DynastyOwner: 2014 Running Back Rankings

Dynasty owner is all about the combination of performance and contract value.  Just like real owners in (most) sports, Dynasty Owner fantasy football requires owners to create their team under the guidelines of a salary cap, or else they are forced to pay luxury tax penalties.  This adds an element of strategy and planning that makes Dynasty Owner the most engaging and addictive fantasy football format around.

And while Dynasty Owner is completely unique in many engaging ways, one thing that hasn't changed is how important the Quarterback position is to your team.  You need elite production from the position to have a reasonable chance at winning your league.  

In the last post, we ranked our QBs.  Now we take a look at running backs in Dynasty Owner.   While it might be an undervalued position to GMs, it's still the most important position in fantasy and many leagues are won and lost here.   However, don't go into your Dynasty Owner drafts with the common RB rankings as you'll likely end up drafting some running backs way too high.   

Pro tip:  A great way to prepare for the season is to try our free mock drafts

Tier 1 RB Rankings:  Ellite RBs at a Bargain

Charles is the premier RB Dynasty Owner target in 2014

1).  Jamal Charles (KC, Age 27):  $4.5MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

In Dynasty Owner, Jamal Charles easily edges out other high performing running backs like Adrian Petersen and LeSean McCoy because his average salary is half what theirs is on a yearly basis.  All three are game changing backs when healthy but Charles has the most optimal combination of production, contract value, and age.  He is in his fantasy prime and while he's probably going to get paid after this season, he is the safest bet in fantasy amongst all Running Backs to build your dynasty with.   

2).  Eddie Lacy (GB, Age 23):  $850k / Year (Signed through 2017)

This is where Dynasty Owner differs from all other fantasy formats.  Most standard vanilla leagues have the same RB rankings across the board and thus there is really no strategy involved - simply luck of the draft order.  But with Dynasty Owner, the contract values reintroduce the element of strategy in planning for your draft.

While you might expect to see Adrien Petersen or LeSean McCoy here, both of their respective salaries are more than 10x that of Lacy - but we know their output won't be 10x his production.  

In the new passing era of the NFL, the RB position has become devalued so young RBs like Lacy have been signing very team friendly deals...even if they are 1st or 2nd round picks.  Lacy is the poster child for that, and a fantastic value for an RB who projects to be a top 10 overall rusher.  Just 24 years old and making less than $1MM each year, Lacy allows you to get a number 1 RB while saving your cap for an elite but high priced QB or WR.  That's an invaluable asset for a position that still scores so highly in fantasy.  

3).  Le'Veon Bell (PIT, Age 22):  $1MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

The same thinking for Lacy applies to goth Bell and Bernard.  High upside running backs on the 2nd year of their rookie contracts who have already proven they can be stat stuffers in their rookie seasons.  

Slotting Bell and Bernard is really a coin flip - both are 22 years old, both signed through 2017 and both figure to be 1,000 yard rushers for the next 5+ years if they can stay healthy.  You can't go wrong with either, we just slot Bell a little higher based on the type of running back he is with size and power and he is less likely to lose goal line touches in the future.  

4).  Gio Bernard (CIN, Age 22):  $1.3MM / Year (Signed through 2017)

An explosive RB who is a major threat to catch a lot of passes out of the backfield, the only thing that prevents us from ranking Gio a little higher are the signals the Bengals send in not guaranteeing him workhorse duties.  Last year he lost goal line opportunities and this year they drafted 240 lb bruiser RB Jeremy Hill in the 2nd round which makes us wonder if we're going to be looking at a thunder/lightning type scenario in the Cincinnati backfield.   Either way, Gio figures to be used heavily and is a great bet to outscore his contract for the next 4 years in Dynasty Owner.

Tier 2 RB Rankings:  The Luxury RB Class

McCoy will likely lead the NFL in touches again in the Eagles sprint offense

Much like the equvalent class of QBs that featured the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, this class is all about paying a premium for premium production.  There is nothing wrong with targeting these guys high in drafts - they are safe picks who are projected to be elite.  You just need to understand that drafting one of these RBs means you need to prepare to hunt for bargains at other positions in the draft.  

