Top 10 Fantasy Producing 3rd-Year Running Backs for 2014
Heading into their third seasons as true NFL running backs, we take a look at a few players who have become must own studs in all leagues as well as the potential break out stars who could be looking at a larger piece of the pie. Injuries are always something to take into consideration as well, these youngsters may get a chance to see some solid playing time and help contribute to your team early or late in the season. Lamar Miller playing behind Knowshon Moreno who just recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery is expected to see a larger role in 2014 along with Lance Dunbar who is playing behind injury prone DeMarco Murray is expected to see quite a bit more 2-back schemes with Linehan calling the plays.
A few young backs have acquired new run based offensive coordinators which could be a bit worrisome because of having to learn a new play book but,BUT with Lovie Smith going to the Buccaneers, Gary Kubiak now with Baltimore and Scott Linehan now down in Dallas, I expect to see a big jump in production from Doug Martin, Bernard Pierce and Lance Dunbar this year.
Top 3rd-Year Running Backs
1. Alfred Morris (10) Washington Redskins : Alfred has the chance to return as a Top 10 Fantasy running back this season if/IF he can prove capable as a receiver. We know Morris can run the ball, and he has consecutive seasons with 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns (2,888 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns combined). But he has just 20 receptions in his career, and that could hold him back slightly in new coach Jay Gruden’s offense. Now, Morris did catch four passes for 68 yards at the Pro Bowl, and Gruden said he could see Morris catching 20-25 passes this year. If that happens, then Morris could become a star. We like Morris as a high-end No. 2 Fantasy running back. He should be around 1,300 rushing yards and double digits in touchdowns, and if he can add 160-200 receiving yards on top of that it would push him back into the Top 10 (he was No. 15 last year). Plan on drafting Morris early in Round 2 in the majority of standard leagues, and he should be drafted in Round 3 in PPR formats.
2. Doug Martin (7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers : Some owners might be scared off of Doug Martin after his awful 2013 that ended with him on injured reserve, but that might be a mistake. When the Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith to be their new head coach, they hired a man whose offensive vision is to run the ball as much as possible. And Smith hired former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford to run the offense, and he has a pretty solid track record of running the football successfully. The Bucs also are without a quality quarterback, Josh McCown was their big free-agent signing, which means they’ll probably end up running the football a lot. Martin should dominate the carries for Tampa Bay so long as he stays healthy, so there’s a real chance at the very least he grinds his way to good numbers. He’ll also catch a bunch of passes and be in line for goal-line work. We’re expecting a nice bounce-back year from Martin in 2014, enough to call him a Top 15 Fantasy rusher.
3. Trent Richardson (10) Indianapolis Colts : There’s no question that Richardson is one of the year’s biggest gambles — he let everyone down last season when he was taken as a first-round pick and promptly forgot how to play football when he was traded from Cleveland to Indianapolis. But we’ve since learned that he had a hard time adjusting to the Colts offense and the Colts coaches themselves took blame for his poor production. We also know that the team has backed Richardson ever since trading a first-round pick for him and will give him an opportunity to win the starting job in training camp. Richardson obviously has the potential to be a tremendous grinder, he averaged 87.8 total yards per game as a rookie and scored 12 total times in 15 games. It’s a matter of him putting it all together and taking advantage of working in an offense piloted by Andrew Luck. If he can do it, the payoff of drafting him with a pick in Round 6 or so will be huge.
4. Lamar Miller (5) Miami Dolphins : Miller had lofty goals in 2013. He wanted to rush for 1,500 yards and average 5.0 yards per carry. Well, he finished slightly (insert sarcasm) below those goals with 177 carries for 709 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, and he also had 26 catches for 170 yards. Miller didn’t get much help from his offensive line, but the Dolphins still decided he was possibly replaceable by bringing in Knowshon Moreno as a free agent. Through camp thus far, reports have stated that Miller has out worked and out shined newly acquired Moreno who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to miss 4-5 weeks. That should give Miller plenty of time to take the reins and run with them. Miller has the chance to have a breakout season but the Dolphins offensive line will be without key center Mike Pouncey which will force the Dolphins to play 5 new offensive line-man this season.
