Getting a top running back in fantasy football is important for your team's success. Almost all of the top running backs are selected within the first two rounds, so it's important to grab at least one quickly.
The fantasy season is still early, but it's still important to set your sights on players for the upcoming season. Here are my projected top 20 running backs for the upcoming fantasy year with extended analysis on players 1-15.
16. Frank Gore: He may be 30 years old, but he had his highest-yardage total last year since 2006. His upside is limited.
17. Demarco Murray: If Murray can stay healthy, he'll be a top fantasy back. His upside is high, but he comes with a risk.
18. Darren McFadden: McFadden stayed fairly healthy last season, but he struggled mightily. He averaged just 3.3 yards a carry and scored only three touchdowns in 12 games.
19. David Wilson: This young runner showed his explosiveness last season. With Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture, Wilson could potentially be a fantasy star in 2013.
20. Reggie Bush: Bush fits well with the Lions offense and was one of the better free-agent acquisitions this off-season.
Chris Johnson believes he will have another 2,000-yard season in 2013, but I’m not that optimistic. While there’s good reason to be cautious about CJ2K, there’s also some room for optimism.
Johnson is the starting back and finished as the 13th-best back in fantasy last year. Also, the Tennessee Titans improved their offensive line in the draft, which bodes well for him. We know Johnson still has his elite speed, since he had runs of 80, 83 and 94 yards in 2012.
Last year, Bill Belichick actually made Stevan Ridley the feature back and kept it that way for the entire season. As the feature back, Ridley ran for over 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in a productive season.
With Danny Woodhead, gone Shane Vereen is expected to become the third-down back and maybe a little more. Vereen is a dual-threat running back, and Belichick could go back to his days of using multiple backs.
Ridley is a non-factor in the receiving game. He only had three games last season where he caught a pass. Where he lacks in receptions, he makes up for in touchdowns. Ridley will likely have another double-digit touchdown season in 2013.
Maurice Jones-Drew is 28 years old recovering from a foot injury that kept him out most of last season. But that’s not enough to completely dismiss him. Just in 2011, he had over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.
Barring any setbacks, Jones-Drew will be ready for the 2013 season and will be the feature back for Jacksonville. He’s a risky pick, but he has great upside and could be a steal for your fantasy team this season.
Matt Forte is an interesting option in 2013 because he’s in a new offense. Marc Trestman is known as a pass-first guy, but that’s not bad news for Forte. Forte has proven in the past that he’s skilled at running routes and catching balls.
His 2012 season was a career low in receptions and receiving yards, but that’s why Lovie Smith was fired, and Trestman was brought in.
Forte has a chance of putting up over 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards if he can stay healthy. He is a tough runner who runs with quickness, making him a dangerous weapon. He has a lot of upside, but there are still some doubts about him.
Alfred Morris was a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners who were lucky enough to have him last season. He finished second in rushing yards with 1,613 and had 13 touchdowns to top off his rookie year.
The reason why I don’t like Morris more is because it’s unlikely for him to replicate his 2012 season. Only 12 players in NFL history have more than one 1,600-yard season in their career.
Also, Morris offers almost no support in the passing game. He had just 11 receptions for 77 yards the entire season in 2012.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Trent Richardson before the start of last season, and the rookie running back didn’t live up to it. Richardson averaged just 3.6 yards a carry and fell 50 yards short of a 1,000-yard season.
His rookie campaign wasn’t all bad, though. He did score 12 touchdowns and had 51 receptions, which is good for PPR leagues. Richardson is the focus of the Browns offense, and his numbers should increase from last year.
If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason not to believe that Richardson can be a top-10 back this year.
I usually like selecting young running backs in fantasy, but it’s hard not to be excited about Steven Jackson this year. Jackson has had eight straight 1,000-yard seasons in St. Louis and now he’s going to play for the Atlanta Falcons.
Over the last five seasons the Falcons have relied on Michael Turner. In each of those seasons Turner finished with at least 10 touchdowns, including 17 in 2008. The opportunity for Jackson to score will definitely be there in Atlanta.
Jackson also has a favorable schedule in 2013 with the Falcons. The Falcons have11 games against teams that surrendered 17-plus fantasy points to running backs last season.
Even more encouraging news is that Jackson is expected to play a big part in catching the ball out of the backfield.
Head coach Mike Smith said of Jackson in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com), “He’s a guy who had close to 100 catches in a season, so he’s a guy that we can use in the passing game. He’s not just a running back, he’s a receiving back as well.”
