Dynasties rise and dynasties fall due to the best use of their skilled warriors and best weapons. On your fantasy dynasty teams, no warriors are more important than your running backs. These are the most consumable resources as their shelf life is more limited than any other NFL position. Let's see how I breakdown the top 24 dynasty running backs. I listed each running back's age at the end of 2012 in parenthesis. Use this as a snap shot for the next 2-3 years.
LeSean McCoy (24), Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is the center of the Eagles offense. Unlike the previous two years, McCoy got the goal line carries, instead of Michael Vick, which translated into 20 total touchdowns. He should keep up the pace of averaging 1,700 yards from scrimmage, between 45-60 receptions, and have 13-15 touchdowns for the next 2-3 years. The Eagles did pick up running backs Bryce Brown (late in the draft) and free agent Chris Polk to push backup Dion Lewis, but none of them should take significant time from a healthy McCoy. The Eagles have enough weapons on offense to prevent any team from game planning to exclusively stop him.
Arian Foster (26), Houston Texans
If there is a second coming of Priest Holmes, it just might be Foster. He went from undrafted rookie on the taxi squad to a huge producer in 2010. In 13 starts last year, he managed to accumulate 1,800 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Foster's backup, Ben Tate, added another 1,000 total yards and 4 touchdowns in only 3 starts and 12 games of mop up duty. The only thing holding Foster from the number one running back ranking is Tate's presence. Foster has fresh legs and should continue to roll out 1,800-2,200 total yards with 14-20 touchdowns yearly for the next few years. I'll take that from my number two rated running back.
Ray Rice (25), Baltimore Ravens
Rice's fantasy value took a big step forward last year when Willis McGahee left town. In his first two years starting, McGahee was a goal line vulture; however, last year Rice managed to score 15 touchdowns which doubled his career total. He has managed to catch at least 63 balls every year as a starter, so he has tremendous value in PPR leagues. Once his contract situation is settled, Rice will be a focused, dominant player who can beat you on the ground or in the air. Torrey Smith's play has certainly helped create more space for Rice to "do his thing". You can count on Rice for close to 2,000 total yards, but his touchdown potential is a bit lower as 10-13 total touchdowns per year is more likely.
Matt Forte (27), Chicago Bears
Forte is in the middle of a contract dispute with the Bears that might not end well. As a dynasty owner, you should take advantage of that. He is slipping in dynasty startups and current owners are already panicked about what to do with him. Forte is not a goal line running back as he likes to do his damage in space. He scored 12 touchdowns his rookie year and hasn't come close to that number after that. Despite that, Forte has never had less than 51 receptions or 1,450 combined yards, even in his injury shortened 2011 campaign. I am confident that he will excel in some NFL team's offense if Chicago is unable to come to some sort of agreement. Knowing that you can count on 1,450 total yards and at least 51 receptions makes Forte a value right now.
Chris Johnson (27), Tennessee Titans
Johnson didn't seem to be the same back after he ended his holdout in 2011. His touchdowns dipped by over half. I expect that he will be more effective this year when he comes to training camp in shape with a contract he likes. Johnson may even get an increased role in the passing game when the mobile Jake Locker begins his role as the starter. It will be very hard to duplicate his 2006 yard rushing season, but he can improve on his 2011 numbers for the next few years especially around the goal line. Chris Johnson's next few years of production should be in the 1,500-1,700 combination yard range with 10-12 touchdowns and may see highs of 65+ catches. There is some risk with his dedication to the game, which is why I have him listed as my 8th dynasty back.
Adrian Peterson (27), Minnesota Vikings
Peterson's knee is his biggest question mark. He seems to be a great healer, but knees are tricky especially with the amount of carries he has received. His 227 combined touches in 2011 was a career low, but that was due to Peterson missing all of three games and parts of others. The accumulation of 1,591 career touches weighs heavily on Peterson because of the physical style he uses. I'm not convinced he has more than two or three years left. If he plays at least 14 games each of the next 2-3 seasons, 1300 total yards and 9-11 touchdowns seem to be reasonable expectations for his production.
Ryan Mathews (25), San Diego Chargers
Mathews is a very interesting choice here as the fourth best dynasty running back. He has produced well in limited opportunities: averaging 4.66 yards per carry with 379 total carries in two years. Mathews was not the goal line back for the Chargers in 2010-2011, instead former Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert filled that role. Tolbert had 21 touchdowns compared to 13 for Mathews during that timeframe. The Chargers do not have a talented backup like Tolbert now, so it looks like Mathews will get the lion's share of the carries. Since Norv Turner loves running the ball, this should provide Mathews with the sheer volume to accumulate yardage and touchdowns. I believe that Mathews has shown the skill set to take on this role.
Trent Richardson (22), Cleveland Browns
Richardson is going to a team that is almost completely devoid of talent. Sorry, my Steelers perspective is shining through here. He is the most complete back to come out since Adrian Peterson as when you stop him on the ground, he can still beat you in the air. Richardson will have a solid offensive line to block for him, and then has the threat of Brandon Weeden's arm? Several seasons of 300+ touches are in his future and with that I am confident he will manage to average over 4 yards per touch and score anywhere from 8-12 touchdowns yearly. Richardson might never be flashy, but he will be as dependable as running backs get.
