Thursday, August 8, 2013

FAABulous: Fantasy Football 2013 Pre-Season Ranks - RB

Any RB list starts with Adrian Peterson. (minnesota.publicradio.org)
Running backs had a renaissance last year. For the past couple of seasons they had begun to lose their clout as a premier position in fantasy. Lots of teams were becoming more and more pass heavy. This led to quaterbacks putting up monsterous numbers that needed fantasy owners' attention.

With increased passing, all of a sudden the elite crop of wide receivers separated themselves greatly from any lower end #1 or #2 option. Of course, the wide reciever production had wild variances of success and that may have led to more of a need to nab a Calvin Johnson type in the first round.

Also, the New England Patriots happen to be tweaking their own style of offense by deploying athletic yard munching machines at tight end. The previously run/blocking oriented two TE formation was suddenly a weapon. Players like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, and a rejuvinated Tony Gonzalez weren't only perfomring as elite TEs, they were elite WR with TE eligibility!

The one hollowed RB territory of the first round of fantasy drafts had been invaded. QBs, WRs, and TEs all were staking a claim to high draft slots, meanwhile the role of the running back was being minimalized.

It started slowly with the full back position being weeded out. Once a staple of any offense, these larger lead blocker/short yardage guys were viewed as lacking utilization on the field. As such, the running backs were lined  up more in single back formations or with a less skilled blocker (usually the back up TE) in front of them. They took more punishment and/or were required to miss more on-coming defensive linemen and linebackers, who oh by the way now weigh upwards of 250 lbs and run sub-4.50 40's and freakish athleticism. So the injuries and RBs effected by no lead blocker dropped like flies.

Gone were the 300+carriers that dominated most of the history of football. Only a few of those types of runners still carried that amount of times. In 2011 there were only 2! Yes, RBs were falling on draft boards both in fantasy and reality. Once a runningback had a serious injury or hit the age of 30, red flags were raised - soon to be followed by white flags of surrender. The NFL had almost set the league up to no longer care for the run game in favor of the "more exciting" passing game.

Just when it looked like only the elite of the elite at the running back position were worth your first round pick, last year happened. New blood was infused into the league to go along with some pretty good guys that still remained. Five players crossed 300 carries, and more seem primed to do so this year. The NFL had a running renaissance, and these underappreciated stars finally regaind their fantasy relevance.

For as much as the NFL has evolved recently, it can't outrun the ground game. Quarterbacks have more spring in their step, the read-option is causing headaches around the league, and to combat those pesky defensive linemen that move like running backs people started getting offensive linemen that ... moved like running backs.

As we look forward to 2013, we're really dusting off our fantasy strategy guides from the mid-00's and going RB crazy. As we tier our backs for this season, what better way to commemorate them than by listing them according to the hey day of "fictional" RBs - the RBs from Tecmo Super Bowl.

TIER IVY JOE HUNTER
35. Vick Ballard, IND
34. Shane Vereen, NE
33. Chris Ivory, NYJ
32. Ronnie Hillman, DEN
31. Eddie Lacy, GB
30. Rashard Mendenhall, ARZ

Last I checked Ronnie Hillman was the starter in Denver, but rankers across the board are giving Montee Ball starter value. Just a reminder that things are always in flux in Denver due to Mr. Manning. If you want Ball, Hillman is a must hedge.

Vereen and Ballard are two guys that will be used, but are firmly back-ups less an injury happen.

Eddie Lacy is pretty buzzy this preseason. First for potentially being a fantasy star, then for being fat, then back to potential star again. Listen, this is the Green Bay Packers, and aside from a worrisome amount of mounting injuries, they pass the ball. The goal is to lessen the pressure on Aaron Rodgers by blocking for him and having some semblance of a run game, but this does not mean whether Lacy or Jonathan Franklin show up in jerseys on Sundays they're going to make a big difference. Although "fat camp" reports didn't hold this guy back.

Also, I wanted to note that as we move forward, I'm only ranking the top 35 fantasy running backs, so there's not much time to delve into the suckiness Tiers of the Tony Paiges and Keith Woodsides of the TSB world. These are all above average running backs, but I had to get an Ivy Joe Hunter shout out.

