Below I have listed my Top 20 Fantasy Football Running Backs heading into 2012 — I’ve pulled these rankings straight from our 2012 Fantasy Football Redraft Rankings; I have added commentary to each player listed.
The scoring is based on a standard redraft PPR format.
1. Arian Foster (HOU)
Arian Foster was banged up for much of the 2012 fantasy football season, as he only played in 13 games and only received 10 carries in another contest.. so, essentially on 12 games, Foster produced an impressive 1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards off 53 receptions and 12 total scores. That’s quite amazing given all he went through last year. While a case can be made for selecting either LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice at No. 1 overall, Foster is my choice if I hold the No. 1 overall pick (dynasty or redraft). I have Foster pegged for 1,400-1,500 rushing yards, 55-60 receptions for 600-650 yards and 14-16 total scores.
2. LeSean McCoy (PHI)
LeSean McCoy went nuts in 2011, cranking out 1,309 rushing yards, 48 receptions for 315 yards and 20 total scores. While I’d advise anyone away from expecting another 20 scores, what McCoy loses in TDs in 2012 he will most likely make up for in receiving yards, as he dropped from 592 to 315 from 2010 to 2011. McCoy is arguably the No. 1 overall pick in all formats heading into 2012. All three of Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy are worthy of the 1.01 this season.
3. Ray Rice (BAL)
A top 3 lock in all leagues and formats heading into 2011… that’s what happens when you crank out 1,364 yards rushing, 704 receiving yards off 76 receptions, and 15 total scores in 2011.
4. Chris Johnson (TEN)
Chris Johnson is underrated, but for good reason. He disappointed grips of fantasy owners in 2011, producing nothing close to top 1-3 overall numbers. He is kind of all over the map so far in early drafts, going as early as 1.05 and as late as 2.05. Consider him a monster steal in that 1.08 range, as he is still very capable of top 3RB numbers in 2012 and beyond.
5. Darren McFadden (OAK)
A top 2-3 overall player trapped in a body that could miss 2-4 games a season. Will Darren McFadden play 15 or 16 games? Who knows. If he does, he is a top 5 overall player. If he misses a couple games, he is still a top 10 running back. Therefore, drafting him as a top 9-12 overall player makes sense, as he can still miss games and produce expected numbers. If he doesn’t miss a game, again, you may just win a league – He is that capable!
6. Ryan Mathews (SD)
Top 4-5RB numbers could be in the cards this year for Ryan Mathews owners. He has monster upside and not too much risk. Yes, he has had some issues staying healthy, but he managed to play 14 games last year. 2,000 total yards and 10 scores is very doable for Mathews in 2012. He is one of the safer players to draft in that 1.05-1.09 range in upcoming 2012 fantasy football drafts.
7. Matt Forte (CHI)
Matt Forte is dropping well into the second-round in most fantasy football mock drafts. Given he has top 3-6RB upside, you’re looking at one of the bigger draft-day bargains around.
8. Trent Richardson (CLE)
Trent Richardson is no longer a sleeper RB2 heading into 2012 fantasy football drafts. He was, but his ADP just keeps climbing. Now, he is a top 12-15 overall pick in most early 2012 mocks, but that still feels right. He can produce better numbers than even that draft slot commands, so don’t look in the mirror and call yourself crazy if you make Trent Richardson your second-drafted player in 2012… he could produce top 5-10RB numbers even as a rookie. This kid’s future is insane, and I think he will have such a nice rookie campaign, he will be a top 5 overall pick heading into 2013 fantasy drafts.
9. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC)
While I still like MJD as a low-end RB1 for one more season, I am a bit fearful that he could slow down a bit this season (or miss games). I still have MJD in my top 9-10RBs heading into 2012, but my mileage concerns with MJD have everyone from CJ2K to Darren McFadden ranked ahead of the little guy.
10. DeMarco Murray (DAL)
Last year, DeMarco Murray proved that he can produce top 5RB numbers. Will he stay healthy? Will he get starter-type carries this year? We think so, and despite a relatively-high ADP (around that 2.02-2.06 range), we still like the value and upside. Murray could be a top 5RB by Week 17′s end.
11. Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
After rushing for 1,200 yards and 12 scores, it’s still tough to trust Marshawn Lynch as your first- or high second-round pick. It just is. He can earn top 10RB numbers, no question, but we advise fantasy owners to make him an upside late second-round pick, or let someone else take the risk.
12. Jamaal Charles (KC)
Jamaal Charles is still very young, so it’s not crazy to think he can once again be a top 10RB. He could produce those kind of numbers in 2012, his first year back from ACL surgery, but I’d caution anyone away from expecting anything but low-end fantasy RB2-type numbers in 2012.
13. C.J. Spiller (BUF)
C.J. Spiller is the definition of high-risk/high-reward entering 2012. He can be a top 5-7 fantasy running back in PPR formats, or he can be a player that just never gets the carries. My guess is he will be somewhere in between, but know that this kid has elite upside and is a good bet for top 10-12 fantasy RB numbers in 2012. He is a bargain considering his ADP is around 6th-round range.
14. Adrian Peterson (MIN)
Adrian Peterson is a freak of nature, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he was a borderline top 10-12 runner his first year back from ACL surgery. Just don’t reach, or expect too much, and come August, definitely don’t reach past his mid second-round ADP. He could be slow moving in early 2012, but AP could be back to being a top 5-10RB by mid-season.
15. Michael Turner (ATL)
Michael Turner is 30, the age of decline for rushers.. Shaun Alexander dropped off the face of the earth after his 28-age season, and LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 730 yards at the age of 30… Clinton Portis rushed for 494 yards and 227 yards at ages 28 and 29… The point is, as much as I still like TurnerTurner lasting a full season as an elite fantasy producer.
16. Frank Gore (SF)
Frank Gore has some serious mileage on those wheels. Don’t reach for Gore this season, as he could very well be on the decline heading into 2012. Per start I think he will play well, but by mid-season, Gore could crawling toward the finish line.
17. Darren Sproles (NO)
Darren Sproles is always underrated for some reason, and it’s hard to believe that he finished with 600 rushing yards, 700 receiving yards and 9 total scores in 2011. Mark Ingram could turn it on in 2012, but Sproles only ran for 600 yards last year, which means that there is room for both Sproles and Ingram to co-exist. In fact, they could actually help each other succeed in 2012.
18. Doug Martin (TB)
Doug Martin could produce 1,000 yards and 7-8 scores as a rookie in 2012.
19. Steven Jackson (STL)
Steven Jackson is on the decline. Draft him in 2012 knowing that if he starts out strong, he could drop off big-time by mid-season.
20. Chris Wells (AZ)
Chris Wells is somewhat underrated coming off a 1,000-yard, 10TD season… In 2012, he’s a risky high-end RB2, a fine low-end RB2, and an excellent flex-option.