The running back position made a triumphant return to fantasy football excellence in 2013. We saw the successful returns of Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles from major knee reconstructions, while young upstarts like Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris moved up ranking lists on the strength of some impressive rookie campaigns. Yes, the position is back - no pun intended - so you'll see more runners in the first and second rounds of 2013 drafts.
If we look back at previous seasons, it's evident that Arian Foster and Peterson are the two most reliable options at the position. Foster has finished no worse than fourth in fantasy points among runners since 2010, while Peterson has been a top-seven back in each of the last six seasons. What's more, he's been a top-five back in five of those years. Aside from these two super studs, several new names injected an influx of youth at the position in the form of the three rookies standouts, plus C.J. Spiller and Stevan Ridley.
So, what can we expect from running backs in 2013? Well, I think there could be at least seven runners drafted in the first round even before there's been one free-agent move, one rookie drafted or one offseason trade. Here's an early look at how the top of the position will look in 2013.
1. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (2012 - 262.10 points): Foster and Peterson will be the first two picks in just about every 2013 fantasy draft. I like Foster a bit more because he has less wear and tear and better offensive weapons around him. Though he did hurt a lot of owners in championship week, Foster is a durable, productive and reliable superstar - and he's still just 26 years old.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (2012 - 307.40 points): I'm convinced that Peterson is a cyborg with an adamantium knee. That would explain him rushing for 2,097 yards with 13 total touchdowns and leading all runners in fantasy points less than a year removed from a major knee operation. A lot of owners will end up taking A.D. with the No. 1 overall selection in 2013 fantasy drafts.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (2012 - 222.10 points): Despite the fact that he saw 257 carries, Rice still posted 1,143 yards on the ground and 10 total touchdowns. Those totals helped him finish sixth in fantasy points among running backs - he has also finished no worse than ninth in points at the position since 2009. The versatile, durable veteran will remain one of fantasy elite runners in 2013.
4. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (2012 - 246.60 points): Lynch has re-emerged into one of the top runners in fantasy land, as he's finished in the top five in points at the position in two straight seasons. Still just 26 and with a mere four years of 250 or more carries on his NFL resume, the man nicknamed "Beast Mode" has a whole lot still left in his tank. He's locked in as a first rounder.
5. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (2012 - 145.30 points): McCoy was a disappointment in 2012, finishing 21st in fantasy points at his position. Had he not missed time with a concussion, though, the Pittsburgh product would have been projected to score close to 200 points based on his totals from 12 games. At 24 and with a versatile skill set, I'm expecting McCoy to rebound under Chip Kelly.
6. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012 - 262.60 points): A preseason sleeper on NFL.com, Martin exceeded expectations with better than 1,900 scrimmage yards and a combined 12 touchdowns. He also recorded one of the best performances in fantasy football, scoring 51.20 points against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. The "Muscle Hamster" clearly has fantasy superstar written all over him.
7. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (2012 - 204.50 points): Like Peterson, Charles made a spectacular return from a serious knee procedure to finish with over 1,500 rushing yards. While he did have some bad weeks in the stat sheets, Charles still finished in the top 10 in points among runners. At 26 years old and with a full season under his belt since the operation, he should soar in 2013.
8. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (2012 - 212.30 points): Despite starting just nine games, Spiller still finished with over 1,700 scrimmage yards and an impressive 212.30 fantasy points in 2012. He has the youth, skills and potential to emerge into a top-five back next season, with or without Fred Jackson in the backfield. Spiller will make my fantasy man crush list for 2013, that's for sure.
9. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (2012 - 241.00 points): Morris put an end to Shanahanigans, posting a ridiculous 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie. Not bad for a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic. While the specter of the dreaded sophomore slump is a cause for some concern, Morris will be too good to pass up in the first or second round of most 2013 fantasy drafts.
10. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (2012 - 203.70 points): One of the most exciting young running backs in the league, Richardson posted 51 catches, 1,317 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns as a rookie. As long as he avoids injuries, this kid has all the tools needed to emerge into an elite fantasy running back. At 21, Richardson's fantasy football upside is quite obvious.
11. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (2012 - 62.00 points): Once again, a running back who held out of training camp over a contract ends up getting injured. That was the case with Jones-Drew, who played in just six games with a foot ailment that did require a surgical procedure to repair. Barring setbacks, though, I still see MJD as a low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2 fantasy back.
12. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (2012 - 199.40 points): I had a tough time deciding if Ridley or Chris Johnson should come in at No. 12, but for now I'm going with the former. One of the best sleepers in fantasy football last season, Ridley rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as the bell cow for coach Bill Belichick. He'll have second- or third-round value next season.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!