NFC West Running Backs Preview

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

Arizona Cardinals
Starter: Rashard Mendenhall
Backups: Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington
Mendenhall will be the Cardinals featured RB in 2013 and could be a fantasy football sleeper at RB in 2013 if he can get back to his pre-torn ACL form. 2012 was a lost season for him as he tried to come back sooner from his 2011 knee injury than he should have. Now in Arizona, he's reunited with Bruce Arians and is a lock for 16+ carries per game and probably 3rd down duties as well since the Cardinals have no experienced 3rd down RB. The pieces are there for Mendenhall to reclaim a role as a regular starter in fantasy football, but he'll need to prove it before he will be trusted as such. For now, consider Mendenhall a borderline RB2/3 with upside. While Arians lumped praise on Ryan Williams when he was first hired as the Cardinals head coach, it has since become clear that Williams is just competing with the two rookies (Taylor and Ellington) to be the top backup to Mendenhall in Arizona. Injuries appear to have zapped Williams of his once great potential. Training camp and preseason will go a long way in determining whether Williams is even worth considering as a handcuff to Mendenhall. It would likely take an injury or a total flop by Mendenhall for Taylor or Ellington to get into any fantasy conversations.
St. Louis Rams
Starter: Zac Stacy (projected)
Backups: Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson
Stacy has as much a chance to be the Rams primary RB as anyone. His competition, Pead and Richardson, are both more suited to outside running than between the tackles. Stacy is a compact RB who can push the pile and break tackles. What he lacks though is explosive potential. While it may be a full blown time share between the three RB's, in goal line situations I expect Stacy to be the guy and the most likely for any potential regular fantasy value. He's also the most likely of the three to become the main RB due to his overall skill set. That makes Stacy the best candidate as a fantasy RB3/4 with the upside to be a RB2. While Richardson showed well when given a chance for an offensive role last season, the Rams say he slated to be their 3rd down RB and not in the mix for their primary RB duties. That could change in training camp and preseason though if he clearly outperforms Pead and Stacy. For now though, Richardson isn't likely to get enough touches to be of fantasy consideration outside of PPR formats. Even then he's no better than a RB5. Meanwhile, Pead was considered the favorite to be the Rams starter going into 2013 but he will miss week 1 of the regular season as he serves a league imposed 1 game suspension. This opens the door for sleeper Stacy to lay claim to it before Pead can even be active. Pead was a disappointment in 2012 and I do not believe him capable of being an interior "between the tackles" RB. There's a chance he surprises, but an equal chance he is just a backup.
San Francisco 49ers
Starter: Frank Gore
Backups: Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore
While most RB's start slowing down when they hit 30 years old, Gore doesn't appear to be one of them. The 49ers had planned to reduce his regular season workload in 2012, but his 2012 stat line was slightly better than his 2011. Gore is still going to get 15-18 rushes per game, and be the lead RB for the 49ers. While the team has drafted some RB's the last couple of years, they have yet to really cut into his time and it's unlikely they'll cut into it much more in 2013. Gore is a safe, but unexciting, choice as a starting RB2 in fantasy football. Hunter's status for the start of the 2013 season is in question as he tore his left Achilles tendon back in late November. While his rehab has sounded positive, there's still a good chance he could end up on the PUP list to start the season (meaning he would miss at least the first 6 weeks). If he avoids the PUP list he'll still need to show he's back to the same form he had before the injury. At this time I think James is the better handcuff to Gore as James performed very well at the end of the 2012 season when he took over as Gore's backup after Hunter went down with his injury in November. Well enough that I expect it would take a near miraculous recovery from Hunter for James not to be the favorite to be Gore's top backup and best handcuff option in 2013. Finally there's Lattimore. Drafted to be the 49ers starting RB of the future, Lattimore is likely to either spend the first half of the 2013 season on the PUP list, or be placed on injured reserve before the season begins as he continues to rehab the right knee he tore his ACL, PCL, and LCL on back in October while in college. Reports on his recovery have all been very positive, but his chances of seeing the field in 2013 are slim at best. However, Lattimore is a great pick in dynasty leagues as he was widely regarded as being the best RB in the draft before the injury and will be given a chance to be the featured replacement for Frank Gore as early as 2014.
Seattle Seahawks
Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Backups: Robert Turbin, Christine Michael
Lynch has been outstanding the last two seasons combining for 2,794 rushing yards, 408 receiving yards, and 25 TD's. With his DUI case pushed off until the end of December, there should be nothing standing between Lynch and another great campaign in 2013. Lynch is locked in as a strong fantasy RB1. Turbin opened some eyes in 2012 as he did really well as Lynch's backup in 2012. But he's facing some competition for that role from Michael. While I still prefer Turbin at this time as the handcuff to Lynch, if Michael, who had glowing OTA reports, shows well in preseason, Turbin could be relegated to 3rd down duties. The competition between Turbin and Michael is worth paying attention to as the Seahawks have one of the stronger rushing attacks and if anything were to happen to Lynch, his backup would have fantasy value.