Top Ten Fantasy Football Running Backs – 2013 Projections
Here comes your first pick in the draft. Who do you take? I know that it’s early, but you know that no rooks will be picked in the first found of your fantasy draft. The earliest Eddie Lacy would go is probably round four. Maybe somebody will bite on Megatron in the first, or Drew Brees, but you know for certain that running backs will start to disappear quickly. As I’m sure that you know, without at least one good running back, you’re toast. So that being said, here are my evaluations on the top ten backs, none of which should be left on the board by round two if you play in a twelve-team league.
1. Adrian Peterson (2,000 total yards, 15 TD’s) – After almost breaking Dickerson’s rushing record as well as posting a ridiculous six yards per carry, AP returns to the top of almost every fantasy draft board in 2013. The fact that he accumulated almost 350 carries the season after a devastating ACL injury was amazing. Something clicked in week seven of 2012 and Peterson went into absolute beast mode. The game that he didn’t rush for over 100-yards during that span was unfortunately in week 16, when most fantasy leagues had their Championship Game. But if he can carry that second-half success into 2013, Dickerson’s record will probably get shattered this year. That being said, he did only score a combined 13 touchdowns last season, but considering that he didn’t score any TD’s during a five game stretch from weeks two to six means that there is definitely room for improvement. From week seven on, he averaged a touchdown per game. Now that the Vikings no longer have Percy Harvin, AP will have even more pressure on him to carry the offense in 2013. But he has proved that even when you know that he’s getting the ball, you still can’t stop him. If he can avoid another injury this season, expect a monster year, even if Minnesota’s offense struggles to score points.
2. Arian Foster (1,700 total yards, 16 TD’s) – He’s the sure thing. Foster had seven 100-yard rushing games in the regular season and four games with two touchdowns. Houston will feed him the ball, so expect at least another 350 carries this season. He has proved that he can produce when given those carries. Not only can he slay it between the tackles, but he can take screens for solid yardage as well. Foster seems to be a lock for 100-yards and a TD per week, and that’s all you can really ask from your #1 RB. He’s had three consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Points of concern with Foster though: his average yards-per-carry has steadily declined over the past three seasons (4.9/4.4/4.1). Also, the amount of targets he has received in the passing game has declined as well (84/71/58). In 2011, Foster racked up 617 receiving yards in 13 games. In 2012, that total dropped down to 217 yards in 16 games. Fantasy owners would love to have that extra 400 receiving yards, no doubt, but they’ll take 350 rushing attempts for at least 1,400 yards again. Will Foster ever repeat his absurd 2010 season when he posted 2,200+ all-purpose yards and scored 18 times? Well if he ends up on your fantasy team, you better hope so.
3. Marshawn Lynch (1,800 total yards, 14 TD’s) – Lynch added another solid fantasy season to his resume for the second straight year, compiling his best stats of his career in 2012. Lynch has become a 100-yard machine and found the end zone 12 times last year, which could increase to around 15 this season with Seattle’s re-vamped offense. Lynch ran for 100+ yards eight times from week seven on. The Seahawks will put the ball in his hands at least twenty times a game, so expect a consistent supply of 100-yard outings. Lynch now has four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and has scored 25 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Everything seems to be in place for Lynch to produce another outstanding fantasy year.
4. Jamaal Charles (1,900 total yards, 10 TD’s) – Charles is about as hit-or-miss as it gets in fantasy football, but when he hits, he hits big. Charles had two 200-yard games last season and is always a threat to break one for 80-yards at the drop of a hat. Expect Charles to be even more involved in the offense with Andy Reid taking over the Chiefs this season. Reid has produced monster fantasy seasons from his running backs over the years, and Charles will fill that Brian Westbrook/LeSean McCoy-type role like a glove. Charles will definitely have more targets in the passing game this season, which should result in about 2,000 all-purpose yards when all said and done. Now he has never been a touchdown machine, but he should be able to find the end zone more this season under Reid. Charles career rushing average is sitting at just below six yards-per-carry, so expect him to do more damage with more carries and receptions this year. If Jamaal can get at least 300 rushing attempts and another 75 targets in the passing game, he could produce another monster season.