5).  LeSean McCoy (PHI, Age 26):  $9 MM / Year (Signed through 2018)

Shady McCoy edges out AP because he's 3 years younger which is significant in running back years.  At just 26 years old, he's in the prime of his career and in a high octane offense that will allow him to produce monster lines week in and week out.  

But his contract can't be ignored, as he makes nearly double every other running back in the league not named Adrien Petersen.  When you compare that yearly number to the other RBs in Tier 1, or even some of the less proven options in later tiers, it's easy to see why that number might make you reconsider.  But if you are able to spend wisely at other positions, McCoy will almost certainly propel you into the playoffs for the next several years.

6).  Adrian Petersen:  $13.7 MM / Year (Signed through 2018)

The ultimate luxury purchase at the RB position, no other RB is capable of dominating the league like AP.  That said, no other RB salary comes close to his nearly $14MM per year contract.  

With Petersen, you are taking a pretty big risk in Dynasty Owner.  He's the type of RB who is difficult to unload both via trade or release...so you have to understand you have to get elite production from him for the next several years to cost justify his salary. He's still only 29 years old and one of the finest conditioned athletes on the planet, so we think he still has 3-4 more years of elite production, but any injury or falloff in his play means you are likely holding a bag for a while to come.  

7).  Matt Forte (CHI, Age 28):  $7.6 MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

Solid as a rock and a fixture in the top 10 in RB rankings for the last several years, Forte is one of the last remaining 3 down backs in the NFL.  He was 2nd in the league in total rushing yards last year and projects to have a similar season this this year.  Forte is still only 28 years old so he should have another 3-5 years of quality top 5 production upside left in him.

Tier 3 RB Rankings:  The Solid Value

Reggie Bush still has a lot left in the tank at age 29

For most of the RBs in this list, you'll likely get what you pay for.   Many of these RBs might be just at the tail end of their prime or coming off injury plagued seasons so there is some small risk with each of these picks.  

8).  Doug Martin (TB, Age 25):  $1.7 MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

A year ago, Martin would have easily found himself in Tier 1 coming off a year where he was a top 5 rusher with a seemingly unlimited upside.  But last year was an injury plagued disaster, and the Bucs drafted Charles Sims early in the 3rd for insurance.

Still, Martin should bounce back this year and could prove to be a nice bargain at just $1.7 MM year for the next two years.  

9).  CJ Spiller (BUF, Age 27) :  $5.1 MM / Year (Signed through 2021)

The backfield is crowded in Buffalo with Jackson and newly signed Bryce Brown, but Spiller should still get 20 carries per game and he's shown in the past that's enough for him to put up mind boggling numbers.  If he can only stay healthy...

10).  DeMarco Murray (DAL, Age 26):  $740k / Year (Signed through 2015)

11).  Alfred Morris (WAS, Age 25 :  $2.2 MM / Year (Signed through 2015)

12).  Reggie Bush (DET, Age 29):  $4 MM / Year (Signed through 2017)

It's somewhat surprising to see Bush is still under 30, and he comes with all sorts of injury risk.  But he's moved to three teams now and on all three teams he's shown extended periods of fantastic production as a runner and passing threat out of the backfield.  He's unconventional in how he scores for your team but the points will be there and the contract is fair for his expected output.  

Tier 4 RB Rankings:  Breakout or Bounce-back Potential

Monte Ball will get a chance to shine in Denver's explosive offense this year

This Tier is filled with guys who have 2 things in common.  First, they are all relatively cheap and second, they all have upside to significantly outperform their contract value for the next several years.  They could also completely bust out for your franchise. This is your tier risk takers.  

13).  Monte Ball (DEN, Age 23) :  $860k / Year (Signed through 2017)

A chance to be the lead back in a record setting offense, under 25, a sub-million/yr contract...there is a lot to be excited about with Ball.  You may even consider drafting him ahead of the previous Tier guys if you are thinking really long term.  

