Fantasy Football: The Top 5 Healthiest Running Backs

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For my newest series here on the Fantasy Footballers, I will be examining the top 5 healthiest and most dependable players from an injury perspective at the skill positions. We will start out by looking at the running back position, but look out for the wide receiver and tight end articles on the site soon!

Criteria for this list include injury history, number of games missed, and number of years played in the NFL. Rookies were excluded, and players must have played at least 2 NFL seasons as the starter order to be considered. Additionally, these players are all starters at their position. The players listed below are in no particular order. Not surprisingly, these players are strongly associated with the risk score (lower score = less risk) from the player rankings in the Ultimate Draft Kit.

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Freeman continues to be a reliable fantasy asset with top 5 upside, primarily because of his heavy usage in both the rushing and passing game for the Falcons. Since entering the league in 2014, Freeman has missed just one game in his 3-year career, which happened in Nov. of 2015 due to a concussion. He was used sparingly in 2014 during his rookie season and then exploded onto the scene in 2015. Last year as the main man in the ATL, Freeman started in all 16 games, and proved all the doubters wrong. With a ton of tread left on the tires, he appears to be in line for another heavy workload in 2017 and is certainly worthy of a late first or early second round pick in fantasy drafts.

Year Games Played Att Yards TDs
2011 16 65 248 1
2012 15 265 1,056 11
2013 16 227 1,079 11
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts

Ol’ reliable, Frank Gore. Does this guy ever stop? For the past 3 seasons, people have been wanting to write off Gore, saying that his age (34 years old) will finally catch up to him. Until I see it on the field, I’ll choose to believe otherwise. Gore entered the league in 2005, making 2017 his 13th year in the NFL. From 2005 to 2016, Gore has played in an average of 15 games per season and hasn’t missed a regular season game since the 2010 season – are you kidding me?! This guy is the definition of reliable and durable. One thing that has helped Gore find the fountain of youth is the fact that his coaches have been smart at managing his workload. During his 12-year NFL career, Gore has only carried the rock more than 300 times once, and that was back in 2006. I still expect Gore to be a lock for at least 220-240 carries and 900-1100 yards, which should put him on the fringe of low end RB1, high end RB2 numbers. Barring a major injury, Gore is a lock for at least 15 games.

Year Games Played Att Yards TDs
2005 14 127 608 3
2006 16 312 1,695 8
2007 15 260 1,102 5
2008 14 240 1,036 6
2009 14 229 1,120 10
2010 11 203 853 3
2011 16 282 1,211 8
2012 16 258 1,214 8
2013 16 276 1,128 9
2014 16 255 1,106 4
2015 16 260 967 6
2016 16 263 1,025 4
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

Beast Mode is in a bit of a tricky situation coming out of retirement entering 2017 with his hometown team in Oakland. The last time we saw Lynch on a field, was in 2015 with Seattle, where he struggled to stay on the field while battling a sport hernia. His played in just 7 games, eventually having surgery for his sports hernia. Prior to 2015, Lynch played an average of 15 games per season from 2007-2014. The sports hernia injury in 2015 was the biggest injury of his 9-year NFL career. Besides this injury, Lynch has been a very durable running back. He now gets to run behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, making him a strong bounce back candidate. I project Marshawn to suit up for 14 games this season, and he should push for back end RB1 numbers in the Oakland offense.

Year Games Played Att Yards TDs
2007 13 280 1,115 7
2008 15 250 1,036 8
2009 13 120 450 2
2010 16 202 737 6
2011 15 285 1,204 12
2012 16 315 1,590 11
2013 16 301 1,257 12
2014 16 280 1,306 13
2015 7 111 417 3
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills 

Given the fact that Shady seems to be down on the field at least twice per game clutching his leg, he may be a bit of a surprise to make this list. However, if you look at his career statistics in the table below, he has been a very durable back in the NFL, all while being a workhorse both in Philly and in Buffalo. McCoy has played in less than 15 games just twice in his 8-year NFL career – 2012 and 2015. Remarkably, since entering the league in 2009, McCoy has missed a total of 11 games. He’s proven his durability by showing an ability to play through injuries, such as his fractured rib in 2010, an ankle sprain in 2013, and turf toe in 2014. He does have a history of soft tissue injuries, including hamstring strains, and a history of multiple ankle sprains, so he doesn’t come without any risk. However, as one of the most talented RBs in the league with a proven track record, lock Shady in for at least 13 or 14 games, with a high probability of playing a full season, as he’s done several times before.

Year Games Played Att Yards TDs
2009 16 155 637 4
2010 15 207 1,080 7
2011 15 273 1,309 17
2012 12 200 840 2
2013 16 314 1,607 9
2014 16 312 1,319 5
2015 12 203 895 3
2016 15 234 1,267 13
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

Murray seems like he’s been around forever, doesn’t he? Surprisingly, Murray has only been in the NFL since 2011, and has only been a true starting running back since the 2012 season. From that point on, Murray has only missed a total of 9 games, 6 of which came in the 2012 season after he suffered a sprain in his foot. So, if you’re keeping up with me here, Murray has been on the field for all but 3 of his games since 2013. He’s proven that he can be a true workhorse back in the NFL, playing in all 16 games during his career year in Dallas in 2014, where he rushed the ball a staggering 392 times. He figures to be in line for another healthy workload in Tennessee in Mike Mularkey’s ‘exotic smashmouth’ offense, which should yet again put Demarco among the top 10 RBs in 2017.

Year Games Played Att Yards TDs
2011 13 164 897 2
2012 10 161 663 4
2013 14 217 1,121 9
2014 16 392 1,845 13
2015 15 193 702 6
2016 16 293 1,287 9