Running Back Tiers
By Sigmund Bloom and Jene Bramel
July 19th, 2010

Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and it rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It naturally lends itself to helping you make good strategic decisions during your draft. The process helps you stay on the right side of runs, shows you which positions can be sloughed a round longer than you thought or need to be targeted early. Perhaps most importantly, a quick tiering and a few mock drafts leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and will keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.

This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position this summer, including IDPs, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top TE over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize DL over LB again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.

Previously covered: Quarterback

In this installment, we're moving on to the running backs. The two of us will each have a slightly different tiering style at the running back (and wide receiver) position – Bloom's style is more right-brain and intuitive, Bramel's more left-brain and clinical – but the bottom line is the same. Both of us have this position tiered in ways that allow us to know at a glance where a given player would slot in our lineup in any scoring system with any combination of talent already drafted. We can easily compare ADP and know which players are going to be value plays for us and which players we'll just let slide. By continuing this process to the end of our rank lists, we're just as prepared for contingencies in the sixth, tenth and thirteenth rounds as we were in the second.

Sigmund Bloom

The Gold Standard

  • Chris Johnson (PPR+)
  • Adrian Peterson (PPR+)
  • Maurice Jones-Drew (PPR+)
  • Frank Gore (PPR+)
  • Ray Rice (PPR+)
  • Reminiscent of 2006, when everyone in the top three had to choose between Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shaun Alexander all coming off terrific seasons, this season drawing any pick in the top five (or even top six in non-PPR leagues) should land you one a potentially uber-elite fantasy back. Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take the guy who has already eclipsed 2000 yards once in his career and is only entering his third season in the league. Fantasy advice that recommends staying away from Chris Johnson because of the historic regression of RBs who have off-the-charts seasons is just silly to me; it totally ignores Johnson's unique talent and excellent situation. Adrian Peterson comes second because he should get a bump from his already prodigious numbers with the departure of sometimes TD vulture Chester Taylor (not to mention Peterson's Hall of Fame level talent and being in his prime). MJD comes third because he's a do-everything back and things can't get much worse in Jacksonville's offense than they were last year. In a non-PPR league, I would actually take Frank Gore over Ray Rice because Willis McGahee still looms and threatens to siphon off a good amount of Baltimore's lay-up rushing TDs inside the five. Even in PPR, Rice belongs fourth or maybe fifth because his reception total last year is unlikely to be repeated with Anquan Boldin in town. Yes, Gore belongs with this group as a supreme talent in his prime, on a team with a retooled offensive line that is committed to the run, not to mention playing in the weakest division in the NFL.

    Proven Quality

  • Michael Turner (PPR-)
  • Steven Jackson (PPR+)
  • DeAngelo Williams
  • Arguably, Michael Turner belongs in the gold standard group in non-PPR leagues; he was basically on the same scalding pace he set in 2008 last year, despite a slow start. Now that he's in better shape and Matt Ryan is a year smarter and tougher, Turner is still an easy pick as your team's lead sled dog in the mid-to-late first. If Steven Jackson's name is among the top 5 RBs at year's end in PPR leagues, it should not surprise us. Jackson comes with the risk of playing on possibly the worst team in the league, with a likely rookie QB starter, not to mention offseason back surgery, but he has produced through adverse conditions and should be trusted in the first round. If things break just a little better for Jackson, elite production is within his grasp. I can't quite figure out why DeAngelo Williams is dropping down draft boards. Yes, Jonathan Stewart is a beast, but Williams did nothing to deserve losing any part of his slice of the Panthers running game pie. He didn't produce up to his #1 overall RB 2008 level last year, but he still put up RB1 numbers, and the departure of Jake Delhomme can only help him.

    Potential Studs With a Few Questions

  • Rashard Mendenhall
  • Ryan Grant
  • There's little doubt that these guys will be relied upon heavily by their teams. James Starks and Jonathan Dwyer are both more talented than typical sixth-round backs, and they could take the edge off of both starters workload, but make no mistake, Pittsburgh and Green Bay will not let up on Mendenhall and Grant unless they get hurt. Both will have enough opportunity to finish in the top 10, and Mendenhall has the talent and situation to break into the top 5-7. Mendenhall's durability and dedication has been a little spotty during his short career, and Grant is not a consistent game-to-game producer. Mendenhall is a little riskier, but his ceiling is much higher, and he is the one actually worth an early-to-mid second round pick as a risk-reward RB1 to pair with a first-round WR in PPR leagues. Grant is only advisable in the second in non-PPR leagues.

