Running backs are gold in fantasy football, and it's never too early in the season to start identifying the players that will be rising up the ranks as the weeks go by.
Injuries are a near certainty in Week 1, so having an eye on the sleepers waiting in the wings can be the difference between a fantasy championship and saying "what if" at seasons end.
Here are a few players that could emerge in the first week of the seasons.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans, Matchup: at San Diego Chargers
Arian Foster's injury is a concern, whether the Texans admit it or not. His workload has been enormous over the last few seasons, and it's starting wear on him. Foster will likely play against the Chargers, but the game shouldn't be in the balance for the entire night. That will open the door for Ben Tate to get 12-15 carries, and that's more than enough to make him a Week 1 flex option.
Felix Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers, Matchup: vs. Tennessee Titans
The Pittsburgh backfield was one of the most frustrating in fantasy football a year ago, and that won't change in 2013. Felix Jones is going to start Week 1, though, so if you're desperate, Jones makes a decent flex option. Does he have anything left in the tank? Who knows, but he should get the bulk of the carries against a Titans defense that was one of the league's worst against the run a year ago.
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Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, Matchup: vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons don't have many weaknesses, but one is their defensive line. Run defense was an issue last season, and if that continues, the Saints are going to be tough to slow down. Mark Ingram has had a strong offseason and shouldn't face too many eight-man fronts with Drew Brees keeping the Falcons off balance.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders, Matchup: at Indianapolis Colts
He's not exactly a sleeper in the traditional sense, but Raiders running back Darren McFadden could be surprisingly productive to start the season. Indianapolis really struggles to stop the run and didn't do a ton to correct that issue during the offseason. McFadden is on a terrible team and was awful last year, but he's still the most talented player on his offense. Give him a chance to prove himself early in the season.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts, Matchup: vs. Raiders
Enjoy a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw while you still can. He's likely to suit up on Sunday, and the Oakland Raiders are a dream matchup for Bradshaw to hit the ground running in 2013. The Colts' offensive line should be improved this season, but even a marginal improvement would be enough against the Raiders.