Top 10 Keeper RB'sCalvin Johnson. I’ll also concede Dez Bryant in PPR leagues over the likes of the last two names below who simply don’t catch enough balls.
I considered players with the same qualifiers that I used last year, looking at their recent production, their ability/potential and their age as of the start of the upcoming season—all within a three-year window. If you’re beginning a new keeper league in the next few days, I’d feel especially safe with one of the following as a top-10 pick. And if you disagree with the order, please let me have it below in the comments.
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN (6-1, 217 ; age 28)
“All Day,” “The Purple Jesus,” MVP, whatever you want to call him, the one thing you can’t call Peterson is finished. His speedy recovery from a torn ACL and epic 2012 season was astonishing and essentially cemented his status as one of the all-time great running backs. Though he will be 30 years old and entering his ninth year at the start of the final season of this three-year window, Peterson’s next two campaigns should be enough to keep him at the top of this ranking even if he falls off a bit at that late stage of his Hall-of-Fame career.
2. Doug Martin, TB (5-9, 223 ; age 24)
After piling up a remarkable 1,926 total yards as a rookie, Martin looks like a prime candidate to lead the league in yards from scrimmage for at least a few years. Martin is the total package as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield and should only get better, particularly if he can get a full 16 games out of his two Pro Bowl guards, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, who missed 25 games between them during Martin’s rookie year. There’s really no threat to his touches in Tampa Bay and with a blend of vision, balance and elusiveness at his disposal, Martin is as safe as they come in keeper and dynasty formats.
3. Trent Richardson, CLE (5-9, 230 ; age 22)
Richardson was banged up with knee, ankle and rib ailments during his rookie season and spent the majority of the offseason with a strained shin muscle, but he displayed the toughness and talent last year to significantly downplay any long-term injury concerns. Moreover, he just turned 22 years old, so the window to get elite production out of Richardson has to be considered for keeper formats. With Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, Richardson should see the ball a minimum of 350 times a year provided he shakes off the injury bug or continues to fight through the dings. Given his ability to bulldoze, juke and outrun would-be tacklers, those opportunities are sure to translate into big yardage and touchdown totals.
4. C.J. Spiller, BUF (5-11, 200 ; age 26)
Spiller has amassed 2,336 yards from scrimmage and 13 scores on 360 touches over his last 22 games, only 12 of which were starts. Few if any in the league rival his speed and elusiveness in tight quarters, and his durability given his leaner frame is underrated. The 6.0 YPC and 10.7 yards-per-catch he averaged in 2012 are evidence of his incredible explosive ability, and he’s about to see a major bump in touches going forward in coach Doug Marrone’s up-tempo attack. Spiller will challenge for the league lead in total yards annually.
5. Jamaal Charles, KC (5-11, 199 ; age 26)
In an Andy Reid system LeSean McCoy averaged 60 receptions per year over the past three seasons. Charles’ career high is 45 catches, which he turned into 468 yards and three scores. So while the 285 carries he saw in 2012 will likely never be topped or repeated, Charles will surely see the ball plenty in what figures to be a much improved offense. And to understand just how truly special Charles is with the ball in his hands, one only needs to look at the number 5.3—the yards-per-carry Charles averaged last year in the NFL’s worst passing offense, one which generated a measly 170 yards per game and eight touchdowns for the season. Alex Smith and the possibility of some pistol formations may let Charles improve on his phenomenal career mark of 5.8 YPC.
6. LeSean McCoy, PHI (5-11, 208 ; age 25)
For his six seasons running the offense in Oregon, Chip Kelly’s hurry-up spread attack saw numerous running backs post monster seasons, generally using their shiftiness and acceleration to produce countless big plays. McCoy is the perfect fit in many ways for that system given his supreme lateral quickness and ability to hit top speed in a flash. Whether that high-tempo offense has the same impact in the NFL remains to be seen, but McCoy’s talent does not. He’s proven to be an elite commodity and though the existence of Bryce Brown could limit his upside, it’s difficult to see any scenario barring injury in which McCoy does not pile up the yards for Kelly’s Eagles.
7. Arian Foster, HOU (6-1, 229 ; age 27)
There are many reasons to love Foster, but above all others is this stat: 52 career starts, 56 career touchdowns (including playoffs). The Texans and their run-friendly zone-blocking scheme live to pound the ball near the goal line and Foster knows how to find paydirt as well as anyone. Unfortunately for Foster, by the third year of the window we’re looking at, he’ll be entering the season at 29 years old and with a lot of mileage on his legs—he’s seen 1,243 touches the past three seasons after all. The current injury concerns also factor into his downgrade from last year’s top spot in this ranking.
8. Ray Rice, BAL (5-8, 212 ; age 26)
If it were not for the presence of promising complement Bernard Pierce it would be awfully hard not to count Rice among the top five keepers at the position, but the threat of lost touches going forward is there. Still, Rice’s ability in the passing game, especially with the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta (for at least this season), should allow him 300-plus touches and keep him in the running to lead the league in yards from scrimmage annually. He’s been super durable since becoming the full-time starter in 2009 and has proven before that he could share carries and still be a dominant back—as he did in ’09 when Willis McGahee stole 12 scores and he still posted eight himself to go with over 2,000 total yards.
9. Alfred Morris, WAS (5-10, 218 ; age 24)
Morris found the perfect system and perhaps the perfect coach to make him a fantasy star. Mike Shanahan employed the read option with Morris and Robert Griffin to perfection last year and allowed Morris to display a tremendous blend of power and quickness. Though he’s not a burner, Morris’ fast feet in the hole and vision to read his blocks allow him to find the second level of defenses quickly, where he is tough to bring down with one hit, as evidenced by the 57 missed tackles he forced last year (per Pro Football Focus). His durability was also impressive as a rookie and though Shanahan has had a disturbing tendency to rotate backs in the past, he’s also shown tons of love to the true studs, so expect him to ride Morris heavily to the tune of many yards and touchdowns the next few seasons.
10. Marshawn Lynch, SEA (5-11, 215 ; age 27)
Lynch is second-best runner in the NFL to Adrian Peterson. He’s not the fastest, the biggest or strongest, but he is exactly as his nickname proclaims, a “beast.” His aggressiveness, balance and powerful leg drive keeps Lynch churning out yards hit after hit and he becomes even tougher to bring down when the goal line is in sight. The only problem for Lynch in keeper formats is simply that the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll are prepared to move on and go younger in the very near future. At 27 years old and with a big contract, Lynch has at most two more seasons in Seattle before the young talents of Christine Michael and Robert Turbin fully take over. So with his third year of this window up in the air, he has to be downgraded.