James Starks and Isaac Redman enter the 2012 season in a very similar situation, but for very different reasons. Starks has ascended to the top spot on the Green Bay running back depth chart gradually over the past two seasons, so much so that they have chosen to let former number one Ryan Grant leave via free agency. Redman was thrust into the role as the main man in the Steelers' rushing attack after incumbent Rashard Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL last January. Regardless of how it happened, the bottom line is that they both are the number one running back for their respective teams and have the opportunity to cement their position in that role for years to come. So, let's figure out just which of these newly crowned number one running backs represents the best fantasy value for 2012.
First off, we can go ahead and compare the stats that each has accumulated to this point in their careers to see if one holds any distinct advantage over the other. Redman has actually been in the league three years -- one more than Starks -- but in a weird twist of fate, they each have carried the ball exactly 162 times in regular season games. Redman has amassed 726 yards for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, while Starks has rushed for 679 yards and a 4.2 average. Redman has totaled 3 rushing and 2 receiving touchdowns in his career while Starks has a single touchdown to his credit. Factoring in each of their receiving stats does tighten things up a bit as Starks has 31 receptions for 231 yards, while Redman has caught 27 balls for 150 yards and the 2 TDs. So while Starks holds a slight edge in overall yards from scrimmage (910-876), Redman has a 5-1 advantage in touchdowns scored. One last factor to consider is that Starks did not make his debut for the Packers until week thirteen of the 2010 season and has accumulated all of his regular season numbers in 16 games, which is half as many as Redman has appeared in for the Steelers in that same time span. OK, so they are pretty much neck and neck in what they have done up until now and what we really care about as fantasy owners is what they are capable of doing from this point on.
Isaac Redman was already working his way into the Pittsburgh offense before Mendenhall got hurt and was averaging over 7 touches a game as the primary back up to Rashard. Once he took over as the full time starter, he looked perfectly capable of carrying the load for the Steelers and racked up over 250 total yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown in week seventeen and the playoff loss to the Denver Broncos. Redman is a tireless worker, who has managed to make his way up from no-mans land at the bottom of the Pittsburgh running back depth chart, to now being the main option in an offense that will look to establish the running game in 2012. With an improved offensive line, a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, Redman will have every chance to shine out of the gate in 2012. The fact that Pittsburgh did not sign a running back to challenge Redman for touches, speaks volumes about the confidence they have in him. Pittsburgh threw the ball in the red zone last season 73 times and they ran the ball 74, so Redman will have the opportunity to punch in his share of touchdowns. He was only targeted 23 times in the passing game last season but the departure of third down back Mewelde Moore could mean an increase over the 18 catches he had last year. Redman is absolutely positioned for a breakout fantasy season in 2012. The return of Mendenhall will be much ado about nothing, as he appears destined to start the season on the PUP list and looked to be wearing down before injuring the knee last season. Since 2010, he is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry and I believe that if and when he returns to the Pittsburgh line-up he will be the back up to Redman. Rashard's days in the Steel City are numbered and he looks to go out with a whimper, rather than a bang.
As mentioned earlier, Starks did not enter the picture for the Green Bay Packers until the latter part of the 2010 season and then was an integral part of their march to the Championship. In the four Packers post-season games he carried the ball 81 times for 315 yards and 1 touchdown. While he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, he gave the Packers a rushing presence that they had lacked with Brandon Jackson and Dmitri Nance sharing the load after Ryan Grant had gone down in week one with a knee injury. In 2011, Starks would be part of a dreaded running back by committee, finding himself paired with the returning from injury, Ryan Grant. Grant would carry the ball 134 times in the regular season and Starks would have 133 carries. It does not get to be much more of a committee situation than that my friends. An encouraging sign is that Starks was the most targeted Green Bay running back in 2011, with 42 targets and he hauled in 29 catches for 216 yards. In an offense that threw the ball over 550 times last season, it is a valuable asset to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, and Starks has shown that he can. Rookie Brandon Saine was incorporated into the passing game late in the season and could possibly see that role continue in 2012, cutting into Starks third down totals. Fullback John Kuhn often took the field in goal line situations last season for Green Bay, but it often did not matter as the Packers often opted to throw the ball in the red zone as opposed to try and power it in on the ground. To put that even more into perspective, Aaron Rodgers threw the ball 23 times from the 5-yard line and closer in 2011, tossing 14 touchdowns. Kuhn, Starks and Grant combined to carry the ball 8 times from the 5-yard line and closer for 6 yards and 4 touchdowns, with Kuhn accounting for all the scores. Long story short, Green Bay likes to throw the ball in the red zone. Starks will see a definite increase in the number of touches he sees in 2012 with Grant out of the picture but remains on an offense that throws to set up the run. His role on passing downs may be limited further by the return from injury of second year running back Alex Green and however Green Bay chooses to use Saine. That being said, he is still a number one running back on one of the most explosive offenses in the league and will have plenty of opportunity to make things happen.
With numerous variables in play when determining which running back represents the best value in a PPR, IDP format with 20 managers in play, it boils down to ADP and value at the position that Starks can be selected. On average he is going between 22 and 28 slots after Redman in drafts, which depending on the number of teams leaves at least one more player to select before having to select the Packer running back. Names such as Desmond Bishop, Derrick Johnson and Von Miller could be available between the time Redman is drafted and where Starks will still be available. Offensive possibilities in that same section of the draft could be Reggie Wayne, Peyton Hillis or Michael Crabtree. Should the Steelers actually decide to turn the rushing game back over to Mendenhall when he returns, then Redman really tumbles down the fantasy landscape moving forward in 2012. Let another owner reach for Redman, then be forced to draft Mendenhall later in the draft as insurance, taking up two selections and roster spots. In the mean time, you get a number one running back in Starks and can bolster your roster with another fantasy weapon as you wait to select him a round or two after Redman.