Ranking by Positional Role: The Running Backs


The fact my first article on this subject focused on the quarterback position was not an arbitrary choice – that position provided the simplest context in which to explain the whole concept of dynasty roles. In most formats, you really only want to devote two, maybe three roster spots to quarterbacks, so it’s very simple to examine how the players you draft at that position should complement each other from a dynasty role perspective.

Clearly, running back is an entirely different animal altogether. You might start anywhere between one to four running backs depending on your league format, which means you might roster anywhere from 4-8 of them. Examining the different roles each running back plays on your dynasty roster is a more complex endeavor, but I still think it is one worth undertaking. Lumping all running backs in one ranking together still presents the same awkward comparisons like the Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Tannehill example I used in the quarterback article.

While preparing for a startup draft, before you have any idea what your roster makeup will be, can you really confidently compare and rank two players like Frank Gore and Shane Vereen?  To some extent, you certainly can. You would begin by considering your personal evaluations of each player, followed by the application of your own roster-building philosophy, in a general sense. Some people will always take youth, while others will tend to lean towards the one or two years of reliable production. Personally, I believe the true dynasty Jedi enters a startup with a completely open mind and simply takes the best player available in each of the first 4-5 rounds, regardless of age or position. Around the round 4-5 mark, you can pause, evaluate what your team core looks like (young, old, RB heavy, WR heavy, etc.), then commit to that direction for the rest of the draft.

This is the ideal approach to a dynasty startup draft in my opinion, but the problem with it is until you know what direction your team is going in, it is almost a complete waste of time to try and determine how valuable Frank Gore is going to be for your team relative to Shane Vereen.

Hence, dynasty roles.

I briefly considered whether or not there needed to be additional or different roles created in the classification of running backs, but ultimately found them to be redundant, so I will be sticking with the original three categories (Starter, Upsider, Backup) for this and all future articles.

Without further ado, here are my current running back rankings based on their dynasty roles. Please note that these are PPR based:


Just as a reminder, Starters are players I expect to be productive enough in the short-term (1-3 years) to justify a starting spot in your lineup. Now obviously this is largely dependant on your league depth and starting requirements, but for the sake of this list, I’ve envisioned a 12-team league with one flex spot.  The last group of players on this list I would consider worthy of being a low-end flex option. And remember, these are dynasty rankings, so I am discounting players who are older and may only be relied upon for one solid year of production.


The primary focus of this article is to continue to flesh out the idea of dynasty roles, not so much to tout my personal rankings, but that does not mean I don’t stand by them and I am happy to respond to questions or criticism.

Perhaps the ranking that might stand out the most is Chris Johnson checking in at #20. As pedestrian a talent as Shonn Greene is, he has proven to be very durable, and likely will take away a significant amount of goal line work from Johnson, who has never had a backup as proven as Greene behind him (that was as strange for me to type as it was for you to read). Also, I worry about Johnson’s long-term viability as speed backs have a tendency to fall off a cliff as soon as their speed declines even small amount.

Right ahead of him at #19 is Chris Ivory, who might also be a surprise, but for the opposite reason as Johnson. Let’s just say I am a big fan of Ivory’s ability, and the only reason he isn’t higher on this list is that he’s somewhat struggled to stay healthy in New Orleans and does not have a track record of catching a lot of passes, although I would argue that could easily be due to how the Saints used him (or rather how they used Darren Sproles). I love his ability and situation – he’s much higher on my non-PPR rankings.

Moving on, the next dynasty role is the Upsider role, which consists of players who I do not expect to be productive enough to qualify as a starter right now, but have the upside to become so.


One player who was very difficult to classify was the one at the top of this group – Shane Vereen. There’s a very good argument to be made that he will be productive enough in 2013 to be a flex option, which would put him in a Starter role. However, when I began to think about how I want to use the idea of role-based rankings in the context of a draft, I decided it made more sense to put him with the Upsiders. The reason for this is because when I take Vereen in a startup, the main reason I’m taking him is for his rather substantial upside. I recently look him in the round eight of the Dynasty Football World Championship, and I did not do so because I think he’s going to carve out a nice Danny Woodhead “plus” role in New England, it’s because if he ever forces Stevan Ridley out of the primary ballcarrier role, Vereen will become a PPR monster.

