Headed into last season, all the running back buzz in the league surrounded Bengals second year back Giovani Bernard, who showed tons of promise in his rookie season of 2013. Things quickly changed in 2014, as he suffered injuries during the middle of the season, and most of the load was put on the shoulders of rookie running back, Jeremy Hill. Both players were second-round draft choices in back-to-back seasons (2013, 2014) by the Bengals, showing the team’s commitment to running the ball effectively.

Fast forward now to 2015, the script has been flipped, in that Hill is one of the more hyped fantasy backs this season, while it has been rumored that Bernard is on the trading block. Both backs are suited with differing skill-sets; so if all stays the same and Bernard is not traded, expect an early-down/late-down split in total usage this season. Jeremy Hill obviously has the advantage in most fantasy leagues due to his impressive 5.1 yards per carry last season, his 1,000+ yard rookie campaign, and his value as a goal line threat with his substantial 240-lbs frame. Considering all of this though, Bernard still has legitimate PPR value evidenced by his 99 career receptions across two seasons, and likelihood of plenty of third down reps.


Many might argue that the Bills biggest pickup this offseason was not head coach Rex Ryan, but former All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, who they picked up in a trade from the Eagles in return for linebacker Kiko Alonso. “Shady” as he’s called, is arguably the shiftiest back in the league since Barry Sanders, often leaving defenders with broken ankles in the open field. Last year wasn’t his best season in the pros under Chip Kelly’s hurry-up spread offense that utilizes many backs rather than a singular one, but this season under Rex Ryan, expect him to have an incredibly high usage rate. The Bills intend to run the ball early and often, and especially with an inexperienced starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, expect McCoy to have a huge bounce back fantasy season. In Buffalo he should return to his every down role that he had in Philly prior to the arrival of Darren Sproles, so his breakout season should be particularly evident in PPR leagues, especially when considering the departure of veteran third down aficionado Fred Jackson early on this preseason.

For Week 1 against the Colts the rumor is that McCoy is dealing with a hamstring issue that could potentially hold him out of the matchup. If that is the case, the Bills are prepared to go with rookie running back Karlos Williams, who at 6’1” 230 pounds is a much different breed than McCoy. He is a hulking back that will obviously pack a much bigger punch at the point of attack, making him a legitimate goal line threat all season long. On passing downs, the Bills are likely to go with Bryce Brown if McCoy isn’t available.


Headed into last season everyone was talking about the big 2014 that second-year running back Montee Ball was poised to have in the high-powered Broncos offense. Ball never really seemed to show up for Broncos camp (metaphorically of course) and by early October, the starting running back job fell into the lap of the unassuming Ronnie Hillman. Hillman did his best, scoring three touchdowns over a five game span as the starter, but then out of nowhere, in Week 8, C.J. Anderson burst onto the scene by rushing 13 times for 90 yards against the Oakland Raiders. After that, Anderson never really relinquished the lead back duties again, as the Broncos rode him all the way to the playoffs. By season’s end, Anderson actually finished with the best second half of any fantasy running back in 2015, totaling 767 yards and eight touchdowns, including two 150+ yard games and two three touchdown games. Fantasy owners should expect similar success this season, especially now that Peyton looks to be getting closer to playing a secondary role and also now that the Broncos are being led by Gary Kubiak and his run-first offense.

Backing him up this season will still be Ronnie Hillman, but surprisingly the lead dog from last season’s training camp, Montee Ball, has been cut from the 53-man roster. Taking his place for third on the depth chart is 23-year-old running back, Juwan Thompson, who like last season, is not expected to see much work out of the backfield.


