In this series we’ll be recapping the top fantasy performers at each position for the 2014 season. The top-five running backs of 2014 saw a lot of familiar faces! It was also joined by a fresh face and an oft-injured but very talented runner.
So this is what can happen when Murray stays healthy! Talent has never been questioned with Murray, as we’ve seen him flash signs of greatness more than a handful of times. He simply had a knack for finding his way into a season-ending injury for most of his career. He was also denied a true workhorse volume by the pass-crazy offenses of years past in Dallas. With an expiring contract, Murray’s future with Dallas is not a sure thing.
Final Stat Line: 392/1845/13 – 57/416/0
2. Le’Veon Bell
Sophomore slump?? Poppycock! Bell cut some weight in the offseason (also cut a LeGarrett Blount during the season) and took the leap from solid player to elite RB. With his between-the-tackles running and pass-catching ability, Bell was as close to unstoppable as they come. Even with a major touchdown drought through the first half of the season, Bell still finished No. 2 at the position.
Final Stat Line: 290/1361/8 – 83/854/3
Beast Mode will not be denied! Since 2011, Lynch has been the most consistent fantasy running back. Fears of his holdout, workload, and future caused Lynch to take a draft-day dip. Owners who believed in the Beast were rewarded with BeastQuake 2.0 in the fantasy finals and another top-five finish.
Final Stat Line: 280/1306/13 – 37/367/4
4. Matt Forte
Matt Fore was the only member of 2014’s Big Four to return his draft value. Everything was imploding around him in the cesspool that was the Chicago Bears, but Forte was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Forte thrives no matter what the situation, in part because of his baby soft, but oh-so-sticky hands. With Trestman getting the vaudeville hook out of Chicago, Forte’s 2015 fantasy value could take a hit or two.
Final Stat Line: 266/1038/6 – 102/808/4
5. Arian Foster
Foster, much like Lynch, had a level of Kryptonite surrounding him. Perhaps not a dose large enough to kill off Superman, but at least enough to give him appendicitis. The concern for Foster was his non-Man-of-Steel-like body and a lengthy list of nagging injuries. The injury concerns were not unfounded as Foster missed three games, but when in lineups, Foster was a difference maker.
Final Stat Line: 260/1246/8 – 38/327/5
Now that we’ve done a quick recap of the top-five from 2014, let’s take a look and see what 2015 will bring!
1. Eddie Lacy
Nearly everyone loved Lacy coming into 2014 and had him slotted as the No. 5 RB to draft. Things, well (tugs at neck tie), got off to a rocky start. Lacy started the season with games against the Seahawks, Jets, and Lions. Turns out, those were three of the best run defenses in the NFL last year. Understandably, an elite RB should be at least moderately productive in difficult matchups, but toss in a concussion with some other dings and Lacy was looking like bust-of-the-year coming into Week 4 (and that’s including ol’ corporal punishment Adrian Peterson). Lacy had one more blip in Week 6 down in Miami, another top rushing defense, but in every other game Lacy was a top-tier monster. He finished 2014 as the No. 6 RB with 246/1139/9 and 42/427/4. Look for him to crush it in 2015.
2. Le’Veon Bell
We’ve already been over Bell’s 2014 numbers. His patience waiting for blocks and jump-cuts are simply unrivaled right now at the position. Combine that with his venus flytrap hands, and Bell should be a lock for the top-five next year. Pittsburgh’s OC, Todd Haley, just got a nice little extension, so play calling will not be a concern. If Bell can avoid that nasty TD drought and produce similar to the second half of the year, somebody better raise the roof and call Macklemore because the ceiling won’t hold him!
Hey! Remember this guy? The surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame running back who nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record? You don’t? Of course you do! The team All-Day plays for next year is not known at this point. What is known is Peterson still has some turbo powered rocket fuel left in the tank. Perhaps Minnesota moves on from his massive contract and troubling 2014 suspension. The NFL is still about players who can get it done. There will be plenty of strong teams looking to upgrade their backfield. Will the Colts really give the reins to Boom Heron? Will Dallas pay up for Murray or let him walk and sneak AP in? Bruce Arians could use a mammoth in Arizona. Seattle may release Marshawn Lynch, and perhaps they get Peterson in a team-friendly contract as he chases a ring. Peterson will have his options and he will produce wherever he goes.
