Fantasy Football 2013: Who Should You Draft in Every Major RB Battle?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystAugust 26, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013: Who Should You Draft in Every Major RB Battle?

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    The 2013 preseason is winding down, and before you know it the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos will be meeting in a game that actually counts.

    That also means that fantasy draft season is winding down. There's only one more big weekend of drafts to go, and those leagues who have waited have a big advantage over the early birds.

    Information.

    By waiting to hold their drafts these leagues not only won't be ambushed by preseason injuries—something Le'Veon Bell owners know a bit about—but they also have the advantage of knowing how the position battles around the NFL have shaken out.

    It's the battles at running back that hold the greatest sway in fantasy football, and here's a look at the winners and losers of those competitions.

Cincinnati Bengals: Giovani Bernard vs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    The Cincinnati Bengals already had a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the team used a second-round pick on North Carolina's Giovani Bernard in the hopes of adding some "pop" to the backfield.

    So far the youngster has played as advertised. Bernard scored a touchdown in each of the Bengals first two preseason games, and in last week's "dress rehearsal" Bernard out-rushed Green-Ellis 39 yards to five despite receiving only one more carry.

    Bernard's pass protection could use some work—which could cost him some playing time—but that's hardly a shock for a 5'9" rookie. The simple fact is that Bernard adds a dimension to the Cincinnati offense that the plodding Green-Ellis simply cannot provide.

    Bernard is easily the preferable draft option in Cincy, and if the youngster continues to dazzle, he is only going to receive a larger and larger share of the workload as the season wears on.

    Verdict: Bernard's the guy you want.

Green Bay Packers: DuJuan Harris vs. Eddie Lacy

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    After gaining 40 yards on eight carries against the St. Louis Rams in the second preseason game, it seemed just a matter of time before Eddie Lacy took over as the starter at running back for the Green Bay Packers.

    However, it was veteran DuJuan Harris, not Lacy, who drew the start for Green Bay against the Seattle Seahawks, carrying the ball three times for two yards and catching a 11-yard pass before exiting the game with a knee injury.

    Harris told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after the game that his knee, which also sidelined Harris for much of training camp, is "fine," but the door appears wide open for Lacy to take the top spot on the depth chart.

    Lacy struggled mightily running behind the Packers' second-team offensive line Friday, losing five yards on eight carries. However, it's hard to read too much into that with the starters off the field.

    It does temper expectations about Lacy's fantasy prospects a bit, but wise fantasy owners were already realistic about them given that the Packers haven't had a back gain 100 yards in a game in nearly three years.

    It doesn't change the fact that if you're going to draft a Green Bay running back, Lacy is the clear choice.

    Verdict: Lacy, but don't overpay

Denver Broncos: Ronnie Hillman vs. Montee Ball vs. Knowshon Moreno

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    The competition to start at running back for the Denver Broncos has had more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

    You know, back when those were still good.

    When Montee Ball was drafted in the second round in April, the prevailing school of thought was that he would ascend to the lead role sooner as opposed to later.

    However, Ball has struggled with blitz pickups, and given that head coach John Fox has never been known to start rookies, the thought of the head coach bucking that trend and getting Peyton Manning blasted in the process wasn't likely.

    That is, until second-year pro Ronnie Hillman did his best to fumble the lead job away.

    Hillman has now lost fumbles in each of the past two games, and while Fox told Kevin Patra of NFL.com that "I have not lost confidence in him whatsoever," Hillman's grip on the starting job is doing about as well as his grip on a football.

    Knowshon Moreno's presence only muddies the waters further. He doesn't have Ball's power or Hillman's explosiveness, but Moreno can hang onto the ball and pick up the blitz. That's enough for Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post, who thinks that Moreno should be the Week 1 starter for the Broncos.

    The uncertainty in the backfield makes drafting any Denver back as a fantasy RB3 a risky bet. We're all but certainly headed for a committee in which the lead dog could switch several times over the course of the season.

    With Ball the best bet for early-down and goal-line work the rookie has the highest fantasy value of the trio, followed by Hillman and Moreno.

