Jamaal Charles just had an amazing year in 2012. Coming off a torn ACL, he set career highs in carries (285) and rushing yards (1,509) despite having three games with fewer than 10 carries. When he had 17 or more carries, which happened nine times, he finished with double digits in Fantasy points. He also showed his explosiveness with two games with at least 226 rushing yards. Now he gets Andy Reid as his head coach, and he could turn Charles into a beast. While Reid was in Philadelphia he had three primary running backs in Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. That trio combined for six 1,000-yard rushing seasons, seven 1,500 total-yard seasons, nine seasons with at least 50 catches and five seasons with 10 total touchdowns. The last two times Charles played a full season, which was 2010 and 2012, he had at least 1,700 total yards and six total touchdowns. When you add up everything in his favor it makes Charles a slam-dunk first-round pick in 2013, and he could have a career year.
Fantasy owners should expect Adrian Peterson to be the first player taken in pretty much every draft this summer. And after totaling 2,421 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 regular-season games and a postseason matchup at Green Bay, why shouldn't he be? Coming off a torn ACL, Peterson regained his form as a dominant rusher capable of rumbling for over 120 yards on the ground per week, which he did in half of his regular-season games. He's got a hammerlock on the amount of work he'll get from week to week (he had under 20 touches three times last season) and will run behind a solid offensive line. Though there's a smidge of concern Peterson could exhaust himself after taking on 370 carries over 17 games last year the reality is that he's too good a player to pass up taking if made available on Draft Day. Owners shouldn't hesitate to take him with the first overall pick.
The Falcons' relationship with Michael Turner went from good to tolerant to non-existent, leaving the veteran without a team. Turner was released in a salary-cap purge in early March and is looking for work after posting his worst year out of five in Atlanta. Under the promise of getting less of a workload in 2012, Turner averaged just under 14 carries per game and paired it with a career-worst 3.6 rushing average, finishing with an even 800 yards. But that was offset by another season with 10 rushing touchdown (his fifth straight) along with a prolific receiving year, at least by his standards (19 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown). Turner had at least 10 Fantasy points in half of his games thanks to those touchdowns, but even that modest production is tough to expect with a new team in 2013. We're sure he'll play somewhere this season but he could have even fewer carries. Consider him a reserve rusher with a middle- to late-round pick.
If you draft Darren Sproles in 2013, you're banking on him coming through as a pass catcher rather than as a rusher. Sproles' run duties did little to supplement what he did as a receiver, which was actually slightly better on a per-game basis than what he did in 2011. His catches per game went up from 5.4 to 5.8, his receiving average jumped from 8.3 yards to 8.9 yards per catch and his receiving touchdowns stayed at seven. But his rush game, despite a nifty 5.1 yard average, practically disappeared. He had all of 48 carries thanks to four games of no handoffs and seven with five or fewer. That makes Sproles a risk as a top-20 running back but not quite as a low-end No. 2 option in a standard league. Obviously, the receptions he's expected to handle push him up in PPR formats to a very solid No. 2 option. He's worth a late fourth-round pick in standard leagues and a third-round pick in PPR formats this summer.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is probably going to be a running back you settle for on Draft Day, not target. Even though he set a personal best in rushing yards last year with 1,094, he only scored six times despite getting a career-high 278 carries. A closer look reveals that only 21 carries came from inside the 10-yard line and of those 21, only 10 came at the goal line. He scored on four of the 10 and might have had more if not for an 0-for-3 day at the goal line with a fumble at the Jaguars in Week 4. That appeared to be the game that sent his workload near the goal line off track and perhaps forced the Bengals to find help for him on the ground. They did exactly that when they took Giovani Bernard as the first running back selected in April's draft. Bernard should not only take passing downs away from Green-Ellis but also has the potential to cut into the starter's workload. Expect fewer carries and thus fewer yards from Green-Ellis, though the touchdown production might increase since The Law Firm should have the goal-line job. Green-Ellis is fine as a pick in Round 8 or so as the last decent Flex running back on the board.
Frank Gore remains the starting running back for the 49ers and their best Fantasy option in the backfield no matter how many times we expect him to falter. Gore, despite the 49ers adding LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs last year, still dominated the ball with 258 carries for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns and 28 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown. He had double digits in Fantasy points in 11 games, including five of the final six games to close the regular season. Gore is definitely headed for a decline at some point in the near future -- he'll be 30 this season and has more than 2,200 total touches -- but you have to go into the season with him as a solid No. 2 running back worth drafting as early as Round 3. Kendall Hunter and James will take touches from Gore, especially with the 49ers wanting to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but we've seen this before. Gore has at least 1,300 total yards and six touchdowns in six of the past seven years, and he should remain at that level of production again this season.
Shonn Greene signed with the Titans this offseason, and he’s expected to share carries with Chris Johnson but in a reserve role. The Titans are excited about Greene, who is coming off a productive year in 2012 with a career high in carries (276), yards (1,063) and touchdowns (eight). He still remained a mediocre Fantasy running back, but he could be a good complement to Johnson. He had just six games with double digits in Fantasy points, and he had six games with five points or less. Greene offers little as a receiver – he had 19 catches for 151 yards in 2012 – but he will work at the goal line. Greene still retains value as a No. 3 Fantasy running back. Johnson will get the majority of work, but Greene could be around eight touchdowns again with close to 700 rushing yards. That’s not horrible as a key reserve with a mid-round pick.
