by Cris Benson
In the 2012 NFL season five running backs lead fantasy football scoring and by no coincidence they had one number in common, 300. That is the number to running back supremacy in fantasy football.
The five runningbacks that had over three hundred carries in 2012 were
Adrian Peterson MIN 12 TD’s and 2097 yards on 348 Rush att
Doug Martin TB 11 TD’s and 1454 yards on 319 Rush att
Arian Foster HOU 15 TD’s and 1424 yards on 351 Rush att
Marshawn Lynch SEA 11 TD’s and 1590 yards on 315 Rush att
Alfred Morris WAS 13 TD’s and 1613 yards on 335 Rush att
Every year we hear the same noise from the cynics who believe that the bell cow back is gone but last season the bell cow back received rubber stamp of approval by several NFL coaches. These five bell cow runningbacks, debatably, carried their teams into the 2012 post season. They also carried their fantasy owners through the 2012 fantasy football postseasons with heavy production in the final four weeks of the 2012 NFL regular season.
Adrian Peterson suffered what would have been a career ending injury a decade earlier but through the miracles of modern medicine willed the Minnesota Vikings into the 2012 NFL postseason. The Vikings weren’t the only team to benefit from Peterson’s recovery as fantasy owners also had huge production from AP in the 2012 fantasy football playoffs (weeks 14-17).
The thing that stands out about Peterson was his production even when facing eight men in the box. It wasn’t as though teams didn’t game plan to stop Peterson but that they simply couldn’t stop him. Peterson’s average rush was six yards per attempt and his average yardage per game was an unbelievable 130 yards.
The bona fide challenge that AP faces in 2013 is meeting or exceeding his own production from 2012. The additions of a young receiving core in the 2013 draft will also cost Peterson carries as the Vikings will have to continue to develop quarterback Christian Ponder. Yet Peterson is a natural first round selection but attached to a buyer beware notice that reads check the mileage before purchase.
Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were told that they took Boise State tailback Doug Martin to high with their second pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Yet Martin surprised all those experts by producing an incredible 2012 NFL season. Martin made an immediate impact on the Buccaneers offense, bailing out quarterback Josh Freeman and sustaining drives when necessary.
Martin’s speed and physical play made him a fantasy keeper and add in the return of guard Carl Nicks and I see Martin’s production increasing in 2013. Fantasy owners, especially those in a PPR league, also have to love Martin’s receiving skills. Martin caught forty nine receptions for four hundred and seventy two yards making him a duel threat as a rusher and receiver.
While all the praise in Washington was for quarterback RG3 yet it was another rookie who was leading fantasy owners and the Redskins into the 2012 postseason. One reason Alfred Morris was such a good runningback in 2012 was his offensive line but the other reason was the use of the read option offense. Morris had running alleys that were sealed but what made him so much better than his backups was size and power running style. Morris simply overpowered his tackler and kept turning his feet.
Morris was a true diamond in the rough, drafted in the sixth round and 173rd overall in the 2012 NFL draft. While Morris isn’t as talented as his peers he is a top five runningback in the 2013 fantasy football draft.
Another runningback that was drafted late but produced first round talent is the Houston Texans Arian Foster. Last season; at the prime age of twenty six years old, Foster continued to produce hall of fame numbers for third consecutive year. Foster received more touches than any other runningback in the NFL as well as the most rushing and receiving touchdowns combined. Nevertheless the Texans offensive line is on the decline.
Foster clearly had more production running off of LT Duane Brown and the right side of the offensive line clearly struggled to create open alleys. Brown had a bone spur removed from his ankle and even Foster himself has recently endured a setback during OTA’s. All signs point to a possible downturn for the Texans and Foster but one thing is certain Foster continues to surprise his fantasy football critics.
Marshawn Lynch is a beast that can break off long runs often running over his opponents that get in his way. Actually that is Lynch’s AKA ‘Beast Mode’ and no one can break off a run quite like he can.
