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Fantasy Football: 2015 running back sleepers and busts

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Fantasy Football: 2015 running back sleepers and busts

The NFL may be a passing league, but running backs are still the kings in the castle.

 

As is the case every year in fantasy, there are more running backs going in the first round than any other position. Unless the NFL does away with the position altogether, we're not sure the trend will ever truly change. 

In 2015, the reasoning is simple: Every team needs at least two running backs (plus, likely, a flex spot and depth/handcuffs on the bench) and there just are not that many reliable options at the position. 

[MORE - Fantasy Football: 2015 Quarterback sleepers and busts]

Obviously, if you can get one of the Top 5 backs (Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch), go for it. But for the rest of you (and to fill out your starting lineup for even those with Top 5 picks), here are some running backs to keep an eye on and avoid this fall:

Top Targets

Jeremy Hill, CIN: It’s always risky to use an early fantasy selection on a sophomore running back as they tend show major regression, but in my mind Hill is the real deal. When starter Gio Bernard went down with an injury in Week 8 last season, Hill put a stranglehold on the job and never looked back, rushing for over 140 yards in four of the Bengals last nine games of the year. Hill won’t be mistaken for Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or even his teammate Bernard as a pass-catcher, but he’s adequate in that regard and should provide fantasy owners with a little added value because of that ability. With plenty of question marks surrounding the running backs (Mark Ingram and DeMarco Murray) going around the ADP range of 14, stick with the guy who’s going to be the focal point of his team’s offense in Hill. - Scott Krinch

Alfred Morris, RB: I'm always amazed at the annual slide the former sixth-round pick goes through in fantasy drafts. No, he doesn't have a run longer than 45 yards or a reception longer than 26 yards in 48 career games, but it's that last number that cements him for me as a solid, solid RB2. In three seasons he hasn't missed a game, has rushed for 1,000+ yards and found the end zone at least seven times. Yes, last season saw career lows for him in carries, yards and yards per rush. But you know what you're going to get with him. Chances are you're going to be taking some kind of risk in either of the first two rounds (think Odell Beckham, Julio Jones or DeMarco Murray). Why not play it safe in Round 3 and "reach" for Morris and not worry about one of your two running back positions the rest of the year? - Mark Strotman

LeSean McCoy, BUF: His hamstring injury definitely put a scare into me but in terms of usage, Rex Ryan will run him into the ground. He IS the Bills offense and should receive at least 25 carries a game in addition to catching a few passes from whatever jugs machine they roll out on the field. In his years with the Jets, Rex has always been a huge fan of running the ball and that was even when teams knew all the Jets could do was run. McCoy should be the guy you target at the end of the first round if running back is the direction you want to go. - John "The Professor" Paschall

Lamar Miller, MIA: Lamar Miller is an RB1. That may seem like a rather bold statement, but he is, regardless of how your league scores. In standard scoring ESPN leagues, Miller finished eighth in 2014, rushing for 1,099 yards, eight TDs and catching 38 passes for 275 yards and a TD. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry and has 4.4 speed, yet he only averaged 15.875 touches a game. The only thing keeping him from the elite category is a lack of touches in the Miami offense, but, as we mentioned in the podcast, there is no clear backup in place. I'm targeting Miller because of that job security, but also because his production level is on target with the elite backs, even if his touches aren't. Once the Top 5 backs are gone, Miller represents a safe play with a huge upside. - Tony Andracki

Sleepers

Chris Ivory, NYJ: Ivory was already known for his physicality but he’s added a new element to his game: speed. No, he’s not a burner like Jamaal Charles but he’s looked so much faster this year in early preseason action. He’s in a good situation in New York too where there isn’t much competition for him. Stevan Ridley will likely start the year on the PUP list while Bilal Powell is a better option in real life football compared to fantasy. He will be the goal line back for the Jets so expect Ivory to outperform where he’s going in drafts this year. - JP

Doug Martin, TB: I promised I wouldn't do it. I swore to myself I'd never go back to the well. Three years ago Martin won me my primary fantasy league with an outstanding 1,900-yard all-purpose season that included 12 touchdowns as a rookie. Two years ago I had no choice but to take him in the second round, and he became world's biggest headache before being lost for the year six games into the season. A fresh outlook in 2014 had me excited, and luckily I flipped a coin and went with Le'Veon Bell over the Muscle Hamster, and we all know how that turned out. I swore I was done with Dougie Fresh, but I absolutely love his situation this year. He's in a contract year (that's not a cliche, either; it matters) and is part of an offense that could provide some fireworks. With Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans catching passes from the cannon of Jameis Winston, the run game could open up in a hurry for Tampa Bay. It's a questionable offensive line, for sure, but if you can grab Martin around his current ADP (75) you'll be happy with the results. Pardon me while I go throw up. - MS

[MORE FANTASY: Get ready for your Fantasy Football draft by checking out our complete coverage]

Latavius Murray, OAK: You won't find many running backs, like Murray, that are built like a Mack Truck and possess 4.3 speed. Murray has every physical trait that NFL teams look for, but he has yet to play a full 16-game schedule in his short two years in the league while dealing with a plethora of injuries during that span. Healthy for the first time since his college days at UCF, Murray rushed for 424 yards with a sparkling 5.2 yards per carry in 15 games (mainly as a backup) last season. Firmly entrenched in a starting role Murray has an ADP of 37, which is tremendous value for a running back of his caliber. With little competition behind him (Roy Helu, Trent Richardson), expect Murray to get the bell-cow duties in Oakland and fully exceed his pre-draft projections. - SK

