Get. A. Top. Notch. Running. Back.
As we blast off into another season of fantasy football, that is the No. 1 thing I want you to take away from all of the copy you'll see from me over this three-day stretch.
Thinking of taking Calvin Johnson at No. 2, 3, 7, 8? Don't do it.
Maybe Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers in the first round? Resist the urge.
Here are the cold, hard facts: The top 17 tailbacks in my rankings are slam-dunk starters with better-than-average chances of posting solid numbers all season.
After that, your head is going to spin off its axis as you decide which injury-prone or timeshare back you want to hitch your wagon to.
Darren McFadden? Ryan Mathews? David Wilson? Montee Ball? BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
See? You can feel a dull ache between your temples already.
So do yourself a favor and do everything in your power to grab two of those 17 backs in the first two rounds.
Of those 17, let me point out the four I really like and should exceed expectations:
•LeSean McCoy (ranked fifth): If you were burned by McCoy (5 TDs in 12 games) last season, I can understand your trepidation in taking him again. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited. He's only 25 years old. Offensive mastermind Chip Kelly is the head coach. And McCoy is just two years removed from a monster season of 20 TDs and 1,624 yards from scrimmage. If Michael Vick just plays decently, I think McCoy could hit 15 TDs and 1,600 total yards.
•Trent Richardson (seventh): How many backs ranked below Richardson almost certainly will hit double-digit scores? Maybe one. He'll improve on his 3.6-yards-per-carry average, he might catch 60-65 passes … and he may just end up being the steal of the draft when it's all said and done.
•Maurice Jones-Drew (ninth): MJD is going in the third round of many 10-team drafts. Third round for a guy who has averaged 113 yards from scrimmage and 0.7 TDs per game since 2009. Grab him before the 24th pick and enjoy the results.
•Stevan Ridley (12th): With Ridley you have a chance to select a second running back who figures to reward you with double-digit touchdowns and 1,200 yards. Tough to argue with that.
A quick word about Matt Forte. I think he's in for a solid season, one in which he might eclipse his career best of 1,238 rushing yards. His ability to find the end zone, however, has been a serious issue the past two seasons, and that is unlikely to change with bulldozer Michael Bush waiting to vulture the short-yardage scores. Don't reach for Forte, but he'll make a solid second back for your team.
If you follow my advice and grab two running backs with the first two picks, you'll want to stock up on WRs in Rounds 3-5, then maybe grab an undervalued QB like Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo or Colin Kaepernick.
When you start looking for RB depth, it's going to be a big crapshoot, but let's see if we can look into a crystal ball and figure out what is likely to happen in nine important situations.
1. New York Giants: There's a lot of hype about David Wilson, a running back with just 71 carries last season. He'll also cede work to Andre Brown, whom the coaches trust more in protecting Eli Manning. Wilson is an explosive talent, however, and has the potential to finish in the top 20 in fantasy points.
2. Green Bay: By all accounts, second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy has looked fantastic in camp. There are always concerns about rookies helping in pass protection, but with second-year player DuJuan Harris done for the season with a knee injury, Lacy's stock just exploded. Fourth-rounder Johnathan Franklin is someone to keep an eye on because if Lacy can't get the job done, Franklin is talented enough to jump in and produce on a high-scoring offense.
3. Denver: Read Green Bay and just change the names to Montee Ball (rookie) and Ronnie Hillman (third year).
4. Cincinnati: BenJarvus Green-Ellis plodded along to 1,094 rushing yards and a meager 6 TDs last season. The Bengals made Giovani Bernard the first running back taken with the fifth pick of the second round. He's already scored twice in the preseason. He's a must-have for any Green-Ellis owner.
5. Arizona: Isn't this team where running backs go to die? Or at least never flourish until they leave? (See Emmitt Smith, Thomas Jones, Beanie Wells.) Rashard Mendenhall figures to join that list.
6. Carolina: The nightmare of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart continues. Combine them both and you'd have one serious tailback. There is a ray of hope for Williams, however, as Stewart (ankle) could open the season on the PUP list, meaning he'd be out the first six weeks. If that happens, I'd move Williams up to 17th in the rankings.
7. New York Jets: It's entirely possible that I'm way, WAY too low on former Saint Chris Ivory. But third-year man Bilal Powell is still in the mix, and the Jets will struggle to score 14 points a game.
8. Miami: Lamar Miller should win this battle with Daniel Thomas, but it's far from a sure thing. This situation is very similar to the Jets' above.
9. Pittsburgh: Le'Veon Bell figured to be a low-end RB2, but a mid-foot sprain has sent the Steelers' RB situation into complete chaos. Reports suggest Bell could be out 6 weeks or more. Backups Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer (and maybe La'Rod Stephens-Howling) do little to inspire so it's best to leave this situation alone. Keeper-league players would be wise to take a late-round flier on Bell if you can afford the roster spot.
