Fantasy football is an ever changing universe, with draft strategies and personal opinions changing almost as frequently as NFL rosters. There is no better position to see that than the Running Back position. Ten years ago it was common knowledge that you had to draft two RB’s with your first two picks, why?That was just how it was done and you were looked at as a leper to do anything different. But in the new day and age in football with the new pass heavy offenses and spread offenses we’re starting to see it become common place to see at least one Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers go in the first round. This is fine, a great QB like Aaron Rodgers or WR like Odell Beckham Jr. might get you single handedly into the playoffs, but you need RB’s to win a championship. This is why figuring out who the top RB’s in this year’s draft is so important to anyone’s pre-draft research. So without further adieu here are the rankings of the top five RB’s.
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: AP makes the list as the best RB option because he is the best pure runner in the NFL. All Day is coming off of a missed season which saw him miss all but one game due to his off the field issues. While his popularity may have taken a hit because of this it will help him out in the long run. Peterson has over 2,000 career carries and is now at age 30, an age that normally spells fantasy doom for most backs. But by missing all of last season he will be as fresh as ever, and the last time people under estimated him ( following ACL surgery) he only rushed for over 2,000 yards and was a broken tackle away from breaking the single season rushing record. But beyond his pure skill is the new offense he will be in under Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner. Turner has always been known as an offensive guru, especially with RB’s, mainly because of how he uses them in the passing game. Norv Turner has turned the likes of Charlie Garner, Stephen Davis, and most famously LaDainian Tomlinson into versatile backs out of the backfield, something Peterson has never had. Just last year between the top two backs for the Vikings Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata we saw over 100 targets. The most Peterson has ever had was 57, so keep that in mind come draft day.
2. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers: This is where we start to split hairs as we could have easily gone with Le’Veon Bell here but due to his two game suspension he falls in the rankings. At the midway point of last year you would have been hard pressed to find someone who drafted Lacy in the 1st round who was very happy with his output, with as many 100 yard rushing games as 100 receiving games (1 apiece). But during his final seven games he showed his true potential averaging an astounding 5.48 yards per carry and scoring 8 of his 13 touchdowns in that same span. Lacy has the benefit of playing with Aaron Rodgers and the loaded Packer’s passing game which makes it almost impossible to keep 8 men in the box. Due to this Lacy often sees only 6-7 men in the box at times giving his offense line plenty of room to give him holes to run through. Lacy did see 38 less carries last year (which expect to go back to his rookie year totals) but he did become more a part of the passing game something he was never asked to do at Alabama. Totaling almost 150 more yards and four more scores via the passing game last year. Expect the Packer Offense to remain an elite group and Lacy continue to be a focal point of it in 2015.
3. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: We’ve seen Running Back’s gain over 2,000 total yards in a season, but we’ve never seen one who did it while also tipping the scales at around 245 pounds. Bell is the perfect combination of both power and speed out of the back field. As a bell cow he can handle carrying the ball well over 20 times a game, in fact in games where he saw at least 20 carries last year he never scored below 9 fantasy points. That’s not even adding in his pass catching ability, Bell finished with 83 grabs for over 800 yards making him a viable #3 receiver option in most leagues to go along with 1,300 yards rushing. Bell also holds on to the ball extremely well, only losing one fumble on over 500 carries so far in his career. The only real drawback to Bell is his suspension which will see him not on the field for the first two games of the year. If you project his stats from last year over a 14 game season he would still have finished 4th among RB’s last year, so if you don’t mind not having your 1st round pick for the first few weeks then Bell is your guy. It's just a better value to have Lacy and Peterson over 16 games more than Bell over 14 games, but there is no questioning Bell’s potential.
4. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: So far we’ve had three thumper type RB’s make the list so it’s about time we find room for the speedster in the top five. Jamaal Charles continues to show that he is one of the most elusive RB’s in the NFL, posting his 7th consecutive season averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry. The problem with Charles is questions surrounding his ability to stay healthy and will he continue to get at least 20 touches a game. Charles only had 20 touches in 5 games last year, including 6 games where he saw less than 15. Part of this is due to the drop he saw in targets out of the back field, he had just slightly over half the targets from the previous season and well under half the yards. Knile Davis’s emergence is also seen has a hindrance to Charles but it could be a benefit, Charles will be used in more creative ways this year in the Chiefs attempt to improve on an offense that ranked 25th in the league in total offense. So while Charles may no longer see 300 touches in a season going forward, when he is given the ball it will be in on plays suited to his skill set. A skill set that still includes 4.30 speed, great hands, and one of the best cut backs in the NFL.
5. Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Are you starting to see a tendency? RB’s that are the sole ball carrier in an offense are becoming a dying bread, but Foster still remains the guy in Houston. Foster had at least 20 carries in 9 games last year and don’t expect that to change in 2015. Foster does still have questions surrounding his hamstrings which continue to cost him games. Foster missed 3 games last year and also had minimal action in 2 other games making backup Alfred Blue a must need handcuff if you decide to draft Foster. Even with basically 5 missed games he still totaled 260 carries, over 1,200 yards and 13 total TD’s. All of this with the Quarterback play in Houston in shambles for most of the season. Not saying Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett are going to put up Pro Bowl type numbers but they can improve upon a passing attack that ranked 24th in the league last year. In a league filled with RBBC (running back by committees) getting a guy that will easily get 20 touches a game in the middle or back end of the 1st round is a steal. So while you may have questions about his health don’t doubt Foster’s ability.