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The workhorse back is alive and well

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The ultimate dream of every fantasy owner is to have two stud running backs in the backfield to go along with a Hall of Fame quarterback and a couple of star wide receivers.

A dream of the past many will tell you. The idea that you could draft two workhorse running backs, in this era of the "running-back-by-committee," makes the dream a relic of fantasy players from the 1990s. The reliable 15-plus carry-a-game running back is a dying breed many owners will claim as they select another receiver for their fantasy roster. I am here to tell you that the "workhorse" running back isn't dead, it's just that the backup running backs are getting more work.

How can both parts of the statement be true?

It's simply a matter of numbers. There were 13,971 rushing attempts in 2011, 11 percent more than in 1990. So while the primary running back may be getting a lower percentage of the total carries, he's not getting fewer opportunities.

In fact, in 1980 there were 11 running backs and in 1990 there were just 10 running backs who averaged 15 or more rushing attempts per game. In 2011 there were 21 backs who crashed through the 15 rushing attempt per game mark led by Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster's 21.4 carries per game.

The "death" of the workhorse running back has been greatly exaggerated by the media and the "running-back-by-committee" moniker.

In our projections for this season, the Sports Network has estimated that 24 backs will carry the pigskin at least 200 times this season.

Foster will lead the league in rushing attempts with 340 and is the definition of a workhorse back. So is Ray Rice, Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy and many others.

Lets check out 10 of those backs you may not have thought of as "workhorse" material.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego - Mathews averaged 15.9 attempts last season while backup Mike Tolbert took his 8.1 attempts to Carolina for 2012. With no true replacement on the current Chargers roster, if Mathews can stay healthy he could average 20 carries not to mention pick up most of Tolbert's red zone touchdowns.

Darren McFadden, Oakland - Another season, another year of injuries getting in the way of fantasy greatness. If McFadden can somehow play a whole season, or even close to it, he can be a star. In the only season he played more than seven games (2010), McFadden totaled 1,664 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. In the past there was never pressure on McFadden to play because the team had a talented Michael Bush to fall back on. That's not the case in 2012. The Raiders will need McFadden to dress every Sunday and if he can be on the field for a dozen games or more he can be a fantasy superstar.

Fred Jackson, Buffalo - Jackson was on the way to superstardom in 2011 when he broke his leg. Through nine games, Jackson averaged 17 rushes and 21 touches per game for 137.6 yards-per-game. Do the math, that's 2,200 yards for a full season. If healthy, Jackson will be the Bills workhorse and the team will move C.J. Spiller out to a multi-positional role.

Chris Johnson, Tennessee - Johnson always has been a workhorse, from his days at East Carolina to his time in Tennessee. He's carried the ball at least 251 times in all four NFL seasons and has prepared better for the upcoming season than any year yet, including his 2,006 yard season of 2009. He has been and will be a workhorse in 2012.

Shonn Greene, New York Jets - A couple of impressive playoff games made us expect great things from Greene and he's yet to produce at that same level during the regular season. This year that could change. The Jets don't have LaDainian Tomlinson to share time, only a relatively untested Joe McKnight. Greene should see plenty of rushing attempts this season. The only worry here is in the red zone when Tim Tebow figures to steal some short-yardage rushing touchdowns.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle - Lynch was a load last year, single-handedly carrying the Seahawks offense on his back. He posted career highs in rushing attempts (285), rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (12). Seattle tried to improve at quarterback by signing Packers backup Matt Flynn, but Lynch and the running game should still be the team's No. 1 option. Leon Washington is not threat to Lynch.

Trent Richardson, Cleveland - Looking at the Browns offensive weapons, there really isn't much else. If rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden can do just enough to keep defenses honest, Richardson could see a boatload of work. His yards- per-carry may be at or below four yards, but he should see 280-plus attempts. The team's other options, Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty have already proven they can't carry a running game.

Willis McGahee, Denver - Don't be scared off by the arrival of Peyton Manning. Just look at how well and often Edgerrin James ran with Manning at the helm. In seven years with the Colts, James rushed more than 300 times on five occasions. Assuming Manning is at full strength, McGahee will see a lot of six and seven men in the box. Knowshon Moreno and rookie Ronnie Hillman will not get in the way of a big season for McGahee.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas - If the general manager/owner will just keep his distance, Murray can be a fantasy star. He was one for four weeks last season until a season-ending ankle injury. The owner, Jerry Jones, loves his fellow Razorback Felix Jones, but Murray is the guy who could lead his team and yours to a championship, not the change-of-pace back Jones.

BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Cincinnati - When you are a running back in the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense, you are an afterthought, not a primary weapon. That won't be the case in Cincinnati where the Bengals need a strong running game to support second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. The departed Cedric Benson averaged 18.2 rushing attempts last season and the "Law Firm" will get just as much of an opportunity to run.

On draft day, don't shy away from these guys as they could be part of your "dream" backfield.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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