2013 Fantasy Running Back Review
January 16, 2014 | Jeff
With the 2013 fantasy football season tucked neatly into bed, we are taking some time to dig through the final positional statistics that shaped the fake football teams we obsessed over for the last four months. The aim of this exercise is to gain a deeper understanding of what just occurred over the 2013 season, as often times we don’t gain a proper perspective of the season while swimming through waivers, lineups, daily leagues, and frosty adult beverages. We will be discussing players that surprised (for good or for bad), and players that will provide much sought after value in 2014, as we begin to lay the foundation for our 2014 fantasy football rankings. Much more statistical analysis will follow at The Fake Football, but this should help to break the ice. With the quarterback position already taken care of, we are now moving into the land of running backs (assume 6 pt touchdowns, .10 pts/yd, and we used .5 pts per reception to balance out standard and PPR).
We can’t discuss running backs without first talking about the man, the myth, the legend: Jamaal Charles. JC was highly touted in the preseason (we had him third in our preseason ranks here at The Fake Football), as he was expected to gain an uptick in receptions playing in new head coach Andy Reid’s offense. The full extent of that “uptick” was enough to make even the most veteran fake footballer drop his or her jaw in amazement. Charles went on a pass catching binge in 2013 like it was 1999 and his last name was Faulk, as he led NFL running backs in receiving yardage (693), was first in targets (104), and finished fifth in receptions (70). Did you have Dwyane Bowe, Stevie Johnson, or Danny Amendola on your fantasy squad this year? Well, JC racked up more receiving yardage than each of those wide receivers while chipping in another 1,287 yards rushing. We can’t discuss Charles without also mentioning his Week 15 performance that etched his name into the fantasy football hall of fame for all of eternity. In the midst of the semi-finals week in most fake football leagues, Charles blew up for a memorable five touchdown performance, including 195 receiving yards. There is not enough bleach (or alcohol) in the world to scrub that memory from the minds of fantasy footballers who faced Charles that fateful week. JC just turned 27 in December, so he should still have another solid season in his bag, as he will likely be holding the top spot in my 2014 running back rankings.
The 2013 rookie class of running backs made a strong showing in fantasy leagues, and provided some nice value to those who drafted them with confidence. Big Eddie Lacy finished up at RB7, despite missing one full game and most of another due to injury. Lacy was a steamroller all season long and did an admirable job when relied upon to carry the Green Bay offense while Aaron Rodgers was on the shelf and Matt Flynn attempted to hold the Packers quarterback spot together with a few paper clips, a rubber band and some Elmer’s glue. Lacy’s contributions in the passing game were a surprise, as that role was presumed to go to fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin. Lacy finishing 24th among NFL running backs in catches (35) was a nice bonus for his fantasy owners and is a testament to his athleticism despite his monstrous 5’10”, 223 lb frame. Le’Veon Bell also turned in a nice season, finishing at RB14 and moving up to RB11 when the list below is sorted by fantasy points per game. Bell also finished 12th among NFL running backs in receiving yardage (399) in just 13 games, further driving home the fact that NFL rookie backs have to be able to catch the ball to be effective in the league, and especially in fantasy football. Another great example of this is Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard, who finished up at RB13. Despite sharing his backfield with the sluggish BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard still racked up 56 receptions, good for eighth among running backs. All three of these newcomers will be locked in as Top 12 options at their position next year, as the combination of fresh legs and receiving skills make them safe early selections.
Now for our torture paragraph. If you just ate or are feeling even the slightest bit queasy, please skip down the page. Here it is: Fred Jackson finished at RB11 and C.J. Spiller finished at RB27. No, it’s not fair and no, I don’t like it either. New head coach Doug Marrone decided to lean on Jackson this season and Spiller’s lingering ankle issues didn’t make the picture any brighter. The good news is that Spiller will be healthy and ready to roll for the 2014 season and Jackson will be 33 years old at the start of offseason workouts. The downside is that Jackson is still under contract in Buffalo for the 2014 season, and courtesy of BuffaloBills.com, Jackson recently stated, “I want to get three of four more years in.” While the three or four more years notion is laughable, the fact that Jackson isn’t going away is troublesome. Ask any dynasty owner of Jonathan Stewart how a looming veteran running back can crush the career of a bright young running back. C.J. Spiller undoubtedly has the skills to break out like all fake footballers desire, so I will likely keep him ranked in the 10-15 range next season in hopes that he stays healthy and the Buffalo coaching staff sees the light.
Free agency will shape the future of many backs on the list below, and many of those players turned in solid 2013 seasons. Ben Tate didn’t break any records in 2013, but 4.3 yards per carry isn’t horrible considering he was playing with broken ribs. If Tate lands in a spot where he receives a lead back workload (as he should), he could be a very nice addition to fantasy teams in 2014 as a three-down back. Rashad Jennings is another running back facing an uncertain future who had a productive 2013 season. Filling in for paper mache Darren McFadden, Jennings finished at RB22 with over 1,000 total yards and erased the memory of his underwhelming 2012 in Jacksonville, where he ran for 2.8 yards per carry when Maurice Jones-Drew was on the sidelines. Jennings is 28, but has relatively little wear and tear for an NFL running back of his age (121 touches per year in four NFL seasons), so he could find work next season via free agency, or remain the starter in Oakland as McFadden is a free agent as well. The most notable running back who is set to hit free agency is the resurgent Knowshon Moreno. Preseason hype swirled around rookie Montee Ball, but it was Moreno who provided the spark to fantasy teams in 2013, finishing at RB4 for the season after cracking 1,500 total yards to go with 13 touchdowns. While Moreno handles all the passing game work, the backfield split between Knowshon and Montee Ball has been growing closer to even as the Broncos play into late January. In Denver’s Divisional Round win over San Diego, Ball ran for 52 yards on 10 carries and is picking up steam heading into the offseason. Ball could find himself as the lead dog in Denver and a Top 15 preseason back as summer arrives.