The Finer Details: Examining the Struggles of Talented Running Backs in 2013

Chances are, Adrian Peterson went first overall in your fantasy draft back in August. However, guys like Ray Rice, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, and Trent Richardson undoubtedly followed, most likely in the first round. Another tier of players soon fell off the board as I’m sure owners were counting on big names like Jackson, Ridley, Johnson, Jones-Drew, and Wilson.

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Each of those backs have fascinating problems, some real and some superficial, but problems nonetheless. I will group each of the struggling backs into like-divisions and talk about their problems there. Without further ado…

The “Banged Up” Division

Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller, Steven Jackson

The most common reason for lack of fantasy production is injuries, no doubt about that. Rice and Jackson have combined to miss 3 games so far and Spiller has been knocked out of 2 himself.

Even discounting the game Ray Rice missed in week 3, he has been terribly unproductive so far this year. On the season, Rice has just 89 rushing yards on 30 carries, good for a whopping 2.9 YPC average. He has only added one touchdown as well so it’s not like he has been finding other ways to get fantasy points either. After a tough game against Miami this week, the schedule does get easier as the Ravens play the Packers and Steelers in consecutive weeks, both of whom struggle against the run.

Ray Rice's stats per game through week 4

Ray Rice’s stats per game through week 4

C.J. Spiller has been getting many more opportunities than Rice, (66 carries compared to 20 through 4 games) but he still hasn’t found a way to make the most of his opportunities. The former Clemson standout has been hobbled by an ankle injury, so his lack of production is at least understandable. However, he has posted games of 0, 3, and 7 fantasy points already this season… something a first round pick just shouldn’t do.

Steven Jackson is a whole different animal. He has missed the last 2 games which obviously provides no fantasy value to a team whatsoever. When Jackson did play, he was productive, but his injury definitely concerns me.

Jackson's last play before exiting with an injury

Jackson’s last play before exiting with an injury

The “Workhorse” Division

Doug Martin, Trent Richardson

Normally, a heavy workload is fantastic news for running backs and fantasy owners alike. However, for these two studs, that hasn’t been the case.

Okay, so Doug Martin hasn’t been awful this year. In fact, he actually has put up double-digit fantasy points in three of his first four games. What concerns me with the Buccaneers’ running back is that he has gotten over 20 carries in every single game so far and has only posted 342 yards, 1 touchdown, and season high fantasy point total of 14. His 3.4 YPC average ranks toward the bottom of the league among guys that have gotten at least 50 carries as well. The thing is though, Martin doesn’t have 50 carries this year. He has 100 carries. Think about it for a minute… if he stays on his current pace, Martin would carry the ball 400 times this year. So while Martin is getting overworked now, (and still not producing at an elite level) I worry that he will burn out later and continue to disappoint fantasy owners.

One of more earth-shattering trades in recent memory happened a few weeks ago when the Browns supposedly gave up on their season and traded Trent Richardson for a 1st round pick. Since the trade, neither team has lost a game. Richardson has actually scored twice for the Colts, but that’s about the point where his highlights end. On the season (Browns & Colts) Richardson has carried the ball 66 times which is above league average and a good number to be at for a talented running back. The only problem is this: 47, 58, 35, 60. No, those numbers aren’t the combination to my gym locker, they are the number of rushing yards that Richardson has in each game this year. He has only been able to eclipse 60 yards once, which should be terrifying for fantasy owners. A shaky offensive line could be the culprit for his 3.1 yards per carry, but one would think that T-Rich would be more productive than this so far.

Everyone would like to see more big plays from Richardson, but I don't know if it will ever happen

Everyone would like to see more big plays from Richardson, but I don’t know if he can make them  happen regularly

The “Two Hands on the Ball” Division

David Wilson, Stevan Ridley

Both guys were high upside picks coming into the 2013 season, but both have faltered miserably so far. Ball security is at a premium in the NFL, and each of these players found that out the hard way.

The former Virginia Tech star, Wilson, had a miserable week 1 performance as he coughed up the rock twice which earned him a oneway ticket to the silver piece of metal on the sideline. However, owners of the Giants’ RB have reason to be cautiously optimistic, as Wilson’s carries have slowly improved week by week and his fantasy points have followed suit.

The more playing time he get's, the more backflips we will see

The more playing time he get’s, the more backflips we will see

Ridley, a standout at LSU, also could not hang on to the ball in a week 1 victory over the Bills. The RB fumbled twice in the first half which prompted Bill Belichick to make a     not-so-cozy seat on the bench for Ridley for the entire second half. Since then, Stevan has worked diligently to become a trusted member of the New England offense again, but with no double-digit fantasy point games so far, (his highest is 7) it is tough to start Ridley for the foreseeable future.

The “Lost Cause” Division

Maurice Jones Drew, Chris Johnson

Both players have led the league in rushing yards for a season at some point in their respective careers. Those days seem like distant memories as each has struggled to get anything going so far in 2013.

Many people were predicting an Adrian Peterson-esque comeback for MJD after he missed most of last season. But after 4 games, we already know that’s not going to happen. The former UCLA back plays for the worst team in the league which doesn’t help his cause for a breakout season at all. Not to mention the Jaguars just traded their starting tackle to the Ravens for a pair of draft picks. We are already a quarter of the way through the NFL season and Jones-Drew has yet to rush for over 50 yards and has found the end-zone just once. I have no problem benching him until he gets his act together, which may never actually happen.

His lack of production is almost scary

His lack of production is almost scary

CJ2K is never coming back. His 2,000 yard season in 2009 was spectacular, but indeed a one-year thing. This season, he has failed to register a single game with 10 fantasy points and things don’t look to be getting any better. He is averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has failed to register a single touchdown in 2013. Time to mail it in on Johnson.