5. Bernard Pierce (11) Baltimore Ravens : Gary Kubiak’s Texans offenses were most successful when leaning on his zone-run game to set up designed vertical shot plays (hint hint Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta). With Rice facing a suspension, Bernard Pierce should get the first crack at Ravens lead running back duties. Continue to monitor Pierce as well because he is returning from a pretty serious shoulder injury that lead him to require surgery. Pierce has been ahead of schedule in his rehab as he’s been doing individual work during OTAs and minicamp. It leaves him with an excellent chance to run with the starting job out of the gate in new OC Gary Kubiak’s run-based scheme. Ray Rice is facing a multi-game suspension and Pierce has a major talent edge on Justin Forsett. Although Pierce regressed sharply last season, his rookie tape has us optimistic on his Year 3 outlook. He could very well end up playing ahead of Rice all season.
6. Lance Dunbar (11) Dallas Cowboys : The Cowboys have stated numerous times that new OC Scott Linehan “loves” RB Lance Dunbar. Dunbar has been earmarked by those who cover the Cowboys as a player primed for a breakout season. As the favorite for No. 2 duties behind an injury-prone DeMarco Murray, Dunbar will be one of the top handcuff backs to own and could even flirt with stand alone flex value. Dunbar needs to be owned in every league. There’s plenty of late-round flier appeal. New OC Scott Linehan got healthy RB2 production out of Joique Bell in Detroit last season behind Reggie Bush.
7. Robert Turbin (4) Seattle Seahawks : Turbin will compete with Christine Michael for the No. 2 running back job in Seattle behind Marshawn Lynch, and that could be a vital role this season given Lynch’s workload from 2013. Lynch had over 400 touches last year, and he could be headed for a breakdown. If that happens then Turbin or Michael could be pressed into more action than originally anticipated. Turbin has been the No. 2 running back for the Seahawks the past two years, and he had minimal production in 2013 with 77 carries for 264 yards and eight catches for 60 yards. We like Michael’s upside more than Turbin, but if Lynch were to miss time we could see the two sharing the role. Keep an eye on what happens in training camp with Turbin and Michael, and whoever is No. 2 on the depth chart is worth a late-round pick in the majority of leagues, especially as a handcuff for Lynch.
8. Ronnie Hillman (4) Denver Broncos : Ronnie has a chance to be the No. 2 running back for the Broncos this season behind starter Montee Ball. He is expected to compete with C.J. Anderson for that job, and Hillman could be worth a late-round flier if he’s second on the depth chart. Hillman was expected to have a prominent role in Denver in 2013, but fumble problems in the preseason dropped him to fourth on the depth chart behind Moreno, Ball and Anderson. The one main fact that is going to win out the starting Broncos running back job is pass protection. If he has the ability to keep Peyton Manning on his feet, he’ll get opportunities. Hillman finished the season with 55 carries for 218 yards and one touchdown and 12 catches for 119 yards, and he was inactive for seven games. Keep an eye on what the Broncos do on the depth chart behind Ball, and if Hillman ends up second then he’s worth handcuffing to Ball or drafting on his own with a late-round pick.
9. David Wilson (8) New York Giants : Wilson is trying to come back from neck surgery after he was hurt in Week 5 last year and placed on injured reserve. All signs point toward him being ready for training camp, but the Giants are going to be cautious with his recovery. To cover themselves, the Giants added Rashad Jennings in free agency, brought back Peyton Hillis and drafted Andre Williams. Still, Wilson could play a prominent role if healthy, but he has a lot to prove to Fantasy owners this season. Keep an eye on his recovery heading into and throughout training camp, and if he’s back at 100 percent then he’s worth drafting with a late-round pick.