Fantasy Football Rankings: Way-too-early 2014 RB Rankings

A consistently productive back since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2008, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte had the best season of his career in 2013.

Carrying the ball 289 times, Forte rushed for 1,339 yards and averaged 83.7 yards per game, both of which are career highs, and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, which is the second-highest of his career. In fact, only Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy had more rushing yards than Forte this season.

As one of the league's most versatile and all-around backs, Forte had his best season as a receiver as well.

Forte set career highs in receptions (74) and receiving yards (594). Catching three touchdowns and rushing for nine scores, Forte tied his previous career high of 12 total touchdowns.

With a talented duo of outside receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Forte has protection from consistent eight-men fronts looking to slow down the run. In addition, both of those receivers are big-bodied wideouts that excel as blockers down the field.

Behind only Jamaal Charles and McCoy, Forte finished third among running backs in fantasy points in standard-scoring formats. He was even better (second) in point-per-reception (PPR) formats.

With so many first-round running backs disappointing in 2013, Forte is one of the safest options among first-round running backs heading into 2014.

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From W5-17: Only McCoy had more rushing yards than Fat Eddie

While the Packers have long been able to beat you through the air, their ground attack has left much to be desired — until this past season, that is.

Rookie running back Eddie Lacy finished with 1,178 rushing yards, which ranked eighth in the NFL, and 11 touchdowns, only two RBs had more.

A concussion sustained on his first carry in Week 2 means that Lacy had only 15 carries in the first four weeks of the season. Lacy missed Week 3 and Green Bay had its bye in Week 4.

Heading into Week 5, however, Lacy began a 14-game stretch counting the playoffs with 11 games of 20-plus carries. From Week 5 through the end of the regular season, only McCoy (1,139) had more rushing yards than Lacy (1,127).

As productive as he was as a workhorse back, Lacy averaged only 4.15 yards per carry this season.

Provided that Aaron Rodgers stays healthy for a full season, however, I expect better numbers from Lacy on a per-carry basis and I wouldn't be surprised if he rushed for double-digit scores once again.

Career-best season and full 16G for Mathews in 2013

Before breaking his clavicle (the first of two times) in 2012, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was a top-five pick in many fantasy drafts. Unfortunately, that season was a year that Mathews and his fantasy owners would prefer to forget.

Not only did he miss a couple of games to start (and end) the year, but Mathews was a disappointment when healthy as he posted career lows of 3.8 yards per carry and only one touchdown in 12 games in 2012.

Justifiably making fantasy owners nervous about his outlook in 2013, Mathews was a much cheaper option on draft day and he delivered for fantasy owners that gambled on him.

After missing eight games in his first three seasons, Mathews played a full 16-game season for the first time in his four-year career. Mathews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards, which ranked seventh in the NFL, and scored six touchdowns this season.

Getting off to a relatively slow start, Mathews was nearly as good as almost any other running back in the league from Weeks 6 to 17. During that 11-game stretch, Mathews had six 100-yard games. In addition, he was one of only three running backs (McCoy and Lacy were the others) to rush for 1,000-plus yards during that span.

Going into 2014, Mathews' price tag will be much higher than it was last year and plenty of fantasy owners will still be a little hesitant to draft him. I'd start considering Mathews toward the end of Round 2, especially if he's my RB2.

[Related: In my early 2014 one-man fantasy football mock, Mathews was pick 2.11 in a 12-team mock.]

Like Mathews, Murray had a career-best season

Like Mathews, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has long been associated with the injury-prone tag. Unlike Mathews, Murray did not play a full 16 games this year, but he was still very productive.

While playing a career-high 14 games, Murray eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (1,124 rushing yards) for the first time in his career. In addition, he set career highs in receptions (53), receiving yards (350) and touchdowns (10).

During a six-game stretch from Week 10 to 16 (team's bye was in Week 11), Murray scored double-digit fantasy points every week and had three games with at least 20 fantasy points.

Only two running backs — McCoy (152.5) and Charles (144.33) — averaged more yards from scrimmage per game than Murray (123.67) during that span. Only Charles (11) had more touchdowns than Murray (seven) over that stretch as well.

There will always be injury risk for Murray, or any running back for that matter, but he could be in store for a monster season with good health in 2014.

Here are my initial top 40 2014 fantasy football running back rankings (standard scoring):

1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
1(a). Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
5. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
6. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
7. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
9. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
10. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
11. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
12. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
13. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
14. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsubrgh Steelers
15. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
16. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
17. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
18. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
19. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
20. Ben Tate, Houston Texans
21. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
22. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
23. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
24. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
25. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
26. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
27. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
28. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
29. Andre Brown, New York Giants
30. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
31. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
32. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
33. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
34. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
35. Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
36. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
37. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
38. Chris Ivory, New York Jets
39. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
40. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
41. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
42. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

Earlier in the week, I posted my early 2014 fantasy football quarterback rankings.

Over the next day or two, I will post my rankings for other positions: WRs - TEs

Also, check out my early one-man fantasy football mock draft.

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