Don’t look now, but fantasy football season is right around the corner. Over the next week, we’ll be previewing the four major positions in fantasy football (Yesterday, we rattled off our top 7 QBs in this year’s draft). Top it off with a list of sleepers at every position on Friday and you’ll be ready to go for your draft. We use standard non-PPR scoring for all our rankings.
We’ve drifted away from the draft strategy in the fantasy community of taking running backs with our first two picks, but having an elite running back still provides a tremendous level of consistency for your fantasy football team. Consider the first seven running backs drafted last year. Remove Adrian Peterson, who obviously had a personal situation that prevented him from being successful, and you’ll notice a majority of them of them delivered. Those who took LeSean McCoy were slightly disappointed, but the same can’t be said for Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, and Marshawn Lynch.
Striking on a top running back adds the level of consistency to your team that helps you win every week. They see the most of the football during games and take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone. The top of the running back pool has become more important recently as time shares take carries away from lesser backs and receivers rise to take a larger share of offensive production. You’ve got to nail your first RB pick and here are the guys that will do that for you.
1. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
I know he’s suspended for the first two games of 2015, stick with me here for a second. Bell finished second in scoring for RBs last year behind Demarco Murray, who moved to a less effective offensive line this season and will have less carries this year given Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles being on the same team. Behind Bell sat Marshawn Lynch, 20 points behind, and Matt Forte, 40 points behind. That shows Bell’s dominance compared to the rest of the field. That’s a full game’s worth of production better than Lynch and two games better than Forte. You’ll need to ride out an alternate during the first two of the season, but at least you’ll be prepared for that with your draft. Things get even better for Bell in ½ or full PPR situations as he should continue to top three in receptions at the position. Bell is a dominant force who only scored less than 10 points in two games last year. He’s clearly worthy of being the #1 choice at the position.
2. Eddie Lacy – Green Bay Packers
Last season started a little rough for Lacy, but he turned things up during the second half of the campaign. He and the team seemed to figure something out after the bye as Lacy posted a per-game average of 17.1 points in the last eight games. That’s the same average that Bell posted for the entire season, showing that Lacy is capable of riding high enough to compete for best back in fantasy. Nothing’s changed in Green Bay as all the same pieces are back for another go around. You can do much worse than a guy who put up double digits in every game over the second half of the season.
3. Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
I went back and forth on who should be in this spot and I gave Charles the nod after the Chiefs improved an offensive line that was already ranked 7th for run blocking last year. Charles had a strong middle of the season bookended by an injury plagued start and oddly unproductive end to the season. The Chiefs did decide to rotate Knile Davis into games more often to keep Charles fresh and that’s not necessarily a bad thing given what Charles was able to do. It’s definitely worth drafting Davis as the handcuff because of Charles’ injury history, but Charles should be a consistent producer in your lineup over the course of the season. He’ll also help in PPR leagues as he’s good for 40 grabs a season.
4. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
I debated pushing Peterson to the number three spot after commentary of how great he looks in training camp, but his age and a year away from the game made it too tough. Peterson’s only a few years removed from his 2,000 yard season, but he did drop to human levels in the season that followed. He’s missed games in three of the last full seasons he’s played and his age won’t help that get any better. He will benefit from an improved offense featuring Teddy Bridgewater because defenses will get burned if they put too many defenders in the box to stop Peterson. He should give you the quality you need, but it can’t be said with as much confidence as the top three.
5. Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Seahawks
If I offered you 1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns from your RB1, would you take it? You’d shake on that immediately. That’s what Lynch has produced at bare minimum in his last four seasons in Seattle. We should be able to rubber stamp another one of those years in 2015 as Lynch doesn’t look like he’s lost a step at all recently. The addition of Jimmy Graham may worry some in regards to Lynch’s red-zone value, but Graham will make the offense more productive in general. More production means more touchdowns for everyone to share as fantasy most consistent running back delivers again.
6. Jeremy Hill – Cincinnati Bengals
Now we get into the fun part of our rankings where decisions are less obvious. Jeremy Hill was one of the most productive backs in the second half of last season once the Bengals realized that Giovanni Bernard wasn’t more than a change-of-pace talent. Bernard’s injury certainly opened the door as Hill completely outperformed Bernard’s numbers behind the same offensive line. There’s some cause for concern in the fact that he put up three games under double-digit points in that time period, but Bernard’s return from injury was a part of that. Hill killed it with three 100-yard games in the final three weeks of the season as Bernard’s role was minimized. Hill would’ve put up the fourth most points of any running back if you took his second half performance over a full season. He’s ready to cement his name in 2015.
7. C.J. Anderson – Denver Broncos
The opportunity is surely there for Anderson in 2015. He just edges out Demarco Murray for the last spot in the list. It clearly benefits the Denver Broncos to rely more on the running game than an aging Peyton Manning. Coach Greg Kubiak comes in as a run-game savant having done great things for Arian Foster and Justin Forsett. Anderson was a waiver wire stud last year, producing five games of 19 points or more in the last six. The other game was a solid 85-yard performance, so that’s a nice floor. Anderson has potential to put up better numbers than any back in the league, but he has less talent than any running back ahead of him on the list. There’s a small chance that Anderson has a slow start and Kubiak changes to former second round pick Montee Ball. Kubiak’s less of a believer in the talent as he is in his system. Anderson could disappear as quickly as he arrived, but he will produce like a monster if he’s still around.