Last season, the Browns trudged through the season with a two-headed monster dual back system of Terence West and Isaiah Crowell. Not exactly worthy of the “monster” moniker, but together they did post respectable numbers behind the Browns offensive line. They combined for 1,280 yards on 4.0 yards per carry, while scoring a collective 12 rushing touchdowns. Feeling that their backfield wasn’t dynamic enough though, Browns leadership went out and drafted Duke Johnson out of Miami, who while there, showed some of the best vision and footwork of any young back in the draft. He has a knack of making something out of nothing, as he easily gets skinny through the hole, and always seems to be falling forward. He’s got Shady-like shiftiness, and is also an incredible receiver either out of the slot or the backfield.  

Now, on the day the regular season begins, things have changed. West has been shipped out of town, while Crowell is fighting for his job. Currently the Browns are one of the few, if only, teams to be carrying only two backs. Still the starter however, Crowell is going to have to be especially good, or Johnson is going to have to be especially fragile, in order for Crowell to maintain the majority of the carries. Browns offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, has gone on record claiming that he loves what he's seen from the rookie Johnson, and he has even gone as far to say that Duke is a “major piece” to the offense. So long as Johnson can get fully healthy (and the team is currently reporting that he is) and stay healthy, then expect him to be getting a majority of the offensive touches by the mid-point of the season at the latest.  



With the Ryan Mathews experiment finally over in San Diego, the Chargers and their fans can turn the page over to rookie running back Melvin Gordon out of the University of Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin, Gordon put together one of the best senior seasons in college football history, as he ran for 2,587 yards, for an astounding 7.5 yards per carry, while scoring a mind-boggling 29 touchdowns on the ground. He brings along some pretty big expectations with the first-round pick title to his name, while he also has some pretty big shoes to fill in the name of LaDanian Tomlinson, who is still fresh in the minds of many Chargers fans. Fantasy owners hope that Gordon can live up to the hype, but they are also quietly worrying about a potential NFL learning curve, as the holes that Gordon ran through at Wisconsin were gaping. He’s a talented runner, but don’t expect him to take the league by storm right off the bat.

His best handcuff options are polar opposites. First there is Brandon Oliver, stout and bulky, who will be expected to step in and start if anything is to happen to Gordon in terms of injury, or suspension, etc., while Danny Woodhead, slight and slippery, is looking to have a huge PPR impact this season, now fully healthy and likely to get plenty of third down and passing situation reps. All are worthy of owning in deep PPR leagues, while in shallower standard leagues, Gordon appears to be the only one with value right now.


After we get past the obvious in Jamaal Charles and how he is one of the best backs in the league and undisputed starter on the Chiefs, we then stumble onto a very intriguing underground argument for the number two running back job in Kansas City. Most non-watchers of the Chiefs and casual fantasy football fans acknowledge Knile Davis and his big play ability as the go-to number two for the Chiefs, but this preseason has brought to light another candidate by the name of Charcandrick West out of tiny Abilene Christian University.

West can do the little things that Davis can’t. While Davis and his huge body and 4.4 speed might be capable of breaking a touchdown from anywhere on the field, he often times lacks the vision and footwork to make the negative plays into moderate gains. This preseason West displayed an array of skills that backup running backs should be able to do, like gain tough yards with good vision, constantly churning legs, and impressive balance. He’s also got solid speed when needed, and has proven to be a willing blocker when asked to be. If Davis is hit-or-miss once again this season, expect the more mature and consistent West to get some consideration for the number two reps behind Charles.


Often times when people think of Frank Gore, what may come up is a guy who has a history of injures, but in reality, he is one of two running backs in the league to have appeared in all 16 games for the previous four consecutive seasons (Chris Johnson being the other). He has also averaged at least 4.1 yards per carry in every season he’s been a pro (10), and was just as good last season as he was in 2010. Simply put, Gore is really solid. Moving over to the Indianapolis Colts this season and running behind their offensive line might be a downgrade, but lessening his workload with Andrew Luck throwing the ball around might keep him fresher throughout the season. The Colts are a team who over the past few years have been committed to running the ball, regardless if it has worked or not, so this season with Frank Gore at the helm, expect their running game to improve greatly.

