Those of us who play fantasy football know what having a top-tier RB an do for you. Unlike in the NFL, it’s often your backfield that will help win or lose that FFL Title for your team.
The reason is pretty simple: not all RBs are “created equal,” and most teams split carries in a backfield-by-committee situation. The teams that have that bell-cow back are the ones you want to go after and here’s where I see the true players that command that coveted “RB1″ position:
1) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Pretty obvious why he’s at the top here. Last season, coming of an ACL tear in week 17 the previous season, he not only tore up the gridiron but showed that he’s head and shoulders the NFL’s top back, missing the all-time single-season record by 6 yards rushing. SIX! The only reason he won’t be quite as productive in 2013 is the presence of WRs Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. The offense should be a little bit more balanced and Peterson’s touches should drop by about 10-15%.
2) Arian Foster, Houston Texans – Even if he might be a “system” running back (remember being completely frustrated trying to draft Broncos RBs under Mike Shanahan?), Houston’s zone-blocking scheme seems to be a perfect marriage for the UFA Arian Foster. You might temper your expectations with Foster, as he’s got a very capable backup in Ben Tate but if Foster stays healthy, look for 25-30 touches a game.
3) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles – “Shady” McCoy is perhaps ranked a bit high here – I know some of you are thinking that – and perhaps he is, time will tell. Having said that, Rookie Head Coach Chip Kelly is known for his up-tempo offense and the team will likely run more plays per game as a result. McCoy’s value is most certainly worthy of a first-round pick in “PPR” leagues with his soft hands….220 receptions in 4 years means an average of 55 haul-ins per season and although we don’t know the specifics of how Kelly’s offense will express itself on the field, more snaps means more touches, and that means McCoy will probably once again hit that 1,000-yard mark after missing it last season with 840 yards on exactly 200 carries.
4) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The muscle hamster took the NFL by storm in his rookie 2012 campaign and I see no reason that shouldn’t continue in his second. He’ll get 30 touches a game and the team has nobody even close to his skill set so he’ll see 80%+ of the carries by default and now he has a year of experience under his belt. Of all the players on the list, Martin and Miami’s Lamar Miller are going to be the 2 most interesting RBs to watch.
5) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs – Charles is a complete back who can also catch the ball. He’s quite explosive with great speed, so he has the ability to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, and Andy Reid generally finds a single back to use for his offense. Charles is “in charge” there, and may be used like Michael Westbrook was in Philly for so long but with a 5.8 yds/carry CAREER average, I see nothing but upside for Charles in his fantasy value and should be quite valuable in PPR leagues as well.
6) C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills – With fellow RB Fred Jackson being 32 yrs old and their QB situation a bit unsettled with Kevin Kolb and rookie E.J. Manuel on the roster, the Bills will lean on Spiller and his breakaway speed to provide the spark on offense – especially in the early going. Spiller’s been showing great ability and broke out last year for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs rushing while adding 43 rec for 459 yards (10.7 avg for an RB is insane) and 2 TDs. If you can snatch him up in round two after taking one of the other backs on this list, you should be sitting pretty…especially in PPR leagues.
7) Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins – This kid is Reggie Bush 2.0. He has breakaway speed, soft hands, and looks to step right into Bush’s old cleats and literally not miss a step. The ‘fins got one of the 2012 draft’s steals when Miller fell to them in the 4th round, and Daniel Thomas has had injury problems, fumble issues, and hasn’t been the player they thought they were getting when he was drafted 2 years ago in the second round. While Thomas could possibly vulture some goal-line carries, if he doesn’t quickly improve his ball security, Miller will see those snaps as well. The Dolphins also have the best schedule in the NFL for fantasy point-production from running backs. The sky’s the limit for Miller and the only real question is if he can handle getting 300 touches. Also, with Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Justin Keller now on the team, Miller won’t be facing 8-man fronts.
8) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – “Pocket Hercules” lost his strength last year and could slide into the 3rd round (possibly) in SOME FFL drafts. He’s entering a contract year in 2013 and with some bad blood between him and the team’s ownership, he’s probably looking at 2013 as his audition for a big payday…from one of the other 31 teams in the NFL…so he has as much incentive as anyone does to perform at a high level.
9) – Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions – Reggie’s still in his prime and has very little competition in the backfield for touches. However, the Lions love the passing game, but part of that was by necessity. Now that Bush is there, the offense should be more balanced and Bush can catch and run as easily as he can take a handoff and go. His value is even higher in PPR leagues due to the nature of the Lions’ offense.
10) – Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens – this popular and very productive Mighty Mite should see fewer touches in 2013 than he did in last season’s Lombardi Trophy-winning squad. Rising second year pro Bernard Pierce will see an increased workload as he showed a lot of promise as a rookie last year while his yards/carry were better than Ray’s. Ray is a much more accomplished receiver out of the backfield; however, Pierce could be a goal line vulture and keep Ray’s production mostly contained in total yards from scrimmage and especially receptions in PPR leagues. Because of these things, I wouldn’t take him with my top pick, and he probably won’t last until the 3rd round (where he probably fits) because of his name and that production, so unless all the others are taken I’d likely leave him alone in favor of the others…again, due to Pierce’s vast potential.
* Notables not in my top-ten:
- Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks – “Beast Mode” is certainly one of the hardest-running RBs in the NFL. He doesn’t shy away from contact and in fact seeks it out. However, with 7 seasons under his belt and having hit that “magical” 300 carry mark last year, I think he’s due for a bit of a pullback in his production especially with Percy Harvin now having been added.
- Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots – Ridley had a fantastic 2012 season with 1200+ yards and 12 TDs rushing. I think there’s just too much uncertainty around the offense with the release of TE Aaron Hernandez, TE Rob Gronkowski’s six off-season surgeries (4 on forearm, 2 on back I think), and the loss of WR Wes Welker to free agency. Yes, Danny Amendola is a similar player to Welker, but has a history of injuries. Since the Pats are a passing team and will be as long as Tom Brady’s right arm remains attached and Ridley’s lack of hands (6 receptions last season), I just couldn’t sink a top-3 draft pick into Ridley. Nothing bad about Ridley per se; it’s the uncertainty around the organization he’s with that causes me caution. It could well be that they run the ball more and Ridley’s numbers increase – the preseason should provide a clue not in the playcalling but in the overall play of the offense. If the Pats struggle to run the ball even with other backs in the game, they might use Shane Vereen more, as he has the hands that Ridley lacks.
- Frank Gore, San Francisco 49′ers – Gore’s hitting that magical “30″ age for RBs when production generally starts to slow, which is why the Niners could afford to use a 4th-round pick on South Carolina Gamecock uberstar RB Marcus Lattimore, who won’t be ready to play until 2014….when you’ll see HIS name on this list instead of Gore’s. The team also has Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James who, if healthy, should start eating into Gore’s touches a bit more to save some of the treat on Gore’s tires. Lattimore will be “the man” in either 2014 or 2015.
- Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns – Richardson’s a bit of a risk, even though he finished 9th among RBs last year in overall fantasy points under “standard” scoring systems. However, he was dinged up last season and has been again already before training camp even starts. I’d be reluctant to take him with a first-round pick, but if he’s there in the 3rd round, he should be a good fit as your second RB.