2014 Outlook: We want to rank Tate higher. He's the unquestioned starter on a team that figures to ease Johnny Manziel into the fold. Plus, new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will employ zone-blocking concepts that suit Tate perfectly. But it all comes down to durability. Since 2010, he has hurt his ankle, quad, back, hip, groin, shoulder, head, toe, hamstring, foot, elbow and ribs. All in all, Tate has been on his team's injury report 80 percent of the time over the past four seasons, missing 24 games. Shanahan's instinct will be to ride Tate hard. But if he does, Tate is a candidate to miss multiple games, just like he usually does.
2014 Outlook: Last year qualified as Mathews' breakout season, as he set career highs in carries (285) and yards (1,255). But it also provided more of the same: He suffered a high ankle sprain late in the year and was a shell of himself in the playoffs. And now that the Chargers have signed Donald Brown to go along with Danny Woodhead, they have a wealth of alternatives if (and when) Mathews gets hurt again. But there's no debating which San Diego running back has the most value when healthy. Despite less-than-perfect footwork at the line, Mathews offers a rare power/speed combination. If you draft him, just be sure to own some pretty good backups too.
2014 Outlook: To be clear, Spiller's relatively low ranking isn't a reflection of his disastrous 2013, when the consensus first-round pick finished 28th in fantasy points among running backs. We feel OK chalking up his sluggish numbers to a nagging high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 4. The real concern? The presence of Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown. Despite his advanced age, Jackson was a major workload drain even before Spiller got nicked up, and Brown could add to the thievery in 2014. Spiller has the skill set you want: sprinter's speed, good hands, sweet moves. But for the moment, the depth chart puts a cap on how valuable Spiller can be.
2014 Outlook: Late in his career, Gore just keeps defying logic. In his age-30 season, he submitted his third straight year of 16 games played and 8 or more rushing TDs. The Niners have preserved Gore by essentially removing him from the game plan in passing situations. And now players like Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore threaten to assume more of the early-down workload too. The touchdowns still figure to be there for a bruiser on a good offense, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Gore's yardage slip.
2014 Outlook: If Bruce Arians would commit to Ellington, the second-year back could be a breakout star. But we're not convinced that's going to happen. Just as faded veteran Rashard Mendenhall siphoned off 200-plus carries in 2013, the unimpressive combination of Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor will likely do the same this season. It wouldn't be a surprise if Ellington got only 12 to 15 touches per game, which would be a shame because this kid has open-field chops comparable to those of Gio Bernard and C.J. Spiller. If given the opportunity, he could add another dimension to Arizona's pass-heavy offense.
2014 Outlook: Oy. Last season T-Rich cratered harder than The Lone Ranger at the box office. After finishing his rookie season as fantasy's No. 11 running back, Richardson wound up being traded to Indianapolis, where he averaged an atrocious 2.9 yards per carry and lost work to Donald Brown (yes, that Donald Brown). But his skills didn't just vanish. He's still big, he still has some wiggle and he still can catch. With Brown gone and only a combination of Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw in his way, Richardson has a chance to erase his miserable 2013 in a Pep Hamilton offense begging to emphasize the run game.
2014 Outlook: It's not fair to say that CJ2K has lost his speed. There were moments in 2013, especially in the receiving game, when he broke a few long gainers in the open field. But Johnson finished 45th out of 47 qualified running backs in average yards after contact and lost much of his decisiveness at the line. With the Jets, he'll team up with Chris Ivory -- a younger, bigger player whose bruising style will be a contrast to Johnson's speed. As such, workload concerns are enough to push Johnson out of the ranks of fantasy studs. He'll be a feast-or-famine player who'll need long touchdowns to earn his keep.
2014 Outlook: Rice faces a 2-game suspension to start the season due to off-field troubles. A unanimous fantasy first-rounder for years, Rice endured a Super Bowl hangover of epic proportions in 2013. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry and scored only 4 TDs. (He'd never averaged below 4.0 ypc, and the previous four seasons he'd racked up nearly 10 TDs per year.) It's easy to blame his hip injury or the Ravens' shaky O-line, but last season's version of Rice was slower and less elusive than ever before. On the plus side, the Ravens hired Gary Kubiak to be their new coordinator, and he has a history of successful running games. But Rice has seen huge workloads all the way back to college.
