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Fantasy Football Advice from Legendary RB Clinton Portis
RB Rankings, Projections and Analysis
Running Back Sleepers & Busts
Weekly Rankings, Start N' Sit & Sleepers Every Wednesday


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Texans RB Arian Foster
Three down workhorse running backs have become a dying breed in today's NFL, where the dreaded RBBC is becoming commonplace. Since you've only got two starting backs in most leagues, every down RBs are at a premium. We've based our rankings on the premise that opportunity equals fantasy points and rewarded players with at least a shot at an every down role. Our rationale is you don't win fantasy championships by drafting mediocre part-time players but rather by gambling on greatness. The rankings are based on a standard 12-team league where RBs score 1 point for every 10 yards of rushing or receiving, 6 points for a rushing or receiving TD and -2 points for fumbles.

The Top 10
Top 10 Slideshow
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The Best of the Rest
  1. Le'Veon Bell
  2. Alfred Morris
  3. Ben Tate
  4. Trent Richardson
  5. Reggie Bush
  6. Andre Ellington
  7. Gio Bernard
  8. Toby Gerhart
  9. Bishop Sankey
  10. Pierre Thomas
  11. C.J. Spiller
  12. Ray Rice
Ray Rice
Every year there are at least one or two players who fail to deliver on their first-round draft status. Sometimes it's unavoidable, like the player gets injured and is lost for an extended period of time. So long as you made contingency plans and picked up a capable replacement, you should be free of guilt. But other times the signs were there all along and you simply failed to take notice. Successful fantasy players focus on minimizing their risk in the early rounds and gamble on upside as the draft progresses. We'll help you avoid possible early-round busts and identify some players with the potential to emerge as late-round or waiver wire sleepers:

Sleepers
Rashad Jennings
Giants RB Rashad Jennings
We think Jennings is an absolute steal in fantasy drafts. Giants GM Jerry Reese is suggesting he'll be used as a bell-cow back; he was effective last year as a starter for 9 games in Oakland with over 1,000 total yards, 6 TDs and 4.5 YPC; and his competition for carries consists of a player recuperating from neck surgery who's spent more time on IR than on the field (Wilson), a rookie with hands of stone and no experience catching out of the backfield (Williams) and a big, lumbering back who's burned bridges everywhere he's been (Hillis). Yet he's available in most fantasy drafts after the first 25 backs are off the board, so you can draft him as an RB3 with the upside to develop into an RB1 if he's the main option in the Giants rushing attack.

Pierre Thomas
Saints RB Pierre Thomas
Thomas is being overlooked in most fantasy drafts and isn't being selected until the last few rounds, despite amassing around 1,000 total yards each of the last two seasons. We think he has an opportunity to improve on those numbers now that Sproles has left town. It's a simple matter of math - Sproles had over 600 yds. receiving and over 200 yds. rushing last year. Someone is going to have to replace that production and we believe Thomas will be the largest benefactor. 2010 draft bust Mark Ingram saw his carries cut in half last year (from 156 to 78) and neither Ingram nor 2nd year UDFA Khiry Robinson were used much as a receiving option.

The Saints have indicated they plan to give Robinson an expanded role this year but we think Thomas remains the primary back and the main pass-catching option (Robinson didn't catch a pass last year). We think he's a lock to exceed 1,000 total yards again and wouldn't be surprised if it's more like 1,300-1,400.

Toby Gerhart
Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart
For a bell-cow RB Toby Gerhart's not getting much respect in fantasy leagues. Perhaps there's some skepticism that a big, lumbering back can be effective in an every-down role or, broaching a tender subject, maybe he's facing the same kind of stigma that once mistakenly plagued black QBs back in the day, since there are very few examples of white RBs who've made an impact recently in the NFL. We think he's a great value where he's being selected. The coaching staff seems to believe in him, naming him the starter and saying they think he can handle 240+ carries a season and he faces little competition for carries in Jacksonville, where the cupboard is pretty bare (the team waited until the 6th round to address the position in the draft).