Word out of Indy camp is that Chuck Pagano plans on keeping Gore on a pitch count of sorts, so primary backup, Vic Ballard, is in line for a considerable amount of reps this season. Consider him the best handcuff option to the veteran Frank Gore. Josh Robinson and Tyler Varga also both had good camps; too good for the Colts to justify cutting them, so they will round out the running back squad for Indy, even though they are not expected to see too many touches early on this season.


The Dolphins head into 2015 with higher expectations than most years due to the progression of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the addition of All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also in part due to their solid ground game led by Lamar Miller. Along with the impressive Miller on the running back depth chart are Damien Williams and LaMike James (formerly LaMichael).

This season Miller looks to build off a 2014 where he was used sparingly by starting running back standards (only 216 carries), yet still managed to rush for 1,099 yards, good enough for 5.1 yards per carry, while also getting into the end zone eight times. If the Dolphins up his usage, even a little bit, like an extra 40 carries or so, based off his production rate last season, he could enter the top tier running back discussion. Hopefully the Dolphins commit more to the ground game this season, so that they can take some pressure off of both Tannehill and the defense.


The Jags made T.J. Yeldon the first running back taken in the 2015 draft whose last name did not begin with a “G”. With both Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon surefire first-rounders, many pundits had other backs ahead of Yeldon coming off the board next in their mock drafts (myself included). The Jaguars saw something in Yeldon that others didn’t, and took a chance on him in the second round with the 36th overall pick.

Now, the day of the regular season kickoff, Yeldon is first on the Jaguars depth chart, looking to be the best fantasy rookie this season. His skill-set as a bigger back will provide him with the tools to handle every down duties in the NFL, something that he never had to do at Alabama. Many see his small work load in college as a negative, possibly showing that he didn’t have the skills to win the job outright, but others see it as a positive in that his legs will be fresher as a professional. Take what you want from it, but there is no doubt that the Jaguars will give him every opportunity to succeed as their starting running back.

Behind Yeldon on the depth chart are a couple of former Heisman Trophy finalists, in Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart. Robinson will provide home run capability, while Gerhart will serve as a rotational goal line back and fill in if either of the former two goes down with an injury/suspension etc.


The Jets put together a pretty solid ground game between their two primary backs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson last season, totaling a combined 1,484 rushing yards, good enough for 4.2 yards per carry, and seven rushing touchdowns. With Johnson departed to Arizona this season, Ivory is expect to carry the load for New York, with primary backup Bilal Powell working in on third downs.

Newly acquired running back from the Rams, Zac Stacy, is listed as number three on the depth chart, but is expected to play some important reps for the Jets this season due to what he showed during the preseason. He looks to be another guy, like Powell, who shows quick burst and has a solid set of hands out of the backfield. With the Jets featuring a more conservative quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and a stout defensive unit, expect them to once again rely heavily upon the running game to get things done this season.


No surprise that this was the most difficult section to write about, as Bill Belichick never seems to tip his hand in terms of what direction he’s headed at the running back position. Every single year we seem to think that we have a good idea on who is going to get the majority of touches, but then out of no where a Jonas Gray pops up and carries the ball 37 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns on a random Sunday in November. You figure, okay, with a game like that, he's got to be the guy going forward, but next thing you know and he's benched for the rest of the season.

Belichick also has a knack for resurrecting guys when he needs them, like he did with LeGarrette Blount down the stretch last season, where he had him total 189 yards and three touchdowns during the playoffs. Headed into this season with a suspension looming, don’t be surprised if the passive-aggressive coach keeps Blount in the doghouse all season long. All the stats, experts, and articles are telling you to draft Blount out of all of the other Patriots backs, but I’m here to say that they are simply guessing. Any combination of Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis, Travaris CadetLeGarrette Blount, Corey Dillon, Jimmy Hoffa, and a partridge in a pear tree, are fair game to have “Jonas Gray” performances this season, and there will be little indication on when they will go off. In all honesty, its probably for the best to stay away from any New England back due to the uncertainty of the Belichick game plan, but if you must own one, try not to start him unless he begins to string together a couple consecutive weeks of consistent production.


