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Shane Vereen was fantastic for the Pats in the postseason. Will it translate to 2013?
Shane Vereen was fantastic for the Pats in the postseason. Will it translate to 2013? (Carroll County Times)

Unless you play in one of *those* leagues that start two quarterbacks (or a league that only requires one starting running back and an absurd number of flex players) then drafting several running backs early and often is the most important thing you can do to help win your fantasy football league.

Fortunately, if you play in a standard re-draft league, the depth at running back seems greater than it has been in years, thanks mainly to the emergence of rookies Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris a year ago, all of whom should go in the first round of a standard 10- or 12-team league.

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Over the next few days, we'll have a division-by-division breakdown of the running back situations, followed by a cheat sheet of the top players at the position, five potential sleeper picks and five must-have handcuffs.

Today, we will focus on the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills -

For the first time in his four-year NFL career, CJ Spiller will not only be the unquestioned starter in Western New York,

, meaning he should be getting 20 touches a game, week in and week out. Combined with the

as a part-time starter and

, and that's cause for a lot of excitement in fantasy football.

It's hard not to like Spiller this year, but I'm seeing him drafted as a top 5 or 6 runner, and I'm not sure I'm ready to plunk down that price tag on him just yet over proven commodities like Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch or even LeSean McCoy. Still, Spiller is a first-round talent with the upside of being the highest scoring player in fantasy football this year if he holds up.

Spiller has been remarkably durable for his size, but his carries have been limited for a reason. I'm guessing that's because the previous coaching staff was worried he'd wear down. For that reason, if you draft Spiller as your top running back this year, it's absolutely imperative you handcuff him with Fred Jackson.

, around the same time as fellow handcuffs Ben Tate (Arian Foster), Bryce Brown (McCoy) and Bernard Pierce (Rice).

Also, for all of Ryan Fitzpatrick's faults, I like the jettisoned quarterback's abilities in the passing game much more than those of Kevin Kolb and unproven rookie EJ Manuel. That means defenses will likely stack the box against Spiller and make the Bills try to beat them on the arms of their quarterbacks. Kolb is a checkdown quarterback, so Spiller could see really good receiving stats, especially in a PPR, with him at QB. Manuel is a little more unknown and rookies tend to force things down the field rather than checking down, so I'd guess Spillers PPR numbers dip if he's the starter.

Miami Dolphins -

If you think the hype for CJ Spiller in his first year as a starter is crazy, then ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Lamar Miller.

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The second-year back from the U is about the closest thing to an unknown as you can have in the NFL outside of a rookie.

, and only twice did he reach double digits touches and both times, it was only 10 carries. However, he made the most of those chances, averaging 6.5 and 7.3 yards per carry in those two games, respectively (although they were against the dregs of Oakland and Buffalo).

The Dolphins brass believed Miller could be

, who has easily been the 'Fins best offensive player the past few seasons.

Miller's been working out with Frank Gore of the 49ers and getting

.

And unlike fellow buzzy second-year back David Wilson of the Giants,

.

Unfortunately, all the

. He's an unquestioned third-rounder in most 12-team leagues and in some, is going as high as late in the second round. That's a lot of jack for a guy with just 51 career NFL carries to his name and just one season as a starter in college. If you're drafting Miller at his current ADP, you're making a leap of faith that he's going to turn in, at least, RB2 numbers with RB1 upside. You'd better have drafted an RB in the first round and should probably pick another in the fourth in case he's a colossal bust.

If Miller does go belly-up, I'd avoid the Miami running back situation entirely. Daniel Thomas shouldn't be more than a desperation fill-in at this point, as he's proven to be nothing more than a plodding runner. Rookie Mike Gillislee should ultimately find his way into the No. 2 spot behind Miller, and I'd rather take a flier on him.

By the way, rumors continue to swirl that Miami will be the eventual landing spot for fullback Vonta Leach, a former Raven.

, he may still end up in South Beach, which could only help Miller.

New England Patriots -

Stevan Ridley was a pleasant surprise for fantasy football owners a year ago, as the Patriots ran the ball the second-most of any team in the NFL behind only the Seattle Seahawks. Ridley finished as the

, tying Adrian Peterson for third in the league.

So what can fans expect for an encore? Ridley should continue to get a bulk of the carries in New England, although you never can tell with Bill Belicheck. His offense can change from week to week based on the Patriots' opponents, and that he means he could use different running backs at times to exploit opposing defenses' weaknesses.

The Patriots also have tons of questions about their receiving corps, which means while the team may lean on the run even more this year, opponents may also gear up to stop Ridley until the Patriots' new group of receivers and tight ends can prove they can be reliable targets for perennial All-Pro QB Tom Brady.

There is at least some concern, too, about Ridley will bounce back from

last year. Also of note are Ridley's struggles at the goal line. While he punched it in eight times from inside the 5-yard line, he wasn't very efficient and

, a hulking back who could get an opportunity to replace Ridley near the goal line,

.

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While not necessarily a handcuff to Ridley, one player to keep your eye on is Shane Vereen. The Patriots actually drafted him a round before Ridley three years ago, but he's had far fewer opportunities. He did explode in the playoffs against Houston to the tune of 124 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 7 carries and 5 receptions.

as the third down back, both of whom were useful fantasy players at times. The difference is Vereen has the ability to run WR type routes and it would appear the Patriots have confidence in him to

. And as I mentioned, the lack of receivers that have earned Brady's trust in this offense might mean more looks for Vereen.

He's an interesting player, especially in a PPR format, that you could start in a pinch as your second running back and get production out of because of the Patriots trying to get the ball in his hands a number of different ways - basically what they wanted to do with Aaron Hernandez before his arrest.

New York Jets -

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When Chris Ivory got the ball in New Orleans, he did one of two things: Make plays or get hurt. The latter is a big part of the reason he ended up behind the trio of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas so often. Traded to the Big Apple for a fourth-round draft choice, Ivory is Gang Green's No. 1 at running back and the Jets are

.

If he can put up numbers even close to Lynch, then Ivory will be an absolute bargain in 2013, not just for the Jets, but for fantasy players taking a chance on him in the fourth round. Ivory is a very boom or bust player. He certainly has

to become a star in New York.

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Besides his injury history, one additional obstacle is the talent around him in New York, where I'm not sure another player on the team's offense will be taken in most standard fantasy drafts in 2013 unless Geno Smith wins the starting QB job over Mark Sanchez. (

, but he still

.)

If Ivory does get hurt, things will get ugly for the Jets' running back situation. Mike Goodson, a longtime favorite of mine who has shown flashes in Carolina and Oakland,

, putting his availability in question. He's someone to keep an eye on if Ivory gets hurt and Goodson isn't suspended. After that, it's the very uninspiring Bilal Powell. If at any point this season, you find yourself starting Bilal Powell on your fantasy team, you're in deep trouble.

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