If you want to win your fantasy league, you have to stay ahead of the game. Winning fantasy football championships is a year-round process, really, and not just a seasonal hobby.
That said, over sixth months remain until the season kicks off. Maybe it's a bit too early to be looking at which players should be ranked where... Hogwash!!!
Just because the NFL Draft is still 50 days away and we don't even know where most of the free agents will end up doesn't mean we should be deterred from learning as much as we can about the upcoming season.
For my first edition, I decided not to put any rookie running back potentials in the rankings as it would be too difficult to assess their value without having the slightest idea where they might be playing. However, I DO try and keep in mind all the possibilities when ranking the free agents.
Either way, there will be many more installments of player rankings in the coming months, so enjoy this first iteration and let me know what you think.
* - Denotes a player set to hit free agency this offseason.
50. Beanie Wells (ARI)
49. Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) *
Who has the best chance of challenging Adrian Peterson for the top Fantasy RB in 2013?
48. Pierre Thomas (NO)
47. Robert Turbin (SEA)
46. Shane Vereen (NE)
45. Michael Bush (CHI)
44. LaMichael James (SF)
43. DuJuan Harris (GB)
42. Bryce Brown (PHI)
41. Ronnie Hillman (DEN)
40. Isaiah Pead (STL)
39. Jacquizz Rodgers (ATL)
38. Fred Jackson (BUF)
37. Ben Tate (HOU)
36. Daryl Richardson (STL)
35. Bernard Pierce (BAL)
34. Mark Ingram (NO)
33. Ahmad Bradshaw (N/A)
32. DeAngelo Williams (CAR)
31. Andre Brown (NYG)
30. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN)
29. Jonathan Stewart (CAR)
28. Bilal Powell (NYJ)
27. Ryan Williams (ARI)
26. Willis McGahee (DEN)
25. Reggie Bush (MIA) *
24. Vick Ballard (IND)
23. Darren Sproles (NO)
22. Ryan Mathews (SD)
21. Lamar Miller (MIA)
20. David Wilson (NYG)
David Wilson is a tough guy to gauge right now, but more so because of the situation he is in than his outright abilities.
Wilson clearly showed how explosive of a running back he could be towards the end of last season and if I were doing these rankings based purely on potential, Wilson would certainly be ranked higher than this. However, there are other factors to consider.
First off, Tom Coughlin is his coach. Coughlin has no problem benching players at the first sign of trouble, which could be a big thing to watch for with the youngster. This means his touchdown celebrations (i.e. – the flip) have got to go for good, his ball security has to be a thing of the past, his pass-protection needs to improve immensely, and his knowledge of the playbook must be spot-on. If any of these things come into play, Coughlin will have no problem turning to another factor for Wilson owners to consider: Andre Brown.
It should not be forgotten how well Brown played when given the chance last season. Not only that, but Brown is also much better in pass protection than Wilson and will continue to hold onto the goal-line duties regardless.
The third factor to consider hasn’t yet come to fruition, but it’s still a possibility the Giants bring back Ahmad Bradshaw. If all these questions are answered by the start of the season, then Wilson could very well shoot up the rankings for me…or possibly even drop a bit, depending on the outcomes.
19. Mikel Leshoure (DET)
Leshoure is one of a handful of running backs with little production, but tremendous upside heading into the season.
Most people don’t realize what a major feather in the cap it was for Mikel to have performed the way he did in 2012 coming back from a torn Achilles. It is no unforgivable fault, either, as his triumphant return was overshadowed by what Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles were able to do in coming back from their own season-ending injuries.
That said, it’s true that Mikel looked somewhat sluggish in 2012, but now that he’s two years removed from his surgery, I expect him to be a lot more explosive and show more quickness this season.
He’ll obviously continue to be the Lions goal-line back in 2013 and could easily hit the double-digit mark in that category. Where the big-time upside comes in is in the passing game, as Leshoure surprisingly showed enough pass-catching skills to possibly reel in 40-50 catches this year.
Watch out for this kid.
18. Steven Jackson (STL) *
Where Jackson will be ranked in future articles depends heavily on where he ends up in the next couple of weeks.
Though he’s decided to void his $7-million player option with the Rams, there is still a chance he re-signs with them, as they are the only team he has played for in his nine-year career. It’s doubtful to happen, though, seeing as how Jackson has stated that he wants to end his career with a Super Bowl contender.
The most likely scenario is him latching on with the Atlanta Falcons.
If he does, it would be the perfect scenario for both S-Jax and his fantasy stock. Jackson is still enough of a battering ram to devour the 10-plus touchdowns left on the table by the release of Michael Turner and wouldn’t have to come off the field as much as Turner due to his ability as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
If this marriage goes down as expected, I could easily see Jackson moving up to about the 12-slot.