Seattle has a talented roster that has as much potential to make the Super Bowl as division rivals the San Francisco 49ers. With the addition of wide receiver Percy Harvin I do see Lynch losing carries but what concerns me more is the addition of 2013 NFL Draft pick Texas A&M runningback Christine Michael.
Of the four runningbacks I have covered so far in the 300 club two are just beginning their NFL career while the other two veterans have a proven history of reliability. Marshwan Lynch is not a rookie and has not always been a reliable option yet Lynch in the last two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks has become a reliable option.
Lynch, who had a career season in 2012, only continues to increase his production. Sometimes it takes a while for a football player to mature into a professional and all signs point to Lynch arriving.
On the other hand why did the Seahawks use their first overall pick on a runningback? Will Christine sit? No. You don’t pay second round players to sit. You pay them to play.
Keep your eyes on Seahawks training camp as Lynch will have to prove he didn’t need any new motivation from the Seahawks management?
So why did the bell cow runningback suddenly return in 2012?
The 2011 season had only two runningbacks receiving 300 or more touches, Maurice Jones Drew and Michael Turner. The bell cow was on the verge of extinction in 2011 then all the sudden returned in the 2012 NFL season.
One answer could be the heavy use of formations such as the pistol, wishbone/veer, and all of those formations concealing that dreaded play called the read option or zone read. As much as some believe the read option is another fad similar to the wildcat it is difficult to argue with the schemes overall success and especially against teams that play 3-4 defense.
Tim Tebow is not the best NFL quarterback when it comes to mechanics but even his skill set is enough talent to sustain drives in the read option offense. Yet a closer look at the box score reveals that runningback Willis McGahee was just as important to sustain a drive as Tebow was.
McGahee, when healthy, ran for eight hundred forty one yards in nine games averaging ninety three yards a game. Also McGahee split carries in a running back by committee system receiving touches on first and second down.
The other answer is that coaches are looking for runningbacks who can run, catch, and most of all block. If a runningback can’t block they are not going to be a bell cow back.
What these runningbacks also have in common is they were able to stay healthy.
Health has as much to do with runningbacks chances of reaching 300 as his average yards per a carry. However health is simply an immeasurable that cannot be easily predicted but mileage on runningbacks appears to be a factor.
Runningbacks such as Larry Johnson, Duece McAllister, and Cedric Benson all saw noticeable drop-offs after two seasons of carrying the ball for over 300 carries. While some other runningbacks such as Adrian Peterson are reaching their peak with two 300 seasons already under their belt yet continue to produce.
So who will break 300 carries in 2013 now that we know what factors into the equation?
CJ Spiller of the Buffalo Bills has a lot of potential especially with new Head Coach Doug Marrone. Marrone didn’t waste any time separating himself from former Bills coach Chan Gailey; Marrone said,”… if someone starts off and they’re running well, keep feeding them the ball.” Obliviously Marrone is not a coach who believes in abandoning the running game.
Last season Spiller made the most of his carries averaging six yards an attempt. What stands out about Spiller is his ability to make the most of his touches. With nine starts and only 207 carries yet still ran for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns.
While Spiller has share carries with former starter Fred Jackson who’s now in the backup role however Jackson is returning from a sprained knee and has shown durability problems the last two seasons.
Spiller has everything going his way including, a new offense, a new coach, a new QB, and a young talented offensive line that could join Spiller at the Pro Bowl this season.
While Cleveland Browns fans are panicked over runningback Trent Richardson’s recent injury woes they’re also forgetting how Richardson overcame injuries last season. In 2012 Richardson carried the ball 267 times even though he was nursing two broken ribs. However that is also the problem with Richardson he doesn’t sit out when injured.
Richardson was a beast at Alabama with a career totaling 520 attempts, 3,304 yards, and 34 TD’s and that is quite a lot of millage for college football. Yet Richardson wasn’t drafted third overall in the 2012 NFL Draft because he could be developed into a bell cow runningback. Richardson is already an NFL bell cow running back and simply needs a quarterback that can make plays on third and long.
