Roto Arcade

First Down: Odds are strong Richardson will dog your fantasy team

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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T-Pain's propensity for injury is a major cause for concern. (USAT)

In an ultra-fast game where violent collisions are commonplace, catastrophe is just off-tackle. Bone breaks, tendon tears and hamstring pulls are sometimes predictable, though those who fall victim to them often times are not.

Unless that player happens to be Ryan Mathews.

Placed on a pedestal by several fantasy pundits, including yours truly, last summer, San Diego's delicate flower had the outward appearance of a rusher on the brink of a breakout. Widely reported by writers walking the Chargers beat, he had a tremendous offseason, was in line to shoulder a three-down workload and was for all intents and purposes the centerpiece in a Norv Turner offense that helped elevate LaDainian Tomlinson to gridiron greatness.

Then the preseason began.

Barely a nanosecond into the exhibition slate, Mathews fractured his collarbone on what appeared to be a benign tackle in the backfield. As is always the case in this instant reaction society, the backlash against his zealots began in earnest. Naturally, being an accessible public figure, my Twitter account became a public urinal. Insults were hurled. Choice words were used to describe my mother. And cute and playful death threats – yes, death threats – were issued. Still, despite the endless vitriol, this stubborn blowhard continued to stand his ground declaring the Bolt would electrify the masses upon his return. Roughly six months, an unhealthy amount of Ketel One and several temporarily therapeutic lap dances later I’m still depressed and still waiting ...

Overall, Mathews’ 2012 was akin to absorbing a Big Bertha driver to the groin. Turner’s insistence on using Jackie Battle near the goal-line and Ronnie Brown on third downs left few opportunities for the rusher. Prior to cracking his collarbone again Week 15, he found the end-zone just once, recorded a miserable 3.8 yards per carry and finished with an 8.5 fantasy points per game average, a mark that ranked No. 30 among eligible RBs. By comparison, a fading Michael Turner looked like Earl Campbell circa ’79.

Mathews, however, wasn’t the only once coveted rusher who failed to meet expectations. Darren McFadden (Pussyfooting/injured), DeMarco Murray (Lower-body issues) and Matt Forte (victimized by poor o-line), were all top-12 RBs on draft day who didn’t measure up. Their unexpected downturns added to the high-risk, high-reward trend Fantasyland has seen at the position over the past few years. On average, 4.7 RB1s per year since 2007 (Players drafted inside the RB top-12) failed to keep owners in the black.

Essentially, no matter how ripe the situation looks on paper, there’s no guarantee it will play out in pads. Busts happen, particularly at RB. No player, regardless of track-record or reputation is immune. So, what perceived RB1s carry the most risk this year? Here's a breakdown:

Trent Richardson, Cle
ADP: 7.7, RB7
Bust barometer reads … Very High

Upside: What T-Pain accomplished after missing the entire preseason recovering from a knee scope and playing through painful cracked ribs was quite remarkable. His 3.6 yards per carry average and 178 runs of two-yards or less were highly undesirable, but he was an asset in the pass game and routinely burrowed his way into the end-zone (12 TDs). His resulting 13.6 points per game tied C.J. Spiller for seventh-best among RBs. The addition of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, anticipated step forward of Brandon Weeden and decent offensive line are pluses. When upright, he's also the unrivaled workhorse. If he can muster 14 or more starts, 1,500 total yards with 12-15 TDs are attainable.

Downside: After a season riddled with setbacks, Richardson is a favorite snack of the injury imp. Due to a tender groin and leg injury team doctors are concerned could develop into a stress fracture, he again could miss time this exhibition season. The Browns, who've stockpiled free agent RBs over the past month, are undoubtedly worried about the youngster's long-term durability. If he musters 10 games, Justin Bieber would clean Keyshawn Johnson's clock in a fist fight.

Handcuff(s): Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis

C.J. Spiller, Buf
ADP: 7.8, RB8
Bust barometer reads … High

Upside: In small doses, Spiller was 'toxic' to opposing defenses. His 6.01 yards per carry was the sixth-greatest output by a RB with at least 200 carries in NFL history. Overall, he averaged 13.6 fantasy points in standard formats, an amazing feat considering he totaled a mere 15.6 touches per game. Electric, ultra-versatile and slippery, he's a complete back with seemingly limitless upside. Buffalo's quality offensive line and newly installed up-tempo offense under Doug Marrone are also attractive.

Downside: Marrone recently compared Spiller to Reggie Bush, suggesting he would utilize the energy ball as a runner-receiver hybrid. That's terrific news for the PPR masses, but for those in TD-heavy formats it's not encouraging. Though prehistoric, Fred Jackson is a strong candidate to dominate goal-line carries. Rookie QB E.J. Manuel, if thrust into the spotlight immediately, is another potential TD poacher. Unless Jackson is felled again by major injury, Spiller's tally from a season ago may be his 2013 ceiling.

