Fantasy Cheat Sheet 2015: Running Backs

Typically, the first handful of spots in your draft go to the running back position. This year is no exception…

As you prepare to make your picks, here are my Top 40 running backs and where I recommend you take them in your upcoming draft. 

1. Marshawn Lynch, SEA

Danny McCray, Marshawn Lynch

2014: 1,306 rush yards, 367 receiving, 37 receptions, 17 TDs

Marshawn is why the Seahawks offense works. He also just got paid some more, so he’s motivated to ball out.

Pick 1st Overall

2. Jamaal Charles, KC

Jamaal

2014: 1,033 rush yards, 291 receiving, 40 catches, 14 TDs

Probably the best when healthy, but that hasn’t been a consistent quality of his as of late. Worth the gamble if he’s available. Always finds the end zone.

Pick Early 1st round

3. Le’Veon Bell, PIT

LeVeon

2014: 1,361 rush yards, 854 receiving, 83 catches, 11 TDs

Best running back in the league but out for the first 2 games due to suspension. Worth picking if you can because he’ll be huge for down the stretch, both rushing and receiving.

Pick Early 1st Round

4. Matt Forte, CHI

Forte

2014: 1,038 rush yards, 808 receiving, 102 catches, 10 TDs

Won’t catch nearly as many passes, but the Bears are going to run the ball a lot this season and he is still one of the best. Cutler will use him in play-action and he’ll set up wide at times too.

Pick: Has Early 1st Round value but seems to be falling to late 1st, early 2nd

5. Adrian Peterson, MIN

Vikings running back Peterson celebrates touchdown during NFL football game against Packers in Minneapolis

2014: Spent most of it suspended

Another year older, AP’s still one of the best in the game and will be the focal point to the Vikings offense. Also fresh after not playing, but you don’t know if another legal issue will come up. Not likely, but the red flag is there now.

Pick Middle 1st Round

6. Eddie Lacy, GB

Lacy

2014: 1,139 rush yards, 427 receiving, 42 catches, 13 TDs

Lacy is solid, but started slow with the Packers offense last season. Packers also depend way more on passing which keeps the ball out of his hands more than you’d like. Might be relied upon more with Nelson.

Pick Middle-Late 1st Round  

7. DeMarco Murray, PHI

DeMarco

2014: 1,845 rush yards, 416 receiving, 57 catches, 13 TDs

Murray was the league’s leading rusher last year and should get a lot of touches with the Eagles because their quarterbacks are so bad.

Pick: Late 1st, early 2nd

8. Jeremy Hill, CIN

Jeremy Hill, Donte Whitner

2014: 1,124 rush yards, 215 receiving, 27 catches, 9 TDs

Hill will have a big increase in workload this season and has Giovani Bernard to complement him. Expecting more handoffs to him as the Bengals try to get Andy Dalton right again.

Pick: 2nd Round

9. LeSean McCoy, BUF

LeSean

2014: 1,319 rush yards, 155 receiving, 28 catches, 5 TDs

McCoy is expected to be ready for Week 1. He’ll get a lot of carries but is in a crowded backfield with Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon. Health is also going to be an issue for him with so many carries in his career already.

Pick: 2nd round

10. Arian Foster, HOU

Foster

2014: 1,246 rush yards, 327 receiving, 38 catches, 13 touchdowns

As of now, there is no timetable for Foster’s return from groin injury. He is someone who should be available on waivers, but will definitely help you late in the season…best case scenario. 

Pick up on waivers and stash him on IR if need be.

11. CJ Anderson, DEN

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs

2014: 849 rush yards, 324 receiving, 34 catches, 10 TD (all second half of season)

Anderson is the lead candidate for Denver’s #1 running back spot and Manning loves him. New head coach Gary Kubiak’s zone-run scheme is why Foster and Forsett produced so well the last few seasons.

Pick Late 2nd Round

12. Justin Forsett, BAL

Forsett

2014: 1,266 rush yards, 263 receiving, 44 catches, 8 TDs

Forsett is the #1 guy in Baltimore and should benefit from a lack in WR depth for Flacco. His receiving numbers will get a boost too with Marc Trestman running the offense

Pick: 3rd Round

13. Frank Gore, IND

Gore

2014: 1,105 rush yards, 111 receiving, 11 catches, 5 TDs

Gore could be huge in the Colts high power offense. With defenses worrying more about Luck throwing deep on them, less attention will be paid to Gore and that means serious gashing.

