AFC South Running Backs Preview

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

Houston Texans
Starter: Arian Foster
Backup: Ben Tate
While there is some concern that Foster's rushing yards average dropped to a career low of 4.1 in 2012, it still needs to be remembered that he ran for 1,424 yards and scored more TD's (17) than any other RB. It was also a concern that he caught the fewest passes (40) of any season over the last 3. Questions about whether a strained calf muscle injury suffered in May OTA's will linger into training camp are valid, but I expect the Texans will be cautious with him and while we might not see much of Foster in preseason he is very likely to be full systems go by the first week of the regular season. Foster has logged a lot of mileage in the last 3 seasons, but as long as he doesn't aggravate the calf injury before week 1, there's no reason for Foster to drop out of the top 5 fantasy RB's in 2013. That said, the smart fantasy owner will want to handcuff his backup, Ben Tate, to him in the middle rounds of upcoming fantasy drafts. Tate is one of those few mandatory handcuffs at the RB position. When healthy, and given opportunities the last 2 seasons, Tate has been an effective RB worthy of being in starting fantasy lineups. While Foster's calf injury is expected to be fine by training camp, Tate is still someone worth considering as a RB4/5 as the Texans may decide to reduce Foster's workload some. Foster owners better not wait too long to grab Tate as the handcuff as he is worth the insurance.
Indianapolis Colts
Starter: Ahmad Bradshaw
Backup: Vick Ballard
Bradshaw is on a one year "prove it" contract as the new lead RB for the Colts. He's recovering from February foot surgery as foot injuries have plagued him throughout the last few seasons. If the recovery goes well, he should be ready for training camp and be in line for the primary RB duties over Colts second year RB Vick Ballard. But there are no guarantees when it comes to Bradshaw and foot injuries and there's also a chance Ballard could take some carries away from him, especially in short yardage situations. While Bradshaw has rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2 of the last 3 seasons while with the Giants, he's no lock to make that benchmark as a Colt in 2013. Consider him a risky RB3/4 with RB2 potential. The addition of Bradshaw by the Colts brings about an end to Ballard's fantasy relevance. Ballard will still get some playing time, but not enough to be fantasy worthy. Unless Bradshaw has a setback in his recovery from off-season foot surgery, Ballard won't get enough touches to make any impact. The Colts also have former first round pick Donald Brown and Delone Carter on the roster and they are believed to be battling for just one roster spot as rookie RB Kerwynn Williams is expected to have a role on special teams leaving just one more roster spot at the position. I give a slight edge to Brown over Ballard as Brown is a better fit for the new west coast style of offense than Ballard.
Jacksonville Jaguars
Starter: Maurice Jones-Drew
Backups: Justin Forsett, Denard Robinson
Few RB's come with as many questions surrounding him in 2013 than MJD. He had surgery in December to repair a Lisfranc foot injury that ended his 2012 season after barely more than 5 games. A full recovery to pre-injury form is questionable as some athletes don't ever get back to their prior level of performance. Thru 5 games before the injury occurred in 2012, MJD was on pace for 1,300 rushing yards and 275 receiving yards, but only 6 TD's. The TD numbers were down probably because of the early season woes of the Jaguars passing attack. That passing game is not looking much better in 2013 and MJD, even if he gets back to 100% is no lock to do any better than he did in 2012. Because of his history he is a high upside fantasy RB2, but he also comes with considerable risk as he may never be the same RB he used to be. Justin Forsett is his top backup and makes a smart handcuff in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. Forsett is in an intriguing spot. MJD is not yet fully recovered from off-season foot surgery and there's no guarantee MJD will be by the start of the regular season. Forsett is the top handcuff to MJD as he has proven capable when given opportunities for a large offensive role in the past on other teams. There's also talented multi-dimensional player Denard Robinson. While Jacksonville is expected to find something similar to a "slash" role offensively for him, it's not likely that he will get enough touches per game to be an effective fantasy player. But if Maurice Jones-Drew has any setbacks in his recovery from foot surgery, and Robinson starts getting more playing time, he could surprise. I'm keeping an eye on him as a potential deep sleeper at the position.
Tennessee Titans
Starter: Chris Johnson
Backup: Shonn Greene
Despite having rushed over 1,000 yards every season of his 6 year career so far in Tennessee, Johnson is a model of inconsistency. In 2012, he had 5 games with fewer than 30 rushing yards and no TD's. Meanwhile he had 5 games with over 100 rushing yards and 5 TD's scored. Reportedly, the offensively line issues have been addressed and is expected to be much better this season, but Johnson may also find himself losing some carries to new running mate Shonn Greene. Greene is the polar opposite of Johnson in that Greene is a bullish runner while Johnson is a slasher who is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. The loss in some between the tackles carries shouldn't affect Johnson much if he has better blocking so he can get in space. Johnson is a proven starting fantasy RB2 that when he's on, he goes off as few fantasy RB's can, but he will also have those games where he is a complete disappointment. Although Greene has rushed for over 1,000 yards in back to back seasons for the Jets, he's going to have to carve out a role as a short yardage or goal line rusher. But unless Johnson is slow to get it going again in 2013, Greene isn't going to get a lot of playing time. He still makes a pretty good handcuff to Johnson though because of his proven track record.