Trent Richardson runs toward top-tier fantasy status

Which of these running backs would you draft first in 2013: Darren McFadden, Chris Ivory or Darren Sproles? - @FlyingMayhem (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: Right now, I'm taking Ivory. Yes, that's right -- Ivory is a more coveted running back than either McFadden or Sproles. We in the fantasy business have made excuses for McFadden for far too long. He's a talented runner and entering a contract year, but McFadden is always hurt. In fact, he's never played in more than 13 games in a season. Over the last two years, he's missed a combined 13 contests because of assorted ailments. Sproles is solid, but he loses some luster in standard scoring leagues. Back to Ivory -- I love his upside as the top running back for the Jets, as he'll dominate early-down and goal-line carries for coach Rex Ryan. Keep in mind that Shonn Greene, a less talented runner than Ivory, finished a respectable 15th in fantasy points among running backs in 2012. With Ivory filling the same role, I see him producing 1,000-plus yards and seven to nine touchdowns.

I have the third overall pick in this year's draft. Would it be a reach to take Trent Richardson? - C. Farley (via Facebook)

M.F.: I tell people the same thing all the time -- if you are enamored with a player and want him on your fantasy team, go ahead and draft him. You're the GM after all. But while I love Richardson to have a better season than he did as a rookie, I don't like him more than any one of the top three running backs on my current board -- Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. Does that mean Richardson can't be a top-five runner based on fantasy points? Of course not. In fact, I think that time is coming in the very near future.

Is Stevan Ridley still someone to trust in the Patriots backfield with the addition of LeGarrette Blount? - @StephenBuban (via Twitter)

M.F.: Ridley did lose some of his luster when the Patriots acquired LeGarrette Blount in a draft-day trade with the Buccaneers, but I'm not overly concerned about Ridley's fantasy value. In fact, there have been reports out of Boston that Blount is fifth on the depth chart and no better than third behind Ridley and Shane Vereen for early-down work. This is a situation to monitor, though, as coach Bill Belichick can be unpredictable with his backfield rotations. With that being said, I would still draft Ridley as a No. 2 fantasy runner.

What do you think about Maurice Jones-Drew this season? - A. Wilkinson (via Facebook)

M.F.: I think "Pocket Hercules" has a chance to be the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year, at least from a fantasy perspective. He'll be back at 100 percent in his return from a foot operation and will no doubt be motivated to put up great totals in a contract year. The Jaguars helped his cause in the NFL Draft, picking OT Luke Joeckel with the second overall selection. At 28 and coming off a season with just 86 rushing attempts, he should be ready to roll. I would target Jones-Drew in the second or third round as a high-end No. 2 fantasy runner.

Who should I draft with the No. 1 overall pick in a PPR dynasty league? I don't have any glaring holes on the roster. - @danthefan87 (via Twitter)

M.F.: If you don't have a specific need, take the best player available. Right now that player is Le'Veon Bell, who looks like the favorite to start for the Steelers. In fact, offensive coordinator Todd Haley called him a "three-down back" in a recent report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the event that the Denver Broncos cut ties with Willis McGahee, though, I think Montee Ball will be the best player to target. Keep tabs on both of these backfield situations in the weeks to come.

What are your thoughts on Doug Martin? Could he turn into the best running back in fantasy football this season? I'm in a 1/2 point PPR league. Any thoughts? - D. Thury (via Facebook)

M.F.: I don't have the grapefruits to rank Martin ahead of Foster, Peterson or Lynch, but he's clearly one of the top-five running backs in fantasy football heading into this season. How can he not be after a season with close to 2,000 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns? The Boise State product also won't have to contend with Blount behind him on the depth chart, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Buccaneers add a veteran like Ahmad Bradshaw as insurance for their top runner. Overall, Martin is a first-round lock in drafts.

Why didn't Keenan Allen make your list of the 10-best rookies in fantasy football? - @HCharara17 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Allen has a ton of upside out on the gridiron, but I'm not banking on him to produce in his rookie season. Remember, he's coming of a torn PCL in his left knee that he suffered last October. Allen also injured his ankle playing basketball a year ago, so there are at least some questions about his health. The California product is also no lock to see a prominent role this year, as the Chargers have Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown all ahead of him on their current depth chart.

I can retain two players from LeSean McCoy, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas and Jimmy Graham. The league rewards wide receivers with return yards and touchdowns. McCoy is a lock, but who else should I keep? - J. Law (via Facebook)

M.F.: McCoy is definitely a lock, leaving you to decide between Cobb, Thomas and Graham. All three are tremendous options, so part of your final decision should be based on your position in the re-draft. If you retain Graham and can still acquire a wide receiver close in value to Thomas and Cobb, then I would side with the Saints tight end. But if the top wideouts are all being kept and you don't feel so confident in landing an elite wideout, then Thomas makes the most sense.

What sort of value will Tavon Austin have this season? - @shawnblanks (via Twitter)

M.F.: Austin landed in a nice spot to produce right out of the gate, as the Rams lost wideouts Danny Amendola (Patriots) and Brandon Gibson (Dolphins) during the free-agent period. That's not to suggest he'll emerge as a No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy land, because that's not a likely scenario. However, I do see Austin as being worth a middle- to late-round selection as a No. 4 fantasy receiver in standard formats. He'll definitely be the first (if not the lone) rookie wideout drafted in 10-team leagues.

How will the value of Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon be affected if Blaine Gabbert is the starter in Jacksonville? - J. Goodwin (via Facebook)

M.F.: Blackmon's fantasy draft value took a major hit this week regardless of the quarterback situation, as he was suspended four games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. That means he won't even be eligible to play in a game until October 6th against the St. Louis Rams. This leaves Shorts, a waiver-wire gem last season, as the unquestioned No. 1 option in the pass attack to start the 2013 campaign. I'm not saying that Gabbert's presence under center doesn't concern me, though. In fact, that's the main reason I'm a little skeptical of Shorts -- a lot of his production in 2012 came with Chad Henne, not Gabbert, throwing him the football. I'd draft Shorts as a borderline No. 2 or 3 receiver, and I'd leave Blackmon for the later rounds.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on 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 _**@MichaelFabiano**_ or send a question via **Facebook**!

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