Featured RBs are worth their weight in fantasy gold

Earl Campbell. Eric Dickerson. Marshall Faulk. Priest Holmes. LaDainian Tomlinson.

Remember the days when the NFL was chock-full of featured running backs? There were minimal backfield committees, fewer touchdown vultures and a lot less headaches for fantasy football owners. Nowadays, coaches want to reduce the wear and tear on their top runners and utilize the various skill sets of their players. We have scatbacks, change-of-pace backs, short-yardage backs and backs who excel as pass blockers. Call it a back for every occasion. Fortunately, there are still some runners out there who we can define as featured backs -- and the number of these rare gems increased in 2012 after several rookies made a significant statistical impact.

With that said, let's take a look at which runners had the highest and lowest percentage of backfield touches for their respective teams (among running backs and fullbacks) last season, what it means in fantasy land and how the numbers translate for 2013.

Most featured No. 1 running backs

1. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (85 percent): No running back saw a greater percentage of his team's carries and backfield touches than Morris, who finished eighth in fantasy points at the position. He also tied for fifth in terms of the most fantasy points averaged per touch. The question now is simple: Can Morris rush for 1,600 yards and 13 scores again? That remains to be seen, but he'll be a top-15 pick.

2. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (84 percent): Martin was third in the percentage of carries he received and fourth in terms of the average number of fantasy points scored per touch. Much like the situation with Morris, fantasy owners now have to ponder whether Martin is the real deal or just a one-hit wonder. Considering the offensive line and talent around him, he'll be in a great position to succeed again.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (82 percent): The top-scoring running back in fantasy football last season, Peterson rushed for 2,907 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first year back from a major knee reconstruction. He was second in carries percentage and average fantasy points scored per touch, making Peterson a virtual lock to be one of the first two or three players selected in just about every 2013 draft.

4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (81 percent): Johnson was one of the most featured runners based on backfield touches in 2012, but you have to think he'll lose at least some work to Shonn Greene next season. Furthermore, CJ2K averaged the ninth-fewest fantasy points per touch among No. 1 runners -- that's not an attractive stat. At this time, you can't consider Johnson more than a No. 2 fantasy back in 2013.

5. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals (75 percent): The 19th-best running back based on fantasy points last season, Green-Ellis was tied for fifth in terms of the percentage of carries he received and alone in fifth place in touches. The problem, though, is that the Law Firm averaged the sixth-fewest fantasy points per touch as well. Green-Ellis will be a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy runner in most leagues.

6. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (74 percent): The third rookie in our top six runners from last season, Richardson was tied for fifth in carries percentage and tied for 13th in terms of the average number of fantasy points scored per touch. Richardson, who has been told the Browns are "gonna run the shoes off" him, has the skills and will be in a great position to be one of the five-best running backs in 2013.

7. Arian Foster, Houston Texans (73 percent): One of the two best running backs in fantasy football over the last three years, Foster saw 73 percent of Houston's running back carries and touches last season. While he's almost guaranteed to lose some carries to Ben Tate in 2013, the Tennessee product will remain a legitimate featured runner for the Texans and fantasy owners alike. He's my top player for this year.

8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (69 percent): The fourth-best running back based on fantasy points last season, Lynch has proven himself to be a real superstar in the stat sheets. Not only has he scored a combined 25 touchdowns over the last two years, but "Beast Mode" also averaged the third-most fantasy points per touch in 2012. Lynch is a virtual lock to be one of the first five players taken in all drafts.

9. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (67 percent): Like a fine wine, Gore just keeps getting better with age. Not only did he retain a featured role for the Niners, but the veteran also tied for the fifth-most fantasy points per touch among backs in 2012. You have to wonder if he can keep it up at the age of 30, but Gore will be tough to pass on as a No. 2 fantasy runner if he's still available in the fourth round.

10. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (66 percent): A top-six fantasy running back in three of the last four years, Rice has clearly established himself as the best option for owners on the Ravens' roster. While there has been talk about Bernard Pierce seeing some more touches, it's tough to envision Rice not retaining a featured role in the backfield. He was tied for fifth in fantasy points scored per touch a season ago.

Notables: 11. Shonn Greene, New York Jets (63 percent); T-12. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (62 percent); T-12. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (62 percent); T-12. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (62 percent); T-12. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (62 percent)

Least featured No. 1 running backs

1. Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars (31 percent): Jennings barely had more backfield touches than Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed 10 games with an injured foot. With "Pocket Hercules" set to return for 2013, fantasy leaguers can be quick to dismiss this statistic. Jennings didn't pan out as a starter, and Jones-Drew is a lock to re-emerge into a featured role for coach Gus Bradley. He'll have second-round value.

2. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (33 percent): The Saints utilize a true committee situation, which is evident in that their best fantasy back (Darren Sproles) didn't even lead the team in backfield touches. That status was held by Ingram, who ranked an unimpressive 32nd in fantasy points at his position. Sproles was far more valuable, as he averaged a tremendous 0.87 fantasy points per touch in his offensive role.

3. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona Cardinals (35 percent): The Cardinals backfield was a real mess last season, as Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams were both injured. The team added Rashard Mendenhall this offseason, and the desire for coach Bruce Arians to utilize a featured back makes the 2012 numbers from Stephens-Howling all but moot. Fantasy owners should consider Mendenhall a potential flex starter next season.

4. Alex Green, Green Bay Packers (36 percent): When you think of the Packers, you don't think about their running game. This team has used a backfield committee in recent seasons, leaving a mishmash of runners including Green, DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn to split duties. Unless this team adds a talented veteran or rookie in April's draft, it's going to be tough to trust a Packers runner in all 2013 fantasy leagues.

5. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos (37 percent): Notice a trend here? Injuries are a part of the NFL game, and running backs tend to get nicked up more than most offensive skill positions. McGahee, who missed six games with leg injuries, was on pace for 267 carries and over 300 touches last season. With no clear-cut favorite to start in 2013, owners will have to wait on deciphering value in the Broncos backfield.

6. Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers (41 percent): Dwyer had the best statistical season of his pro career in 2012, but it wasn't all that impressive from a fantasy standpoint. In fact, he had the fourth-worst average among running backs in terms of fantasy points scored per touch. Like the Broncos, the Steelers don't have a real favorite to start in their backfield at this point. Keep tabs on this situation.

7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (44 percent): So much for Mathews being a featured running back. He missed time with two different collarbone fractures, and he didn't produce in the stat sheets when he was on the field. Mathews scored just one touchdown, and his 0.44 fantasy-point-per-touch average was third-worst among runners who led their team in backfield touches. He's no more than a flex option for 2013.

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (48 percent): Murray has all the talent in the world, but his proneness to injuries has slowed his rise to fantasy stardom. When he is on the field, Murray is absolutely the featured back for coach Jason Garrett. But because of his ailments, he was one of the less attractive featured runners based on touches in 2012. Murray is an obvious risk-reward No. 2 fantasy back for next season.

9. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (49 percent): Williams was inconsistent for a lot of last season, but the injury to Jonathan Stewart made him a viable fantasy option down the stretch. Overall, he tied for the fifth-most fantasy points per touch among running backs -- the problem is that most of his production came in just five games (including Week 17). Williams won't be more than a flex starter in 2013.

10. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (54 percent): Don't be fooled by Spiller being on this list -- he lost a lot of touches to Fred Jackson (when healthy), so he didn't have opportunities like a true No. 1 runner. However, no other back made more of the chances he had; Spiller was the best "featured" runner in terms of his fantasy-points-per-touch average. The Clemson product has first-round value across the board.

Notables: 11. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons (55 percent); 12. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (55 percent); T-13. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (56 percent); T-13. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (56 percent); T-15. Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts (57 percent); T-15. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions (57 percent)

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!

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