson will easily end up catching 30-plus passes in his rookie year maybe even more than 50. He will be a nightmare in space with his size, power, acceleration and overall shiftiness.

The risk associated with Richardson is that he plays for the Cleveland Browns, which had a terrible offense last year. Cleveland was not able to stretch the field much last year with Colt McCoy, but they drafted Brandon Weeden, who has a strong arm, in the first round of the draft this year. With Weeden starting the offense should at least be a bit more explosive. Also with a rookie quarterback and defenses determined to stop the run, Cleveland will likely lean more on the screen game and short passes to the running back which is to Richardson’s benefit. It’s not all that bad.

Overall, I could certainly see 1,400ish total yards and 10 touchdowns as something to feel good about, with about 30 or more receptions thrown in there. The potential is certainly higher for more even in Cleveland.


Great measurables

Excellent hands

Three-down back

No major injury concerns

Ball security
(one fumble in more than 600 carries)


It’s Cleveland

No NFL historical data

It’s Cleveland

Last year’s college stats:

2,017 total yards, 29 receptions, 24 TD (13 games)

Matt Forte – Solid consistent performer who gets a ton of touches. Puts up excellent yardage and receptions. Doesn’t consistently get in the end zone, which is good and bad. Bad because everyone needs those six points, but good because it reduces the effect Michael Bush has on his stats giving us more certainty. With the running backs left – can’t find anyone as consistent with decent upside. If he happens to get a couple more touchdowns than last year, could certainly land himself in the Top 5. Just because he will not be the goal line back doesn’t mean he can’t get more than four touchdowns this year.


Historical data is good

Big part of teams offense, including receiving

No glaring injury concerns (although coming off minor knee injury, he played in the Pro Bowl)

Someone you can depend on for decent production with the occasional big game

Three games with more than 20 points last year in only 12 games

Three games with more than 20 points in 2010 (two with more than 30 points)



Lack of touchdowns

Michael Bush will vulture goal-line touchdowns

Last year’s stats:

1,487 total yards, 52 receptions, 4 TD (12 games)

Marshawn Lynch – I see a solid 1,300 total yards and 8-10 touchdowns as a floor here. The risk is whether or not last year was a statistical deviation due to it being a contract year, and maybe he falls off. I don’t see that. If you look back to his first two years in Buffalo when he was the feature back, he put up numbers similar to what he did last year. I don’t see any reason to suspect less as he is clearly the feature back in Seattle. The Seahawks have a solid defense that should keep them in games and keep Lynch’s touches up as well. So he has a low floor, but also a fairly low ceiling as well. In order for Lynch to catapult himself into the Top 5 he would need a sharp upswing in either touchdowns or yards. It seems unlikely, but I feel his downside risk is much less than the running backs we will look at in Tier-3.


Feature back

Team has a good defense, which should keep his touches consistent

No major injury concerns

Historical data looks consistent with projections


Not a ton of upside

29th-ranked Strength of Schedule

Last year was a contract year

Last year’s stats:

1,416 total yards, 28 receptions, 13 TD (15 games)

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