The consensus by industry experts is a testament to how important finding one or even two stud running backs can be.
Having a pick in the top three tends to leave you with the feeling that no matter who you pick, you're getting a guy who is going to carry you through the season. As you move further through the round you'll notice that the choices become less safe, but may provide just as much reward as the earlier guys.
Fantasy Running Backs to Watch Closely in 2014
The 2013 season was proof that no pick is as safe as it seems and provides no guarantee that you've found the stud you've been looking for. Let's look at some of the top backs that I'll be avoiding this coming season.
All of these stats are for the 2013 season and come courtesy of ESPN.
Arian Foster: 542 yards - 1 rushing TD
Arian Foster went high in 2013 fantasy football drafts with expectations of a great season ahead. His season went the same way the Texans did, putting up a poor performance before being put on IR for the second half of the season. Arian Foster underwent back surgery, and although his rehab is rumored to be progressing well, it has to be a concern for the upcoming season. Pending his health progress he's a candidate to be removed from this list as we approach the season. Combined with his health and the expectation that Ben Tate will be playing elsewhere, he could be a great number 2 fantasy running back.
CJ Spiller: 927 yards - 2 rushing TD's
Here's a guy who was viewed as a superstar just waiting to explode. In 2012 he was darting all over the field putting up fantasy scores like no one had expected. In 2013 Spiller went in the first round of nearly every draft, coming in as a top five pick in many. The Bills OC said they would feed him the ball "until he throws up" which lead to high expectations that failed to measure up. Spiller suffered through injuries and put up large totals a few times, but they were so sporadic that you could never feel good about starting him. His sporadic production will have me passing on him early in drafts.
Ray Rice: 660 yards - 4 rushing TD's
Some may call his collapse last season the biggest running back disappointment of the year and overall I'd agree. Ray Rice looked slow, moved without decisiveness and missed holes he was crushing only a year earlier. His value in 2014 is going to be as low as it has been in recent memory which may provide a draft day bargain, if you believe in a revival. John Harbaugh recently claimed responsibility for the poor running performance, claimed the line needed to be improved and that Ray Rice wasn't fully healthy during the season.
That all sounds good and well, but we can't forget Ray Rice is now accused of assaulting his fiancée and could face discipline from the league office. With all of this mixing together I'm avoiding Ray Rice.
Frank Gore: 1,128 yards - 9 rushing TD's
This one may come as a surprise to some of you and it rightfully should. Frank Gore continues to put up great numbers in San Francisco and he's in a great situation. Sure Colin Kaepernick takes away some runs from Frank Gore but its nothing that I'm worried about. I've been hating on Frank Gore for three years now, believing that he's going to breakdown at some point and that I would rather be off the bandwagon a year early than a year late. This is finally the year I am truly all in on being completely out on Frank Gore.
Frank Gore is going to be 31 when the 2014 fantasy football season begins and he has a lot of talent waiting in the wings behind him. This may just be my bias taking over but I'll avoid Frank Gore at all costs this season.
Alfred Morris: 1,275 yards - 7 TD's
You could say that "Shanahanigans" reared its ugly head again in 2013 after teasing us that the Redskins would stay loyal to one running back as they did in 2012. Alfred Morris racked up a respectable yard total and was their go-to running back all season long, however when it came to getting the goal-line-touches and TD's he was mysteriously absent.
There was hope he would provide some more value in the receiving game in 2013 however it never materialized.
Now that Mike Shanahan is gone I would have hoped Jay Gruden would stick with Alfred Morris as his one and only back.
However word out of the NFL combine raises concern. His comments at the combine indicated he'd like to run a running back by committee, which fantasy football owners know is an absolute nightmare. You have to love how hard he runs and grinds out yards, but without the touchdowns and potential for a RBBC in 2014, I'll pass on Alfred Morris in the early rounds.
Running Back Depth Gets Ugly Fast
Make sure you take note that my thoughts on these 5 running backs are coming to you in late February 2014: before free agency, trades and the NFL draft. All of these things will likely impact their respective rankings and how willing I'd be to take a chance on them in the 2014 fantasy football season.
Saying that I'd avoid these running backs in 2014 isn't entirely accurate. These guys are ones that I would avoid in the earlier rounds, the ones that I wouldn't feel comfortable gambling my teams future on. As my number 3 or number 4 fantasy football running back I'd love them but the reality is I won't have the luxury of taking any of them that late. If you think the risk is worth the reward, I say cheers and good luck, I'll be the guy holding the trophy saying I told you so.
Think my list is missing someone important or completely disagree with my opinion? Voice your thoughts in the comments below, I'd love to hear some other perspectives.
The photo above is an original and is courtesy of the Washington Post.