Every year, running backs make or break fantasy teams. Whether it be from injuries (Rashas Jennings), mis-understanding the depth chart (Giovani Bernard/Jeremy Hill), or just swinging and missing (Toby Gerhart), finding the right running backs to lead a fantasy squad is a difficulat task. To help sort things out it can be useful to get a better understanding of how the pecking order looks now, and who's likely to make a move up or down the depth chart.
So with that in mind, here is a breakdown of all 32 backfield situations in the NFL, including starters, handcuffs and backups.
Projected starter: 1. Andre Ellington
Backups: 2. David Johnson; 3. Kerwynn Williams; 4. Stepfan Taylor
2015 Outlook: Ellington was pegged as the workhorse last year, but as expected his smaller frame wore down under the increased workload. Johnson should help share the load, but he's not the power-back many thought the team would acquire. Both are on the RB2-3 radar ... Taylor and Williams will battle for rotational work and the scraps left over in the offense.
Projected starter: 1. Tevin Coleman
Backups: 2. Devonta Freeman; 3. Antone Smith; 4. Jerome Smith
2015 Outlook: Freeman has been getting early first-team reps, but many expect Coleman to eventually jump him. Even if that happens, these two should form a nice 1-2 fantasy punch. ... Antone Smith will once again offer a change of pace and probably three to four outrageously long touchdown runs/catches ... The other Smith on the roster has no fantasy value.
Projected starter: 1. Justin Forsett
Backups: 2. Javorius Allen; 3. Lorenzo Taliaferro; 4. Fitzgerald Toussaint
2015 Outlook: Forsett returns as the No. 1 option after a top-10 fantasy finish last season and should see increased work in the passing game with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in town ... The team likely drafted Allen as the heir apparent for Forsett, so expect to see him involved early and often. ... Taliaferro will likely be relegated to short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Projected starter: 1. LeSean McCoy
Backups: 2. Fred Jackson; 3. Bryce Brown; 4. Boobie Dixon
2015 Outlook: McCoy should see an increased volume of touches from his last season in Philadelphia, but will he be as successful behind this offensive line (and without a quarterback)? ... Jackson, the age-less wonder, will likely offer nice value as an RB3 picking up a fair amount of work on the ground and in the air. ... Brown and Dixon once again vie for the third spot, with little fantasy appeal.
Projected starter: 1. Jonathan Stewart
Backups: 2. Cameron Artis-Payne; 3. Jordan Todman; 4. Fozzy Whittaker
2015 Outlook: At the end of the year, Stewart was running the football about as well as anyone in the NFL. He'll look to continue that in 2015 as the true No. 1 back. ... Artis-Payne should see plenty of touches to help keep Stewart fresh (and healthy). He'll have deep sleeper appeal given Stewart's lengthy injury history. He's one of the top handcuffs this year, and all Stewart owners should try to get him.
Projected starter: 1. Matt Forte
Backups: 2. Jacquizz Rodgers; 3. Ka'Deem Carey; 4. Jeremy Langford
2015 Outlook: Forte had a remarkable season in 2014, but with Marc Trestman gone and age 30 approaching, could he suddenly be forced into a committee backfield? That remains to be seen, but even if he loses some touches this season, Forte is an RB1 for 2015. The depth chart behind him is a mess, and looks more like 2a, 2b and 2c. Don't be surprised if Langford (the rookie out of Michigan State) becomes Forte's top backup (and potential committee partner).
Projected starter: 1. Jeremy Hill
Backups: 2. Giovani Bernard; 3. Cedric Peerman; 4. Rex Burkhead
2015 Outlook: A season ago, it seemed the jewel of the Cincinnati offense was Bernard, but as the world found out during the second half of the seaosn, that title belongs to Hill. He'll enter 2015 with RB1 potential, while Bernard is a nice flex/RB3 option (with added value in PPR formats). ... Peerman and Burkhead offer no fantasy value for 2015.
