The Never-Too-Early 2013 RB Rankings
Updated February 12, 2013
Continuing our series of never-too-early rankings for the 2013 season, here is a look at how the running back position is shaping up for next season.
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Even if Peterson hadn't torn his ACL late in 2011, his 2012 season would have been truly incredible. He gained 2,314 total yards from scrimmage and scored 13 touchdowns. He scored the third-most fantasy points of any RB in the last six seasons (Chris Johnson, 2009 and Arian Foster, 2010). He turns 28 this offseason, so he still has a few years left in his prime.
2. Arian Foster, Texans
Foster turned in another fine season, racking up 1,641 total yards and 17 touchdowns. He'll turn 27 before the start of the season, so he's still well in his prime. The only concerns with Foster are his overall usage (391 regular season touches) and a reduction in reception yardage (from 48 YPG to 14 YPG), most likely due to Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels staying relatively healthy.
3. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Martin averaged 18.8 touches in his first six games, but in his final 10 games, he averaged 25.5 touches, becoming one of the few workhorse backs in the league. He finished RB2 in both total fantasy points and per game average and has a bright future ahead of him.
4. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
#BeastMode has turned in back-to-back top 5 seasons and will turn 27 in April, so he'll be one of the safest picks in the first round. The only drawback with Lynch is that he isn't that involved in the passing game, but given the fact that only two teams were able to hold him to less than 85 yards rushing last season, his lack of receiving yardage isn't much of a concern. In fact, he has rushed for more than 85 yards in 23 of his last 26 games, and has scored 23 TDs during that span.
5. Ray Rice, Ravens
Rice had a down year by his standards, finishing RB6 in total fantasy points. He saw 40.9% of his team's touches compared to 47.5% in 2011 thanks in large part to the emergence of Bernard Pierce in the running game and Dennis Pitta in the passing game. The Ravens have more weapons now and don't have to lean as heavily on Rice as they have in years past.
6. Alfred Morris, Redskins
Heading into the season, it wasn't clear who was going to be the lead RB in Washington, but that question was answered quickly when Morris, a rookie, rushed 28 times for 96 yards and two TDs against the Saints in Week 1. He was barely involved in the passing game, but he did have five of his 11 catches in the final three games, which bodes well. The main concern with Morris is his head coach's history of RB shenanigans, but Morris seems as safe as any back can be under Mike Shanahan.
7. C.J. Spiller, Bills
As Doug Marrone takes over the Bills, Spiller's usage in 2013 could range from a timeshare with Fred Jackson to a workhorse role as the team's clear RB1. Spiller had the highest FP/touch of any RB with at least 150 touches (carries + catches), so a big workload means big production.
8. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Charles had his share of ups and downs thanks mostly to irregular usage. With new coach Andy Reid taking over the play calling, Charles should see consistent touches, especially in the passing game (a la LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook, who thrived under Reid). The Kansas City offense should improve, which should lead for more redzone touches as well.
9. Trent Richardson, Browns
Richardson struggled with injuries down the stretch, only averaging 3.3 YPC in his final six games. But his saving grace was that he managed to find the endzone six times in that same span. The Browns hired Rob Chudzinski, who will surely use Richardson as the centerpiece of the offense.
10. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
McCoy missed four games towards the end of the year, but finished RB12 on a per game basis. His value heading into 2013 will depend on who the Eagles hire as their head coach and how that coach plans to use his star RB.
11. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
Ridley carried the ball 290 times, which was the most carries by a New England RB since Corey Dillon's 345 totes back in 2004. It's safe to say that the soon-to-be 24-year-old is the clear RB1 in a high-octane offense, and he should be valued as such. Sure, he might get benched for a half if he loses a fumble, but he received 16 and 18 carries in two games following lost fumbles this season. It appears that the ever-fickle Bill Belichick has finally found his running back.
12. Matt Forte, Bears
Forte is a highly productive (4.4 YPC) dual threat (44 catches), who didn't see a lot of redzone work due to the presence of Michael Bush in the Chicago backfield. If both players return, we'll see more of the same in 2013.
13. Chris Johnson, Titans
CJ1K had a solid 2012, finishing 9th in total yards and RB13 overall. Expect more of the same from the talented back in 2013. If the Titans' O-line can open holes, Johnson will be productive.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
MJD's season was cut short with a foot injury, but if all goes well this offseason, he'll have a good chance at cracking the top 10 in 2013. In his three previous seasons, MJD finished top 5 in PPG.
16. Frank Gore, 49ers
Gore will be on the wrong side of 30 when the 2013 season begins, but he hasn't missed a game in two years and has scored 8 TDs in back-to-back seasons. Kendall Hunter is a factor, but Gore figures to stick as the RB1 for at least one more season.
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders
After averaging 5.2+ YPC in 2010 and 2011, the Raiders (ponderously) switched back to a zone-blocking running scheme, to which we already knew DMC is not well-suited. Provided the Raiders return to a power scheme, McFadden should return to the top 10, at least on a per game basis. Health will always be a concern.