Richardson was drafted to be the Browns first option on offense but lacked the support of his offensive line. The Browns offensive line wasn’t as efficient in run blocking as they were pass blocking. However they are young and have some serious talent so I suspect a change in the coaching staff will only shake up the front five. If the Browns offensive front five can open the holes Richardson needs, and the quarterback the sell the play action passing game, then I see Richardson making even greater strides in 2013.
Think New England Patriots and you think pass but last season runningback Stevan Ridley totaled 290 carries for 1263 yards rushing and twelve rushing touchdowns. New England hasn’t had a rusher touch the ball more than 300 times since 2004 when runningback Corey Dillon had 345 rushing attempts.
What makes those numbers even more impressive is that Ridley is the only runningback that received that many touches while his QB made over 600 attempts passing attempts.
However the Patriots offense is headed for major changes with free agents Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker gone, tightend Rob Gronkowski nursing serious injuries this offense has changed drastically. While Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd could be resigned due to the cutting of Aaron Hernandez this team lost key weapons to their air attack. The Patriots are sure to return to a more balanced attack that will heavily involve Ridley.
Ridley has minimal competition in camp and has also noticeably bulked up to protect the football. On the other hand his receiving numbers make him less desirable but he is a solid rusher and that is what matters most. While a lot has been made of Ridley’s concussion during the 2013 postseason that shouldn’t keep anyone form not drafting Ridley.
Ridley is easily a second round draft lock and should payout with a first round performance. Also remember that when Tom Brady wasn’t terrific Ridley had his best performances last season.
It’s hard to not add Kansas City Chiefs runningback Jamaal Charles to this list of possible 300 carry backs but I have my reasons for doubt.
First Charles who also rebounded from an ACL injury in 2011 had a magnificent 2012 season. Charles averaged 5.29 yards a carry right behind Peterson’s average of 6.03 yards a carry. Charles also had 1,509 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns.
However Charles was lack of touchdowns was not his fault but that of a poorly designed offense.
In February the Chiefs hired Andy Reid; who was in my opinion the best offensive coach available on the market.
The Chiefs acquired quarterback Alex Smith from San Francisco and will feature a west coast offense that will run the read option. One of Reid’s talents is finding role players and creating a place of them in his offense. This could also lead to fewer touches for Jamaal Charles.
What concerns me is that while Reid took the Eagles to many post season games he also at times abandons the run. Under Reid last season the Eagles passed 62% of the time and elected to run only 38% of the time. With a run to pass ratio like that it will be extremely difficult for Charles to get the touches he needs to reach 300 carries.
Reid had only one NFL season of fourteen he had with the Eagles where a rusher had over 300 carries. That makes it difficult to say that Charles will join the 300 club next season.
Now if anyone of these runningbacks does not break 300 carries but should still be snatched in the first round it will easily be Jamaal Charles. Charles will be productive in so many different ways that his overall touches won’t even matter. I expect Charles to carry the ball for big yardage and be a serious receiving threat as well.
So what should I be game planning for on draft day?
As OTA’s have ended and NFL training camp is set to begin in late July keep an open ear for whispers of training camp battles for the starting running back position.
While I don’t see any rookies receiving 300 carries this season some such as Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers and Montee Ball of the Broncos are sure to be pushed.
As with all teams, players are phased out for younger second and third year veterans who have earned their chance to compete for a starting role.
For instance veterans Frank Gore, Darren Sproles, De Angelo Williams, and even new Falcons runningback Steven Jackson who are all twenty nine years old and are no longer spring chickens for a NFL runningback. Others who carry risk are Chris Johnson, Ben Jarvus Green Ellis, and even Adrian Peterson who are now twenty seven years old and not getting any younger.
What I do want to emphasize is that the premature death of the 300 carry runningback is postponed.
On draft day you may be able to find not one but two runningbacks that will be able to dominate your league and build your draft around them. So don’t hesitate to use your first and second draft pick at runningback since the NFL is a copycat league.
Yes the NFL is still a pass first league fundamentally that will not change but runningback is what will determine your fantasy football leagues champion this season. So grab a runningback who has the potential for 300 carries and don’t regret a thing.
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