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Fantasy Football: Second-Tier RB Analysis

by Matt Barbato | @realmattbarbato | Featured Writer
Aug 14, 2015

C.J. Anderson is just one of several highly valued backs taken outside of the top five picks

C.J. Anderson is just one of several highly valued backs taken outside of the top five picks

Many fantasy football experts believe in taking a running back with their first pick. It’s an adage that has seemingly been around for a decade. That’s because the stock of premium players runs dry pretty quickly at the running back position. It’s not like the wide receiver position, which contains a surplus of potential WR1s.

However, getting one of the few truly reliable backs isn’t as easy as just taking one with your top pick. This is especially difficult if you’re picking outside of the top-five or top-six in your draft.

It’s unlikely you’ll land Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell or Marshawn Lynch if you’re picking sixth or later. Those are the first five players taken off the board in most drafts, according to average draft position, so don’t count on them falling.

So who should you take to be your top back when it’s time to make the pick? Here’s a list of the next tier of running backs, according to our expert consensus rankings (ECR), along with the pros and cons of taking each player.

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C.J. Anderson (ECR: 6, ADP: 7) 

Many would consider Anderson a part of the top tier of backs because of his stellar production in the second-half of the 2014 season. Anderson finished the season as the 11th best fantasy back and did practically all of his work in just eight games.

Anderson seized the majority of the snaps from Ronnie Hillman after both were called upon to replace Montee Ball, who lost his job due to an injury entering the 2014 season. After taking the reigns as Denver’s bell cow, Anderson ran the ball 162 times for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. The Broncos relied on Anderson more in the final month of the season as Peyton Manning was playing the stretch with a torn quadricep.

Manning is still the chief of the offense and Denver isn’t going to suddenly become a run-reliant attack, but that doesn’t mean Anderson won’t be a focal point of the offense. Gary Kubiak is now the head coach and his zone blocking scheme is a running back’s dream, just ask Justin Forsett and Arian Foster. There are doubts about Manning’s durability as well, which means the Broncos may rely on Anderson more often as the season winds down.

The concerns with Anderson lie in sample size and the rest of the backfield. The third-year pro has to prove he can remain durable as the leading back for the entire season, not just an eight-game stretch. Denver’s offensive line is also in shambles, especially with Ryan Clady out for the year. There’s also no guarantee that Hillman and Ball won’t steal carries away from Anderson.

Anderson isn’t as safe as the guys listed above him because of his small sample size, but his average draft position exemplifies how highly valued he is in drafts. Anderson will likely be the next back off the board once the elite players are gone.

Matt Forte (ECR: 7, ADP: 6)

Forte is going ahead of Anderson in drafts, and that’s probably because he’s been a bell cow practically his entire career in Chicago. There is some trepidation in picking Forte heading into the 2015 season.

Forte is coming off arguably his best season and finished fourth in scoring among running backs last season. However, a lot of his success was due to his 102 receptions. Keep this fact in mind: Forte accumulated 1,038 yards rushing and 808 yards receivingForte actually ranked 45th in the league in receiving yards, which is quite a feat out of the backfield.

Former head coach Marc Trestman didn’t do much good in Chicago, but one of the few things he did was make Forte a fantasy monster in PPR leagues. Forte’s numbers will surely take a big hit with Trestman’s pass-happy offense out of town.

Reports are that new head coach John Fox is planning to use more of a committee in the backfield. The Bears also invested a fourth-round pick in Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford and still have Ka’Deem Carey on the roster. Chicago’s offensive line also isn’t very good, as evidenced by Forte’s 3.9 yards per carry average.

The personnel and the scheme are both going against Forte in 2015 and to top it all off he turns 30 in December. Forte should still be a top-10 back in PPR formats, as the Bears will still check it down to him frequently, but more of his fantasy value may hinge on his running ability than usual.

DeMarco Murray (ECR: 8, ADP: 8)

Nobody knows what’s going on in Philadelphia, but many are expecting Murray to be the bell cow in the fastest offense in football. The question is whether Murray has enough tread on his tires.

