2013 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 40 Running Backs

Heading into the 2012 season, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Fast forward one year and there is one certainty with Peterson, the league's MVP. Without question, he will be the first running back and first player off fantasy draft boards in 2013.

Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL in December 2011, defied the odds and nearly broke the single-season rushing record in 2012. He fell eight yards short of tying Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 rushing yards.

While he was good in the first six weeks of the season, Peterson was even (much) better in the final 10 games.

During that span, Peterson rushed for 1,598 yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to catching 20 passes for 88 yards and a score. He averaged 6.80 yards per carry and nearly 160 yards rushing per game during that stretch.

In addition, Peterson rushed for 100-plus yards in nine of those 10 final regular-season games and had at least 199 rushing yards three times.

Even more remarkably, he did this with a low-powered passing game. Percy Harvin did not play in Weeks 10 through 17 and Christian Ponder threw for less than 200 yards in seven of the final 10 regular-season games.

Year of the Rookie Running Back

A lot was made of the brilliant success had by the 2012 rookie crop of quarterbacks. There is no doubt that last year's rookie signal-callers were special.

That said, so were the running backs.

There were nine different rookie running backs that rushed for 100-plus yards in a game for a total of 22 such games in 2012. In 2010 and 2011 combined, there were a total of 21 games of 100-plus rushing yards by rookie running backs.

Redskins running back Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,613 yards, which set the franchise single-season rushing record. In addition, he finished second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13) behind Houston's Arian Foster (15). Only Foster and Peterson had more carries than Morris (335).

Morris, one of the team's sixth-round picks, had 20-plus carries 10 times this season including his final seven regular-season games. He had more than rushing 75 yards in all but two games this season.

Buccaneers running back Doug Martin started slowly, but he finished fifth in the NFL in rushing (1,454 yards). The only player to rush for more yards in Tampa Bay franchise history was James Wilder (1,544 yards in 1984). Not only did Martin finish fifth in rushing, but he also finished fifth among running backs in receiving yards (472) on 49 receptions. Even better, the only running back with more yards from scrimmage than Martin (1,926) was Peterson (2,314).

The first running back selected in last year's NFL draft was Cleveland's Trent Richardson. He had a solid year (1,317 yards from scrimmage, 51 receptions and 12 touchdowns), but he was slowed with injuries (knee, ribs) all season. Running backs coach Gary Brown expects a 1,600-year from Richardson in his second or third year.

The only other rookie with multiple 100-yard games was Philadelphia's Bryce Brown. He rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts, but then rushed for only 76 yards in his final four games on 40 carries. Provided LeSean McCoy healthy for a full season, however, Brown won't have as many opportunities for huge games in 2013 like he had in his first two starts.

In his final four games, Giants rookie David Wilson had his only 100-yard game. During that span, he carried the ball 43 times for 247 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and had two receptions for 26 yards and a score. Although Andre Brown is a capable back as well, Wilson will have an opportunity for a featured role since the team released Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason.

MASH Unit RBs: Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden

Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was drafted as an early-to-mid first-round pick before breaking his clavicle in the preseason. He ended his season the same way he started it as he broke his collar bone again in Week 15. He has now missed at least two games in each of his three seasons and a total of 10 games during that span.

In 12 games last year, Mathews averaged only 3.8 yards per carry and scored only one touchdown, both of which are career lows. Mathews will be cheap(er) on draft day in 2013, but many fantasy owners will be reluctant to gamble on the injury-prone back.

Speaking of injury-prone backs, Oakland's Darren McFadden missed four games this season and has yet to play in more than 13 games in any of his five NFL seasons. Unlike the previous two seasons, however, McFadden was not good on a per-game or per-carry basis.

McFadden, the fourth-overall pick by the Raiders in 2008, rushed for 707 yards on 216 carries, which is an average of a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. In the 20 games he played in 2010 and 2011, he averaged 5.27 yards per carry.

That said, the Raiders have a new offensive coordinator and will switch back to a power-running game to better utilize McFadden's strengths.

"What we've decided to do, as a staff, is see what Darren McFadden is comfortable doing,'' [offensive coordinator Greg] Olson said, per Monte Poole of the San Jose Mercury News. "Let's try and make it more comfortable for Darren, because he's one of our premier players.''

That is certainly good news for McFadden owners. Before he misses a game or two, he should be more productive.

Some more notes on running backs:

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch finished third in the league in rushing with a career-high 1,590 rushing yards. It was Lynch's fourth 1,000-yard season and he has now back-to-back seasons with 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns.

Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards despite getting only 207 carries. In addition, he finished with 43 receptions for 459 yards. Assuming a larger workload in 2013 under new coach Doug Marrone, Spiller should have a realistic shot at getting 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage.

Kansas City's Jamaal Charles had the fourth-highest rushing total (1,509 yards) this season, but he took an interesting path to get there. Charles had two games with more than 225 rushing yards and a total of seven games with at least 100 yards. That said, he also had three games with 10 yards or less. Coincidentally, both of his 200-yard games were preceded by one of those games of 10 or less yards.

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley had a breakout season with a career-high 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. While he only has nine career receptions, Ridley should continue to get a heavy workload and goal-line opportunities. Ridley's 290 carries were the eighth-most in franchise history and the most since Corey Dillion had 345 in 2004.

After being the primary offensive option with little help from his teammates, Steven Jackson moves to a team overflowing will talented skill players (Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, etc.). The active leader in carries (2,395), by far, Jackson has a lot of tread on his soon-to-be 30-year-old legs. With eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, SJax should get an opportunity to finally cash in at the goal line. Before being released, Michael Turner had double-digit rushing touchdowns in each of the past five seasons for the Falcons.

The Lions signed Reggie Bush to a four-year deal. While he should lead the team in carries and rushing, he stands to catch more than his fair share of passes out of the backfield. Bush had only 35 receptions last year and I wouldn't be surprised if he doubled that total in the Lions' pass-happy offense. Bush should be a PPR stud in 2013.

Here are my way-too-early top 50 fantasy running backs for 2013 (standard scoring):

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
7. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
8. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
9. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
10. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
11. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
12. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
13. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
14. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
15. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
16. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
17. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
18. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
19. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
20. David Wilson, New York Giants
21. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
22. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
23. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
25. Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
26. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
27. Ahmad Bradshaw, Free Agent
28. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
29. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
30. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
31. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions
32. Bilal Powell, New York Jets
33. Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
34. Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals
35. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
36. Mike Goodson, New York Jets
37. Andre Brown, New York Giants
38. Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams
39. Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
40. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons

More 2013 Fantasy Football Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

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