Other possible landing spots could be Green Bay or Arizona, with Green Bay being the more likely (and intriguing) of the two.
17. Frank Gore (SF)
Despite all the critics' ill-fated prognostications before the start of last season, Frank the Tank turned in one of the best years of his career and ended up just outside the top-10 fantasy RBs for the season.
Widely thought to be injury-prone, he has also now stayed healthy for two straight seasons after doing so just once in his first six.
Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers figured out that they need him to be healthy year-round in order to win the Super Bowl, so they’ve tapered back his in-season usage in order to keep him strong down the stretch. This, of course, isn’t the best thing for fantasy owners, but it certainly works for San Fran.
That said, his lessened workload may be partially negated by the ‘Niners new offense, with their commitment to Colin Kaepernick under center.
The holes along the defensive front develop a little quicker and open a little wider with defenses having to account for Kaepernick’s own running abilities, so Gore will have plenty of room to make the most of the carries he does receive in 2013.
All in all, he’s a steady RB2, but lacks the upside of the players listed ahead of him in his year-30 season.
16. Chris Johnson (TEN)
CJ2K had a nice mid-season streak in 2012 that had half his fantasy owners patting themselves on the back for holding onto him, while the other half was cursing the Gods for trading him away.
In the end, nobody won and nobody lost, as every owner had to suffer the pain of watching him fizzle down the stretch, with just one performance of over 80 rushing yards following the team's Week 11 bye that immediately followed a soon-forgotten five-week stretch of 652 yards.
As opposed to the weekly fantasy onslaught during his insane 2009 campaign, Johnson is now more of a feast-or-famine player, though one that still carries the enticement of a tasty upside.
Without a legitimate backup, CJ28 will continue to be one of the top-10 RBs in touches next season, so owners can at least count on him for a weekly workload.
However, unless his offensive line improves dramatically over the summer, it will be tough to legitimize the weekly headache he has become.
For example, after running for 45 yards on his first 33 carries of 2012, Johnson turned in a 141-day to Houston. Conversely, CJ2K rushed for 122 yards Week 15 against the Jets, only to combine for 84 yards on the ground in Weeks 16 and 17, frustrating many owners in their respective league championships.
At the very least, he’s a mid-range RB2, but I’m interested to see how things shake out in Tennessee before committing to his position here.
15. DeMarco Murray (DAL)
When DeMarco Murray is healthy, he’s pretty much everything you could want in a fantasy running back. He runs hard every play, he’s big, he’s fast, he catches the ball well and is entrenched as the workhorse in a high-scoring offense.
His lack of touchdowns is a bit disconcerting, however, as he only has six in his first 23 NFL games. He also has the dreaded “injury-prone” tag stapled to his back after missing nine of his first 32 games.
The upside is certainly there, but if the Cowboys offensive line doesn’t improve this offseason, I’m not sure I’d take the chance on him as more than a middling RB2.
14. Matt Forte (CHI)
Since his amazing 2008 rookie campaign, no one has ever doubted the talent within Matt Forte.
However, he hasn’t been able to match his rookie numbers of 1,715 total yards, 63 receptions and 12 TDs in any of the four years since.
One of the biggest knocks on him has been his ineptitude in the red zone, a rightful critique the Bears front office and coaching staff solved with the signing of Michael Bush before the 2012 season.
On the other hand, his upside is a bit higher this season with the Bears hiring of head coach Marc Trestman and his high-flying offensive mindset.
There’s no question Forte is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, so it’s possible he could put up some high-end numbers in the Bears new scheme—minus the touchdowns, of course.
13. Darren McFadden (OAK)
Run DNP is another big wildcard in the rankings this offseason. The pros and cons are as varied and unpredictable as they come, so it’s tough to put him any higher or lower than this right now.
First off, the biggest negative is that the injury bug hit McFadden square in the face again last season (no really, it’s true!), so he has yet to play in more than 13 games during any season in his five-year career thus far. BIG-time negative.
The second bummer is that he had a terrible season regardless, rushing for only 707 yards (on a measly 3.3 YPC) and scoring three touchdowns in 12 games.
However, there are a couple of positives as well. McFadden is in a contract year, so you know he’ll be doing everything he can to score a fat one. Another positive is that the Raiders got rid of crappy OC Greg Knapp and his crappy zone-blocking scheme and replaced them with OC Greg Olson and a much more suitable power-running offense.
There are obvious red flags out there, but Run DNP has as good of a skill set and upside as most any RB in the league.
12. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC)
MJD might be the toughest running back to make a call on for this upcoming season. Everything that could go wrong for him last year did, which I’m sure irked more than just a few fantasy owners out there.