Pick: 3rd Round

14. Alfred Morris, WAS

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 4.01.09 PM

2014: 1,074 rush yards, 155 receiving, 17 catches, 8 TD

Morris hardly ever catches the ball but he is important to the Washington offense as nobody has any faith in RG3. Solid health-wise as well.

Pick 3rd or 4th Round

15. Mark Ingram, NO

Ingram

2014: 964 rush yards, 145 receiving, 29 catches, 9 TD

Ingram is very good but he is usually getting injured. Should get a lot of red zone opportunities but also will split passing situations with CJ Spiller.

Pick: 4th Round

16. Melvin Gordon, SD

Gordon

2014: Hesiman Trophy Candidate

I don’t normally like drafting rookies high in Fantasy, but Gordon is the clear starter for the Chargers ahead of Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead. Starting RBs tend to do well in Mike McCoy’s offense.

Pick: 4th – 5th Round

17. Latavius Murray, OAK

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders

2014: 424 rush yards, 143 receiving, 2 TD, 429 returning

Latavius showed he is fast and can score from anywhere on the field, but also hasn’t proven he can stay healthy yet.

Pick: 4th, 5th round

18. Andre Ellington, AZ

Ellington

2014: 660 rush yards, 395 receiving, 46 catches, 5 TDs

Ellington can score a lot of points but he can’t stay on the field. He has already had some hamstring troubles in camp.

Pick 5th Round

19. Lamar Miller, MIA

Lamar

2014: 1,099 rush yards, 275 receiving, 38 catches, 9 TDs

Lamar goes into the season as the #1 guy in Miami and proved how solid he can be with Tannehill running a read option offense. Stays healthy too.

Pick: 5th round

20. Jonathan Stewart, CAR

Stewart

2014: 809 rush yards, 181 receiving, 25 catches, 4 TDs

Stewart is a strong option when healthy. This the first time he won’t be splitting carries with DeAngelo Williams and doesn’t have anyone else to challenge him on the depth chart. Expect the workload to be heavier too with Benjamin out.

Pick: 5th round

21. LeGarrette Blount, NE

Blount

2014: 547 rush yards, 54 receiving, 10 catches, 5 TDs

It’s really tough to trust New England RBs because Belichick will just go with whoever he likes most that day. Blount turned out to be the hot hand after Patriots picked him up late last season but will miss Week 1 due to suspension. Could be solid 3rd RB.

Pick: 6th Round

22. Todd Gurley, STL

Gurley

Rookie

Gurley can be the best athlete in all of football but he was injured last season for Georgia and he’s likely going to miss all of the preseason because of an ACL injury. Hard to feel confident about drafting him, but the potential is too high to pass up.

Pick: 6th Round

23. TJ Yeldon, JAX

Yeldon

Rookie

Doesn’t have as high an upside as Gurley, but Yeldon has the best shot at being the feature back in Jacksonville. If converted QB/WR Denard Robinson could break out like he did last season, Yeldon should do well as a full-time back.

Pick 7th Round

24. Joseph Randle, DAL

NS_12CowboysSeahawks56.jpg

2014: 343 rush yards, 23 receiving, 4 catches, 3 TDs

Randle is first in line for feature back duties behind the best OL in football. He leads Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar who are also fighting for carries. Randle also has a shoplifting problem, but can be helpful as a backup on your roster with high upside.

Pick 7th Round

25. Carlos Hyde, SF

Hyde

2014: 333 rush yards, 68 receiving, 12 catches, 268 return yards, 4 TDs

San Francisco is an absolute mess and is probably the worst team in the NFL. They also don’t have a set depth chart yet and Hyde is splitting carries with Reggie Bush. He didn’t really do much last season to get anyone excited about this year but he’s one of the last possible #1 RBs left, while expected to get most of the workload. 

Pick 7th Round or later

26. CJ Spiller, NO

Spiller

2014: 300 rush yards, 125 receiving, 19 catches, 306, 2 TDs

Spiller is in a better place than Buffalo. He will be used on 3rd down and will be a better version of Pierre Thomas if Ingram gets hurt. Also gets return points but has his own health issues. He’s currently coming back from arthroscopic knee surgery.

Pick 8th Round

27. Rashad Jennings, NYG

Jennings

2014: 639 rush yards, 226 receiving, 30 catches, 4 TDs

Jennings and Shane Vereen are both playing with the first team. If healthy, Jennings is a solid RB2 or Flex player.