TIER OTTIS ANDERSON
29. DeAngelo Williams, CAR
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, CIN
27. Andre Brown, NYG
26. Ahmad Bradshaw, IND
25. Reggie Bush, DET
24. Ryan Mathews, SD

All of these guys have broken some fantasy owner's heart at some point or another. I'm sure people can write sonnets about how much Ryan Mathews has hurt them in his brief career. The hype surrouding this oft-injured back is all but squashed, but with a primary gig - he earns his #24 ranking.

Bush and BJGE are both guys who you hope the offensive system they're in brings the best out of them. Bush had his big opportunity last year in Miami to be a primary back, and he wasn't able to carry the load. In Detroit, he'll be utilized to his strenghts: getting 15-20 carries a game and being a dangerous receiver option out of the backfield. This all seems to equal sporadic fantasy production in 2013.

Two of the more interesting backs are DeAngelo Williams and Andre Brown. Williams is still living off the recognition of his 1,500 20 total TD season from 2008. Anyone that hasn't witnessed D-Will lately is that he's nowhere near that type of player anymore. He's been a part of the oddest RB platoon since Ottis Anderson and Dave Meggett. He and Jonathan Stewart signed mega RB deals only to be mutually terrible.

This year the Panthers look to opt for a more straightforward run game as opposed to using the read option. While this all sounds grand, you can also expect Cam Newton to be throwing the ball a lot and running for 700 or so yards himself as well as poaching numerous goal line TD's. And if it's not the Panthers giant QB diving into the paint, Mike Tolbert is lumbering around as well. All-in-all Williams probably had the talent to be a top 15 back, but the situation just doesn't dictate it.

Brown is the other must hedge RB. Word in Giants camp is that splits with him and David Wilson will be pretty even unless one guy takes the torch and runs with it. Both had equal production when they were healthy last year, which wasn't often - so these factors certainly increase Brown's value, while knocking Wilson's down a peg or two.

TIER HERSCHEL WALKER
23. Le'Veon Bell, PIT
22. Montee Ball, DEN
21. Lamar Miller, MIA

With Big Name value and lots of questions regarding their production, these young runners have a lot to prove in 2013. Ball, as I mentioned, still needs to solidify his position. Miller appears to be on his way to out pacing Daniel Thomas in South Beach, and Bell has the most security out of everyone.

The safest pick is surely Bell. He has the job, and without any real competition should hold onto it. The Steelers have a good track record implementing young, bruising backs into their system, but an seemingly always banged up line and an offense that might struggle this season don't give Bell the ceiling of Ball or Miller.

TIER NEIL ANDERSON
20. DeMarco Murray, DAL
19. Darren Sproles, NO
18. Darren McFadden, OAK
17. Frank Gore, SF

Was Brad Muster really ahead of Neil Anderson on the Bears depth chart? Who played with the Bears and didn't immediately make Anderson the #1 back and then sub out all of Brad Muster's plays? Ok, maybe give Muster a draw play in the top right box.

Anyway, here are guys I'd deem as highly questionable. They could explode in a given week, or fall on their faces, but by and large you're looking at 10-15 fantasy points per week on average, or in Darren Sproles case, extremely on point. We know the risks with DMM or DMC so spin that roulette wheel if you like.

Gore is just a guy I'm down on for this year. He's solid, has an extensive injury history, and is now looking like a second or third fiddle behind Colin Kaepernick.

TIER JOHNNY JOHNSON
16. David Wilson, NYG
15. Chris Johnson, TEN
14. Steven Jackson, ATL

Wilson I touched on earlier. If he can win the gig - he could vault up to the next tier. Then again, he could drop to the bottom of Andre Brown beats him out. This is a safe bet for him, although I'd probably rather have someone else earlier in the draft as my RB2.

Chris Johnson is just frustrating to own. If he's not breaking gigantic runs then he's not doing much good for you. He only mustered one 20 point game last year mainly the result of a lack of finding the end zone.