Handcuff: Fred Jackson

Ray Rice, Bal
ADP: 6.6, RB6
Bust barometer reads … Medium-High

Upside: The long-gain Rice is a king of consistency. Since supplanting Willis McGahee full-time in 2009, he's finished inside the RB top-12 every year since. His 278 receptions and 7,506 yards from scrimmage are the most by a RB during that span. With a rock solid offensive line in front of him and if Joe Flacco resembles the bomb-dropper from last year's title run, he should again eclipse 1,400 total yards with relative ease. He's also indispensable in PPR settings.

Downside: Bernard Pierce is a legitimate threat. The third-year back came on strong late last year, amassing a 16.5 break-tackle percentage according to Football Outsiders, the fifth-best mark in that category among RBs. Insiders have speculated, because of Rice's recent high-volume, the back-up could carve out a significant role this fall, potentially wresting away goal-line attempts from the veteran. If that happens, the incumbent's TD total will be closer to 2010's (6) than 2012's (10).

Handcuff: Bernard Pierce

Jamaal Charles, KC
ADP: 4.6, RB4
Bust barometer reads … Medium

Upside: Andy Reid's arrival to Cowtown was a godsend for JC of KC followers. A fantastic pass-catching weapon, explosive and elusive, Charles is similar in style and substance as 'Shady' McCoy. Skeptics will claim Reid's pass-first offense doesn't boost RB values, but McCoy and Brian Westbrook were invaluable RB1s in the coach's West Coast brand. Considering Alex Smith is light years better than punchlines Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn and with a top-10 run-blocking O-line in place, Charles, off a 1,749 total yard, six-TD season, should surpass the 2,000 yfs mark. Keep in mind, the two-time Pro Bowler has amassed a ridiculous 6.2 yards per touch over his five-year career.

Downside: Overall, KC's offensive environment is healthy, but because of Charles' sleight build (5-foot-11, 199-pounds), durability is always a negative. He's only totaled 300 touches in a season once (2012) and blew out his knee in 2011. Reid's tendency to throw often inside the 10 (71-percent of the time last year) also limits his chances of double-digit touchdowns. The Chiefs defense, which ranked 20th in total D, must also keep the opposition off the field.

Handcuff: Knile Davis

LeSean McCoy, Phi
ADP: 8.8 ADP, RB9
Bust barometer reads … Medium

Upside: How Chip Kelly's pedal-to-the-metal offense transitions to the NFL will be the most fascinating story of the early season. His madhouse system is a fusion of the popular read-option scheme, wishbone and old school run-n-shoot, filled with enough frightening illusions to scare the hardest of defenses. Predicated on pounding the rock and completing passes in the short-field, it meshes perfectly with McCoy's talents. By year's end, his fantasy contribution may not be a far cry from 2011 (18.8 fppg).

Downside: Though I'm convinced Kelly's offense will work, many, including Eagles enthusiast Ron Jaworski, have little faith. The unknown does enhance risk. So does Michael Vick's scrambling ability. If he runs more, touches usually logged by McCoy near the goal-line could land in the QB's hands. Bryce Brown, who despite fumbling problems was dynamite for a short stretch last year, will also vie for at least 8-10 carries per game. Philly's retooled offensive line, which picked up Lane Johnson in April's draft to bolster a unit that ranked last year No. 28 in run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus, must also jell quickly.

Handcuff: Bryce Brown

Matt Forte, Chi
ADP: 13.6, RB11
Bust barometer reads … Medium

Upside: Out with snooze-worthy Lovie Smith. In with CFL import Marc Trestman. The newly redesigned Bears offense is expected to lean heavily on Jay Cutler's arm, which should benefit Forte. The rusher revealed to ESPN Chicago in mid-May he will be deployed often as a receiver, running similar routes as other Bears wideouts. It would be no shock if he established a new career-best in receptions (Current high: 64) along with some 1,500-1,700 total yards.

Downside: End-zone dives have been, and will likely continue to be, few and far between. If Trestman's offense is a near carbon-copy of what it was north of the border, the Bears' red-zone pass-to-run disparity will be very wide. And even in goal-to-go situations, Michael Bush may again function as the closer. Chicago's offensive line, which showed some improvement in run-blocking last year, remains a work in progress.

Handcuff: Michael Bush

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Don't count on Father Time slowing down Steven. (USAT)

Steven Jackson, Atl
ADP: 14.3, RB12
Bust barometer reads … Medium-Low

Upside: Going from St. Louis to Atlanta is an upgrade equivalent to trading in a rusted-out Geo Metro for fully-equipped Benz. When game-planning for the Falcons, containing Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is the primary focus for defensive coordinators, a viewpoint that enriches Jackson's potential greatly. The offensive line is one of the league's best. And head coach Mike Smith also believes Jackson is a premier receiving back. It's not farfetched to think he'll score at least 11-plus touchdowns for only the second time in his illustrious career.

