2012 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit: Running Back Rankings
If Run DMC can stay healthy, he could explode this year.
By Herija Green, Buck Davidson and RotoRob
With the season beginning this week, the 2012 RotoRob NFL Draft Kit wraps up today with another cheat sheet.
Statements that the NFL has become a passing league may be abundant and overly cliche, but they also happen to be true. Add to that the proliferation of running back by committee, frequency of injury, and number of times a guy comes from out of nowhere to rush for 100 yards in a game only to disappear into statistical oblivion just as quickly and you’ve got a severely depressed fantasy RB market.
Fear not, though, my friends. We here at RotoRob.com have ventured into this pit of despair, sorted through the riff raff and emerged holding two stone tables that contain 45 names. Behold, the Fantasy gospel…
So while you await Adrian Peterson’s Week One status, let’s review the top running backs for 2012.
1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
2. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
6. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
7. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
8. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
9. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
10. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
11. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
12. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
13. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
14. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
15. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
16. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
17. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
18. Shonn Greene, New York Jets
19. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
20. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
21. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
22. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
23. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
24. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
25. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
26. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals
27. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
28. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
29. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers
31. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
32. Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers
33. Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
34. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
35. Michael Bush, Chicago Bears
36. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs
37. Ben Tate, Houston Texans
38. David Wilson, New York Giants
39. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
40. Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins
41. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
42. Mikel LeShoure, Detroit Lions
43. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
44. James Starks, Green Bay Packers
45. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite logging just 10 carries prior to Week Four and sitting out Week 17, Foster still compiled 1,841 total yards and a dozen touchdowns last season. With 119 receptions the past two years he’s a true dual threat out of the backfield… and at age 26 he should be entering his prime. Even with a capable backup (Ben Tate) and a solid passing game, Foster rates as our top option.
While he may lack Foster’s upside potential, Rice stands as the most consistent and reliable of the Fantasy backs. He has appeared in all 48 games (45 starts) the past three years, averaged 4.6 yards per carry as a primary option and piled up 217 receptions. The only thing lacking was red-zone action, but that changed last year when Rice scored 15 times, including 12 on the ground. He’s a bona fide stud.
McCoy was somewhat overlooked coming off a 1,672-yard performance in 2010. Now that he scored an NFL-best 20 touchdowns in 2011, however, there’s no way he’s slipping outside the top-5 overall selections. As with the other members of the top tier, McCoy is a well-rounded player that can pile up yardage in both the running and passing games. Coach Andy Reid’s suggestion he overworked McCoy isn’t what owners want to hear; still, McCoy is talented enough to provide a solid return on the first-round investment you’ll need to make.
Over the past three years, Jones-Drew has averaged 1,440 rushing yards per season, which includes a league-leading 1,606 in 2011. He’s a proven scoring machine in the red zone (62 career TDs in six seasons) and is about as durable as they come. His lengthy holdout raises some potential red flags about his conditioning early on, but that’s not enough to warrant skipping him now that he has reported.
Nearly a consensus No. 1 overall pick entering last season, Johnson held out for a new contract and went on to shit the bed for much of 2011, forcing a nickname change from CJ2K to CJ2.8 before huge games in Weeks 10, 12 and 13 somewhat salvaged his campaign. Coming off such a humbling performance and without the distraction of the lockout/holdout combo, Johnson should bounce back to viable No. 1 Fantasy back status.
Like Johnson, Lynch got off to an abysmal start to 2011 before closing with six 100-plus-yard showings in Seattle’s final nine games. He’s a bruising presence and a force in the red zone. Plus, with Russell Wilson taking the snaps, coach Pete Carroll figures to lean heavily on the run — we could even see more of Lynch as a receiver out of the backfield (he caught 47 balls for Buffalo in 2008).