The bright side is that most of it can either be corrected or disregarded heading into 2013.
First, he’s promised there will be NO holdout this season, so any worry about off-the-field distractions or missed games thereof are moot.
Second, he should be close to completely recovered from his “mid-foot fracture” (MJD claims his injury turned out to be mid-foot and not of the more serious Lisfranc variety everyone thought it was) by the time teams get into full swing over the summer, so he should be okay health-wise as well.
He’s only 28 so, even though he put a lot of wear on his tires from 2009-2011; he got enough rest last season where it shouldn’t make a difference.
He’ll be the bell-cow for the Jags this season, but there are two questions that leave me from ranking him higher just yet.
How will he adapt to running in new Jaguars OC Jedd Fisch’s zone-blocking scheme when he’s played in a power-running scheme his whole career?
How would development in the Jaguars wide receivers corps of Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson affect his overall touches and role in the offense?
His ceiling is as high as the top-5, but I’m still going to be cautious with him until I know a little more.
11. Stevan Ridley (NE)
Ridley was everything I thought he would be in that Patriots offense last year…and maybe even a bit more.
Yes, he was a bit inconsistent, putting up seven single-digit fantasy performances, but his 12 rushing touchdowns while hitting paydirt in 10 of 16 games was no shock at all seeing how New England has been in the top-6 in rushing touchdowns for seven years straight now.
I can’t see much changing for the Brady Bunch in 2013, so I don’t expect much to change for Ridley, either.
Another 1,200-plus rushing yards, double-digit touchdowns and minimal work in the passing game should land him right around this spot again this season.
The Top 10 Running Backs for 2013
10. Alfred Morris (WAS)
What Alfred Morris can do this year depends on whether or not Robert Griffin III can stay off the PUP list and make it back for the Redskins first game.
Morris is a badass, no doubt about it, but I believe at least some of his lofty stats last season were a byproduct of the threat of RGIII running out of the pistol offense and couldn’t quite be duplicated with Kirk Cousins at the helm for the first six games while Griffin recovers.
So basically, if RGIII starts in Week 1, Morris will have every chance to be a top-10 fantasy back and possibly even top-5.
If not, he’ll still be a top-10 candidate, but it won’t be with the same guarantee as it would be with Griffin in there for the full year.
9. Ray Rice (BAL)
I love Ray Rice as much as the next guy, but things are changing a bit over there in Baltimore and I’m not entirely sure Rice keeps up his past fantasy success because of it.
I still can’t see him falling out of the top 10, as his versatility is just too high to disregard, especially in PPR's. However, I’m pretty sure the Ravens just gave Joe Flacco $120.6 million for a reason and it wasn’t to watch him hand the ball off for the next six years.
Other than the Ravens trending towards more of a pass-based offense, Rice will also have to fight off Bernard Pierce for touches each week.
I have no doubt Rice will still get the higher workload, but Pierce looks like he may be something special and I believe it will become harder and harder for John Harbaugh to keep him off the field.
8. Jamaal Charles (KC)
Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller are pretty much the same person (fantasy-wise, of course).
Both are explosive as able to take it to the house in a wink, yet both have trouble finding the end zone on a consistent basis.
New Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid will likely take Charles’ carries down to around 250 (which would still be more than many of his peers) from 285 last season, but where he loses in the run game, he’ll gain in the passing game, as his receptions out of the backfield will undoubtedly go up as well.
If Reid ends up getting Jamaal to buy into LeSean McCoy’s role from a couple of years ago, watch out.
The upside is huge here for the Ostrich.
7. LeSean McCoy (PHI)
I’ve always been a proponent of having a short memory when it comes to fantasy football, as there are a million different factors to take into account from year to year. However, in this case, I feel the need to throw out a reminder of just how good/dominant LeSean McCoy was in 2011.
I’m not saying he’ll be able to hit the 20 touchdown mark again but, with the changes currently going on in Philly, it is not unrealistic.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly will make McCoy the focal point of his offense, an innovative scheme that gets his running back a high volume of touches.
Bryce Brown may siphon a few touchdowns and carries along the way, but McCoy will have every opportunity to get back into the top-10 fantasy RBs this season.
6. C.J. Spiller (BUF)
The only reason I don’t have C.J. and his 6.0 yards per carry up higher than this is because he hasn’t caught fantasy football’s sacred Touchdown Fever just yet.
All five guys ranked ahead of him can put up double-digit TDs in their sleep, which is something Spiller will need to show me he can do before I put faith in it.
That said, the kid just might be the most explosive RB in the league right now, so it’s entirely possible he turns in his own version of a CJ2K performance this season.
