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Preseason fantasy football rankings: Running backs

08.19.13 at 1:26 pm ET
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Today we take a look at the top 50 backs for fantasy football purposes with write-ups for the top 24 — the backs that start in 12-team formats. If you are looking for even more information, join us at Rotobahn.com, where we break them all down and update content every day. I will be back Tuesday with a look at the receivers, so check back with us for that. You can find my take on the quarterbacks here and the tight ends here. If you are looking for some sleepers, check out my article at Rotobahn that I’€™ll be posting later today. If you need any clarification regarding these rankings, feel free to tweet a question to @rotobahn with the hashtag #FantasyWEEI. Finally, listen to our running back rankings podcast.

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

AP is all by himself. He should be the first man taken in any league. He’€™s the best at his position by a large margin and his team is improving around him. And oh yeah … he’€™s healthy this year with no injuries to rehab. Take this guy if you can and do it with confidence.

2. Doug Martin, Buccaneers

Our No. 2 was a Rotobahn favorite as a rookie in 2012. We expect more of the same this year behind an improved offensive line. Martin is the total package with a perfect build for the position. His offensive line will be healthy this year, so his arrow is pointing decidedly up. Is it reasonable to take Foster or perhaps Jamaal Charles or C.J. Spiller? Sure, but we’€™d take Martin because we love his combo of high-end talent, health and situation. There are no backs on his roster that will dig into his fantasy value.

3. C.J. Spiller, Bills

Spiller is perhaps the most exciting back in the league and he is primed for his best year to date in new coach Doug Marrone‘€™s offense. Spiller is diverse. While some backs get taken out of the game plan when their team falls behind, Spiller will still be involved … heavily. While some folks are worried about touch totals, we are not. Spiller is not a volume back. Twenty touches is more than enough for him to dominate a game, and he should get that on most weeks. Fred Jackson can still play and he will play, but Spiller is as dynamic as any ball-carrier in the world. The new coaching staff appreciates the need to use that advantage, and Spiller is now fully developed. He’€™s ready to explode, folks, and he is our third back and is worth even more in PPR formats.

4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

He’€™s now a season removed from his ACL injury. He’€™s also in a new offense that we project to help his stats. Charles should be a more consistent threat with Andy Reid in charge and with Alex Smith under center. He had some minor issues with soreness last year, so there is still room for improvement with the knee. If that happens, and JC is less limited, he could really break out. He’€™s a great way to start your team in any format and is arguably as good as anybody once AP is off the board. A career year in 2013 or 2014 is very likely as long as he holds up health-wise. Charles has increased value in PPR formats.

5. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks

The only thing that gives us pause with Lynch is the talent that Seattle has assembled behind him. Robert Turbin, Christine Michael and even Spencer Ware all are talented backs. Lynch most definitely is the man, but this coaching staff is going to be tempted to play some of these young guys. One key is to handcuff Lynch in larger formats. Right now, I am recommending Michael as the best handcuff option due to his superior talent, but we’€™ll be watching this situation right down to the end of preseason.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens

Rice is a fine back and an RB1. You could reasonably take him higher, but we have some mild concerns about the potential for Bernard Pierce to steal more carries than he did in 2012. Getting Pierce as a handcuff is a good idea. Having said that, there is a bit of an over-correction going on with Rice, who is still in his prime and is a better overall back than Pierce by a solid margin. It would be a mistake for Baltimore to create a shared backfield and we seriously doubt the Ravens will go that way. Rice still belongs in the first round on 12-team drafts. He’€™s even better in PPR formats.

7. Trent Richardson, Browns

Richardson is a very appealing fantasy option in terms of both talent and situation. The only real concern we have with T-Rich is injuries. Richardson was banged up for much of his rookie campaign but he still managed to finish as a top-12 back in most league types. He should be even better this season as we think the players around him have all matured. He also runs behind a very solid line. The new coaching staff is a big plus, too. Richardson has the ability to finish as the top back in fantasy football if he puts it all together. He is a totally defendable pick anywhere after Peterson is taken. With Dion Lewis‘€™ recent injury, there is no clear-cut handcuff option for Richardson right now.