Those of you with 14 or (gasp) 16 teams in your leagues should target backups on high-scoring teams. Those players include New England's Shane Vereen, Washington's Roy Helu, New Orleans' Mark Ingram (and maybe Pierre Thomas), Atlanta's Jacquizz Rodgers, Houston's Ben Tate, Baltimore's Bernard Pierce and San Francisco's Kendall Hunter. Seattle's Christine Michael is also an intriguing choice if he can beat out Robert Turbin for the No. 2 spot behind Marshawn Lynch.
John Dietz ranks the running backs
Player, team Projected Projected Comment
Cream of the crop
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings 1,350-1,500 10-13 1,151 from 10,000 career rush yds.
2. Arian Foster, Texans 1,225-1,375 12-14 Injuries somewhat of a concern
Still rock solid
3. Ray Rice, Ravens 1,200-1,300* 10-12 60-plus receptions in 4 straight yrs.
4. Doug Martin, Bucs 1,300-1,400* 9-11 4 of 11 TDs came in one game
5. LeSean McCoy, Eagles 1,175-1,275* 10-13 He'll bounce back nicely
6. Mar. Lynch, Seahawks 1,375-1,475 10-12 Had 10 100-yard rush games
7. T. Richardson, Browns 1,100-1200* 8-11 Watch for 60-plus receptions
8. Alfred Morris, Redskins 1,400-1,500 9-11 Tough schedule in Weeks 7-12
9. M. Jones-Drew, Jaguars 1,100-1,350* 7-10 Had 1,980 YFS in 2011
10. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs 1,275-1,400 6-8 624 of 1,509 rush yards in 3 games
11. C.J. Spiller, Bills 1,150-1,250* 7-9 Had 8 games of 100-plus YFS
Still somewhat solid
12. Stevan Ridley, Patriots 1,150-1,325 9-13 TDs in 7 of last 9 games
13. Frank Gore, Niners 1,175-1,250 7-9 O-line may be best in football
14. Matt Forte, BEARS 1,100-1,175* 6-8 Only 10 TDs last two seasons
15. DeM. Murray, Cowboys 1,000-1,175* 7-9 Played in 23 of 32 poss. games
16. Chris Johnson, Titans 1,200-1,300 6-8 1,336 YFS after Week 3 in 2012
17. Steven Jackson, Falcons 1,000-1,175* 6-9 Could be a real steal here
18. Eddie Lacy, Packers 950-1,125 6-9 Rookie has chance to be huge
19. Montee Ball, Broncos 800-1,100 6-10 Just named starter
20. D. McFadden, Raiders 800-1,275* 5-9 Giant tease who rarely delivers
21. Ryan Mathews, Chargers 950-1,175* 5-6 Last 100-yard game: Wk. 14 of '11
22. Reggie Bush, Lions 950-1,050* 5-7 Decent 15 TDs last two seasons
23. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts 900-1,125 6-8 Lingering foot issues a concern
24. Darren Sproles, Saints 300-450** 7-9 161 receptions last two seasons
25. Daryl Richardson, Rams 800-975 5-7 At least we know he's the starter
Timeshares / big questions
26. BenJarvus G-E, Bengals 600-900 6-9 Trying to hold off rookie Bernard
27. David Wilson, Giants 750-1,000 4-8 Huge potential, but A. Brown lurks
28. R. Mendenhall, Cards 800-900 6-7 30 TDs from 2009-11
29. DeAn. Williams, Panthers 700-850 5-7 Too many touchdown vultures
30. Chris Ivory, Jets 900-1,000 3-6 Uninspiring pick
31. Lamar Miller, Dolphins 775-900 5-6 Still battling for No. 1 job
32. Giovani Bernard, Bengals 600-800 4-7 Gut feeling here; don't reach for him
33. Andre Brown, Giants 500-650 4-6 He'll play plenty behind Wilson
34. Jac. Rodgers, Falcons 400-450* 3-6 Solid pick in PPR leagues
35. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos 400-800 3-8 Still breathing down Ball's neck
36. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins 500-750 3-6 Could he win top spot?
37. Le'Von Bell, Steelers 400-1,000 3-8 Foot injury scary at this point
38. Jon. Stewart, Panthers 675-775 3-5 A bit banged up
39. DuJuan Harris, Packers 300-550 2-5 Came on strong late last year
40. Mark Ingram, Saints 500-700 4-6 Will Payton ever give him a shot?
41. Michael Bush, BEARS 450-550 4-6 Awesome insurance for Forte
The next 10: Joique Bell, Lions; Vick Ballard, Colts; Shane Vereen, Patriots; Bryce Brown, Eagles; Ben Tate, Texans; Pierre Thomas, Saints; Bernard Pierce, Ravens; Fred Jackson, Bills; Jonathan Franklin, Packers; Isaac Redman, Steelers
** 500-plus receiving yards likely; * 300-plus receiving yards likely
YFS -- Yards from scrimmage