In my previous article, I identified the 6 red flags for a bust and then reviewed each of 2014's 14 busts to see which red flags were the most common among them. The results indicate that most common red flags among busts were that the player was an injury risk, the player was unproven, the player was in an unfavorable situation, or that the player's usage was in question. Almost all busts exhibited multiple warning signs to varying degrees.
This article will highlight the running backs that are currently ranked within the first 6 rounds of a 12 team league (first 72 picks) with the most red flags. While it may not be realistic to avoid all of these players, this list can be used to help you weigh the risks and avoid drafting too many potential busts. Players are listed in order of their draft rank.
1. Arian Foster - injury risk
Rank: 6th among RBs, 6th overall
Foster will almost certainly get banged up at some point in the year and miss a few games because of it. However, he’s a fantastic running back (averaged more points per game than any other running back in 2014) with an unquestioned role, in a fantastic situation. I’m not that worried about a really serious injury but I would like to avoid drafting him if I can.
2. CJ Anderson - unproven, unfavorable situation, usage concern
Rank: 7th among RBs, 8th overall
CJ Anderson has a lot going for him. He had an incredible half season and, for now, has earned the lucrative starting job as the running back on Peyton Manning’s offense. The Broncos seem like they want to run more, which is good. However, for two consecutive years we’ve guessed at which Broncos running back was the one to own and twice we’ve whiffed. Is the third time the charm? Or what if the third time is the charm for Montee Ball? You’re forgiven if you have misgivings about speculating which Broncos running back is the one this year, especially at this price. And there are other red flags too. The Broncos offensive line is unrecognizable from what it was a year ago and is due for a drastic regression. Additionally, we assume Anderson is the lead back but new head coach Gary Kubiak has no loyalty to him. What if Kubiak feels that one of the others is a better fit for his offense? Or what if Anderson gets hurt and misses a few games and another of the running backs runs away with the job for himself? It’s conceivable. And are we even sure that more running is such a good thing? Running backs were massively productive in Peyton Manning-led offenses because defenses are scrambling to defend the pass. With Manning declining and Julius Thomas in Jacksonville, defenses can afford not to sell out against the pass. That's an awful lot of uncertainty for the #8 overall pick.
3. DeMarco Murray - injury risk, usage concern
Rank: 9th among RBs, 10th overall
As an Eagles fan, I really would like to see Murray stay healthy and perform well. But last year was his first full season (he missed 8 games over 2012 and 2013) and he actually played hurt at the end of it. Additionally, it’s impossible to ignore the likelihood that last year’s insane 392 carries will take its toll. In addition, running backs Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles look to steal significant amount of carries. While this might keep Murray fresher for longer, it will undoubtedly decrease his point totals. It’s just a matter of volume and I think 70% of last year's workload is optimistic.
4. Carlos Hyde - unproven, unfavorable situation, usage concern
Rank: 15th among RBs, 34th overall
Kind of looks like this year’s Ben Tate (without the injury risk). Hyde is completely unproven. He only ran for 333 yards last year and yet he is ranked this high? 4.0 yards per carry isn’t terrible but there are plenty of more established running backs ranked behind him. In addition, the 49ers offensive line has been decimated this offseason and the team as a whole looks like they might throw in the towel early. I’m not that scared about Reggie Bush but he could conceivably take away some of Hyde’s playing time on third downs.
5. Melvin Gordon - unproven
Rank: 17th among RBs, 38th overall
Rookies are always risky. But he does have quite a few things going for him. A Philip Rivers-led offense, decent offensive line, and not much in terms of competition.
6. Jonathan Stewart - injury risk
Rank: 18th among RB, 40th overall
Don’t put your faith in a running back who has missed 20 games due to injury in the last 3 seasons. Even when he plays he's almost always hobbled by something. It's tempting because he's got talent and he could potentially have such a lucrative role in the offense but talent and role don't mean a thing if you can't play. I'm not rolling the dice on this being the year he somehow stays healthy. It's just bad sense.
7. Latavius Murray - unproven, injury risk, usage concern
Rank: 21st among RBs, 47th overall
It's ludicrous to me that a guy with 82 career carries, significant injury concerns (he had two surgeries on his ankle after 2013 and suffered a concussion last season) is ranked this high. The former 6th round draft pick is practically a walking red flag and I wouldn't be surprised if Roy Helu or even Trent Richardson steal significant amounts of work. Hey, he could be great but, of all the players on the list, he probably has the highest chance of busting.
8. Todd Gurley - unproven, injury risk, usage concern, unfavorable situation
Rank: 22nd among RBs, 49th overall
An unproven rookie but this one also comes with an injury risk (he's coming off a torn ACL and may not be active for the beginning of the season) and a very shaky offensive line. And who's to say that Tre Mason, who performed quite well last year, cedes all the work to his new teammate?