Before getting hurt, McFadden had the look of a breakout star. Through six games he’d run for 610 yards on 111 carries (5.5 YPC) and scored four times. Project that over a 16-game slate and you end up with 1,627 yards and 11 touchdowns. The departure of Michael Bush means McFadden should get even more looks this season, provided, of course, he remain healthy — something he has never done. Despite the injury risk, Run DMC’s upside is too good to pass up.
There are plenty of parallels between Forte and McFadden, including potentially great seasons derailed by injuries and the presence of Michael Bush, who is now Forte’s backup in Chicago. With his contract issues resolved, Forte steps back in as the primary ball carrier, which could be a busier role with Mike Tice replacing Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. The big issue with Forte is the same one RotoRob writer Buck Davidson had in high school — he just doesn’t score.
How depressed is the Fantasy running back market? Well, it’s bad enough that a guy with seven career starts and three good games is pretty much a consensus top-10 choice. Murray certainly impressed over a four-week span, but bear in mind he was fresh — a phenomenon we’ve seen repeatedly with running backs that open the year as reserves. His skills are intriguing, as is his upside, but if you’re leaning on Murray as your top back you’re taking an undeniable risk.
In the time it took me to write DeMarco Murray’s profile, Matthews suffered another injury… well, maybe not, but he wasted no time in breaking his clavicle during the pre-season opener. When healthy, Mathews has top-5 potential with an army of JAGs (just a guy) as his backups now that Mike Tolbert has moved to Carolina. If you can absorb the early hit, Mathews could pay huge dividends down the road… or, then again, he could rupture his taint climbing out of the shower.
There’s no questioning Peterson’s talent. The condition of his knee, however, is another story. Combine that with how good Toby Gerhart looked in his stead and you have to wonder how long it’ll be before we see AD as the bell cow he’s been since entering the league. Peterson figures to start slow; how he finishes will determine whether he was worth the early-round pick he’ll cost you. Caveat emptor.
Turner is what he is — a tough as nails, between-the-tackles runner that couldn’t catch a cold. Pencil him in for around 1,300 yards rushing, 10-plus scores and roughly zero snaps in obvious passing situations.
Seven straight years Jackson has registered more than 1,000 yards rushing, along with at least 40 receptions in all but one of those campaigns. That he’s done it on some truly awful teams is a testament to his physicality and will to compete. Unfortunately, the odometer is starting to get pretty high on S-Jax, and it’s debatable how effective he’ll be after taking even more punishment from eight-man fronts that will dare Sam Bradford to beat them. Despite this, he’s a borderline top-10 option.
With a career average of 6.1 yards per carry, Charles is a proven big play threat. He’s also coming off a major knee injury, which is concerning for someone whose game is built around speed and suddenness. The Chiefs hedged their bets by importing the Albino Rhino from Cleveland, which should keep Charles from being overworked. Where Hillis’ arrival hurts, though, figures to be around the goal line where his massive frame is better suited to take the punishment than Charles. At this spot, though, few players offer Charles’ upside.
Offseason knee surgery may have scared some, but Richardson has a good chance to play in Week One and should become the focal point of Cleveland’s offense in short order. Of course, defenses know this as well, so Richardson figures to see plenty of attention. As arguably the most talented running back to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson, though, he’s worth the risk as your second back.
Gore is a steady, unspectacular performer, averaging between 73 and 80 rushing yards per game in each of the last five seasons. He’ll cede touches to the combination of Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter throughout the year to keep him fresh. That double-edged sword puts him firmly as a No. 2 Fantasy option.
In five NFL campaigns, Bradshaw has had just one truly difference-making season when he rushed for 1,235 yards during his lone 16-game effort. He’s a solid all-around player, though, and the departure of Jacobs should open up more red-zone opportunities — he’s scored 26 times over the past three years.
With LaDainian Tomlinson retired, the bulk of the rushing duties in New York should fall to Greene, who gained a career-high 1,054 yards last season. The big concern for Greene is the presence of Tim Tebow — a running quarterback that’s bigger than Greene and has a dozen rushing TDs in two NFL seasons. If, as expected, Tebow vultures the goal-line carries, Greene’s upside is limited.
