This week I’m rolling out my initial set of rankings based on Apex Fantasy League scoring. You can also find Mike Braude’s free Apex Insider projections here. Used together, our rankings and projections can be an effective draft guide tailored specifically to the Apex format, especially as they are adjusted as the season approaches.
As each positions rankings are released, I’ll highlight the players that I’m highest and lowest on, compared to FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings.
Apex Running Back Rankings:
*News posted at publishing time: Knowshon Moreno may need knee surgery. He should be taken out of the top 40 and Lamar Miller could end up in the 25-30 range.
Le’Veon Bell (My Rank: 7, ECR 11)
In his rookie season, Le’Veon Bell finished as the RB16 in PPR leagues, despite missing the first 3 games with an injury. With a full, healthy off season to prepare as the starter, Bell will have the opportunity to improve on his impressive first year.
Naysayers point to Bell’s 3.52 yards per carry in 2013, but what he lacked in running efficiency, he made up for with volume and effectiveness in the passing game. Bell was one of just 9 backs with 200+ carries and 45 receptions. Of those backs, Le’Veon’s 10.4 average yards after catch was bested by just LeSean McCoy and Joique Bell. Because Bell is a rare breed of back that won’t lose touches due to game flow, he easily makes it into the top 10.
Reggie Bush (My Rank: 10, ECR: 14)
In his first year in Detroit, Reggie Bush had his best fantasy season since his rookie year, finishing as the RB9 in Apex leagues. Despite being 29 years old, Bush is still one of the most explosive and effective running backs in the game. 28 running backs had at least 200 touches in 2013, and only 3 averaged more yards per touch than Bush at 5.46 yds/touch. The Lions showed last year that they can support two top 15 backs. Even though Joique Bell recently received a contract extension, it’s hard to imagine the Lions wanting to change the splits much with their effective running back 1-2 punch.
Pierre Thomas (My Rank: 23, ECR: 28)
Pierre Thomas may be one of the most underappreciated and underrated running backs in recent history. Over the last 3 season, Thomas has averaged 177.2 PPR fantasy points (equal to RB19 in 2013), and finished with the most receptions among all running backs last season.
The departure of Darren Sproles leaves the door open for Thomas to thrive in the passing game again. Sean Payton will likely rotate the carries with Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Khiry Robinson, but Pierre Thomas doesn’t need a ton of carries to finish as a top 20 back again in 2014.
Giovani Bernard (My Rank: 11, ECR: 7)
Bernard has game-breaking talent and has the skills to be a great 3 down back, but I can’t justify ranking him within the top nine backs, a group that has virtually no competition for touches. The Bengals invested an early round pick on Jeremy Hill, likely because they want him to immediately fill the BenJarvus Green-Ellis role. Gio will likely see an increased workload, especially with the addition of run-heavy coordinator Hue Jackson, but a fair share of carries could go to Hill.
Arian Foster (My Rank: 12, ECR: 8)
There’s obvious injury concern following Arian Foster’s 2013 season, but the risk isn’t in the injuries themselves as much as the junction in Foster’s career that the injuries took place. Foster missed significant time last year after three consecutive 300-touch seasons. Over the last 20 years, only five running backs have had three 300-touch in a row, missed multiple games the next season, and went on to have another 300-touch season in their career. For the majority of workhorse backs, once their decline begins, it’s almost impossible to return to their old form.
The running backs that have been able to endure high levels of wear and tear and still return from injury have been spectacular. If Arian Foster is able to absorb a large workload he could be a steal, but history suggests that it will be hard for him to return to his dominant self. The uncertainty revolving around Foster’s ability to recover forces me to put him outside of the top 10.
Ray Rice (My Rank: 26, ECR: 22)
Considering Rice’s abysmal performance in 2013 and the possibility of a suspension, I think I’m still too high on Ray Rice as a borderline RB2. Even if you can get replacement level production while Rice serves a suspension, he may not be worth the investment. Like Arian Foster, there are similar concerns surrounding Rice in regards to injuries following years of huge workloads.
Ray Rice’s drop off last season was historically bad. Since the merger, only 76 running backs have had 200+ carries with an average yards per rush under 3.5. Of those 76 seasons, only 5 were worse than Rice’s 3.08 yds/rush. To think he could return to a starting fantasy running beck is overly optimistic.