Last season was a career year for Marshawn Lynch, as he rushed for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. It was also the first time in Lynch’s career where he has had more than 300 carries. With the addition of Percy Harvin and the progression of Russell Wilson, Lynch may not have the same opportunities that he had last year.
With that being said, Lynch is still a major part of this offense and is due for another great season. He’s finished in the top five amongst running backs in fantasy scoring the last two seasons, but it’s hard to see him match the production he had last year. He’s also not used very much in the passing game.
Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens' rusher from Rutgers has put up over 1,600 yards from scrimmage in each of his last four seasons. Even though his 2012 numbers were down from his 2011 numbers, he’s still one of the best fantasy options at running back whom you’ll find.
Not only did Rice put up 1,600 scrimmage yards last season but it was also his second season in a row where he scored double-digit touchdowns.
Backup Bernard Pierce will be used more often to keep Rice healthy, but the sixth-year running back is still going to be the feature guy.
Last year was a disappointing one for Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. He rushed for 840 yards in 12 games and scored only two rushing touchdowns. He was coming off of a season where he scored 20 total touchdowns, so it was a surprising drop in production.
This year should be different for McCoy. The fifth-year running back should thrive in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo run-first offense. Even when he’s not running, McCoy is one of the best at catching balls out of the backfield. He has the third-most receptions by a back over the last three years, trailing only Darren Sproles and Ray Rice.
People have wanted C.J. Spiller to get more carries, and this year, it finally seems possible. In 2012, 14 running backs finished with more carries than Spiller, but less rushing yards.
With new head coach Doug Marrone, Spiller has said he expects more carries, according to an interview with NFL Network's "NFL Total Access." For a guy who averaged six yards per rush attempt a season ago, this is encouraging news. Spiller is only 25 years old, so he’s still very youthful.
Spiller is an even more attractive option in PPR leagues. Marrone was the offensive coordinator during Reggie Bush’s first three seasons in New Orleans, so we can expect to see Spiller involved in the passing game as well. There’s a lot to be excited about with Spiller in 2013.
Putting Arian Foster this low almost feels criminal, considering the kind of production he’s put out the last three seasons. He has finished in the top five in RB scoring every year since he’s been a starter.
Foster will still be the workhorse for Houston, but he may have a slightly reduced amount of touches. He has a league-leading 1,115 touches over the last three years and backup Ben Tate is a very capable back. Tate is in a contract year and is healthy after an injury-plagued 2012 season.
Where Foster earns his fantasy living is in the touchdown department. He had 17 total touchdowns last seasons, 12 in 2011 (playing in 13 games) and 18 in 2010. If he can continue to find the end zone, then Foster should finish in the top five again.
Last season was a strange one for Jamaal Charles. He had three games with 10 yards or less and two with 220 or more. His overall numbers, (1,509 rushing yards) look good, but he was very inconsistent in terms of production. A lot of that came from head coach Romeo Crennel who misused Charles all season long.
With Andy Reid taking over,Charles appears to be in for a monster season. Charles feels confident in this offense, and he should.
"This offense might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Charles told Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star. “I think this offense will get me open. They're going to throw me the ball more. I think I'll continue to stack Pro Bowls on Pro Bowls if I can stay healthy."
Doug Martin exploded last year during his rookie season rushing his way towards 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. Before the season started people were worried about incumbent running back LeGarrette Blount, but those thoughts quickly went away once they started playing.
Martin's situation is what makes him an attractive option in 2013. Behind Martin on the depth chart are veteran Brian Leonard and rookie Mike James. Neither player is expected to play a big role, which means Martin has all the opportunity in the world to succeed.
We saw his running skills on display last ,and there's no reason to think that he'll slow down. He may even improve on his impressive numbers from last season as he has a favorable schedule. Martin plays nine games against teams that gave up 17-plus fantasy points to backs last season.
Adrian Peterson accounted for over 40 percent of the Minnesota Vikings offense in 2012. His 2,097 rushing yards were second all time in a single season. It's highly unlikely Peterson reproduces his 2012 season, but he's still among the NFL elite. That's why Peterson should be the first pick off the draft board.
The biggest positive for Peterson is that he's an elite talent in a perfect position. He's on a team that finished 31st in passing yards per game, so you know he's going to get carries. He also doesn't have great depth behind him, so there's no competition at his position.