We’ve talked a lot about who we think is being overvalued and undervalued so far in drafts for the upcoming fantasy football season. We’ve also taken a look at how the rookies stack up for playing time in 2014/2015 and who to target for your roster. Today I’m going to take a look at 2 fantasy running backs I’m excited to see play in 2014… they’ve been elite producers before and have a good chance to outperform their expectations heading into the year. Elite athletes love playing with a chip on their shoulders, and that’s exactly what we have here heading into 2014.
I absolutely love the way this guy plays. His ability to miss tackles and break free of contact is just downright incredible. He takes no prisoners and has the ability to make plays from just about nothing. The truth is he didn’t really had the opportunity to perform at his best, considering who the Vikings ran out on the field as their signal caller last year. I’m looking at you, Christian Ponder. No offense to Ponder, but he just isn’t an NFL-caliber quarterback. He was given his chances to succeed, but the jury is in – he’s doesn’t have what it takes.
The Minnesota brass made it a priority to upgrade at this position. They brought veteran Matt Cassel on board and selected Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in this year’s rookie draft. In Cassel, they are getting a reliable option behind center – someone you know what you’re going to get week in and week out. He is more of a game manager than a playmaking QB, but he’s a better fit for what the Vikings and Adrian Peterson need to be successful.
Cassel has had his share of injury issues over the last few years and is certainly not a long-term option even though he’s set to break as the team’s starter for the upcoming 16 games. He was fairly effective last year, completing 60.2% of attempts with 12 TDs in his 6 starts. When it comes to their QB of the future, that’s where Bridgewater steps in. While there are questions about what kind of player Bridgewater will be at the NFL level, his progression at every year in college and leadership on the field makes me believe he’s going to be successful once he takes over full time. It could happen as early as this season, but it also won’t surprise me if they let Cassel go as long as he’s effective to give Bridgewater the time to learn and develop from the sidelines. We’ve seen this strategy really help young players in the past – like Aaron Rodgers, who watched from the sidelines as Brett Favre did his thing in Green Bay.
Getting back to how this all will help Adrian Peterson… it’s quite simple. The QB outlook for the Vikings is much brighter than it was last season when the talent for the position was very much below average. In addition to having a solid line up-front, the next most important thing for a running back is to have a QB that can manage the game and stretch the field. Bringing in Norv Turner should also help AP succeed in the rushing game, with his track record of helping runners produce quality numbers.
Peterson is still an elite talent and I fully expect him to run as a man possessed in 2014, despite the fact he’s another year older. We may have seen the best of him a couple years back when he challenged for the single-season rushing record with 2,097 yards and 12 TDs in 2012, but he’s still an elite runner and is poised to make owners who draft him very happy this season. He’s my number 3 overall running back for 2014 behind LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles heading into the year. But nobody has a better chance and the upside to be the league’s number 1 rusher than Peterson – everything you want in a first round fantasy draft pick.
2014 Projections: 292 carries, 1435 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 265 receiving yards, 12 TDs
It feels like ages ago since he was considered among the league’s best rushers, but it was only a short 2 years ago when Foster had a beast of a season. In 2012, he carried the ball 351 times for 1,424 yards and 15 TDs (4.06 Y/C). He also caught 40 balls for 217 more yards and 2 TDs. Before going down to injury last year, he was actually having a more efficient season on the ground averaging 4.48 Y/C, a 10% uptick in production.
Ben Tate is now in Cleveland, and the Texans have recently set Andre Brown free, who many believed would be Foster’s backup considering what he was able to do when he returned from injury last year for the Giants. Oddly enough, Jonathan Grimes is looking poised to be Foster’s primary backup this year, and is as much of an unknown as anyone in the league right now with 23 carries and 79 yards to his name since entering the NFL back in 2012. The point is, there really isn’t anyone of note behind Foster on the depth chart who will be challenging him for carries. That is exactly what fantasy managers like to hear… in this day and age, finding a running back that isn’t going to be exclusively a 1st and 2nd down rusher is not easy to do. More carries equals more fantasy production – plain and simple.
The public also seems to be down on Houston for the upcoming season. While I can’t really argue this being the case, especially with them coming off such a putrid overall season in 2013 – I do believe they are poised to improve. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown the ability to be an effective passer, which is something the Texans were completely missing last year. They have this guy named Andre Johnson who has averaged 110.5 catches and over 1500 yards each of the last 2 years. He should be back and continue to be a productive option in the passing game for Houston, even at the age of 33. He’s only one year older and will still give defenses problems.
The other piece of the puzzle in the passing game that is being overlooked by many is DeAndre Hopkins. Their number 2 receiver is entering his second season after a rookie year that saw him haul in 52 passes for 802 yards despite a very poor quarterback situation. Pretty respectable numbers for a first year player, even though more was expected from him. I like him to progress into a 65 catch, 1,000-yard receiver this year, which would make him a nice sleeper in his own right.
Quick tangent: Hopkins is going quite late in drafts and is way down on many WR ranking sheets heading into the year. He’s being ranked and selected in most drafts as the 50th to 60th WR option. Players like Harry Douglas, Brian Hartline, James Jones and Cecil Shorts are all being taken before Hopkins so far, and I firmly believe he’ll end up higher on the rankings come the end of the year. He makes for a nice redraft and keeper target as a breakout candidate this year.
Much like Adrian Peterson, Foster is looking forward to the upcoming season having an opportunity to prove he’s still one of the league’s finest backs. His back is fully recovered and he’s ready to be a bell-cow back once again. This news comes much to the delight of head coach Bill O’Brien, who has already said openly that his offense will be relying on him to carry a heavy load. With Foster’s pedigree, he has as good a chance as any to come back from a lost 2013 season to show what he’s capable of. There aren’t many players you’ll be able to get in the 2nd or 3rd round that have the ability to contribute like a top 5 talent at their position, especially when they’ve done it already in their career. Don’t forget he was a consensus top 3 pick in last year’s drafts heading into the season, and don’t sleep on him this year. There is tremendous upside in Foster as he continues to fall in drafts to the 12th to 15th running back taken off the board.
2014 Projections: 275 carries, 1320 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 385 receiving yards, 10 TDs