14). Andre Ellington (ARZ, Age 25): $565k / Year (Signed through 2017)

If they commit to him in Arizona and stop trying to prevent injury by limiting his touches, he could be a monster.  He's explosive and has one of the lowest contracts of all projected starting RBs in the entire league.  He's one of our favorite RB targets in this year's draft.  

15).  Bishop Sankey (TEN, Age 21): $960k / Year (Signed through 2017)

Our top rated Rookie RB on the list, he has the clearest path to playing time and a chance at being a 3 down back in a historically run-heavy offense.  If he turns into a player you could be set for the next 7 years at the position.

16).  Ryan Matthews (SD, Age 26) : $2.2MM / Year (Signed through 2017)

What a frustrating RB to own.  There were times when he looked like a top 5 RB in the last couple years and times when he looked like he belonged on the waiver wire.   If you want to gamble, he's one of the highest risk/reward plays you can make.

17).  Ben Tate (CLE, Age 26): $1.7MM / Year (Signed through 2018)

A great opportunity to emerge from Foster's shadow in HOU was limited a little by the drafting of Terrance West, a seemingly perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's system in Cleveland.  We see a time share emerging with West probably having a higher ceiling long term.  

18).  Zac Stacy (STL, Age 23): $1.3MM / Year (Signed through 2018)

We reserve the right to swap this for electrifying rookie Tre Mason from Auburn if he proves to be the better back out of training camp.  We expect that to happen if he's healthy but that's a big if right now.  For now, Stacy has the job and showed flashes of brilliance last year with some monster games and coming within a few yards of a 1,000 yard season.  

19).  Chris Johnson (NYJ, Age 28): $4MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

20). Trent Richardson (IND, Age 24):  $5.1MM / Year (Signed through 2015)

A make or break campaign for Trent Richardson after an abhorrent season last year where he averaged 3.0 yards per carry and looked absolutely lost all year.  Nobody knows what to make of him but he was brilliant in college and very good for most of his tenure with the Browns.  He's got upside if he can find a rhythm in this offense before the Colts pull the plug on him.  

21).  Rashad Jennings (NYG, Age 29): $2.5MM / Year (Signed through 2018)

Will David Wilson ever deliver on his immense potential?  Neck injuries are scary and he seems to be one hit away from being forced to retire - if he's cleared.  That said, Peyton Manning was written off after a serious neck injury too and he went on to have the greatest statistical season of all time at the quarterback position.  

That said, we like what we are hearing from camp about Jennings and it looks like he's going to be given every opportunity to be the main ball carrier in NYG.  Just don't reach too high as he is almost 30 years old finally getting his chance to be the lead back, there is a reason for that.

22). Shane Vareen (NE, Age 25): $865k / Year (Signed through 2015)

Some might be surprised at how low Vareen is given his production last year and his very friendly contract.   But we've seen Bellichick handle RBs for a decade now and we don't like Vareen's chances of having sustainable consistency over the long haul.  

Tier 5 RB Rankings:  Drafting for the Future

All anyone can talk about at Seahawks camp is 2nd year RB Christine Michael

The RBs in this class are who you have to watch closest in training camp.  Most of them are unproven and in situations where they are sharing the workload, but could become elite options at any point in the next 1-2 years if the opportunity presents itself. All of them are on very cap friendly contracts and can do wonders for your team if they end up carrying the load.   

23).  Terrance West (CLE, Age 23):  $650k / Year (Signed through 2018)

Early candidate to be the steal of Dynasty Owner drafts at a crazy low average yearly contract and an opportunity to become the man in an offense perfectly suited for his skillset.  

24).  Bernard Pierce (BAL, Age 24) : $660k / Year (Signed through 2016)

Will get a chance to showcase his talents as the lead back while Rice serves his suspension for the first few games of the year, he should be on the radar but don't overdraft him.  Rice could very easily return motivated and make Pierce a strict backup again in BAL.  

25).  Bryce Brown: $550k / Year (Signed through 2016)

It's incredibly crowded in Buffalo, but Spiller has been extremely injury prone and Jackson is 33 years old.  Brown will get a chance in Buffalo and if he can seize the opportunity he could be a major bargain at half a million per for the next two years.

