Lamar Miller Houston
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A lot of the talk out of the Houston Texans’ camp has been the possibility of a monster season for running back Lamar Miller. The Houston Chronicle suggests that he will have a versatile role with the club in 2016, solidifying Miller as a major three-down back. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman is saying that Miller is poised for a “season for the ages”.
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Miller ran for 872 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015 with 47 catches for 397 yards and two touchdowns. In 2014 he ran for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns with 38 catches for 275 yards and a score.
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Miami ranked dead last in rushing attempts last year with 344 while Houston ranked fifth with 472.  In 2014 Miami ranked 22nd with 399 carries while Houston led the league with 551.
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Miller will certainly get his opportunity. Houston trusted Alfred Blue to 183 carries, Chris Polk to 99 more and Jonathan Grimes to 56 of his own. Don’t look for Blue or Grimes to steal much of Miller’s work. His ability to pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield will help with the touches and add to his fantasy appeal.
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In Houston’s first preseason game he ran for 30 yards on four carries. Don’t expect a heavy workload as we gear up towards the season, but once it’s go time, he will be on full display.
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Miller’s career high in carries is 216. He has averaged 195.7 carries the past three seasons and sports a career yards per carry average of 4.6. If he can get 250 or more carries for the Texans to go along with 30-40 receptions, he should be in line for a massive season.
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Personally, I have Miller just outside the top five, but I do have him slotted as a legit RB1 with major upside.