With a run-first head coach in Doug Marrone on board and the 32-year old Fred Jackson openly willing to take a backseat this year, the sky is the limit for Spiller.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he climbed into my top-5 later on in the offseason.
5. Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
The best thing “Fugly McSkittles” has going for him in 2013 is the fact that young, talented quarterback Russell Wilson found his niche in the second half of his rookie season, winging it around for a season-high 385 yards in the team's final game.
Wilson’s dual threat of being able to both run and pass the ball effectively opens running lanes for Lynch that he used to have to make on his own—a little tidbit I’m sure Beast Mode is thankful for considering the abuse his body has taken over the last few years.
It was right around the midway point of 2012 when Wilson figured out what he could do in this league, which also happened to be the time when Marshawn turned it on as well, with 11 of his 13 touchdowns coming after Week 7.
In the first half of 2012, Lynch had 757 rushing yards (4.76 YPC) and three touchdowns. In the second half, he put up 833 rushing yards (5.33 YPC) and nine touchdowns, yet did it on fewer carries.
With the entire Seahawks team finding their identity during that second half of 2012, I doubt they change much at all this season… which means Lynch should dominate as a top-5 fantasy back yet again.
4. Arian Foster (HOU)
It isn’t easy putting the most dominant fantasy running back of the last three seasons down here in the No. 4 slot, but I can’t deny the unfavorable trends I’ve been seeing in the Samurai of late.
First of all, over the last three seasons, Foster has 99 more carries than the next guy on the list even though he’s missed three games during that time. He’s compiled 371.7 touches a year since 2010 (1,115 total) and if the last half of 2012 is any indication, the workload has taken its toll.
The Texans took a gamble and basically ran their horse to near-death during the first half of last year, a move I’m sure they regret as it ultimately bit them square in the butt down the stretch.
Because of this, one of two things is going to happen with Foster in 2013.
First, Houston can ignore the red flags of yesteryear and try getting Arian 400 touches again. If they do, they could get lucky, but more than likely either the same thing will happen again...or even worse, Foster may go down with a season-ending injury.
Their second choice is that they heed their lesson and taper back on Foster’s touches, splitting for reps with backup Ben Tate, giving Foster a much more manageable load.
In the end, I believe they’ll choose door No. 2 and pare back on Arian’s usage but, whichever way they go, the result could very well leave Foster outside the top-3 fantasy backs in 2013.
3. Doug Martin (TB)
Where it was impossible for T-Rich to live up to the Purple Jesus comparisons, Doug Martin didn’t seem to have a problem living up to the player he was likened to: Ray Rice.
It took about a month or so for him to get rolling, but once the Muscle Hamster got the wheel spinning, there was just no stopping him.
It certainly didn’t hurt his confidence for the rest of the season and beyond when, in Week 9 at Oakland, Martin put up 272 total yards and four touchdowns for the fourth-best fantasy performance in NFL history.
It’s highly doubtful he has another game like that in 2013 but, if the Buccaneers get him another 350-plus touches like they did last year, he should end up as a top-3 fantasy back once again.
Throw in a healthy offensive line (unlike 2012) and the kid could turn into fantasy gold.
2. Trent Richardson (CLE)
Being compared to AP28 before running your first NFL play can heave a lot of weight upon your shoulders. Considering the expectation, I’d say Richardson did pretty darn well in his rookie campaign.
His 1,317 total yards and 12 touchdowns were impressive for playing in only 14-and-change games, though his 3.6 YPC could improve a bit.
And it will.
Cleveland has been doing some really nice things with their team lately so in time, possibly as soon as this year, defenses won’t be able to stack the box against their franchise RB.
Add in a clean bill of health after dealing with various injuries throughout 2012 and Richardson should become the fantasy stud we all thought he’d be, perhaps even living up to my nickname for him: The Second Coming).
Oh, and having the king of the single-back power-running game, Norv Turner, in town certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
1. Adrian Peterson (MIN)
Adrian Peterson's 2,000-plus yard rushing season in 2012 was beyond comprehension, especially considering the amount of question marks he had coming into the season.
The only question he’ll face heading into 2013 is whether or not he can equal (or top) his production from last season.
I learned a long time ago not to doubt this man and I’m not about to start doing it now.
Players who didn't quite make the cut... yet:
Knowshon Moreno (DEN), Jonathan Dwyer (PIT), Shonn Greene (NYJ), Michael Turner (N/A), Marcel Reece (OAK), Danny Woodhead (NE) *, Joique Bell (DET), Brandon Bolden (NE), Mike Tolbert (CAR), Alex Green (GB)
The rankings above will undoubtedly turned inside out and on its head over the next 5-6 months, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't bitch and moan or simply express your opinion over who should be ranked where and why.
In fact, I encourage the input (no matter the type), so leave your comments below
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