Projected starter: 1. Isaiah Crowell
Backups: 2. Terrance West; 3. Duke Johnson; 4. Shaun Draughn
2015 Outlook: Last year, Crowell and West both were able to find some fantasy success, although Crowell finished the season with a slight edge for more touches in 2015. However, then the team went and drafted the shifty Duke Johnson out of Miami to add to the mix, complicating the situation for fantasy owners. Crowell is the favorite to lead the backfield in touches and fantasy points, but West and Johnson both merit late-round picks as well.
Projected starter: 1. Darren McFadden
Backups: 2. Joseph Randle; 3. Lance Dunbar; 4. Ryan Williams
2015 Outlook:DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champion and Offensive Player of the Year, left Jerry World this offseason and landed in Philly. Sadly, the role of his replacement has yet to be filled from a fantasy perspective. Many pundits are split between McFadden and Randle as to whom will emerge as the lead back and fantasy sleeper. For now, both need to be rostered, but fantasy owners would be wise not to put too much trust into this backfield until the situation becomes clearer.
Projected starter: 1. C.J. Anderson
Backups: 2. Ronnie Hillman; 3. Montee Ball; 4. Juwan Thompson
2015 Outlook: When Ball struggled on the field and through injuries, it was Anderson who picked up the slack and ran with it. He should be a great fit for Gary Kubiak's one-cut running scheme and is a prime breakout candidate. ... Ball and Hillman will go head-to-head for the backup role, and whoever wins out is a top handcuff option for Anderson owners, as we truly don't know if what we saw last season will carry over into 2015.
Projected starter: 1. Joique Bell
Backups: 2. Ameer Abdullah; 3. Theo Riddick; 4. George Winn
2015 Outlook: Hailing from a Wayne State University, a small DII school, Bell has carved out a nice role for himself in Detroit, finishing in the top 20 at his position in each of the last two years. He's one of the safest RB2s in fantasy in 2015. ... Abdullah was a monster at Nebraska (despite his smaller frame) and will challenge Riddick to fill the void left by Reggie Bush in the Lions offense. Riddick might win out on passing downs early on, but Abdullah is the name to watch as the season progresses.
Green Bay Packers:
Projected starter: 1. Eddie Lacy
Backups: 2. James Starks; 3. Rajion Neal; 4. John Kuhn
2015 Outlook: The sixth-ranked running back in fantasy football the last two years, Lacy has proven to be a three-down workhorse and elite fantasy back. He'll once again be a crucial cog in Green Bay's high-octane offense and is a surefire first-rounder in fantasy land. ... Starks, who looked good in limited time in 2015, will once again be a must-handcuff for Lacy owners. ... Kuhn could be a target in touchdown-only leagues as an occasionaly flex play.
Projected starter: 1. Arian Foster
Backups: 2. Alfred Blue; 3. Jonathan Grimes; 4. Chris Polk
2015 Outlook: Despite missing three games in 2014, Foster once again proved why he is one of the truly elite fantasy backs by finishing fifth in scoring at his position. A gifted runner and pass-catcher, Foster is no-brainer first-round draft pick, even though injuries will once again be a concern. ... Blue played well in relief of Foster in 2014, and will be the favorite to win the backup/rotational role. He'll be a trendy handcuff pick for Foster owners later in drafts this fall.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Projected starter: 1. Jamaal Charles
Backups: 2. Knile Davis; 3. Cyrus Gray; 4. De'Anthony Thomas
2015 Outlook: Charles will look to make 2015 his fourth straight year finishing among the top 10 scoring fantasy running backs, and there's little in his way to achieve that goal. He won't last beyond the first few picks in most standard and PPR formats. ... Davis will once again be the preferred handcuff for owners in deeper league who draft Charles. In the one game Charles missed last season, Davis rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. ... Gray and Thomas will battle for the third spot on the depth chart during camp.
Projected starter: 1. Lamar Miller
Backups: 2. Jay Ajayi; 3. Damien Williams; 4. LaMichael James
2015 Outlook: After years of underwhelming fantasy enthusiasts, Miller finally arrived in 2014. He'll be playing for a new contract in 2015, so look to him as a solid RB2 with upside. ... Ajayi fell to the Dolphins in the draft due to medical concerns, but if his knee is healthy he's a beast on the field and worth a late-round flier in redrafts ... Williams and James will be in the mix for the third backfield spot, but neither has re-draft appeal.