26).  Christine Michael (SEA, Age 23):  $6.8MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

The most hyped backup in the league, you get the feeling SEA is itching to phase Lynch out.  That's surprising considering how effective Lynch was on a Super Bowl winning squad but GMs are business men too, and they feel like they can quickly get elite production out of Michael at a fraction of the price.   Watch this situation closely.  

26).  Joique Bell (DET, Age 28):  $3.1MM / Year (Signed through 2017)

A little old and a little expensive for a backup, which is tempering our excitement.  He will put up big numbers this year though and there is plenty to go around in that offense.

27). Darren McFadden (OAK, Age 27): $1.6MM / Year (Signed through 2015)

We get the feeling he's on his last chance in Oakland.  Signing MJD was the last threat at his job safety, next year if DMC has another inconsistent or injury plagued year the Raiders will be spending a high draft pick on a stud RB.  

Tier 6 RB Rankings:  You are Probably Overpaying

Foster wants to prove he can still perform at an elite level

Dynasty Owner is about drafting for the present and the future.  These are guys who will be on your roster until you decide to cut them, trade them, or they retire.  The RBs in this Tier could be effective for another 1-2 years, but their contracts will be higher than their output very soon if not already.  

Most of these guys are still big names and absolutely should get drafted, however don't spend too high of a pick on them this year.  You'll regret it in years to come.   

26).  Arian Foster (HOU, Age 27):  $8.7MM / Year (Signed through 2017)

Foster is still only 27 and despite a troubling year last season both on and off the field, he could make us regret putting him in this Tier.  However, he's coming off a serious back injury and already has a bloated contract so he would have to bounce all the way back to justify selecting him with a high pick, which you will likely need to do.

Us putting him here is more of a recommendation to let someone else take the risk on Foster.

27). Ray Rice (BAL, 27): $12.5MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

Rice does not show up on this list due to age, but rather a noticeable decline in production last year as well as a disturbing offseason incident that will have him suspended to start the season. Couple that with a hefty $7MM / year average contract and we see way more risk than reward on the horizon for Rice owners.  

28).  Marshawn Lynch (SEA, Age 28):  $7.5MM / Year (Signed through 2016)

There is a clear disparity in SEA about what Lynch thinks he should get paid and what SEA wants to pay him.  Part of that is driven by the coaching staff wanting to get Christine Michael much more involved and part of it is just the reality that Lynch has a lot of tread on the tires even though he was still very effective last year.

Either way, we don't see Lynch in SEA for long and we don't see him ever being a bargain again on his production, especially as he exits his prime.  This year he'd probably be worth what you are paying for him but in years to come, he could be a big cap liability on your roster.

29).  Frank Gore (SF, Age 31) :  $6.4MM / Year (Signed through 2015)

It appears Gore will still be the lead back in SF, but the 49ers are already starting to look to the future with Carlos Hyde drafted early in the 2nd round.  Much like the situation in Seattle, the front office sees an opportunity to replace an aging star with a big contract with a high potential guy on a rookie contract.  We've never seen the player win out in the long term in that scenario, so Gore's days are numbered.  Like Lynch he could produce this year but we don't see his run lasting much longer in SF, and if he keeps playing it will almost certainly be for another team in an reduced role.

30).  Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK, Age 29) : $2.5MM / Year (Signed through 2015)

Just 3 years removed from leading the league in rushing, MJD shows just how quickly a running back can lose value once they start to decline.  He will be battling McFadden for carries and looks to be a complimentary piece at best for the rest of his career.   He could be a decent backup RB option for your Dynasty franchise this year, but don't draft him expecting a multi-year contribution.

31). Steven Jackson: $4MM / Year (Signed through 2016)   

Coming off a career low 3.5 ypc last season, he's deteriorating rapidly.  He'll start to give way to Jaquizz Rodgers and others this year and by the time camp breaks in 2015 he'll likely be done as a viable fantasy option - especially with that contract.

Note:  All ages stated as of March 2014