This week I'm going to start some early season rankings and tackle what is likely the toughest position to rank, the running backs. Early mocks indicate that running backs will come off the board early and often, even more so than in previous seasons. These rankings are my own and will be for leagues that play .5 PPR to make it interesting. Here they are:
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN - I don't think there's going to be much disputing this pick and he'll be the consensus No. 1 pick in most fantasy drafts. Having a weak quarterback hasn't slowed him down, given that when defenses stack the box, he's gone once he breaks through to the second level. He has 12 rushing touchdowns in three consecutive years and will catch around 40 balls in the passing game.
2. Arian Foster, HOU - There might be some debate here as people will cite his decline in YPC (4.1 last season), but the volume Foster has every season coupled with his usage at the goal line puts him here for me. One of the reasons for the drop in his YPC mark is increased usage in the red zone. This limits the amount of yards he can accumulate and gives the defense a smaller area to defend against him on carries in close. Moreover, Ben Tate has never had a significant role when Foster has been healthy, so Foster should carry another heavy load this season, health permitting
3. Jamaal Charles, KC - Here's where the debate is likely going to start. Charles bounced back from a major knee injury to average a career-low 5.3 YPC last season and should benefit from playing in Andy Reid's system. While some people are skeptical about Chip Kelley's offense translating well to the NFL, we already know Andy Reid's will work. LeSean McCoy had a 20-touchdown season while working with Reid and in my opinion Charles is a better back. Charles should also see a career-high in targets with the passing game, giving him more value in PPR formats. If there's any cause for concern here, it's that Charles thus far hasn't been given a huge role at the goal line, so it remains to be seen how effective he'll be in that role. However, I'll bank on him being just fine in that capacity.
4. Ray Rice, BAL - I'm getting the vibe that people are down on Rice this season and I'm not sure why. He's arguably the most durable running back in the league, playing every single game (including playoffs) over the last four years. He's a lock to catch 60 balls per year and turn that into at least 500 yards receiving (he's surpassed 700 in two of the last four years). I don't think Bernard Pierce eats into his carries too much and if anything, that could keep him fresher for the entire season. Torrey Smith will help keep defenses honest with his speed and Rice has notched 25 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
5. Doug Martin, TB - Here is where I'm going to get some debate and perhaps deservedly so. I touched on why I'm not as high as most on Martin in my last column and I'll break it down a little more. He's got great upside on a team that should be improved and play with the lead more now that Darrelle Revis is anchoring the defense. I count four duds on Martin's resume from last season and taking away the monster game against Oakland, his overall numbers don't look quite as good - 4.1 YPC, 1203 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
6. C.J. Spiller, BUF - Putting Spiller here makes a lot of sense to me, considering we've never seen him carry a full workload over the course of a season. Fred Jackson's presence has the potential to eat into Spiller's workload and coach Doug Marrone, despite plenty of pro-Spiller statements, employed a two-back system at Syracuse. The upside here is that Spiller could finish as this season's top fantasy back -- I'd give him the highest odds after AP if I were going to bet that -- but he lands this far down because I can see his floor being the lowest out of the five guys in front of him.
7. Marshawn Lynch, SEA - One of the toughest runners in the league, Lynch put together a career season in 2012, amassing just under 1,600 rushing yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. He averaged 5.0 YPC, a stat that was helped by playing with a rushing quarterback. I'm a little wary that the Seahawks drafted Christine Michael, but out of the gate, he'll probably just compete with Robert Turbin for the backup spot. Lynch would be higher on this list except he doess't catch as many passes as the running backs ranked ahead of him.
8. Alfred Morris, WAS - One of the keys to Morris' value will be the health of Robert Griffin III, whose mobility helps open running lanes. It's interesting that at this point last year no one was really sure who the starting running back for the Redskins was going to be, but Morris is clearly the team's No. 1 option heading in the coming campaign. Morris is similar to Lynch in that he's a bruising runner who doesn't see a lot of targets in the passing game. He had the third-most carries in the NFL (with 335) and there's no reason to think the Redskins won't lean heavily on their workhorse again.
9. Trent Richardson, CLE - I haven't quite left the T-Rich bandwagon yet, but I'm no longer in the driver's seat either. It's easy to see him getting hurt again with the style of running he employs, but the Browns should give him plenty of touches each game. He did tally 12 scores last season and an increase in his YPC number (from the 3.6 he posted in 2012) should see him easily eclipse 1,000 rushing yards. He caught 51 passes last season, with repeated production in that stat category a reasonable expectation.