Pick 8th Round

28. Isaiah Cowell, CLE

Cowell

2014: 607 rush yards, 87 receiving, 9 catches, 8 TDs

Cowell is Cleveland’s best option at RB with Terrence West not far behind and Duke Johnson coming off a hamstring injury. With a choice between Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown at quarterback, Cleveland will want to run the ball a lot.

Pick 8th round

29. Ameer Abdullah, DET

Abdullah

Rookie

Abdullah is getting a lot of praise in camp, but is also in the mix with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. He’s probably the most talented of the 3, but Stafford just called the Lions backfield a “running back by committee” situation. We’ll see who the hot hand is come Week 1.

Pick: 8th round

30. Chris Ivory, NYJ

Jets vs Patriots

2014: 821 rush yards, 123 receiving, 18 catches, 7 TDs

Ivory is a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch with his downhill running style and will be depended on for the bulk of the workload with Steven Ridley still rehabbing an ACL injury.

Pick 8th Round

31. Tevin Coleman, ATL

Coleman

Rookie

Coleman has been neck-and-neck with Devonta Freeman for feature back touches for the Falcons. Coleman is the more complete back though with pass catching and return capabilities. With the two sidelined and set to return from injury this week, I like Coleman’s chances better with them on even ground.

Pick 9th Round 

32. DeVonta Freeman, ATL

Freeman

2014: 248 rush yards, 225 receiving, 30 catches, 2 TDs

Freeman had the best shot at starting for the Falcons until he joined Tevin Coleman on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. Has a year of experience under his belt, but Coleman is expected to be a full-package back when he catches up.

Pick 9th or 10th 

33. Joique Bell, DET

Joique

2014: 860 rush yards, 322 receiving, 34 catches, 8 TDs

Bell is coming off an injury in camp but is still the most accomplished in the Lions backfield.

Pick 9th Round

34. Giovani Bernard, CIN

Bernard

2014: 680 rush yards, 349 receiving, 7 TDs

Gio is expected to be part of a 1-2 punch with Hill. He’ll get 3rd down and passing play reps for sure. Depending on Hill’s durability as a full-time starter, Gio can get some of his workload back.

Pick 10th Round

35. Tre Mason, STL

Mason

2014: 765 rush yards, 148 receiving, 16 catches, 5 TDs

Depending on Gurley’s health, Mason could be a boom or bust with a late pick. He’s as talented as anyone when given a shot and good insurance if Gurley misses time.

Pick 10th round

36. Doug Martin, TB

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Oakland Raiders

2014: 494 rush yards, 64 receiving, 13 catches, 2 TD

I don’t trust Tampa RBs. They don’t stay healthy, they turn the ball over, and they always seem like regular waiver wire pickups (and drops). Martin is only ranked here because he’s slated as their lead back, but he’s only disappointed people since his rookie year.

Pick 11th Round 

37. Shane Vereen, NYG

Vereen

2014: 391 rush yards, 447 receiving, 52 catches, 5 TD

The Giants still aren’t very good on defense which forces their offense to pass more. Vereen is one of the better pass catching RBs and that’s exactly why they brought him in.

Pick 11th Round or higher

38. Darren McFadden, DAL

Darren McFadden

2014: 534 rush yards, 212 receiving, 36 catches, 2 TD

If he can get on the field and fully healthy, he could be a late sleeper behind the Dallas OL. McFadden’s getting toward the end of his career so you shouldn’t bank on that.

Pick 12th or higher

39. Fred Jackson, BUF

Washington Redskins v Buffalo Bills

2014: 524 rush yards, 501 receiving, 65 catches, 3 TD

F-Jax has been the Bills version of Dirty Harry for the last few seasons. At this current time, he is the only healthy back out of McCoy, Dixon, Bryce Brown, and Karlos Williams. Although McCoy is expected to be ready Week 1, Jackson would make a strong start in a run-heavy system.

Pick 12th Round or later

40. Reggie Bush, SF

Bush

2014: 297 rush yards, 253 receiving, 40 catches, 2 TD

As I mentioned before, SF is an absolute mess. On top of that, Reggie is now playing in one of the best defensive divisions in football. If they’re forced to play catch-up with that horrible defense, Reggie should get the ball more than Hyde.

Pick 12th Round or higher

Do your rankings look different? Let me know on Facebook and Twitter! Stay Tuned for Wide Receiver rankings tomorrow.

Also…

Quarterbacks Cheat Sheet

Wide Receivers Cheat Sheet

Tight Ends Cheat Sheet

Defenses & Kickers Cheat Sheet

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Chicago Bears: Marshall Out, McPhee In. Now What?