Projected starter: 1. Adrian Peterson
Backups: 2. Jerick McKinnon; 3. Matt Asiata; 4. Joe Banyard
2015 Outlook: Despite rumblings of unrest between Peterson and the organization this offseason, he will once again be a top fantasy back as soon as the season starts and he's wearing the purple and yellow. With a year off, his legs and body should be fresh for another solid fantasy campaign. ... Asiata and McKinnon filled in admirably for Peterson last season, but will offer little value in 2015 as long as A.D. tops the depth chart.
New England Patriots:
Projected starter: 1. LeGarrette Blount
Backups: 2. Brandon Bolden; 3. Jonas Gray; 4. Travaris Cadet
2015 Outlook: The Patriots backfield is once again impossible to predict. Blount should be the leading option, but with a one-game suspension he could see limited work to start. ... Bolden figures to offer the most as the No. 2 option, potentially scooping up some of Shane Vereen's targets now that he's in New York. ... Gray and Cadet will fight to make the team, and likely cause several fantasy headaches when they burst onto the scene with one great game in classic #Belitricks.
New Orleans Saints:
Projected starter: 1. Mark Ingram
Backups: 2. C.J. Spiller; 3. Khiry Robinson; 4. Marcus Murphy
2015 Outlook: Ingram made the most of his leading man opportunity, rushing for just shy of 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. His new contract means he'll once again be the No. 1 option. ... Spiller will have great value as at least an RB3 in standard formats filling in for Pierre Thomas, and he'll have even more upside in PPR. ... Robinson could be a deep sleeper in larger leagues, or a handcuff to Ingram who hasn't exactly had a perfect bill of health in recent years.
New York Giants:
Projected starter: 1. Rashad Jennings
Backups: 2. Shane Vereen; 3. Andre Williams; 4. Orleans Darkwa
2015 Outlook: Jennings was a hot sleeper candidate last year, but a knee injury allowed Williams (then a rookie) to outscore him. Now, with the arrival of Vereen, this entire backfield has become muddled. Jennings should be the early-down thumper with Vereen coming in on third down and no-huddle situations. Even after his solid rookie year, Williams will likely be playing third fiddle for the Giants in 2015.
New York Jets:
Projected starter: 1. Chris Ivory
Backups: 2. Stevan Ridley; 3. Zac Stacy; 4. Bilal Powell
2015 Outlook: Speaking of complicated backfields, the Jets have a log-jam of talented backs to sort out. Ivory should remain the top option and has fringe RB2 value, but he'll undoubtedly lose carries and touches to the newly acquired Stacy and Ridley. Powell's days as a fantasy commodity could be behind him.
Projected starter: 1. Latavius Murray
Backups: 2. Roy Helu; 3. Trent Richardson; 4. Michael Dyer
2015 Outlook: The only thing standing between Murray and a breakout fantasy season is himself. Helu will serve as the change of pace back (and occasional touchdown vulture) as he was in Washington, while T-Rich really offers no threat to Murray's job. Murray is worth the risk as an RB2 or RB3 this fall, while Helu can be taken in deeper PPR leagues or as a matchup-based starter if he ends up with a larger role than we anticipate.
Projected starter: 1. DeMarco Murray
Backups: 2. Darren Sproles; 3. Ryan Mathews; 4. Kenjon Barner
2015 Outlook: Murray has taken a step down in offensive line talent, and will take a step down in total touches now that he's in Philly, but he's still a viable RB2. The lessened workload might keep him fresher and healthier as the season wears on. ... Sproles and Mathews will both see work, but Sproles is the more likely candidate to come out ahead in fantasy scoring. His versatility in the passing game and sub-packages gives him the edge.
Projected starter: 1. Le'Veon Bell
Backups: 2. DeAngelo Williams; 3. Dri Archer; 4. Josh Harris
2015 Outlook: Bell will miss the first three games of the season on a suspension, but still remains one of the elite rushers in the NFL. He won't make it out of the first round in most drafts. ... Williams is an intriguing handcuff option since he'll be the bell-cow for the first few weeks. A late-round flier on Williams could prove beneficial.