There is a ton of Steven Jackson love coming out of Atlanta, and I don't get it. The guy is 30, and most backs - let alone big backs - rarely regain a step once they cross that age. Granted, Jackson was on some horrible teams in St. Louis, but moving to a pass happy squad like the Falcons doesn't mean he'll resurrect his career. He's an upgrade over Michael Turner who scraped together double digit TDs for the 5th consecutive year, so maybe if Jackson can get those scores plus rejuvinate his pass catching game ... ok, I see why there is some hype. That's good enough to get him to the 14th spot, but not more.

TIER MIKE ROZIER
13. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX
12. Stevan Ridley, NE
11. Matt Forte, CHI

Tier Mike Rozier goes to three backs that are underrated heading into the season. Mike Rozier is one of, but not THE most underrated RB in Tecmo Super Bowl. He is on an awful Falcons team, but he can bust off some nice runs in their run and gun offense.

MJD is two years removed from being, well Doug Martin. He held out last year, didn't get money, reported to camp out of shape, and had his only valuable game Week 3 then by Week 7 he was injured and a total bust. There's reason to doubt MJD, and while he's produced in an offense where he's the one and only threat, he is still a couple years removed from his last great year. He can certainly rebound health wise at 28, but it's hard to gauge how productive he'll be.

Ridley is now the primary back in New England. The problem with that is there really is never a primary back in New England. Usually there's a group of backs that fit a particular style the Pats are looking to deploy. Last year Ridley could have a big week just as well as Shane Vereen or Danny Woodhead. Woodhead would have been the biggest threat to Ridley for his pass catching and short yardage conversions (i.e. touchdowns), but he's off in Whale's Vagina. That leaves Vereen and LaGarrett Blount for crunch time. Now, it goes without saying that who knows what Bill Belichick will do, but with injuries and jail time for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez respectively, his options are limited. Cue the Tim Tebow music. Good Gawd!

Along with Jay Cutler, Matt Forte should be excited about their new head coach in Chicago. Marc Trestman brings a more refined offensive game to Chicago. While it'll be interesting to see how Cutler adapts (in a contract year no less), Trestman's style certainly plays to a lot of Forte's strengths. Lots of running and catching and hopefully TD's. Out of any RB outside of the Top 10, Forte has the chance to break into the top 5 this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. 

TIER THURMAN THOMAS
10. Trent Richardson, CLE
9. Alfred Morris, WAS
8. C.J. Spiller, BUF
7. Ray Rice, BAL

Like all fantasy drafts when you get to this part it's about preference. Whether you prefer the proven track record of Rice, the explosiveness of Spiller, the power of T-Rich, or the car of Alfred Morris you can look for and pick what you like. These guys are listed as my preference, with Rice knocked down a bit from many other rankings. Ultimately though, you can mix them all together and give me one and I'd be fine with it (note to self: pray you don't get a pick after the Top 6).

I'm dropping Rice from his usual Top 4 perch as a result of his Ravens team being in pretty bad shape. Similar to MJD, Rice has proven himself against the "he's the only guy that can beat us offense," and while you would think winning the Super Bowl and your newly minted $120M quarterback would provide some relief, it probably won't. The departure of Anquan Boldin and season ending injury to Dennis Pitta put the Baltimore pass offense on its heels. The plus is more focus on the run, but also better handling of Rice.

Rice was almost criminally underused early in the season, but while many were scratching their heads, maybe it was a sign of things to come. He was fresh for the playoffs, and Rice doesn't need 25 carries a game since he adds value through his pass catching. You wonder how many times Bernard Pierce might take some goal line runs, or what if Joe Flacco is able to take more command of the Ravens' no huddle offense. Just some things to consider.

TIER BARRY SANDERS
6. LeSean McCoy, PHI
5. Jamaal Charles, KC

Two exmplosive backs, two completely new systems, two giant question marks. Will Andy Reid and Chip Kelly provide Shady and Charles need to succeed? Nothing should suggest otherwise as these two offensive minded coaches have certainly made use of their running game over the years.

