Roto Arcade

Shuffle Up: Now that we’ve found Andre Brown, what are we gonna do with him?

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Brownout in Carolina (USP)

Three weeks ago, I would have followed David Wilson into a burning building. Tonight, I'm all excited about Andre Brown.

That's how fantasy goes, especially in the quick-reaction world of fake football. In some leagues you have a precious 13 weeks to qualify for the playoffs. There's not much time to sit around and wait for pedigrees and the Regression Police — when you see plausible upside, you need to do something about it. My opponents can sit back with their FAAB if they like; I'll be firing early, for better or for worse.

Below is how I'd rank all of the running backs if I were entering a new 2012 draft on Friday. It's not meant to be a scoreboard of who's done the best thus far. You'll have some disagreements, that's the point — disagreement is why we have a game in the first place. I welcome your respectful counter-arguments in the comments.

Usual disclaimers apply: these are standard-scoring ranks, not PPR ranks. I'll add some commentary shortly. I reserve the right to tweak this list 12 hours after initial posting; win the debate, win the rank. I'll add defense and kicker ranks later in the day, and on the even-numbered weeks, I'll Shuffle Up all the passing positions (quarterback, wide receiver, tight end).

Bring your best argument to the table, and above all else, remember the golden roto rule: a player doesn't gain 10-20 percent of extra value simply because you own him.

Backfield ranks are yours after the jump.

1. Arian Foster
2. Ray Rice
3. LeSean McCoy
4. Darren McFadden
5. Trent Richardson

The first three backs were clear before the year and nothing has changed. Any ordering you like makes sense, I won't wrestle with you over it. Foster obviously has to share some of the goodies in Houston, but there's more than enough to go around. The setup is perfect there; elite defensive and line play. … I still view injury risk as the biggest McFadden flag, not the fact that he's sputtering in the new zone-blocking scheme implemented by OC Greg Knapp. McFadden's receiving chops will bail him out more often than not, and he's intelligent enough to adjust to the new style of running. Will he play most of the year? That's a different question. If I were in a redraft today, I'd probably steer away from running back for a while after the top three names were gone. … Richardson's floor is very high because of the volume; he can play in all spots, and there's no one pushing him for work. I also think the Cleveland offensive line might be a little better than expected — LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack are respected. The key for Cleveland will be finding stability at right tackle.

6. Marshawn Lynch
7. Ryan Mathews
8. Maurice Jones-Drew
9. DeMarco Murray
10. Doug Martin
11. Adrian Peterson
12. Reggie Bush
13. C.J. Spiller
14. Stevan Ridley

Before everyone anoints Peterson as the greatest comeback story of all time, let's look at his Week 2 showing at Indianapolis: 16 carries, 60 yards, nothing longer than six yards. I re-watched every snap this week and saw a back who's still a tiny bit tentative, and probably not 100 percent yet. And the breakaway gear he showed at the early part of his career might be gone for good. It's not that Peterson is any kind of a stiff: I've still given him a lofty ranking, after all. But some were proclaiming him a sure thing after the Week 1 debut, and that seems premature to me. … Ridley's looked better on tape than the Week 2 stats might indicate. He's decisive and quick, and on several plays he ran through defenders or made unblocked defenders miss. The Patriots have struggled with their line all summer and fall, but good coaching can usually cobble together line play as the year goes along. For the first time in a while, I'm completely sold on a New England running back.

Mathews is a little like McFadden in that the injury risk shapes the rank. If we knew Mathews would play the next 14 games without a hitch, you'd probably see him on numerous magazine covers next summer. It's never been about talent with this guy, and he can run everything in the playbook. Alas, he's been hurt every season dating back to college. No matter where you slot Mathews, someone is going to jump up and down and say "that's crazy." He's that type of player. … It might be hard for the Bills to take the starting gig away from Spiller at any point, but eventually Fred Jackson is going to take some of the reps. Maybe it's 70-30, maybe it's 60-40, maybe it's something different, but if Jackson is hale, he won't sit on the bench for 60 minutes. Heck, it's not impossible that Jackson starts again. Add it all up and there's no easy or exact way to project Spiller right now. … Bush used to be an erratic upside tease, now he's a reliable floor player. The New Orleans offense made a lot of stars over the years, but Reggie's career ultimately took off when he left the Big Easy.

15. Darren Sproles
16. Jamaal Charles
17. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
18. Frank Gore
19. Matt Forte
20. Willis McGahee
21. Steven Jackson
22. Alfred Morris
23. Chris Johnson

Sproles still doesn't have a carry on the season yet, but with an 18-163-1 line in the passing game, it's not a major concern. Sproles could easily lead the NFL in receptions; the Saints defense can't stop anything or anybody (a combination of poor talent and a slow adjustment to the Steve Spagnuolo scheme), and the NO wideouts have been a disappointment through two weeks. … Morris has proven his chops as an inside pile mover, but he still doesn't have a catch on the season and he lost two potential scores last week to Robert Griffin III (two spikes on designed goal-line runs). That pushes Morris outside the Top 20 for me. … The slumping Johnson was the lead item in Monday Brunch, if you care to look under the hood with him. … There's been a lot of stumping for Forte in the comments; Chicago's fan base is never lacking in numbers. While I love Forte's game and he was one of my Wallet 2012 players, let's accept three unfortunate facts of life: Chicago already has a designed goal-line vulture in place (the talented Michael Bush), Forte is already hurt, and Chicago's offensive line is a mediocre group. Given all of those fleas, I don't see how a No. 19 rank is a slap in the face.