    The RB2 Funhouse

    Between the second and fifth rounds, we will see a large variation in the distribution and order of RB picks. I count eleven backs with a combination of situation and ability that could produce RB2 (or even low-end RB1) numbers, and even that will vary from draft board to draft board. You may have to reach in the second to land Ryan Mathews or Shonn Greene. LeSean McCoy, Joseph Addai, and Jahvid Best hang around until the fourth, or sometimes fifth. Jamaal Charles, Jonathan Stewart, and Chris Wells will seem undervalued by some people when they pounce on them in the third. Pierre Thomas never seemed to hit his stride last year, but there's no doubt that he could reproduce his 2008 late-season stretch of RB1, championship-winning numbers. Of course, we can't forget Knowshon Moreno, a great candidate to make a Rice/Charles/Mendenhall-like leap in his second season, presenting great value in third if you believe in him. That's really where the rubber meets the road in this group - instead of focusing on value, take the player you believe in. If you're picking early in the first, you have the luxury of only having to snag one of your favorites in the early third, or perhaps seeing if anyone leaks through to the early fifth. If you're picking late in the first and your league is RB-obsessed, you might be forced to take two of these RBs at the 3/4 turn after passing on RB with your first two picks, but it could be a blessing in disguise if you can pick the right RBs out of this group.

    The RB1 In an RB2 Role

  • Jonathan Stewart (PPR-)
  • I wouldn't blame you if you took Stewart in the early third, or even late second based on his scalding late-season performance, but the Panthers tend to err on the "if it ain't broke" side of things even when it is broke, so I still don't expect Stewart to get more than 40-45% of the work, and it's also easy to forget that he has a worse durability record than Williams when college is included. There is a chance that you get Williams-like production a round later by taking Stewart, but Williams has done nothing to deserve losing his place as the lead in this committee. Of course, Stewart was at his worst in Carolina losses, so if Matt Moore can help this team carry over their late season hot streak, Stewart could earn his ADP even without a Williams injury. Stewart feels like one of those picks that could make your whole draft in the third, and he's an especially compatible pick with a QBBC strategy because you can take as many as three other RBs in the first seven rounds without worry.

    RB1s In the Making?

  • Ryan Mathews
  • Knowshon Moreno (PPR+)
  • Jahvid Best (PPR+)
  • Beanie Wells (PPR-)
  • Shonn Greene (PPR-)
  • LeSean McCoy (PPR+)
  • All of these first and second year backs are going to get the biggest workloads of their careers this season. Navigating this group is very difficult, and training camp should help us sort them out a bit. Mathews inherits a role that should at least yield good TD numbers if last year's pattern holds, and maybe good yardage if the line can stay healthy, but he has some durability and level-of-competition questions from college. He seems slightly overrated right now. Moreno will get every chance to show that he was indeed worth the #12 pick in 2009, even though he disappointed last year. If there's any RB who I trust to do everything he can to improve each offseason, it's Moreno. I'm starting to warm to him as a late-third high-floor upside pick. Best is attractive because his ADP is the lowest of this group, he's the most explosive, and he could conceivably be in the most wide-open offense. I would feel just fine entering the season with him as my RB2, especially in a PPR. Wells has the talent to carry a fantasy team, but the situation is worrisome, with Matt Leinart not really having a track record of keeping defenses honest. He feels a little overrated and I would opt for Moreno, Mathews or Stewart over Wells in the early third. Greene is often going at low RB1 prices, which are too high considering that he got hurt after his playoff season breakout and LT's possible TD vulturism. McCoy could be a PPR wonder, but it is risky to automatically pencil him into Brian Westbrook's sizeable role. The bottom line on this group is that the only way to navigate it is by your personal talent evaluation. Any of them could be a third/fourth-round bust or a first-round producer at a
    third/fourth-round price.

