The 2013 NFL season is quickly approaching, and with it comes fantasy football, one of the most exciting recreational pastimes for fans everywhere.
In terms of figuring out which players to select at the top of a prospective mock draft, the running back position is a great place to start. After one of the best seasons by a back in league history, Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson should be a universal lock to go No. 1 overall.
However, considering that the position is becoming among the most volatile in football, it's a bit hard to predict beyond that.
Below are complete first-round projections for a 12-team fantasy draft, which should be mostly consumed by football's best ball-carriers.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Words almost don't do justice to what Peterson did in 2012, and it was even more impressive because of how frequently inept Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was under center for much of the season.
Peterson ran for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, and caught 40 passes for 217 yards and an additional score last year; he has a goal to run for 2,500 yards in 2013:
Whether that's possible or not depends on Ponder stretching the field a bit more than he has. If he's truly worth the No. 12 overall draft pick he was chosen with in 2011, the former Florida State signal-caller should take a next step—and open up even more running lanes for his prized back.
2. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As a rookie, the first-round pick out of Boise State took the league by storm last season, rushing for over 1,400 yards and 11 TDs while also snagging 49 passes for 472 yards and another touchdown.
That type of all-around threat should keep him on the field for all three downs on most series. Even though the team added Peyton Hillis as a free agent, it shouldn't negatively impact his fantasy value, per NFL.com expert Michael Fabiano:
Honestly, I don't think Peyton Hillis affects Doug Martin much at all. He's done NOTHING since that one huge year in Cleveland.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) July 23, 2013
Martin should only improve in his second year as a pro, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL. As long as Hillis doesn't take away his reps in short-yardage and goal-line situations, expect Martin to have a monster year.
3. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Three consecutive years of phenomenal production solidifies Foster's status as the third overall pick in this draft.
The presence of rookie DeAndre Hopkins on the outside along with Andre Johnson may cut down Foster's reception totals again, which have actually been declining for the past three seasons.
However, Foster remains one of the more dependable backs in the game, and there may not be a more reliable fantasy option week-to-week, as the NFL on ESPN points out:
Since 2010, Arian Foster has rushed for at least 100 yards in a league-high 22 games, 4 more than Adrian Peterson. #StatOfTheDay— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 1, 2013
Foster's pass-protecting ability should allow him to continue being a three-down back despite the presence of Ben Tate behind him on the depth chart.
4. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
Sure, Fred Jackson is still in the fold, but this could be the year that Spiller truly explodes for an All-Pro-caliber season.
The new offense being implemented by new head coach Doug Marrone and his staff places an emphasis on tempo and putting the ball in playmakers' hands quickly in favorable matchups. Spiller has the ability to catch the ball and rivals anyone in terms of pure speed at the running back position.
Even in his time share with Jackson in 2012, Spiller managed to run for 1,244 yards on six yards per carry and nab 43 receptions. Those numbers should only increase with a faster pace on offense and more touches.
5. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles also caught 35 passes in 2012 and ran so well despite Matt Cassel's ineptitude as a starting quarterback. Now that Andy Reid has taken over the reins as head coach and Alex Smith has been installed as the new QB, it could be a fruitful season for the 26-year-old speedy running back.
One thing Reid was successful with in Philadelphia was how the offense he oversaw utilized LeSean McCoy on screen passes. That's a facet of the game that Charles should become heavily involved in, especially since Smith doesn't have the strongest arm to stretch the field.
Combine that with a lack of any true threat to steal carries away, and there's no reason to discount Charles as a fantasy stud.
6. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
Similar to Martin, Year 2 could see an even bigger explosion from Morris than he already experienced as a rookie in spearheading the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack along with electric QB Robert Griffin III.
Since Griffin is coming off of a knee injury, it's likely that the Redskins will still focus on pounding the ball and running—but more prominently with Morris, at least in the early going.
Part of the reason Morris was successful was the threat of Griffin using his world-class speed to keep the ball on the zone read-option and take it to the house.
That may not be as big of a threat, but Morris has proven to be a decisive, one-cut runner who possesses a lot of power and a nose for the end zone, as he scored 13 TDs on the ground. I don't see much of a sophomore slump for Morris—if at all.
