When Michael Fabiano opened his column on running back draft strategies by saying "running backs are the lifeblood of fantasy football," you pretty much knew what was coming next. That's not a criticism in any way. After all, with quality backs being at a premium, it's pretty important to grab a good one in the first two rounds.
Equally important is making sure you have a good handcuff to your top back in the event of injury or underperformance. Enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There's no doubt that Doug Martin is going to be the main man in the backfield after a fantastic rookie campaign. The question now is who will be Martin's understudy in 2013.
A competition for Tampa's No. 2 spot was already underway between rookie Mike James and Michael Smith. You can add Peyton Hillis to that mix after he signed a one-year deal. Top it off with reports that veteran Brian Leonard could be used as a third-down back and you have the makings of a handcuff headache along Hillsborough Bay. The upside for Hillis is that Bucs running back coach Earnest Byner says Hillis will be asked to learn the fullback position in addition to any tailback duties.
If it makes you feel any better -- and it probably won't -- whoever is the No. 2 back in Tampa isn't likely to see a lot of carries unless Martin goes down with an injury. Last season, the Muscle Hamster took nearly 77 percent of the team's total carries. With the Bucs throwing the ball more than twice as much as they ran it in 2012, any touches that are handed out this year could be precious indeed.
Niners facing RB battle
Speaking of running back battles, there's an interesting one shaping up in San Francisco to see who will spell Frank Gore in the Niners backfield. Late in the 2012 season, LaMichael James started to work his way into the rotation, leaving many to speculate that he could see more opportunities in 2013. That might not be the case, according to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
Right now, the belief is that Kendall Hunter is still the backup of choice for Jim Harbaugh's offense. Last season, Hunter was second to Gore in carries and if the speculation comes to fruition, that could be the case again. Then again, one thing to keep in mind is how many carries end up in the hands of Colin Kaepernick. The QB was third last season with 63 attempts in 13 games -- meaning that number could go up this season.
The way the 49ers run the football, their No. 2 back will certainly see plenty of touches. At the moment, signs point to Hunter being that guy.
» In case you haven't had enough info on running backs ... Maurice Jones-Drew is making strides in his comeback. Reports say he arrived at training camp in "considerably better shape" than when he showed up at the Jaguars' three-day minicamp in June. Any positive news is welcomed for fantasy owners hoping the 2011 rushing champ can return to form.
» Dez Bryant's leap to elite status is gaining traction with reports of his early exploits in training camp. He reportedly has "incredible chemistry" with Tony Romo right now. If you believe the hype, Calvin Johnson's hold on the top fantasy receiver slot could be loosening.
» If somehow you weren't sold on Randall Cobb's breakout potential this year, hearing Mike McCarthy imply that the Packers wideout would have the chance to reach the 100 reception plateau this season should do the trick. The last time a Packers receiver hit the century mark was 1995 when Robert Brooks did it. All the pieces are there for it to happen this year. It's just a matter of whether Cobb can make it happen.
» If there's any lesson to be learned from Jacoby Jones, it's that training camp is harder than "Dancing With The Stars." The receiver was on the non-football injury list after failing his conditioning test. Don't expect this to be a long-running issue, but it is a red flag for a guy being given a golden opportunity to contribute to Baltimore's offense. Given a chance to be a No. 2 guy in Houston in 2011 after an injury to Andre Johnson, Jones managed just 31 receptions and two touchdowns. He'll be an intriguing player to watch during the preseason.
» Giants receiver Rueben Randle is earning praise from offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who said the wideout "looked like a guy that has been here for five or six years" after his arrival at offseason workouts. That's a big compliment for a second-year player. He'll definitely be behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but considering Domenik Hixon saw 59 targets last season as the team's de facto No. 3 receiver, there could be chances for Randle to be a low-end impact fantasy player.
» The Lions have signed former Jets and Raiders receiver Chaz Schilens to a one-year deal. He'll compete for a roster spot with a slew of other receivers. But with Detroit still seeking a consistent complement for Calvin Johnson, there could be targets available if he can find his way onto the field.
» The Jets have placed Santonio Holmes on the PUP list. That's been expected for some time now and will open up a competition to see who will be the top target in Gang Green's passing game ... if you're into that sort of thing.