    Eye of the Beholder

  • Jamaal Charles (PPR+)
  • Charles is yet another puzzling back. He would probably be going in the late first round if KC hadn't signed Thomas Jones. Some want to extrapolate his second-half numbers to put him close to, if not in the elite tier of RBs, and some want to chalk up his production to the little sister defenses he tore up. It was reasonable to expect that KC would re-shape their offense around Charles after his scalding finish, but instead they added Jones and do-everything offensive force Dexter McCluster, who will take touches from Charles, whether it's as a slot receiver getting short targets, a wildcat QB, or even an occasional snap as a conventional RB. Charles offseason shoulder surgery could be part of the reason that KC isn't asking him to carry a feature back load. Chances are there will be someone in your league chomping at the bit to get him in the early third. Let them.

    Overlooked Vets

  • Cedric Benson (PPR-)
  • Pierre Thomas (PPR+)
  • Joseph Addai (PPR+)
  • Benson has an offseason incident and potential suspension hanging over him. Thomas has New Orleans' unwillingness to pay him more than low-end RBBC money long-term hanging over him. Addai has the presence of 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown hanging over him. These backs are slipping to the fourth or even fifth round on these concerns. If more information comes out that clears Benson, he will be the best investment of this group by far. The Saints reluctance to pay Thomas makes sense when look at durability and how he was used last year. Yes, he had a stretch as a high-end RB1 at the end of 2008, but there is no sign that he could sustain that pace over the course of a season, especially with Reggie Bush still around. Addai is probably a solid choice as an RB3 in the 5th/6th, but not an RB2 in fourth. Unlike the younger backs in the RB2 funhouse, your league's draft pattern should probably dictate whether any of this trio ends up on your team more than your talent evaluation.

    The RB3/Flex Lottery

    With the continuing prevalence of committee backfields, there is a plethora of RB3/Flex candidates with RB2 or even demonstrated RB1 upside. You want to devote two of your 6th-9th round picks to snag members of this large group. Some of them could be big values based on situation going into the season, some have talent that could demand a larger slice of the workload as the season goes on. You can pair up backs to corner backfields like the Giants, Bears, and Raiders, or you can just take your favorites from those fluid situations.

    Upside RBBC Backs

  • Marion Barber
  • Ahmad Bradshaw (PPR+)
  • Felix Jones
  • Now we get into RB3/Flex territory, backs who are unlikely to get feature back loads in any scenario. Marion Barber leads this group and he continues to climb my board as I ponder the possibilities in an offense as explosive as Dallas's should be this year. MB3 was a top 15 back in a limited role in 2006 and 2007, I don't see why that couldn't happen this year. Ahmad Bradshaw was a beast on two bum wheels last year; with his issues surgically corrected, he is a top breakout candidate after the fifth round. Felix Jones is probably in the RB2 funhouse on a lot of people's boards, so having him this low is basically a recommendation to pass on him. His injury history and cap on his potential role is too much risk before the sixth round.

    Looking For a Return To Glory

  • Ronnie Brown
  • Matt Forte (PPR+)
  • Once first-round fantasy picks, this duo is dealing with big question marks in the form of Brown's durability and Forte having a potential 1A back who was the choice of the new offensive regime (Chester Taylor) in a pass-first offense. Reputation still carries a lot of weight in fantasy circles, and both of these backs will likely be gone before their true sixth round value.

    Standing On the Verge?

  • Donald Brown
  • Michael Bush
  • C.J. Spiller (PPR+)
  • Justin Forsett (PPR+)
  • These young backs have demonstrated the ability or have the pedigree to seize big roles this year in backfields that are in motion. I think Brown is being universally overlooked. He is a hard worker who should see the game slow down for him this year, and Joseph Addai is in a walk year, so the Colts need to see what they have in Brown before they decide whether to pursue Addai. Bush has shown flashes, especially in week 17 of 2008, but he doesn't seem to have the conditioning to be a stud workhorse. Spiller could surprise us all with a Chris Johnson-esque rookie season, he shouldn't last past the 7th in PPR leagues as a pure upside play. Forsett is one of the darlings of the fantasy world right now, but I think he's overrated because of his poor surrounding offense and too much production during garbage time last year. A nice little back, but not a talent on the level of the other three.