Frank Gore running
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Frank Gore headlines the running back scene in the NFC West, but he has some pretty serious injury concerns. He has missed nine games over the past three years, and didn’t reach 250 carries in any of those seasons. While he is very active in the receiving game averaging 51 catches per season over the past five years, he only has 32 rushing touchdowns over that stretch. He brings the average just over eight total touchdowns a year over that stretch thanks to his receiving scores, but he is a low end RB1 in non-PPR leagues and a middle of the pack RB1 in PPR leagues. Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter will battle for handcuff duties, but neither present much fantasy value as long as Gore remains healthy.
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Steven Jackson is a true workhorse back for the Rams, averaging 327 carries and 48.5 receptions over the past two years. His 3.8 yards per carry as well as his low touchdown totals (six per year over the past four season) keeps him from the top tier of fantasy backs. The talk has been that the Rams will add a veteran running back to compliment S-Jax. He’s still a solid RB1, especially in PPR leagues.
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The Cardinals must have  seen enough from Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower as the team overlooked several needs and selected Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams with the 38th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. It will be interesting to see how Beanie responds to the challenge. Beanie could be a nice value pick this year if he can stay healthy and finally prove his worth.
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Marshawn Lynch had some moments for the Seahawks, especially in their thrill upset of the Saint. Despite the feeling the he’s been in the league for a long time, he’s just 25. Justin Forsett will still get plenty of touches, especially in the passing game, but isn’t a threat to Lynch or a player with considerable fantasy value.
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Michael Turner running
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The NFC South is pretty loaded in the running back department.
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Atlanta’s Michael Turner leads the way. He ran for 1371 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. He gets a downgrade in PPR leagues as he only caught 12 passes for 85 yards last year, but he’s a solid RB1. Turner has averaged 91.7 rushing yards and 0.91 rushing touchdowns per game over the past three years. Jason Snelling is one of the game’s best handcuffs because the Falcons hardly missed a beat when he filled in for Turner in the past. If he is a restricted free agent, he could be back with the club. If he is unrestricted it could be hard for them to bring him back. The Falcons drafted Jacquizz Rodgers, but he’ll strictly be the third down back.
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Tampa Bay got a pleasant surprise from LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 1007 yards with six touchdowns. He did his damage in just 201 carries (5.0 ypc).  Cadillac Williams is a free agent, but has expressed his desire to return to the Bucs. Blount is expected to get the bulk of the carries while Cadillac would play in passing situations. Rookie Allen Bradford isn’t expected to steal too many carries.
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Jonathan Stewart (and his keeper league owners) are perhaps second only to DeAngelo Williams and his agent in interest in where D-Will lands next year. If J-Stew has the backfield to himself, he could easily produce top five numbers, though Cam Newton could steal some of his touchdown runs. If Williams returns, Stewart can still be a viable fantasy option. They can definitely coexist for the Panthers and fantasy owners alike. D-Will could also be an elite fantasy option this year if he lands in the right place. If he signs with the Broncos, he could replace Knowshon Moreno as the team’s lead back. D-Will is an important piece in determining next year’s fantasy running back landscape.
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Pierre Thomas looked to be in a great spot when the Saints signed him to a four-year extension. Then they went and drafted Mark Ingram. That move likely sealed the fate of Reggie Bush, who will be sent packing if he doesn’t take a large pay cut. Thomas will likely move to change of pace and third-down duty while Ingram would carry the bulk of the snaps. This is a messy situation that will cause fantasy owners some heartache. Ingram should be a solid RB2 while PT23 should be a solid RB3.
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Adrian Peterson delivered once again despite playing on the Vikings’ sinking ship. He ran for 1298 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added 36 catches for 341 yards and another score. After being dogged by fumbles, he improved his ball control by coughing up just one fumble all year. Peterson is once again in the conversation for the first overall pick in fantasy leagues. He shouldn’t slip by the top four or five picks even in PPR leagues. With a rookie quarterback he’ll likely be called upon to take some of the pressure off. Toby Gerhart showed he was capable towards the end of the year, and should see an increase in touches this year. He remains strictly a handcuff though.
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Matt Forte bounce back from a somewhat disappointing 2009 season by running for 1069 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged a career high 4.5 yards per carry. Forte also added 51 catches, his third straight year with 50+, for 547 yards and three more scores. Forte figures to be a high-end RB2 in non-PPR leagues and a low-end RB1 in PPR leagues. Chester Taylor will keep Forte fresh and provide veteran insurance should Forte go down, but isn’t a hot fantasy commodity.
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Jahvid Best will operate between the 20s, but rookie Mikel Leshoure will get the touch carries near the goal line as well as closing out games. Best deal with turf toe last year which sapped his explosiveness, but injuries have been commonplace for Best. He has the ability to put up huge numbers, but is a fantasy risk even as an RB2 because of his injury concerns and Leshoure’s presence. It’s possible that both Best and Leshoure could each have weekly fantasy value.
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Green Bay has a bit of a mess at running back. For starters, we already know that they are first and foremost a passing team. We also know Aaron Rodgers always steals a few rushing touchdowns per year. With Ryan Grant and James Starks sharing carries, there may not be a reliable weekly option barring injury. The Packers added Alex Green in the draft who will likely handle third down duties and further muddy the water.
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While the AFC East running back landscape is a mess, the AFC North is a goldmine.
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Ray Rice is a force, both running and catching the football. He regressed some last year, but still managed 1776 total yards (1220 rushing, 556 receiving) and six touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving). Willis McGahee is up in the air, but it makes sense for him to return to Baltimore next year. Rice is a top five to eight fantasy running back depending on your format.
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Rashard Mendenhall followed up his 1108 yard, seven touchdown season with an even more impressive 1273 yard, 11 touchdown season. Mendy is a clear RB1 and a top eight to ten fantasy running back depending on your format. I actually like him a little better than Ray Rice in non-PPR leagues. He may make some bonehead comments, but he is a fantasy force with little competition for carries.
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Cedric Benson is a free agent, but is likely to return to Cincinnati. He is a workhorse back that should crack the 1000 yard mark again. Benson is a solid RB2 that also shouldn’t receive much competition for carries. If he does part via free agency, all bets are off in Cincinnati.
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Peyton Hillis‘ impressive season landed him on the cover of Madden 12. Obviously there is a curse that supposedly goes with it, but after the way he ran roughshod on the Ravens last year, he may be able to stand up to the curse. He slowed towards the end of the year, and the Browns have already stated that they want to reduce his carries. Montario Hardesty should be in the mix for carries, but Hillis has earned the feature role. Hillis is a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2.
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The AFC East is a division without a dominant running back.
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Tthe class of the division is Shonn Greene, but isn’t that what we expected last year? LaDainian Tomlinson is still in the picture, but he seems to be a peace with not being the featured back anymore. Greene is a powerful runner that should have a solid season. He’s better suited to be an RB2, but if you went WR or QB with your first pick or two, he is capable of putting up RB1 numbers. Heck, he’s capable of putting up top ten numbers. LT should still be owned, but don’t reach because of his name. He’s best suited for PPR leagues. Joe McKnight also could work his way into the mix, but the lockout will probably lead to more of a veteran presence early. Rookie Bilal Powell is best suited for dynasty leagues.
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In New England you have a fantasy mess. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was voted Running Back Most Likely to Regress by his classmates. With Danny Woodhead and rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley the Pats’ running back pool is to murky to rely on. At some point it could sort itself out, but Bill Belichick is not concerned with fantasy numbers. Winning is the name of the game, and he’ll mix and match his RBs as he sees fit.
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Buffalo is a full-blown RBBC. Fred Jackson remains the starter and without OTAs will keep a foot up on second-year back C.J. Spiller. We’ve seen more committees lately that have allowed for two effective fantasy players to coexist so don’t be scared off. Jackson makes a solid RB3 and Spiller a solid RB4. If one of the backs goes down, the other’s value will jump dramatically. Once again Jackson will likely be undervalued on draft day.
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Then we have Miami. We still don’t know what will happen with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Assuming only one returns, that back will have the advantage on rookie Daniel Thomas thanks to the lockout. Both veterans have excelled in a RBBC so they will be willing to share the carries. Thomas will have to get up to speed quickly picking up blitzes to stay on the field. He very well could end up the top rookie runner this  year and has a bright future in keeper leagues.
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Now that you’ve strolled through the muddy AFC East running back terrain, be sure to wipe your feet.
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Here are some Running Backs that have played well in the preseason.  Let’s evaluate them to see if they can translate their preseason production into fantasy worth when the season begins.

