Having posted my initial running back rankings in mid March, I figured it was high time to take another (and more in-depth) look at just how those rankings have changed.
While there is still a long way to go before finalizing draft rankings, things are definitely coming into focus. The NFL Draft has come and gone letting us know just where those youngsters will be suiting up in 2015 and suspensions have been handed out (It hurts to even have to write that last addendum).
This will be the first in a series of articles in which I explore my latest rankings and explain the reasoning (or craziness if you prefer) as to why players have moved up or down.
Let’s get to it and take a closer look at Uncle Waldo’s latest top 10 running back rankings as well as where each player was ranked back in March.
1) Le’Veon Bell, PITTSBURGH, previous rank – 1: When Bell topped the rankings back in March, the suspicion was that he would face at least a two game suspension for his marijuana arrest. He ended up getting three games but the possibility still remains that upon appeal it could be reduced to a pair of games. In all honesty, Bell will remain atop these rankings regardless of that outcome. You draft fantasy players that can help your team win a championship and not necessarily to lead their position in points scored at years end. Missing two or three games will likely cost Bell the opportunity to finish atop the RB point scorers at year’s end but he will still be a fantasy stud. Bell is a huge (and I may be understating things here) part of the Steelers offense and finished last season with over 370 total touches and 2,215 yards from scrimmage. He is the ultimate dual threat and was targeted over 100 times out of the backfield and hauled in three receiving touchdowns. We love players that average over 20 touches per game and Bell will certainly garner that usage again in 2015, and more importantly, is ready to roll at playoff time when owners will need him most.
2) Jamaal Charles, KANSAS CITY, previous rank – 3: Charles battled through a myriad of nagging injuries last season and still managed to finish as a top 10 fantasy running back. The Kansas City offense runs through Charles and he has averaged 298 total touches per year over the past three seasons and that’s despite touching the ball only 246 times in 2014. There are rumblings that the Chiefs will look to open up the passing game more with the addition of Jeremy Maclin but we will believe that when we see it. Even if the unexpected does occur, it doesn’t mean a dip in production for Charles as he caught five touchdowns last season and was third on the team in targets (59). While Knile Davis is the obvious handcuff, he doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat to Charles’ playing time. Last season, Davis played less than half the snaps that Charles played (656-312) and touched the ball 96 fewer times. Those numbers would most likely have been even more lopsided had Charles not been playing through a high ankle sprain for much of the year. Another huge factor in Charles’ favor is that Kansas City is prone to run the ball from their opponents’ 10-yard line and closer and they have success. Last season, the Chiefs ran the ball 33 times and scored 12 times from the 10-yard line and closer with Charles carrying the ball 15 times for 34 yards and four touchdowns. A bit concerning is that Davis also carried the ball 14 times for 16 yards and five touchdowns. However, the gimpy ankle may have accounted for Davis sharking goal line work. Keep in mind that Charles was also targeted six times and caught a pair of touchdown passes from the 10-yard line. He remains the main man in a Chiefs offense that should benefit from Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin opening up the field more in 2015.
3) Adrian Peterson, MINNESOTA, previous rank – 10: He’s baaaaaack! While they haven’t exactly kissed and made up, the Vikings and their All World running back are back on the same page. With that page being of the “you play for us or you don’t play” variety of course which is why the made-up part is a bit of a stretch. Back in March, I mentioned that once Peterson’s future was clearer there would be an adjustment made to his ranking. The rankings ascension of seven spots is warranted because Peterson is pure and simply one of the best in the game at what he does even at 30 years old. Hell, let’s call him 29 with an asterisk since he played only a single game last season due to his well documented off-the-field issues. Since entering the league in 2007, Peterson has finished as a top 10 RB in every season (we will toss out 2014 for the sake of this discussion) and inside the top three in five of those seasons. Peterson is a touchdown machine having never finished with less than double-digit scores in any season. He averaged 290 carries per season from 2007-2013 and caught 206 passes during that time with five touchdowns. That’s quite a resume, and an angry Peterson will look to add to it in 2015. We like that. We also like the commitment to the run Minnesota still showed even with Peterson sidelined last season. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon combined for 277 carries and we can go ahead and slide those right on over to Peterson. The continuing emergence of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the addition of WR Mike Wallace should also free up some running room for the future Hall of Famer. Another top-5 finish is on tap for Peterson in 2015.
4) Eddie Lacy, GREEN BAY, previous rank – 2: After a solid rookie season that saw him finish as a top 10 RB in both standard and PPR formats, Lacy followed that up with another great year. While he rushed for 39 less yards and two fewer touchdowns in 2014, he racked up seven more receptions for 170 more yards and four more scores than his rookie campaign. Lacy is a three-down back on one of the most potent offenses in the league and will continue to be the bell cow in 2015. Lacy carried the ball 121 more times than James Starks, John Kuhn and DuJuan Harris combined last season and out-rushed the trio by 657 yards. In his first two seasons, Lacy has averaged around 300 touches per year and that is likely his ceiling. He has been able to make the most of those touches by improving his work in the screen passing game and by finishing every run in a hard-charging fashion. Unfortunately, Lacy is only a cog in the Packers offensive machine and not the focal point.
Also capping Lacy’s touchdown potential is the way the offense attacks opponents from the 10-yard line. Aaron Rodgers attempted 58 passes completing 29 for 20 touchdowns from down close while the team ran the ball only 33 times. Lacy accounted for 20 of those carries and converted 7 into scores. This is a pass first offense in the red zone as they threw the ball 40 more times than they rushed it in 2014. Lacy will benefit as always from the occasional huge rushing lanes the Packers spread offense creates but will continue to suffer from the plethora of offensive weapons that surround him. He may never reach top-three scoring numbers but top five is definitely doable for the third-year back.
5) Matt Forte, CHICAGO, previous rank – 4: Forte is the consistent dual-threat running back that fantasy owners love. He’s also been exceptionally durable, suiting up for 107 of a possible 112 regular season games in his seven years in the league. While he will turn 30 in December, Forte is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. In fact, his last two seasons have been the best of his career as he’s totaled over 2,370 yards rushing as well as 1,400 yards receiving and 22 touchdowns. To say Forte was the main man at running back the past two years is an understatement of epic proportions. He played 1,705 more snaps than the other halfbacks combined and accounted for 84% of the rushing attempts. Let’s not forget that he also caught 163 more passes than all the other running backs in total over those two seasons. Yeah, that’s a workhorse back for sure. Look for that trend to continue moving forward but with a big swing in the distribution of touches.
In the past two seasons with Marc Trestman at the helm, Forte was targeted an astounding 225 times in the passing game and posted 102 receptions in 2014. Trestman is now in Baltimore and new head coach John Fox brought over offensive coordinator Adam Gase from Denver. This new regime will immediately look to bring more balance to the offense and establish a consistent running game to try and ease the pressure on embattled quarterback Jay Cutler. So while Forte will not be targeted nearly as much in the passing game, he should see an uptick from the 16 carries he averaged per game last season. Forte’s value in PPR formats will take a hit but still look for him to top the 23 touches per game he averaged last season as his rushing yards as well as touchdown total increase. Forte will garner all the goal line carries and continue to be a factor in the passing game. Look for another double-digit touchdown campaign and a top five finish in 2015.