Fantasy Football: Which Running Backs Will Improve in 2013?
By Guest Writer Matt Campion:
Much like a quarterback benefits from the addition of a top receiver, a running back benefits from the addition of a top offensive lineman. Let’s take a look at which running backs will show the most improvement in 2013 because of improved blocking.
1. Chris Johnson:
The addition of Shonn Greene may scare some owners off, especially when paired with Chris Johnson’s recent struggles. Realistically, Johnson is still the feature back in this offense no matter how he performs due to his high ceiling (Johnson is tied for the fastest 40 yard dash time at the NFL combine and a former 2000 yard rusher). Shonn Greene seems destined to remind Tennessee fans of LenDale White. They are both “power backs” without the power.
The Titans perhaps improved their line more than any team in the offseason by adding two new starters at guard. Perennially underrated tackle Michael Roos will finally have help next to him in the form of ex-Bill Andy Levitre. Levitre was the best guard of the free agency class and was rewarded by being signed to a six-year, $46.8 million contract. The projected starter at right guard is Chance Warmack, the rookie who was drafted 10th overall and won multiple national championships at Alabama. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay considers Warmack the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson in 2001. This qualifies Warmack to replace the void left by the future Hall of Famer’s retirement.
2. Doug Martin:
The unquestioned feature back will benefit from the lack of competition and return of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Believe it or not, Doug Martin’s breakout rookie season occurred without the help of the team’s two best run blockers. Nicks was placed on injured reserve in October, ending his season prematurely in the first year of his five-year $47.5 million contract.
Sadly, the two months of service from Nicks were more than they got from the other starting guard, Davin Joseph. After making the Pro Bowl for the second time in 2011, Joseph was ruled out for the 2012 season following an injury in the preseason. Joseph is known primarily for his talent in run blocking, so look for his presence to greatly assist Doug Martin. The teammates still have yet to play a regular season game together.
3. Matt Forte:
Matt Forte has been great at picking up yards without receiving aid from his abysmal offensive line. The Bears decided they not only want to try to keep Jay Cutler from getting hit on every snap, but they want to give Forte and Michael Bush a little more running room. Tackle Jermon Bushrod is in his prime and is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. He will likely start at left tackle next to rookie guard Kyle Long. Long was drafted in the first round and is the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long. If anything, the Bears will have more success running to the left than in previous years.
4. Rams Running Backs:
Whoever wins the battle between Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will experience a quality blocker in Jake Long that the Rams haven’t seen since the days of Orlando Pace. Drafting tackle Jason Smith second overall in 2009 was clearly a disaster that they are still recovering from, but it appears the franchise is finally heading in the right direction by adding a proven veteran to help an offense that has been anemic in recent history.
Additionally, the offense should have more firepower after selecting the first receiver in this year’s draft, along with another wideout in the third round. Defenses will be forced to watch for the deep ball while the rookies stretch the field. This is an element that hasn’t existed in the Rams offense in years. Instead they put immense pressure on former feature back Steven Jackson, but you shouldn’t feel too bad for him because…
4. Steven Jackson:
He finally plays for a real offense in Atlanta! Unfortunately, it comes a bit late in his career. Despite the fact that he will be 30 years old when the season begins and statistics show a major drop-off in running back productivity at age 30, he is the unquestioned starter for a very potent offense. This alone should command a reasonably high draft pick in most fantasy leagues.
As stated before, Jackson never got any help with the Rams. Playing with a better offensive line and passing game than ever before, look for defenses to ease up the pressure on him. Jackson has at times looked like a definite top five running back in the league, and it will be nice to see what he can do on a team that actually has a chance at winning.
Ronnie Brown/Jackie Battle: The Chargers run game should improve in 2013 along with their offense as a whole. 2012 was a new low for this unit, and the organization responded by drafting tackle D. J. Fluker 11th overall as well as signing Max Starks and King Dunlap. Losing starting guard Louis Vasquez to the division rival Broncos will certainly hurt, but he was much more skilled at keeping the quarterback upright than creating running lanes.
LeSean McCoy: Tackle Lane Johnson will be an immediate improvement. Chip Kelly’s system gets the most out of his running backs.
Jamaal Charles: First overall pick Eric Fisher will be a tremendous upgrade. Alex Smith will allow the Chiefs to run a more efficient offense, taking some defensive pressure off Charles.
Rashard Mendenhall/Ryan Williams: One of these backs is certain to be injured based of their recent struggles to stay healthy. It might be worth taking the uninjured one when things clear up because of the Cardinals’ lack of backfield depth and the addition of seventh overall pick, guard Jonathan Cooper.