Glen Coffee, San Francisco 49ers – Coffee had 34 yards on 8 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and 3 catches for 27 yards in San Francisco’s win over Dallas.  Coffee leads all RBs with 230 yards on 38 carries (6.1 ypc).  He also has five receptions for 35 yards.  He’s not good enough to use as a flex player or bye week replacement in typical leagues, but he should be on fantasy rosters as a Frank Gore handcuff.

James Davis, Cleveland Browns – Davis has been impressive during the preseason with 149 yards on 19 carries (7.8 ypc) with a TD.  He has added 7 receptions for 44 yards.  He had 28 yards on 5 carries (5.6 ypc) and 4 catches for 27 yards in a Win over Tennessee.  He may not open the season as the starter, but if Jamal Lewis struggles, it will be hard to keep Davis off the field.  Do not let him go undrafted. 

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants – Bradshaw had another solid game against the Jets with 8 carries for 47 yards (5.9 ypc) and 2 catches for 5 yards.  In the preseason he has 136 yards on 19 carries (7.2 ypc) with 1 TD and 6 catches for 21 yards.  He is a decent flex option and a excellent handcuff to Brandon Jacobs.

Kory Sheets, San Francisco 49ers - Sheets is tied for the lead with 3 preseason TDs.  He has also ran for 144 yards on 33 carries (4.4 ypc).  He punched two in against Dallas while running for 42 yards on 11 carries (3.8 ypc).  He’s battling for a roster spot, but doesn’t have much fantasy value.

P.J. Hill/Lynell Hamilton, New Orleans Saints - Lynell and P.J. are battling for roster spots.  Lynell has 143 yards on 31 carries (4.6 ypc) with 4 catches for 16 yards.  He had 95 yards on 16 carries (5.9 ypc)  in the win over Oakland.  P.J. is tied for the lead with 3 TDs.  He also has 113 yards on 22 carries (5.1 ypc) with 1 catch for 2 yards.  He had 83 yards on 12 carries (6.9 ypc) with 2 TDs against Oakland.  With Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, and Mike Bell ahead of them on the depth chart neither have much fantasy value.

Leon Washington, New York Jets - Leon has 119 yards on 19 carries (6.3) with 6 catches for 40 yards in the preseason.  In their recent win over the Giants he had 62 yards on 9 carries (6.9 ypc) and 3 catches for 7 yards.  Thomas Jones has just 61 yards on 29 carries (2.1 ypc) with 2 TDs.  If his struggles continue, Leon can work his way into a larger role in the Jets offense.  He’s a good flex option with a ton of upside.

