Today I am bringing you the first installation in a weekly fantasy football column. Each week I will rank a different position until I finally unveil the top 200 overall players in fantasy. We are starting things off with the most valuable position in fantasy football – running back. The top ball carriers will surely fly off the board quickly in your fantasy football drafts, so don’t be the guy frantically checking the waiver wire for running back help and finding little value. Take a running back early in your draft, especially this year. As the NFL has gone to more of an air attack, productive 3 down backs have gone to the waste side. I can’t reiterate enough the importance of having productive running backs on your fantasy team.
1. Adrian Peterson – “A.D.”, “A.P.”, “Purple Jesus”, it doesn’t matter what you call him. All that matters is that the best running back in the game today is back. 8 months following a gruesome ACL tear in 2012, Peterson not only returned to the Vikings starting lineup on opening day, but put together a season for the ages coming just 8 yards short of the NFL record for rushing yards in a season. Wednesday, Peterson proclaimed that he is, “pretty much 100%” following his injury 15 months ago. This is great news for fantasy owners. Even if Peterson is feeling 100% following the ACL tear, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect Peterson to top the superhuman numbers he put up last season. The loss of receiver Percy Harvin means Peterson will be keyed in on even more next season. Peterson is still the safe bet to lead the league in rushing but expecting him to break Eric Dickerson’s all time rushing yards record for a season is too lofty an expectation.
2. Arian Foster
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4. Jamaal Charles – Like Peterson, Charles tore his ACL in the 2011-2012 season. Charles obviously didn’t return from to injury to have the season that Peterson had but there is still plenty for Charles’ fantasy owners to be excited about. With the acquisition of Alex Smith, the Chiefs finally have a viable option at QB to prevent defenses from overloading the box against Charles. New Head Coach Andy Reid has also historically had success with running backs from his days in Philadelphia.
5. Doug Martin
6. LeSean McCoy – 2 words is all you need to hear for why you should draft LeSean McCoy this season: Chip Kelly. That’s right, the former Oregon coach who eclipsed video game like offensive numbers is now the Head Coach of the Eagles. Reports from Eagles camp are that the Eagles will look to play fast. Spread teams out and utilize their speed. Although Bryce Brown will compete with McCoy for carries, there is plenty of work to be had in the Eagles up-tempo system.
7. Ray Rice
8. CJ Spiller – After being slowed by nagging injuries and unable to get carries behind Fred Jackson, Spiller finally broke out in 2012, tying Peterson for the league lead in yards per carry at 6. The elusive back should expect to carry more of the load under new Head Coach Doug Marrone. Be aware that the bigger Jackson may take away some of Spiller’s goal-line carries.
9. Trent Richardson – There are a lot of things to like about Richardson. He’s only 21 years old and had 267 carries last season. If you are looking for a young back who is the focal point of his offense, Richardson is your guy. The problem with Richardson is the poor offense surrounding him. As a result, Richardson is a risk to get banged up from time to time because of the constant pounding he takes.
10. Alfred Morris
11. Matt Forte
12. DeMarco Murray – Murray is a high risk, high reward player. He’s got a quality offense surrounding him and he showcases an impressive combination of size and speed. The concern with Murray is that he has been slowed down by injuries, missing 9 games in the last 2 years. Murray is a guy who could make or break your fantasy season. Murray has the talent to be a top five running back and if he stays healthy he surely will. That’s still a big if.
13. Steven Jackson – Here’s a new face in a new place. The Ram’s all time leader in rushing yards should expect plenty of goal-line carries in the Falcons high powered offense. Even if Jackson loses carries here and there to scat back Jacquizz Rodgers, it will benefit Jackson to not be forced to shoulder the entire load like he did in St. Louis.
15. David Wilson – Used primarily as a backup, Wilson was impressive in his rookie season for the Giants, rushing for 5 yards per carry. With Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture in what became a crowded backfield last year for the Giants, Wilson will take advantage. There is plenty to like about Wilson. He’s got a quality offense around him and has track speed. Wilson needs to stay out of Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. That means no fumbles for the second-year back. Wilson is certainly a high upside player. He probably should quit the whole celebratory flip following a touchdown routine while he’s at it.
16. Stevan Ridley
17. Montee Ball – With 32 year old Willis McGahee absent from OTA’s and expected to be released, the Bronco’s prolific passing attack is expected to lean on the shoulders of Ball who they nabbed in the 2nd round in this year’s draft. Although there will certainly be a learning curve for Ball to adapt to the NFL, running backs tend to adjust quicker than other positions. Ball could be a steal as a 2nd running back on your team.
18. Frank Gore
19. Reggie Bush – Another new face in a new place, Bush should thrive with his speed on the turf at Ford Field. Bush’s ability to catch balls out of the backfield will fit perfectly in the Lions air attack.
20. Chris Ivory – The former Saint finally gets his opportunity to start after primarily being a 4th string running back in New Orleans. Ivory should expect plenty of touches in the Jets offense, especially after fellow Jets running back Mike Goodson was arrested and charged with possession of drugs and an illegal weapon. Ivory could be one of the few bright spots on an otherwise brutal Jets team. Even if much of Ivory’s production will come when the Jets are being blown out, the fantasy points count the same.
21. Chris Johnson
22. Darren Sproles
24. Darren McFadden – Talent wise Run DMC should be a top 10 fantasy running back. The problem is this physical specimen just can’t seem to stay on the field. McFadden has never played a full season in the NFL and has only played 19 games the past 2 seasons. If you haven’t given up on McFadden’s ability to stay healthy, he could be a buy low candidate.
25. Ryan Mathews – Everything said above about McFadden can be used to describe Mathews. The former first round pick of the Chargers has been productive when healthy but has struggled to remain on the field.
26. Vick Ballard
27. Eddie Lacy
28. Bryce Brown – All LeSean McCoy owners should certainly pickup Brown as a handcuff. Brown however, may be more than just a backup running back. There will be plenty of carries to go around in the Eagles offense and Brown could still see his fair share of carries. Keep a close on the Eagles running back situation and how it develops. Head Coach Chip Kelly used a multitude of backs when he was coach of Oregon.
29. Le’Veon Bell
30. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
31. Giovani Bernard – The rookie out of North Carolina may start the season backing up BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati, but don’t be surprised if Bernard takes over the first back duties by midseason. Bernard is a homerun threat with blazing speed. His talent level is far superior to that of Green-Ellis and I expect him to be given opportunities to produce.
32. Mark Ingram
33. Bernard Pierce
34. Jonathon Stewart
35. Mikel Leshoure
36. Isiah Pead
37. Shane Vereen
38. Rashard Mendenhall
39. Fred Jackson – The Bills are expected to start CJ Spiller over Jackson but all Spiller owners should have Jackson stowed away on their bench in case Spiller gets injured.
40. Ben Tate
41. Darryl Richardson
42. Jacquizz Rodgers
43. Marcel Reece
44. Robert Turbin
45. Jonathan Franklin – The Packers selected both Franklin and former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in this year’s NFL Draft. Most assume that Lacy will get the majority of the carries in the Packers offense but don’t be surprised if Franklin and Lacy split carries. This is another situation to keep a close eye on in Training Camp and throughout the Preseason.
46. Ryan Williams
47. Jonathon Dwyer
48. Shonn Greene
49. Michael Bush
50. LaMichael James – James impressed in a limited sample size as a rookie last season. He’s another big play threat with blazing speed. The 49ers backfield is a bit crowded with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. Don’t forget that quarterback Colin Kaepernick will take away carries from Niners backs as well.
Check back next week, as I will be ranking the wide receivers. I will discuss sleepers and receivers who could be in for big years this coming season.