Packers, Panthers, and Rams all have questions that need answering at RB for fantasy owners
Green Bay Packers
The situation: The Packers go into training camp with no clear set starter. The favorite is rookie second round pick Eddie Lacy as he is the most complete and most talented RB on the roster. But he is not just being handed the job. He faces competition from a fellow rookie, Johnathan Franklin, along with veterans Alex Green, James Starks, and DuJuan Harris. There's also a 6th RB competing, undrafted rookie Angelo Pease.
What's happened so far: Neither Lacy nor Franklin stood out in OTA's. Green operated as the top RB in OTA's but that was very likely veteran deference and not an indication he's going to beat out either rookie. There's been very little said about how Starks looks other than he was put up on the trade block earlier in the year (no takers though). Harris had surgery to remove a benign cyst from his lungs early in the year and recovered fine from that, but is now nursing a minor knee injury and won't practice for another week or two. Pease was the talk of OTA's from the RB position and opened some eyes.
What's likeliest to happen going forward: The Packers historically keep either 3 or 4 RB's (not including 1 FB, John Kuhn) on their final 53 man roster. The two drafted rookies are considered the only locks to make the final roster. I expect Lacy to be the starter come week 1 and be the primary RB with Franklin getting a few touches as a change of pace to him. Latest word says that the Packers will try hard to trade Green before the end of preseason. Starks is expected to be released outright. Pease will either make the final roster or he'll end up on the practice squad. Harris is considered likely to make the roster but the knee injury could mean he falls behind the others and finds himself on the outside of the numbers game. Lacy and Franklin are the only 2 worth drafting in fantasy leagues. Lacy as a fantasy RB2/3; Franklin as a RB4/5.
The situation: The Panthers the last couple of season have run a RBBC (Running Back by Committee for those unfamiliar with the term) with Jonathan Stewart as the usual lead RB but a near even split with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart was supposed to be in position to assume a bigger role and push Williams into more of a traditional backup RB role in 2013, but surgery to both ankles earlier in the year are still bothering him and he is on the active/PUP list to start training camp. While Mike Tolbert is officially listed as a FB and not a RB, he is the real #3 option behind Stewart and Williams. Rookie Kenjon Barner is competing with Armond Smith and Tauren Poole to make the final roster.
What's happened so far: Stewart is losing fantasy value as there are concerns that while one ankle is supposedly healing up nicely, the other ankle isn't. DeAngelo Williams is running as the top RB and it's believed now that with Stewart's ankle likely to be an issue going into the regular season we'll see another full blown RBBC between the two. There's also a chance Stewart isn't ready by the start of the regular season which would give Williams a chance to solidify the top RB spot and be the primary to start the season (and potentially beyond if he does well). Stewart's absence has also meant Tolbert has gotten increased playing time at RB. Barner has been explosive in OTA's and looks like he will be retained as the 3rd RB over Smith and Poole.
What's likeliest to happen going forward: The Panthers normally carry 3 RB's and 2 FB's (with Tolbert as a FB; the other FB is converted TE, blocking specialist and special teams player usually). My best guess for 2013 is that Stewart's ankle is going to be an issue that plagues him all season long. I expect he won't be ready for week 1. This will lead to Williams being the primary RB getting 12-18 carries per game except for those in which Stewart tries playing in. Tolbert will be used much as a sledgehammer type of change of pace and short yardage RB, as well as often used as the 3rd down RB due to his superior receiving capabilities. Barner should stick as the 3rd RB and be sprinkled in, but unless Stewart is unable to play, he isn't likely to get enough touches to be a consideration. However, if Stewart is unable to play, and Williams starts showing a decrease in his production, Barner may be able to work himself into a situation where he's getting 5-10 touches per game. Williams should be drafted as a RB3 with upside to be a RB2; Stewart is risky as anything more than a RB4 at this point and I would avoid him unless his ankle has a miraculous recovery in the next couple of weeks; Tolbert is a RB5. Barner is currently free agent fodder.
St. Louis Rams
The situation: Second year RB's Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson are competing with drafted rookie Zac Stacy for the starting RB job replacing departed Steven Jackson. Also in the mix for a roster spot are second year RB Terrance Ganaway along with undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham and journeyman Chase Reynolds. Stacy is short compact power "between the tackles" type of RB while both Pead and Richardson are sub-200 lbs RB's built more like slasher types.
What's happened so far: Pead has been suspended the first game of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. None of Pead, Richardson, or Stacy has separated himself from the others. Richardson opened training camp listed as the starting RB, but the Rams had to list someone atop the chart so it's not really an indicator that Richardson is pulling away with the job no matter what some media outlets are speculating. The Rams have said they aren't against the idea of going with a full blown RBBC utilizing all 3 RB's, to also saying they wouldn't mind if one RB asserted himself and became a 300+ carry guy.
What's likeliest to happen going forward: Under Fisher last season the Rams usually kept 4 RB's and 1 FB/TE hybrid. Richardson, Pead, and Stacy are locks to make to the final 53 man roster, and I think Ganaway will be the 4th guy. I expect a committee with Stacy acting as the primary 2 down power RB with Richardson as the 3rd down RB. I also expect that Pead will get into the action as a change of pace to both Stacy and Richardson enough of the time to prevent any of the 3 from having reliable fantasy value on a week to week basis. Stacy has the best size/power combo as the goal line RB and probably will have the most TD's from the group. Richardson is likely to lead the trio in receptions. I think it may take until mid-season before the rookie Stacy starts to assert himself as the top rushing option. For fantasy drafts, I would consider Stacy to be the best option as a RB3/4 whose value will increase as the season goes along; Richardson a RB4/5 with more value in PPR leagues; Pead is a RB5 with upside. It could be that one guy emerges over the others and becomes a solid fantasy RB2; it could be that none of them emerges and that none are better than RB4's at best.