NFL training camps are beginning to wrap up as teams continue making their way through the preseason. It’s a time for players and coaches to sharpen their skills in preparation for the upcoming season. It’s also a time for fans to keep track of which players they may want to draft in their fantasy football leagues and which players they want to avoid.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to help get you ready for your fantasy football drafts by ranking the top players at each position and giving some hints as to which players may be sleepers or busts in the upcoming season.
Now we’ll go over the top 20 fantasy running backs for the upcoming season.
1- LeSean McCoy
When discussing the Eagles offense in 2013 the conversation usually starts with Chip Kelly and Nick Foles, but McCoy had just as big of an impact on what Philadelphia did last season. The fast-paced Eagles offense runs more plays than most and McCoy has proven to be just as lethal in the passing game as he is as a runner. This is evident by his 11 total touchdowns and 2,146 yards from scrimmage last season. It’s also worth keeping in mind that running backs generally have their best seasons between the ages of 24 and 27. Of the four top-tier RBs this season, McCoy (26) is the only one that falls in that range.
2- Jamaal Charles
When Andy Reid arrived in Kansas City he had an idea of how to utilize Charles better than his predecessors. Reid made Charles a red zone threat which for whatever reason hadn’t been the case in past years. Charles was handed the ball 15 times from inside the five yard line which matched his total from the previous four seasons combined. He was also targeted for 18 passes inside the red zone, more than double of any other year Charles has played. Overall he was very active in the pass game, catching 70 passes and seven touchdowns through the air. While it’s unlikely that he matches the 19 total touchdowns he scored in 2013, Charles will still be the focal point of the Chiefs’ offense that has Alex Smith at quarterback.
3- Matt Forte
After struggling with injuries in his previous two years, Forte had his best season as a pro in 2013 under offensive guru head coach Marc Trestman. Only the Denver Broncos scored more points last season than the Chicago Bears. One thing about Forte is that he is going to get the majority of the carries in the Bears’ offense. He led the league by rushing 72 percent of Chicago’s run attempts and still managed to average 4.63 yards per carry. Forte also caught 74 passes last season and finished with 1,933 total yards and 12 touchdowns. He’ll once again be the top dog in Chicago and may actually get some more touches in the red zone with Michael Bush no longer around. Bush had 15 red zone carries, nine of which came inside the five yard line.
4- Adrian Peterson
Owners of Peterson last season were severely let down when foot and groin injuries kept him from any kind of production during the fantasy playoff weeks. Peterson missed Week 15 and 17 and rushed for just 58 yards on 18 carries in the final two games he played in. Expected to be completely healthy when the 2014 season begins, Peterson could be on the verge of another bounce-back year. Minnesota hired Norv Turner to be their new offensive coordinator and that combined with the team moving on from Christian Ponder should greatly benefit Peterson. When Ponder was the QB opposing teams often stacked eight men in the box due to his lack of skills with downfield passing. It’s also worth noting that Peterson isn’t the best pass-catching running back so don’t expect a lot from him in the passing game.
5- Eddie Lacy
A power runner with good speed, Lacy is coming off of a solid rookie season in which he scored at least one touchdown in nine of his final 11 games. Considering the problems Green Bay had with their offense after Aaron Rodgers missed most of the season, it’s impressive that Lacy was able to remain productive. Now Rodgers is back which means that teams won’t be able to crowd the line of scrimmage the way that they did in 2013. Lacy also showed good hands when called upon in the passing game and he should see a nice increase from the 35 receptions he pulled in last season.
6- DeMarco Murray
The main issue with Murray during his three years in the league has been durability. He’s missed 11 games during his short career in the NFL and going back to his college days at Oklahoma, Murray has only played one full season out of his last eight. On the plus side, his 2013 season was his healthiest in the league as he only missed two games. His 5.2 yards per carry was the highest among players with at least 200 carries and he added 53 receptions and 10 total touchdowns as well. The ceiling is extremely high for Murray if he can just stay healthy.
7- Marshawn Lynch
The guy known as ‘Beast Mode’ is in the league’s most run-happy offense and is coming off of his third consecutive season with at least 285 carries, 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns. He led the league in broken tackles in 2013 and his bruising style of rushing is certainly going to take its toll at some point. Seattle has stocked itself with arguably the best backup running backs in the league in Christine Michael and Robert Turbin and it’s likely that Pete Carroll will turn to them more often this season in order to keep Lynch fresh for another Super Bowl run.
8- LeVeon Bell
After missing the first three games of his rookie season with a foot injury, Bell showed to be one of the more productive backs out there. Despite a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry, Bell still managed to average close to 100 rushing yards per game. He also proved to be a much better receiver than expected, grabbing 45 receptions and averaging 31 receiving yards per game. If Bell can keep his role as the Steelers goal-line back than he should definitely score double-digit touchdowns in 2014, but Pittsburgh signed LeGarrette Blount in the offseason so any kind of drop off in production may lead to a loss in Bell’s workload.
