Could Eddie Lacy Finish as the Top Fantasy Running Back in 2014?

Eddie Lacy had a fantastic rookie season, but can his production continue into his sophomore campaign?

When the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, many believed he was the missing piece that would complete an already explosive offense. Then, when the Packers selected Johnathan Franklin just two rounds later, skeptics began to question the Packers' commitment to the former Alabama star.

Since then, Lacy's rushed for 1,178 yards while adding 257 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, while Franklin's career came to an unfortunate end due to a neck injury. What a difference a year makes.

After becoming the first Packer to rush for 1,000-plus yards since Ryan Grant in 2009, "The Hammer" enters 2014 as the unquestioned lead back for Green Bay. The Packers are expecting big things from their sophomore star, and fake footballers everywhere need to take notice. Here are a few reasons why Lacy will finish the year as one of fantasy's elite.

Rookie Success

In 2013, 22 running backs carried the ball at least 200 times. The players on that list ranged from perennial Pro Bowlers like LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, to veterans who have seemingly passed their prime such as Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew and now retired Rashard Mendenhall. Also included among those 22 players were three rookies - Lacy, Zac Stacy and Le'Veon Bell.

Full NameRushesRushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate
LeSean McCoy31437.120.1251.27%
DeMarco Murray21721.420.1047.47%
Knowshon Moreno24217.370.0742.56%
Jamaal Charles26013.930.0546.15%
Fred Jackson20713.900.0746.38%
Adrian Peterson2807.590.0340.36%
Matt Forte2876.530.0241.46%
Ryan Mathews2855.770.0242.11%
Marshawn Lynch3014.810.0244.85%
Eddie Lacy2852.320.0142.46%
Alfred Morris276-4.15-0.0244.93%
DeAngelo Williams201-6.52-0.0334.83%
Zac Stacy250-10.41-0.0438.00%
Chris Johnson279-12.63-0.0541.94%
C.J. Spiller201-12.74-0.0634.83%
Le'Veon Bell244-13.85-0.0639.75%
Reggie Bush224-15.36-0.0741.07%
Frank Gore276-17.29-0.0640.94%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis220-17.96-0.0843.18%
Maurice Jones-Drew235-21.21-0.0934.89%
Rashard Mendenhall218-24.87-0.1136.70%
Ray Rice214-38.48-0.1832.71%

At numberFire, we use our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics to analyze how many real points were added or lost by a player, adjusted for down and distance situations. Only 10 players on the above list managed a positive Rushing NEP on their 200-plus carries. Lacy ranked 10th among those players with a 2.32 Rushing NEP. The Packers' star also found himself within the top 10 of this group group in Success Rate, which measures the percentage of rushes that contribute positively towards a player and team's NEP total.

Although Lacy's Rushing NEP and Success Rate weren't elite when compared to other workhorse backs, ranking in the top 10 among the 22 players who led the league in carries is certainly impressive.

The Hammer's rookie campaign looks even more impressive when compared to other rookie runners from the past few seasons. Since 2009 (the last season the Packers had a 1,000-yard back before Lacy), 17 rookie running backs have posted more than 150 carries in their rookie seasons. Only five of those players posted a positive Rushing NEP - DeMarco Murray, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Lacy and Mark Ingram. Although Lacy only ranked eighth among these 17 rookies in Success Rate, he posted both the third-most carries and third-most successful rushing attempts. In other words, volume (he was toting the rock on a lot of early downs, where it's difficult to be successful) played a role there.

An Expanded Role

The Hammer toted the rock 285 times last season - tied for fourth most in the NFL - while adding 35 receptions. Those 320 touches ranked sixth among all running backs last year, only behind McCoy, Lynch, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson.

Recently, reported that the Packers want to play at a faster tempo and plan to use Lacy in all aspects of their offense. According to new Packers' offensive coordinator Tom Clements, the Packers not only want to get Lacy more involved in the passing game, but they want to hand the ball to him even more than the 285 times they did last season. This means that the Packers' star, who played approximately 65 percent of Green Bay's snaps last season, is likely to add to his already monstrous workload.

While all signs point to an increase in touches for Lacy, many of the other running backs who were among the league leaders in touches are set to have their workloads reduced. The emergence of Christine Michael could lead to a serious dent in Lynch's carries, Chris Johnson now finds himself in a possible timeshare with Chris Ivory in New York and reports out of Kansas City indicate an expanded role for Knile Davis in the Chiefs' backfield. Outside of McCoy and Forte, Lacy may be the safest bet of all running backs to eclipse 320 touches this season.

Worth a First-Round Pick?

Although they didn't have a 1,000-plus yard rusher since 2009, the Packers rushing attack has actually been pretty solid in the Aaron Rodgers era, despite a distinct lack of talent. As JJ Zachariason explained last season, outside of 2012, Green Bay has finished inside the top 12 in team Rushing NEP each season since 2008. That trend should continue with Lacy only set to improve in his second year.

Considering Lacy's impressive rookie season and expected increase in touches, all signs point to a monstrous sophomore campaign. Lacy is expected to be on the field for a higher percentage of his team's snaps in a Packers' offense that should be even more effective than last year with Rodgers healthy once again.

Our projections have Lacy slated for 1,534 rushing yards on 332 attempts with 45 receptions for 277 yards and 11 total scores. What's even more telling is that we placed a confidence interval of 210.09 to 277.27 fantasy points on Lacy, meaning we have him all but locked into RB1 status. You can see exactly where we have Lacy ranked among running backs here.

Lacy has one of the highest floors of any player at the running back position, and his ceiling is high as well. The Packers' star has a strong chance to emerge as a truly elite fantasy option this season. Don't hesitate to draft him inside the top 10 in 2014.