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Here are some Running Backs putting up serious preseason numbers.  Let’s take a look and see if they have a chance to translate some of that preseason production into fantasy worth in regular season play.

Glen Coffee, San Francisco 49ers – Coffee leads all RBs with 196 preseason rushing yards.  He is averaging 6.5  yards per carry (ypc).  He also has two receptions for 8 yard, but has failed to score a TD.  The Rookie out of Alabama is doing all the right things to serve as Frank Gore’s primary backup.  If Gore goes down, Coffee’s value skyrockets.  He is a great late round value as a Gore handcuff or trade bait.

Tyrell Sutton, Green Bay Packers – Sutton has 140 yards on 27 carries (5.2 ypc) with a TD.  It’s could earn him a gig on a practice squad somewhere or the UFL. 

Michael Turner running
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
- The preseason means little, but it’s nice to know the Burner is picking up where he left off with 128 yards on 13 carries (9.8 ypc) with a pair of TDs.  He is clearly a top four pick, with a bump in non-PPR leagues.

James Davis, Cleveland Browns - James has been shooting up fantasy draft boards with an amazing preseason.  He has looked great in practices and showed a glimpse of his big play potential with a 81 yard TD run against the lowly Detroit Lions en route to a 12 carry, 116 yard game.  Through two preseasons games the Clemson Rookie has 121 yards on 14 carries (8.6 ypc) and 3 receptions.  He has plenty of competition in Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison, but let’s face it.  The Browns are bad.  They are going to be bad.  It’s only a matter of time before they start planning for the future, and Jamal Lewis isn’t the future.  Harrison is better suited for the change of pace role, meaning Davis could get the bulk of the carries.

Kory Sheets, San Francisco 49ers - Sheets has 102 yards on 22 carries (4.6 ypc), but only has a shot of making the team because of Thomas Clayton’s knee injury.  He has no fantasy value.

Mike Bell, New Orleans Saints - Bell is an interesting option.  I obviously wouldn’t carry him on my roster as long as Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were healthy, but he could be productive if one of them went down with an injury.  He has 100 yards on 10 carries (10.0 ypc) this preseason with a 46 yard TD.

760 Packers v Buccaneers
Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers
- Again, I know it’s only the preseason, but it’s nice to see Ryan Grant find the end zone.  He has scored twice while running for 71 yards on 16 carries (4.4 ypc).  He has added a couple of receptions.  If he can score more than the 4 TDs he had last year, he’ll be one of the best RB2s.

Ahmad Bradshaw
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants - Bradshaw appears poised to pick up Derrick Ward’s slack with 89 preseason yards on 11 carries (8.1 ypc) with 4 catches for 16 yards.  He has the burst to break one, and the soft hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Images courtesy of Icon SMI

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byner-mack

1.  DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart
I am still somewhat stunned by the season DeAngelo produced.  1515 yards at 5.5 yards per carry and 20 TDs (18 rushing).  I guess he responded to the challenge Carolina presented by drafting Jonathan Stewart with the 13th pick last year.  Stewart wasn’t a slouch either with 836 yards at 4.5 ypc and 10 TDs.  They are just the fourth RB duo to both surpass 10 TDs.  They were instrumental in earning the Panters a first round bye.

2.  Chris Johnson & LenDale White
Johnson and White almost joined the 10+ rushing TD group as White had 15 and Johnson had 9.  Johnson did add one through the air to give him ten total TDs though.  Johnson was the big play guy with 1228 yards on a 4.9 ypc, while White was the punisher with 773 yards at a 3.9 clip.  The rushing game helped propel the Titans to the #1 seed in the AFC.

3.  Brandon Jacobs & Derrick Ward
The only RB combo to each reach 1000 yards.  Jacobs was a bull with 1089 yards at 5.0 ypc and 15 TDs.  Ward was more than capable spelling and filling in for Jacobs with 1025 yards at 5.6 ypg with 2 TDs.  He added 384 yards through the air.  Even third-stringer Ahmad Bradshaw was successful with 355 yards at 5.3 ypc.  Although Eli had a fine season, it was the rushing attack that gave New York their identity.