Ryan Pace has made his first personnel moves to kick off his tenure as Chicago Bears GM.

It began with the trade of Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets for a 5th round pick.

Brandon Marshall vs. Vikes

In just 3 seasons with the Bears, Marshall ranked 11th for receiving yards (3,524) in Bears history, tied for 5th in touchdowns (31) and 8th in receptions (279). However, following an injury plagued 2014 season and accumulating off-field issues, Pace and new head coach felt it best to part ways with the former pro bowl receiver. The reception of this move has been polarizing among the team’s fan base, but the bottom line is that the Bears received compensation for an almost 31 year old wide receiver (Birthday – March 23rd) coming off multiple injuries and declining athleticism that they planned on releasing anyway. Marshall has also openly voiced how football is more of a platform than a passion, so at least he won’t have to fly cross country to record his weekly Showtime appearance. 5th round picks are no slouches either…unless you consider Carl Nicks, Richard Sherman, or Kam Chancellor as such.

The second big move came today as the Baltimore Sun reported that the Bears and OLB/DE Pernell McPhee have agreed to a 5-year/$40 million deal with $16 million guaranteed…also a 5th round pick.

Pernell McPhee

McPhee isn’t as sexy a name as Julius Peppers was when Lovie Smith rang his doorbell at midnight of the 2010 Free Agency start. McPhee’s skill set and versatility are VERY sexy though. Just 26 years old, McPhee is a pure pass rusher with experience as a defensive end and outside linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 system. He has also played end in a 40 front. McPhee has dealt with injuries to both his knees, but played in every game during the past 2 seasons. He recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014 while spelling for pro bowler Terrell Suggs, who was nursing an achilles injury.

The McPhee signing does 3 things:

1. It provides flexibility in the draft. The Bears needed an edge rusher and now they have one. A proven one. They put themselves in a position where they don’t have to draft a “need” but instead the best available player with 7th overall pick. That could be Alabama WR Amari Cooper. Bears could use another top-end pass catching talent. It could be Clemson’s DE/OLB Vic Beasley. You can’t have enough weapons to go after the quarterback on the field.

2. It gives new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio options in his unpredictable defense. McPhee has played every technique on the defensive line. He has stood up to rush the edge. He’ll even rush from the middle on 3rd down from a “chaos” look that you see with multiple 3-4 schemes. And chaos is good…That also opens things up for Fangio to assign positions to unknowns currently on the roster like Willie Young, Jared Allen, and Lamarr Houston.

3. It sets the tone for the type of players the Bears are looking for. The defense is in dyer need of a makeover. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, both Chicago Bears all-timers, are on the outs due to age and recent injury history. The average age for defensive starters was 29 while more than half were 30+ years old. The 26 year old McPhee adds youth, but also has a recent Super Bowl ring as part of his resume from 2012. There are other free agents with winning experience who would also fit the needs of the Bears roster.

What’s Next? 

The new NFL year and free agency officially begins today at 3:00 PM CT. Teams had already struck deals with high target players over the weekend.

DT Ndamukong Suh to Miami (6 years $114 million, $60 million guaranteed)

S Devin McCourty stays with New England (5 years $47.5 million, $28.5 million guaranteed)

WR Randall Cobb stays with Green Bay (4 years $40 million, $17 million guaranteed)

WR Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City (Total and years aren’t confirmed, suspected $11 million per year)

TE Julius Thomas to Jacksonville (Expected multi-year deal, $9 million per year)

C Rodney Hudson to Oakland (5 years $44.5 million, guaranteed money hasn’t been confirmed)

Note: Guaranteed money is key with NFL contracts. Rarely does anyone make their entire contract total.

So let’s look at the Bears’ needs and the targets to address them.

Defensive Line

While McPhee can be plugged in as a 5 technique DE, and one would assume Lamarr Houston would fit at the other side, the Bears still need a space eater in the middle to play nose tackle.

Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton – Former Broncos NT under Fox, stellar run defender. Interest from Raiders, Colts, Washington, and the Bears

Dan Williams – Cardinals DT who didn’t get enough playing time. Ranked 8th vs the run by Pro Football Focus. Interest from Giants, Lions, and Washington

Corey Peters – Falcons DT and 5 year veteran. Rebounded well after achilles injury.

Kenrick Ellis – Jets NT. Great 2 down run stopper.

Vince Wilfork – Patriots NT, 5-time pro bowler and proven winner with plenty and knowledge to share. Devin McCourty is trying hard to get him back.