    Old Standbys

  • Brandon Jacobs (PPR-)
  • Cadillac Williams
  • Chester Taylor (PPR+)
  • Fred Jackson
  • Reggie Bush (PPR+)
  • Ricky Williams
  • This group has been around for at least a few years each, and we pretty much know what we'll get in terms of role and production. Fantasy owners will be more eager to reach for younger backs on the upslope of their career, so Jacobs could be big this year if the knee really was the only reason for the '09 drop-off, but I see Bradshaw stealing some of his work. It is amazing enough that Caddy stayed healthy for all of 2009, but is a repeat too much to ask? He was very strong at the end of the season. Taylor was hand-picked by the new offensive regime in Chicago, he should be a solid flex play most weeks. Jackson was all set to be a feature back until Spiller showed up, but his value is probably being underestimated. Bush played some of the best football of his career in the playoffs, could he finally deliver on his promise this year? Williams is going way too high on a strong performance while Ronnie Brown was out, but that extra stint of starter touches seemed to wear him down. Look to 2008 for a more realistic estimate of his numbers this year.

    PPR Specials

  • Darren McFadden
  • Darren Sproles
  • Tim Hightower
  • This group has some upside in non-PPR leagues, with McFadden and Sproles big play potential and Hightower's goal-line back profile, but they pack a real punch in PPR leagues. McFadden is best suited for a Reggie Bush type role, and now he has a competent QB to get him the ball when he is split out wide or out in space. Sproles got the franchise tag yet again, so the Chargers will use him liberally on passing downs. Hightower should be among the RB leaders in receptions again this year as the Cardinals get their new offense worked out.

    Heady Pick or Headache?

  • Jerome Harrison
  • Montario Hardesty
  • Arian Foster
  • Ben Tate
  • Steve Slaton (PPR+)
  • The Cleveland and Houston RBBCs promise to be a puzzle that resists being solved for a long period of time, as both Gary Kubiak and Eric Mangini showed us that they are very fickle about their RB depth chart, keeping us guessing all season. Any of these backs has the talent and opportunity to be one of the surprise RBs of fantasy leagues this year, but they also have the potential to be a landmine in any given week. Cornering the market on either RBBC doesn't really assure you of anything because neither team is committed to having one back emerge as a feature back. They are probably not good picks over the RB3/flex options listed above them, but after the ninth round, the risk/reward ratio makes almost any of them a good pick.

    End Of the Roster Fliers - Backups/1As Who Can Produce at a Starter's Level

  • Willis McGahee
  • LaDainian Tomlinson
  • Laurence Maroney
  • Derrick Ward
  • Toby Gerhart
  • Larry Johnson
  • Leon Washington (PPR+)
  • Tashard Choice
  • Thomas Jones
  • Bernard Scott
  • McGahee and Tomlinson are potential jackpot picks if the starters ahead of them go down, and both should have flex value as TD vultures and players who can get a lot of work when their team controls the game. Gerhart, Choice, and Scott won't have week-to-week value without an injury ahead of them on the depth chart, but they have high ceilings if they do get called into action. Ward, Johnson, Jones, and Washington should all have decent-sized roles in their backfields, but the situations aren't great, and they all have questions about their ability at this point in their careers. Scott seems like a must draft if you take Benson early because of the possible suspension.

    Best Of the Rest

  • Javon Ringer
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Clinton Portis
  • Fred Taylor / Sammy Morris / Kevin Faulk (PPR+)
  • Jason Snelling / Jerious Norwood
  • Kevin Smith
  • Rashad Jennings / Deji Karim
  • Glen Coffee / Anthony Dixon
  • Ringer is very intriguing because he has gotten tons of offseason praise, and if Chris Johnson gets hurt, Ringer is an instant top 15 back. Portis is still overrated on name value, he'll be lucky to have a 50-50 split with LJ unless he really got his act together this offseason. The vets from New England might have bye week/injury value, especially if Morris or Taylor emerges as a goal line back. Snelling proved to be a capable handcuff to Turner last year, and Norwood is still an explosive player when healthy. Kevin Smith has been forgotten by just about everyone and he's actually ahead of schedule in his rehab. The lack of a clear handcuff to MJD or Gore makes taking one of their young backups a dicey proposition, but one or both should have value if injury strikes.

