Arguably the league’s top No. 2 tailback, Tate is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He could generate significant interest on the open market next offseason. Beat the hype and snatch the 24-year-old up now…Leshoure is far from locked in as Detroit’s long-term feature back, but he’s still only 22 and, at the very least, appears to have a future as a committee/goal line back…As mentioned earlier on in this piece, Pierce is a threat to Ray Rice for early-down snaps after a strong rookie season. He's one of a few No. 2 backs who should be on everyone's radar…Pead’s 2013 may get off to a slow start if Steven Jackson is re-signed, but he showed flashes of dominance on a small sample of rookie-season touches. St. Louis’ 2012 second-round pick is an excellent buy low option. His upside gives him an edge on Richardson, who slowed down after a strong first-half to his rookie season.
When Frank Gore finally begins to slow, Hunter is the man who figures to take over as the run-heavy 49ers’ lead back. LaMichael James seems primed to eventually work as a passing-down compliment, not unlike Darren Sproles or Jacquizz Rodgers…Vereen could be a threat to some of Stevan Ridley’s workload between the 20s, but he’s unlikely to get much work inside-the-five and will be at the liberty of the Bill Belichick tailback committee as long as he’s in New England…The undersized Hillman needs work as a pass-blocker, but he’s only 21 and has the skillset to work himself into a Ray Rice-like role…Brown is a serious threat to David Wilson for the Giants’ lead back gig in 2013. At the very least, he figures to see 6-to-8 carries-per-game as well as most of the goal line work.
Green-Ellis is still just 27-years-old and, although he’s a relatively underwhelming back, he was solid on nearly 300 carries during his first season with the Bengals. He’ll have more competition this year, but figures to have another year or two left as a feature back…Bradshaw is a free agent and can’t yet pass a physical. He’s still only 26, however, and is an excellent pass-blocker, and decent runner. He figures to earn a respectable workload wherever he lands…Brown is stuck behind LeSean McCoy for at least the next few seasons, but he’s only 21 and the Eagles figure to go with a run-heavy approach under Chip Kelly…Like Brown, Turbin is a young player stuck behind a talented lead back for the near future. He’ll need a Marshawn Lynch injury to find a fantasy-relevant workload.
Thomas is the underdog, but will be pushing Lamar Miller for the feature back job in Miami. After averaging a poor 3.5 YPC during his first two seasons, however, his ceiling appears to be that of a crawlspace…With Michael Turner on to the unemployment line, Rodgers is currently atop the Falcons’ depth chart. That doesn’t figure to last long, however. A passing-down specialist, Rodgers has struggled between the tackles during his first two years in the league, averaging just under 4.0 YPC…It appears Williams is in the Panthers’ 2013 plans, but he struggles to find more than a dozen snaps when Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are both active. He has a ton of talent, but is about to turn 30 and needs a new home in order to find fantasy-relevance…Greene’s days with the Jets appear to be over, but he’s quietly been an okay back despite his lack of explosiveness. He should be able to find work as a situational bruiser.
A case can be made for Powell higher on this list, but I don’t see him as any more than a committee back. The Jets figure to add a body to handle a chunk of the workload, but it’s possible Powell could be their stopgap lead back…Ivory is a perennial sleeper (and deservedly so), but he hasn’t been able to find consistent playing time in New Orleans. He’ll be tendered as a restricted free agent again this season, but the 24-year-old is worthy of a long-term stash…Mendenhall figures to move on from Pittsburgh, but he’s unlikely to land a lead back role on the open market. Still just 25-years-old, however, he shouldn’t have much trouble finding a part-time role…McGahee is closing in on 32 and will head into 2013 in a competition for reps with sophomore Ronnie Hillman and a rejuvenated Moreno. Even if he manages to swing 15-plus touches-per-game in 2013, his days as an effective back are numbered…Speaking of Moreno, he’s only 26, but has an unclear role and is due $1.7 million. The trade block is a possibility.
A 2012 second-round pick, James profiles as a passing-down/change-of-pace back. He’s currently buried behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter…Wells has been a bust since being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. The box was stacked against Wells all of 2012, but his 2.7 YPC was still inexcusable. New coach Bruce Arians figures to move on to Ryan Williams or a rookie/free agent…Undrafted last season, Bolden was extremely productive on a small sample of carries for the Patriots. He’s buried on the depth chart, but is worthy of a stash…Jackson is about to turn 32 and is no longer atop the Bills’ depth chart. He needs a C.J. Spiller injury in order to land a significant number of touches
Woodhead’s best bet for continued fantasy-relevance is a re-up with the Patriots. Nevertheless, he’ll be pushed by Shane Vereen for passing-down snaps…Very much like Vereen, Thomas is his team’s No. 2 back on early and passing downs, doing both very well, but not getting enough reps for real fantasy relevance…Bell was strong as a passing-down back for Detroit last season, but it appears he’ll have additional competition for snaps going forward, limiting any potential breakout…Bush isn’t going to see many snaps behind Matt Forte, but remains the team’s top goal line back, and one of fantasy’s better handcuffs.
Since entering the league via the second round of the 2010 draft, Gerhart has been stuck behind Adrian Peterson. He’s entering a contract year in 2013, but needs a Peterson injury in order to find more than a few passing-down reps…Helu is a forgotten name after Alfred Morris’ 2012 breakout, but he’s still only 24-years-old and expected back healthy in 2013…Harris was strong for the Packers down the stretch in 2012, but he doesn’t appear to be a serious threat for the team’s lead back job in 2013…Cut by the Falcons, Turner will look to latch on as a situational, short-yardage back. His days of fantasy prominence are over.
Jones, Benson, Goodson, Hillis, and Peerman are somewhat-intriguing free agents looking for shares of someone’s pie on the open market…Hardesty is no real threat to Trent Richardson, but is entering a contract year after a quietly-decent 2012 campaign…Reece is pushing for some goal line/passing-down duties behind Darren McFadden, but isn’t an ideal lead back...Cadet is buried in New Orleans, but showed big-time flashes during the 2012 preseason…Dwyer and Redman could be back with the Steelers (both are restricted free agents), but neither is more than a complimentary back.
Royster will push Roy Helu for a few snaps off the bench behind Alfred Morris...Brown is entering a contract year, but, at best, will be on the short end of a committee behind Vick Ballard…The speedy Green has done nothing to show he was worthy of a third-round pick in 2011 and is very much a longshot for the Packers’ lead back job in 2013…Snelling will only be of interest if the Falcons surprise us all and don’t replace Michael Turner with a prominent free agent or early-to-mid-round draft pick…Tolbert sees goal line and passing-down work for Carolina, but that’s about where his ceiling ends unless DeAngelo Williams is cut or traded…Smith, a seventh-round pick last year, has a ton of speed and could push for the No. 2 job behind Doug Martin.