2014 Outlook: The age-30 rule is rarely wrong: Once a running back hits that milestone, he's playing on borrowed time. Last year we hoped Jackson would prove to be an exception, lining up in a high-octane Falcons offense that propped up a fading Michael Turner for years. But Jackson tore a hamstring in Week 2, missed four games and wound up averaging a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry. Things figure to be better in Atlanta, as the line is rebuilt and Julio Jones should be healthy. But Jackson, 31, is looking more and more like a two-down player. With the prospect looming that his days as a 1,000-yard rusher are over, he'll need a bunch of short-yardage TDs to sneak into the top 20.
2014 Outlook: At 6-foot-1 and 231 pounds, Jennings should fit into the Andre Brown role in the Giants' offense. He broke out with Oakland in the second half of 2013, flashing a bit of speed to go with hulking short-yardage talent. But the key variable in New York's backfield is David Wilson, a player with all-world quickness and sprinting ability. If Wilson can excel in his return from neck surgery, Jennings becomes an ancillary piece, more of a goal-line specialist. If not, Jennings is a candidate for 250 carries, though rookie Andre Williams will be in the mix as well. We're not sure Jennings is talented enough to be a long-term backfield solution, but he could find his way toward fantasy usefulness in 2014.
2014 Outlook: Vereen's 2013 season was ruined by a broken wrist he suffered in Week 1. He missed eight games, and by the time he returned, the Pats had begun to transform into a power running offense. So why are we bullish on him this year? As long as Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are around Foxborough, there will always be work for a pass-catching back like Vereen; even in a shortened season last year, he nearly eclipsed the 50-catch mark. A legit candidate for 90 to 100 grabs and 1,200-plus scrimmage yards, he's extremely valuable in PPR leagues.
2014 Outlook: This winter the Lions could've kept Bell for one year at the second-round tender but instead worked out a two-year extension guaranteeing him $4.3 million -- more than they gave Reggie Bush a year ago. That says everything you need to know about new coach Jim Caldwell's plans. Bell is no longer merely an adjunct to Bush; he's a more physical and consistent rusher who also catches passes, and he'll warrant slightly less than half the Lions' halfback snaps. Bush has the game-breaking quicks that can win you weeks, and as such he's still the better fantasy commodity. But Bell is an acceptable flex in standard leagues and is more like an RB2 in PPR leagues.
2014 Outlook: If you listen closely, you can hear Pats fans groaning about Ridley's losing another fumble. Few players had a better opportunity to take control of a high-yield backfield in 2013 than Ridley. Instead, he earned Bill Belichick's ire with four lost fumbles and eventually found himself in a platoon with retread LeGarrette Blount. With Blount gone, most of New England's goal-line opportunities should belong to Ridley, provided he can hold on to the rock. The Patriots had 12 rushing scores from inside an opponent's 5 last year and lead the NFL with 56 since 2010.
2014 Outlook: Sankey is a great athlete. He runs fast, he's powerful and he was productive at the University of Washington. When the Titans selected him in the second round of this spring's draft, it immediately made him a threat to win the starting job, ahead of plodding Shonn Greene. But he's far from a polished product. His collegiate tape shows a propensity to search for big plays by running east-west instead of north-south. That won't fly with new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. Sankey lands in a nice spot for immediate fantasy value, but he needs to clean up his game.
2014 Outlook: In 2013, Thomas led all NFL RBs in catches (77) and set a career high for touches from scrimmage (224). Overall, he ranked 23rd in fantasy points among RBs. Now that Darren Sproles is in Philly, conventional wisdom says Thomas' fantasy stock should be on the rise. But we're having a hard time getting too excited. Maybe it's because the Saints could be transitioning to a more traditional power running game, which would benefit second-year back Khiry Robinson. Or maybe it's because Thomas didn't produce a single run that went for more than 18 yards in 2013. Regardless, Sean Payton will probably play this by committee, which doesn't make Thomas any more enticing.