By Matt Johnson

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1.) Adrian Peterson:

If you took a chance last year on Adrian Peterson’s knee, you won the lottery of all fantasy football drafts. Not only did Peterson come back strong as the top fantasy running back, he blew away his competition. AP nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season, falling just 8 yards shy of history. He was the crown for fantasy owners and led many to the championship with dominant performances every week. Now we look towards 2013, and things could still get better. Peterson was the lone threat for Minnesota last year after Percy Harvin went down, as QB Christian Ponder was hardly a threat to any defense. While Ponder remains the starter, Minnesota did bring in Greg Jennings from the Packers and drafted Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Jennings should give Ponder a true No.1 receiver while Patterson can play a similar type role to what Harvin provided. Adrian Peterson is the best fantasy player in the game, if you have the No.1 pick you take him. I think you can expect another 2,000+ yard season from All Day and 10-12 touchdowns.

2.) Doug Martin:

He may not like being called the “Muscle Hamster” but as long as Doug Martin continues to perform at a high level, he will keep being called that. After the Buccaneers traded up for Martin in the 2012 NFL Draft, he burst on to the scene with over 1,900 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Martin became the Bucs running game, making LeGarrette Blount an after thought on the team, as Martin compiled 368 touches as a rookie. What makes Martin’s season even more incredible is that he did it all despite losing All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks in October and Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph before the season even starter. Now both guards return healthy and ready to boost this offensive line. If Martin could rush for nearly 1,500 yards behind a makeshift offensive line, imagine what he can do behind two Pro Bowlers. Martin isn’t just a monster in the rushing attack though, he can make plays as a receiver as well. Martin was targeted 51 times last season which was third among all running backs. If Josh Freeman can perform at a high level consistently, Martin could catch 60+ receptions next season. I am a big believer in Doug Martin, and wouldn’t have any problem taking him with the 2nd Overall pick.

3.) Arian Foster:

How often is it going into a fantasy draft that a running back who had 17 touchdowns last season and over 1,600 yards gets overlooked, but that is happening with Arian Foster. While everyone wants to talk about names like C.J Spiller and Jamaal Charles as the new sexy names in fantasy football, Arian Foster is still a top three running back. Yes, Foster’s yards per carry average has dropped in each of his past three seasons. But we are still talking about a 26-year-old running back, who has a big enough frame to carry the load. Even if the Texans cut some of his carries this year from the 351 in 2012 to 300 this season, he still can rush for over 1,200 yards and add 12 touchdowns. Injuries are a small concern but this early in his career, I’m not worried about Arian Foster. He will always get you the touchdowns, which is what really matters in the end. You can feel safe drafting him with a Top 3 pick and getting your investment back during the season.

4.) Marshawn Lynch:

“Beast Mode” never sleeps and Marshawn Lynch showed everyone in 2012 why he is about as real as it gets. Lynch came into the season with concerns about legal issues, but a year later we are still waiting to see if Roger Goodell hands down a suspension. As long as Lynch is playing on Sunday though, you can count on him as a Top 5 running back. Seattle loves to run the ball and shove it down the throat of the defense, which has been a match made in heaven for Marshawn Lynch. He set a career high for rushing yards (1,590) and recorded 12 rushing touchdowns as well. What you have to love even more about Lynch is his consistency, with just five games last season under ten fantasy. Lynch also enjoyed watching the development of quarterback Russell Wilson who took the pressure off Lynch and used a good mixture of hand offs and play action in the second half of the season. Now with Percy Harvin in Seattle, this offense should be even more electrifying and Wilson should get more opportunities to throw the football. But Pete Carroll is still committed to running the football with the ground and pound attack, and as long as you see Lynch suiting up he is worth the 4th pick.

5.) C.J. Spiller:

I was very tempted to put C.J Spiller higher on this list, as he could end up being the second or third best fantasy running back this season. Spiller is lightning in a bottle, if you see him in the open field he is going to break one for a big play. After teammate Fred Jackson went down early in the year, C.J Spiller stepped up and finally showed everyone why the Bills drafted him so high. His yards per carry speaks for itself, an incredible 6 yards per touch on 200 carries last season is something many running backs dream of. Spiller managed to rush for over 1,200 yards despite being taken out during games as Chan Gailey tried to stick with a running back by committee. When Spiller was allowed on the field he dazzled fans and fantasy owners with his skills as a receiver. He caught 43 passes last season and turned those opportunities into 459 receiving yards. Now Spiller gets to play in a new offense with E.J Manuel at quarterback and former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone now the head man in Buffalo. The Bills new style of offense based off speed and the read-option. It is a match made in heaven for C.J Spiller and an opportunity he should take advantage of. There is always a risk with these big play running backs, they can run into off years and Fred Jackson will still get carries. If all goes well though, Spiller can be a Top 3 running back for you and you can still get him after the 5th pick.

