Trends for Fantasy Football Keeper Running Backs

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner
Jan 20 2013 Atlanta GA USA Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner 33 runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome Matthew Emmons USA TODAY Sports

These are the dog days of summer, and that means a lot of movement has already happened. NFL rosters are taking shape, and fantasy owners are gobbling up forecasts and projections and rumors and expert chatter for 2013.

A lot has changed in the fantasy running back landscape, which this article will aim to clear up.

When we last spoke, David Wilson was still playing second-fiddle to the aging Ahmad Bradshaw. Now the opportunity is there for each to become a bell-cow this fall.

Bradshaw recently joined the Indianapolis Colts, and has been declared starter on the depth chart, ahead of  Vick Ballard. That leaves Wilson to compete with Andre Brown in the New York backfield. Wilson’s heroics in 2012 yielded impressive results with 5.0 yards per carry and 26.9 yards per kick return.

But he only caught four passes on nine targets, and was also taken out in critical pass-blocking situations and goal line work.

Brown and Wilson received similar touches in the red zone, with Brown receiving 19 carries to Wilson’s 16. Tom Coughlin isn’t known for leaning on a feature back, and there’s no reason to believe that will change this year. In the last six years, only once has a Giants running back eclipsed 224 carries (Bradshaw’s 276 in 2010). Because of the impending timeshare at Giants’ running backs, don’t draft Wilson too high.

Bradshaw brings experience, knowledge, and veteran leadership to the Colts, but Ballard may be the face of the future. Coach Chuck Pagano may think it more wise to foster Ballard’s development than depend on Bradshaw’s aging legs. Bradshaw has never started more than 12 games in a season, and has only twice exceeded nine starts in his six years. Ballard’s 211 rushes led the Indianapolis backfield last year, a full 103 more than Donald Brown.

Opinions are mixed, but Ballard may get the opportunity to reclaim his starting job in training camp.

After years of insignificance in scoring, Steven Jackson is now an Atlanta Falcon, and will likely (and finally) erupt to a Michael Turner level of output. Over the past three years, Turner has averaged 286 rushes, with 61.3 red zone carries for 10 touchdowns.

At the same time, Jackson has averaged 282 attempts, with just 31.3 red zone rushes for four touchdowns. Since 2010, the Falcons have attempted the third most red zone rushes in the NFL.

Jackson may be cheap because of his age. So a classic but difficult keeper decision arises, try to win now with his output, or ship him for value while you can get anything? In deep keeper leagues, no one will be targeted more as a late-season rent-a-starter in exchange for some quality prospects.

It’s hard to believe the Burner Turner is still without a uniform for 2013. No, the tailor didn’t run out of 3’s, you dummy; Turner’s still pounding pavement as a free-agent. Pounding pavement is a funny expression.

Pounding the rock is Turner’s specialty, especially within the red zone. One team that makes a lot of sense is the Dallas Cowboys. For most of this summer, the team has been inexplicably more concerned with retaining roster space for the recently-retired Josh Brent, than they were evaluating Turner’s tree-trunk legs and durability.

Dallas cut ties with Felix Jones this year, and lead-back DeMarco Murray has averaged 8.5 starts in his two seasons. Turner has played in every game in the last three years. Since joining the Falcons and being elevated to a starter, Turner has only missed games in one of his five seasons (2009), when he logged 11 starts.

Are the Cowboys allergic to reliable running backs? In the Cowboys’ “Ginger Era,” since Jason Garrett joined Dallas as the offensive coordinator in 2007, only Julius Jones has started all 16 games (’07). In the past three years, no back has tallied more than 10 starts in a season. If Turner gets the opportunity to wear a star this season, it should be reasonable to expect double-digit touchdowns.

Stats courtesy of,,, and

author avatar
Dave Major
Senior Fantasy Analyst for @XNSports. While not wasting immeasurable time as a stand-up comic in New York, Dave Major can be found watching three football games at once and telling people how to live their fantasy lives. If you're out of ideas, use your one phone call on !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');