24. Ahmad Bradshaw
25. Cedric Benson
26. Michael Bush
27. Ben Tate
28. Andre Brown
29. Peyton Hillis
30. Michael Turner
31. Beanie Wells
32. Shonn Greene

Brown's terrific run over the last two weeks didn't come completely out of nowhere. He was a fourth round pick by the Giants out of NC State in 2009, but a torn Achilles' that summer put his career in immediate jeopardy. He's bounced around a bunch of training camps since then, released eight times by five different organizations. Eventually a return to New York made sense, and he made the club this summer. "Andre Brown had an injury when he was a rookie and bounced around a bit and circled back to us," GM Jerry Reese said. "We always liked him. We thought he was Derrick Ward-like but faster."

The tape from Weeks 2 and 3 validates Brown: he's a bruising, contact-inviting runner at 6-0, 227 pounds, but he's quick enough to explode through a crease and get to the second level. And at the end of the day teams just care about production, especially in the backfield: a 33-184 push with three touchdowns, along with 5-36 in the passing game, is going to keep you on the field in some role. Brown also had a key 2-point conversion rush in last week's comeback victory over Tampa Bay.

There are plenty of moving parts in this backfield, of course. The Giants thought highly of Wilson all spring and summer, so he can't be discounted — no matter that he's currently buried in Tom Coughlin's doghouse after the opening-night fumble. Bradshaw is a dynamite player when on the field (and he'll play through more injuries than most backs), but his YPC fell the last four years and neck injuries can be tricky to diagnose.

Back to Brown, I think we have to give him a realistic chance to be the top runner here, no matter the competition and the cut history. After two strong showings, I feel comfortable pushing him into my Top 30. I'd consider moving him if someone dangled a clear starter, but if he sticks on all of my rosters (and I purchased him in six of seven Yahoo! leagues this week), that's fine with me. If that tape doesn't excite you, maybe you're just not a football fan.

33. Donald Brown
34. Pierre Thomas
35. Kevin Smith
36. DeAngelo Williams
37. Mark Ingram
38. Jonathan Stewart
39. Fred Jackson
40. Jonathan Dwyer
41. Isaac Redman
42. Mikel LeShoure
43. Mike Goodson
44. Ryan Williams

It's a dumpster fire in the Arizona backfield, as Wells (2.8 YPC) and Williams (1.2 YPC) struggle to find lanes behind the worst blocking unit in the conference. Williams also has two lost fumbles on his resume, though I blame the coaching staff for the second one: running a toss wide on what's ostensibly a clock-draining play in the final minute is asking for trouble. Ball security is far easier when you hand off to your tailback and simply ask him to run straight ahead. … LeShoure hasn't played in a real football game since 2010. I see the argument for stashing him in medium and deeper pools, but I won't rank him aggressively until I see something on the field. If that stance means I miss out on him, so be it. … I didn't put a big rank on any Carolina back, and yet it's possible they're all too high. The Panthers don't seem to mind using Cam Newton as a steady goal-line option (I wouldn't want my franchise meal ticket to take all those attrition hits at the goal but that's just me), and the team is also willing to junk the running game at a second's notice (see the Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay).

45. Daryl Richardson
46. Robert Turbin
47. Dexter McCluster
48. Kendall Hunter
49. Rashard Mendenhall
50. Jacquizz Rodgers
51. Roy Helu
52. Rashad Jennings
53. Toby Gerhart
54. Jackie Battle

Mendenhall is coming off a significant knee injury, he's not ready to return yet, and there are two other respectable backs in house. And heck, can the Steelers run block consistently? I refuse to expect immediate miracles from players coming off extensive layoffs and major injuries. … Battle isn't a special back by any means, but he's clearly better than the other replacement options in San Diego. He's the only justifiable Mathews handcuff (or spec play) at this time, if you feel obligated to spend a roster spot as such. Ronnie Brown doesn't have any explosion left in his legs.

55. Knowshon Moreno
56. Felix Jones
57. Bilal Powell
58. Bernard Pierce
59. David Wilson
60. Evan Royster
61. Vick Ballard
62. Shaun Draughn
63. Danny Woodhead

The most interesting thing about Powell, to me, is that he's behind the unexciting Shonn Greene. … Remember that the current Indianapolis staff has no previous stake in Donald Brown. Ballard is one of the more intriguing lottery tickets outside the Top 50. … The sooner the Patriots accept that Woodhead isn't Darren Sproles, the better.

64. Bernard Scott
65. Tashard Choice
66. Daniel Thomas
67. LeGarrette Blount
68. Shane Vereen
69. Alex Green
70. Joique Bell
71. Joe McKnight
72. Taiwan Jones
73. Phillip Tanner

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