AFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdown | Draft Sharks

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AFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdown

By Matt Schauf 7:45am EDT 8/14/14

Let's sort through the backfields of the AFC ...


Baltimore Ravens

Top fantasy target: Bernard Pierce

Other notables: Ray Rice, Lorenzo Taliaferro

Rice will go earlier than Pierce in your draft, but we're not sure he'll live up to that position. Pierce has been the one generating buzz in the Baltimore backfield this summer -- at least, positive buzz -- including ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley calling him the "best running back in camp."

That's noteworthy though not shocking for a guy who has been familiar with the zone-blocking scheme since his college days at Temple. Shortly after arriving in the offseason, OC Gary Kubiak compared Pierce's running style to that of Arian Foster. Pierce doesn't need to come anywhere close to Foster's touch volume to deliver value on his 10th-round ADP.

Pierce will start at least the first 2 games while Rice serves his suspension, and we don't expect Rice to turn back into a workhorse upon his return. Look for complementary roles, which always favors the guy getting drafted 4 rounds later.

Taliaferro brings some handcuff potential but should begin the year on the waiver wire in most 12-team (or smaller) formats.


Buffalo Bills

Top fantasy target: C.J. Spiller

Other notables: Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown

If the fact that the Bills traded for Brown and then extended Jackson this offseason has you worrying about Spiller ... Just stop.

First of all, Spiller's basically in a contract year, with just a relatively cheap player option for 2015 left. (He'll almost certainly decline that.) So it makes sense for the Bills to insure against his departure, especially if they think he might find a big-money offer somewhere else and aren't willing to match top dollar at what has become one of the league's more fungible positions.

So Buffalo traded a conditional mid-round pick -- after picking up a mid-round pick from the Niners for Stevie Johnson -- for a talented-but-underperforming player in Brown. If he can finally match his effort with his talent, Brown could turn into a high-ceiling backfield component going forward. But he's not a great bet right now after bolting early from both Tennessee and Kansas State in college and then washing out under RB-friendly Chip Kelly in Philly. Brown's a "what if" at this point.

And that Jackson extension? It's for 1 more year at $2.6 million with no guaranteed money. If you can lock down another year of insurance in a veteran who has steadily delivered for you at that small rate, why not do so? We can guarantee that the Bills would gladly re-sign Spiller for that kind of annual salary right now if they could.

But instead, Spiller will head into a contract year on 2 healthy ankles after playing on a significant sprain in 2013 and trotting to disappointing numbers. He remains the most talented back on a run-favoring team and a quality pass-catcher to help bail out still-shaky QB EJ Manuel.

Spiller cracked fantasy's top 8 with just 250 total touches 2 years ago, and now you can draft him in Round 3 rather than Round 1.

Jackson, meanwhile, continues to fall outside the top 40 RBs in ADP. He's a strong value there, whether you handcuff him to Spiller or not. Brown's no more than an end-of-draft flier in case of injury to Spiller or Jackson.


Cincinnati Bengals

Top fantasy target: Giovani Bernard

Other notables: Jeremy Hill, BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Bernard is the obvious breakout candidate here. If you've checked our projections at all, you know how we feel about him. He's a quality pick beginning at the end of Round 1.

Hill could emerge as a fantasy factor even if Bernard delivers on his breakout potential. The Bengals gave 220 carries to Lawfirm last year and still had 170 for Bernard. Green-Ellis could be a big factor in determining how many will be around for Hill this season.

We expect Bernard to get the larger number of a potentially similar split in 2014. But if BGE breaks camp with Cincinnati, he'd almost certainly draw more carries than any of the reserve backs on last year's team. Cedric Peerman ranked 3rd among Bengals RBs with 8 rushing attempts in 2013.

Still, Hill could find 150 attempts available and figures to get at least a healthy share of the goal-line work. He also brings much more receiving ability than Green-Ellis -- and would obviously get a big boost if Bernard were to get hurt.

The rookie's an attractive pick as the 43rd RB off the board in MyFantasyLeague.com drafts since Aug. 1. Green-Ellis is only a fantasy factor in terms of how his presence/role affects Hill's upside.

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