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Fantasy Outlook for the Running Backs of the AFC North

Steve Shoup

By Guest Writer Josh Essig:


Bill Parcells said running backs come in all shapes and sizes.  That is the downright truth.  Truer words could not have been spoken.  They get the tough yards and take the necessary punishment to get their teams up the field.

They can be as large as Brandon Jacobs, or as small as Warrick Dunn.  Running backs, in my opinion, are where you can separate yourself from the competition and dominate your fantasy league.  Let’s break down the running backs of the AFC North.




Ray Rice, 1st Round, RB#1           Ray-Rice

This guy is a first rounder.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  He played all 16 games last year, and will remain as the focal point of this Ravens offense.  The line blocking in front of him is more than solid, and Rice found the end zone 9 times last year.  He also can make plays catching the ball out of the backfield.  Hey diddle diddle Ray Rice up the middle anyone?  Rice has all the skills to be a fantasy workhorse.  He’s a number one running back for your fantasy team.

His only weakness I would say is his ability to establish the running game against teams with good run defense.  In 2012, he had 7 games with 90 yards or more, and eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark 4 times.  With the loss of Anquan Boldin, I see Rice’s fantasy value only getting higher.

Bernard Pierce, 11th Round RB#3/4/Flex 

The second year running back out of Temple was a very nice compliment to Rice last year.  He received 108 attempts last year, and averaged almost 5 yards a carry.  He’s got some breakaway speed and again will be a nice compliment to Rice.   He’s still young and raw, but fresh.  Should anything happen to Rice from an injury standpoint, Pierce should be an excellent fill in.  He may even get some goal line carries if Rice is gassed.  Depending on how you like to draft your team, Pierce could be a good 3rd or 4th running back, and could also be a nice flex play on certain weeks.




Trent Richardson, 6th Round RB#2/3/Flex 

Coming off of a decent rookie campaign his value is probably the hardest to try and predict.  It all will rely on how Norv Turner chooses to run this offense.  Like I said in a previous article of mine (Offensive!), when Trent gets the rock, he can often make the most of his attempts.  He had 950 rushing yards last year, and 367 receiving yards, combining for 11 touchdowns.  I would say for now, knowing Turner’s style, Richardson might be used on the ground less.  However, if Turner happens to take the approach that I suggested (relying on Trent, while making Weeden a game manager), he could be valued higher.

Some people don’t like the preseason, but this will be a good predictor as to how Turner will utilize Richardson.  For now, take a conservative approach and draft him in the 6th round.  The silver lining if he loses attempts is that he will likely be a great safety net and check-down option for Weeden, and will likely see his receptions increase.

Montario Hardesty, 16th Round RB#4/5 

Like I said above, how Norv Turner chooses to run this offense will be a great predictor for Richardson and Hardesty.  He can be a great change of pace back, but he will not get nearly as many carries as he did last year.  This will be especially true, if Turner tries to turn Weeden into an aggressive downfield gunslinger.  He could be a decent handcuff if you draft Richardson, however the 16th round is pushing it.  I could see him being undrafted in many leagues.  




Benjarvus Green-Ellis, 7th Round RB#3/Flex 

Don’t get it twisted people, he’ll start the season at running back for the Bengals, but I’d be surprised if he finishes as the starting running back.  He’ll be of vital importance in the beginning for the Bengals, but he has younger, fresher talent looking over his shoulder.  He’s a good tough back, capable of getting tough yards his team needs.  The problem is, last year despite accumulating a career high in rushing attempts, he only found the end zone 6 times.  He only carried the ball 21 times inside the 10 yard line last year, and amassed only 6 touchdowns.  Not good enough for a running back that’s a starter.  Wait on Green-Ellis.  Don’t reach on him, as I anticipate his playing time will drop as the season goes on.

Giovoni Bernard, 9th Round RB#3/4/Flex 

The Bengals drafted Bernard to take over for Green-Ellis.  There might be little incentive on draft day to take him high, mostly because Green-Ellis is projected to be the week one starter.  However, I believe that when this kid gets his chance, he’ll make the most of it.  He’ll likely be used in the beginning of the season as a 3rd down compliment to Green-Ellis, large in part because of his ability to both run effectively between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield.  He put up some great numbers at UNC, and he could be one of the sleeper picks this year.  How far he goes will be dependent solely on his ability to seize opportunity.  If you draft this guy in the 9th round, and he eclipses Green-Ellis, you’ve got yourself a steal.  If he doesn’t, you still have a reliable backup and possible flex play.  Either way, monitor Bernard, as he is likely the future of the running game in Cincinnati.

Bernard Scott, Waiver Claim 

Scott is an experienced player, who has provided some contribution for the Bengals in the recent years, albeit in a limited capacity.  He will likely endure the same fate as the Law Firm, but this should be well before week 1.  I wouldn’t draft Scott, but he could be another player that fills out your roster in the final rounds of the draft.  The upside is that he is familiar with the system in Cincy.




Le’Veon Bell, 5th Round RB#1/#2 

Jonathon Dwyer and Isaac Redman had their chance.  They did not make the most of it, which is why Mike Tomlin drafted Bell in the second round.  In all likelihood, Bell will be in competition with Monty Ball for the most attempts for rookie running backs.  The kid is big, and despite his size, has a good burst.  I would highly anticipate Bell being the starting running back.  While he may not be the best rookie running back, he is playing in a system which utilizes running backs, and tries gets the very most out of them.

If you’re still not sold on Bell take this into consideration:  Over the past 3 seasons, the Steeler ran the ball the 5th most inside an opponent’s 3 yard line.  As long as the Steelers offense can drive the ball downfield, Bell should get a great number of opportunities to score.  Yardage probably won’t be his forte in the NFL, but he should get the majority of the attempts, and the starting nod. 

Isaac Redman, 14th Round RB#4/5 

While he’s dropped some weight with the intent to become a more explosive running back, opportunities are few and far between in this league.  He, like Dwyer, failed to establish himself when those opportunities arose last season.  He’ll probably stay with the Steelers for the remainder of the season as the number 2 running back, however his chances for serious contribution remain slim at best.

Should Bell get injured during the season, Redman might be a nice pick-up off waivers.  However, come draft day, he’ll be one of those last few guys you pick to fill out your roster.  The silver lining for him is that he is in his contract year, so if he gets a chance, he’ll probably be running for the dollars.  Sometimes that translates into good fantasy production.

Larod Stephens-Howling, Waiver Claim 

Feel free to take your chances on this guy, based on the limited time he got in Arizona.  He made the most of his opportunities last year in Arizona, even though the opportunity was limited.  He’s going into his 5th year in the NFL, and only got his chance last year after multiple injuries to the running back position.  I think he’s a waiver claim, however some might be willing to take the chance on him in the 16th round.  I see him having very limited opportunities for fantasy production, as he has been known as more of a special team’s player throughout his career.  Hey we all gotta eat right? 

Jonathon Dwyer, Waiver Claim 

There have been some trade talks regarding Dwyer now that the Steelers have acquired Larod Stephens-Howling.  Until this further materializes, Dwyer remains the outlier in a crowded backfield.  It’s hard to envision him being a starting back anywhere, or even a number 2.  However, we’ll have to wait and let time dictate this decision.  Right now Dwyer will probably be nothing more than a waiver claim for injury.

Hope this helps.  Check back next week as I’ll post my outlook for the wide receivers of the AFC North.



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