Stevan Ridley, as expected, had a career year in 2012 as the starter for the Patriots. He should continue to run well this year, and he has the potential to be a low-end No. 1 running back in standard leagues. Ridley dominated carries for New England with 290 for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season. Compare that to Danny Woodhead (76 carries) and Shane Vereen (62), and you'll see how much coach Bill Belichick relied on Ridley. Now, that doesn't mean Ridley is cemented in as the featured option. Along with Brandon Bolden and potentially LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington, the Patriots will use all their running backs this year. And Ridley is useless as a receiver with just seven catches in 2012. But he did manage nine games with double digits in Fantasy points, and the Patriots will continue to give him chances to shine. We like Ridley as at least a Top 15 Fantasy running back, and he should be drafted by Round 2 in all standard leagues and no later than Round 3 in PPR formats.
Is this the year Donald Brown is going to break out and be an asset to Fantasy owners? That's the question we've been asking for four seasons. Drafted in the first round in 2009 with lofty expectations, Brown has yet to total 1,000 yards in a single year and has a total of 11 touchdowns (all rushing) in 50 games on 449 carries. Not considered explosive and in a training camp battle with second-year back Vick Ballard, Brown is likely to disappoint again, so why waste a valuable pick on him? Unless things change in training camp, expect Brown to be available with a mid- to late-round pick, which isn't exactly awful since he does have some ability and might aim to play at his best since he's in a contract year. We just haven't seen that ability regularly over his career.
Willis McGahee might be looking for a job soon after the Broncos drafted rookie running back Montee Ball in the second round. Even if he returns to Denver he now has competition for carries, including Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. McGahee had a rough year in 2012 since his season ended in Week 11 with a broken right leg. Prior to getting hurt, McGahee had 167 carries for 731 yards and four touchdowns and 26 catches for 221 yards. He was on pace to shatter his previous high for receiving yards (231 set in 2007), and he had at least eight Fantasy points in five of the nine full games he appeared in. The Broncos will likely lean on Ball, and Hillman should play on passing downs. McGahee, 31, still has something left to offer, but he might not be a starter any more. Keep an eye on where he plays this year, but he should only be drafted with a late-round pick.
Reggie Bush left the Dolphins this offseason to sign with the Lions, and we're excited for his opportunity in Detroit. He has played well since coming to the Dolphins in 2011 when he got a chance to be an every-down back. In 2011, Bush had a career season with 216 carries for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns and 43 catches for 296 yards and a score. He followed that up with a career-high 227 carries for 986 yards and six touchdowns and 35 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Now, Bush goes to a Lions team that should involve him more as a receiver. He has at least 43 catches in five of his seven years, and the Lions plan to use him in tandem with Mikel Leshoure. We still view Bush as a No. 2 Fantasy running back with upside, and he could total 1,500 total yards with about six touchdowns. He is worth drafting in all formats in Round 3 with the potential to be drafted in Round 2 in PPR leagues. This could be a big year for Bush in Motown.
Peyton Hillis is a free agent this offseason, and he will look to rebound this year after two down seasons. After struggling in Cleveland in 2011, Hillis signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs in 2012. He struggled with an ankle injury early in the year and playing second fiddle to Jamaal Charles and had just 85 carries for 309 yards and one touchdown and 10 catches for 62 yards. He had one game with double digits in Fantasy points. Hillis will likely sign another short-term deal with a new team, but he has lot to prove before Fantasy owners can count on him. Keep an eye on where he lands, but he should only be drafted with a late-round pick.
A Lisfranc sprain cost Benson the chance to put up some pretty good stats with the Packers in 2012, and now it'll hurt his chances to find a starting job in 2013. On the wrong side of 30, Benson might have to settle for a cheap one-year contract and battle for playing time in training camp. When he did play last year, he was pretty mediocre (3.5 yards per carry over 71 carries), so expectations shouldn't be terribly high. You might end up wasting a perfectly good late pick on Benson.
For now, the Panthers will have DeAngelo Williams as part of their high-priced stable of running backs. But reports emerged in mid-February that the Panthers could move on from Williams because of his expensive cost and less-than-stellar production. He'll be 30 when the season starts and even though he hasn't put a ton of work on his legs the past couple of seasons it's perceived he isn't the back he once was thanks in part to him getting fewer rushing yards on more carries in 2012. If there's a silver lining with Williams it's that he's totaled 900 yards and scored seven times in each of the last two years. One problem is figuring out when he'll have a big game. He has had 11 contests with at least 10 Fantasy points and 17 with six or fewer over the past two seasons. Changing teams could clear up what kind of a workload he'd have and make him appealing for the 2013 season since he does have some speed left on those legs. But until we know that he's done in Carolina your best move is to draft Williams as a reserve Fantasy rusher with a mid- to late-round pick.
Kevin Smith is looking for a new home this offseason after bottoming out with the Lions in 2012. He began the year as their starter by default and did well, but the coaching staff opted to go with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell for the rest of the season. As such, Smith had eight carries in his final 14 games after landing 29 in his first two. Smith has some value as a pass catcher and his work ethic is pretty darn good considering how many times he's come back from being either hurt or ignored. But until he's in a role where he'll clinch some decent work, Fantasy owners shouldn't trust him.