Now it’s certainly true you can draft a player for more than one specific reason. Obviously I have Montee Ball grouped with the Starters and I think he has considerable upside if he works out. But the gap between Vereen’s short-term expected production (modest) and his potential ceiling if he “hits” (monstrous) is so large, I think I have to rank him accordingly, and thus he sits atop the Upsider list.

So the “rule” that can be taken from the Shane Vereen question that I expect may come into play when doing this exercise with WR and TE is that if a player is somewhat in the grey area between two dynasty roles, he should be placed in the role that best suits the primary reason for his value.

And lastly, we have the Backup role. These players lack both the productivity to make them a starter right now and the upside (in my opinion) to ever achieve it, with the exception of short-term injury related periods.


I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the classification of some of these players between Upsider and Backup will generate the most disagreement. Many of the names on this list are or have been favorite dynasty stashes, but if they’re on this list, I don’t believe they have the chops to make it as a perennial fantasy starter. Ben Tate might be the most glaring snub, as he has been a popular sleeper for people who are waiting for Arian Foster to fall apart, but I just don’t see it happening for him. These are players you really only want as handcuffs or as one week additions to get you through a bad bye week or a couple of untimely injuries. They will put up a big game here or there, but are the definition of a weekly lottery ticket (and some of them aren’t even that).

Thank you again for reading, and for the strong response to the original quarterback article. I trust that the running back rankings will generate some more controversy than did the quarterback ones, and look forward to reading and responding to your comments.



  1. NattyDread

    June 18, 2013 at 5:24 am

    Interesting idea and nice writeup. Get your every day lineup from the ‘starters’, add a few ‘upsiders’ at the end of your bench, and use ‘backups’ as handcuffs. I suppose my strategy in dynasty has been in line with this article for years, but having it written down and organized as you did is a big help. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make in assembling their roster is mistaking ‘backups’ for ‘upsiders.

    • The Doctor

      June 18, 2013 at 5:47 am

      I definitely think a lot, maybe even post people, think in terms of these concepts when roster building, I’d just never seen the idea written down and fleshed out before, so I think it’s a good discussion to have.

  2. Territdown33

    June 18, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Where’s Ryan Mathews?

    • SD Guy

      June 18, 2013 at 8:19 am

      No kidding, i know not many have faith in him and rightly so. But he is still a starter on a NFL team. Seriously you have Fred Jackson on your starter list before Mathews. I sure hope this is an oversight.

    • DP

      June 20, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. The guy is still a starter for the chargers.

  3. Britt

    June 18, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Was Ryan Matthews left off on purpose? I like him quite a bit better than Fred Jackson as a starter this year despite his injury history.

    • The Doctor

      June 18, 2013 at 5:44 am

      That was an accident, I must’ve dropped him off while I was chopping up the lists. He would have been on the Starter list, probably in Jonathan Stewart territory. Not very high on him.

  4. Britt

    June 18, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Looks like me & Terridown realized this at the same moment – posts 2 minutes apart.

  5. Mark

    June 18, 2013 at 6:40 am

    I have to question Tate being where he is and some of the players on the upside list instead….really weird I think if you take a look at the 2011 numbers.

    • The Doctor

      June 18, 2013 at 7:09 am

      I just don’t really see a likely scenario in which Tate has clear starter value for longer than <1 season, and that is only if Foster were to get a season-ending injury. If Foster were to drop off the face of the planet tomorrow, I don't think that The Texans would just slide Tate up their depth chart and roll with him as the all-purpose starter. I also think that Tate's skill set is a perfect fit for where he is, so I don't see him ever being brought in as someone else's starter either.

      I think he's one of the best handcuffs you can have in fantasy football, but he's not someone I'm stashing waiting for the day that he's a starting RB.

