(Associated Press)

All this week the Washington Post will be rolling out its fantasy football rankings by position, including the top 30 running backs. Here are the best and worst RB values for the upcoming season.


Arian Foster

Foster ran the ball 121 times for 542 yards and one rushing touchdown, adding 183 yards and another touchdown receiving, before seeing his season cut short by microscopic lumbar-discectomy surgery in Week 8. And that seems to be scaring fantasy owners, but it shouldn’t.

Wellington K. Hsu, a spine surgeon, published a study in 2010 titled “Performance-Based Outcomes Following Lumbar Discectomy in Professional Athletes in the National Football League,” which concluded:

The data in this study suggests that even though a lumbar discectomy has career-threatening implications, a large percentage of NFL athletes return to play at competitive levels. Despite the general opinion of many NFL general managers, players who are able to complete the rigorous rehabilitation required to return to play after lumbar discectomy can expect excellent performance-based outcomes after surgery.

Foster had missed a total of three games in the three seasons prior, so we can expect him to return to his dominant self, which includes a projection of 1,191 yards rushing and eight touchdowns against the third most favorable schedule for fantasy points allowed to running backs this season.

Pierre Thomas

Thomas set career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (513) plus tied his best in receiving touchdowns (three) last season, but was still left out of Gene’s rankings.

The 29-year-old back has sure hands (just three drops on 82 targets last season) and can still make defenses chase shadows, forcing 21 missed tackles on 147 carries and another 22 missed tackles on 77 receptions. Per Pro Football Focus, Thomas finished with the sixth-highest yards per route run (1.70) among running backs targeted at least 50 percent of the time.

With Darren Sproules in Philadelphia, Thomas could become even more involved in the Saints’ passing game and extremely valuable in PPR leagues.

Ryan Matthews

Want an elite fantasy running back? Look at the top passing offenses. According to a Pro Football Reference study from 2008, “over half of the teams that finished as a top three passing offense from 1988 to 2007 produced an elite fantasy running back, and those running backs averaged more fantasy points than the other groups.”

One of the best ways to project future success of a passing offense is to look at net yards per attempt, yards per attempt with sack yards subtracted from the numerator and sacks added to the denominator. Here were the top three passing offenses from 2013:

  • Denver Broncos (7.8 net yards per attempt)
  • San Diego Chargers (7.5)
  • Philadelphia Eagles (7.4)

Broncos running back Monte Ball is being drafted late in the first round, while Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy is vying for the top pick in the draft. That leaves Mathews, currently being drafted in the fourth round, as a potential draft day steal and a good bet in improve on last year’s 1,255-yard, six-touchdown campaign.


Frank Gore

The end is near for Gore. We don’t know when, of course, but it is coming. Under the NFL default fantasy scoring system, Gore had 175 points last season. Here is a list of running backs 31-year-old or older (Gore turned 31 in May) who have tallied as many or more points in the last decade:

He is projected to have the 22nd most points at the running back position and that doesn’t include the possibility of him losing carries to a younger teammate, such as Carlos Hyde.

Gore’s breakaway speed is also fading fast. His PFF Elusive rating, which quantifies a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers, was at a career low of 17.1, more than half of his rating in 2012 (39.7).

Ben Tate

Tate is in a dogfight for the starting job in Cleveland with Terrance West, who “continued to look more explosive and seemed to dole out more punishment.” Despite that, Tate is overvalued for two reasons:

  1. Projected to rush for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 28th in the league.
  2. Faces the 28th toughest schedule in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs.

There are better values to be had in the sixth round than a third-string running back.

Steven Jackson

Jackson rushed for 543 yards and six touchdowns for an offense that will make “no sweeping changes” to a running game that ranked 24th in rushing yards per attempt (3.9) and second to last in first downs (64). In addition, Jackson and Co. will face the toughest schedule in fantasy points yielded to the running game.

It also looks like the 31-year-old running back will face competition from rookie running back Devonta Freeman, who rushed for 1,106 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final year at Florida State.

Jackson is projected to hit 800 yards with six touchdowns, which means unless you are in a league that starts three running backs, you should pass.

Projections from Fantasypros.com. ADP draft data from Fantasy Football Calculator.