6.) Jamaal Charles:

This is it, this will finally be the year Jamaal Charles is the elite fantasy running back we have all been waiting for. After tearing his ACL the previous season, Charles came back in 2012 feeling rejuvenated and ready to set the football world ablaze. Charles showed off his track speed and agility, rushing for over 1,500 yards last season, but his consistency varied from week to week. It wasn’t his fault though, Romeo Crennel was calling plays and I think we have all learned that isn’t good for anyone. There were four games last season where Charles received less than 12 carries, simply unacceptable when you have a player this talented. Fortunately, that is all a thing of the past with the arrival of Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Reid frustrated some fantasy owners last season, but LeSean McCoy battled injuries but Bryce Brown came on late. Reid still likes to make the running back a focal point of the offense, and Jamaal Charles is just what he is looking for. Charles will also have the chance this year to catch passes from a real quarterback, while Alex Smith may not have a big arm he makes smart decisions and will deliver perfect throws on screens and dump offs to Charles. I am telling you, this is the year Jamaal Charles steps up for your fantasy team and becomes your hero. No more single digit touchdown totals, he will break double digits and lift you to the promise land.

7.) Ray Rice:

This is very tough for me to write, I love Ray Rice and I have had him on at least one fantasy team every year for the past four years. This isn’t a knock on his ability, I still believe Rice could be the second best running back in the league. Unfortunately, the Ravens have started to make the running game into more of a committee role. Bernard Pierce starter picking up more carries and finished with 108 in his rookie season. Now this isn’t to say Rice will suddenly no longer be a 1,000 yard rusher or see a drop in touchdowns, but it hurts his fantasy value. Rice went from 12 touchdowns in 2011 to 9  in 2012, and saw 20 less targets last season. If there is any good news in all of this, it is that Cam Cameron is no longer calling plays. Ray Rice will still get 300 touches this season between carries and receptions, but Pierce will vulture some touchdowns and have 100 carries of his own. Ray Rice will likely go in the top 5, but I would wait until a few other running backs are off the board.

8.) LeSean McCoy:

It was a disappointing year in 2012 for LeSean McCoy and fantasy owners, and that’s even if you ignore his injuries. After compiling 20 touchdowns in 2011, McCoy took a drastic step back last season with only 5 touchdowns. McCoy also saw a drop in his yards per carry from 4.8 to 4.2. McCoy still rushed for 840 yards in 12 games, but struggled to ever get into a rhythm. It didn’t help that even when McCoy was healthy he ran behind a putrid offensive line and dealt with a revolving door at the quarterback position.  While McCoy sat out with injuries, rookie Bryce Brown stepped up with some big games. Brown found the end zone four times last season but also struggled holding on to the rack with four fumbles. McCoy can still be an elite running back, and the savior for his fantasy value may have arrived with Chip Kelly. The former Oregon coach helped turn the Ducks offense into the most electrifying, high scoring in the country with an option style attack. McCoy is still just 24 years old, and his speed and versatility as a runner and receiver make him the perfect piece for Kelly’s new offense. Still, he still will be sharing some carries with Bryce Brown and possibly even Felix Jones. LeSean McCoy should find his way back to being a Top 10 running back, but it is doubtful we will see anything close to the numbers he put up in 2011.

9.) Trent Richardson:

The 3rd Overall pick last year was overshadowed by Doug Martin, but Browns RB Trent Richardson still managed to still impress in only 15 games. While Richardson battled injuries throughout his rookie season, he still showed how balanced his game is and his punishing style. Despite playing on a Browns team that really struggled offensively, Richardson still scored 12 times last season with 11 of those coming on the ground. He only fell 50 yards short of 1,000 yards but if not for sitting out the last game of the season that goal easily could have been achieved. The Browns loved to hand the ball off to Richardson and just watch him lower his head and truck oncoming defenders. He carried the ball 267 times last season and helped out in the passing game, catching 51 passes for 367 yards. There are still some concerns with Richardson’s game and maybe none bigger than his durability. While he missed only one game last season, he battled through knee surgery, broken ribs and a bothersome ankle last season. Now he may miss OTA’s because of a strained shin muscle. While he may not miss any time, his bruising style of play is taking a toll and it may only be a matter of time before he goes down for a significant amount of time. We know Trent Richardson will be the Browns offense, and he does everything you could ask for from a running back. But the health and durability is a major concern, and the reason why I wouldn’t take him over the eight running backs above.

10.) Alfred Morris:

It finally happened Mike Shanahan actually stuck with one running back as his workhorse last season. It wasn’t Roy Helu or Evan Royster, but instead 6th round pick Alfred Morris. Even after Morris rushed for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns in his debut. Even after his impressive debut, and it was the beginning of what would end up being a tremendous season. Morris carried the ball 335 times this year and finished 2nd in rushing yards (1.613) and rushing touchdowns (13). As a 6th Round pick, Morris scored more fantasy points than guys like Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson. It was a remarkable season for the young rookie and he became a free agent gem for those that were lucky enough to pick him up when he was named starter. Yet, going into 2012 I am skeptical if Morris can repeat the success he had last season. The Redskins want to help protect RGIII more this year, and plan to keep him on the pocket and rely on his arm more. For all of the things Morris does well as a runner, he is ineffective in the passing attack. I expect a decline in his 335 carries, with some of those coming inside the 10-yard line. I still believe Alfred Morris is a Top-10 running back, and can be a Top 10 pick. I just can’t risk taking him ahead of more established names or players with more upside.

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Matt Johnson

I am a sports writer entering my first year in college. I am also a aspiring sports radio host.

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Readers Comments (2)

  1. avatar Darren Santa

    No big problem with the list, but what about Frank Gore. Check his stats YPA, yards against 8 man fronts, he has been top 5 the last 3 years.

     

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