8. Alfred Morris, Redskins

Morris is a big one-cut back who fits the Washington offense very well. The key to his 2013 value will be Robert Griffin‘€™s health and, to a lesser extent, the performance of the other backs on the roster. The smart money is on Morris having as good a season as he did in 2012 or something close to it. The guy to back him up with is Roy Helu, who missed 2011 with an injury. Helu gives Morris owners quality injury protection.

9. LeSean McCoy, Eagles

McCoy is a fine talent and he is a solid choice to be your RB1, but I have some mild concerns about his long recovery time from last year’€™s concussion. In that vein, coach Chip Kelly‘€™s fast-paced run-heavy scheme could be a problem. McCoy will either hold up and have a monster year, or he’€™ll get beat up. At this point, we really like the idea of handcuffing McCoy with backup Bryce Brown, though we also have an eye on second-year back Chris Polk, who is having a big camp. We’€™ll update this situation at Rotobahn if and when there are any material changes.

10. Matt Forte, Bears

Forte is a player that we like a lot this year, especially in PPR scoring. We really like the way he fits the new scheme and, given his skills in pass protection, we can’€™t see him having anything less than a major role if he can stay healthy. Forte’€™s a reasonable pick just about anywhere but the top spot. We worry just a little bit about injury, but we don’€™t question his toughness. Forte does take a few too many clean shots due to his size and lack of high-end elusiveness. Right now, Michael Bush is the best handcuff option for Forte owners.

11. Steven Jackson, Falcons

Here we have a very interesting back. Jackson is a player that a lot of fantasy owners swore off years ago due to injury concerns. It was hard to blame them. In fact, I was one of them. But, a funny thing happened over the last four seasons. Jackson has become more durable, missing only two games during that span. In truth, Jackson’€™s injury problems were always a secondary concern for me. The bigger one was the fact that he had so little talent around him. Whatever talent was there was usually misused. This led to a drastic drop in goal line chances, which obviously means fewer scores and less fantasy punch. Now Jackson finds himself in Atlanta, at the heart of an offense so nasty and diverse that he may have an out-of-body feeling when he gets to camp. Ironically, the questions around Jackson are now about how good HE is rather than how good his supporting cast is. Well, allow me to end the suspense: Jackson can absolutely still play. In my eyes, Jackson still has what it takes to be a quality lead back. The fact that he will now face a lightly populated box for the first time in years has to be exciting for him. While there are no guarantees, I expect Jackson to post RB1 numbers this season if he stays healthy. Age and injury reputation may push him into the middle of round two in 12-team leagues, but I support your drafting of Jackson just about anywhere outside of the top six.

12. Chris Johnson, Titans

Johnson could have a big year in 2013. I’€™m leaning toward that being the case. Johnson still has the talent and he finally has some quality along the offensive line. Shonn Greene will steal more touches than a lot of folks seem to think, and was a solid signing, but CJ is not a back who needs a ton of touches to be great. He’€™s like Charles and Spiller in that regard. Just get him 15-20 touches. Greene is definitely the handcuff and a very worthy one in 12-team formats and above. Whether or not Greene is the goal line back is an open question. I’€™m ranking Johnson with the assumption that Greene will get most of the touches when they get down tight to the goal line. One note that I think you might consider before drafting Johnson is his schedule. It’€™s pretty brutal though eight games and is outstanding over the second half. That could be a reason to target him as a RB2 versus building your ground game around him as a lead back.

13. Stevan Ridley, Patriots 

I want to love Ridley. I really do. He’€™s a very good back, but I have a few concerns. First, I worry about his fumbling. He needs to make sure that he’€™s cleaned that up. There’€™s too much talent behind him on the depth chart to think that Bill Belichick will tolerate putting the ball on the ground. Assuming Ridley stays clean in terms of ball security, he should be a fantasy force and score many touchdowns. One tricky issue with Ridley is the cost of adding Shane Vereen as a backup or handcuff, because Vereen is usually being drafted in the fifth or sixth round. If you can afford to pull the trigger on Vereen, it’€™s a solid move.  Failing that, you might consider either LeGarrette Blount or Brandon Bolden depending how things shake out with the final depth chart.

