Scouting the running backs
By Ed Barkowitz
On the way up: Steven Jackson, St. Louis
On the way down: Frank Gore, San Francisco
Riskiest pick: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Sleeper: Ryan Williams, Arizona
Late-round look: Cedric Benson, Packers
Please avoid: Shonn Greene, NY Jets
Top rookie: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay
Ahmad Bradshaw, NY Giants: He’s still the Giants’ running back to have, but keeper leaguers should keep an eye on rookie David Wilson, a first-rounder out of Virginia Tech.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: Has had a good camp after missing ripping up his knee in Week 2 last year. The Chiefs’ addition of Peyton Hillis makes you wonder about touchdown vulturing.
Matt Forte, Chicago: Was averaging a career-best 4.9 yards per attempt before injuring his knee last December. The Bears added Michael Bush, which could cut into Forte’s goal-line work.
Arian Foster, Houston: Had a slow start to the season because of a hamstring problem, but emerged as one of the league’s best backs. His numbers stayed high even when starting quartback Matt Schaub got hurt.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: The Niners brought in Brandon Jacobs, used a second-round pick on LaMichael James and still have Kendall Hunter. Clearly, they’re trying to lighten the load for Gore, whose 282 carries last season were the most he’s had in 5 years.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo: Has shown no problems with the broken leg that wrecked his 2011 season.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis: Taking Jeff Fisher’s primary running back is almost always a good idea (except 2005 when he had to rely on Chris Brown). Jackson is 29 and has some mileage on his tires, but don’t let him slip too far.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee: A training-camp holdout had everything to do with Johnson having the worst season of his career (still had 1,047 yards). Prediction here is that Johnson rebounds with 1,300 yards.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville: Led the league in rushing last year, but these extended training-camp holdouts are scary.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay: A rookie out of Boise State, Martin is projected to be the Bucs’ No. 1 back at some point. A new coaching staff (Greg Schiano), has no allegiance to LeGarrette Blount.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego: Broke his collarbone in the preseason, but is expecting to be ready early on. He always seems banged up, but could offer fantasy value as an RB3 draft pick and trade bait after a few games.
LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Unless great-grandpa took Steve Van Buren in the late-’40s, it’s unlikely any Eagles running back has ever been drafted as high as McCoy, who should be one of the first three RBS taken.
Darren McFadden, Oakland: Would be top-5 if he didn’t get hurt so often. If you do roll the dice on McFadden, be sure to grab his backup, Mike Goodson.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas: The Cowboys have talked about throwing him the ball more often. Like McFadden, he has a history of injuries dating back to college and has missed three games each of his first two NFL seasons.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota: This could be the high-risk/high-reward choice of the draft. Peterson had major knee surgery in late December and won’t play in the preseason. Keep in mind he has consecutive cold-weather games in Weeks 12 and 13 (at Chicago, at Green Bay).
Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh: He figures to get the majority of work until Rashard Mendenhall (knee) comes back in October to muddle up the works. Make sure you have three solid RBs before going after any Steeler.
Ray Rice, Baltimore: Given a 5-year, $35 million deal in the offseason. His backup is former Temple star Bernard Pierce, though Pierce is not worth a handcuff just yet.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland: The only thing more damaging than a rookie missing camp because of a holdout, is one missing camp because of injury.
Darren Sproles, New Orleans: When points-per-reception leagues were invented, they were done so with Sproles in mind. Sproles had 86 catches last year, tops among running backs, and 87 carries.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina: Averaged a career-best 5.4 yards per carry last year.
Michael Turner, Atlanta: The Falcons have talked about reducing his workload, which will threaten his 4-year streak of double-digit touchdowns. Turner still will be the primary back in a high-octane offense, and would make a good RB2 in fantasy.
Ryan Williams, Arizona: Still has to prove his recovered from a torn patellar he sustained last summer, but could be a late-round gem if he has.
Top Pick -- - Arian Foster, Texans
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