Wilfork GIF

Inside Linebackers

In Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, there are two ILBs…one being the “Mike” (middle) linebacker and the other being the “Jack” backer who lines up weak side of the line. Opponents’ run games will be funneled inside for the most part and while the NT eats up space and OL, the ILBs will be responsible for finishing the plays tackling.

Bruce Carter – Cowboys LB who filled carried a lot of weight with Sean Lee out. Aggressive and uber-athletic. Would be a huge steal away from the Packers who are targeting him.

Brandon Spikes – Former Bills defensive captain yet was treated like a 2 down defender under Jim Schwartz. While he may be on back end of career, provides the violent thump a Fangio LB needs.

Mason Foster – Buccaneers LB who doesn’t fit in Lovie’s Cover 2, but is better built to take on anything funneled to the middle. Bears already linked to Foster.

Nate Irving – Broncos LB that Fox is obviously familiar with but coming off a knee injury. Still in high demand and being pursued by Cardinals. Powerful and prototype for 3-4 ILB.

Nate Irving INT

Cornerbacks

While the Bears do have Kyle Fuller and former pro bowler Tim Jennings, they weren’t all that great with them after the first month. Health reasons have proven you can’t have too many, and Jennings may be better suited for the nickel as he gets older.

Davon House – Packers CB expected not to return, well versed in Fangio’s system as the he was DC for Dom Capers previously. Excelled as slot defensive back last season.

Perrish Cox – 49ers CB who has off-field issues but obviously experienced with Fangio. Great instincts in coverage and reading receivers hips. Doesn’t allow much spacing.

Darrelle Revis – Obviously a big fish to catch in a small pond, but come on…Revis Island.

Darrelle Revis

Safeties

A glaring need for years with the Bears defense, the Bears already missed out on my first choice, Devin McCourty. Don’t necessarily need a playmaker but someone who is at least dependable.

Rahim Moore – Another former Fox defender who was very solid in 2014. Not as flashy as Earl Thomas but fits the “dependable” mold that would make the Bears comfortable.

Antrel Rolle – Giants safety that Bears are linked to. Very vocal about being reunited with University of Miami teammates Andre Johnson and Wilfork. Wouldn’t necessarily rule that out for Bears.

Da’Norris Searcy – Bills safety with run-stop and coverage skills. Young and wasn’t really an every down player, but certainly looked the part.

Mike Adams – Colts safety who does a solid job. Older player but could fit for a year or two and get it done.

Mike Adams

Wide Receiver

Obviously there’s an opening for another split out receiver after the Marshall trade. As mentioned earlier, drafting one is a likely possibility but why not add someone with experience. The preference for the Bears would be a speedster, somebody who can take the top off a defense. They didn’t have that guy last season and it made the Jay Cutler led offense predictable. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery weren’t burning past anybody for a much needed deep threat. But anyone with dependable hands would also do…before the draft.

Torrey Smith – Ravens receiver who has proven to be a risk/reward option for the past few years. Has dropping issues but can certainly stretch the field though and compliment Jeffery well.

Andre Johnson – Very similar career as Marshall production-wise, without the baggage. Doesn’t fit the burner mold but super dependable route runner. I’d blame his lack of touchdowns on his quarterbacks more than him.

Michael Crabtree – Former Heisman candidate that has shown promise but hasn’t met the ridiculous standards we all set for him. Change in scenery and pairing with Jeffery and Martellus Bennett could help him breakout.

Michael Crabtree

Running Backs

The Bears do have Matt Forte, but it wouldn’t be outrageous to start looking beyond the pro bowl “everything” back. Forte will be in the last year of his deal and at the very least will need a backup this season. Bears look to be very run-heavy this coming season, so a 2-back system would be beneficial to not go overkill with Forte touches.

Ryan Matthews – Chargers RB that has had difficulty staying on the field, but solid power runner when given opportunities. Not sure how much Matthews will garner on the market, but would make a great compliment to Forte and can make it an audition to take over after his contract is up.

CJ Spiller – Very similar situation to Matthews in terms of injury history and needing an audition, but a much better pass catcher and versatile offensive weapon. Spiller is also no stranger to the 2 back system.

Knowshon Moreno – Another back with injury history that could also be affordable because of that. Made his money with Dolphins after playing in Adam Gase’s RB-by-committe system and obviously familiar with Fox.

Knowshon Moreno

Of course there are more needs and other options the Bears could go with. Feel free to recommend your suggestions and follow along the Free Agency action with me on Twitter