The game continues to change.
Long gone are the days where running backs are simply asked to run the ball between the tackles and block. Oh no, the position has become much more versatile, much more involved in the overall flow of the offense. Year after year we are seeing more running backs become major threats in not only the ground attack, but through the air as well. Already in the 2013 offseason, we have seen player movement, injuries, you name it, all of which impact the PPR value for certain fantasy rushers. Let’s take a look.
Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions: There is almost too much to like about Bush’s fantasy prospects as we approach the 2013 campaign. He has left South Beach and has joined pass happy Detroit. This unit has thrown the ball more than anyone in football over the past three seasons (740, 666, 633). You have to think the Lions will look to perhaps sling the ball around even more with their new versatile toy in the backfield. Not too long ago, Bush stated that the Lions’ offense reminds him a lot of the style of offense he saw during his time in New Orleans. During his first two years as a member of the Saints, Bush was an absolute PPR machine, catching 161 balls. We know Matthew Stafford is going to throw the ball a ton. Last year, he led the league in attempts (727), but the interesting number is actually 144, the number of throws that went to Detroit running backs. The Lions will use Bush in ways they had only wished to use similar build Jahvid Best if he was healthy. The team said that they plan on having Bush catch 60-70 balls, but honestly, I think he can grab even more than that.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots: With the Patriots offense crumbling at the minute, Vereen’s fantasy value continues to rise. He showed some terrific pass-catching flashes towards the end of last season, and now, with Danny Woodhead gone, Vereen should see an uptick in touches. In 2012, Vereen and Woodhead combined for 186 total touches. Also, don’t overlook the fact that Woodhead finished the 2012 season as fantasy’s number 25 running back, despite seeing limited work. Now, you lose Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker out of the slot, and I’d fully expect the Patriots to get creative and use Vereen out of the slot early and often. This could very well result in him finishing this year as at least a top-20 option. Also, if for whatever reason Stevan Ridley lands in Bill Belichick’s dog house, Vereen will step in. He is a guy the Patriots like to use in hurry up situations, has terrific hands and will create a mismatch if lined up in the slot.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: I laugh when people worry about Charles’ fantasy value with the acquisition of new head coach Andy Reid. Sure, he loves to pass the ball. Sure, at times, it would seem like he would neglect his start running backs in the past. But this move is terrific for Charles. If Charles did lack something in the fantasy world, it would be his pass-catching presence. Reid’s West Coast style of offense will change that in a hurry. Reid fully understands that Charles needs to be the focal point of the Kansas City offense. In fact, he has been going back and watching tape for the 2010 Chiefs team, stating that he saw a lot of similarities as his Eagles offenses. He went back and focused on how Charles fairs in both the short and longer passing attacks. Remember, it was only a few years ago that LeSean McCoy hauled in an impressive 78 balls under Reid, and Brian Westbrook was known as one of the most productive pass-catching backs in all of football back in 2006-07, catching 167 balls over those two years. It’s safe to say that Charles’ career high of 45 catches will skyrocket this year.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: Not that anyone loves Mathews (from a fantasy perspective) anyway, but it’s worth nothing that even though he is a starting running back in this league, he does have his limitations. For instance, all last season, the Chargers went with a less talented back in Ronnie Brown as the team’s third down back. The fact that they not only kept Brown this offseason, but then went ahead and brought in a top notch pass-catching back in Danny Woodhead signifies that the team has no plans of using Mathews on third downs this season. Combined that with the fact that Mathews was never exactly a terrific receiving threat out of the backfield in the first place, and I’m staying away.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins: I love Morris so ridiculously much that it is very difficult for me to talk negative about him in any way shape or form. Morris wasted no time showing what he is made of in his rookie year, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns, both finishing second in the league. In standard formats, Morris was an absolute stud, averaging 0.46 fantasy points per opportunity. He eventually would go on to finish as fantasy’s number five rusher. However, he provided minimal to no fantasy value in PPR formats. Morris caught a measly 11 balls for 77 yards last season, averaging just 0.37 fantasy points per snap. With starting quarterback Robert Griffin III’s Week 1 status still up in the air, the Redskins will probably end up force-feeding Morris, but it most likely won’t be through the air. He’s simply not that type of player.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: While I still believe MJD is in store for a huge bounceback season, I think his PPR value continues to take a hit. First of all, he is coming off of a lisfranc injury, something that is known for lingering over the course of the season. Remember, many folks were saying he’d be back before the end of the season last year, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Also, the team brought in backup Justin Forsett. He’s not a big time name by any means, but has shown some signs over the course of his career, and during his time in Seattle, was a 35-40-catch guy. Perhaps the Jags pull the reigns off of MJD just a tad to avoid him getting hurt again. And oh yeah, the Jaguars’ quarterbacks aren’t exactly… good?
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.