AFC North Running Backs Preview

A team by team look at the RB situations in the AFC North division

Baltimore Ravens
Starter: Ray Rice
Backup: Bernard Pierce
Rice was solid in 2012, but he failed to duplicate the tremendous success he had in 2011. While 1,143 rushing yards, 478 receiving yards, and 10 combined TD's are solid numbers, they are all down from what he had in 2011. While Rice will remain the main guy, another dip in his numbers could be on the horizon. He should still be good enough for a borderline fantasy RB1/2 though. The smart fantasy owner will spend a later round pick on Pierce for the handcuff. Thanks to strong performances towards the end of the regular season and into the post-season, Pierce has played his way into taking some of the offensive load from Rice. While it would likely take a Rice injury for Pierce to have fantasy value, Pierce is worth monitoring and should be considered a strong candidate to be handcuffed to Rice in fantasy drafts.
Cincinnati Bengals
Starter: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Backup: Giovani Bernard
Green-Ellis wasn't bad as the Bengals featured RB in 2012, but he wasn't as good as had been expected. Rushing TD's were harder to come by then when he was in New England with a strong supporting cast everywhere around him, and his limitations as a receiver were in full display. BGE is likely to be the primary 2 down rushing back in 2013, but will give way to rookie Bernard in passing situations as Bernard is an excellent pass catching RB. There's even a chance if BGE struggles and Bernard shows well, BGE could find himself reduced to the role of being a short yardage and goal line RB. Green-Ellis is a very dicey pick as a RB3 this season unless he gets more goal line opportunities.  Meanwhile, in PPR formats, Bernard could prove to be equal to, if not better than BGE in terms of fantasy value since he is such an accomplished pass catching RB. He has speed and moves in the open field. Bernard is well worth considering as a RB4 with upside heading into fantasy drafts.
Cleveland Browns
Starter: Trent Richardson
Backups: Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis
The shin injury that prevented Richardson from practicing in May OTA's is considered minor and he should be fine by mid-August the latest. The Browns will use caution with him as he is a vital piece of the offense so limited action in preseason is likely. While he only put up 950 rushing yards in 2012, he also caught 51 passes for another 367 yards and scored a combined 12 TD's as a rookie. And all this despite dealing with multiple minor injuries. As long as Richardson can stay healthy, he looks to be a solid starting fantasy RB in 2013 with the upside to join the near elite. Hardesty and Lewis will battle it out to be the primary backups with Hardesty having the edge. Hardesty has flashed potential but has never been able to stay healthy, while Lewis was unable to hold onto the backup job in Philadelphia and was acquired by the Browns from the eagles in hopes he can push Hardesty. Neither is worth the handcuff to Richardson though unless a clear favorite emerges in training camp and preseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers
Starter: Le'Veon Bell
Backups: Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, La'Rod Stephens-Howling
Trust the Steelers to select a big powerful RB with a blue collar work ethic and make him their featured RB. Bell lacks speed, and runs a bit high, but he has excellent size, can push the pile, and is plenty strong enough to break tackles. He also is surprisingly adept as a receiver out of the backfield for a big RB and may end up being a true 3 down featured RB. While the Steelers are making him compete with both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman for the starting job, those two both proved last season incapable of handling the load and producing at a high level. Bell is the favorite to beat out both and be Pittsburgh's primary RB in 2013. And that should mean he is a good choice as a fantasy RB2. The Steelers seem set on Redman's roster spot being safe so he is likely to be the top backup. Dwyer needs a strong preseason to even keep his roster spot. Stephens-Howling is not likely to have any real offensive impact and figures to be used primarily on special teams. But since he has had some moderate success for short periods of time while with Arizona, he gets mentioned here.