The consensus No. 1 pick from the 2014 fantasy draft! The only thing standing in his way is Andy “I am the Walrus” Reid constantly forgetting that the best player on the field should probably touch the ball. Charles was giving Eddie Lacy a run for his money early on as bust-of-the-year after the first couple weeks. After absorbing Wolverine-like healing powers and returning from an ankle injury that was supposed to keep him out for extended time, Charles exploded all over New England. He ended the year with 206/1033/9 and 40/291/5, which is a very strong season. Charles really sputtered to the finish line, but so did the rest of the Chiefs. Don’t let the Mustache scare you away from drafting Jamaal in 2015.
Yes, you remember correctly. I just mentioned him earlier as possibly being released by Seattle. Sure, it’s a possibility. I believe Lynch plays another year for the Seahawks. Concerns over his cumulative workload? Stop doubting the Beast. Admittedly, with his running style the wheels will not come off gradually, they will explode like a charged-up Aldreaan. If Seattle wins the Super Bowl, it has been mentioned that perhaps Lynch retires. I think he plays until Grand Moff Tarkin gives the order to destroy Marshawn’s back. Beast Mode devours TDs like Pac-Man Power Pellets and there should be little doubt that he can do it again, at least for one more year.
Other Top Considerations
Murray’s 2014 workload is a major red flag moving forward. He has already shown a great talent for getting injured. History has shown backs coming off a year of usage like he experienced will struggle. In the regular season he had nearly 400 carries. If you add in his catches, he touched the ball about 460 times. On top of the insane regular season, he carried the ball 44 times in the postseason! Murray was running on the final year of a contract and Dallas used him accordingly. Reportedly, Dallas has an open offer to Murray for a four-year deal worth around $16 million. Running backs don’t get paid like they used to, but for what Murray just accomplished personally and for the team, that’s a highly insulting offer. It sounds more like a, “Hey Dallas fans, we made Murray an offer and he didn’t take it” than a team trying to retain a difference maker. Dallas has some serious cap problems and need to pay a guy named Dez Bryant. All of this seems like Murray will be moving on. He is a monster of a man, but moving away from that Dallas offensive line has dropped him from my projected top-five.
Gio Bernard struggled as they tried to square-peg him as a between-tackles runner. Hill took his opportunity and snatched that starting job with the hands of Hercules! There are a few caution flags that surround Hill. For starters, even though it appears he is the star of the timeshare in Cinci, Bernard is still seeing his share of work. In the playoff game against the Colts, the Bengals abandoned the run like an unwanted pet and went almost exclusively to Bernard. That has the potential to happen from time to time. Hill has shown he’s a dangerous man with the football. He’s able to grind out tough yards, but has the speed and power to hit the home run. It’s a funny and quick turnaround that Bernard went from potential RB1, to pain in the rear for Hill owners. If the Bengals are wise they will listen to the wisdom of Iron Maiden, and they will Run To The Hills.
Forte has really been a consistent top-tier RB for fantasy. But it was the Trestman Express that vaulted him to the elite category. In the years before the QB Whisperer came to Chicago, Forte averaged 53 catches a year. Those are great numbers. With Trestman calling the shots, Forte averaged 88 catches. Those are elite numbers. I’m not saying anything close to jump ship on Fort Matty, as he will still be a top-10 RB in 2015.
Here we go again! An RB from a Peyton Manning (maybe) led team that came on strong for half-a-year. Does this remind you of anyone else? Someone named Monte Ball? To be fair, Anderson’s late-season domination was a Godzilla level destruction where Ball’s 2013 surge would be more like a tropical depression. There will be tremendous risk involved with Anderson next year. The price tag will likely continue to climb into draft season. Who’s going to be the Bronco’s QB next year? If it is Manning, does he actually have anything left to offer? Anderson’s outlook is too shrouded for me to declare him top-five in my far-too-early look into 2015.
Mike Wright is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Mike, check out his archive, his podcast, and follow him @ffhitman.