Who's the best from 'tier 1.5'?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - While there has been some deviation in the order after Adrian Peterson, for the most part the top five running backs picked in fantasy drafts have been Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch.

But running back No. 6 is where things get questionable.

This season, there is a distinct group of running backs that aren't quite part of tier one but are better picks than the players in tier two. These are the "tier 1.5" backs: C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

We can make a case for every one of those five players to be the choice for running back No. 6 in standard leagues, but there's only one you should go with. First, let's take a look at the pros and cons for each back.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

Pros: Averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 6.8 yards per touch last season on 250 touches; is going to get a heavier workload; has 2,000-yards-from-scrimmage upside.

Cons: Hasn't proven he can stay healthy with 300-plus touches; uncertainty in the passing game with Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel at quarterback; Fred Jackson is still hanging around.

Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

Pros: Guaranteed 350 touches; gets all the goal-line work; is the only true weapon the Browns have.

Cons: Always banged up; rushed for 3.6 yards per carry last year.

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Pros: four straight seasons with 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 60-plus catches; two straight seasons with 10-plus touchdowns; has played every game over the last four years.

Cons: Bernard Pierce could cut into his workload.

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

Pros: New Eagles coach Chip Kelly likes to run; he's a proven three-down back.

Cons: Coming off a concussion last season; workload could be questionable with Bryce Brown, Felix Jones and Chris Polk behind him; nobody really has any clue what type of system Kelly is going to implement.

Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins

Pros: Has a realistic chance to get 350 carries; gets all the goal-line work.

Cons: Doesn't factor into the passing game.

I immediately crossed McCoy of the list due to the uncertainty of Philadelphia's offensive scheme.

Morris went next; even though he has a good shot of leading all five players in touches, with 97 percent of those coming on the ground the maximum yards from scrimmage he'll produce is 1,700, and that's if he duplicates last season's 4.8 ypc.

I don't think Rice's workload will be reduced dramatically from last year's 318 touches, but Pierce is going to cut into it enough to make a difference in Rice's yardage production compared to the remaining two players, Spiller and Richardson.

The sore shin that will keep Richardson out of Cleveland's preseason opener is about the 20th "minor" injury the former Alabama running back has had to deal with since coming into the NFL last year, but he still played 15 games as a rookie and likely would have played the finale if the Browns had anything to play for. I'm not worried about his ability to play hurt, so I'd have no problem taking him as the seventh running back with offensive coordinator Norv Turner planning to hand him 300 carries and 50 receptions on a silver platter.

But he's not Spiller, the home run back everyone should be eyeing if he's still on the board after the top five.

Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Wednesday, per the Buffalo News, that the Bills are going to, "give (Spiller) the ball until he throws up."

"So he's either got to tap out or throw up on the field," Hackett said. "Let's just put it that way."

That should mean more carries for Spiller near the painted grass that turns ordinary fantasy players into superstars. Last season, the running back still scored eight total touchdowns despite receiving just six carries and zero receptions inside the opponents' 10-yard line.

He also had more yards from scrimmage than Richardson, Rice, McCoy and Morris last season despite receiving 78 fewer touches than both Richardson and Rice and 96 fewer than Morris.

The Bills' passing game likely will be one of the worst in the NFL, but last I checked the team had noodle-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick (career yards per attempt: 6.4) under center last year and it didn't matter.

Neither did Buffalo going 6-10 and getting outscored by 91 points. Spiller ran for 833 yards on 113 carries with his team trailing last season, a spot the Bills are likely to be in often in 2013.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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