9- Montee Ball
As the lead back on what’s expected to be the most potent offense in the league, Ball could be on the verge of a breakout season. With Knowshon Moreno out of the picture in Denver, Ball will have the opportunity to take the job and run with it. He averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry as a rookie in 2013 and with Peyton Manning keeping opposing defenses moving backwards, there should be plenty of running room for Ball to work with. The one area he needs to improve on is ball security after fumbling three times in his 140 touches last season.
10- Arian Foster
Foster has had a rough few years after his amazing 2010 season, with injuries limiting him in two of the past three seasons. Last year a ruptured disc kept him from all but eight games but all indications are that Foster is healthy and looking good heading into 2014. The Texans have a big question mark at quarterback which could see opposing defenses key in on Foster, but the loss of Ben Tate could mean that the goal-line carries are up for grabs. While Foster hasn’t been utilized much in the passing game in recent years, new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien has already stated that he’d like to get his star running back more involved as a receiver.
11- Giovani Bernard
Bernard exploded onto the scene during his rookie season despite having to split carries with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, Bernard racked up 1,209 yards from scrimmage and scored 8 touchdowns, three of which came on runs of more than 20-yards. He’ll still have to share the ball with Green-Ellis but the younger and more versatile Bernard should see a lot more touches this season and will be a key asset in the Bengals passing game.
12- Doug Martin
Martin suffered a torn labrum in Week 7 of last season which kept him from playing all but six games, but the third-year back is healthy and ready to resume his role as the featured back in the Bucs offense. Martin is one of the tougher running backs to bring down (he broke 41 tackles during his rookie season) and has big-play ability and above-average hands as a receiver.
13- Zac Stacy
What Stacy did in the second half of last season was nothing short of amazing. He carried the ball a league-high 174 times in the final eight games of 2013, averaging 78 rushing yards and scoring seven touchdowns. He should be the unquestioned starter for the Rams this season, though third round pick Tre Mason could steal some touches.
14- Alfred Morris
For a sixth round pick with average speed at best, Morris’ first two years in the NFL have been extremely impressive. After a ridiculous rookie season in which he ran for 1,613 yards, he followed it up with another 1,275 yards in 2013. Only Adrian Peterson has rushed for more yards since 2012 but the Redskins have a new offensive-minded coach in Jay Gruden who favored the pass during his time as the Bengals offensive coordinator. Morris isn’t much of a threat out of the backfield, totaling just 20 receptions in his short two-year career.
15- Andre Ellington
Another guy with a high ceiling and big-play ability, Ellington averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 9.5 yards per reception during his rookie season. He had eight runs of over 20 yards despite having only 114 rushing attempts and posted the best broken-tackle rate in the league. Bruce Arians has already said he wants to get Ellington more involved, both as a runner and as a receiver, so the sophomore back could be on the verge of a breakout season.
16- Ryan Matthews
Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Matthews’ first few years in the NFL but he finally played a full 16-game season in 2013. The Chargers made him the focal point of their offense during the second half of the season and Matthews responded 5 touchdowns and 775 yards. Only LeSean McCoy had more during that time. San Diego has several options at running back though, with newly acquired Donald Brown and pass-catching specialist Danny Woodhead in the mix.
17- Reggie Bush
As lethal as a pass-catcher as he is as a runner, Bush quietly had a very good season in 2013. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career and averaged more than 100 yards from scrimmage per game. Bush will split time with Joique Bell but Detroit hiring former Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi as their new offensive coordinator should benefit Bush in the long run.
18- C.J. Spiller
After a huge 2012 season in which Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards and averaged a lovely 6.0 yards per carry, a nagging ankle injury limited him during 2013. He still managed 1,118 total yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry but lost a lot of opportunities to aging Fred Jackson. He’s healthy again but despite having a ton of physical ability, doesn’t seem to fit as well in the offense Buffalo starting running last season. Also, any touchdowns he scores will be longer ones as he didn’t receive a single carry inside the 5-yard-line in 2013.
19- Shane Vereen
He may not start a game in 2014 but Vereen will see a lot of action as a pass-catcher in New England’s offense. He catches a lot of screen passes and will sometimes line up wide in order to get mismatches in coverage. A wrist injury cut his season in half last year but he still managed 47 receptions for 427 yards and three receiving touchdowns to go along with 208 rushing yards and a touchdown on 44 carries.
20- Toby Gerhart
The guy who had to stand in the shadow of Adrian Peterson has finally broken free and will get an opportunity to show that his 7.9 yards per carry (on just 36 rushes) in 2013 was no fluke. A larger sample size was in 2011 when he carried the ball 109 times and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, still an above-average number. Gerhart is a good pass-catcher who can be a bruiser at 230 pounds and will likely see plenty of action out of the Jaguars backfield in 2014.