In the second release of my "Fantasy Outlook" series I examine certain running backs, many of whom I tend to have a non-mainstream opinion. The purpose is to illustrate situations that casual fantasy footballers may not be aware of or in a light they may not have considered.
This year, unlike recent seasons, requires early attention paid to the position. However, with a little luck on your side, you can score high-upside gambles in the middle rounds.
An overview of the position shows just a few players of elite status, namely Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles. Close second-tier guys, such as Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch, all make fine first-round choices, depending where you pick in the round.
Be sure to check out our Cheat Sheet Calculator for customized rankings tailored to your league's scoring rules.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: There is zero doubt in my mind that Peterson is the only No. 1 overall pick. Don't get cute and overthink it!
Too much risk for such a high pick?
Arian Foster, Houston Texans: As mentioned above, he is still an elite back. Make that an extremely risky elite back. No rusher has more carries in the last three years than Foster. His receiving contributions continue to decline, and an early calf injury could be a sign of his body breaking down. Foster is very capable of another huge season, however.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I cannot stress enough just how inconsistent Martin was last year. He averaged 66.3 yards per game in 12 of his contests and scored half of his touchdown output in just three games. That is awfully tough to bank on in head-to-head fantasy leagues, but he'll get the rock enough to be an RB1.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills: Do not be scared of Fred Jackson cutting into Spiller's workload as anything more than an occasional spell when the former Clemson back needs a breather. He will be the focus of this offense.
Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots: The Pats' team is shaping up to look like the three-time title-winning versions under Bill Belichick: a stout defense, no-name receiving corps, and a power-running game. Ridley quietly rushed 290 times at 4.5 yards per carry last year. The Pats will pound him into the ground while he is fresh. History indicates Belichick holds little to no loyalty to retaining his prized toters, so if retaining Ridley long term may not be in the cards for the Patriots they have no reason to take it easy on him now.
LeSean McCoy/Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly's history at Oregon suggests you'll see roughly a 60-40 split here. McCoy should be a low-end RB1, but Brown may have a large role around the stripe. Don't automatically assume McCoy is a lock for studliness.
Lamar Miller/Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins: I have a hard time buying into Thomas as the feature back. Watch this situation throughout camp and the preseason, but I don't expect to see much of the former K-Stater as long as Miller is effective. Miller has sleeper stardom written all over him.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders: He will be written off by too many owners this year. I am not of the mindset that DMC is going to be an elite fantasy option, yet I have a hard time passing on him in the fourth round of PPR drafts. A return to the power-blocking system will do wonders for his stat line. Now if only he can stay healthy....
Reggie Bush/Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions: Everyone seems to be forgetting Leshoure scored nine times last year and may be assuming, to a degree, he will see limited work behind, rather than possibly alongside, Bush. Leshoure could prove to be a regular flex play, particularly in standard scoring setups. Bush, of course, has crazy value in PPR leagues, in comparison.
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals: Two years removed from a devastating knee injury, Mendy has a chance to return to No. 1 fantasy status. He'll see some competition for touches from rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, as well as the brittle Ryan Williams. There is legit potential for a 1,200-yard, 10-TD season from the former Steeler now that he is healthy and reunited with Bruce Arians' play-calling.
Ryan Mathews/Danny Woodhead/Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers: Mathews will get every chance, at least early on, to prove he can be the man. The reality is he'll be a two-down man. He is a shaky blocker, if I may exaggerate in his favor, and Mathews is not the electric receiver out of the backfield that Woodhead can be. Brown will see touches only when the others need a break. Owners should love Woodhead's sneaky PPR value.
What can Brown do for you?
David Wilson/Andre Brown, New York Giants: The more I investigate this backfield, the less I like Wilson. He could rack up 1,200 yards on the ground but may struggle to score more than three times. Brown is the safer bet to me in this pairing.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets: I see nothing redeeming about having Ivory on my fantasy squad this year. He has been a soft-tissue injury waiting to happen and is already nicked up. The Jets have a good OL, but there is nothing stopping defenses from stacking the box eight deep and poaching Ivory at the line.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals: Nothing about The Law Firm appeals to me in PPR formats, and I wholeheartedly believe Gio will overtake him by midseason at the latest. Bernard is electric -- something OC Jay Gruden has coveted dearly. BJGE may be the goal line option, but I'll take Bernard's 1,500-plus yards of offense any day of the week.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers: I loved Lacy at Alabama, and I think he is a pro-style back, but Green Bay is where stud fantasy RB prospects go to die. He won't be on the field for third downs, is injury-prone, and will struggle to provide consistent fantasy points on a weekly basis. Green Bay's other rookie rusher, Johnathan Franklin, may be the better choice, at least for PPR owners.
Montee Ball/Ronnie Hillman/Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos: Moreno could be in the mix, perhaps as a third-down back, but I think Denver really wants Hillman to be that guy if Ball can be a two-downer. He has worked hard to improve his pass protection and is currently running as the starter. Ball is the fantasy darling after a beastly collegiate career, but this Broncos offense isn't Mike Shanahan's 1,500-yard running back factory. Hill provides much better risk-reward odds.
Stash these names away for draft day
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders: McFadden is an injury waiting to happen, while Rashad Jennings stands between Murray and fantasy Rookie of the Year honors.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: Despite being a two-down build, Stacy could out-muscle the smallish Daryl Richardson and earn the lion's share of the workload.
Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots: Should something happen to Ridley, the Pats will likely go to an evenly split committee that will include the deceivingly awesome Bolden.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins: A once-promising fantasy prospect, Helu appears to be fragile and in Mike Shanahan's doghouse more often than not. He could win the third-down duties in D.C., though, which would give him some PPR pop.
Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks: It appears as if Turbin has locked up the third-down duties. If something were to happen to Marshawn Lynch, rookie Christine Michael's rumbling ways could share the load with the more dynamic Turbin.
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.