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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 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 Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson arrived in Atlanta via free agency on March 14, 2013, signing a three-year contract with the Falcons.
He'd had eight straight 1,000+ yards-rushing seasons prior to signing with the Falcons, but his 2013 campaign was derailed by a torn hamstring, suffered during Week two of the 2013 season - he didn't manage a single game of over 100 yards rushing the entire season, even once he finally returned to the field during Week eight of 2013. "Unfortunately, Steven was injured last year and we didn't really get a chance to see what he was capable of doing until the last four or five games," head coach Mike Smith said on March 28, 2014. Jackson ended 2013 with 156/542/6 rushing and 33/191/1 receiving over 12 appearances. Jackson will be 31 on July 22nd, 2013. It remains to be seen if Jackson can bounce back to his pre-injury form on the wrong side of 30 - the selection of running back DeVonta Freeman at 4.03 of the 2014 NFL Draft enhanced the depth at running back behind Jackson, and some observers view Freeman as a potential contributor in the Falcons' pass-heavy offense. The Falcons ranked 24th in the NFL in yards-per-carry last season, averaging 3.9 yards per carry - there is definitely room for improvement up front on the offensive line. The selection of OT Jake Matthews at 1.06 in the NFL Draft should help open up some better running lanes for Jackson during 2014, as should the arrival of veteran offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and Jon Asamoah via free agency. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered ANOTHER hamstring injury in practice on Monday, July 28 - this time it is to his other hamstring (not the same one he injured last year). The team is saying he'll be ready for week one of regular season, but we all remember how Jackson's last soft tissue injury worked out...
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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