I’m not thrilled about it, but I’ve seen A Christmas Story too many times to count.
Remember when the kids are opening their presents and Ralphie, the main character, goes through all of his presents in rapid fashion. He receives some decent gifts, I guess, but at first, he doesn’t seem to get his dream gift.
The Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun, of course.
Of course, it was hidden in the back and when using it for the first time, he really did shoot his eye out (kid). However, that moment, that brief moment where he was so letdown because he didn’t get his number one option, that, my friends, is exactly what the running back position in fantasy football reminded me of this year.
It was a long analogy, but it was worth it, folks.
According to Tristan Cockroft of ESPN (won’t you just follow him?), the running back position was the only one in football this year that didn’t see an uptick in fantasy production. In fact, Cockroft states that backs scored a combined point total of 8,297 fantasy points, which sure sounds like a lot, but there have been 24 seasons in fantasy history where the position has scored more points, so it’s really nothing to write home about. The reasoning behind this is the fact that so many first round backs finished as serious busts, which we will certainly dive into in detail in a bit. However, it wasn’t all bad, as you’ll see here.
For a while, it was close. For a while, you could have gone with a few different ball carriers as your most valuable.
And then Week 15 happened.
Jamaal Charles was an ideal fit for new head coach Andy Reid’s offense from the start. An explosive back who can catch the ball out of the backfield as well as anyone, Charles went off in 2013, finishing as the number one running back in fantasy, scoring 295 standard points. He was the most consistent back in fantasy, finishing as a top-12 option 93.8 percent of the time, which means that only once (Week 11) did Charles fail to do so. And, of course, his incredible 51-point outburst against the the Raiders in Week 15 pretty much sealed the deal for JC Superstar, who ultimately went on to rush for 1,287 yards and 12 scores.
Charles was terrific running the football, but his production in PPR formats was incredible, too. Charles was featured heavily in the Chiefs’ passing game this season, being targeted 104 times (6.93 per game), resulting in 70 catches (4.6 per game). In fact, his 70 catches were more than any wideout on the Chiefs, including Dwayne Bowe. And they were also good for 37th-most in the entire league. That’s insane production, as he averaged a league-leading 19.7 fantasy points per contest in 2013.
He done good, y’all.
It seems every season a crop of rookie running backs emerge from the pack and serve as dominant fantasy options. Last year, we saw Alfred Morris take over and serve as a top-10 fantasy back.
This year, there were three guys who caught my eye.
Let’s get it out of the way. Zac Stacy has been my favorite since he was drafted. I did a film study on him, wrote about him in full detail and called him this year’s Alfred Morris. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone I was higher on throughout the entire 2013 campaign. Since taking over the Rams starting job back in Week 5, Stacy was an absolute workhorse, which you will soon learn was the trend for these impressive first-year backs. Since Week 5, Stacy had the second-most carries in the NFL, and despite not starting until then, he still finished as a top-20 fantasy back. His 250 carries ranked 11th-most in football and he finished as a top-12 option over 50 percent of the time. Assuming St. Louis doesn’t bring in another back in the offseason, Stacy should be a second round draft pick.
Stacy was great, but Eddie Lacy was unreal.
We knew that this kid has the potential to be a top tier fantasy back based on his landing spot in Green Bay, but I’m not sure many projected this rookie to finish as fantasy’s number six overall back, scoring an impressive 198 standard points. And remember how Stacy was second in carries since Week 5? Yeah, Lacy was that only running back ahead of him, ultimately averaging 18.9 carries per contest, and his 284 totes ranked 5th-most in football. Lacy was incredible, averaging the third-highest consistency rating (81.3%), finishing third in the NFL in rushing scores with 11. When you consider that he battled injury toward the start of the year, missed Aaron Rodgers for seven games and still posted these great numbers, it becomes even more impressive. The last Packers running back to rush for 1,000 yards was Ryan Grant back in 2009. Lacy did it in his rookie year, with relative ease.
Top-five fantasy pick next year? I’m not against it.
Hey, Le’Veon Bell was no slouch either. If it hadn’t been for a foot injury that kept him sidelined for the first few games of the year, Bell would have a borderline top-10 option. During his rookie year, Bell broke Franco Harris’ rookie scrimmage yard record of 1,259. After the injury, however, he quickly established himself as Pittsburgh’s bellcow, finishing with a healthy 244 carries, which was good for 12th-most in the league. From a fantasy perspective, he averaged 12.3 fantasy points per contest (10th-most), while also hauling in 3.5 passes per game. He failed to go one game without at least one catch all season long. More importantly, his 52.1 offensive snaps per game ranked 4th-most among all running backs, ahead of guys like Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray.
The theme of the running back position in 2013, there were a handful of busts.
It kills me to admit it, but my beloved C.J. Spiller clearly did not live up to the hype. He rushed for just 927 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with an ugly 109 fantasy points. The presence of Fred Jackson was largely overlooked, but Spiller, unlike some others, has an excuse. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury all season long, which kept him in and out of the lineup. It’s hard for a running back to get going when you are constantly coming on and off the field, too. Still, I’d take a shot on Spiller in the second or third round next season because we know the immense talent he has. Not to mention, Buffalo finished the year averaging a league-leading 34.1 rushing attempts per game.
Meanwhile, Ray Rice just wasn’t very good. As consistent as they come, Rice never came with any questions when selecting him for your fantasy team. However, 2013 was a lost year for the Ravens back, as he finished the season with only 107 fantasy points, failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 2008 and scored just four times. The Baltimore offensive line was brutal, for sure, ranking as one of the worst among Pro Football Focus. And I think the Ravens actually lead the league in rushes of zero yards or fewer. You have to expect a bounceback year from one of the league’s best in 2014.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.