NFL fantasy football: Runners move back to the top

Finally, a position where you know who the top eight to 10 picks are going to be in your draft. The list of elite running backs isn't very long, but at least the top eight on the list below (and C.J. Spiller makes nine) are pretty much set in stone for your 2013 draft. The list of touches for a running back isn't scientific: the best ones get the most, and they produce a ton of points, unlike at other positions (wide receiver, tight end) where heavy attention doesn't always mean fantasy dominance. But there are still some ways to set a pecking order and also unearth some hidden gems when it comes to red-zone touches.

So, Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson for the number one overall pick in fantasy this season? True, you could flip a coin, but how about this: Foster has the second easiest schedule among running backs this season in terms of the opponents' defenses they face. Peterson has the second hardest.

Any questions?

There will be a wrestling match between Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch as far as who the third running back to come off the board will be. While Tampa Bay's offense will look much the same in 2013 (which is great news for Martin), with Seattle adding Percy Harvin combined with the continued development of Russell Wilson (who can run it in himself in the red-zone, too), I'm more confident Martin will be closer to last season's production than Lynch. In fact, I might even take C.J. Spiller ahead of Lynch, but it's close.

Let's face it, you're going to be nervous about taking Alfred Morris. I'm with you. I fall back on this: if I can get Morris in the second-round as my No. 2 running back, then I'm excited. But to rely on him as my lead dog? I'll take Jamaal Charles and Trent Richardson ahead of him. It'll be a tough call between Morris and Ray Rice, because Rice may be slowing down just enough (and Baltimore has shown they're cognizant of overusing him) where he drops a spot or two in the rankings this season.

I know Chris Johnson has a new offensive line, but he also has Shonn Greene and his three-year, $10 million contract to contend with. This is going to wind up being a time share, with Greene getting his share of carries to sledge hammer opponents and hopefully loosen things up for Johnson and the passing game. CJ2K will never be CJ2K again, and he's no better than a No. 2 fantasy back for me. Greene by the way is a nice sleeper later in your draft. If Johnson still has those 12 carry, 20 yard games by mid-season Greene's going to get the bulk of the carries.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis couldn't have been happy to see the Bengals select Giovani Bernard in the draft. A burner, Bernard will see more than his share of third down duty, limiting the snaps of Green-Ellis, who had them almost all to himself in 2012. My best scenario for The Law Firm is as a low-end No. 2, who may wind up being a bye-week starter or a flex player by midseason.

Now, who are the running backs who get the most red-zone carries in goal-to-go situations?

This is what separates the Ryan Mathews' of the world (starting running backs who don't get any, thus hampering their fantasy value) from the Shonn Greene's (running backs who don't overwhelm you with their overall numbers, but give you a touchdown a week to remain in your starting lineup). Some of the names are the same as they are on the list above: Foster, Peterson, Richardson, Morris, Rice, Lynch and Martin. But also present on that top 10 list in 2012 were Stevan Ridley (third overall) the aforementioned Greene (seventh most red-zone goal-to-go carries a year ago with the Jets) and Michael Turner, who is currently without a team.

I talked about Greene above and, obviously, if Turner's not on a team he's not helping anyone, but Ridley is a very curious case. The fact that Ridley got so many carries in that situation a year ago is what's keeping him as a high-end No. 2 fantasy running back right now. He wore down at the end of last year and has a fumbling problem, which worry me. Combine that with the acquisition of LeGarrette Blount and the continued presence of Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, and that doesn't bode well for Bill Belichick simply handing him the running game again. Watch the news out of New England very carefully. Ridley could be a 'bust list' candidate for 2013.

Two players to keep an eye on for those red-zone goal-to-go opportunities this year are in New York. Andre Brown and Chris Ivory are going to get all the carries when the Giants and Jets are knocking on the door. They're power backs playing on teams who like to use their power backs on the goal line. Right now, Ivory is at worst a fifth-round pick, Brown probably a sixth. However they'll both wind up in the double digits for touchdowns in 2013 and are worth drafting a round early just because of that.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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