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Adrian Peterson & The Safest RBs in Fantasy Football

Adrian Peterson has earned his place as the safest RB in fantasy football leagues.
Adrian Peterson has earned his place as the safest RB in fantasy football leagues.

In our last segment we talked about the ideology of what a safe player is in fantasy football and gave you some of our safest quarterbacks. This time around we’re going to look at what is inherently an unsafe position: running backs.

With the number of touches running backs accumulate and the contact they inevitably absorb over games, seasons, and careers, it’s no wonder these players have the shortest average career span across any position, and thus the shortest shelf life as fantasy stars.

Anecdotally, running backs also tend to get hurt more often so while we saw QBs that went a decade without missing a game, a good number for running backs seems to be 1 or 2 games missed per season. Here are our top 3 safest running backs, as well as some honorable mentions that are or were fairly safe, but have inherited some knocks on them heading forward.

1. Adrian Peterson

Peterson is nearing typical running back senior citizenship at age 29, he has a ton of carries to his name (2,033 as a pro), and since college he’s battled a barrage of injuries that probably would have kept anyone else out more than 9 games. But the once-in-a-lifetime athleticism, talent, work ethic, and consistent production make him our choice for safest fantasy running back.

Other than his 2011 season that was cut short to 12 games, Peterson has had minimums of 238 carries, 1266 yards, 4.4 YPC, and 10 touchdowns. If those numbers combine for his floor when he’s played at least 14 games, it’s no surprise Peterson has been a top 8 fantasy RB every season he’s been in the league, including five top 4 finishes. He’s a consensus shoo-in to do it again in 2014. For anyone else the concerns previously mentioned would come into play, but Peterson already started out so much faster and stronger than anyone else that he can afford to decline some and still be a top 3 fantasy back for a few more years to come.

2. Jamaal Charles

If you saw Jamaal Charles at a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t think that guy could hold up to the pounding NFL running backs take. But as slender as he looks, Charles has proven he can handle the work without issue. Other than a fluke ACL injury where he was actually yards out of bounds and planted his foot wrong trying to avoid colliding with a mascot, Charles has only missed 1 game with an injury since 2008 and has been a top 12 fantasy RB every year since 2009.

With health and age (27) not a factor, Charles has quietly been one of the best runners in NFL history. He owns a ridiculous career 5.6 YPC mark and had an otherworldly 6.4 YPC on 230 carries in 2010. For every bit of speed he has, he matches it equally with vision. As a starter, excluding the year of the fluke ACL again, Charles has averaged 1,346 rushing yards, 424 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns. This past year Andy Reid’s offense helped Charles become fantasy’s MVP and #1 RB with 19 touchdowns, 70 receptions, and 1,980 scrimmage yards in 15 games. Not only is Charles about as safe as they come, he has as much upside as anyone.

3. Matt Forte

Matt Forte isn’t a Peterson or Charles-level talent, but he’s annually underrated this time of year for the safety he provides fantasy owners. In 6 years he’s only missed 5 games and 4 of them were in the same 2011 season that otherwise would have been one of his best. So he’s been very healthy given his position, he’s still young enough at 28, and he’s been one of the more productive backs over the past half decade.

While he’s never topped 1,339 rushing yards, Forte averages an awesome 1,598 yards from scrimmage every season with his receiving ability. For PPR leagues, his 44 catch floor is almost as good as it gets, and this past season he’s coming off a career year where the offense unlocked his potential and got him to 74 catches. For the first time, Forte was also used in short-yardage and goal line plays in 2014 as he tied his career-best 12 total touchdowns. Forte provides everything you want out of a RB1 in fantasy. He may not have the same ceiling as some other players, but where did shooting for ceiling land you last year with C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson?

Honorable mentions

LeSean McCoy – A mere lock to go in the top 3 picks of every upcoming fantasy draft after winning the NFL rushing title in 2013 and finishing 2nd in fantasy points to the aforementioned Charles, LeSean McCoy just missed our top 3 safest. It’s not that his talent, situation, or production are not up to the same standards, it’s just that his 2012 season has to leave some questions. A year after scoring 20 total touchdowns, McCoy’s play fell off to 5 touchdowns in 12 games with by far the lowest YPC he’s had as a starter (4.2). He also missed 4 games with a severe concussion that led to speculation about his future. That year may very well prove to be an aberration, but it’s still recent enough to think about.

Marshawn Lynch – For a guy that runs as hard as he does, it’s remarkable Lynch has played in 104 of 112 possible regular season games. He has run for at least 1,000 yards in 5 of 7 seasons, while averaging 1,350 yards and 13 total scores over the past 3 years. However, age and carry totals are now up into the warning zone. Offseason rumors have the Seahawks scaling back Lynch’s touches and possibly even putting him at the head of a committee approach. Lynch has publicly contemplated holding out for money, and while I don’t think he sits out, Lynch is undoubtedly more of a question than we’re used to.

Alfred Morris – Having not missed a game in his young career along with two top 15 finishes, Morris is fast becoming one of the safest bets at running back. He has a consistent, defined role that may not give him as much upside as other notable names, but you know what you’re getting with Alf. A new pass-first offense arriving in Washington and Morris’ small sample size and poor college pedigree are minor concerns.

Frank Gore – As productive and safe as there has been for seemingly ages, even if it didn’t match public perception, Gore hasn’t missed a contest since 2010 and has been a top 13 fantasy back each of the past 3 seasons. He can’t do it forever though, and he showed signs of decline during his age 30 season in 2013. The 49ers have also made contingency plans that could take carries away in the interim. But who knows, people have been predicting Gore’s fall for years.

Chris Johnson – Johnson has only missed 1 game in his career and that was to rest him in a meaningless game before the playoffs. His performances were always somewhat up and down with his boom-or-bust style, but the seasonal bottom floor of 1,400 yards from scrimmage was comforting. Moving to a potential timeshare situation with the Jets, plus increasing age and mileage no longer make CJ2K as safe as he used to be. If Chris Ivory goes down again though, Johnson could do what he has been doing the past few years.

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  • steelgatez

    Surprised to see Forte ahead of McCoy but I guess it makes sense.

  • SBRodgers2011

    I know Lacy has only played 1 season but i think he is going to be a rock

  • cordarrelle84

    Hail Purple Jesus! Top 8 in fantasy for 7 straight years? that’s dope.

  • EagleDomiKnation

    Bro the Eagles just had a really bad year in 2012 and didn’t get Shady any help that’s why they fired everyone. McCoy is easily top 3 safest he’s a lot younger than AP.

  • flashgordon12

    Lynch will be safe for this yr but watch out in 2015 for Christine Michael.

    • Scannezzy

      I agree Lynch should be up higher he is legit their whole offense moves around him