Darren McFadden (25), Oakland Raiders
Darren McFadden is a running back with top five talent and the health of a 50-year-old. In 2010, McFadden had 270 touches with 1,664 yards and 10 touchdowns. If you total his other three years in the NFL, McFadden only has a combined 2,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Perhaps with all the talented wide receivers that the Raiders have at their disposal, McFadden will have bigger running lanes and find open space near the line of scrimmage to take advantage of his quickness. If he can stay healthy, which is a big if, McFadden can destroy this ranking.
Maurice Jones-Drew (27), Jacksonville Jaguars
MJD has been the focal point for the Jags for the last three years. He has accumulated combined touches of 386 (2011), 333 (2010), and 365 (2009). That is a lot for a 5' 7" 208 lbs back to handle. With the uncertainty at quarterback aka Blaine Gabbert, Jones-Drew will tote the ball at least 300 times. Hopefully with the health of Rashard Jennings, MJD will get less overall touches. He has fought lower leg injuries his entire career and has shown signs of wearing out. A new head coach and philosophy should be helpful to change that, but now MJD is holding out for more money. I doubt if Jacksonville will budge on that matter. He is still a young man of 27 years, so he still could have two or three years of good production left.
Jamaal Charles (26), Kansas City Chiefs
Charles' 2011 season was shortened due to a devastating knee injury; however it was early in the season and all reports are that rehab went well. He is a very productive back when healthy as demonstrated with 616 touches for 4,073 yards (6.61 yards per touch). Charles doesn't need to be the focal point of the offense and if his knee holds up then the sky is the limit. Some think Peyton Hillis will steal carries away from him, but I think the timeshare will help prolong both of their careers. Charles should average close to 1,400 total yards with 7-8 touchdowns and 40+ catches every year which is great for a top 10 dynasty back.
Jonathan Stewart (25), Carolina Panthers
Stewart is the pretty girl who is single when you are in a relationship and vice versa. When healthy and in a run-first offense, Stewart can be dominating. On 724 career carries, he rushed for 3,499 yards for a 4.83 per attempt average. Even last year during the dawning of the Cam Newton age, Stewart had 1,174 total yards and averaged 6.28 yards per touch. His touchdown totals have decreased, but perhaps with a change of scenery next year that will all change. If you select him, you are taking a chance and hoping he will leave Carolina or DeAngelo Williams does soon.
DeMarco Murray (24), Dallas Cowboys
Murray has a great sense of balance to match his great speed, but what concerns me is his injury history. Unfortunately, you may have to ignore it to take him this high. Murray amazed fantasy owners with his 25 carries for 253 yards and one touchdown performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 last year. He managed to average 5.7 yards per touch and account for 1,1078 yards in his rookie year. It is concerning that he only had two touchdowns with those 189 touches. Murray is a high upside #2 fantasy back that has benefit of Tony Romo creating space for him by throwing the ball to Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten.
Marshawn Lynch (26), Seattle Seahawks
Lynch finally put it all together last year with over 1,300 total yards and 13 total touchdowns. He signed to a contract extension after that great performance, but will he be motivated? Head Coach Pete Carroll seems to do a good job working with different types of personalities so maybe he is a Lynch whisperer. With the uncertainty at quarterback, Carroll will rely on Lynch for the offensive consistency. Lynch should be safe for the next few years putting up 1,200 total yards and 9-11 touchdowns.
Ahmad Bradshaw (26), New York Giants
Bradshaw is an interesting back to own as he showed us all in Super Bowl XLVI when he attempted to fall down before scoring the winning touchdown for the World Champion New York Giants. He hasn't trained during the offseason due to his foot issues and the Giants old battering ram, Brandon Jacobs, left town. But more importantly, ultra-talented David Wilson was selected in the first round to help run the ball. His best year was 2010 when he produced 1,549 of total yards and 8 touchdowns and that isn't likely to be repeated. Bradshaw is most effective in a committee approach and will be used in the Giants high-powered passing game. On a yearly basis for the foreseeable future, Bradshaw should be counted on for 1,100 combined yards with 40+ catches and 7-9 touchdowns.
Fred Jackson (31), Buffalo Bills
Sometimes in dynasty football, you need to look in small windows of time. Jackson is the oldest running back on my top 24 list, but has young legs as he is entering only his 6th year in the league. In those five previous years, Jackson accounted for 5,318 total yards and 20 touchdowns. Those aren't fantastic numbers, but he is consistent and should be highly productive for the next two years. You can count on 1,200 total yards, 40+ catches, and 6-8 touchdowns from Jakcson for the next two years.
Doug Martin (23), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martin is the big unknown as neither he nor his head coach have participated in an NFL game. Greg Schiano stated that he is committed to "going back to basics" by running the football. Martin excels at running the ball between the tackles and out in space. He has great hands and is his rookie class' best pass blocker so he may not come off the field in passing situations. The threat of LaGarrette Blount is there, but I think both can co-exist like Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones did for a few years in Kansas City as both have very distinct roles and styles. Martin should be in the 1,000 total yard club with 7-9 touchdowns, 40+ catches for the next several years in this run first offense despite splitting time.
