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Spin Doctors: Who’s No. 3 in the backfield? Throw a dart, pick a name

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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We asked Doug Martin to hold up three fingers, not one (USAT)

The world of fantasy sports is based on disagreement and argument, and we've got a doozy of a debate near the top of the running back board this year. Sure, Adrian Peterson is the consensus No. 1 runner and Arian Foster checks in at No. 2, but where do you go from there? Who's the third musketeer on your list?

If you ask five Yahoo! fantasy analysts this question, you might get five different answers . . . check that, you will get five different answers. Agreement takes a holiday. Tomorrow, we'll argue about toppings on pizza or the most essential Spice Girl. Today, we haggle over brand-name feature backs.

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Gather everyone in the green room, it's time for the debate to take shape. Your featured candidates are Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, C.J. Spiller and Ray Rice. And heck, maybe an enterprising reader or two will show us why the right answer really is Marshawn Lynch or Trent Richardson. How you answer this question could be critical to your 2013 success in Yahoo! Fantasy Football.

To the lectern we go.

Noise on Doug Martin: Taking the league by storm, the Muscle Hamster was a mutant rodent last year. He finished among some of the greatest rookies in NFL history amassing 12 touchdowns and 1,926 total yards. Only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James compiled more yards from scrimmage in Year 1. His resulting 16.5 fantasy points per game trailed only Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster among standard-league rushers. Compact, ultra-versatile and a true consistency king – he scored at least 11 fantasy points in 12 of 16 games – the Ray Rice doppelgänger was superb from beginning to end.

Each RB in this discussion has a legitimate argument, but Martin clearly has the edge. He’s the unrivaled workhorse on a team that wants to emphasize ball control. That’s not to say Josh Freeman will suddenly morph into a game-manager, especially with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on roster, but based on the moves the Bucs made this offseason and given their robust O-line, the run could become the centerpiece of Mike Sullivan’s offense. Recall Tampa ranked No. 1 in the league against the run. If it can replicate that level of success and much-publicized acquisition Darrelle Revis regains his lockdown form, the Hamster will spin the wheel early and often.

For the reasons above and because he’s blessed with the second-easiest schedule among running backs entering 2013, it’s no stretch to think he’ll be a 100-yard, 1-TD contributor almost weekly. Really, the youngster is a modern day Edge, an elite all-around threat that won’t experience a sophomore slump.

Muscle up and acquire him once Peterson and Foster fall off the board.

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Made in the shade (USAT)

Funston on LeSean McCoy: Read-option … no huddle … misdirection … getting the ball in space …

If you're not fully embracing Chip Kelly's offensive system, yet, you have to at least be curious about its potential. Kelly's Oregon Ducks football team averaged 39.2 rushing attempts last season, and led the nation in yards per carry. From Kenjon Barner to LaMichael James to Jeremiah Johnson to Jonathan Stewart, Ducks running backs have been a staple among the list of the nation's leading college rushers during Kelly's years running Oregon's offense. And Kelly's success can be explained in two words: speed kills.

If you were looking for the perfect running back for Kelly's system, McCoy would have to be at least near the top of the NFL short list of RBs. He has the requisite speed, versatility and lethal open-field moves. In Andy Reid's pass-heavy attack, McCoy has ranked 6th, 2nd and 11th in fantasy points per game among running backs, respectively, over the past three years. He's also still just 24 years old and has only once touched the pigskin more than 300 times in a season. So there's plenty of tread left on these tires. Sure, he'll share some of the backfield load with Bryce Brown, but McCoy will undoubtedly be the lead dog and is likely in line for one of the heaviest workloads of his career.

You have to consider that even if Kelly's offensive experiment doesn't match its preseason hype, McCoy is still worth a top 10 pick. But does anyone have a higher ceiling on the draft board if Kelly's system ends up being all that and a bag of Chip? I think not.

