Often times in fantasy football, we put too much emphasis on what happened last year, or who seems to be the sexiest new name out there. It’s important to put aside these biases and objectively look at which running backs are actually being put in the best scenario for fantasy greatness.
Such criteria as team run blocking, strength of schedule, and realistically expected workload should be taken into consideration when delving into this realm of inquiry. By grading each of these factors on a scale from 1-10, I have uncovered for your sharking pleasure the 10 running backs of the 2013 season that are in the potentially best position to exceed expectations.
Mind you, this does not factor in individual talent; I am merely highlighting the hidden value that these X-factors should imbue on the following backs. Many of these players are set to be drafted early anyway; so the purpose is to help you make decisions between these guys and other players that are similarly ranked.
10. Isaiah Pead/Daryl Richardson/Zac Stacy, St. Louis – 21 points – The acquisition of tackle Jake Long this offseason was a huge coup for the Rams formerly lackluster offensive line. Center Scott Wells and right guard Rodger Saffold were already accomplished offensive linemen, and now this squad is fairly formidable. Their strength of schedule ranked a tough, but manageable, 18th primarily due to the combined four games that they will play against division rivals San Francisco and Seattle.
Coach Jeff Fisher has always been a proponent of the feature back, so the winner of this three-man race should get a steady diet of carries. Best of all, you can get this trio in most drafts for an 8th-, 10th-, and a 12th-round draft pick. Small price to pay for a guaranteed quality flex back.
9. Trent Richardson, Cleveland – 21 points – Ugh. A Cleveland Browns player in the first round?! You’ve got to be kidding, right? Sorry to say it, but Richardson is legit, as is the Browns nearly elite offensive line. Left tackle Joe Thomas is perhaps the best in the business, and, with the exception of right guard Shaun Lauvao, the rest of this unit grades out individually as B’s or better. Most importantly, the Browns’ line has a strong sense of cohesion that allows them to play off of one another. Richardson is also the team’s only viable weapon, so his carries will be early and often.
8. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota – 22 points – Well, duh. Not only is he the greatest athlete in the NFL and a bona fide mutant with superhuman healing powers, but Peterson also boasts perhaps the best supporting cast up front in the league, and of course, he gets the rock all day. Don’t get cute. He’s No. 1 on the draft board, with no exceptions. It is worth noting, however, that the Vikings have the fourth-toughest schedule for running backs in 2013, but this is Peterson that we are talking about. Enough said.
7. Chris Ivory, New York Jets – 23 points – Years of Shonn Greene have poisoned the idea of carrying a Jets running back, but that should change in 2013. The Jets have the second-most favorable schedule for running backs in all of the land. Add in the fact that almost nobody could be as bad as Greene, who still managed top 20 points at the position last year, and you’ve got yourself a major producer. The Jets offensive line is above average as well. Injury concerns are the only hazard here, but there is definite hidden value.
6. Montee Ball (or Ronnie Hillman), Denver – 24 points – The Denver Broncos possess the fifth-most favorable schedule for running backs, so whomever emerges as the bell cow here should have ample opportunity to shine. It also doesn’t hurt that the Broncos have a very solid offensive line. This is a must handcuff situation.
5. Stevan Ridley, New England – 24 points – The three best offensive lines in the NFL this year belong to Minnesota, San Francisco, and of course, the New England Patriots. Throw in the fact that Tom Brady’s receiving corps has never before looked this pedestrian and it becomes clear that Ridley will be making it big in Foxboro. The Patriots also boast the 10th-easiest schedule for running backs.
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay – 26 points – Tampa Bay has the third-easiest schedule for running backs this year and a pretty good offensive line. He also has great hands from his days in the pass-happy Boise State offense. Martin is going to run circles around the competition. You can book it.
3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle – 26 points – He’s already going third in most drafts. Don’t hesitate to take him there yourself. The Seahawks are great at run-blocking and they have a pretty favorable schedule outside of their two matchups with San Francisco.
2. Arian Foster, Houston – 29 points – A beastly offensive line and the fourth-easiest schedule for backs. He’s as clear cut a No. 2 draft pick as I’ve ever seen.
1. Frank Gore, San Francisco – 29 points – I’ve already stated that he has a top-3 offensive line, but the 49ers also have the sixth-easiest schedule for running backs. Gore still has enough juice left in the tank to get you great fantasy numbers should you draft him in the mid-to-late second round.