Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
By my count, there are 13 players this season -- 14 in PPR leagues -- that can be considered RB1s, guys you would feel comfortable slotting into the top running back spot on your fantasy roster.
The 13: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson and Trent Richardson.
Darren Sproles jumps into that group in PPR formats and Ryan Mathews would be among those players if he hadn't broken his clavicle on his first preseason carry. Fred Jackson is being drafted as a RB1 but I'm concerned that C.J. Spiller is going to take a healthy cut of Jackson's touches this season.
We can debate the merits of the players above as RB1s, but that's a discussion for another day. Since there aren't enough running backs in that tier for every owner to have two, and since some owners won't even get their hands on one of the 13, we need to look at the next level of backs, the players with flaws that prevent them from being RB1s but who can still help fantasy owners as RB2s (not including the aformentioned Sproles, Mathews and Jackson).
2012-13 RB2 Rankings
1. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP: 3.07) - Bradshaw has certainly performed like an elite back when he's been in the lineup the past two years, but he missed four games last season and the Giants drafted David Wilson at the end of the first round in this year's NFL Draft. Still, Bradshaw is a big part of the passing game and he has rushed for 17 touchdowns in the last two seasons despite Brandon Jacobs taking most of the goal-line carries (Jacobs is now with San Francisco).
2. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos (ADP: 4.10) - McGahee isn't getting much love early in drafts despite his strong grip on the Broncos' starting running back job and no discernable threats behind him. Peyton Manning or no Peyton Manning, Denver coach John Fox is still a coach who likes to run the ball -- the Broncos tied for the NFL lead with 546 rushes last season, and the Panthers were ninth in 2007, sixth in 2008 and second in 2009 with Fox at the helm. McGahee may see 280-300 carries this season.
3. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 4.04) - The 49ers are going to limit Gore's touches this season in favor of second-year player Kendall Hunter, but this is still a team that rushed the ball 498 times last season, third most in the NFL. Plus, free agent signee Brandon Jacobs injured his knee in Saturday's game and figures to miss some regular season time. Even if Gore gets 30-50 less carries in 2012, he'll still rush the ball 232-252 times. If he can match last season's 4.3 ypc, that would give him anywhere from 997-1,084 yards.
4. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 3.12) - Turner is another player who will almost certainly have his carries scaled back. The Falcons are looking to air it out more with their talented receiving corps, and multi-faceted back Jacquizz Rodgers fits that type of offense better than Turner. Still, Turner is the primary back and he'll handle goal-line carries, making him a good bet to score 10-plus touchdowns for the fifth straight season.
5. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: 5.01) - Hillis is the first player on my list who isn't his team's No. 1 back, but that doesn't mean he won't accumulate enough touches to make for a strong fantasy running back. As I wrote in a column earlier this month, starting running back Jamaal Charles is coming off an ACL tear and even when healthy was never a 300-carry back. The Chiefs reportedly want to give the two rushers 500 combined touches. Plus, if anyone knows how to get the most from Hillis, it's new Chiefs OC Brian Daboll, the man who was in charge of the offense during Hillis' career-year in Cleveland and who also milked Reggie Bush for 1,000 yards with the Dolphins last season.
6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 4.08) - Fact: Cedric Benson carried the ball 20.3 times per game over the past three seasons. Benson is no longer with the team. Green-Ellis is. Need I say more? Well, here's another: Green-Ellis had 24 rushing TDs over the past two seasons on just 12.8 carries per game with New England.
7. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 3.10) - LeGarrette Blount left Friday's game with a groin injury, but Martin already appeared to be the favorite for the starting job before Blount went down. Even if Blount steals carries, Martin will be the No. 1 player on passing downs on a team whose defense allowed an NFL-worst 30.9 ppg last season. And since most of the Bucs' key offseason additions came on the offensive side of the ball, you can expect plenty more passing downs for Tampa Bay in 2012.
8. Shonn Greene, New York Jets (ADP: 5.06) - Greene is a plodding back with minimal speed who doesn't move the pile all that well, but he's the lead back for the Jets now that LaDainian Tomlinson is out of the picture. He would rank higher on this list but I'm concerned that Tim Tebow will vulture rushing touchdowns from Greene -- as I wrote back on Aug. 2, once Tebow took over as Denver's starting QB last season, McGahee had just three TDs, one from 60 yards away and the other two from 24 yards out. With Tebow in the fold, Greene may struggle to match last season's paltry total of six rushing scores but he's still a good bet to top 1,000 yards and that alone places him among these players.
9. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 5.07) - Brown isn't a special player, but he doesn't have much competition for carries on a team that I think will be better on offense than a 2-14 team with a rookie QB should be. I would like his value better if the team didn't acquire third-down specialist Mewelde Moore, however.
10. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: 6.08) - It's not that I like Wells all that much -- he's constantly injured, Ryan Williams is back from a ruptured patellar tendon and Arizona's 2012 opponents allowed a combined 112.5 ypg last season, the third toughest schedule from a rushing standpoint any team has -- but using a sixth-round draft choice on a back who rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 scores last season is a gamble I'm willing to make if the other backs on my list are gone by that point.