5. C.J. Spiller (1,900 total yards, 10 TD’s) – Buffalo finally decided to feed Spiller the ball more last year and he doubled up his stats from the season before. This Clemson stud kills with speed and proved that with his 6.0 yards-per-carry average. Spiller is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and can really help you out in PPR leagues. The Bills offense isn’t exactly stellar, so that will obviously affect the amount of touchdowns he scores, but he should be able to get into the end zone a couple more times with the extra touches this year. And the Bills will definitely give him that opportunity in 2013. If he can hold up for 250-300 rushing attempts to go along with another 75 targets in the passing game, expect solid stats from Spiller. He is without a doubt one of the most talented running backs in the league and if he can prove to be durable enough, Spiller should be a go for a 2,000+ all-purpose yard season.
6. Doug Martin (1,900 total yards, 10 TD’s) – Doug Martin’s stats were a little padded after that 250-yard, 4 touchdown game against Oakland last year, but even excluding that performance he was still able to produce some solid fantasy games. Martin also proved to be a tremendous PPR selection, posting nearly 50 receptions and 500 receiving yards last year (which should increase this season). Tampa Bay is all in on Martin and they have no problem feeding him the rock (319 rushing attempts last season). If that trend continues, which it should, expect another solid season out of Martin this year.
7. Alfred Morris (1,500 total yards, 12 TD’s) – Morris saved many fantasy squads last season and was an absolute touchdown machine down the stretch. It looks like Shanahan has found his guy and that’s always good news for fantasy owners. Morris will not get you receptions out of the backfield, but he will definitely grind out 100-yard performances on the ground. He’s not a flashy back, honestly he’s about as boring as it gets. He won’t break loose for 80-yard touchdown scampers, but he will pound it out for five yards per carry. And we all know that Shanahan loves to run the ball, so expect Morris to get well over 300 carries again this season, which should result in another great fantasy output. The better this Redskins offense gets, the better his stats will be. There’s no reason Morris can’t score around 15 TD’s this season, but expect at least twelve.
8. Trent Richardson (1,500 total yards, 12 TD’s) – Richardson only posted three 100-yard games last season, but expect that to possibly double this year. The Browns offense is steadily improving and Trent’s stats should benefit because of that. His yards-per-carry average of 3.6 was far from amazing, but he was a consistent scoring threat all season long. Richardson also showed his ability to score more points in PPR leagues while racking up 51 receptions during his rookie campaign. Trent is out to prove Jim Brown wrong and could help your fantasy squad out tremendously if he ends up doing just that. It was a modest rookie season for Richardson, but there’s no reason not to believe that he can build onto that success. The Browns will feed him the ball, so expect more carries this season, ultimately resulting in better numbers. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Richardson produce around 1,800 total yards and 15 TD’s in 2013. If he doesn’t do it this year, eventually he will.
9. Ray Rice (1,700 total yards, 10 TD’s) – Rice has been one of the most consistent fantasy running backs for the past four seasons. His rushing attempts have been declining, but he always receives about 80-100 targets in the passing game per season (making him an excellent PPR producer). Rice has proven to be extremely durable and consistent throughout his career. He will consistently get you around fifty receiving yards and Ray is always a threat to go over 100 on the ground. The Ravens know that a majority of their offensive success is in the hands of Rice, so expect another solid fantasy season out of Rutgers all-time leading rusher.
10. Chris Johnson (1,600 total yards, 7 TD’s) – CJ2K was not happy with the Titans acquisition of Shone Greene in the offseason, and that signing will ultimately limit the amount of attention Johnson will receive around the goal line. But Johnson has never had less than 1,400 total yards and was able to score 16 times in 2009. Now I doubt that he will come even remotely close to that total this year, but ten touchdowns from Johnson wouldn’t shock me. His carries have dropped to below 300 attempts per season, but he remains a consistent threat in PPR leagues. His receiving targets were down last season (79 in 2011 to 49 in 2012), but his rushing attempts went slightly up. If the Titans can put the ball in his hands around 325 times this year, Johnson can definitely do some damage. He’s always a threat to break loose for a long touchdown score, and when he does, expect a solid fantasy day. Johnson started out the season extremely slow in 2012, but once he gears it up, he’s quite the threat. Don’t doubt for one second that Chris Johnson doesn’t have any gas left in the tank. With his sub-par 2012 season, he might even slide into the second rounds of some drafts, in which I believe he would be an absolute steal. If you can utilize Johnson as your #2 RB behind one of the guys listed above, that would be the best-case scenario.