The Raiders are headed into 2015 with Latavius Murray as their starting running back. No surprise really, as the blazing fast 6’3” 230 lbs back finished up the last six games of 2014 with 413 yards on only 76 carries, good enough for 5.4 yards per carry. His only competition for carries this season will be Roy Helu Jr. who was a major disappointment in the preseason, as he was only healthy enough for 11 carries and eight rushing yards. Also on the depth chart is former Raiders defensive back Taiwan Jones, who is quite the mystery when trying to project in terms of running back success. Apparently the Raiders have plans on getting him involved in the offense, but consider this more of a watch and wait thing.


Justin Forsett turned heads last season, as he surprised everyone and started all 16 games for the Ravens at running back. Furthermore, he finished as one of the better fantasy running backs last season, totaling 1,266 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns. He averaged an impressive 5.4 yards per carry, and also displayed good hands out of the backfield, hauling in 44 catches for 263 yards. This season he’s in line to be the starter for the Ravens once again with little competition, as fourth-round draft pick, Javorius “Buck” Allen struggled mightily during the preseason and didn’t look ready for high stress NFL reps. Consider Forsett a good selection once again in fantasy drafts, as the numbers indicate that his 2014 was no fluke. Forsett has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in four out of his six NFL seasons, something that is not easy to accomplish.


The Pittsburgh backfield situation is a bit tricky to start off the season, as All-Pro Le’Veon Bell will be serving a two-game suspension. In his place for Weeks 1 and 2 will be DeAngelo Williams, who hasn’t been a fantasy star since 2008. His numbers fell to an all-time low last season, where he only played in six games, and averaged less than 4.1 yards for the first time in his career. Considering all of this however, he’s still worth a look for those first two games of the season. After that, expect Le’Veon Bell to return to dominance, fresh off of his two-game suspension.

Third on the Steelers depth chart is cheetah fast return-man extraordinaire, Dri Archer, who at 5’8” 174 lbs, is one of the slightest backs in the league. Although he is not expected to get too many carries, Archer is too damn fast and talented to not have at least a few special packages in the playbook designed completely around him. Don’t be surprised if he breaks a few big plays and is considered one of the best return men in the league before the season is all said and done.


The Texans enter the regular season with huge question marks at the running back position because you guessed it; Arian Foster is hurt again. When healthy, we all know what Foster is capable of, and luckily he is expected to be back sometime around Week 6, so his entire season won’t be lost. Foster is definitely worth drafting and stashing, so long as it is not too early on in your draft.

As for the time being, the Texans are ready to roll into Week 1 against the Chiefs with Alfred Blue as the starting running back. Because Blue didn’t do anything overly impressive in camp to win the starting job outright, expect Chris Polk to also be in the mix for some touches as well, as he has proven to be a hard runner and efficient receiver out of the backfield this preseason.


The Titans were pretty bad running the ball last season, as they finished near the bottom of the barrel in yards per game, while tying for second to last in rushing touchdowns scored. Adding rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota should help those numbers, considering he ran for over 700 yards in each of his three seasons at Oregon, while last season he scored an impressive 15 touchdowns on the ground.

In terms of the actual running backs, the Titans are hoping that second-year pro Bishop Sankey lives up to the billing and plays like the first running back taken in the 2014 NFL draft. Along with him are a stable of backs, but really the only other ones that should matter in fantasy leagues are offensive weapon Dexter McCluster and recently traded for Terrance West. McCluster is used in unique packages, often times with the coaching staff trying to get him the ball in space, so most of his success will come in PPR leagues, while West appears to be the more intriguing standard league candidate due to his size (touchdown potential) and success last season in a RBBC (running back by committee). It should also be noted that rookie fifth-round pick, David Cobb, was recently placed on the IR with a chance to come back during the season, so his fantasy potential is very limited for 2015.