    Jene Bramel

    RB1 Tier

  • Chris Johnson
  • Adrian Peterson
  • Maurice Jones-Drew
  • Ray Rice
  • Frank Gore
  • Michael Turner (PPR-)
  • The prevailing wisdom early this season, driven primarily by springtime dynasty startup draft discussions, was that there was a "big four" group of elite running back options and then everyone else. Those of us who play in both redraft and dynasty leagues need to put that thought aside. Split this group into three mini-tiers of two backs each if you like, but I think the elite running back tier – those bell cow, elite talent, 325+ touch with little downside backs – goes six deep. Johnson won't get 400 touches again this year, but neither is he a clear candidate to see less than 300 carries. Like Cedric Benson in Cincinnati last year, Johnson is the Titans' offense. If they had someone to give Johnson a break, they would. But the Titans don't and, unlike Benson, Johnson is the offense between the 20s, in the red zone and on third downs. Johnson may not finish at the #1 overall back at year's end, but he's the least likely of the group to fall outside the top five. Peterson, if healthy, might be the best bet to top 400 touches this year. Toby Gerhart might be a nice player, but he's not going to get the work that Chester Taylor did unless the Vikings blow out teams early and often. 350 carries and 60 catches isn't an unreasonable ceiling this year for Peterson.

    MJD and Rice are a half tick behind the top two. Concerns about the consistency of the Jaguars' offense and Rice potentially giving up series and goal line duty to Willis McGahee keep the ceiling on their rush attempts down enough to keep them out of the Johnson-Peterson conversation. Don't fuss too much over Rice's perceived risk of losing time in the red zone; he still had 53 red zone opportunities and is elusive enough in the open field that he's at little risk of finishing with fewer than the eight TDs he had in 2009. Gore always seems to get a bad rap for something or another, but he belongs in this tier this year. His offensive line will improve and lessen his injury risk. There's no major competition for carries. There are two burgeoning stars in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to keep teams from putting eight and nine in the box. 2010 is lining up as a breakout season for Gore. In a PPR league, he's the last back I'd take over a WR this year. Give Turner a slight downgrade in PPR leagues, but only if you're looking to take a WR instead. There are a lot of backs who might catch 30-40 more passes than Turner and still not close the gap in points when Turner gets 300+ carries at a 4.5 YPC clip and 50+ red zone opportunities.

    RB1- Tier

  • DeAngelo Williams
  • Rashard Mendenhall
  • Steven Jackson
  • Cedric Benson
  • Ryan Grant
  • Ryan Mathews
  • Williams has almost everything you could ask for in a first round fantasy back. He's 27 years old without a lot of wear and tear, on a run-first offense with a strong offensive line, a well over 5.0 ypc average, and is consistent at the goal line and as a receiver. Unfortunately, the presence of Jonathan Stewart (who is Williams' equal in every category above) casts doubts on whether Williams can get the touches needed to crack the tier above. If you think he's a lock for 300-325 touches, put him in your top five.

    There are lots of ways to handicap Mendenhall's potential without Ben Roethlisberger, a disintegrating offensive line and a tough schedule but little competition for touches for a team that will likely lean heavily on the running game. The offensive line worries me, but the lack of competition, underrated receiving skills and promising 4.6 ypc average a year ago have me more bullish on Mendenhall than most and it won't shock me if we see him get 350 touches and turn them into a top five fantasy finish.

    I love Jackson, but his situation and injury history make him glass on wheels for anyone counting on him as a lineup anchor this year. He's just as likely to take your ship to the ocean floor as provide week-in, week-out RB1 fantasy numbers. Benson and Grant are going to be the value plays here. Both have little competition for carries, are likely to see plenty of goal line chances and have a proven history of consistency. You could do a lot worse than bypassing a sexier option for either of these two in the mid-second or early third round. Mathews has upside similar to Williams and Mendenhall, but a significantly lower floor than the others in this tier. I think he'll get enough touches and goal line chances to belong in this tier, but he's got one foot in this tier and one foot in the tier below.

    The next tier is a true tier in that I've no strong preference among the five and there's almost no separation between what appears to be the RB13 and the RB17 on my line-by-line rank list.