7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The only reason that Lynch is listed slightly lower than Morris here is because there are two backs in Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael who could potentially take touches away from "Beast Mode."
Plus, quarterback Russell Wilson is also a threat to run. Among the other top backs in this mock draft, Lynch is the one with the most mileage, having played in the NFL for seven years and six full seasons.
Age 30 is usually where running backs plateau, but Lynch has taken more punishment at the age of 27 than many of the others before him who declined simply because of his hard-nosed style of running.
That's not to say he'll have a down year, yet it does raise concern from a fantasy standpoint. Heck, he's still this high for a reason. It's just bold to say he'll match or exceed his career year in 2012.
8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Bucking the running back trend is a wise decision at No. 8 with Megatron on the board. Even though his rocket-armed QB Matthew Stafford regressed in 2012 from his prior breakout campaign, Johnson did not slow down at all.
The league's most freakishly athletic receiver set a record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,963 and had five touchdowns—and did so with broken fingers!
That definitely warranted an exclamatory punctuation, because it shows the type of toughness Johnson possesses and the consummate professional he is to endure that pain and still play down the stretch of a non-playoff season.
What is Johnson capable of his fingers are 100 percent? While the answer is unclear, it makes choosing him at eighth overall—or higher—an intriguing proposition.
9. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
The effect Chip Kelly's new offense will have on McCoy remains to be seen. Having said that, he should be a central part of what the Eagles do, especially with one of the team's top receivers in Jeremy Maclin going down with a torn ACL in training camp.
Bryce Brown was extremely impressive in flashes in 2012, though, so he may take away some touches for McCoy in the scoring zone due to his superior size if he keeps his runs between the tackles.
More likely than not, McCoy should experience a bounce-back season this year and get back closer to the player who led all running backs with 20 touchdowns in 2011.
10. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
When considering the fact that Richardson played nine games with broken ribs last season, it's reasonable to cut him some slack for his 3.6 yards-per-carry average.
The 2012 No. 3 overall draft pick was not helped by the often anemic passing offense the Browns deployed, yet still managed to set Browns rookie records for rushing yards with 950 and rushing TDs with 11.
Richardson caught 51 passes, too, and recently demonstrated to legendary RB Marshall Faulk an understanding of how to execute those plays:
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has helped the likes of Emmitt Smith, Frank Gore and LaDainian Tomlinson thrive in his system. Things shouldn't be much different considering Richardson's talent level, versatility and completeness.
11. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
CJ2K is shooting for another 2,000-yard season, according to his comments in a story by CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco.
The addition of former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and the selection of Alabama's Chance Warmack in the first round of this year's draft give Johnson better blocking up front right away as well.
Johnson's elite speed and continued production behind a putrid offensive line last year suggest that he can elevate his game and be a consistently dependable No. 1 fantasy option once again. If athletic QB Jake Locker starts to run the option with any success, that should only boost Johnson's effectiveness.
Using the pistol formation in practice is a great step in that direction, and also a nice change of pace to give Johnson and the rushing attack an added dimension.
12. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
A shaky blocking unit in front of Forte hurt his production most recently and cost his quarterback Jay Cutler several devastating hits.
That has been addressed, with first-round pick Kyle Long and the free-agent acquisition of All-Pro tackle Jermon Bushrod. The new regime headlined by head coach Marc Trestman brings a new offense to the Windy City that should have a heavy dose of Forte.
Zach Zaidman of the Chicago Bears Radio Network documented what new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer had to say regarding his initial impressions of Forte, along with Trestman's thoughts:
Aaron Kromer on #Bears RB Matt Forte: "You can't appreciate him until you work with him every day."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) July 31, 2013
"He's been outstanding," said #Bears head coach Marc Trestman of RB Matt Forte. "He's at the top of everything."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 1, 2013
"He's a blocker. He's a runner and he's a catcher," said #Bears coach Marc Trestman of RB Matt Forte. "So he's got a lot to do."— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 1, 2013
Kromer told the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam L. Jahns that the plan for the Bears offense is to get the ball to Forte "as much as possible." Since Forte can catch the ball so well and run with both speed and power, there's no reason to avoid drafting him at the end of Round 1.