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Tiering Up – Running Backs

Tier One

Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte

These running backs are usually going within the first three picks in PPR drafts and for good reason. Peterson is the prototypical NFL runner. He has size, speed, vision and acceleration. When he sees a hole, he hits it with reckless abandon. The big news this offseason is the addition of three-time MVP

Brett

Favre to the Vikings. Despite being 40-years-old, Favre still has the arm and play-action moves to keep defenses honest. Opponents won’t be able to stack eight men in the box to stop the running game, which will allow Peterson room for very long runs. Jones-Drew is one of the most consistent scorers in all of fantasy football, and he no longer has to share touches with Fred Taylor. He will still need a breather from time to time but expect him to be on the field for virtually every meaningful play, which will translate into top-tier fantasy production. Matt Forte had an outstanding rookie season, and while he may not improve on last year’s numbers due to the presence of rocket-armed Jay Cutler, if he comes close he will be worthy of this tier.

 

Tier Two

Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Slaton, Brian Westbrook, LaDainian Tomlinson, Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson

This tier represents the last of the last of the “stud” fantasy running backs as they will serve as the foundation for most fantasy teams. They must be targeted no later than the second round in fantasy drafts and many of them merit a first-round selection. Slaton’s only competition for carries is Chris “a handful of rushes and a month on the disabled list” Brown. Expect the Texans offense to run through Slaton early and often. Despite the popular sentiment that Westbrook is an injury waiting to happen, I would much rather have him in a PPR format than some of the other more popular choices (Turner, Williams). When healthy, Westbrook is a fantasy monster. He is only two years removed from catching 90 passes. Despite missing two games last year and playing through a high ankle sprain for much of the season, he still finished in the Top 10 running backs in most leagues. Gore is another player who will have a very productive season if the reports that coach Singletary wants to return to a smashmouth running game are true. There have been significant upgrades made to the offensive line in

San Francisco to accommodate his offensive philosophy.

 

Tier Three

Ronnie Brown, Ray Rice, Pierre Thomas, Ryan Grant, Marshawn Lynch, Marion Barber, Knowshon Moreno, Kevin Smith, Reggie Bush, Brandon Jacobs, Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Thomas Jones

These are the last tier of No. 1 fantasy running backs. They all have issues keeping them in this tier such as sharing duties, heavy mileage, one-dimensional skill sets or playing for offensively-challenged teams, but they will be the featured running back for their respective teams. Rice is being groomed to take over for the Ravens and the last report I read indicates he may even get goal-line carries. Thomas is just a Bush injury away from becoming a fantasy stud. Bush is already nursing his micro-fracture repaired knee, so the probability that he misses playing time is pretty high. Barber was a consensus Top 10 selection in drafts just a year ago. The only thing that has changed is the emergence of younger running backs behind him. Make no mistake, Barber will get much of the early down duties and still remains the Cowboys’ best goal-line weapon.

Moreno

is a bit of an enigma in that he didn’t play much in the preseason between holding out and tweaking his knee. Assuming he’s good to go Week 1, he will get every opportunity to be the man in

Denver

’s potentially high-scoring offense.

Tier Four

Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren McFadden, Willie Parker, Chris Wells, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, LenDale White, Willis McGahee, Rashard Mendenhall, Darren Sproles, Leon Washington, Felix Jones, Edgerrin James, Kevin Faulk, Derrick Ward

This tier represents the best of the No. 2 fantasy running backs. The reason many of these players aren’t ranked higher is because they will likely be splitting carries. Bradshaw is lightning quick and is only a Brandon Jacobs injury away from becoming a huge part of the Giants’ game plan. Parker is still the man in

Pittsburgh

until Rashard Mendenhall says otherwise and so far, he hasn’t. Parker has also reportedly been working on catching the ball out of the backfield because he tends to operate better in space. “Beanie” Wells should eventually be an every-down back in

Arizona

but the knock on him has been his inability to stay healthy. White’s stats are heavily dependent on his ability to score touchdowns because he’s not much of a receiver. He is also in a contract year and has dropped about 30 pounds from last season. There’s talk that he’s found a missing gear which could lead to another season of solid production. The word out of

New York

is that coach Ryan plans on giving

Washington a bigger piece of the offensive pie. He could see up to 300 touches, which makes him a legitimate sleeper given where he’s being drafted.

 

Tier Five

LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene, Fred Taylor, Chester Taylor, Jerious Norwood, Laurence Maroney, Tim Hightower, Ricky Williams, Glen Coffee, Julius Jones, Maurice Morris, James Davis, Jamal Lewis, Bernard Scott, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham, Ladell Betts, Fred Jackson, Jerome Harrison, Michael Bush, Tashard Choice

This tier features many backup running backs. The only problem with the players in this tier is the uncertainty surrounding their playing time. Their value is almost solely determined by the health of the starting running back ahead of them on their respective team. With the exception of a few of these names (Fred Taylor, Benson and Lewis) most of these players are stuck behind established starters.

Taylor is just one of many running backs that will be shuffled into the

New England lineup depending on the down and distance. Benson is trying hard to resurrect his career with the Bengals but I am still not sold on his potential. The guy who’s been drawing the most attention in training camp has been his backup, Bernard Scott. Lewis is done. There, I said it. Yes, he’ll have a couple of 100-yard games during the course of the season, but when the Browns offense bogs down (and it will), I expect to see other guys such as James Davis get their shot. Chester Taylor would step into a dynamic offense in

Minnesota and he’s proven he can post similar stats to Peterson. The rookie McCoy possesses many of the same skills that Westbrook does so the Philly offense wouldn’t miss a beat should they need him.

 

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