14. Arian Foster, Texans

I know, this is very late for such a great fantasy back. The thing is, I hate blatant injury risk, and Foster is loaded with it due to a very heavy workload over the past few seasons. To make matters worse, he’€™s been nursing injuries throughout the preseason. Now there is word that the pain in his back has moved into his legs. For anybody who has ever seen a doctor about their back, you know that leg pain related to a bad back is a bad thing. Foster may recover and play well in 2013. I’€™m just not willing to bet my season on it. Better to let another owner take that leap. If you do end up with Foster, you’€™ll want to bite the bullet and go after his backup Ben Tate and you’€™ll need to do it in Round 7, which is a bitter pill.

15. David Wilson, Giants 

There’€™s a big value gap between Wilson and the backs ranked ahead of him.  We’€™re into the RB2 class of backs at this point.  These backs should be considered once the top seven fantasy receivers are off the board. Wilson is the starter in New York, but backup Andre Brown is a wild card and he could steal plenty of touches, including goal line touches. Wilson, on the other hand, was a first-rounder in 2012 and has elite ability with the rock in his hands. He had a few rookie hiccups and started slow, but his talents are undeniable on film. Unless Wilson simply bombs in camp, he is going to land at least an equal share of the backfield and probably more. Wilson has an outstanding chance at being a first-round fantasy pick in 2014. He’€™s risky where we have him ranked, but it’€™s a risk I am very willing to take because of Wilson’€™s ceiling, which is very high in the Giants offense. We definitely recommend adding Brown if he makes it to the eighth round in 12-team formats.

16. Lamar Miller, Dolphins

Miller is a very talented back and we project him to have a large share of the snaps in Miami this season. We loved Miller last year, as some of you know, and without Reggie Bush around, we see Miller’€™s upside being in the RB1 area. Really. Remember, Miami will be putting a lot more stress on the back end of defenses in 2013 with Mike Wallace in town. This means a more sparsely packed box for Miller. The key question for us is who to roster as a handcuff, and Daniel Thomas seems to have won that role in camp. Miller has moved up boards in recent weeks and his third-round ADP doesn’€™t help him as far as value goes, but he’€™s a solid option even at that price if you are looking to draft your RB2 in Round 3.

17. Reggie Bush, Lions

Boom, this is Bust. Bust, this is Boom. OK, now shake hands. As some of you know, I am a big fan of Reggie Bush. His talents are underrated, or at least they were until he got to Miami and started making a lot of analysts look incompetent. Bush’€™s potential in the Lions offense is even better than it was in Miami. Of course, the rub with Bush is health. He was banged up a lot last year, though he gets high marks for toughing it out. My big concern is that his knees do not respond well to returning to artificial turf. The grass in Miami served him well. They need to manage his touches in Detroit or he won’€™t hold up. The other side of the coin is that Bush has thousand-yard potential as both a receiver and as a runner in this offense. He’€™s the Danny Amendola of RBs. If he stays healthy, he’€™s a monster.

18. Frank Gore, 49ers

It’€™s all about touches for Gore. The 49ers have added a ton of quality youth the last few years, but, and this is key, nobody as good as Gore, who is a special talent. Since they are a VERY likely playoff team, we are concerned that Jim Harbaugh will do the right thing for the 49ers and not the right thing for Gore’€™s fantasy GMs. Coaches are funny that way. He also plays with a QB that is going to steal more than a few scores down on the stripe. Lastly, Gore does have a long history of injury, though he’€™s been solid the last few years in that regard. All that said, he’€™s slipped to 33 overall since we last looked, and at 33, Gore is a very solid option given the state of the position in fantasy football. Again, we tailor our rankings for 12-team leagues with a flex position.

