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An Early Look at Running Back Tiers in Redraft PPR Leagues

Sigmund Bloom separates the 2013 running back crop into tiers to add another dimension to rankings.

Rankings are a good place to start your fantasy football draft preparation, but they don't convey the true landscape of a group of a players at a position without the added dimension of “tiers”. Tiers collect players of similar expected value and show how the difference between #10 and #20 on a list is bigger than the difference between #20 and #30. An early look at the running back tiers this year reveals a deeper group of potential RB1 and RB2 candidates than we saw in 2012 and a lot more than can give your strategy at the position much more nuance in early drafts.


I won't be shocked if Adrian Peterson isn't the #1 running back at the end of the season. Stuff happens. It's still easy to say that Peterson should be the first pick. He was producing at singularly historic levels in the second half of the 2012 season, and he wasn't even a year removed from a catastrophic knee injury. Using “career/historic year dropoff” type knocks on Peterson as the #1 pick ignore that he destroyed every “year N+1 after ACL surgery dropoff” knock last year.

Elite RB1

All of these players present very strong outlooks and top 3-5 upside. We can quibble over which we like or doubt most based on any number of factors, but the bottom line here is that all of these guys are presumptive RB1 level producers any time they take the field. Richardson's durability question, Lynch's lack of PPR punch (possibly unresolved DWI too), and Bernard Pierce's emergence next to Rice are keeping that trio in a mini-tier in the second half of the first round, but the top five seem to be interchangeable in early drafts.

Low RB1/High RB2

Much like their elite peers, this is a group of running backs that you know you will want in your lineup every week. They go about getting their production in a variety of ways, but with their roles and surrounding offenses, this tier is highly likely to give you baseline PPR RB2 production at worst with elite RB1 upside in any given week. Any of this group has the potential finish in the back half of the top 10 and give you a passable RB1 on a team that is very strong elsewhere. The gap between Jackson and Gore isn't not very big at all, and I won't argue vigorously against any reshuffling of this group except that Gore belongs in it. Gore is presenting the biggest value by far, often falling to the third, or even fourth round.

RB2 with Elite RB1 Upside and High Risk

This duo has stable RB2 value and RB1 upside from week-to-week and over the season like their peers above. They also carry a higher risk factor (Murray missed time in past and Jones-Drew coming back from lis franc), so they represent a mini-tier of acceptable third-round RB2 picks because the lower price offsets the risk

Boom/Bust RB2 (and Stevan Ridley)

With the exception of Ridley, this is not a group that you might feel comfortable leaving in your lineup every week. Wilson is the most attractive and has the least known risk of the boom/bust guys, so assume a small gap between him and the rest of this tier. Johnson has the potential of a goal line vulture and maddeningly poor efforts in recent years. McFadden can't stay healthy and he plays on probably the worst team in the league. Ivory hasn't proven that he can be a lead back and the Jets are a mess. Miller had some durability concerns and has even less of a track record than Ivory and Wilson. Bell isn't even guaranteed to start yet (his inclusion in this tier is predicated on being the week 1 starter). On the other hand, they are all talented backs, and you can argue for improvement/situation of each in any number of ways.

Then there's Ridley, a boring, solid RB2 lacking PPR punch. Unless he has a major bout of fumblitis, he'll be a co-lead back with goal line carries and game finisher duties at worst. He's in an offense that runs a ton of plays with a hall of fame level quarterback at the helm. If you start with Jimmy Graham or Calvin Johnson, Ridley might be a very attractive third round if Frank Gore isn't there because of his high floor. If you start RB/RB, then you'll want to swing for the fences with Wilson or McFadden in the third. Rankings within tiers are fluid and should change during your draft as your roster comes together.

High Upside RB3

This group is full of backs who could turn into everyweek starts or be too inconsistent to trust at any point this year. Bernard has good PPR skills and adds an explosive element to a young offense on the rise. Lacy is in a great offense and the Packers will certainly give him the chance to impress early in the season. Ingram is finally healthy and Sean Payton may return with a new-found emphasis on the run. Bradshaw is the most talented back on the Colts roster, but how much of a workload will they trust him to hold up under this season? This group generally goes off of the board when there are still strong WR2 and QB1's available, so they are not ending up on my roster.

Limited Upside RB3

This group is full of backs who will probably get enough touches every week to merit flex consideration. There are scenario(s) where they could be more than that, but real reasons to doubt their ability to produce consistent starting quality fantasy numbers. Jackson has demonstrated RB1 production in 2011 and still has relatively little mileage for a back in his 30s. Stewart has RB1 talent, but a seemingly permanent cap on his workload. Williams has to share with Stewart, but will only be startable in the event Stewart misses time. Vereen is explosive, but likely to inherit a limited role. Green-Ellis will share with a back that is more talented than he is. Mendenhall is a starter, but Arizona's running game look like a weak gamble with their offensive line woes and divisional competition. Ball is likely to be mired in a RBBC all year, but the Broncos like him. Mathews could completely turn into a pumpkin, but there have been flashes of whatever AJ Smith saw him that could come back this year, while Woodhead seems like the better bet in PPR and fit in what the Chargers will need to do on offense this year. Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce, Andre Brown and Bryce Brown could have startable weeks, but unless the starters go down, they'll be risky plays. Pierre Thomas is a good producer, but his team won't give him a large workload - even when injuries strike in the backfield. At this point in your draft, you're throwing darts. Injuries could turn some of these backs into starting backs for your teams, but it won't happen without some breaks. This is a good demonstration of how desolate the running back landscape is after the top 25 or so.

You Never Know

All of these players have a theoretical shot at flex value (or more) out of the gate. Stacy, Richardson and Pead could be lead backs in St. Louis, Moreno or Hillman could be treated as the incumbent in Denver if Ball isn't up to snuff, and Bell could be an explosive pass-catching complement to Reggie Bush in Detroit.

Hold and Hope

Chances are, none of the players on this list will have enough value at the beginning of the year to consider starting except in desperation. Injuries, suspensions, and depth chart shakeups do happen, so it is prudent to fill out your roster with a few of these talents and see what happens.