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Running Backs: NFC North

1 Star – Look elsewhere
2 Star – Desperation/Handcuff pick
3 Star – Serviceable starter
4 Star – Solid Starter you can count on every week
5 Star – Stud, Top 10 running back


Chicago
Matt Forte/Michael Bush

This is a prime example of an every down back and a goal line back. Forte is an excellent running back everywhere on the field. Not only is he reliable picking up blitzes, he has above-average hands catching the ball as well. Unfortunately, his nose for the end zone is….well, lacking. Forte has five seasons under his belt in the NFL and 26 rushing touchdowns to show for it, a modest average of 5.2 touchdowns a year. His total yardage and yards-per-carry are definitely amongst the best because he is a great back but don’t count on those touchdowns very often.

Aside from the split backfield and Brandon Marshall getting 194 targets, there’s another factor that I predict will keep Forte from finishing in the top 10 – his ankle and knee problems. He has missed six games in the last two seasons, a red flag when considering drafting him in the first round.

Michael Bush is this team’s goal line back and for a reason – he’s good at it. He’s got a great nose for the end zone and has proven that he can be a starter. He did it in Oakland behind Darren McFadden and he’s done it in Chicago when Forte was hurt. Handcuffing Bush is almost a necessity if you draft Forte. While Bush’s five-year career has also netted him 26 touchdowns, I’d like to share some interesting stats with you.

Career goal line carries-to touchdowns comparison:

Forte – 86 carries, 121 yards, 9 TD
Bush – 57 carries, 98 yards, 17 TD

I don’t know about you, but if I was the offensive coordinator I know who I would be putting in for goal line carries.

Forte –
4 Stars; Bush –
2.75 Stars

Detroit


Reggie Bush/Mikel Leshoure

The award for best newly acquired free agent running back: Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions. Bush never got the chance to actually be a legitimate starter until the Miami Dolphins gave him the ball 216 times in 2011 (he’s been in the league since 2006!), and what did he do with the opportunity? He ran for 1,086 yards and caught 43 balls for another 296 yards! That’s what he did! Bush is highly capable of getting it done. I was disappointed when the Dolphins started splitting carries between Bush and Daniel Thomas last year, and he still produced 986 yards and six scores on the ground.

The most important thing about Bush is that he is elusive and is highly effective making people miss. Also, he has tremendous hands out of the backfield which is exactly what Detroit will be using him for. With Calvin Johnson stretching the field I fully expect Bush to make a huge impact in this high-powered offense. The only drawback will be that Leshoure will be hawking the goal line touches but that’s all he is going to be used for. Leshoure was given an absurdly excellent starting opportunity in Week 3 and was vastly inconsistent, only breaking the 100-yard mark just once all last year.

I can see Bush producing as a high-end second-tier running back throughout the year. Bush has put on some weight during his stint with the Dolphins which has proven to be an excellent decision as he has lost none of his elusiveness and speed but gained durability. Do you know how many games he’s missed since becoming a starter with the Dolphins? One. Bush should be an absolute mid-round steal in all leagues.

Bush –
3.75 Stars; Leshoure –
1.5 Stars


Green Bay – Alex Green/James Starks/Johnathan Franklin/Eddie Lacy

The Packers are not exactly known for running the ball. Why should they be? They have Aaron Rodgers. However, to be truly successful they will need somewhat of a semblance of a ground game. Enter the 2013 draft and two newly acquired draft picks: Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Both have the potential to be quality backs though I imagine Eddie Lacy is going to be the favorite. The second-round pick from Alabama is a tremendous power runner and should look to transform some goal line field goals into those must have goal line touchdowns. Lacy, whom I do predict to win the battle for the starting running back spot, will not be the only one worth watching in training camp.

Johnathan Franklin, who is built more for quickness, will be no pushover on his route to starter and it should not be too much of a stretch to predict him winning the gig over Lacy. That leads me to Green and Starks, who were given more than enough opportunity to show off their skills. Starks gave the Packers a nominal effort and Green was just as terrible.

This backfield is wide open and everyone will be trying to fill the No. 1 slot. With the mediocre showing from Starks and Green last year I would not predict either to win this battle.



Lacy –
2.5 Stars; Franklin –
2.25 Stars; Green –
1 Star; Starks –
1 Star

Minnesota


Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart

The undisputed No. 1 running back in the NFL and on fantasy draft boards is none other than Adrian Peterson. Peterson not only came back from a torn ACL last year, he came back as the best in the league. He is an absolute freak on the field. His combination of size, speed, power and elusiveness is an absolute nightmare for any defense, even when stacking eight men in the box. Sporting one of the league’s worst quarterbacks and even with knowledge that he’s coming, there’s no easy way of stopping Peterson.

Considering all the above, Toby Gerhart’s relevance is basically nonexistent. If Peterson does get hurt he could be an excellent handcuff; however, Peterson does not have a real notable injury problem. Gerhart could actually be a very good back in the NFL, but, unless he gets to a different team, we may never really know. The bottom line is if you happen to get the No. 1 pick in your league, you should know exactly who to draft with it. Sit back with Peterson and start him every single game with confidence.

Peterson –
5 Stars; Gerhart –
1 Star

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