2014 Fantasy Football Rankings: Pre-Free Agency Running Back 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.
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.
From Week 5 through the end of the regular season, only McCoy (1,139) had more rushing yards than Lacy (1,127). Counting their playoff loss, Lacy had 20-plus carries in 11 of his final 14 games last season.
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) that year, 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 those 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. He rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards, which ranked seventh in the NFL, and scored six touchdowns last season.
Getting off to a relatively slow start, Mathews was one of the league's most dominant runners 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 our post-SB48 2014 fantasy football mock, Mathews was the last pick of Round 2 (2.12).]
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 last 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 provided he maintains good health in 2014.
Before NFL free agency officially begins on Tuesday, here are my updated 2014 fantasy football running back rankings (standard scoring):
1(a). LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
1(b). 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. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsubrgh Steelers
11. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
12. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
13. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
14. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
15. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
16. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
17. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
18. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
19. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
20. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
21. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
22. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
23. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
24. Ben Tate, Houston Texans
25. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
26. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
27. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
28. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
29. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
30. Chris Ivory, New York Jets
31. Andre Brown, New York Giants
32. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
33. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
34. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
35. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
36. Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
37. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
38. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
39. Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
40. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
41. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
42. David Wilson, New York Giants
43. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
44. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
45. Marcus Lattimore, San Francisco 49ers
46. Jordan Todman, Jacksonville Jaguars
47. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
48. Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks
49. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
50. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
51. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
52. Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
More early 2014 Fantasy Football rankings:
- 2014 Fantasy Football QB rankings
- 2014 Fantasy Football WR rankings
- 2014 Fantasy Football TE rankings
Also, check out early 2014 Fantasy Football mock drafts:
- Early one-man 2014 fantasy football mock draft
- Our latest (but still early) 2014 fantasy football mock draft