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RB Maurice Jones-Drew
After eight years as the face of the Jaguars franchise Maurice Jones-Drew signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. Jones-Drew was a perennial fantasy RB1 for the first 6 years of his career averaging more than 1500 total yards and 12 touchdowns per year. In 2012 he struggled with injuries and played only 6 games and was ineffective in 2013 in a disjointed Jaguars offensive attack. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2013, the first time in his career that he's averaged less than 4.2. In his prime Jones-Drew excelled in the passing game, averaging nearly 50 catches a year from 2008-2011. At 29 years old Jones-Drew is entering the twilight of a typical running back's career but he'll have plenty of opportunities to earn touches in Oakland. His main competition for touches will be the oft-injured Darren McFadden and the unproven Latavius Murray.
RB Fred Jackson
At 33 years of age, Fred Jackson is definitely getting closer to the end of the line. His production has been defying the age stereotype for a few years now (injury-riddled 2012 the exception) and will likely still be a solid producer again this season. It's the last one on his contract with the Bills, so he has a lot of incentive to put a good year together. The Bills will split carries with he and C.J. Spiller (and new addition Bryce Brown) again, and we see another productive season from him, though likely not like last year when he finished as the 11th back in fantasy. Brown is likely in Buffalo to replace either Jackson or Spiller (or both, with Jackson being more likely since he is the elder of the two and has less upside. Jackson is good fantasy depth --he plays hard and will put consistent yards on the board but the risk of an age-related drop-off as well as injury and other backs stealing carries hurts his overall potential for fantasy owners, but the volume of the Bills running game can sustain his bench value.
RB Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles may be one of the most overrated fantasy players of his generation. Never a productive runner, Sproles makes his money as a receiving mismatch out of the backfield. In truth, Sproles had one magic season (2011) that saw him finish as the 10th best running back. He finished 22nd in 2012 (but was drafted higher in PPR leagues) and fell to 35th last year. At 30 years old, the Saints had had enough and traded Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles. Sproles' role with the Eagles is unclear, mainly because LeSean McCoy is a 3-down back. McCoy has been as skilled a receiver as Sproles, yet also happens to be a dominant runner. At his best, Sproles can be the Eagles main slot option and catch 60-70 passes and a handful of touchdowns. But realistically his role could be much less particularly with the selection of Jordan Matthews in the first round of the NFL draft.
RB Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead had been a productive role-player for the Patriots for the three seasons preceding 2013, but he had his best season last year with the Chargers. Woodhead is a versatile back who can run inside effectively despite his small size (or perhaps because of it, if his diminutive stature makes him harder for defenders to find), but is at his best in the open field. He is a tough, smart runner who earned the coaches' trust last season, getting playing time in important situations and even leading the team in goal-line opportunities. While Woodhead finished 2013 as a top-twenty fantasy RB, however, his role in the offense this season is less certain. It is possible that Ryan Mathews will grow into more of a workhorse back, and will not come out of the game as often on third downs, around the goal line, or in the two-minute drill. It is also possible that Donald Brown, not Danny Woodhead, will be Mathews' primary backup. Finally, there is a small chance that rookie Marion Grice, whose skills are similar to Woodhead's, will earn the third-down role at Woodhead's expense. Woodhead is a dependable, versatile running back whom the Chargers' coaches grew to trust last season, but with the increased competition for playing time this season, consider Woodhead more of a borderline RB3-RB4 in standard leagues this season, rather than the solid RB2 he was last year.
RB Bernard Pierce
Bernard Pierce entered 2013 with expectations as high as any backup rusher in the NFL. He, like his teammate ahead of him on the depth chart, struggled mightily. Pierce also had offseason shoulder surgery. He has been cleared for training camp, but any shoulder issue for a running back is far from insignificant. If healthy, Pierce could excel in Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's one-cut zone blocking system, as he was compared by some to Arian Foster coming out of college. Pierce's success is tied to both his health and that of Ray Rice. Both backs have the potential but need to bounce back from a bad 2013. Pierce will begin the season as the lead back due to Rice's two-game suspension. If successful in Kubiak's new scheme, this could be a full-blown committee approach when Rice returns.
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