Helu’s stock gets a nice bump following the release of his presumptive RBBC buddy, Tim Hightower. The second-year back is a natural fit for Mike Shanahan’s running attack, and he reached the 100-yard plateau in three of the four games in which he saw extended duty last season. That being said, Shanahan is not known for standing behind a single runner, which gives Helu some legitimate risk.
Want to see a short list? Then write down all the effective NFL RBs over 30. Go ahead, we’ll wait… (waiting) (still waiting)… done? Odds are that list is two names long, and one of them is Jackson; plus considering he’s only played five years in the NFL the 31-year-old almost deserves an asterisk. A strong runner and solid receiver, Jackson is a second Fantasy option even with C.J. Spiller around.
And would you look at that — the other half of our over-30 All-Stars is next! McGahee, who technically won’t turn 31 until October, looked all kinds of done during his final season in Baltimore before the thin air in Denver rejuvenated him. He’s a reliable presence for Peyton Manning, but his lack of receiving chops (and the presence of Ronnie Hillman) figures to keep him off the field on third downs.
The diminutive Sproles had a monster season in 2011, compiling 1,313 total yards (on an absurd 7.6 yards per touch) and nine touchdowns. Part of his heavy usage had to do with injuries to last year’s first-round pick, Mark Ingram, and with Ingram healthy, Sproles’ touches should decline.
Stewart was a red-zone dynamo his first two seasons (20 TDs) but has fallen on hard times the last two years with only six ground scores. He’s an effective runner (4.8 YPC over his career) and emerging threat as a pass catcher; the question with him is how many touches he will garner in a backfield that includes DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and dynamic dual-threat Cam Newton.
Left for dead after a dismal 2010 showing in New Orleans, Bush resurrected his career with 1,382 total yards and seven touchdowns last year. If he can stay on the field he could produce nice numbers, especially with young Ryan Tannehill under centre and likely looking for safe outlet receivers.
Green-Ellis takes over for Cedric Benson in Cincinnati, and he should see a lot more carries this year than he did in New England’s explosive offense. The Law Firm is coming off a disappointing season, and he has never been a contributor in the passing game, but his ability in short yardage (24 combined TDs in 2010-11) and the Bengals’ desire to pound the ball make him a solid addition.
After two largely disappointing seasons, Wells finished 2011 with 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers seem like attainable goals for 2012 as well, even with Ryan Williams returning from injury after missing all of last year. Devalue Wells a bit in point-per-reception leagues.
Ingram was the first running back selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, and with defenses focused on stopping Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing attack, he figured to see lots of open running lanes. Instead, his rookie season was marred by injuries. He’s the most talented all-around back on New Orleans’ roster, but despite his upside he shouldn’t be drafted as more than a third back.
New England’s offensive game plan may be to pass, pass and then pass again, but someone has to inherit Green-Ellis’ 181 carries from a season ago and Ridley is the likely top option (with fellow second-year man Shane Vereen looming). There’s some interesting upside here based on Ridley’s skill set, though Vereen’s presence creates some risk as well.
When the Bucs moved back into the first round to select Boise State’s Martin in April you knew it didn’t bode well for the fumble-prone LeGarrette Blount; and sure enough, Martin was given the job in preseason. Tampa’s offense isn’t as bad as it looked much of last year, and any bounce back from Josh Freeman should give Martin the chance to challenge for a top-20 Fantasy RB showing by season’s end.
Benson has rushed for better than 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. In Green Bay’s aerial show, however, he’s unlikely to be more than a two-down, change-of-pace option due to his shortcomings as a receiver and pass protector. He’ll see plenty of seven-man fronts, though, and could surprise in a reduced role.
With Fred Jackson sidelined, Spiller showed those that affixed the bust label to him after an uninspired rookie campaign that they’d acted prematurely. His final numbers (830 total yards, six touchdowns) aren’t eye popping, but if used properly he could do a reasonable Sproles impression in Buffalo’s versatile offense.