Reid is known more for his pass happy style, but a back like Charles is a useful weapon in Big Red's playbook. Just look at what Brian Westbrook was able to do. In his prime you're looking at double digit TDs easy. Now two years removed from that disasterous Week 1 ACL tear, Charles amassed 1,700 total yards last year, and the beauty of his production is that he bites off big enough chunks per carry that he can keep himself rested, healthy, and an active part of the west coast pass game. Charles only had 6 TDs (5 rushing, 1 receiving) last year, but that was on a team that is much worse than this version of the Chiefs. Everything else lines up for those TD numbers to go up, up, up.

McCoy carries an even bigger question mark over him. No one knows how Chip Kelly will modify his offense to the NFL and to the personnel he has on the Eagles. We do know they're going to run a lot of plays and they're going to run them fast. It'd be hard pressed to imagine Kelly giving the full burden of the offense to Michael Vick or Nick Foles or whoever starts at QB, well, because he's never done that at Oregon. McCoy and breakout back Bryce Brown (who narrowly missed this list) will get ample touches. The big difference maker will be what happens around the red zone. McCoy is the Eagles most dangerous threat, but will Kelly defer to him or does he have too many tricks in his bag to just ho-hum run it up the middle all the time. Best case is he can knock on the door of 20 total TDs again.

TIER CHRISTIAN OKOYE
4. Doug Martin, TB
3. Arian Foster, HOU
2. Marshawn Lynch, SEA


The Muscle Hampster, as Martin hates to be called, is finally an original nickname given to someone in sports. Not D-Mart or DM, but the muscle hampster. He was the flag bearer for the new wave of running backs to hit the NFL last year, and while he was a popular sleeper, Martin was able to live up to anyone's expectations. With 1,926 total yards he certainly lived up to his billing as Ray Rice 2.0. So with such an out of this world season, there's going to be some calls for regression. First though, let's look at what is in Martin's favor. He has a sneaky explosive offense (depending on what Josh Freeman does this year) with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside, and he's getting back Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks - two All-Pro quality guards that were injured all of last season to go along with newly acquired left tackle Gabe Carimi. This year's Bucs o-line will be much better than last year by default. Also, Martin has no challengers to his position for playing time or goal line snaps.

Some negatives might be that Martin did have his share of games that were flat out stinkers, and 83 of his total fantasy points came in back to back games in weeks 8 and 9, but I certainly wouldn't hold that against him. I see Martin more comfortable this year, and picking up where he left off.

Plenty of people are already tossing dirt on Arian Foster, but it's getting a little crazy. Keep in mind that Foster was battling through some injuries, but still carried the ball more than anyone in football. And what butters Foster's bread, are his TDs. While some backs previously listed had some questions about if they'll get enough opportunities to run the ball in, in Texas, there is only one primary option when it comes to the goal line and that's Foster. He's still only 26, and even though the Texans offense doesn't appear to be as explosive as it once once, they still boast one of the best offensive lines in football that run their zone blocking scheme to perfection, and Foster runs it just as well.

I'm going with Lynch at #2 because dude lives up to his awesome nickname, Beast Mode. Seemingly powered by Skittles, the guy has really found a home in Seattle. They know how to utlize him and they're not afraid to give him the ball. But what about Seattle's two games against the vaunted 49ers defense, you ask? Well Lynch carried the ball 45 times against those Niners last year to the tune of 214 yards/4.8 yards per carry and 1 TD. Toss in 3 dozen receiving yards and another TD, and there's no reason to run from Lynch.

Holdmydiiiick!

Now a moment for Christian Okoye. Perhaps no one has as much fame from Tecmo Super Bowl than the next guy listed, but make no mistake about it, Okoye was the original beast mode. The "Nigerian Nightmare" is largely underrated in Tecmo. He was a killer. Without the breakaway speed of Bo, when Okoye got moving he blew threw defenses. Escpecially when his PHYSICAL CONDITION: EXCELLENT oh boy, watch out.

TIER BO JACKSON
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN


One of the most miraculous NFL seasons ever. That's what Peterson did last year. Each week he busted out something ridiculous the first year back from an ACL tear. He is a man. He almost broke the single season rushing record, and he has plans to take down Emmitt, but in reality, us mortals can't expect another 2,000 yard season from Peterson. Maybe just 1,700 rushing yards and 18 TD? I think that'll do for #1 overall.

This about sums up All Day.


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