  6. Abram Prince

    June 18, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I like the idea behind these articles, but could someone please show me any draft where lamar miller and chris ivory even go within a round of chris johnson? much less before him

    • The Doctor

      June 18, 2013 at 7:06 am

      These rankings are my own personal ones, and don’t really have anything to do with where other people would take them in a draft. This actually isn’t even necessarily a list of how I’d draft them unless I was in a draft that didn’t allow trading up/down.

      That said, in the most recent startup draft I participated in (the $300 DFWC), Miller went four picks after Johnson, who was drafted at 4.01, so that’s well within a round.

      As for my personal feelings on Johnson, I worry about the age/workload of RB’s who rely heavily on speed moreso than more well-rounded RB’s. I think as soon as Johnson loses half a step, he could fall off of a cliff. The prospect of him losing goal line work does not help either.

    • mike_blahnik

      June 19, 2013 at 5:02 am

      I recommend selling Chris Johnson while his rep still outpaces his production/long-term outlook. If you can trade him for Lamar Miller and a 2nd or Chris Ivory and a 1st, I suggest you take that shot before the world catches up to Mike’s rankings. Even if the Titans offensive improves leaps and bounds this year with the revamped OL (very possible), I believe the Titans will be able to cut him with minimal dead money impact after 2013. I think they must have that date circled in dark red ink, considering all of his issues. If the offense doesn’t improve then it’s possible CJ, Britt, Munchak, and possibly Locker will all be elsewhere in 2014.

      FYI: In an on-going 16-team startup I’m in Lamar Miller went 6 picks after CJ. Ivory went 31 picks later.

  7. GDuB

    June 18, 2013 at 7:23 am

    With the upside of Vereen, would you rather have Ridley/Bennett or Vereen/Graham?

    • vinegarbend

      June 18, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Probably rhetorical but of course Vereen/Graham.

  8. JJDubya

    June 18, 2013 at 7:42 am

    I like the approach. My lone thought on the list is that you have Ballard and Bradshaw in reverse order. I just don’t see Ballard ranking higher than him on a 1-3 year timeline. Although prone to some injuries which he’s more than willing and able to play through, I think Bradshaw will be the more productive back this year and next. I get the dynasty discount being applied here, but he’s only 27 so if he has a solid year this year he has the opportunity to keep the top spot going forward for another year or two, at least. Plus he’s going to play with a grudge this year. Show the Giants and any team that passed him up (Steelers, for instance) that he’s not washed up.

    • The Doctor

      June 18, 2013 at 10:25 am

      Fair point. I actually handed this in a couple weeks ago, so the Bradshaw signing hadn’t happened yet.

  9. Eric

    June 18, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Speaking on behalf of Kyle, Ronnie Hillman and his 20 pounds should be in the top 15 of Starters and Montee Ball should be around #26 on the back-up list.

    • Sejjr

      June 18, 2013 at 10:46 am


  10. Doug

    June 18, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Mike Goodson? I know you’re getting pretty deep here, and you are high on Ivory, but was wondering about your thoughts on Goodson. I’d personally put him around the 20 range of upside guys, but pretty close to creeping to the backup list.

  11. Chris

    June 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I thought the same thing. I feel he belongs ahead of Powell, even with his legal issues. If it’s based solely on talent and opportunity, I think he is abundantly more talented that Powell and it seems as though he’ll get the opportunity to be the 3rd down back for NY while the legal process wears on.

  12. Mink

    June 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I like the list, believe I’d have Mendenhall a little higher since he’s just 25. Also agree on Vereen and Pierce, but I have them 2, 3, with C.Michael being 1. Interested to see how Leshoure looks now after a full 2 years since his surgery. If he has any explosion back like a Illinois, he could surprise.

    • donbrazi

      June 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      My notes say Mendy turned 26 a couple days ago..

  13. Hammer

    June 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Two double questions please.

    Do you see Brandon Jackson being the backup for Richardson in Cleveland? If so is he worth owning for a handcuff?

    What is the chance of Charles Sims entering the Supplemental Draft? Where do you rank him among the rookie RB’s not knowing which team he will end up with?

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