Behrens on Jamaal Charles: My argument on behalf of Charles relies on three key points:

On a per-carry basis, he's the most productive running back in NFL history. His career 5.8 YPC average is the highest of any back, ever. He ranks well ahead of Jim Brown (5.2), Adrian Peterson (5.0) and Barry Sanders (5.0).

Last season, Charles established new career highs in carries (285), touches (320), and rushing yards (1,509).

Despite Charles' heavy usage last year, Andy Reid has suggested that the Chiefs didn't fully utilize his skills.

(Ed. note: Behrens thinks he can bully these debates with those fancy bullet points. Don't fall for this Doug Henning bit.)

So, in a nutshell, we're talking about a historically rare talent coming off a stellar season, likely to be deployed in new and better ways in 2013. I'm in. I cannot wait to draft Charles. In fact, I was this close to slotting him ahead of Arian Foster, in the No. 2 spot on my draft board. No one should be surprised if Charles tops 2,000 scrimmage yards in his first season under Reid, just like Brian Westbrook did back in the day (2007).

Charles is a ridiculously perfect fit for Reid's system (or any system, really), and he's already demonstrated that he can be a dangerous weapon as a receiver. In 2010, Charles hauled in 45 receptions for 468 yards, on 64 targets. Don't be surprised if he swaps a few carries for catches in the year ahead, an exchange that should make everyone happy — especially PPR owners.

Get yourself a few Charles shares this year, gamers. There's a massive season ahead.

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Buffalo stance (USAT)

Del Don on Spiller: All of these are strong candidates, and I think it's great that after Adrian Peterson, there are a handful of legitimate options, and it's always better when there isn't a consensus. If it's PPR, I wouldn't hesitate to take Calvin Johnson here, but as is, Spiller simply offers the most upside. While hardly in an ideal situation in Buffalo, the Bills have an underrated offensive line, and it won't take a lot from either E.J. Manuel or Kevin Kolb to be an upgrade at quarterback. Moreover, new coach Doug Marrone has a track record of having a significant run-heavy offense, and he plans to bring an uptempo scheme to Buffalo that should result in a lot of possessions.

Spiller should officially take over as Buffalo's lead back in 2013, as Fred Jackson is 32 years old and coming off two knee injuries, and the new regime figures to get the ball in the hands of the team's best player as much as possible. Spiller averaged a terrific 6.0 YPC last season, and if you prorate his stats as a starter over nine games for a full season, you get 1,335 rushing yards, 446 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He's not going to be among the league leaders in scores since he's likely to be used sparringly at the goal line, but Spiller is in the prime of his career at age 26 and forced 66 missed tackles last season. Only Adrian Peterson forced more (71), and he did that with 138 more touches. At 5-11, 200, it's not like Spiller is too small to be a featured back, but with that type of efficiency, he doesn't need 300+ carries to be highly productive. If he approaches 250 in 2013, which certainly seems likely, a top-three fantasy finish will follow.

Pianow on Ray Rice: When I'm making an early draft choice in any fake sport, floor is just as important as upside – perhaps even more important. It's critical that you don't whiff on these early picks. Maybe you can find a way to fix your fantasy baseball club despite a crater in the first round, but if you botch the first pass in your football league, it's almost impossible to dig out of the hole.

And while Ray Rice certainly has a delicious upside, it's the floor that drives him to the No. 3 spot on my board.

You want your feature back to be young and durable and that's Rice. He's still just 26 and he's checked in for a full 16 games in four straight seasons. He piles up the touchdowns (25 the last two years), he rolls up the yards from scrimmage (average of 1877 the last four seasons), and he catches the ball as well as any running back (278 grabs since 2009). What else could you ask for? The volume is here and the production is here.

If you want to add it all up into a bottom-line number, Rice has ranked 6th, 1st, 11th and 4th at his position in the last four years. He's been a Top 6 overall fantasy player in three of those four years. This is the type of pick that allows you to sleep at night. There's no leap of faith to make with Rice, no guessing game. Go with the guy who's consistently proven himself to you.

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