CJ Spiller (25), Buffalo Bills
Spiller performed well last year after Fred Jackson broke his leg. In the last five games, he had 386 rushing yards, 147 receiving yards, 20 receptions, and 4 touchdowns. The Bills do not have many playmakers outside of Stevie Johnson and their running backs. Spiller occasionally spread out wide in formations and did enough last year to get used more from now on. I would not be surprised to see Spiller be used in the same backfield as Jackson more often. Spiller's role should increase within the next year to become at least a #3 fantasy running back in 2012 and grow into a consistent #2 running back in 2013 and beyond.
Mark Ingram (23), New Orleans Saints
Ingram is an intriguing selection here. I loved his college tape and he was not as impactful as many wanted last year. On 133 touches, he averaged just under 4 yards per touch and only scored 5 touchdowns. Mark Ingram gets better with volume. He was thwarted by the health of Pierre Thomas, who is extremely injury-prone, and by the emergence of PPR machine Darren Sproles. The Saints need to set up their run game to protect their revamped defensive unit. This change in philosophy should be enough to get Ingram the 20+ touches he needs. Keep in mind he caught 11 out of the 13 passes thrown to him, so if Ingram is ready to pass block he might get an uptick there as well. I expect him to have over 1,100 total yards, 20+ catches, and score 9-11 touchdowns this year and continue to improve on those numbers.
Darren Sproles (29), New Orleans Saints
Speak of the devil, Darren Sproles took the fantasy world by storm last year. On his 173 touches in 2011, he produced 1,313 total yards and nine touchdowns. Sproles was never used in that kind of role when he played for San Diego. He was part running back and part slot receiver who had instant chemistry with Brees due to their one season together in 2005. Sproles' effectiveness may go down, 7.59 yards per touch in 2011, but he will be an important cog in the Saints offense for a few more years. I think that he and Ingram will complement each other very well. A few more seasons of 1,100+ combined yards, 70+ receptions, and 5-7 touchdowns is well within his reach..
Roy Helu (24), Washington Redskins
Mike Shanahan can be a very frustrating coach, but you know that he loves to run the ball. Roy Helu was good for a little over 5 yards a touch (200 touches for 1,019 yards) and added 3 touchdowns along with 49 receptions. With the running threat of RGIII, I expect defenses to be more worried about the rookie quarterback than Helu in open space. Helu will also be the perfect safety blanket for Griffin to use when his downfield threats are covered. He isn't a great goal line threat so I expect him to get vultured by either Griffin's legs or arm. If he doesn't fall out of favor of the coaching staff, Helu should accumulate 1,200 total yards, 50+ catches, and 6-8 touchdowns for the next few years.
Reggie Bush (27), Miami Dolphins
Will the real Reggie Bush please stand up? Last year he broke out with 1,382 total yards on 259 touches and 7 touchdowns. You have to back to 2006 and 2007 to find other years with at least 1,000 total yards. Word coming out of Miami is that he will be used more as a pass receiver than in the past. This makes sense with Head Coach Joe Philbin's offensive philosophy coming from Green Bay. Expectations for the next few hopefully, healthy years for Bush would be around 1,000 total yards, 50+ receptions, and 5-7 touchdowns. The Dolphins offense is devoid of talent outside of the running backs so expect the short passing game, which Bush excels at, to be used to move the ball especially if Ryan Tannehill starts at some point this year.
DeAngelo Williams (29), Carolina Panthers
Williams is one of the NFL's most talented runner. He has amazing breakaway speed and can juke you out of your shorts. It's a shame to his fantasy value that he plays with Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton. Williams only had one season (2008) with over 250 touches, but managed to squeeze 1,639 total yards and 20 touchdowns in that year. Last year he only had 171 touches and turned that into 971 total yards (5.68 yards per touch) with seven touchdowns. Most of those touchdowns were outside of 20 yards as the Panthers leave the heavy lifting to Newton on the goal line. DeAngelo Williams is 29 this season, but has not been used up like most backs his age. Outside of Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, Carolina has no receiving threats so count on them using Williams as a big piece of their offense. As a dynasty owner, I will take the consistent 900+ yards and 7 touchdowns every season which could exceed greatly if Stewart or he leaves town.
Rashard Mendenhall (25), Pittsburgh Steelers
Mendenhall has a new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, who breathed life into the Kansas City running game the past two years. The Pittsburgh Steelers front office has invested two first round and two second rounds picks over the past three years on their offensive line. This is the year those selections will pay dividends. When looking at Mendenhall's first three years as a starter, he accumulated 794 carries, 3,310 rushing yards, and 29 rushing touchdowns. This is an average of 265 carries for 1,103 rushing yards and almost 10 touchdowns a year. Now imagine him finally getting the benefit of running behind Pouncey, Gilbert, DeCastro, and Adams. At 25 years old, I am buying Mendenhall at a huge discount. I am confident that he can keep up his career average rushing stats (1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns) and increase his receptions in a Todd Haley offense