If Gerhart just duplicates MJD's paltry 3.4 yards a carry and receives the same number of touches, he'd be good for 1,100 total yards, which is not a bad haul for a RB being drafted around RB3/flex territory. We think he's capable of delivering the kind of season Peyton Hillis had in Cleveland back in 2010. If opportunity is half the equation when it comes to evaluating fantasy RBs, Gerhart has a good chance of surprising his naysayers.


Busts
Doug Martin
Buccaneers RB Doug Martin
Drafting a player based on past performance is kind of like driving your car by looking in the rear-view mirror - it seldom ends out well. And that appears to be what players are doing in a lot of fantasy leagues. Martin is currently being picked as one of the top 12 RBs based largely on his production as a rookie in 2012. But many things have changed since then - back-ups James and Rainey proved they could be just as effective as Martin when called on and Charles Sims was drafted to, as Lovie Smith put it, "give us a little more in the passing game". As if this isn't reason enough to worry, new OC Tedford has indicated he plans to use a committee similar to the one he employed with great success at Cal.

We don't doubt Martin's abilities or health: we just don't think he'll put up the eye-popping numbers he had his rookie year and don't see him as a top 20 back when he'll presumably be mired in a RBBC with 3 other RBs.

Gio Bernard
Bengals RB Gio Bernard
Gio is currently one of the first 10 RBs off the board in most fantasy drafts. Most fantasy owners picking him are doing so in the belief that he'll be the Bengals' primary back. We beg to differ. Due to the lack of effectiveness Green-Ellis had runnng inside, former Bengals OC Gruden tried using Gio between the tackles on occasion with mixed results. The Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill to provide a power running game and the feeling in Cincinnati is that to be effective Gio needs to be used primarily outside the tackles or as a receiver. Coach Lewis understands this and stated to the press that the days of a workhorse back are numbered and Bernard's frame is better served with 15-19 touches per game.

New OC Hue Jackson has indicated he plans to emphasize the run more, which is a positive. However, we see the rookie Hill sliding into the role McFadden had in Oakland and anticipate about a 50-50 split in touches between Gio and the rest of the RB corps, which would be about the same as last year (226 for Bernard vs. 224 for Green-Ellis). If the Bengals can become more effective running the ball (they averaged a meager 3.7 YPC, which ranked 28th in the league last year), there may be room for Gio to improve in his sophomore year but considering the O-line took a step back this off-season with the departure of Collins we see no reason to make that assumption. We think he merits consideration among the top 20 backs but just don't see him getting enough touches to justify spending a top 10 pick on him.

LeSean McCoy
photo of LeSean McCoy
Why are we predicting McCoy will be a bust? Simply because his new teammate Darren Sproles is a cannibal. That's right, you read it here and we stand by our statement - Sproles is going to cannibalize McCoy's touches out of the backfield and that will ultimately hurt his production. McCoy is the first RB off the board in most fantasy drafts and often the first overall pick. If Sproles pouches just half of his receiving yardage, along with a couple hundred yards rushing, McCoy will be lucky to hit 1,600-1,700 total yards. Sproles has also produced anywhere from 4-9 TDs during his tenure in New Orleans, the majority of which came on receptions, so expect a few of these to come at McCoy's expense.

Don't get us wrong, McCoy is a supremely talented feature back and he'll probably have a very good season, just not one deserving of the first overall pick. Due to the number of teams talking about committees this off-season he's still worthy of consideration early in the first round but we prefer Jamaal Charles.
Lions RB Reggie Bush
Photo of Reggie Bush © Xaf
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There's no better source of advice on fantasy RBs than the players who have to face them week-in and week-out. We're very grateful to the following NFL players and retired players who were kind enough to answer our questions and provide our readers with advice:

Clinton Portis
Retired NFL Running Back
Retired RB Clinton Portis
Photo of Clinton Portis © Keith Allison
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Brian Robison
DE Minnesota Vikings
Vikings DE Brian Robison
Photo of Brian Robison © Rick Burtzel
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Tank Johnson
Retired NFL Defensive Tackle
Former NFL DT Tank Johnson
Photo of Tank Johnson © Navin Rajagopalan
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Shaun Smith
Retired NFL Defensive Tackle
Retired DT Shaun Smith
Photo of Shaun Smith © Keith Allison
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