Downside: With 2,802 career touches, Jackson has logged enough miles to travel to Timbuktu and back. Due to the thin tire-tread, his injury risk is relatively high. Jacquizz Rodgers will also steal occasional touches, but that could be deemed a good thing when weighing Jackson's warrior workload in St. Louis.

Handcuff: Jacquizz Rodgers

Adrian Peterson, Min
ADP: 1.2, RB1
Bust barometer reads … Medium-Low

Upside: Considering the circumstances, the Purple Jesus' near record-breaking 2012 was the most extraordinary season ever notched by a running back. From Day 1, he ran with vintage violence and vigor, indicative in his career-best 6.0 yards per carry and 2,097 rushing yards, second all-time to Eric Dickerson. Equipped with a rigid offensive line, Minnesota is a team built to run. Even at 28, Peterson should again inflict elite-level damage on 300-plus carries. He's also finished inside the RB top-six every year since entering the league in 2007, consistency worth the No. 1 pick.

Downside: Last year's otherworldly campaign seems unrepeatable. However, a step backwards isn't a death knell. Only a significant injury would force him outside the RB top-10. The Vikes would like to feature the pass more to ease Peterson's workload, especially after wooing Greg Jennings away from Green Bay this past offseason. Still, Christian Ponder, outside his choice for a spouse, has sucked royally.

Handcuff: Toby Gerhart

Arian Foster, Hou
ADP: 2.6, RB2
Bust barometer reads … Medium-Low

Upside: As discussed previously, Foster remains in a ripe situation. He's an ideal fit for Gary Kubiak's run-down-your-throat zone-blocking scheme. A top-10 offensive line and a healthy Ben Tate should help him reach peak efficiency. Andre Johnson and rookie DeAndre Hopkins could also assist him by keeping defenses honest downfield, which would lead to fewer stacked boxes. Superb blocking fullback, Greg Jones, should also inject new life into his numbers. Houston's standout defense and Kubiak's willingness to ground-and-pound inside the red-zone are additional pluses.

Downside: No rusher over the past three seasons have gripped the pigskin more than Foster. His burdensome volume accompanied with a steady decline in yards per carry have many on edge. Naysayers are convinced his recent calf strain is just the tip of the injury iceberg. Some also believe a possible Tate resurgence could cripple him at times.

Handcuff: Ben Tate

Alfred Morris, Was, RB
ADP: 10.6, RB10
Bust barometer reads … Medium-Low

Upside: Washington's Rolling Rock is coming off one of the finest seasons by a first-year back in NFL history. His 1,613 rushing yards ranked third all-time behind Eric Dickerson and George Rogers among rookie RBs. A pulverizing load blessed with a fantastic first cut, he will again be a menace in Mike Shanahan's read option-based offense. Recall he trailed only Peterson and Doug Martin in yards after contact last year.

Downside: Some worrywarts remain skittish about any RB associated with Lucifer Shanahan. The Butler's minmal presence on passing downs is also a knock, particularly to those in PPR leagues. Worries over RGIII's knee also raises concern. If the QB were to miss substantial time, defenses would likely key on Morris, squashing his fantasy potential.

Handcuff: Evan Royster

Doug Martin, TB
ADP: 3.4, RB3
Bust barometer reads … Low

Upside: Similar to Morris, the Muscle Hamster was off-the-hook in his inaugural season. His 1,926 yards from scrimmage checked in at No. 3 all-time among first-year rushers, stunning when you consider guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks played only seven combined games. Well-rounded, tough and explosive, the unrivaled Clydesdale should again rack at least 325 touches. Replicating last year's 16.5 points per game shouldn't be overly difficult.

Downside: Josh Freeman's unpopularity could disrupt the offensive flow. If 'The 'Fro' flounders, rookie Mike Glennon will be handed the keys, a possible blow to the ground game's overall effectiveness. Martin also scored under 12 fantasy points in standard formats seven times a season ago. Many believe his anomalous 51.2-point explosion in Oakland masked otherwise unsteady production.

Handcuff: Mike James

Marshawn Lynch, Sea
ADP: 5.5, RB5
Bust barometer reads … Low

Upside: Next to Peterson, 'Beast Mode' is the angriest runner in the league. Plowing over and through would-be tacklers on a regular basis last year, he totaled 872 yards after contact, the fourth-best tally in the league. Because of Seattle's stalwart defense and Pete Carroll's inclination to run, he's a slam dunk for another 300-plus touches and multiple 100-yard games. In pure-talent terms the offensive line is mediocre, but Tom Cable is a master technician who maximizes the unit's performance. It should again rank near the top in run-blocking.

Downside: Defensively, the NFC West is a difficult division. San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis should each boast above average run defenses. Russell Wilson will also steal away goal-line opportunities occasionally and with Percy Harvin on roster, the passing game could become a bigger point of emphasis. Lynch has also played in all 16 games only twice during his six-year career.

Handcuff(s): Robert Turbin, Christine Michael

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