As Rashard Mendenhall continues to work his way back from a torn ACL, Redman has been penciled in as Pittsburgh’s primary back entering 2012. It’s a fluid situation, however; not just because of Mendenhall’s rehab but also due to the strong preseason of Jonathan Dwyer. With so many moving parts Redman, becomes a risky selection as your third back.
Gerhart was a forgotten man in Minnesota until Peterson got banged up. After mustering a measly 21 combined touches over the season’s first 10 weeks, Gerhart closed with 92 carries for 431 yards and 19 receptions for 136 yards to go along with four touchdowns over the final seven. Depending on how quickly AD gets back to speed Gerhart could hold appreciable value.
Williams bounced back from an injury-shortened 2010 to average 5.4 yards per carry last year — his best mark since 2008 when he ran for 1,515 yards and scored 20 times. He only carried the ball 155 times, though, and with a crowded backfield it’s unlikely that’ll increase much (barring injury).
As the backup to injury-prone Darren McFadden, Bush averaged 740 rushing yards and six TDs per season over the past three years. He’s now set to back up Matt Forte in Chicago, and those averages look like a solid baseline for his 2012 production. And, should Forte miss time again, Bush has the potential to be a weekly contributor.
After appearing on the cover of Madden NFL ‘12, Hillis’ season was jinxed before it began. He battled injuries and contract issues, appeared in just 10 games and watched his yardage plummet from 1,177 in 2010 to 587 last year. Hillis should be the “thunder” to Jamaal Charles’ “lightning” this season, and his size and power make him the more likely red zone ball carrier.
Tate missed his entire rookie season but looked legit in 2011 as Arian Foster’s backup. Tate ran for 942 yards on 175 carries and did great work when Foster was out of action. He’s a smart pickup for Foster owners and an enticing stash option for others.
Wilson, a rookie out of Virginia Tech, is set to back up Ahmad Bradshaw this season and pick up at least some of the 152 rushing attempts that Brandon Jacobs took with him to San Francisco. He’s a nice choice as a speculative reserve with upside.
Brown hasn’t lived up his first-round status, but if you’re looking for encouraging signs, he did post respectable numbers (134-635-5) last year. He’s also a starter for a Bruce Arians’ offense that features a rookie quarterback. That all adds up to some sneaky sleeper potential.
Entering last season, many expected Thomas to be the primary back in Miami. He started strong — 41 carries for 202 yards in two games — but trailed off dramatically and did next to nothing over the final month-plus of the season. He’s firmly behind Bush on the depth chart; given Bush’s durability history, though, that isn’t the worst place to be.
Were he healthy, Mendenhall would be a top-12 back. However, coming off a torn ACL on January 1 and with no definite return date, the fifth-year pro’s value for 2012 is anything but certain. Fantasy owners should consider him someone to stash with the hope he’ll provide late-season value.
How bad is the running back situation in Motown? Well, here we are in the 40s and we’re just coming to our first Lions’ RB — and this one didn’t play a down in 2011 and is opening this season suspended. However, with Jahvid Best (concussion) on the PUP it seems like LeShoure will see most of the action once he returns. Draft him as depth.
Like LeShoure, Williams was injured during the preseason last year and has zero regular-season carries on his resume. Unlike LeShoure, however, Williams is stuck behind a 1,000-yard runner in the person of Beanie Wells. Given the uncertainty at quarterback in Arizona, the team could look to its backfield to control games, which gives Williams some potential.
Starks’ durability is a red flag — he’s been out since the first week of the preseason due to turf toe, which prompted the signing of Cedric Benson — but when healthy he has shown toughness and more upside than any other back on Green Bay’s roster. Hide him on your bench to see how things shake out once he’s back to full strength.
A year ago Blount was an up and comer. Now he’s backing up another rookie after showing little as a pass blocker or receiver and putting the ball on the ground too often. Still, for late-round depth you could a lot worse than this 247-pound road grader.