Heading into the 2012 season, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Fast forward one year and there is one certainty with Peterson, hes is my choice to win league MVP. Without question, he will be the first running back and likely first player off fantasy draft boards in 2013.
Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL in December 2011, defied the odds and nearly broke the single-season rushing record in 2012. He fell eight yards short of tying Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 rushing yards.
While he was good in the first six weeks of the season, Peterson was even (much) better in the final 10 games.
During that span, Peterson rushed for 1,598 yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to catching 20 passes for 88 yards and a score. He averaged 6.80 yards per carry and nearly 160 yards rushing per game during that stretch.
In addition, Peterson rushed for 100-plus yards in nine of those 10 final regular season games and had at least 199 rushing yards three times.
Even more remarkably, he did this with a low-powered passing game. Percy Harvin did not play in Weeks 10 through 17 and Christian Ponder threw for less than 200 yards in seven of the final 10 regular season games.
Year of the Rookie Running Back
A lot was made of the brilliant success had by the 2012 rookie crop of quarterbacks. There is no doubt that last year's rookie signal-callers were special.
With that said, so were the running backs.
There were nine different rookie running backs that rushed for 100-plus yards in a game for a total of 22 such games in 2012. In 2010 and 2011 combined, there were a total of 21 games of 100-plus rushing yards by rookie running backs.
Redskins running back Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,613 yards, which set the franchise single-season rushing record. In addition, he finished second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13) behind Houston's Arian Foster (15). Only Foster and Peterson had more carries than Morris (335).
Morris, one of the team's sixth-round picks, had 20-plus carries 10 times this season, including in his final seven regular season games. He had more than rushing 75 yards in all but two games this season.
Buccaneers running back Doug Martin started slowly, but he finished fifth in the NFL in rushing (1,454 yards). The only player to rush for more yards in Tampa Bay franchise history was James Wilder (1,544 yards in 1984). Not only did Martin finish fifth in rushing, but he also finished fifth among running backs in receiving yards (472) on 49 receptions.
The first running back selected in last year's NFL draft was Cleveland's Trent Richardson. He had a solid year (1,317 yards from scrimmage, 51 receptions and 12 touchdowns), but he dealt with a rib injury all season. Running backs coach Gary Brown expects a 1,600-year from Richardson in his second or third year.
The only other rookie with multiple 100-yard games was Philadelphia's Bryce Brown. He rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts, but then rushed for only 76 yards in his final four games on 40 carries.
With LeSean McCoy healthy, however, Brown won't have as many opportunities for huge games in 2013 like he had in his first two starts.
In his final four games, Giants rookie David Wilson had his only 100-yard game of the season. During that span, he carried the ball 43 times for 247 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and had two receptions for 26 yards and a score.
Asked if Wilson can be a "lead back" while appearing on WFAN 660-AM in New York in early January, Giants general manager Jerry Reese said (via ESPN New York): "I don’t think there’s any question that he can be that. It’s a two- and three-back league nowadays, but do I think he can be a lead dog? I do think that."
MASH Unit RBs: Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was drafted as an early-to-mid first-round pick before breaking his clavicle in the preseason. He ended his season the same way he started it as he broke his clavicle again in Week 15. He has now missed at least two games in each of his three seasons and a total of 10 games during that span.
In 12 games last year, Mathews averaged only 3.8 yards per carry and scored only one touchdown, both of which are career lows. Mathews will be cheap(er) on draft day in 2013, but many fantasy owners will be reluctant to gamble on the injury-prone back.
Speaking of injury-prone backs, Oakland's Darren McFadden missed four games this season and has yet to play in more than 13 games in any of his five NFL seasons. Unlike the previous two seasons, however, McFadden was not good on a per-game or per-carry basis.
McFadden, the fourth-overall pick by the Raiders in 2008, rushed for 707 yards on 216 carries, which is an average of a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. In the 20 games he played in 2010 and 2011, he averaged 5.27 yards per carry.
Some more notes on running backs:
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch finished third in the league in rushing with a career-high 1,590 rushing yards. It was Lynch's fourth 1,000-yard season and he now has back-to-back seasons with 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards despite getting only 207 carries. In addition, he finished with 43 receptions for 459 yards. Assuming a larger workload in 2013 under new coach Doug Marrone, Spiller should have a realistic shot at getting 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to be out until May after having foot surgery in late December. After missing only three of the first six games, MJD missed a total of 10 games this year.
Kansas City's Jamaal Charles had the fourth-highest rushing total (1,509 yards) this season, but he took an interesting path to get there. Charles had two games with more than 225 rushing yards and a total of seven games with at least 100 yards.
With that said, he also had three games with 10 yards or less. Coincidentally, both of his 200-yard games were preceded by one of those games of 10 or less yards.
Falcons running back Michael Turner was consistent last year. While his yardage totals were consistently low, he found the end zone in seven of his final nine games. The Burner finished with a five-year low of 50.0 yards per game and a career-low of 3.6 yards per carry, but he scored double-digit touchdowns in his fifth consecutive season.
Here are my way-too-early top 40 fantasy running backs for 2013 (standard scoring):
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
9. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
10. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
11. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
12. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
13. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
14. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
15. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
16. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
17. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
18. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
19. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
20. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
21. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
22. David Wilson, New York Giants
23. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
24. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
25. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions
26. Shonn Greene, New York Jets
27. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
28. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
29. Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
30. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
31. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
32. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
33. Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers
34. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
35. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
36. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
37. Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
38. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
39. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
40. Bilal Powell, New York Jets
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