San Diego Chargers:
Projected starter: 1. Melvin Gordon
Backups: 2. Danny Woodhead; 3. Branden Oliver; 4. Donald Brown
2015 Outlook: The Chargers were desperately in need of a feature back, so they traded up two spots this year to select Melvin Gordon. He's immediately on the RB2 radar given his talent, college resume and opportunity on this team ... Don't sleep on Woodhead, who prior to his season-ending injury last year had posted consecutive top-20 fantasy finishes in standard scoring formats. He'll definitely be the top option to spell Gordon and will get plenty of work on passing downs and in two-minute drills. ... Oliver, a waiver-wire darling from 2014, has limited fantasy appeal in 2015.
San Francisco 49ers:
Projected starter: 1. Carlos Hyde
Backups: 2. Reggie Bush; 3. Mike Davis; 4. Kendall Hunter
2015 Outlook: With Frank Gore out of the way, Hyde has emerged as a top breakout candidate in fantasty land. The Ohio State product showed good vision and power in limited work last season ... Bush will once again fill the Swiss Army Knife-role he has the last several seasons, offering a nice threat out of the backfield and between the tackles. He's worth drafting late in redrafts, and a touch earlier in PPR formats ... Davis is a name to target in dynasty formats, and could be a deep sleeper in redrafts if Hyde struggles in the featured role.
Projected starter: 1. Marshawn Lynch
Backups: 2. Robert Turbin; 3. Christine Michael; 4. Rod Smith
2015 Outlook: Lynch remains one of the elite backs in fantasy worthy of a first-round pick. The Cal product has finished as one of the 10-best fantasy backs in the league in each of the last four seasons. ... Michael earned rave reviews last offseason, but it was Turbin who earned the touches during the regular season. Whoever emerges as the clear No. 2 this offseason will be a necessity to handcuff for Lynch owners.
St. Louis Rams:
Projected starter: 1. Todd Gurley
Backups: 2. Tre Mason; 3. Benny Cunningham; 4. Malcolm Brown
2015 Outlook: Mason was a top-25 fantasy runner in limited work last season, but now the Rams want to hand the keys to the backfield to Gurley. If Gurley starts on the PUP, Mason will have more value. Otherwise, Gurley figures to be the clear No. 1 back. Mason should still be drafted though, as Gurley is coming off an ACL tear last season ... Cunningham figures to see a his usual utility work on specialty packages and third downs, but isn't worth a draft pick in standard formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Projected starter: 1. Charles Sims
Backups: 2. Doug Martin; 3. Bobby Rainey; 4. Mike James
2015 Outlook: Early whispers out of the Buccaneers camp is that Sims figures to get every opportunity to become the lead back. He's a sleeper candidate, but one owners should wait on drafting ... Martin could be motivated to deliver a bounce-back season after the team declined his fifth-year option, but he carries a lot of risk in fantasy ... James and Rainey will share the scraps, offering little value unless the backs ahead of them get injured.
Projected starter: 1. David Cobb
Backups: 2. Bishop Sankey; 3. Dexter McCluster; 4. Shonn Greene
2015 Outlook: A lackluster 2014 preseason for Sankey turned into a lackluster season, leading to the team drafting Cobb. He was a complete back for Minnesota in college and could have an easy transition to the pros. ... Sankey and McCluster (still without a clear role) will battle for the rest of the carries and touches out of the backfield ... Given his high salary and lack of recent production, Greene might have a hard time making the roster.
Projected starter: 1. Alfred Morris
Backups: 2. Matt Jones; 3. Silas Redd; 4. Chris Thompson
2015 Outlook: Morris remains the top runner in Washington, but is only an RB2 for 2015 -- especially with bruising rookie Matt Jones likely to take carries and goal-line work (which is something Morris owners are accustomed to). Morris is a safe No. 2 option, while Jones will be an upside pick and potential touchdown-vulture ... Redd should fill the change-of-pace role vacated by Roy Helu, but won't offer much value other than in deep PPR formats.