Running to glory
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The media hype for most of the 2012-13 NFL season was all about the quarterbacks, five in particular: Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and three rookie signal-callers. But for fantasy owners, there are usually enough quarterbacks for each owner to have at least one good one on their roster.

What is usually much tougher is finding enough quality running backs to fill your two starting spots and have depth in case of injury and to cover your bye weeks.

It also appears there won't be much help coming out of the college ranks in April's draft. At first look, there probably won't be a running back selected in the first round. The Sports Network's NFL editor, John McMullen, doesn't have the first running back going until pick No. 37 (Eddie Lacy to Cincinnati).

With that in mind it will be very important to evaluate last year's top running backs to know whether they can, and will, produce at least as well as last season.

Below we have studied the top-10 running backs from last season. Later we will evaluate the middle and lower end backs.

1) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota (349 fantasy points) - I admit I had a bit of a "man crush" on Peterson as he led the Vikings and my team to victory. Coming so soon off major knee surgery, Peterson had a lot of people singing his praises. He posted 2,314 yards from scrimmage, including an amazing 2,097 on the ground, 40 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Superman is certainly capable to doing it again in 2013-14.

2) Arian Foster, Houston (295) - Foster put up the second-best fantasy total for any running back, yet didn't set career highs in any category. He's rushed for more yards, caught more passes for more yards and scored more often in previous seasons. As long as the next-best rushing option is Ben Tate and the Texans don't find another quality receiving option opposite Andre Johnson, Foster figures to be as good or better next season.

3) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay (287) - An end-of-the-first-round selection, the rookie was expected to eventually grab the job from LeGarrett Blount and he did. However, not even the most ardent Bucs' fan thought he could put up 1,926 yards from scrimmage and score 12 times to finish third among fantasy running backs. For those who had forgotten about him, a four-touchdown, 251-yard performance against Oakland in Week 8 brought his name to the forefront. He totaled 368 touches last season, which could eventually wear him down, but he's a three-down back who has a bright future.

4) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (278) - Lynch followed up a big 2011-12 season with another gem. He rushed for a career-high 1,590 yards and added 12 touchdowns. We're a little scared he's not involved in the passing game and second-year Russell Wilson could grab a bigger share of the offense. Mark this one down as likely to be close, but slightly under, last season's totals.

5) Alfred Morris, Washington 261) - If he had any other coach, we would be excited about what Morris could do for a football team and a fantasy lineup. Alas, with Mike Shanahan steering the ship, we know he can change direction as often as he changes his shirt. During his 14 seasons as the Broncos' head coach, he had eight different players lead the team in rushing, and in three season with the Redskins he's had three different running backs show the way. Morris should certainly get the first shot to carry the load, but know that he does come with some risk.

6) Ray Rice, Baltimore (255) - Last season, it always felt as if the Ravens under-used Rice and, in fact, he had 49 less touches than in 2011-12 when he rushed and received his way to a league-high total of 2,068 yards. Joe Flacco's success and big contract figure to make him the focal point of next season's offense, so Rice may be able to duplicate this year's effort, but with a more limited top end.

7) C.J. Spiller, Buffalo (238) - It has finally became apparent to all that Spiller, and not Fred Jackson, is the best running back on the Bills' roster. Given the state of the Buffalo passing game, Spiller should see more than 250 touches and therefore could close in on a combined 2,000 yards. His one weakness is scoring touchdowns, with a career high of eight. If he can improve in the red zone, he should become a top-five running back.

8) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City (232) - His new head coach, Andy Reid, has always been able to produce a top fantasy back despite the coach's love for the pass, and Charles should fit right into the Brian Westbrook/LeSean McCoy mode. Like Spiller, Charles needs to improve his ability to get into the end zone, but should still be a top-10 back without double-digit touchdowns.

9) Trent Richardson, Cleveland (224) - Richardson's longest run from scrimmage was just 32 yards and his longest reception was for 27 yards. Talk about grinding it out. The Browns have yet to assemble a passing game to scare the opposition, so Richardson should once again be the workhorse after seeing 318 touches in his rookie season. He started the year at less than 100 percent, so just being healthy next year and seeing 325 touches should be enough to keep him in the top 10.

10) Frank Gore, San Francisco (214) - Gore is the top candidate for dropping off the leaderboard. He rushed for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns last season, but most of the damage was done before Colin Kaepernick took control of the offense in Week 10. Over the final seven games, he rushed for an average of 66 yards and didn't score more than one touchdown in any game. Given Kaepernick's ability to score in the red zone, we fear Gore's fantasy owners are in for a rough ride.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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