Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
By my count, 11 teams will have a new bell cow in the backfield this season, or 34.4 percent of the NFL.
Several teams drafted new starters (Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos), some acquired theirs through free agency (Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals) or trade (New York Jets) and others simply promoted from within (New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams).
As a result of all this movement, fantasy owners will be facing many unknowns when trying to build up their running back position.
I've gone through the 11 situations listed above and picked out the five best bets to be fantasy studs this season.
1. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons - Simply shedding that Rams jersey will probably add a little more spring to Jackson's step. In his last six seasons with St. Louis, the team went 22-73-1, a winning percentage of .229. Jackson joins a Falcons team that went 13-3 last season and had the flatlining Michael Turner still carry that ball 222 times and catch 19 passes while scoring 11 touchdowns. Jackson is a much better receiver than Turner, having racked up 407 catches for 3,324 receiving yards in his career, so he should stay on the field more often than Turner did last season. Jackson has put together eight straight 1,000-yard seasons, but he hasn't scored more than seven rushing touchdowns since 2006. Joining the prolific Falcons should help him pound the ball in at least 10 times in 2013.
2. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions - Bush proved in two years with the Dolphins that he can run between the tackles and stay healthy doing it after it appeared he would never be more than a third-down back with the Saints. Even though Bush caught just 78 passes in 31 games with Miami, his strength is still catching the football in space and making plays. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford set the NFL record for pass attempts in a single season last year with 727 after throwing 663 in 2011, and you can expect Detroit to air it out 700 times again. Mikel Leshoure still will be involved in the offense, but Bush is a better fit for the type of offense Detroit runs. In PPR leagues especially, Bush should have a career year.
3. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos - Even with Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos still ran the ball 481 times, ninth most in the NFL. However, a cast of characters that included Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman only rushed for 3.8 yards per carry. Enter Ball, who ran for 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Wisconsin. Willis McGahee has been released, and Manning told USA Today that he worked heavily with Ball throughout the OTAs. "We're just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage. Because we are going to count on him in a big way this year," Manning said. "He's a rookie, but coach (John) Fox isn't going to bring him along slowly." Ball ran a mediocre 4.66 40-yard dash at the combined, but he's a bruising one- cut runner who is going to get plenty of chances to run against light boxes with opposing defenses having to pay attention to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.
4. Chris Ivory, New York Jets - Even though they employed Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, the Jets were forced to run the football 494 times, sixth most in the NFL. If you haven't noticed, the team hasn't really done much to upgrade its passing offense -- Mark Sanchez is still with the team, Santonio Holmes is still injured and New York replaced Dustin Keller with Kellen Winslow. However, the Jets did trade for Ivory, who has a 5.1 ypc average on 256 career carries. Compared to Greene, who is now with Tennessee, Ivory is going to look like the most explosive man in the league.
5. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers - At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Le'Veon Bell is seemingly the perfect type of hard-nosed running back to take over in Pittsburgh, where tough running is as ingrained in the culture as Terrible Towels. According to ESPN's John Clayton, however, Bell also has a good set of hands. Clayton said the Steelers think Bell compares favorably to Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears. If he can pick up pass protection quickly, there will be no reason for him to come off the field. After all, we've already seen enough of Pittsburgh's other options -- Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and LaRod Stephens-Howling -- to know that none of them are very good.