The top running backs to draft for the 2014 fantasy football season in keeper/dynasty leagues.
1. DeMarco Murray (DAL) Age: 26
|Rushing Stats||Receiving Stats|
|2014 Projections||View DeMarco Murray's 2014 projected stats.|
The good news: Murray had his healthiest NFL campaign last year, setting career highs in practically every rushing and receiving category while posting the highest YPC (5.2) in the league among players with more than 200 carries. The bad news: He still missed two games with a knee ailment and has now sat out 11 games over his three seasons in the league. That said, Murray did enter the offseason healthy, and there are currently no indications that the 6-foot, 219-pound bruiser – fifth in the league in broken tackles with 35 last year despite the missed time – will enter training camp in anything short of full health. So there's nothing aside from Murray's physical, high-risk running style to say that he won't play all 16 for the first time this year. Murray's team context is a good one for fantasy owners – the Cowboys have a decent pass game (which targeted Murray 66 times last year), a much-improved offensive line (further boosted by the addition of first-round draftee Zack Martin) and no serious competition for carries either in the middle of the field or at the goal line. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar certainly don't look like impact NFL players at this point, and the Cowboys seemed happy to give Murray 15 carries inside the five last year. If Murray can stay on the field, he certainly has the strength and the straight-line speed to end up among the NFL's top five rushers.
2. LeSean McCoy (PHI) Age: 26
|Rushing Stats||Receiving Stats|
|2014 Projections||View LeSean McCoy's 2014 projected stats.|
Aside from Nick Foles, McCoy was perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the Chip Kelly offense last year. He easily posted the best campaign of his career – his first in which he averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game – and with his outstanding pass-catching abilities, he established himself as the top dual-threat back in the league and was particularly golden in PPR formats. Although McCoy has shrugged off Barry Sanders comparisons, it's worth noting that Sanders himself only exceeded McCoy's total of 2,146 yards from scrimmage last season two times. It's also hard to stereotype McCoy as merely an elusive runner – he also showed a lot of power, finishing with a career-high 51 broken tackles last year, second only to Marshawn Lynch . While his role as the Eagles' top runner is not in doubt, there's reason to believe McCoy will take a step back following his first 300-carry season. That reason is Darren Sproles, the super-talented pass-catching back whom the Eagles acquired from the Saints in March. Philadelphia's coaching staff will likely deploy Sproles in the same way New Orleans did, which makes it likely that McCoy will see his pass targets reduced this year. Further, the Eagles will likely be cognizant of potentially overusing McCoy, who hadn't played 16 games in any of the prior three seasons before last year; it's unlikely he hits 300 carries again in 2014. Nonetheless, McCoy went into the offseason 100 percent healthy and has firmly established himself as one of the truly elite running backs in the game. Even if Sproles and third-stringer Chris Polk take a good number of touches from McCoy, the rest they'll afford him may make it worthwhile as he looks to stay healthy and deliver another Pro Bowl campaign as a featured cog in the Eagles' balanced spread attack.
3. Jamaal Charles (KC) Age: 27
|Rushing Stats||Receiving Stats|
|2014 Projections||View Jamaal Charles's 2014 projected stats.|
Always a fantasy stud when healthy, Charles' value managed to take a dramatic leap forward last season thanks to new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who handed Charles the consistent goal-line duty he's always been missing. While he's always been known for his pure speed and elite cutting ability, Charles had – perhaps for fear of brittleness – been largely sheltered from duty near the end zone before last year. But in 2013, the Chiefs handed Charles the ball 15 times inside the five-yard line – matching his total in that category from the prior four seasons combined. He also saw 18 pass targets inside the red zone, which was more than double his total from any previous campaign. The result: 19 total touchdowns from a guy who had previously totaled 24 in five seasons. All that short-yardage usage may have contributed to Charles' career-low 5.0 YPC, but his fantasy owners certainly didn't mind. Indeed, they had to be quite happy with his newfound toughness – including 39 broken tackles, fourth-most in the NFL. Owners in PPR leagues minded even less, as Charles spectacularly totaled 70 catches on a ridiculous 104 targets last year after never grabbing more than 45 passes in a season before. Although Charles did suffer a concussion in last year's playoffs, that's sure to be long cleared up by the time this season kicks off, and Charles doesn't have a history of head injuries. Yes, concussions can develop into recurring issues, but that's a fear with every NFL player. That aside, Charles is fully healthy and now two quality seasons removed from the torn ACL that limited him to two games in 2011. The Chiefs have a quality backup in Knile Davis, but that shouldn't have much of an effect on Charles. As long as he remains healthy, he'll remain Kansas City's featured back, meaning he'll see the vast majority of Alex Smith's handoffs and backfield passes. Another run at 2,000 total yards is in the cards – and with his newfound goal-line duties, Charles has a very good chance to be fantasy's most valuable back.
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