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Ray’s 2014 Fantasy Football Tiered RB Rankings


I’m doing something a little different for the rest of my tiered ranking articles in that I’m going to do them in the style of the tiered QB rankings article I published over at Fantasy Team Advice. I feel they’re slightly easier to comprehend that way so let’s give it a shot.

If you plan on putting any stock into these tiered rankings I’ll be releasing for 2014, I must warn you that they’re not for the faint of heart. There will be players that you’ll likely think I’ve ranked way too high. There will be players that you’ll likely think I’m way too low on.

Some of my reasoning for the way I’ve ranked my players for 2014 comes from statistics and information that I’ve picked up across various corners of the internet as I’ve put these rankings together. Some of it comes from my own personal musings.

Either way, I tried to remain as independent of groupthink as I could in order to give you the most authentic rankings possible.

For a primer on tiered rankings and how I use them, click these words.


Tier #1 – The Consistently Elite

LeSean McCoy
Jamaal Charles
Adrian Peterson
Matt Forte


THOUGHTS: Last summer, a few players that were coming off of impressive rookie seasons and/or their first career top 10 positional fantasy finishes were not only finding their way into the first round of fantasy drafts, they were sometimes finding their way into the first few picks (Doug Martin, Trent Richardson ,CJ Spiller, etc). This season, there are a couple of players that fit that description but I’m not ranking them among those backs that have consistently shown that they deserve the label of being an elite fantasy option at the RB position.

Shady is the centerpiece of the Chip Kelly offense that runs behind arguably the league’s best offensive line. JC Superstar is Andy Reid’s new Brian Westbrook and the centerpiece of the Kansas City offense. Purple Jesus may finally become an asset in the passing game under the tutelage of Norval Eugene Turner. And Forte proved that #TeamTrestman can make a star out of most RBs, especially when they project as well as he does to that offense.

The wisdom of the crowd tells us that these are the top four RBs that should be chosen this season. There won’t be any questions about their usage in any game situation (especially if Peterson gets more passing game work), they won’t be getting benched any time soon, and the question marks surrounding them as it relates to age (AP & Forte), losses on the offensive line (Charles), or pre-season injuries (Shady) are on the negligible side of the spectrum. Where to rank them within the top tier is up for debate but you should be fine with any of these guys as your RB1. And if any of them are available to you after the top four picks, grab them and don’t look back (not that there’s anything wrong with that).


Tier #2 – On the Cusp

Eddie Lacy
DeMarco Murray
Montee Ball


THOUGHTS: You can make an argument for any of these guys to be the next player to logically make the jump into that first tier, although I’m going to have to see them live up to the high standards set for them this year before that can happen.

Fat Eddie is the obvious lead dog in Green Bay and apparently has been trained as a three-down back  this offseason, but I need to see him finish as a Top 10 back again before I can think about putting him among that first tier. Same goes for Murray but while his team may not be able to lean as much on the run game as they’d like if their run defense is as bad as projected, he still has a huge ceiling with Scott Linehan in town. Same goes for Montee who has never started a game in the NFL but who offers tremendous upside as the lead back in a Peyton Manning-led offense.

When I tier my rankings, I always try to account for what I feel is a player’s absolute ceiling. Would it surprise you to see any one of these three finish as the top fantasy RB if all broke right? Technically, you can say that about any player but the probability of that happening with these three runners, all things considered, is much greater than it is with anyone else outside of that top tier. But until they can put together at least one more top ten fantasy season, they’re stuck in the second tier for now.


Tier #3 – Juuuuust a Bit Outside 

-Le’Veon Bell
Andre Ellington
Zac Stacy
-Doug Martin
Reggie Bush
Giovani Bernard
Alfred Morris


THOUGHTS: While these guys may not be in good enough situations to have a top overall finish at the position in their range of probable outcomes, they still offer tremendous upside as your top runner.

Le’Veon is a better fit for the no-huddle offense in Pittsburgh than Blount and can threaten for 300 touches. Ellington has beefed up from 199 pounds to 210 and has the skillset to thrive under Bruce Arians. Despite the loss of Sam Bradford (Shaun Hill is a more than capable backup), Stacy is still an underrated athlete, an even more underrated fantasy player, & will be running behind an improved offensive-line. The recent trade for Logan Mankins to beef up an already improved offensive line has to make everyone’s favorite Muscle Hamster happy. Even if he loses more touches to Joique Bell, Bush still has enough upside as a pass-catcher to finish as a Top 10 back (especially if Joe Lombardi uses him in the same role as he did in New Orleans). Gio also benefits from his offense’s switch to a higher tempo and is also a threat for 300 total touches despite the addition of Jeremy Hill. And while Alf’s usage may be more susceptible to the flow of the game than that of the other backs in this tier, he should still have a great deal of value as the hammer in Jay Gruden’s offense, especially if he can help the offense improve on what was a down year by most standards.

