AFC West Running Backs Preview

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

Denver Broncos
Starter: Montee Ball
Backups: Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno
The only thing that stands in the way of Ball being the featured RB for the Broncos in 2013 is head coach John Fox. Fox has proven in the past to be resistant to putting a full load on a rookie. But considering that after Denver released Willis McGahee the only competition is Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman, Ball has an excellent chance to step right in as the starting RB. With Peyton Manning leading an outstanding passing attack, Ball should find running lanes aplenty and put up solid fantasy RB2 numbers in 2013. The Broncos are hoping Hillman settles in as the 3rd down RB and to backup to rookie Montee Ball. Hillman isn't likely to have much fantasy value though unless Ball was to get injured. There's also a chance Moreno beats out the speedier, shiftier, Hillman as the 3rd down RB and top backup spot. Moreno offers better size as an interior rusher than Hillman and his pass protection is considered superior to Hillman's. But whether that actually means Moreno gets any offensive touches though is questionable. It will need to play out in training camp and preseason whether either Hillman or Moreno can be considered a handcuff to Ball.
Kansas City Chiefs
Starter: Jamaal Charles
Backups: Knile Davis, Shaun Draughn
If Charles would only score TD's, he would be a fantasy gold mine. He ran for over 1,500 yards in 2012 and caught 35 passes for another 236. But he only scored a combined 6 TD's in 2012. Andy Reid has always placed a reliance on one RB while he was in Philadelphia and you can bet Charles will be his man in KC. Reid has always had successful fantasy RB's, and I think Charles is the most talented of any he's had yet. Don't be surprised if Charles catches 60+ passes and scores close to 10 TD's as he locks in as a legit top 5 fantasy RB in 2013. Davis is expected to be the top backup to Charles and is intriguing. He was blasted by scouts before the draft for playing soft in college despite the size and speed measurables desired at the RB position. While he'll be no threat to Jamaal Charles for more than token carries in KC, Davis should be the top backup if he shows well in preseason. Shaun Draughn gave a workman's type of performance when called upon last season but was nothing special. I think Davis makes the better handcuff to Charles in fantasy drafts.
Oakland Raiders
Starter: Darren McFadden
Backups: Latavius Murray, Rashad Jennings, Marcel Reece
The Raiders are hoping a return to their prior power running scheme will mean McFadden gets back to the superior form he showed before a disastrous 2012 season with a zone blocking scheme. But even a switch back to the style he's most effective in doesn't change the fact McFadden has yet to make it thru a full 16 games in any of his 5 seasons in the NFL. Each year McFadden gets injured and misses games. When healthy though, he is explosive and puts up quality RB1 numbers as he rushes for high yardage totals and catches the ball very well too. McFadden is one of those big risk/reward type of RB's that can make or break a fantasy season as an early round draft pick. One thing is sure though, as long as he stays healthy, you can expect a lot of the Raiders offense to go through him as they are lacking in the passing game. Meanwhile, Murray will battle Rashad Jennings to be Darren McFadden's top backup in 2013. Jennings was underwhelming when given a chance to be a starter in Jacksonville when Maurice Jones-Drew got injured, so I don't expect it will take much for the rookie Murray to leap frog him. And given that McFadden has yet to stay healthy for a full 16 games in any of his 5 NFL seasons, the odds are that Murray will be given a chance to carry the football at some point this season. I like Murray as a handcuff to McFadden more than Jennings. Lastly, I mention Reece as he was the big surprise during the 2012 season at the position when injuries decimated the Raiders RB corps and Reece was forced to take on a big offensive role. However it is very unlikely to happen again in 2013 unless Oakland faces another rash of injuries at the RB position. Murray would be my pick as the handcuff to McFadden, even though I get the feeling the Raiders would likely give Jennings first crack at running himself out of the position if McFadden gets injured.
San Diego Chargers
Starter: Ryan Mathews
Backups: Danny Woodhead, Ronnie Brown
Mathews has all the skills to be a featured RB; good size, good speed, good receiving capabilities, but he has yet to put it all together on the field. It also hasn't helped that he can't seem to avoid injuries. With Danny Woodhead being brought over from New England to be the Chargers 3rd down RB, Mathews can expect his receptions to drop (he caught 89 passes the last two seasons combined in 26 games) and to be used as a two down rushing back on a team with a poor offensive line and a passing attack that has come into question. Once considered a top 10 fantasy RB in terms of talent, Mathews is no more than a borderline RB2/3 with upside, and risk. Woodhead gets to reprise his 3rd down and change of pace role in San Diego in 2013. Woodhead would split rushing duties with Ronnie Brown if Mathews were to get injured again, but an increase in playing time could really increase Woodhead's fantasy value. Even if Mathews stays healthy, Woodhead is an excellent receiving RB and could find himself worth considering as a RB4 in PPR formats. The addition of Woodhead in San Diego eliminates Brown's chances of being the primary 3rd down RB. Even if injuries were to give Brown a chance for a bigger offensive role, he isn't fantasy worthy. He proved that with the chances he got in 2012.