    RB2+ Tier

  • Jonathan Stewart
  • Knowshon Moreno
  • Shonn Greene (PPR-)
  • Chris Wells
  • Jamaal Charles (PPR+)
  • This group reminds me of the "One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong." Sesame Street short. I think Stewart is arguably a top five NFL running back by talent. Left to his own devices, I might rank him as the third overall fantasy running back and might be convinced to break out a mini-tier of three gold standard fantasy backs in the RB1 tier above. Tiering him alongside four other young backs with upside but with nowhere near the same talent, just feels wrong. Still, there's no way Stewart gets enough touches to trust as a consistent RB1 with a healthy Williams on the depth chart. Though I'm certainly not alone, ranking a part time player who may project to get only 10-15 touches a game as a top fifteen back is seems madness. But like Larry Johnson a few years ago, Stewart has the rare high floor paired with win your league if he gets full playing time upside that makes him worth drafting him much nearer his ceiling than expected immediate value.

    Moreno and Greene may both approach the 325 touches that a back needs to push toward RB1 status, but both have issues that keep me from feeling comfortably drafting them as clear RB1s. I think Moreno's 3.8 ypc average had just as much to do with his running style as the struggles of his offensive line. His decisiveness may improve this year, but his offensive line issues remain. Coupled with the presence of a solid backup in Correll Buckhalter, the RBBC philosophy often shown by Belichick protégés running the spread and the likelihood of an overall decline in offense in Denver, Moreno has a lot to overcome. Greene carries similar risk due to a punishing running style that may leave him prone to injury, nothing to offer in the passing game and a veteran backup in LaDainian Tomlinson that could siphon carries on early downs in addition to third down duties. Wells and Charles both have strong veteran options that have been productive players on all downs and in the red zone in recent years that may prevent them from getting enough chances to trust every week.

    Despite the concerns, there's still enough to like in the talent and/or situation that all five players deserve to be ranked a half tier above those in the two RB2 tiers to follow. Based on current ADP, I'm in lockstep with the fantasy consensus through the eleven slot grouping between RB7 and RB17. However, after Williams and Mendenhall, I'm not sure I love any of these backs enough to take over the WRs I have in my top second and third tiers.

    Bloom advocates pulling the trigger on the player you believe in from this group in the second or third round and I agree. But if you're not ready to drive the bandwagon on a player in your second and third tiers, I think you lean strongly toward WRs in the and possibly a stud QB in the first two or three rounds, then let the RB value to come to you in the late third and early fourth. As a frame of reference, Wells was drafted at 3.06 and Moreno at 3.08 in a recent 12 team FBG staff non-PPR draft and Wells, Charles, Moreno, Stewart, Mathews and Benson all went after 3.08 in a FBG staff PPR draft. Regardless of your draft plan, however, don't get caught on the other side of the first three tiers for your RB1. If the RB2 value doesn't come to you in these tiers, there is plenty of interesting RB2+ upside to be found later.

    RB2 Tier

  • LeSean McCoy (PPR+)
  • Pierre Thomas
  • Joseph Addai
  • Ronnie Brown
  • Brandon Jacobs (PPR-)
  • RB2-U Tier

  • Felix Jones
  • Jahvid Best
  • Justin Forsett
  • Ahmad Bradshaw
  • Ricky Williams
  • Cadillac Williams
  • Among the RB2 tier players, McCoy has the best chance to surprise and challenge for RB1 status this year, but I think the probability that he gets enough touches and then does enough with them to reach a high ceiling is too low to bump him up a tier. The same argument holds for the rest of the players in the RB2 tier. On the bright side, I think all of them are likely to be high-floor, steady RB2 producers all season. That contrasts with the second half of this tier, which is full of players with RB2+ upside but lineup killing floors.

    The U in the second part of this tier stands for upside and, other than McCoy, I'll likely be taking a chance on a player from this tier as my RB2, early RB3 than a safer option with lesser upside from the tier above. That statement reads like a frank contradiction and an indictment of the 1-60 rank list and cheatsheet we've all come to depend on over the years. In fact, it's both and it's the strongest reason for forcing yourself to go through the process of tiering players. If you flip to my redraft rank list, you'll see these groups mixed together between the RB18 and RB28 slots. I've got them listed in some rough order of how I confidently I see the meter leaning toward either their ceiling or floor on the day I submit the rankings. My personal draft strategy tends to lean toward risk-upside, however, so while I may rank a player like Addai higher on a confidence cheatsheet, you're more likely to see Jones, Best, Forsett or Williams on my rosters.