18. Darren Sproles, Saints
Sproles touches fell from 10.8 per game in 2011 to 9.5 in 2012, which is the main reason he fell from RB10 to RB22 in standard formats. He was used even more sporadically in the running game, but the return of Sean Payton might mean more consistent touches for Sproles. He was RB8 (on a PPG basis) in PPR, so he's still an elite option in that format.
19. Steven Jackson, Rams
S-Jax has a player option for next season, but may return to St. Louis for at least one more year. Daryl Richardson ate into his touches at the start of the season, but Jackson averaged 21.9 touches for 108 yards and 0.4 TDs in his last eight games. Those are RB8-type numbers. He should start somewhere in 2013.
20. David Wilson, Giants
With Ahmad Bradshaw out of the way, Wilson has a clearer path to RB1 duties. He averaged 5.0 YPC on 71 carries in his rookie season, but the presence of Andre Brown (likely vulturing goal line carries) depresses Wilson's value somewhat. For what it's worth, Brown averaged 5.3 YPC behind the same offensive line, so this could be more of a committee than a traditional RB1/RB2 pecking order. The Giants have had no problem splitting carries if they have 2+ productive RBs.
THE FRINGE STARTERS
21. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews amazingly broke both clavicles in 2012, missing the first two games and the last two games of the season. When he did play, he averaged 80 total yards per game, but only found the endzone once. He's the best RB in San Diego, but can he stay healthy?
22. Vick Ballard, Colts
The rookie only saw 6.4 touches per game to start the season, but once Donald Brown went down, Ballard's workload went up dramatically. In the final 11 games, Ballard averaged 17.8 touches for 80 total yards and 0.3 TDs. Those are top 20 numbers, so if Ballard is the lead dog, he should be a decent RB2 in 2013.
24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals
The Law Firm benefited from multiple injuries to Bernard Scott, who was supposed to be the change of pace back in Cincinnati. Instead, BJGE got 20.0 touches per game en route to a top 20 finish. He's capable, but Cincy wants to find a complementary RB to share the load.
SITUATIONS TO MONITOR
These nine teams don't have a clear RB pecking order, at least at this point in the offseason.
In six games since taking over for an injured Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno has averaged 111 total yards and 0.7 TDs, which are RB5-type numbers. In his first nine games, McGahee averaged 98 total yards and 0.4 TDs (RB10 numbers), so he was good in his own right. Both players are under contract through 2014, so we may see a RBBC a la Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams that HC John Fox used while with the Panthers.
Carolina supposedly tried to feature Jonathan Stewart starting in Week 7, but he only averaged 3.4 YPC on 68 carries in his next six games before going down with what turned out to be a season-ending ankle injury. There is uninformed speculation that the team may cut DeAngelo Williams, who has a $5.3 million salary in 2013. He also finished with the 5th-highest FP/touch among RBs with at least 150 touches on the season. If Williams is out of the way, Stewart will likely go in the 4th or 5th round of fantasy drafts with Mike Tolbert vulturing goal line carries. The 29-year-old Williams could land elsewhere and be productive. He has a career 4.9 YPC and made some big plays in the passing game in 2012.
Darren Sproles will continue to be the most dependable play in the Saints backfield due to his heavy involvement in the passing game. Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas are both signed through 2014 and both players had their moments in 2012. Chris Ivory rushed for 217 yards and two TDs on just 40 carries (5.4 YPC). He's a restricted free agent, so he may be draftable if he lands in a good situation. Otherwise, expect more of the same from the New Orleans backfield in 2013.
The Packers may have found something in second-year man DuJuan Harris, who has rushed 51 times for 204 yards (4.0 YPC) and two TDs in five games. He's a small (5'7") but powerful runner who ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day. The Packers have had a steady stream of RBs come through in the past few years, but Harris could stick, and he's signed through the 2014 season. James Starks and Alex Green will also be in the mix, and the team could elect to bring Cedric Benson back as well.
Michael Turner rushed for 3.6 YPC after posting at least 4.1 YPC for eight straight seasons. He's signed at $5.5 million for the 2013 season, so he may be a cap casualty. If that's the case, Jacquizz Rodgers could see more work as the lead back in Atlanta with Jason Snelling providing the tough yards up the middle. The Falcons could also look to draft another running back or add one in free agency. Rodgers hasn't been particularly impressive in his two seasons (3.8 YPC), so his upside is as a fantasy RB2.
If free agent Reggie Bush re-signs, he'll be a top 20 option heading into 2013. He'll be 28 at the start of the season and averaged 4.7 YPC over the last two seasons. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will also be in the mix.
Rashard Mendenhall is a free agent and isn't expected to return to Pittsburgh. The Steelers also released Chris Rainey after he was recently arrested for simple battery. That leaves two restricted free agents, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, as the best bets to lead the Steeler backfield in 2013.
Beanie Wells seems to be on the outs, LaRod Stephens-Howling is a free agent and Ryan Williams has played five games in two seasons due to injury. Williams could enter the season as the RB1 or the Cardinals could pursue another back in free agency.
Shonn Greene is a free agent and the Jets are expected to let him walk. That means they could be a player in free agency or they could hand the keys to Bilal Powell, who had his moments in 2012. Joe McKnight will also be in the mix.