Fantasy Football: Running Backs to Pick Before Chris Johnson in 2013

Art EddyContributor IIIMarch 2, 2013

Fantasy Football: Running Backs to Pick Before Chris Johnson in 2013

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    Last week, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson was on ESPN’s NFL Live, saying that he would not only pass last season’s rushing-yard total from the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, but he would break Eric Dickerson’s all-time single season rushing record as well.

    Just for the record, Johnson had 763 fewer rushing yards than Peterson last year.

    I know a player needs to have confidence, but in this case he should have kept his personal goals to himself—especially when the past three seasons have not seen him crack the 1,400-yard mark.

    There are seven months before the 2013 NFL season begins, but as fans of the game, we are thinking about pro football constantly. With that in mind, if you are thinking of keeping Johnson on your fantasy team or deciding whom to take in the fantasy draft, wait one minute. I am here to prevent you from making a mistake.

    Here are 10 running backs to take before selecting CJ2K.

10. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Coming back from an injury is always hard—unless you are Adrian Peterson—but McCoy is looking to bounce back from a tolerable 2012 season.

    He did miss a few games due to an injury, so his 2012 totals are not his typical output for a season. McCoy ran for 840 yards with two rushing touchdowns, which might seem not top-10 worthy, but he did catch three touchdowns and add 373 receiving yards.

    Now with newly hired head coach Chip Kelly, who is known for running a high-paced offense, McCoy should shine bright in 2013. At Oregon, Kelly opted to run instead of pass, which is another reason for picking up McCoy in the fantasy draft.

    For those wondering whether Bryce Brown will take snaps away from McCoy, just remember that Brown had some costly fumbles when he was playing for an injured McCoy.  

9. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

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    A lot has changed since the 2012 season ended for Jamaal Charles and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs. There are a new coach in Andy Reid and a new quarterback in Alex Smith.

    Reid, who is a fan of throwing the football, could hurt Jamaal’s stats, but the coach will have to rethink his offensive strategy since Alex Smith has not played in a pass-first offense.

    Reid was interviewed on SiriusXM NFL Radio and said about Charles,"We'll be able to utilize him just like the last staff did, they weren't afraid to hand him the ball" (h/t CBSSports.com).

    Charles ran for 1,509 yards with five touchdowns in 2012. He should see at least the same amount of rushing attempts since Smith used to rely on his running backs in San Francisco.  

8. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

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    2013 will be a great year for Trent Richardson. He would be higher on this list if he weren’t playing for Cleveland.

    The former Alabama rusher ran for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 2012. While his total yard production may have been unimpressive, his 11 touchdowns is a stat fantasy football owners love to see.

    When the Browns hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, he raved about Richardson’s talent. In an interview with Bill Livingston from The Plain Dealer, Turner said:

    I got a chance to see Trent first hand. He made an amazing, explosive run against us in October. It was a rainy day, and he's an impressive young player. I've been fortunate through most of my [coaching] stops to be with outstanding, great running backs, guys who have characteristics like Trent.

    Teams that will be playing against the Browns will have a year to prepare and will key in on Richardson. That is why he is ranked in the eighth spot here.

7. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins

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    In the beginning of last year’s season, Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said that he was going to use a rotation of three running backs. After a few games into 2012, Shanahan found a solid No. 1 starter in Alfred Morris. The rookie ran for 1,613 yards on 355 attempts and found the end zone 13 times.

    In 2013, expect the 24-year-old Morris to do most of the running, especially considering that the Redskins will want to protect quarterback Robert Griffin III after his ACL injury against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.

    Another factor that will help keep Morris healthy is that the Redskins usually substitute an alternate back on third down to keep Morris' legs fresh for the entire game.

6. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Doug Martin made a great impression during his rookie year as the featured back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    With all the comparisons to another player who wore No. 22, Emmitt Smith, Martin has a long way to go before his stats measure up to Smith’s numbers.

    Tampa Bay has the label of being a “young team,” especially in the offensive backfield. Martin and quarterback Josh Freeman have shown a great deal of potential, and veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson has taken some of the weight off their young shoulders.

    Martin had 319 rushing attempts, which produced 11 touchdowns and 1,454 yards in 2012. The rookie from Boise State proved his worth in the NFL and also in the fantasy ranks to be in the top 10.

    He put on a clinic against the Minnesota Vikings, running for 135 yards, scoring twice and posting 79 receiving yards.

5. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

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    Even with the Buffalo Bills coaching staff saying they are going with a tandem scheme of Spiller and Fred Jackson, Spiller is still the player to take from Buffalo.

    He led the team with 1,244 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. He also hauled in 459 receiving yards with eight touchdowns.

    If the Bills follow last year's trend, Jackson will start the game, but Spiller will find a way to show up on the highlight reel. While the Bills offense can frustrate a fantasy owner, the constant scoring threat looks to be Spiller.

4. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

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    Ray Rice and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens will enter the 2013 season with the biggest target on their backs.

    Still, the team looks to have most of the key offensives players back. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco proved his worth, particularly during the postseason run. With the added attention on Flacco, defenses will focus less on Rice and the running game.

    With fewer men in the box to attack the run, Rice can look forward to more open lanes. While he did dip a bit in 2012 with his rushing and total touchdowns, he still put up solid numbers for a starting fantasy back.

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

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    Two words: beast mode.

    No other phrase could better describe Marshawn Lynch’s running style. Last season, the hard-pounding Seattle Seahawks running back had a career-high 1,590 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns. In eight of the last 10 games of the regular season, Lynch ran for 100 yards or more.

    With Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have a decent shot at making it to next year’s Super Bowl. Lynch will be a focal point for the Seattle offense and should post at least 1,200 rushing yards next season.

2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Last year’s No. 1 overall pick in fantasy leagues, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is the main weapon on Houston’s offense.

    Foster made his way into the end zone 17 times with 15 rushing scores and two receiving touchdowns. Add in his 1,424 rushing yards, and you have a guy who will give your fantasy team solid numbers week in and week out.

    Foster did have some issues with his heart at the end of last season, which caused him to leave the game early in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings. He did not have surgery on his heart and seems to be in great shape for the upcoming season.

    Whether you have the first or second pick, choosing Foster is a smart way to go.

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

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    What will Adrian Peterson do for an encore?

    Last season, he had surgery to repair an ACL and MCL tear. When he came back, all he did was rush for 2,097 yards—just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record.

    He scored 12 rushing touchdowns and averaged six yards per carry. His performance on the field earned him the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards.

    This season will see Peterson arrive to training camp from yet another medical procedure—this time to repair a hernia.

    If his year is anything like last year, more and more players will be opting for surgery.

    Titans running back Chris Johnson's proclamation that he will break Dickerson’s record should keep the fire burning in Peterson. Hands down, he is the No. 1 running back pick for the 2013 fantasy season.