    For now, anyway.

    Verdict:  All three backs have some value, but Ball has the most.

Miami Dolphins: Lamar Miller vs. Daniel Thomas

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    The general consensus entering the summer was that Lamar Miller would enter his second NFL season as the starting running back for the Miami Dolphins.

    However, much to the bewilderment of fantasy pundits, the Miami coaching staff continued to insist that Daniel Thomas was very much a part of the mix. In fact, as recently as a week ago Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reported that offensive coordinator Mike Sherman called the race "neck and neck."

    Miami's third preseason game was an excellent example of why that makes no sense.

    In the team's matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miller received eight carries. Thomas got seven.

    Miller gained 35 yards. Thomas gained three.

    Miller told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald that he felt like he won the job after Saturday's performance, and assuming that the Dolphins have any sense at all, that should be the case.

    Miller is a decent choice on draft day as a fantasy RB2, but the Dolphins' stubborn refusal to admit that Thomas is a lackluster back at best adds a bit of risk to selecting him.

    Verdict: Miller by a mile.

     

St. Louis Rams: Daryl Richardson vs. Isaiah Pead

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    Daryl Richardson has already been named the Week 1 starter at running back for the St. Louis Rams, but given that Isaiah Pead is suspended for the game that's hardly a surprise.

    What would be something of a surprise is if Pead ever gets the job.

    Pead was expected to offer Richardson stiff competition for the starting job in camp, but that competition never really materialized. Richardson has clearly outplayed Pead in practice and the preseason, although it was Pead who was the more effective back of the pair in the team's third preseason game.

    It's not out of the realm of reason that Pead could challenge Richardson again at some point during the season, but for now Richardson is fairly secure atop the depth chart.

    That makes a Richardson a solid fantasy "flex" play with RB2 upside, and the clear running back to target in the Gateway City.

    Verdict: Richardson, and it ain't close.

Pittsburgh Steelers: J. Dwyer vs. I. Redman vs. F. Jones vs. L. Stephens-Howling

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been known as a smashmouth football team, but after struggling to run the ball a season ago the team drafted Le'Veon Bell to be their lead back in 2013.

    However, Bell sprained his foot in the team's second preseason game. As the Associated Press (via USA Today) reports, Bell won't need surgery and believes he "should be back pretty quick."

    That's the same thing that Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars said last year. Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders said it the year before that.

    Both backs saw their seasons effectively ruined.

    That isn't to say that Bell's season will be as well. However, it's also not advisable to count on Bell contributing to fantasy squads any time soon.

    Or any Pittsburgh back for that matter.

    The Steelers traded for running back Felix Jones last week, with Jones and Jonathan Dwyer each getting eight carries in the team's third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling also figure to see work, although one of that quartet likely won't survive final roster cuts.

    In other words, it's a cloudy mess, and one best avoided altogether on draft day.

    Verdict: Pass on the whole mess.

     

New York Giants: David Wilson vs. Andre Brown

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    This final competition isn't really a competition at all.

    With his 84-yard touchdown run against the New York Jets Saturday, second-year back David Wilson showcased the explosiveness that has fantasy owners drooling over his upside in 2013.

    No one doubts that Wilson will start for the Giants.

    The $64 question is how many carries Wilson will lose to veteran Andre Brown.

    Brown's seven carries for 17 yards against the Jets wasn't overly impressive, but that doesn't alter the fact that he's a better pass blocker who should at least be in line for third-down and short yardage work.

    Wilson's easily the better fantasy option, although he carries with him more than a bit of risk. The speedster could finish the year as little more than a flex play. However, if he can hang onto the football and displays better aptitude as a pass protector, he could also finish the year in the top 10.

    He's that good.

    As to Brown, he's not without considerable value of his own. At worst Brown should be a serviceable fantasy RB3, but if Wilson falters the fourth-year pro could become a decent second starter.

    Verdict: Wilson's a risk/reward RB2, while Brown is an OK RB3.