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Running Backs: NFC South

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

Atlanta – Steven Jackson/Jacquizz Rodgers

We all know that running backs seem to taper off after 30, and this is the year Steven Jackson gets bit by the 30 bug. That’s not to say he’s not going to be good enough to start each week. I fully expect Jackson to post good numbers on this high-powered offense. If Michael Turner can do it, so can Jackson. He played every single game last year and through injury. In the last four seasons he has only missed two games. That’s huge! Jackson is a tough physical back, and while father time gets to all running backs, I think Jackson makes him wait another year to fully start to wear him down. Being on a new team, especially one with the capability of making it to the Super Bowl, is going to give him a nice spark and net another season with more than 1,000 yards and 8-10 touchdowns (side note: that would give him nine consecutive years of more than 1,000 yards!) Now that I have talked him up a bit, let’s not get too carried away. Jackson may not be a first-round draft pick but you may want to start considering him in round two.

As far as Jacquizz Rodgers goes, I’m not so certain this is going to be his year, either. I kept hoping he would have a breakout game last year as we could all see him starting to supplant Michael Turner as the season went on, but Michael Turner kept on doing just enough to keep his job. Totaling only three games last year with 10 carries or more is nothing to write home about. While Rodgers can be a high-quality back there’s no doubt that Jackson will be the featured man in Atlanta.

Jackson –
4 Stars; Rodgers –
1.75 Stars

Carolina – DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart /Mike Tolbert

Abandon all hope ye who draft here. Heed this warning and try to steer clear of these three by any means necessary; let someone else get the headache of this terrible backfield committee. The problem is all three backs are good, and trying to decide which one is going to have the better week is anyone’s guess. On top of the committee issue, Williams hits the magic age of 30 this year and Jonathan Stewart is coming off ankle surgeries and hasn’t practiced at all. I think he’ll be fine for the start of the season but that surgery is not really the problem when it comes to drafting them. It’s the committee.

Not only do the two of them split carries, Mike Tolbert is a very good goal line back and has plans to be stealing all goal line opportunities in Carolina, making him a decent pick in deep leagues … but wait! They also have this guy on the team named Cam Newton, and in case you haven’t heard of him, he’s also very good at getting the ball in the end zone via the ground. All this together is a recipe for complete fantasy disaster. Unless someone unfortunately gets injured or released by the team, I just wouldn’t do it.

Williams –
2.25 Stars; Stewart –
2.25 Stars; Tolbert –
1.5 Stars

New Orleans – Darren Sproles/Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram

We leave one crowded headache of a backfield only to venture into another confusing backfield even with the departure of Chris Ivory. Mark Ingram, by accounts, has been being used quite a bit in practices running between tackles and coming out of the backfield. Could this be an indication that he might be starting to get used more in this offense? However, getting used more in a backfield with two other capable guys in it is still not very appealing.

The biggest threat in this backfield without question is Darren Sproles, sporting some of the best hands out of the backfield. Sproles caught 75 passes last year, and in points-per-reception leagues, Sproles is tremendously valuable. But I wouldn’t sell him short in non-PPR leagues. In standard leagues he will still be a dominant presence in your running back stable. He is a very dynamic player, and with Sean Payton back as coach, I expect Sproles to return to the passing game in an even bigger way.

For my second-best in the backfield, I’m currently leaning towards Mark Ingram, going off of combined rushing and receiving touches from last year. Ingram has 162 touches and Pierre Thomas 144. While neither should be considered a first- or second-tier running back, they make good gambles in bye week pinches or flex fill-ins with good matchups. This offense is just that good and the points get spread all over the place.

Sproles –
3.75 Stars; Thomas –
2 Stars; Ingram –
2.25 Stars

Tampa Bay

Doug Martin/Mike James

Martin is the unquestioned starter in Tampa Bay and should be drafted amongst the top-5 running backs in fantasy. Martin had a fantastic rookie season and appears to be in position to continue to build on that going forward. He was having a fairly above-average season until he played the Oakland Raiders and more than likely single-handedly beat your fantasy opponent by himself finishing the day with 251 yards and four scores.

A couple of his games were a complete miss, providing no numbers at all, but just about any running back will turn those days in, occasionally. But remember that Martin is the unquestioned starter and no one behind him is close to taking that away from him. More importantly, he’s very good at what he does: excellent burst, strength, good hands and picking up the blitz. He’s an excellent three-down back and should be a tier one running back all year long.

Mike James their sixth-round draft pick from this year, is currently listed second on the depth chart and looks like he will be the backup as of right now. Tampa Bay’s backfield might be in a bit of trouble if Martin happens to miss any games.

Martin –
5 Stars; James –
1 Star

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