4.  Adrian Peterson & Chester Taylor
It helps having the NFL’s leading rusher in this duo, but Chester Taylor was quite capable as well.  Peterson had 1760 yards at 4.8 ypc and 10 TDs.  Taylor had 798 total yards, equally split on the ground and through the air.  He averaged 4.0 ypc and has six TDs (four rushing).  Peterson often made the big play while Chester would make a key play to help the Vikings win the NFC North.

5.  Michael Turner & Jerious Norwood
Like Minnesota, this duo is elevated mainly because of their lead back.  Michael Turner was simply amazing.  Turner rolled to 1699 yards at 4.5 ypc and 17 TDs.  Early on he dominated bad teams and was mediocre against good ones.  That inconsistenty cost him the rushing title, but he righted that ship by scoring in seven of his last eight games.  He started  (220 yards vs. Detroit) and finished (208 yards vs. St. Louis) the season with a bang.  Norwood doesn’t stack up to the other backs in this group, but he did manage 827 yards and 6 TDs (489 & rushing).  His 5.1 ypc didn’t match the 6.4 & 6.0 from his two prior years, but it’s still a pretty good number.  They helped make life easier for Matt Ryan as Atlanta made its way back to the playoffs.

6.  LaDainian Tomlinson & Darren Sproles
LT wasn’t quite himself this year, but he did manage 1536 total yards and 12 TDs (1110 & 11 rushing).  His 3.8 ypc wasn’t great, but Norv Turner didn’t exactly let LT wear teams down like usual.  Sproles was more effective catching the ball (342 yards and 5 TDs to 330 & 1), but he did average 5.4 ypc.  Not bad considering the Chargers were fairly pass happy this year.  They did sneak into the playoffs.

7.  Thomas Jones & Leon Washington
Thomas Jones also had a great season.  He ran for 1312 yards at 4.5 ypc with 13 TDs, with and additional 207 & 2 through the air.  Leon Washington simply made big plays.  He had 803 yards (448 rushing) and 9 TDs (6 rushing, 2 receiving & 1 KR).  Leon averaged 5.9 ypc.  Had they leaned on this duo a little more than Brett’s shaky arm, perhaps the Jets would have been in the playoffs.

8.  Ronnie Brown & Ricky Williams
This duo was easily the most surprising as Ronnie was coming off a major knee injury and Ricky was trying to overcoming injuries and suspensions.  Ronnie had 916 yards at 4.3 ypc with 10 TDs.  Ricky had 659 yards at 4.1 ypc with 4 TDs.  They each had over 200 receiving yards (Ronnie – 254 & Ricky – 219).  They helped turn the Dolphins 1-15 season to a 11-5 AFC East winning one.

Honorable Mention:  Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush & Deuce McAllister; Maurice Jones-Drew & Fred Taylor; Joseph Addai & Dominic Rhodes; Marshawn Lynch & Fred Jackson; Le’Ron McClain & Willis McGahee

You’ve seen the Sleepers.  Now it’s time to explore the players who I feel will be disappointments to fantasy football owners.  Here are the Running Backs I’d avoid.

Steven Jackson – Up until a couple weeks ago I would have said S-Jax is in line for a big turnaround.  His holdout scares me though.  After being burned by Larry Johnson last year, I have little faith in RBs who hold out.   They don’t get in game shape and then they get hurt.  I won’t be party to that again this year.

Brandon Jacobs – He’s big.  Real big.  Shouldn’t he be the one hurting DBs and LBs?  He’s also in a crowded backfield.  Ward and Bradshaw both looked good last year.  I’m afraid there will be too much sharing for the G-Men.

Ryan Grant – Take Brett Farve out of the mix.  Add basically a rookie QB.  Can you say “eight men in the box”?  That’s what I’d do until Aaron Rodgers proves he can handle the load.  Taking away Brett Favre from the mix leaves a lot of questions.  Until they are answered I’ll be taking a comparable back.

Ricky Williams – If you are taking Ricky because you think he may still have “it”, then I’d say you’ve been using the very stuff that got Ricky in trouble in the first place.  He hasn’t played in the NFL (besides 6 carries last year) since 2005.  That’s a long time, especially in Running Back years.  I’d rather take someone with a little more upside than Ricky.  Not to mention the constant threat his season goes “Up in Smoke”.


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