NFC North Running Backs Preview

Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, and Reggie are locked in for fantasy value in 2013, but what about the Packers RB's?

Chicago Bears
Starter: Matt Forte
Backup: Michael Bush
Forte is going to love playing in new head coach Marc Trestman's offense. Forte will be the primary RB and also get a chance to get back to catching a lot of passes. Forte should be a strong yardage performer and a solid starting fantasy RB, but whether he will split goal line carries with Michael Bush again this season is unknown. Forte's knock in the past has been he struggles as a short yardage and goal line RB and that's the only thing that keeps him from being more than a borderline fantasy RB1/2. Bush is back as his backup and makes a worthy late round handcuff to Forte as Bush appeared to have carved out a niche as the Bears short yardage and goal line RB last season behind Matt Forte. Whether that translates into fantasy relevance in 2013 could be a different story though. Trestman is expected to have a more pass oriented offense and that plays into Forte's strengths more than Bush's. Bush could be in line for a reduced offensive role as just a goal line vulture. In any case though, he will be the top backup to Forte and is worth the handcuff in deeper leagues.
Detroit Lions
Starter: Reggie Bush
Backups: Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell
Bush has finished each of the last 2 seasons as a top 15 fantasy RB in both PPR and non-PPR standard formats while with the Dolphins. That's pretty impressive considering the suspect passing games he had in Miami those 2 seasons. Now as the lead RB in Detroit's aerial circus, Bush will have a better supporting cast and could put up the best numbers yet of his career. He may cede some carries and goal line duties to Mikel Leshoure or Joique Bell, but there's no reason to not expect another top 15 RB finish from him. Leshoure started 14 games for the Lions in 2012 rushing for 798 yards and scoring 9 TD's after missing his entire rookie season in 2011 because of an Achilles injury. What he lacked though was much of a burst as his longest run of the season was only 16 yards. He performed well, but it's to be wondered if he'll ever regain his pre-injury form and now that the Lions have brought in Bush to be their primary RB, Leshoure appears to be headed for short yardage and goal line duties more than getting the football with any regularity in 2013. It would likely take a Bush injury for Leshoure to get enough playing time to be fantasy relevant. As for Bell, the acquisition of Bush has caused him to lose a lot of potential value. Bell showed well in 2012 as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield averaging 5.0 yards per rush attempt and catching 52 passes. Bell will push Leshoure for the top backup duties but appears to be more in line as the top backup to both. In non-ppr formats, Leshoure appears to be the better handcuff to Bush while in PPR, Bell is the better choice.
Green Bay Packers
Starter: Eddie Lacy (projected)
Backups: Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, DuJuan Harris, James Starks
Lacy was generally considered to be the top RB in the 2013 draft class but concerns about a toe injury dropped his stock. Green Bay was thrilled to see him there at the end of round 2 and they will likely give him every opportunity to win the Packers starting RB job. It's not being handed to him though and a battle with fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin, along with returning veterans Alex Green, James Starks, and DuJuan Harris will take place throughout training camp and the pre-season. But I think Lacy is the best suited to be the power RB to complement the Packers explosive passing attack and would consider it an upset if he wasn't their primary RB. Meanwhile I expect Franklin will be used some to provide some "lightning" to Lacy's "thunder" in 2013. Franklin's blocking will show whether he gets a chance to be the 3rd down RB. While there was a lot of hype surrounding Franklin before the draft, and there are some who think he will challenge to be the Packers lead RB, I don't expect him to beat out Lacy. Green, Harris and Starks appear to be battling for 2 roster spots behind the two rookies. Starks has showed well, but can't avoid injuries. Green also has troubles staying healthy and hasn't regained the speed he used to possess. Harris was a surprise at the end of last season for the Packers showing decent rushing and receiving skills, especially in the playoffs. I expect that Starks or Green is the likely odd man out. For fantasy drafting purposes, Lacy should be considered as a RB3 with RB2 potential, Franklin is the top handcuff prospect and the others are free agent fodder. At least until we get into the preseason and the pecking order shakes itself out into something more concrete.
Minnesota Vikings
Starter: Adrian Peterson
Backup: Toby Gerhart
To say that AP's 2012 season was incredible is an understatement. Coming off a torn ACL, AP managed to rush for the second highest yardage total in a single season with 2,097 yards, scored double digit TD's for the 6th season in a row, and averaged a ridiculous 6.0 yards per rush attempt on 348 carries. Peterson said his goal for 2013 is to rush for 2,500 yards and while I think that's an unrealistic goal, he's certainly a good bet for at least 1,800 yards and another 12+ TD's. While he isn't a 50+ receptions RB, AP managed to catch 40 passes in 2012, the second most of any his seasons to date so he isn't downgraded in the PPR format. Suffice to say, AP should be the first pick in practically every fantasy football draft in 2013. As for Gerhart, he is nothing more than the handcuff to Adrian Peterson. And not even a mandatory handcuff as AP didn't miss a game last season despite being 9 months removed from ACL surgery then. But Gerhart has proven to be a capable backup to Peterson when given chances the last 3 seasons.