9. T.J. Yeldon - unproven, unfavorable situation, usage concern
Rank: 23rd among RBs, 51st overall
Rookie on a bad offense and I can see Toby Gerhart stealing valuable chances at the goal line and Denard Robinson might even come in at times on 3rd downs.
10. Tevin Coleman - unproven, usage concern
Rank: 24th among RBs, 52nd overall
If I had to take a rookie, I'd take this one. The only running back he has to contend with is Devonta Freeman who was drafted later and is smaller and slower than Coleman. Also, unlike Freeman, Coleman was hand-picked by Atlanta's current offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Freeman's in a great situation and doesn't have as much risk as Gurley or Yeldon.
11. Andre Ellington - usage concern, injury risk
Rank: 25th among RBs, 53rd overall
Unlike last year, he's almost certainly going to be splitting carries in 2015. He just doesn't have the frame to be a complete back and Arizona drafted David Johnson who is bigger and more likely to be used at the goal line. Last year's hip, foot, and sports hernia injuries are also very troubling. But, behind a much improved offensive line, maybe he will be effective enough to make up for reduced touches.
12. Giovani Bernard – usage concern, injury risk
Rank: 26th among RBs, 54th overall
Similar to Ellington except that he's already lost the bulk of his touches to Jeremy Hill. He's not quite as big of an injury risk though.
13. LeGarrette Blount – usage concern, unfavorable situation
Rank: 29th among RBs, 63rd overall
I'm generally distrustful of running backs under Bill Belichick, particularly one so mediocre. Patriots running backs due tend to be valuable but which one? Their usage is so unreliable since Belichick often changes his mind on a game to game basis. It wouldn't be surprising if the motivation issues that got Blount kicked out of Pittsburgh were to land him in Belichick's doghouse. Even if he does get the majority of the work, he'll have to contend with the monstrous defensive lines of the AFC East and 4 games without Brady.
14. Isaiah Crowell – usage concern
Rank: 30th among RBs, 65th overall
The Cleveland offensive line will be a contender this year for the best in the league. Sounds great for the Cleveland running back. If only we knew for sure which one that would be. Crowell performed the best last year but he basically split carries evenly with Terrance West. Even more troubling, the Browns drafted RB Duke Johnson in the 3rd round. Who knows which one will earn the favor of new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo?
15. Joseph Randle (unproven, usage concern) & Darren McFadden (injury risk, usage concern, trending downward)
Rank: 31st and 32nd among RBs, 67th and 68th overall
I included both players as one because these teammates are in the exact same situation with each other. Which one will start? Will they split carries evenly? Maybe more information will come out as the season approaches but, at this point, nobody knows which of these two will earn the lucrative spot behind the best offensive line in the league. The only way to be sure is to draft both. Honestly, it might be worth it.
Honorable (?) Mentions:
Not quite as likely to bust but multiple red flags may cap their value.
1. Joique Bell – usage concern
Rank: 20th among RBs, 46th overall
At 3.9 yards per carry last year, he was quite unspectacular. You have to worry that rookie Ameer Abdullah might replace him as the workhorse back at some point. Although Abdullah is smaller so Bell might retain his duties as the goal line back regardless.
2. Rashad Jennings – injury risk, usage concern
Rank: 27th among RBs, 55th overall
Although Jennings will certainly surrender some of his work to the newly acquired Shane Vereen (primarily on third downs), I'm not too concerned about usage. Jennings will get enough. The Giants were operating with running back committees since before it was cool. In its previous committee, featuring Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, both backs were productive and valuable in fantasy. Plus, Jennings will be the goal line back. What I'm more worried about is his durability. He missed 5 games last year due to injury and, being a career backup, has never completed a full season.
3. C.J. Spiller – injury risk, usage concern
Rank: 28th among RB, 56th overall
As of now, Mark Ingram is considered the lead back in this committee. However, I am certain that Ingram will not gobble up all the work. The Saints have been operating with the committee approach for as long as I can remember, dividing the work through the years quite evenly between Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Travaris Cadet, Reggie Bush, Khiry Robinson, and Ingram. Thomas, Cadet, Sproles, and Bush are no longer in New Orleans and Spiller's skill set seems like a perfect match to replace him. Unlike in Buffalo, he'll be utilized to his strengths. With the Saint's more committed to the run, Drew Brees at the helm, and a good offensive line, I believe Spiller's greatly improved situation will balance out the usage concern. As for injury, despite being banged up through the years, he has only missed 2 games in the last 3 seasons due to injury.