Running backs may be even more crucial to fantasy football success in 2013 than they were in 2012, so keeping quality rushers at a discount is a tremendous advantage for fantasy owners.
Keeper rules differ depending on the fantasy league in question; for the purposes of this article, keeping a player costs a 2013 draft pick that matches the round in which he was selected in 2012. Three running backs have ascended to No. 1 fantasy RB status despite an average draft position outside of the first five rounds—and none will be over the age of 26 entering the 2013 season.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
Two of C.J. Spiller’s best three rushing performances this season came in the first two weeks of the schedule. He still finished as the seventh-best fantasy RB in ESPN standard scoring thanks to a string of seven double-digit fantasy point outings in the second half of 2012.
Spiller tied a career high with 22 carries in Week 16 and topped it with 24 in Week 17, proving that he would be able to handle a more demanding workload than he’d gotten in the past. In the other 14 games, he averaged 11.7 carries per contest—but 2.6 catches per game, too.
Despite the imminent return of backfield mate Fred Jackson, Buffalo’s lightning-quick back is even more attractive in PPR formats. He should be a top-tier option in 2013 in all leagues even if his yards-per-carry average dips below the 6.0 he posted in 2012. Spiller’s ADP was 59.3.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Doug Martin in the first round, it was apparent that they wanted to entrust him with the football on a regular basis. When reports surfaced that he had leapfrogged incumbent LeGarrette Blount on the depth chart, fantasy owners should have taken notice and reacted accordingly.
But they didn’t.
As a result, Martin slipped to an ADP of 65.7. He responded by finishing the season second to Adrian Peterson in terms of fantasy points scored from the running back position. While it’s true that a massive chunk of his fantasy production came in a single game, Martin still has weekly upside in 2013 when he’s not playing the Oakland Raiders.
He should be running behind both of Tampa Bay’s preferred starting guards, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, when they return from the IR next year.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
The sixth-round rookie from Florida Atlantic was taken with an ADP of 101.3 in ESPN.com fantasy leagues, but transformed into one of fantasy football’s most consistent performers. Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan’s propensity to swap his primary rushers with little rhyme or reason in 2012 kept Alfred Morris’ fantasy stock down in the preseason.
335 carries, 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns later, Morris is a certified stud.
He took 20 or more carries in every game since the Redskins’ Week 10 bye, ran for over 100 yards in four of them and scored eight touchdowns. Week 17 isn’t important to all fantasy owners, but Morris’ regular-season performance to close 2012 was impressive.
Against a Dallas Cowboys team playing for a postseason berth, Morris hammered in 33 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He caught a mere 11 passes in 16 games, including five in his last three. If he runs as well—or better—as a sophomore, Morris may not even have to catch the ball to remain a top-five RB in standard formats.
His stock drops in PPR leagues, but not enough to make a 10th- or 11th-round keeper price (in 10-team leagues) prohibitive.
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