If you start your draft with two WRs and can wind up with one of these guys as your RB1, I think you’ll be in terrific shape.


Tier #4 – It’s a Trap! 

Marshawn Lynch
Arian Foster


THOUGHTS: These guys have both been able to string together three consecutive Top 10 positional fantasy finishes (Lynch from 2011-2013 and Foster from 2010-2012), but each have enough red flags surrounding them to give me pause about ranking them along with the other second or third tier backs.

Beast Mode is playing in front of two talented backups in Robert Turbin & Christine Michael that he won’t be able to keep off the field forever, especially considering that they both profile as better pass catchers. And we can’t assume that Seattle is always going to be good enough to keep Lynch in favorable usage situations. As for Foster, if the fact that he’s already injured his troublesome hamstring doesn’t scream RED FLAG (!!!), I don’t know what will. As favorably as he projects to the offense Bill O’Brien is installing, there’s a reason he’s Sports Injury Predictor’s player that’s most likely to get injured this year. Of course, I’m also accounting for the fact that he could stay healthy which is why I haven’t completely removed him from my board.

There’s always a certain amount of risk involved in passing on players that have been consistently fantasy relevant, especially when their healthy ceiling is pretty high. But as favorable as the situation may seem, sometimes you have to realize when there are enough red flags surrounding a player to warrant considerable caution as it relates to drafting them.


Tier #5 – Darkwing Duck Horse RB1 Types

Shane Vereen
Toby Gerhart
Rashad Jennings
-Joique Bell
-Bishop Sankey
-CJ Spiller
Ben Tate


THOUGHTS: The only reason these players aren’t ranked in a tier above Lynch and Foster is because of the high ADPs of those two players. At some point in a draft, every player becomes a value. And if Foster and Lynch ever fall to a point in drafts where they’re still available after the 14 backs I listed before them are all taken, I’ll take them. It may sound like I’m completely pricing myself out of those players but you honestly never know what direction your draft is going to go in until it’s actually happening. That being said, these next few guys all offer a low-end RB1 ceiling.

Vereen may be better suited for PPR leagues, but his receiving yards and TDs still help your team and make him valuable (69 targets in eight games last year is nothing to sneeze at). Toby should be the workhorse back on an improving, potentially highly underrated Jaguars team. Jennings is a prototypical Tom Coughlin RB who may lose some touches and goal-line work to Andre Williams, but who still projects as a three-down back which is always valuable. Joique could feasibly take over as Detroit’s lead back this season, which would make him unfathomably valuable. Athletically, the Stankman profiles as a workhorse at the NFL level in the mold of Shady/Charles/Forte and he should take over as the lead dog in Tennessee sooner rather than later. Big Ceej finally looks to be over the ankle issue that plagued him last year and could see his value increase even more if he gets traded to a team that may give him more of a chance to be fantasy relevant. And Ben Tate’s fantasy numbers should benefit from a Kyle Shanahan system that has made fantasy superstars out of players like him, especially if Cleveland winds up being as run-heavy as projected.

The way I see it, the strength of Tier #5 allows you to be able to take a chance on one or two of those guys if you pick a player from Tier #3 as your RB1 and he doesn’t pan out for whatever reason.


Tier #6 – So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance

Pierre Thomas
Ryan Mathews
Chris Johnson
Frank Gore
Ray Rice


THOUGHTS: Each of these players has enough downside to keep me from ranking them any higher than Tier #6, but enough upside to finish as an RB2 at the worst.

PT Cruiser is sharing the backfield with two capable rushers in Mark Ingram & Khiry Robinson, but offers enough upside as a pass-catcher to warrant your consideration. The jury is still out on whether or not Mathews is made of glass but if he can play in all 16 games again this year, there’s no reason he shouldn’t return value at the least. CJ?K seems tantalizing and has been playing well this pre-season but he still has a zero percent chance of beating out Chris Ivory for goal-line work and went to a team that spent a lot of draft capital and free agent money to improve the passing game. Gore should still be a solid play in most weeks until his wheels finally fall off, especially if they start throwing the ball to him again. And the only reason Rice is ranked in this low of a tier is because of his suspension as he should be over his injury issues from last year and should put up bounce-back-esque numbers in Gary Kubiak’s offense.

