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The last few years it has become fashionable to complain about the fantasy value of running backs. Offensive plans in which the best backs often split carries - or worse, gave up goal-line chances - to their backfield mates inspired screams of frustration every Sunday. Meanwhile, everything from injuries to contract holdouts to plain old inconsistency has led to mounting distrust.
As you can see from my pre-season overall fantasy football top 20, I'm not buying any of it. A number of workhorse RBs are set to have great seasons, and putting together my top 10 in particular was difficult because in my view the guys listed from No. 4 to No. 9 are almost equals.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN: The easiest part of this top 20 after 2,097 rushing yards last year. He should be just as good running, with the possibility of more receptions and perhaps a couple more TDs over last year's total of 13.
2. Arian Foster, RB, HOU: I've always been cautious about him because of frequent (though minor) injury issues, but he led all non-QBs in TDs for the second straight year in 2012 with 17.
3. Doug Martin, RB, TAM: Yes, 251 of his 1,454 rushing yards and four of his 11 TDs came in a single impressive week last year, and he had five weeks when he didn't break 50 yards rushing, but his 319 carries define him as a true workhorse.
4. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC: Fourth in rushing yards last year makes him seem right as a top five RB, but he also has great potential in Andy Reid's system to at least double or triple last year's 236 receiving yards.
5. C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF: Probably the most hyped fantasy player of the pre-season, Spiller is set to be the No. 1 back in a run-oriented system. More than six yard per carry last year suggests huge upside, with the only downside being the possibility he might not get many goal-line carries.
6. Alfred Morris, RB, WAS: Many draft boards have him outside the top 10, mostly because of Mike Shanahan's unpredictable usage of his RBs. Doesn't catch many passes, but Morris was second in both total rushing yards and rushing TDs last year. What more do you need to know?
7. LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI: Another back who should benefit from a new run-oriented system. His 840 rushing yards last year made him one of the biggest disappointments after many pre-season draft cards had him No. 3 overall, but he should bounce back despite possibly sharing more carries with Bryce Brown.
8. Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA: Among the top RBs of last season's second half. He could be in the top five, though historically the first halves of his seasons are underwhelming. For example, he's averaged seven TDs in Games 1-8 over the last three years, but 16 TDs in Games 9-16.
9. Trent Richardson, RB, CLE: Another guy I could easily see at No. 3. A couple of injury issues slowed him down, and he may already have a minor injury in camp, but 950 yards rushing and 12 total TDs last year in 15 games was a nice start. Plus, he's another RB who won't split carries.
10. Ray Rice, RB, BAL: I probably have him listed lower than most. He's still among the top pass-catching RBs, but could have some chances taken away by rookie Bernard Pierce - though the Pierce effect, much buzzed about in recent weeks, could end up being over-hyped.
11. Calvin Johnson, WR, DET: Finally, a non-RB. Megatron may not break his own record for single-season receiving yards, but should be able to double last season's paltry TD take of five.
12. Dez Bryant, WR, DAL: Another player getting huge pre-season buzz, though he got it last year to and didn't really deliver until late in the season. Dallas has a new play-caller, and if things go Bryant's way, he could have a better season than Megatron.
13. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB: I normally would rank the top QB a little higher because I'm a big believer in taking the top QB if the first several picks are RBs. Rodgers is my clear No. 1 at QB, but he had a few down games last year and his pass yards and TDs could dip a little with an improved running game.
14. Drew Brees, QB, NO: With 5,000-plus yards and 40-plus TDs in each of his last two seasons, you can argue for him as the No. 1 QB, but he throws more INTs (19) than Rodgers (8), and never runs.
15. Brandon Marshall, WR, CHI: Could Marshall have a better season than both Johnson and Bryant? It's possible. Unlike the other two, he landed in the top five last year in both receiving yards (1,508) and receiving TDs (11). Presumably due for an upgrade in Marc Trestman's offense.
16. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC: I admit it's kind of ridiculous listing him this low. He was injured most of last year, so there is a degree of uncertainty, but he was a top five RB for many years and could easily finish this season with top five numbers again.
17. Matt Forte, RB, CHI: He has yet to match the 1,238 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs of his 2008 rookie season, and his 340 receiving yards last year were the lowest of his career. But if the Trestman offense succeeds, those receiving yards will be up, and if it fails, the rushing yardage will climb.
18. Julio Jones, WR, ATL: An occasionally explosive, really uneven season last year left him with 1,198 receiving yards and 10 TDs. He should be in store for more consistency this year.
19. A.J. Green, WR, CIN: He and Jones are interchangeable. He had 1,350 yards last season, but that included an eight-yard receiving game a few weeks after collecting 183 yards, and only one TD in the last five weeks, but 10 TDs in the first 11 weeks. Look for more second half production.
20. Jimmy Graham, TE, NO: Failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving last year after 1,310 the year before, but more than ever he should be Brees' preferred target, and he is clearly the No. 1 TE.
Next week: The top 20 QBs and deeper cuts from my RB track list.
* ESPN notes the difficult task of ranking Alfred Morris.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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