Running backs had lost at least some of their luster in the world of fantasy football heading into last season, but the emergence of rookies like Doug Martin, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson has the value of the position back on the rise. That talented trio finished among the top nine runners in the league based on fantasy points, and will now all be first- or second-round selections in 2013 drafts. Aside from that dynamic group, backs have almost always been the most likely players to make a significant statistical impact in their first pro campaign.
Here's a look at the five running backs (based on NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock's pre-combine rankings) you should remember in the 2013 NFL Draft - and when it's time to draft your fantasy teams.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama (40-yard dash - DNP, vertical leap - DNP, broad jump - DNP): Lacy was unable to participate in drills during the Scouting Combine due to a small tear in his hamstring, but he did check in at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds. The most likely runner to be selected in the first round (if any) in April, the Alabama product rushed for over 1,300 yards with 17 touchdowns in what was his final collegiate season. A virtual battering ram on the gridiron, Lacy will have a great chance to see a prominent role for his future NFL team right out of the gate. As a result, he'll likely be the first rookie taken in all seasonal fantasy leagues.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin (40-yard dash - 4.66, vertical leap - 32.0, broad jump - 9'9"): A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, Ball tied the all-time record of 39 total touchdowns (33 rushing) during the course of that season but still returned to Wisconsin for his senior campaign. He went on to tote the football 356 times in 2012, making it a combined 663 carries he recorded over his final two years at the collegiate level. Still, his skills and abilities make him one of the most attractive backs in the 2013 class. A surefire pick in both seasonal and dynasty league drafts, Ball could be a sleeper if he lands with the right team.
Andre Ellington, Clemson (40-yard dash - 4.61, vertical leap - 34.0, broad jump - 10'2"): Ellington pulled his hamstring running the 40-yard dash at the Combine, so his time was affected as a result. The 5-foot-9, 199-pound runner has a ton of burst and explosiveness, which he displayed in his final two seasons at Clemson. He's not a big back, but Ellington would be a terrific fit for an NFL team that uses a zone-blocking scheme. Whether or not he can earn a prominent role as a rookie remains to be seen - Ellington needs to improve in several areas including pass protection - but he's a virtual lock to be drafted in all seasonal formats.
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (40-yard dash - 4.53, vertical leap - 33.5, broad jump - 10'2"): At 5'8" and 202 pounds, Bernard isn't a thumper like former North Carolina standout Natrone Means. He's also coming off a torn ACL in 2010, though it didn't stop him from posting over 1,200 rushing yards and a combined 25 rushing touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Tar Heels. Also a tremendous receiver out of the backfield, Bernard figures to join an NFL team looking for a home-run hitting threat or complement to an incumbent starter. He'll come off the board in most fantasy leagues, especially if he earns a prominent role.
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (40-yard dash - DNP, vertical leap - DNP, broad jump - DNP): Lattimore has the tools to be a stat-sheet stuffer at the NFL level, but his fantasy appeal is a bit stagnant coming off a devastating knee injury that cut his final collegiate season short. He's also suffered bad knee ailments in back-to-back years, so durability is clearly a question mark. Whether or not he can return for the 2013 NFL season remains to be seen, but some team will draft him (like the Bills did with Willis McGahee in 2003) knowing he might not play a single snap this year. Regardless, Lattimore does need to be on fantasy radars.
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!