You may be in some trouble if you have to start the season depending on one of these guys to be a starter for your team, but they all warrant consideration as your teams third and/or fourth RB (depending on how your draft shakes out, of course).


Tier #7 – I Y Q, (But in More of a Friend-Zone Type of Way <For Now>)

Danny Woodhead
Lamar Miller
-Trent Richardson
Fred Jackson
Steven Jackson
Maurice Jones-Drew
-Jeremy Hill
-Terrance West


THOUGHTS: These guys are tricky in that there are things to like about all of them, but enough holding them back from being more consistently fantasy relevant.

Woody is an asset in the receiving game but has to share the backfield with Mathews and Donald Brown. Lamar, with his skillset, could thrive in Bill Lazor’s rumored Philly-centric offense if he can keep Knowshon Moreno from cutting into too much of the workload. Trent still profiles athletically as a potentially elite fantasy back and the coaching staff will give him every opportunity to succeed considering the price they paid for him, but how much of last year was a mirage and how much of it represented the real T-Rich? FJAX will be effective when he plays, but how much longer can he keep defying Father Time? SJAX’s numbers should benefit from the return of Julio Jones and the addition of Jake Matthews, but how much will he be hurt by the injury to Sam Baker and his advancing age? MJD may be Oakland’s best bet for consistent production from the RB position but could see his numbers affected by the presence of Darren McFadden, especially early in the season when both guys are healthy. West should benefit from the run-heavy nature of the Cleveland offense even if Tate starts all 16 games and would see a huge boost in his value if Tate gets injured. And Hill could flirt with double digit TDs in an up-tempo Bengals offense as well as RB2 status if Gio were to get injured.

For fantasy owners who want to try and employ a Zero-RB type strategy (completely bypassing RBs for the first several higher leverage rounds), these guys could wind up becoming cornerstone players for your team if they get the right breaks to fall their way.


Tier #8 – Can’t Touch Me

Stevan Ridley
Darren Sproles
Bernard Pierce
DeAngelo Williams
-Darren McFadden
-Devonta Freeman


THOUGHTS: While I feel it’s bad process  to commit yourself to not drafting a certain player or players no matter what, I don’t foresee myself ending up with any shares of any of the RBs in this next tier, although they do offer some, albeit limited, upside.

Ridley is one fumble away from an extended stay on the New England bench but currently represents the best option as the primary ball-carrier. Sproles may be in an ideal fantasy situation and should still put up big weeks (although when they’ll happen is anyone’s guess) but the fact that he won’t need to be relied on as heavily as he was in New Orleans (especially in the receiving game, his bread and butter) may cause him to see a dip in his fantasy numbers. Pierce gets the season’s first two games to show he deserves more playing time and possibly the starting gig in Baltimore, but has battled injuries in every season of his football career since 2009 and recently left a preseason game with his third recorded concussion since 2011. DeAngelo may be a lead back but Carolina’s downgraded offensive line and the health of Cam Newton don’t give me much confidence that he can return value. He may not even be the starter in Oakland but if McFadden (or, as I’m calling him from now on, Run DNP) can defy the odds and play more than 13 games in a season for the first time in his NFL career, he could be a sneaky later-round pick (the last time his ADP was this low, he recorded his best season statistically). At first Freeman looked like a good play based on projected opportunity but he still hasn’t climbed far enough up the depth chart to warrant his current ADP, which is nearing the single digits on the servers that don’t already have him there.

I may as well have labeled this tier “It’s a Trap, Part II” but I didn’t want to give you all the same video clip twice.


Tier #9 – Don’t Get Sleepy 

-Knowshon Moreno
-Mark Ingram
-Carlos Hyde
Lance Dunbar
Ahmad Bradshaw
Dexter McCluster
-Chris Ivory
-Donald Brown
-Andre Williams


THOUGHTS: All of these guys are talented runners who have the potential to meet/exceed value/expectations. Some are borderline starters for their squads. But they all have question marks about their playing time that keep me from valuing them any higher than this.