It’s obvious how unbelievable Murray was last season for the Dallas Cowboys. He carried the ball nearly 400 times for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns to finish as the top fantasy running back. However, Murray will be dealing with a change of scenery in Philadelphia.

First off, Murray won’t be running behind the best offensive line in the NFL anymore. Second, he will have Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in the backfield with him. Mathews will certainly get a decent share of carries while Sproles will mainly serve as the third-down back.

Another concern with Murray is his injury history, which went on the back burner last season after Murray played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Mathews may steal carries away from Murray, but he will allow the Eagles to preserve Murray throughout the season.

A new team shouldn’t take Murray out of the top-10. He’s still a workhorse and a very hard runner. Despite his amazing 2014 season, he may feel he has something to prove after the Cowboys let him walk away to an NFC East rival. If health is on Murray’s side, it’s safe to expect another impressive season from him.

Jeremy Hill (ECR: 9, ADP: 10)

Hill has a ton of upside going into his second season after racking up 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie year. Even with Giovani Bernard in the backfield, Hill should get the majority of carries.

Hill was used inconsistently for most of the season but started pounding defenses once he got the bulk of the touches. In the final three games of the season, Hill got 25, 22 and 23 carries respectively and piled up 148, 147 and 100-yard performances in those games. Hill produced great numbers when relied upon as the true starter.

Hill is a wrecking ball of a runner and a load for opposing defenders to handle. He also garners a ton of value because he will be the goal-line back and should flirt with double-digit touchdowns.

Bernard is still a presence with the Bengals, however. He got 168 touches last season even with Hill emerging and will get most of the snaps on third down.

With the untrustworthy Andy Dalton under center, the Bengals will be sure to lean on Hill and his power running ability. There isn’t a ton of hype surrounding Hill when compared to some of the other backs in the top 10, but he could soar into the top five in scoring this season.

LeSean McCoy (ECR: 10, ADP: 9)

If there’s a back on this list who is most likely to not finish in the top 10 in scoring, it’s McCoy. There’s no doubt Shady is one of the shiftiest and most explosive runners in the NFL. The situation in Buffalo is just really bad.

That being said, new head coach Rex Ryan loves to run the ball and went out and traded for McCoy. He may run McCoy into the ground this season, which means McCoy could get his points via a high volume of touches.

The high volume in Buffalo may not matter all that much. McCoy’s 314 carries last season were the second-most in the league, yet McCoy finished only 13th in fantasy points last season and was near players like Joique Bell and Matt Asiata…and that was in Chip Kelly’s offense.

McCoy also joins a Buffalo offense that has a mediocre offensive line and a putrid quarterback situation. No matter who is named the starter, McCoy will likely see plenty of seven- and eight-man fronts from opponents.

When McCoy can find the room to run he is an electric back capable of being a top fantasy back. But that space could be hard to find in Buffalo, even if the carries do come in abundance.

Justin Forsett (ECR: 11, ADP: 11)

Forsett could be an enormous steal in the second or third round. He emerged onto the fantasy scene for the first time last year with 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. He was the eighth-best fantasy back in the league last season and the loss of Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator won’t be as big of a departure as some estimate.

Marc Trestman is the new offensive coordinator in Baltimore. Trestman was mentioned earlier as the man who made Matt Forte into a PPR machine a year ago. Forsett may not be as gifted of a player as Forte, but he can more than hold his own as a pass-catching asset out of the backfield. Plus, reports say Trestman will keep much of Kubiak’s offense. Trestman does utilize the running back quite a bit in the passing game, which means Forsett’s situation gets even better.

Forsett does turn 30 in October and will have to prove that he can carry the brunt of the offense for another season, but there’s no reason to believe he cannot finish as a top eight running back again. Forsett should be a solid RB1 and an outstanding RB2 and will be especially appealing in PPR leagues.

So don’t worry if you can’t get one of the top-five backs in the draft. There are plenty of ways to piece together a productive backfield starting with the guys mentioned above.

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Matt Barbato is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, you can view his archive or follow him @realmattbarbato.

Correspondent, Draft Prep, Featured, NFL