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Arian Foster
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Arian Foster
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating a player’s fantasy football floor — his less-than-best scenario — makes the most sense when analyzing the top-10 or 12 players bring drafted at a certain position. I don’t think that’s so with running backs.

It’s critically important to judge top-tier runners by their median prospects rather than their best-case prospects, as we did here and found DeMarco Murray and Montee Ball as prime draft day targets among backs with the highest average draft positions (ADPs).

I don’t think our attention should turn away from a runner’s median projections when we examine the next crop of running backs: those being drafted in the RB13-24 range. Unlike tight ends and quarterbacks, this second tier of running backs still cost a pretty penny — as much as a third rounder for some — meaning we can’t (and shouldn’t) swing for the fences and lurch for upside.

Read more about fantasy equity scores…
Wide receiver equity score all-stars
Equity scores: Pierre Garcon, Brandon Marshall, and Wes Welker
Equity scores: Tony Romo, Alex Smith, and late-round quarterbacks

Looking for stable fantasy floors among the RB13-24 crowd probably isn’t as critical in 2014 as it was in 2013, when 16 of the first 30 players off the board were running backs. A mere 12 of the first 30 selections are running backs this season, and I doubt that number will change much come August.

The focus here, as we continue this search for fantasy equity in 2014, should remain on median scores.

As a refresher, I made the below median and high running back projections with the rotoViz similarity score app as a baseline tool. I adjust each projection by fidgeting with the app and mixing in parts of my early projections to create two scores: the median score, reflecting what I’d call a realistic or slightly suppressed point total, and the high score, which paints a rosy picture of what would happen should each player hit his fantasy ceiling.

Guys with high equity scores around zero should be avoided whenever possible.

Player Current ADP Median equity score High equity score
C.J. Spiller RB13 -11 (RB24) 2 (RB11)
Alfred Morris RB14 -6 (RB20) 4 (RB10)
Arian Foster RB15 3 (RB12) 8 (RB7)
Reggie Bush RB16 -1 (RB17) 2 (RB14)
Andre Ellington RB17 3 (RB14) 7 (RB10)
Shane Vereen RB18 4 (RB14) 11 (RB7)
Ryan Mathews RB19 0 (RB19) 8 (RB11)
Trent Richardson RB20 -6 (RB26) 0 (RB20)
Ben Tate RB21 3 (RB18) 8 (RB13)
Ray Rice RB22 -3 (RB25) 6 (RB16)
Knowshon Moreno RB23 -5 (RB28) -1 (RB24)
Chris Johnson RB24 5 (RB19) 8 (RB16)

 

  • Let’s just get the must-avoid guys out of the way: I never say never about players because more is more in fantasy football, but Spiller, Richardson, Rice, and Moreno would have to see marked ADP drops to end up on my teams this season. Spiller is never going to be a guy who runs until he pukes, especially in Doug Marrone‘s offensive system. Spiller looked elite after finally getting to rest his chronic high ankle sprain, but even in those contests, he never had more than a dozen touches. Probably it was injury related, but it’s worth noting that Spiller in 2013 posted the same number of fantasy points per touch (.44) as guys like Steven Jackson, Toby Gerhart, and Jacquizz Rodgers. It’s not that Spiller doesn’t have any possibility of achieving equity — his high score would make him a top-11 option — but his upside is largely baked into his current ADP. Beware.
  • If Foster’s ADP remains this low, he is as solid an arbitrage play as there is in 2014. Let’s put it this way: I’d much rather have Foster at RB15 than Eddie Lacy at RB4, Adrian Peterson at RB3, or Doug Martin at RB6. Foster exhibits all the signs of a guy who was ridden into the ground during his fantastic three-year run in the Texans’ zone blocking scheme, and thankfully for us, his 2014 ADP reflects that risk. Remember that in Foster’s five healthy games last season, he averaged a hearty 20.2 fantasy points, and with Houston coaches talking up Foster’s role in the team’s passing game, I think his hopeful median equity score makes a whole lot of sense. If you can stomach the injury risk inherent in a workhorse runner on the tail end of his career, Foster could prove a massive value.
  • Drafting a New England running back might be a sure sign of self loathing, as indicated by running back snap percentages in The Hoodie’s backfield last season. Stevan Ridley led all backs with 28.2 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, with Vereen notching 24.7 percent, LaGarrette Blount playing 24 percent, and Brandon Bolden finishing with 21.9 percent. Vereen’s role was contingent on game flow, as XNSports scribe Rich Hribar has shown, but Blount’s departure is expected to open up more opportunity for Vereen. Patriots beat writers expect the pass-catching specialist to play at least half of New England’s snaps in 2014. Vereen, in the four games that saw him receive double-digit touches, gained an average of 121.5 total yards, the vast majority of which came in the air. Like teammates Julian Edelman, Vereen is a bit of a PPR cheat code, and I’d be much more excited about his equity in a PPR league than in one with standard scoring.
  • Arizona Cardinals funny-hat wearing head coach Bruce Arians counted out Ellington as an every-down back, though he didn’t dismiss the shifty runner as a guy who could see 30 touches in a game. It’s an important distinction, and anyone who saw what Ellington did when given the pigskin in space last season understands his high equity score. Ellington caught 39 passes in very limited action during his rookie campaign. I think 60 receptions is well within his 2014 range. I would happily pass on Zac Stacy, Reggie Bush, Spiller, and Alfred Morris in favor of Ellington at RB17.
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