Knowhon and Ingram have been playing well enough that they could see extended looks for their respective teams, but each have other talented RBs on their respective teams that they must contend with. Hyde makes for a potential lottery ticket if Gore gets injured, but we have to account for the fact that Jim Harbaugh has picked at least one RB in every draft he’s overseen as San Fran’s coach and still given 250-plus carries to Gore in all of those years. Dunbar could see a lot of value playing the Joique Bell role in Scott Linehan’s passing game. At the worst, Bradshaw and Dex could see standalone value as pass-catching specialists in their respective offenses. Regardless of how much playing time Ivory sees, the improved Jets offense could put him in line for a double digit number of goal-line carries. The Donald has the ability to be a league winner in the San Diego offense if Mathews gets injured (a fresh start could also help). And while Tom Coughlin usually doesn’t trust rookie RBs with substantial playing time, Dre being a Boston College alum (and his play in the pre-season) may change that.

These guys aren’t exactly handcuff RBs so the absolute best case scenario for any of them would involve the player(s) in front of them getting injured long enough for them to see fantasy relevance.


Tier #10 – The Cuffs (If you’re Into That Sort of Thing)

Shonn Greene
Jonathan Stewart
-Khiry Robinson
-Christine Michael
Knile Davis
Roy Helu
Jonathan Grimes
James White
Ronnie Hillman


THOUGHTS: These aren’t the only handcuff-type RBs that you should consider (and all should see an ok amount of playing time in some capacity), but these are the ones with the best chance at success should the player in front of them get injured. Some of these guys may wind up having standalone value as the season progresses.

Shonn isn’t as talented as Dex or The Stankman but Tennessee’s improved offensive line should help him stay fantasy relevant if he’s forced into a lot of playing time (and he may see more time to start the year while Stankman adjusts to the NFL game). Stewart’s athletic profile is one of the best among the league’s RBs, but his injury history and shoddy offensive line are question marks. Khiry & Michael are intriguing in their own ways with Bill Parcells comparing Khiry to Curtis Martin and Michael being an athletic/metrics freak, but both are relative unknowns. Knile plays in an offense that projects to use their runners heavily enough to give him standalone value, which means his value would theoretically go through the roof in the event of a Charles injury. Athletically, Helu and Grimes project favorably as backs who can carry their respective offenses if called upon. White could play his way into a Vereen/Ridley hybrid type of role and is one of the best pass-protecting backs from this year’s rookie class, which should help him see the field regardless. And if the Broncos use Hillman in more of a pass-catching role, he too could have standalone fantasy value playing with Peyton Manning.

Long shots for fantasy relevance, yes. But all of these players offer league-winning upside (yes, even Shonn Greene with the offensive improvements Tennessee has been making).


Tier #11 – The Watch List

James Starks
LeGarrette Blount
Jacquizz Rodgers
Bryce Brown
Mike Tolbert
Benny Cunningham
Bilal Powell
-Robert Turbin
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Latavius Murray
Bobby Rainey
-Dri Archer
-Lorenzo Taliaferro
Theo Riddick
Chris Polk


THOUGHTS: Each of these players offer their own level of intrigue and it wouldn’t be crazy to see any of them wind up in a situation where they could be fantasy relevant, but the likelihood of it happening without an injury isn’t great. Most of them will likely be good for at least one spot start throughout the season. They currently don’t have enough standalone value to warrant consideration to be drafted in any except the deepest of leagues.


Tier #12 – Pay No Attention to That Man behind the Curtain/A Final Tier for Insanely Deep Leagues

DuJuan Harris
-Storm Johnson
Jordan Todman
Shaun Draughn
-De’Anthony Thomas
-Ka’Deem Carey
-Jerick McKinnon
-Tre Mason
Marcus Lattimore
-Lache Seastrunk
Mike James
Antone Smith
Kenjon Barner
Brandon Bolden
Dion Lewis


THOUGHTS: I’ve got nothing.



THOUGHTS: The players that I feel offer the best combination of price (ADP) and league-winning upside. These are the guys I’ve either targeted already or will continue to target through the remainder of the drafting season.

-Andre Ellington
-Zac Stacy
-Doug Martin
-Toby Gerhart
-Joique Bell
-Bishop Sankey
-Pierre Thomas
-Ray Rice
-Lamar Miller
-Terrance West
-Jeremy Hill
-Ahmad Bradshaw
-Andre Williams
-Donald Brown
-Christine Michael
-Knile Davis
-Jonathan Grimes
-Ronnie Hillman
-Latavius Murray
-Lorenzo Taliaferro


Any omissions from this set of rankings was, in fact, intentional.


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About the Author

Ray Marzarella
Fantasy football writer for Rotowriters and Fantasy Team Advice. Lifelong NY Giants fan and season ticket holder. Suffering from fantasy football addiction since 2004. I also dabble in professional wrestling, being a struggling musician, photobombing, and being an overall swell dude.