CJ Spiller, NO: Spiller has been a tantalizing fantasy option for five straight seasons, even though he has just one 1,000-yard season under his belt. But Spiller has been overrated for so long that I think he's actually underrated. He's going as the No. 27 running back off the board (71st overall) in average draft position, meaning he falls as a sixth or seventh round pick. But in PPR leagues, how can you argue with a guy who is a solid receiver moving to a Saints offense that has been known to highlight running backs in the passing game with Drew Brees as quarterback and only Mark Ingram as true competition for touches. Spiller may only carry it a few times a game, but Darren Sproles was a solid fantasy option in N'awlins as basically just a receiver out of the backfield. Spiller and his gamebreaking speed can do the same. - TA

Busts

CJ Anderson, DEN: I feel a little bit better about Anderson after the signing of Evan Mathis but that Broncos offensive line is terrifying. Between rookies and unproven starters, I’m worried about Anderson’s production this year because of the big guys in front of him. I understand Gary Kubiak wants to run the ball a lot but unless you’re a once-in-a-generation talent like Adrian Peterson, you need the big guys up front to be on their game. The chemistry won’t just come for these guys right away. Anderson also doesn’t provide much in the passing game. He’s not worth a first-round pick at this point in time. - JP

Mark Ingram, NO: Don't fall into the Ingram trap. After three years of being labeled a first-round bust in New Orleans, Ingram turned a brief three-game 2014 stretch into a lucrative, four-year deal this past offseason. That run has catapulted Ingram into the upper echelon of the fantasy running back rankings in 2015. Although the Saints are expected to run the ball more often this season, you would be wise not to draft a New Orleans running back in the second round. Sean Payton has employed a running back-by-committee approach during his tenure as head coach of the Saints, and with C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson already in the fold, don't expect Ingram to be the guy week in, week out. - SK

[MORE - CSN Fantasy Football Podcast: Previewing Raiders, AFC West]

DeMarco Murray, PHI: Look, if you're expecting another 1,800 yards and 57 catches for Murray this season, I'm gonna pin him as the biggest bust of all time. There's simply no way he's going to get 450 touches again, not with Ryan Mathews in town. The Eagles aren't paying Mathews $5 million guaranteed to just sit and watch. But even if you're realistic about the fact that Murray will fall back to Earth, can you still trust him to hold up? He's been far from a picture of health in his NFL career prior to 2015 and now, coming off one of the most heavily-used seasons by a RB in history, he's in the most fast-paced offense in the league and expected to stay healthy? Oh, and he moves from out behind the best offensive line in the league. With all that risk, do you really want to waste a first-round pick on him? - TA 

Joseph Randle, DAL: I do believe Randle will be the Cowboys running back to own this season, and running behind the league's best offensive line makes him a worthy prospect of a mid-round draft pick. But he's got just 105 carries to his name in two seasons, already is battling an oblique injury and has a pair of noteworthy backs behind him in Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. His best-case scenario is a top-5 or 6 finish among all running backs, meaning the potential reward outweighs the risk. But everyone is falling in love with him and assuming he's simply the next DeMarco Murray. I expect the Cowboys to utilize all three backs, capping his ceiling - and that's if he manages to stay healthy all season long. Pass. - MS

NFC North standings: Bears fall to last in division with Week 7 loss to Patriots

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NFC North standings: Bears fall to last in division with Week 7 loss to Patriots

The great Ricky Bobby once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Talladega Nights hit a little too close to home for the Bears in Week 7.

They came into Sunday at 3-2 at the top of the NFC North. After a 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots, they dropped to the bottom of the division.

The Detroit Lions defeated the Miami Dolphins 32-21 to improve to 3-3, leaving them tied with the Bears in the cellar.

The Minnesota Vikings’ 37-17 victory over the New York Jets jumped them to 4-2-1 overall and first place in the division over the 3-2-1 Green Bay Packers, who were off for their bye week.

The NFC North remains the most tightly contested division in the NFL, the only one with no teams under .500 through seven weeks of the season.

The final standings may not be decided until Week 17, and the Bears have already blown the early season cushion they built for themselves while the Vikings and Packers were struggling.

The divisional action will pick up in November, and Chicago only has a pair of games left to put it all together before back-to-back-to-back games against the Lions, Vikings and Lions again.    

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

Matt Forte, Lance Briggs and Alex Brown join Laurence Holmes to break down the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots. What happened to the Bears defense over their bye week, and how did the special teams struggle so bad against New England? Plus – the guys debate Mitchell Trubisky’s decision making in the red zone and Matt weighs in on how the Bears should play his former team – the New York Jets – next week.

0:35– Special teams to blame for loss?

4:12– Where did the Bears pass rush go? 

5:27– Bad tackling followed Bears from Miami

7:25– Are the coaches to blame for the defense after the bye?

10:10– Evaluating Mitchell Trubisky’s game

11:55– Agree with Matt Nagy on Mitch’s “mental” game?

13:30– Trubisky’s red zone decision making

17:10– Are the Bears giving away games so Mitch can learn?

18:00– Bears need to run the ball more

21:04– Matt Forte scouts his former team, the New York Jets

Listen to the full podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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