Chargers tailback Ryan Mathews (1,546 total yards, 6 TD in 2011) likely won't have a flying start to this season, thanks to a collarbone injury on Aug. 9.
Here are my updated classifications of running back tiers for standard-scoring leagues.
It's worth noting that Ryan Mathews (broken collarbone) and Trent Richardson (knee scope) were part of the first and second tiers before their respective injuries in early August.
This listing shall remain fluid throughout the preseason.
Tier 1 (1,500 Total Yards and/or 13 TD)
Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson
Tier 3 (1,050 total yards and/or 8 TD)
Shonn Greene, Trent Richardson, Reggie Bush, Stevan Ridley, Beanie Wells, C.J. Spiller, BenJaruvs Green-Ellis, Darren Sproles, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Stewart, Willis McGahee, Doug Martin
Tier 4 (850 total yards and/or 7 TD)
Toby Gerhart, DeAngelo Williams, Michael Bush, Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, Donald Brown, Ben Tate, Peyton Hillis, James Starks, Mike Tolbert, Daniel Thomas
Tier 5 (700 total yards and/or 5 TD)
Felix Jones, Montario Hardesty, LeGarrette Blount, Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Cedric Benson, David Wilson, Ronnie Hillman, Evan Royster, Tim Hightower, Kendall Hunter, Pierre Thomas, Ronnie Brown, Robert Turbin, Jacquizz Rodgers
Tier 6 (Preferred-Backup Status)
Isaiah Pead, Jeff Demps, Alex Green, Brandon Jacobs, Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell, Jonathan Dwyer, D.J. Ware, Brandon Jacobs, Dexter McCluster, Curtis Brinkley, Dion Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Goodson, Bernard Pierce, Delone Carter, Bernard Scott, Javon Ringer, Keiland Williams, Joique Bell, Christopher Ivory, Knowshon Moreno, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Taiwan Jones
Peterson (1,109 total yards, 13 TD last year) has certainly earned the right to be among the top 20 tailbacks, even coming off an ACL tear of just eight months ago. He's also earned the benefit of the doubt when vowing to be ready for Week 1 action.
When healthy, Peterson (6,752 career rushing yards, 67 total TD) is a top-five back; in fact, he'll probably reclaim that honor in August 2013.
On the surface, Roy Helu at Tier II seems like a reach, especially if Evan Royster and Tim Hightower are viable candidates to be the Redskins' opening-day starter at tailback.
But Helu corralled 1,019 total yards and three touchdowns out of only 200 touches (5.1 yards per touch); with 50 to 60 more touches—an ultra-conservative estimate for a high-end back—that's 1,300 easy yards!
I am supremely confident that Helu can take a big leap forward this season, but I'm also aware of Royster's development in the Redskins offense. I'm also cognizant of how many skilled offensive pieces Washington has, including QB Robert Griffin III.
On pure talent alone, Charles is a Round 1 fixture, but some owners may be skittish to reach for him on draft day, citing his ACL tear in Week 2 against Detroit last year while also wondering how RB Peyton Hillis (free-agent acquisition) might cut into Charles' rushing and receiving attempts.
Of course, these may be the same owners champing at the bit for Adrian Peterson's return—even though Charles had a three-month head start of recovery time. Go figure.
Bottom line: If you believe Charles can quickly recapture his old speed, quickness and explosion, you'll be happy to invest a low Round 2 pick. If you're worried about his capacity to carry the Chiefs offense, then roll the dice on waiting until Round 3.
Targets: 1,512 total yards and seven touchdowns
Throughout the spring and summer, I harbored mild resentment toward Bradshaw for the unpardonable sin of (allegedly) missing curfew and getting suspended for a good chunk of Giants-Cowboys in Week 14—the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
But given the recent surgeries of Ryan Mathews (collarbone), Trent Richardson (Browns) and general uncertainty surrounding Detroit's Jahvid Best (concussion), Bradshaw has suddenly earned a battlefield promotion back into my fantasy heart...and the top 12 in standard-scoring/PPR leagues.
It also helps that Bradshaw has per-season averages of 1,238 total yards and 9.5 TDs this decade.
The day will come when Williams is the Cardinals' most bankable rushing option, regardless of down and distance. And the day will come when Williams is a top-15 consideration among all fantasy tailbacks. But for this season, fantasy owners should temper their expectations with an explosive asset who must bounce back from a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee last August.
Bottom line: It's rare to find a non-rookie tailback with limitless potential after Round 9. But Williams is that type of back—one who could enjoy a DeMarco Murray-like impact midway through the 2012 season, if fully healthy. He's a must-handcuff for those who select Beanie Wells sometime in Round 5 or 6.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.