10. LeSean McCoy, PHI - Coming off injury typically drops a player in the following year's rankings, which is exactly what's happened with McCoy. Bryce Brown is in the picture now, although it'll be interesting to see if he has cured his problems with fumbling. I'm not convinced that Chip Kelly's offense will translate well to the NFL and that McCoy has had to leave OTAs because his knee was bothering him is a little worrisome. If Andy Reid was still in Philadelphia and I thought McCoy was completely healthy, I'd probably have him about five spots higher considering he put together back-to-back seasons of 1,600 yards from scrimmage a few seasons ago.
11. Montee Ball, DEN - Ball is one of the bigger fantasy wild cards right now, but he appears poised to take over as the Broncos' starting running back. John Elway has said all the right things as far as the rookie back getting the job and the release of Willis McGahee would seem to make the starting job Ball's to lose. One concern I have with Ball is that we haven't seen how he's going to be in pass-protection and thus qualify to serve as an actual three-down back. He could give way to Ronnie Hillman at times, which could limit his catches, but Ball's upside rests in being a part of what could be the best offense in the league.
12. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC - The injuries are a concern, as well as the mileage that's starting to add up with MJD. That being said, from 2009-11 he put up three straight seasons of 1,600 yards from scrimmage and should be completely healthy to start the 2013 season. Early reports have him out of shape, but he has plenty of time to get ready for the season. Meanwhile, the passing game should be improved which will help loosen up opposing defenses. In addition, Jones-Drew has always been part of the passing game and so it's fair to pencil in 40 catches and around 300 receiving yards.
13. Chris Johnson, TEN - Once considering a top-3 overall pick, Johnson managed another 1,000-yard rushing season and is extremely durable, missing only one game in his career. He still has the ability to hit a home run every time he touches the ball, but he too often gets tackled for a loss from dancing too much in the backfield. He only has 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons; that is why he's fallen this far. He'd be helped by better play from Jake Locker, which is a possibility in the QB's third season as a pro, but the presence of Shonn Greene figures to impact his chances of seeing goal-line work.
14. Lamar Miller, MIA - I'm probably higher than most on Miller, who should be the Dolphins' starter at running back. Miller was drafted by the Joe Philbin regime and Daniel Thomas has been less than impressive, with 3.5 YPC and 3.6 YPC in first two seasons in the league. Miller has elite speed and was the fastest running back at the 2012 combine with a 4.40 time in the forty. In a limited role last season Miller averaged 4.9 YPC and is more than adequate as a receiver out of the backfield. One report had his lack of usage last season chalked up to not being up on the playbook, a problem he shouldn't have in his sophomore season.
15. Steven Jackson, ATL - I know Jackson is old for a running back (he turns 30 in July) and has a lot of carries under his belt. That being said, this is the best offense he's played in and he's only missed two games over the last two seasons. Preceding Jackson, Michael Turner had at least 10 rushing touchdowns in each of his previous five seasons. In his new gig, Jackson will have a great opportunity to turn in a season with 1,500 yards from scrimmage along with around 12 touchdowns.
Notable omissions in no particular order:
Stevan Ridley - I have a strange feeling Shane Vereen eats into his touches. Could LeGarrette Blount get goal line work? Non-existent in the passing game but would have been 16th on this list.
DeMarco Murray - Too fragile for my liking. YPC was only 4.1 last season.
Darren McFadden - Too fragile for my liking, YPC was only 3.3 last season.
Ryan Mathews - See Murray and McFadden. YPC was only 3.8 last season.
David Wilson - How much work does Andre Brown get? Who gets the rock at the goal line? Is Wilson's fumbling issue completely resolved?
Eddie Lacy - I count five running backs on the Packers' roster right now. Health concerns here too.
Matt Forte -Quick, what's the most yards he's rushed for in a season? Would it surprise you that it was his rookie season, with 1,231? He hasn't eclipsed 1,100 since and has never been a good goal line back (eight rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons).
Frank Gore - Father Time will catch up with him at some point. He's starting to be phased out of the passing game and there are other good running backs on the roster.
Le'Veon Bell - Intriguing, but needs work on pass protection and the Steelers already have two outstanding blocking running backs.
Reggie Bush -Will he take the goal line work from Mikel Leshoure or Calvin Johnson? A surprising low 4.3 YPC last season and has never had more than six rushing touchdowns in a season.
Any thoughts or critiques? Hit up the comments section. Keep in mind these are very early and I'm sure I'll do some shuffling before the start of the season.