    What's to like about this group? I think the arguments for guys like Jones, Best, Bradshaw and Ricky Williams are pretty straightforward. They're nice talents in what should be solid fantasy offenses who could explode if given significant touches. Forsett and Cadillac Williams are a little more controversial, though I think both would get more love if their offenses were stronger. Though David Dodds' yearly argument to avoid the suck is compelling, a weak offense doesn't start a player with a two strike count in my assessments. Steven Jackson, Jamaal Charles, Fred Jackson and Jerome Harrison overcame weak offenses to produce well last year. Talented all-around backs like Forsett and Williams who may get 250 touches can certainly do the same. I think both backs are less likely to end up in true committee situations than has been expected. Size (Forsett) and durability (Williams) questions aside, both have the running back talent to crack the top 25 if they earn enough opportunity.

    RB3 Tier

  • Matt Forte
  • Michael Bush
  • Marion Barber
  • Laurence Maroney
  • Montario Hardesty
  • Donald Brown
  • Fred Jackson
  • Reggie Bush (PPR+)
  • Clinton Portis
  • This tier takes us up through RB37 on my list and is made of players who could have the talent or opportunity to be fantasy starters, but have at least one major question preventing them from moving into the tier above. Among them, I like the upside of Laurence Maroney and Montario Hardesty the most, with Michael Bush and Donald Brown very interesting targets as well. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to add one of those four as my RB4 (since many have current ADPs outside RB36), but won't be disappointed to add two from this tier as high upside backups if I've loaded up on other positions earlier in the draft.

    RB4-F Tier

  • Chester Taylor
  • C.J. Spiller
  • LaDainian Tomlinson
  • Willis McGahee
  • Darren Sproles (PPR only)
  • I've separated this tier of backs from the tier below based on flex upside. If you don't play in a league that uses a flex lineup slot, drop them down into the big group of backs in the RB5 tier. I think Taylor and McGahee are the highest upside targets here.

    RB4-X Tier

  • Darren McFadden
  • Jerome Harrison
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Fred Taylor
  • Steve Slaton
  • Sammy Morris
  • Julius Jones
  • This is my "Your Mileage May Vary" tier. I don't consider it a copout to say that I've no idea where to rank these players. I can envision a scenario where any of them find a way to crack the top 30 at year's end and make for a strong RB2/flex matchup play. I can also make an argument that anyone in this tier may go long stretches with five or fewer touches a week. Since I like another player on each player's team a little better, it's unlikely that I'll be taking a chance on any of them as my RB4 or RB5 except in deep roster redrafts, survivor or best ball situations unless something changes to the current depth chart in camp.

    RB5 Tier

  • Arian Foster
  • Thomas Jones
  • Ben Tate
  • Tashard Choice
  • Correll Buckhalter
  • Tim Hightower
  • Leon Washington
  • Larry Johnson
  • This tier is full of roadblocked talent (Jones, Choice), talent in confusing situations (Foster, Tate) and players I'd consider drafting as a RB5 even if I didn't have the primary running back on that player's team already rostered (Buckhalter, Hightower, Washington, Johnson). Among them, I think the first three have the best chance to break above this tier in August. With luck, the Houston backfield settles some in camp. Whichever back looks more likely to get 15 carries and some goal line duty (my money's on Foster today) probably skips up into the RB3+ tier for me. Jones would bump to the RB4F tier if he looks likely to see 150 touches in rotation with Charles.

    RB-I Tier

  • Mike Bell
  • Javon Ringer
  • Toby Gerhart
  • Derrick Ward
  • Jason Snelling
  • Bernard Scott
  • Kevin Smith
  • Rashad Jennings
  • Anthony Dixon
  • Lynell Hamilton
  • James Starks
  • Jonathan Dwyer
  • The "I" tier is made up of priority pickups should an injury shake up the player's depth chart, a RB6/RB7 in deeper leagues or handcuff targets for your RB1 if you're interested in security and avoiding waiver wire fights if the worst should happen. And it's the end of the road for my draft list. If a player isn't listed here, I'm not interested in using a roster spot on him unless circumstances change dramatically in his favor during camp.

    As always, thanks for reading. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com and bramel@footballguys.com.

    © 2010 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved