2013 Outlook: In '12, Mendenhall tried to return nine months after a torn ACL, but he looked slow. It's probably not fair to hold that effort against him, but it is fair to remember that Mendy was never a compelling RB talent even when healthy. His past fantasy glory came as a result of short TDs: 27 of his 29 career rushing scores have come from inside an opponent's 10. His old Steelers coordinator Bruce Arians is now the head man in Arizona, so despite battling minor injuries in training camp Mendenhall should win the starting job. The real question: Will the Cardinals regularly get near the goal line?
2013 Outlook: Vereen's fantasy fortunes took an upward turn when Danny Woodhead signed with San Diego. Though Stevan Ridley is locked in as the starter and goal-line back, the Patriots have a ton of supplemental work available. In '12, Woodhead and Vereen combined for 186 touches from scrimmage, and if those all go to Vereen by himself, he'll make a fantasy dent in '13. He proved a natural as a no-huddle back in January when Woodhead missed time, scoring three TDs in a game against the Texans, and his quickness and pass-catching chops are legit. Vereen is more than just Ridley's handcuff.
2013 Outlook: Richardson was a surprise contributor in '12, bypassing more heralded rookie Isaiah Pead on the depth chart and giving the Rams about 10 touches per game backing up Steven Jackson. A quick player who could be challenged when called upon to make physical runs, Richardson nevertheless has won the starting RB in training camp, and at the moment looks like the best bet to lead St. Louis in backfield touches. But Pead will be back from suspension in Week 2, and should still get significant work. Richardson may have nice draft-day value, but don't treat him like a traditional starting RB.
2013 Outlook: As a fifth-round rookie, Ballard was supposed to be an afterthought to former first-round RB Donald Brown, but in '12 Brown lost the gig after six games and Ballard took over. He doesn't do anything extremely well, but he's a plugger who finds open air even when his blocking isn't the best. Players like Ballard either need massive workloads or anomalous TD totals to make a big fantasy dent, and given that the Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw this summer, Ballard is looking at a platoon for '13. He's ownable because if Bradshaw gets hurt, Ballard would be an unquestioned No. 1 back. Until then, he's fantasy bench fodder.
2013 Outlook: Well, we're two seasons into Ingram's pro career and it flat-out hasn't happened for him. No question he's in a tough situation: The Saints rotate him with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, rarely play him on passing downs or throw him the ball, and sit him when they're losing. And Ingram did have offseason knee surgery last spring and may not have been healthy for the first part of the '12 season. Still, we'd have to see a revision in New Orleans' offensive plans before we can consider Ingram anything more than a platoon and short-yardage back.
2013 Outlook: Steven Jackson won't be in the Rams' backfield for the first time since '04. That gives Pead and Daryl Richardson a chance to take control, but neither option looks like a slam-dunk, especially because Pead -- who was a higher-regarded collegiate prospect -- will be suspended for Week 1. Richardson made a better impression early in training camp and is the more explosive player, while Pead has backed him up along with rookie Zac Stacy. Pead will be very involved, but at best he looks like he's on the losing end of a gnarly platoon.
2013 Outlook: The Steelers have a well-earned reputation for smash-mouth play calling; over the past three seasons, they're fifth among all teams in rushing attempts inside an opponent's 3. But is Bell the right guy to assume this mantle? At 244 pounds, he's got the body for it, but sometimes at Michigan State, Bell wasn't agile in the hole and took a while to get moving forward. Even worse, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in a preseason game, and should miss time to begin the '13 season. Bell is a better player than backfield mates Isaac Redman, La'Rod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones, but he won't help you if he stays injured.
2013 Outlook: Tate has been a tough player to figure. He missed all of his rookie year with a broken ankle. In '11, he was perhaps the best backup runner in football. But last year he was largely a nonfactor. Injuries have been a big part of the problem, but Tate wasn't all that effective even when he did play (seven games of 20 rushing yards or fewer in '12). Coach Gary Kubiak says he expects a lot more out of Tate in '13, and it's a contract year. Plus Arian Foster wasn't able to play a single snap of preseason ball, giving Tate a chance to show his wares. If you draft Foster early, you have no choice but to reach for Tate, too.
2013 Outlook: At 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Redman is a grinding power runner who does his best work late in games against worn-down defenses. But he blew a chance to run away with the Pittsburgh RB job last year, and by now it's obvious he doesn't have difference-making talent. The Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell this April, but Bell injured a foot in camp, so the team may be right back where they started, as Redman appears to be the Week 1 starter for Pittsburgh
2013 Outlook: By going bananas in back-to-back weeks last season, Brown established himself as a fantasy option. Unfortunately, it became clear he was a one-trick pony, trying to bounce everything outside despite his powerful frame, and NFL defenses adjusted. The Eagles know their bread is buttered with LeSean McCoy, and they're not going to greatly diminish Shady's workload, especially not until Brown shows a more complete game. Still, seeing Brown's raw power/speed combo had to convince Chip Kelly that he's got one of the NFL's most talented backup RBs. If you draft McCoy, you simply must handcuff Brown to him.
2013 Outlook: Remember way back at the '12 combine, when Pierce set off red flags by only benching 17 reps? Seems silly now, doesn't it? It's hard to believe anyone was ever worried about this guy's strength. The burly Pierce did a fine job spelling Ray Rice as last season went on, and really shone in the playoffs with some explosive runs. Rice is still only 26 and never misses time because of injury, so we're not overselling Pierce's fantasy attractiveness. He'll mostly be a change-of-pace guy. But he's also among the NFL's most valuable backups, and is a must-handcuff for Rice's owners.
2013 Outlook: Jackson is a powerful runner, but he's ended each of the past two seasons in IR because of leg injuries and is now 32. New Bills coach Doug Marrone won't carry on with Chan Gailey's insane plan of splitting the RB workload between Jackson and the younger, faster C.J. Spiller. Instead, Jackson will shoulder the more physical carries while Spiller touches it between 15 and 20 times per game, seeing the ball in space and making big plays. Jackson is likelier to be a TD drain on Spiller's value than he is to become a major fantasy factor.
2013 Outlook: It only seems like you've been debating spending a draft pick on Moreno for the past 15 years. He's actually been in the league only since '09, but it sure has been a bumpy ride. The injury-prone Moreno has yet to register a 1,000-yard season, needed a knee scope this winter, and the Broncos selected Montee Ball in April's draft. Willis McGahee is gone from Denver, but with Ball and Ronnie Hillman in the mix, it would be a long road to fantasy stardom this season for Moreno. That said, he might be the most reliable pass-blocking RB Denver has, and that could get him on the field for third downs.
2013 Outlook: We never understood the fantasy world's infatuation with Greene, all the way back to his rookie year when some players were taking him in the first round of their drafts. He's a sluggish 226-pounder who rarely moves the pile or makes anyone miss. The Titans will give Greene first crack at being their thumper, which makes him a candidate to vulture between six and eight TDs from Chris Johnson. But there's a chance he flops in the role. Consider Greene a deeper-league handcuff, but don't reach for him as a flex until the TDs start coming.
2013 Outlook: At 5-foot-6, 196 pounds, Rodgers doesn't have the size be a three-down back, right? Wrong, says Mike Smith. The Falcons head coach directly took on that notion this offseason, confessing that he once held that belief but no longer does. Make no mistake, free-agent signee Steven Jackson will be the feature back. But Rodgers has been excellent on kickoff returns (a 25.7 average last year) and as a pass-catching change-of-pace back. It's entirely possible that Rodgers, who's had just one game of 10-plus carries in his first two seasons, emerges as a high-level handcuff in '13.