In the realm of Fantasy Football, the running back position is most likely the most pivotal. Not only does a team with championship aspirations need at least one workhorse, the stable behind him must be adequate and varied enough to ensure quality matchups regardless of his or her opponents. While I could spend a great deal of time touching on the different types of RBs and their importance to your fantasy team, in the interest of you, dear readers, I shall instead rank the 10 best possible options at the position, followed by a handful of sleeper options that you should keep your eyes on.
1 – Arian Foster
In 2012, Arian Foster mirrored Adrian Peterson (who ended up taking the Fantasy rushing crown) in nearly all stats: except yardage. He actually scored three more touchdowns than A.D. did, and barring a miraculously improved season over Peterson’s nearly record-breaking 2012 campaign, Foster should be the slightly safer bet as the first HB to be drafted in most leagues. Ben Tate has shown flashes in limited playing time, but the Texans have rarely shown reluctance in giving Foster ample touches.
2 – Adrian Peterson
Many of us watched Peterson slip down draft boards, and we all understood why. The massive knee injury he was coming off of had ended the careers of numerous NFL players, let alone those playing perhaps the most physically demanding position on the field. I took him in the 4th round, crossing my fingers, and was rewarded with one of my all-time best steals. Don’t expect to find All Day anywhere past the 2nd round in your draft, and considering his inhuman abilities, draft him in confidence in either the 1st or 2nd.
3 – Ray Rice
Ray finished 6th overall amongst backs last year, but he gets a higher projected ranking from me considering some of the offensive changes Baltimore is going to at least strongly consider. Rice has always been a fantasy stud, but with the subtraction of Anquan Boldin and the season-ending injury of top TE Dennis Pitta, you can expect “Little Ray” (guess he’s “Big Ray” now that Ray Lewis is retired?) to pick up even more of the slack.
4 – Doug Martin
The Tampa Bay rookie burst onto the scene, ending the fantasy season below only Foster and Peterson in overall points. There’s no reason to believe the decision makers will back off of what is obviously their most dangerous offensive weapon. Although he only caught 1 TD, he was targeted 70 times, which bodes well for increased numbers through the air as well. Like Ray Rice, “Dougie Fresh” (not sure if anyone else gave him this nickname, but I’m sticking with it) should be off the board well before the 3rd round begins.
5 – Jamaal Charles
One of the few bright spots on an abysmal Kansas City team, Charles’ fantasy value is well known to anyone. But this ranking is higher than you might see from other so-called “experts”, and that’s fine. You can be confident in the knowledge that new HC Andy Reid will use Charles much in the way he used Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia, simply because he knows Alex Smith is not Michael Vick and won’t throw too many passing plays into the offensive game plan. Anything less than 1,700 total yards and 12 TDs would shock me for one of the league’s most dynamic athletes.
6 – Marshawn Lynch
Lynch is about as vanilla as it gets, in the best way possible; you can count on 300+ carries, a nice chunk of yardage, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 scores. His value isn’t as high as a couple of the guys I’ll be ranking behind in him PPR leagues, as he is not utilized in the passing game all that much. Still, Lynch is a #1 back and should be drafted as such in all leagues.
7 – C.J. Spiller
A recent quote from new HC Doug Marrone will either inspire confidence or terror in Spiller’s prospects: “We’re going to run him until he throws up”. Concerns about his size and ability to stand up to an increased workload are justified, but this fantasy player is here to tell you that Spiller has the potential to end up being the best fantasy back in football. It all depends on how many carries backup Fred Jackson gets…and, of course, whether or not Spiller remains durable.
8 – Alfred Morris
There will be a fair amount of hesitation from fantasy players in drafting Morris as their #1 HB, and for good reason: Mike Shanahan is well known for shuffling his backfield for reasons that aren’t always clear to anyone who isn’t Mike Shanahan. Still, Morris’ performance in 2012 is hard to ignore, and even Mr. Stable himself has to see that. If you do end up taking him as your first HB, I’d be more aware of taking another a round or two sooner than you might otherwise…you know, just in case.
9 – LeSean McCoy
Remember him? That guy in Philly who once looked like the next top 3 fantasy producer? Well, in a year where nothing went the Eagles’ way, and Andy Reid seemed to lose his mind when it came to playcalling and gameplanning, McCoy became more or less a fantasy no-show. Enter Chip Kelly, who proved during his time in Oregon that running the ball is essential to what he wants to do. With a talent like McCoy in his hands, I would be much more confident in taking LeSean somewhere between the 3rd and 5th rounds.
10 – Trent Richardson
I debated long and hard here, believe me. Make a note that Chris Johnson is 10-B on my list, if you will. But I am buying into both the potential for Richardson to improve in his 2nd year as much as I am in the fact that, beyond him, Cleveland is a ghost town of offensive talent. Some minor injuries during the offseason might worry some, but until something major happens, there’s no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill. Keep in mind that Richardson was ranked 10th overall at his position as a rookie, and keep in mind that Brandon Weeden is throwing the passes to…some people…and you’ll feel much better about drafting Richardson as a #1 option.
3 Sleepers Not To Sleep On
Detroit has needed balance in their offense for years, and you can be sure they’ll utilize Bush in any way they can to make that happen. Expect a substantial APY number, but his TDs could be few and far between.
Again, offensive balance will be strived for in Atlanta, despite the unbelievable trio of weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal. At this point in their respective careers, Jackson is a definite upgrade over Michael Turner, and should produce respectable numbers as opposing defenses scramble to keep the likes of White, Jones and Gonzalez covered at all times.
Yes, I’m sneaking in a homer pick here, but Miller has the chance to do some good things in Miami. He has an incredible skill set, including the sort of speed that will appeal to OC Mike Sherman getting him the ball on swings and screens. He may need time to develop is passblocking, and therefore his ability to stay on the field for three downs, but don’t be surprised if Lamar surprises the league in 2013. (Hey, a guy can hope, right?)