Look at that picture above you. C.J. Spiller is obviously salivating at the thought of how awesomely awesome he is going to be in the 2013 season for fantasy owners. Trust me, C.J. I’ve made that face plenty of times when thinking about your massive fantasy upside this season. Obviously, I love Spiller this season, but believe me, there are also many, many guys I also am quite fond of for the 2013 season. And, considering it is already almost the middle of August, guess what, fantasy fans?
The season isn’t coming. It’s already here. Let’s get right to the running backs who made my fantasy man crush list this season. I’ll try to contain my excitement.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills: Duh. I mean, come on. I may have talked more about Spiller this season than I have spoken to my own mother. Okay, maybe that’s a little over the top, but would it surprise you? I have written too many articles about Spiller to count, so why do I love him so much? Sure, I’m a Bills fan, but even if I wasn’t, I’d still be intrigued. Here’s a guy who finished 2012 as fantasy’s number seven running back, despite being under-utilized at times. He only posted 250 touches, but made the most of them. Only Adrian Peterson had more 20-yard rushes, he finished third in yards after contact and is much, much more consistent than many people think. Via Tristan Cockroft of ESPN, Spiller finished 2012 with the fifth-highest consistency rating (81.3). That means that 81.3 percent of the time, Spiller finished that week as an RB1. Also, if you take his last 19 contests, 15 of them resulted in double-digit fantasy production. Again, this is all while splitting work with Fred Jackson. Fast forward to 2013, and Spiller is expected to be fed the ball “until he throws up.” New head coach Doug Marrone loves to run the ball, and wants to implement a fast paced offense. Hmm, sounds like more of an offense suited for Spiller than Jackson, no? Spiller saw six games in which he had single-digit carries last season. That won’t happen this season under Marrone. I’m all in on CJ this season. Excuse me while I wipe the drool.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: The revamped offensive line in Tennessee was one of the main reasons I am not giving up on CJ(?)K this season. The team brought in Andy Levitre from Buffalo, as well as drafting a monster of a human being in Chance Warmack. And boy, did this unit look good in preseason the other night? Johnson broke a 58-yard touchdown on a huge hole created by his lineman. Heck, even Shonn Greene went practically untouched from 20-yards out. That only speaks volumes about this offensive line. Anyway, I still think Johnson is one of the more deadliest runners in football, and has that big play potential that not many running back have in the league today. While he disappointed fantasy owners last year, he still finished as the number 13 fantasy back, so if he can bring some consistency, he’ll be a stud, for sure.
Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions: Detroit running backs were targeted an impressive 144 times in 2012, and despite having a star like Calvin Johnson on the outside, the Lions were actually more of a short-passing team. Both Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell caught a combined 86 passes, so I can’t wait to see Bush step in and be the focal point in the running game. This is a guy who was a top-15 fantasy back last year, despite being underutilized at times. Head coach Jim Schwartz is already on record saying that this guy could catch anywhere between 60-80 passes for the Lions this season, and considering he caught 88 balls in 2006, part of a very similar offense in New Orleans, I don’t think it’s out of reach.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bell landed in the most tempting spot for fantasy production. With that being said, he is my top fantasy rookie as of right now. Bell joins the Steelers, a team that loves to pound the rock. Over the past three seasons, Pittsburgh ranks 5th in rushing attempts inside the three yard line. Remember Rashard Mendenhall? Yeah, well he used to be a very productive fantasy back, but in my eyes, it was more of the product of situation. 24 of his 29 career rushing scores came from inside the five-yard line. I think Bell will be a three-down back for this unit, and under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, he’ll likely be utilized in the passing game as well (running backs typically catch 30 balls under Haley).
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers: I know what you’re probably thinking. How can I trust any running back out of Carolina? Fair, but I’m not giving up on the talent that Williams (age 30) still has. Teammate Jonathan Stewart is already dealing with injury issues, which only helps Williams’ value. The guy has the track record (well, at least for one year) of being a top fantasy back. Back in 2008, Williams was a monster, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 18 scores, ultimately finishing as the number one fantasy rusher. Stewart will miss time, the Panthers want to run the football, and considering where you are drafting him (34th overall back), he’ll be a major bargain for fantasy owners this year.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: I’m all in on the Bears this season. I’m a believer in Marc Trestman and his pass-happy offense. Forte is expected to be a massive part of Trestman’s short-passing style of offense. I mean, guys like Larry Centers (a fullback) hauled in an impressive 69 balls under Trestman’s offense back in 1998. Forte is clearly a more capable threat catching passes, having caught 267 balls in five seasons. His inability to get the job done in the red zone has allowed Michael Bush to serve as the goal line back, but I still love Forte this year, especially in PPR formats.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots: Hey, Tom Brady has to throw the ball to someone, right? Vereen will line up all over the place for the Patriots this season, as injuries and departures to the offensive weapons have presented Vereen with a major opportunity to produce. He’ll get some carries, but his real value will obviously come from catching the football. Remember, last season Danny Woodhead, despite being behind in the depth chart, finished as a top-25 fantasy running back. Vereen will assume the role that Woodhead leaves behind … and then some. Hop aboard the bandwagon, folks.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.