Fantasy Football Preview: Top 5 Breakout RBs

Will Shady McCoy fly high?

In the same way that Joey Lawrence lived and died by his ability to say "whoa!", fantasy teams live and die by their running backs. Pick a loser and you're the fantasy version of the Astros; pick a winner like AP was last year and you're smiling all the way to the top.

There'll be plenty of time to get into which RBs you should avoid like day-old Domino's Pizza; in this article, we'll look into options you should consider late in your draft. Some will have true superstar potential, some will have a great chance of stealing the starting role, and some are just too good to be drafted where they're currently being drafted.

Of course, because we're numberFire and not one of the millions of sites who make recommendations based solely on opinion, we'll back everything up with statistics and metrics so you can feel confident in your decision making. Remember kids: opinions without numbers is like chicken wings without bones - an abomination that should be wiped off the face of the Earth.

LeSean McCoy, Eagles

"Hold up!" you're thinking. "Way to really go out on a limb here, guys. McCoy? He's already a top-10 back!".

We know you think he's a top-10 back. He's more than that though. He's a top-3 back, and he's massively underrated. Let's start with his comparables.

Player Season Similarity Statline
James Allen 2000 89.28% 1,411 total yards, 3 TDs
Marshall Faulk 2002 87.73% 1,490 total yards, 10 TDs
Ray Rice 2009 87.53% 2,041 total yards, 8 TDs
Joseph Addai 2009 87.27% 1,164 total yards, 13 TDs
Ricky Williams 2009 86.79% 1,385 total yards, 13 TDs

Yeah, not bad, right?

Not to mention the fact that he'll be playing in a Chip Kelly offense that is almost perfectly designed for him, one that is also missing a key cog in Jeremy Maclin. All signs point to go for Shady; scoop him before you lose him.

We think: #3 RB, 225.11 fantasy points

Reggie Bush, Lions

We've already covered this one a little bit, but let's get into it again. As our man Zach Warren wrote in a column a month ago:

"In his 227 rushing attempts, Bush only lost 0.04 expected points per rush for the Dolphins last year. Since rushing is a much less efficient way of moving the ball than passing overall, that's not half bad. Among the 22 backs with at least 200 attempts last season, Bush ranked No. 15 overall per rush, ahead of Steven Jackson, Trent Richardson, and Darren McFadden. 2011 was even better: his 0.01 NEP per rush finished up in fourth of all backs with at least 200 rushing attempts. In the two seasons he has gotten the most chances, he's been highly efficient running the ball."

To put it another way, Bush was much better than his statistics might lead you to believe. Now he's on a much better team, one with plenty of opportunities available in the passing game and plenty of space opened up by the likes of Megatron keeping opposing defenses honest. He's a risky pick, but he offers significant upside, particularly when paired with a stable, less risky option like Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy. Oh, he's also a total PPR monster. Just saying.

We think: #16 RB, 174.71 fantasy points

Stevan Ridley, Patriots

Everyone is talking about Shane Vereen - and it's true that the potential for Vereen is indeed intriguing - but you'd be a fool to sleep on Ridley based on his incredibly strong rookie campaign in New England.

First, let's stop with the argument that Vereen will cannibalize carries from Ridley. That didn't happen last year with Woodhead, and Vereen is a lot more similar to Woodhead than he is Ridley. For once, Belichick has a workhorse back he can work with - no more ineffective clones of Laurence Maroney!

Ridley's top comparable is Alfred Morris 2012; we all know how that one turned out. Beyond that, he's got Corey Dillon 2004, Ryan Grant 2009, Brandon Jacobs 2008, and Jerome Bettis 2000: all very capable, competent workhorse backs on very efficient and talented offensive teams.

Ridley also looked spectacular in the preseason opener against the Eagles, putting up a 62-yard gain on the very first play from scrimmage. He's on his way to becoming a star in this league and if that's not enough, check this out: New England has 14 more rushing attempts from inside an opponent's 10 than any other NFL franchise over the past three seasons. Considering how often they're in the red zone, this only points to Ridley's stock going up. Way up.

We think: #14 RB, 180.05 fantasy points

Daryl Richardson, Rams

Consider this less a remarkable defense of Richardson's abilities, and more a simple reminder that someone has to do it.

A lot of people are quick to point out Isaiah Pead's many skills, but unfortunately some of those skills simply don't translate into the NFL. More particularly, they don't translate to Jeff Fisher's preferences. Fisher likes a stronger back - remember Eddie George? - and he certainly prefers his backs to be on the field; Pead is missing Week 1 for a drug suspension.

Let's not forget Richardson's ability in the receiving game either, a fact noted by Mike D'Ecclessis in this article:

"Although rushing totals are not likely to equal Steven Jackson’s for any one Rams player this year, one area of the offense that is likely to expand for the running backs is the receiving game. This was especially clear in the case of Richardson last year in serving as the number two back behind Jackson. While Jackson totaled 257 rushes to Richardson’s 98, the number of receptions was much closer at 38 for Jackson and 24 for Richardson. So while less than 13% of Jackson’s touches were receptions, the reception percentage goes all the way up to 20% for Richardson."

On top of that, Pead has shown a bit of the fumble-itis in practice and in preseason tilts, a huge no-no for running backs in any system. Add all of these factors up and we've got a solid case of winning-by-default for Daryl Richardson, making him much more valuable than his current ADP position. Our official prediction for him feels really low; he's got a great chance to be a consistent flex play for your team, and perhaps more in a PPR setup.

We think: #38 RB, 86.87 fantasy points

Daniel Thomas, Dolphins

Everyone loves Lamar Miller, but what has he really done? Again, our man Mike D'Ecclessis sets the record straight:

There is a rushing metric called success rate, which takes into account how often a rusher improves their team’s likelihood to score when they are handed the rock. And guess what? The success rates for Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller were not only nearly identical last year, but Daniel Thomas actually came out slightly ahead with a 43.48% success rate compared to Lamar Miller's 43.14% success rate.

Sooner or later, you're going to have to start choosing backups on the basis of their handcuff situation or on the basis of the incumbent, presumed starter not being very good. You've got a few options to choose from here, but Thomas should stand out strongly. He's got the metrics to support it, he's got a unproven starter ahead of him, and he's got something that the Dolphins are going to need when Tannehill-to-Wallace isn't happening the way they think it will: experience. Our projection comes in low; it's going to be higher if and when he takes significant carries from Miller.

We think: #40 RB, 81.27 fantasy points