There are a couple backs that could be interchanged with that number ten spot that Chris Johnson is sitting in. LeSean McCoy, Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore, Matt Forte, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, David Wilson, Maurice Jones-Drew, or even Eddie Lacy could churn out solid fantasy seasons in 2013, but I view all of those guys as slight risks.
McCoy could do really well in Chip Kelly’s new offensive scheme, but he has to stay on the field to do so. If he does, McCoy is always a threat to go for 2,000+ all-purpose yards and is an absolute monster in PPR leagues. McCoy has the best chance out of the guys listed below to be a top-five back this season.
Ridley will again be the main back in New England, but he only had six games with 20 or more rushing attempts and is virtually a non-factor in the passing game (only six receptions last year). But chances are that he will score on a regular basis in that high-powered New England offense.
Gore had an almost identical season to his 2011 campaign, but I foresee his rushing attempts consistently declining with his age. He was once a tremendous receiving threat out of the backfield, but now he’ll be lucky to see 35 targets a season.
Forte still managed to break 1,000 yards in 2012, but he once again struggled to find the end zone. And Michael Bush definitely didn’t help Forte out in that category. Forte is still a top PPR running back, but the amount of carries he receives in this Bear’s offense is all over the place. Until that changes, expect the same results, about 1,300 total yards and 6 TD’s.
Green-Ellis was the workhorse for that Bengals rushing attack last year. He ended the season on a tear and he should get between 250-300 carries in 2013. I don’t expect much more than 1,200 yards and 8 TD’s though. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Bengals went a different direction at running back as well in 2013.
Steven Jackson couldn’t have landed in a better scenario than Atlanta this year, and he should go for his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season. And just by being a Falcon, that should dramatically increase his touchdown total. Jackson hasn’t scored more than 10 TD’s since 2006, but this could be the season that he does.
McFadden has yet to play a full season without getting injured. If he could stay healthy, obviously he has the potential to be a stud, but until he proves that he can stay on the field, he will always be a risky fantasy pick.
Murray will have the reigns as the main back in Dallas, but he also needs to prove that he can stay on the field. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Murray post good numbers this year, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see another RB in Dallas with more carries than DeMarco in 2013.
Wilson will have his shot to be the Giants solution to fill the Ahmad Bradshaw role this season, but as long as Andre Brown is hanging around, it will keep Wilson’s stats at bay. Wilson has the potential to be an excellent PPR back and NY will give him every chance to prove his worth this season.
MJD still plays for Jacksonville, which will most likely keep him out of the end zone this season. He’s coming off a major injury and he’s still playing in a horrible offense, but he’s still a great football player. Last year was his worst fantasy year by far, but he’s still capable of putting up solid numbers if he can remain healthy.
Lacy’s fantasy value really depends on what team he ends up with this season. There will be plenty of quality running backs taken between rounds 2-5 in the NFL Draft, but Lacy seems to be the only one teams are considering with their first round pick. Lacy is a talented running back and should be able to carry quite a load in his rookie season. If he can get around 250 touches this year, he could post good numbers for your fantasy team. Don’t invest too high of a draft pick for him, but he could be a steal as your third RB option.
If you do play in a PPR league, guys like Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews, or Reggie Bush will have value. All three of these backs have a chance to produce solid fantasy stats in that format. Move them up accordingly on your board if you do play PPR.
Now there are several other backs that I did not list above that will have an opportunity to produce solid fantasy stats, but I’ll leave that for my Sleeper Picks article coming soon (most likely post NFL-Draft). There will be another Alfred Morris this season, and hopefully I can help you find him.
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Written by Josh Souder