In past years, the running back position was considered the most important to draft for each season. With the move of several teams towards running back-by-committees, and the two-down back system, the workhorse if generally a thing of the past, excluding the elite backs in the league. Factor in injuries, and someone we have yet to hear of, and it becomes difficult to determine to project who the best running backs are going to be heading into the 2013 campaign. With only weeks to go prior to the start of training camp, here are the preseason power rankings for fantasy running backs!
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
After suffering a devastating knee injury in 2011, Peterson defied all common medical projections and posted one of the greatest seasons in NFL history for a running back. Tallying almost 2,100 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns were far and away the highlight of the Vikings abysmal season. As of this writing, reports state that Matt Cassel most likely will win the starting nod under center over Christian Ponder, which leaves Peterson as the only established weapon for the Vikings. Given his freak of nature status, there is no reason to believe that he takes a step back in 2013. Peterson is easily the best running back both in real football and in fantasy realms, and should be a top-2 or 3 selection overall on all draft boards. Peterson should project to rush for 1,750 yards, 250-300 yards receiving, and 10-12 touchdowns.
2. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
With a new regime taking over in Kansas City, the Chiefs will need to utilize the only consistent weapon they have on offense, which is Charles. Bouncing back from knee surgery a year ago, Charles racked up the yardage to the count of 1,700+ total yards from scrimmage, without as much as a solid starter playing quarterback, and inconsistent play out of the wide receivers. Alex Smith is now the starter at quarterback, and Andy Reid will be brining his high powered offense to the Midwest. Charles is the only back who will receive carries of any important, and is just as dangerous catching the football as he is carrying it. Charles should see around 1,500 yards rushing, upper single-digit touchdowns, and a bump in his receiving yards in 2013, perhaps in the 400-500 yard area.
3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Beast Mode has taken on a life of it's own in the Pacific Northwest, and it's difficult to remember exactly why Buffalo was so willing to part with a back of Lynch's talent. Lynch has ranked in the top-3 over the past two seasons in both rushing touchdowns and ground yards. The added weapon of Percy Harvin and the continued development of second year quarterback Russell Wilson will only help Lynch, as opposing defenses will not be able to stick eight men in the box and clog up his running lanes. Expect Lynch to continue to ground dominance, stockpiling 1,500-1,600 rushing yards, and 12-14 touchdowns.
4. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Arguably one of the most productive running backs over the past few seasons, Foster could easily be slotted on this list as high as number two, but a calf injury during spring workouts, and his decreasing yards per carry average send up red flags. Foster won't fall over the cliff completely, but expect to see his numbers take somewhat of a hit as Gary Kubiak now has a second weapon to utilize in the passing game to go alongside Andre Johnson with rookie DeAndre Hopkins. Foster should come in somewhere in the 1,200 to 1,300 rushing yard range, and maintain his double-digit touchdown totals. He is money in the bank when the Texans are inside the red zone, but again, his production will be dependent on his health and the expansion of the passing game moving forward.
5. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a rookie season in which he became a fantasy superstar, expect more of the same from the 215-pound tailback nicknamed the “Muscle Hampster.” Martin registered almost 2,000 total yards from scrimmage, can crush opposing tacklers, and can go the distance in a hurry every time the football is in his hands. Quarterback Josh Freeman needs to continue moving upwards in his development, and Vincent Jackson prevents the box from getting stacked. This will only make life easier for Martin, who should rush for 1,500 yards, catch footballs for another 400-500 yards, and could break the 10 touchdown mark in 2013.
6. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
Coming into the 2012 season, Spiller was part of the two-back platoon system previously discussed in the opening, and once Fred Jackson went down with a leg injury, the stock for Spiller went through the roof. A sprinter who can turn the corner and run past everyone else on the field, Spiller sprinted his way to almost 1,500 rushing yards. Firmly planted as the starter heading into this season, he could breakout with a 1,700 yard campaign, leaving Jackson as a mop-up back. Health is always a concern as if inconsistent performances. With Jackson always lurking, realistic expectations for Spiller would be 1,400 yards rushing, 400 or so yards receiving, and 8-10 touchdowns.
7. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Before you say “Mike Shanahan never knows who his running back is...”, relax. The Florida Atlanta product opened eyes during the 2012 training camp, and secured the job until he proves otherwise. Morris was an absolute horse for the 'Skins in 2012, rushing for over 1,600 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. Sure, he may see some struggles as the primary offensive weapon if RG3 isn't ready to go for Week #1, but Morris will get his production. Morris should have an excellent second season as the starter, tallying in the neighborhood of 1,500 rushing yards, and 12-15 rushing touchdowns. The only knock on Morris if there is one, is his lack of involvement in the passing game. He is a pure runner, and that is plenty by fantasy standards.
8. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
It wasn't very long ago that Rice was considered one of the best two or three running backs in all of football. How quickly things can change when inconsistent performances appear throughout the season. Rice had 12 games during the 2012 season in which he rushed for less than 100 yards, and of those, six were for less than 50 yards. Rice simply stated, is no longer an elite back. A solid running back yes, but not a guy that a fantasy owner can draft, stick into the lineup regardless of the opponent, and know that the production will be there. Rice is an RB1 in many formats, but drafting for depth if Rice is an owner's first selection at the running back position is a must. Rice will have around 1,100 yards rushing, 6-9 touchdowns, and maybe 200-300 receiving yards.
9. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
We are going to give McCoy somewhat of a break here. He most likely will be a top-6 or 7 running back when the season concludes, but he, much like Rice are no longer elite options at the running back position. He suffered through an injury-riddled 2012, and even prior to the concussion that sidelined him for several weeks, he wasn't posting McCoy-type numbers from previous seasons. With Chip Kelly now running the show in Philly, Eagles' fans could see less emphasis on the running game, and thus, less production from McCoy. Bryce Brown has proven he too can run the football, and in an effort to keep McCoy healthy, Brown should see significant time carrying the ball as well. Just a hair over 1,000 yards seems fair, with 5-7 rushing touchdowns, and 500-650 receiving yards out of the backfield.
10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
The number ten slot on our list was one of the most difficult to project, but at the end of the day, it all came back to consistent production in all facets of the game. Gore has played a full season in each of the past two years, and his offensive line is probably the best it has been in his career. Rushing for over 1,200 yards and showing his skill as a pass receiver for another 200 yards, he remains one of the most important cogs in the Harbaugh offensive machine. The 49ers are poised to make another deep run into the playoffs, and Gore will be right there leading the way. An almost identical season rushing-wise for Gore should be expected, along with a bump in receiving yards to around 300, and 8 touchdowns on the ground.
The next five: Matt Forte-Chicago Bears, Trent Richardson-Cleveland Browns, Steven Ridley-New England Patriots, Chris Johnson-Tennessee Titans, and Steven Jackson-Atlanta Falcons. Check back in with us soon as we will be breaking down the preseason power rankings for the top-10 fantasy options at tight end!