19. Le’€™Veon Bell, Steelers 

We’€™re leaning toward Bell being the primary back, but there’€™s still risk if you are drafting soon. Rookies can struggle early on and Bell is no lock to dominate touches right away. He may, but he may not. He’€™s a back we really like. He was one of ‘€œRotobahn’€™s Guys’€ going into the draft and we love where he landed. Bell will benefit from playing with Ben Roethlisberger. The two will hook up often in the passing game. Bell has freakish talents for a man his size. If they get him in space, he can blow up defensive backs and he can use his athleticism on guys his size and bigger. This is a unique tailback with a solid fantasy future. I’€™d be all over this guy in long-term formats.

20. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

His ADP has dropped to 24, but I’€™m still hesitant to draft him at this point. I hate Lisfranc injuries for tailbacks, but ESPECIALLY for MJD, whose cuts were reason No. 1 for his greatness. I need to see MJD tearing it up in preseason in true MJD form before I’€™ll consider taking him. Perhaps time will tell a positive story and I hope it does, because the ‘€œpocket rocket’€ is a great talent. For now, I am counseling avoidance. But again, if he is all the way back and demonstrates it on the field, he may move up — perhaps significantly.

21. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

Here’€™s a tough player to value, because we love his ability but we are equally troubled by his inability to stay on the field. It’€™s also worth noting that the Cowboys’€™ run-blocking projects to be improved but still relatively weak. He’€™s currently coming off the board in the middle of Round 3 and there is just too much talent at that point to roll the dice on Murray. If he slips a bit, then he could be a reasonable option. His upside is very real, but so is the risk.

22. Eddie Lacy, Packers

Lacy is the back to own in Green Bay and he may prove to be the best back in this year’€™s rookie class when all is said and done. Staying healthy is the key. Lacy has all the things you look for in a big back and he can play all three downs due to his ability in the passing game. The trick is who to roster in case of injury. Right now, the best bets are DuJuan Harris or Alex Green. We’€™ll be updating this situation at Rotobahn all the way up to Week 1.

23. Darren Sproles, Saints 

Another tricky back as he is finally getting on a bit in terms of age (30) and I expect a bigger role for Mark Ingram this year. Sproles obviously has more value in PPR formats, but he’€™s still a viable option in standard scoring. I expect this to be a transition year in the Saints backfield. 2014 could be the year of Ingram, but only if he plays well this season. People seem to forget that Ingram is a capable receiver because he’€™s been the early down back in N.O., but that has more to do with how good Sproles and, to an extent, Pierre Thomas are as receivers. And, that’€™s really what Sproles is — a receiver. He’€™s never totaled more than 100 carries in a season and 87 is his high as a Saint. He only topped five carries twice last year and never totaled 10. Look for more of the same from Sproles. 70-plus receptions and a small sample of carries.

24. Montee Ball, Broncos 

He’€™s a bit of a risk, but when I look at the Broncos’ schedule, I really want their tailback on my fantasy team, because they are going to be ahead in some serious blowouts. Ball is our best bet to be the primary guy over the course of the year, but you’€™ll want to try to add the other competing tailback, Ronnie Hillman. In fact, I might even add Knowshon Moreno in deep leagues that have the requisite bench space. All three backs can get the job done if healthy, but Ball was taken in Round 2 for a reason. He should be the guy sooner or later.

25. Darren McFadden, Raiders

26. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts

27. Giovani Bernard, Bengals

28. Shane Vereen, Patriots

29. Ryan Mathews, Chargers

30. Rashard Mendenhall, Cardinals

31. Daryl Richardson, Rams

32. Chris Ivory, Jets

33. Mark Ingram, Saints

34. Ben Tate, Texans

35. Andre Brown, Giants

36. Bryce Brown, Eagles

37. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos

38. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals

39. Shonn Greene, Titans

40. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers

41. Bernard Pierce, Ravens

42. Isaiah Pead, Rams

43. Vick Ballard, Colts

44. Fred Jackson, Bills

45. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

46. Kendall Hunter, 49ers

47. Danny Woodhead, Chargers

48. Roy Helu, Redskins

49. Bilal Powell, Jets

 50. Christine Michael, Seahawks

Read More: 2013 Fantasy Football, Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin
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