NFC East Running Backs Preview

A team by team look at the RB situations in the NFC East division

Dallas Cowboys
Starter: DeMarco Murray
Backups: Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner
For the second year in a row in 2012 Murray was unable to play a full 16 games because of injury. This time it was a foot sprain that cost him 6 games in the middle of the season. When healthy, Murray is a 3 down workhorse RB with a dynamic blend of speed and power while also possessing excellent receiving skills. While a minor hamstring strain cut his work short in OTA's, he is fully expected to be fine for training camp. His inability in his first two NFL seasons to stay healthy makes him a bit of a risk, but he also possesses the upside to be a top 10 fantasy RB (if he can stay healthy). Rookie Randle was anointed by Jerry Jones as the top backup to injury-prone Murray, but he has struggled to be healthy himself. And when healthy there is debate about whether Randle is really a special talent, or just a capable guy.  While there have been some glowing reports this off-season about both Dunbar and Tanner, neither did well last year when called on to step up. Randle likely just needs to be competent to beat out both Tanner and Dunbar to be Murray's handcuff in 2013 and I expect he will.
New York Giants
Starter: David Wilson
Backup: Andre Brown
While Wilson has a chance to become a featured RB for the Giants in 2013, I think it more likely he'll be the lead RB in what I expect to be a new Giants rushing attack that will feature a "thunder and lightning" approach with Wilson as the lightning and Andre Brown as the thunder. Wilson provides more dynamic explosiveness than Brown and is a legitimate threat for the big play in open space. Meanwhile I expect Brown will be the between the tackles grinder and short yardage RB. Wilson is very likely to finish 2013 with more yardage than Brown, but Brown will get more TD opportunities in short yardage situations. Still, there is a lot of upside for Wilson to be better than a low end RB2 for fantasy purposes in 2013 as long as he doesn't fumble away the opportunity. Brown acquitted himself well when given opportunities in 2012 and if Wilson struggles or has any issues with ball security (a big no-no with Giants coach Tom Coughlin), Brown could find himself with a lot more playing time than expected. Brown is definitely considering as a RB4 on fantasy rosters by himself while Wilson owners would be wise to make Brown a handcuff selection.
Philadelphia Eagles
Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backups: Bryce Brown, Felix Jones
McCoy was on pace to better his 2011 yardage totals both rushing and receiving in 2012 before a concussion caused him to miss 4 games late in the season. But what he wasn't bettering were his TD numbers. He had only 2 rushing TD's and 3 receiving TD's after scoring 17 rushing and 3 receiving in 2011. The injury allowed the Eagles to see that they have another explosive player in RB Bryce Brown (although he struggled with turnovers). In new coach's Chip Kelly's offense, McCoy is supposed to be the focal point in 2013 and while that sounds good, he needs to re-gain the trust of fantasy owners before he is considered among the elite RB's again. McCoy is a solid fantasy starter and borderline RB1/2. Owner's who draft him should definitely think about handcuffing Brown to him as the league has really cracked down on concussions and players with a history of them. Besides, the Eagles are likely to run more in 2013 than they have at any time under Andy Reid's tenure as head coach and that could mean Brown has more fantasy value than you would usually expect for a backup RB. Other than a fumbling issue, Brown was a fantasy surprise while McCoy was out with a concussion. Brown is a definite must have handcuff to McCoy. Jones only comes into the equation if injuries were to push him into playing time. I only mention Jones here as he is a known commodity from his days with Dallas and while he has failed to live up to unrealistic expectations, Jones could still produce stats in the right type of committee situation. But for fantasy drafts, he is free agent material unless the injuries hit.
Washington Redskins
Starter: Alfred Morris
Backups: Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Chris Thompson, Jawan Jamison
Trust Mike Shanahan to take a 6th round pick and make him the next great RB. In 2012, Morris rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 TD's on a whopping 335 carries. The only thing missing from Morris's stat line was receptions. He only had 11 on the season. If he becomes more involved in the passing game Morris is in line to be even better in 2013. But the rub is that you'd be trusting Mike Shanahan to ride this stud a second consecutive season as the featured guy. And as wise fantasy owners have seen over the years, Shanny can change his mind on a player at any time. That warning said, I just can't imagine anyone taking carries away from Morris. He proved last season to simply be too good to not have running the ball 17+ times per game. It will take training camp and preseason to figure out who will be the top backup and best handcuff to Morris in 2013. Royster will enter training camp as the incumbent and favorite to be the top backup to Morris, but that's more because of health issues both Helu and Thompson have concerns with. Not that Royster isn't good, but the other 2 are superior talents. Helu was on his way to being the top backup to Morris before Achilles and toe injuries derailed him in 2012. The toe actually required surgery in February and he needs to show he has his pre-injury form to really compete. Thompson was drafted in the 5th round of the draft but would have gone much higher if not for a torn ACL suffered in October. He needs to show that his recovery is on track and he can contribute right away or he could end up with a lost 2013 season. Jamison isn't a special talent in any way, but he works hard and gives top effort. Remember that Morris wasn't considered a special talent and was just a blue collar RB with average skills who gave top effort back before training camp in 2012 for the Redskins.