To follow my quarterback rankings, I decided running back was a logical route to go next. Due to the fact that most fantasy lineups contain double the number of running backs that they do quarterbacks I doubled the number of ranked players. Pretty smart huh? Right. I tailored the criteria by which I rate them a bit to better reflect the value of a running back in today’s NFL. All ratings were still done relative to the other players ranked. I did have to give them scores between one and five in order to create more of a differential than there would have been with scores between one and three. Enough meaningless drivel, to the rankings.
1. Arian Foster – Houston Texans: Even the emergence of Ben Tate cannot move Foster out of the top spot in my rankings. He is the epitome of an all-around back and with the injuries that seem to keep hitting the Texans he is pertinent to their offensive success. His defensive counterparts are some of the best in the league and usually when teams are holding a lead late they hand the ball off to their running back who can keep the chains moving, Foster is arguably the best at the game in this regard.
2. Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens: Has put up some of the biggest numbers in the league every year since he took over for the Ravens as their main man. He plays a pretty rough schedule this year, but that probably will not slow him down much. He also was just signed long term, but does not seem to be the type to let that blow him off course like some major signees in recent history.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars: Jones-Drew is not a very happy Jaguar. He is holding out for a bigger contract because he feels (and most agree) that he deserves more upfront financial security. He has been the only consistent fantasy guy Jacksonville has had for a few years by piling up considerable yards and a respectable amount of touchdowns. If he does come back to play for the Jags soon he will be a great pick up, the team doesn’t have many other options on offense (Blackmon looks more bust than boom) and they play in the weak AFC South.
4. Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: This team has been a mess for a few years, one of the few players the city of St. Louis could count on is Steven Jackson. He should benefit from the hard-working Jeff Fisher taking over and instilling an engaged attitude throughout the team. Similar to MJD, Jackson is a large part of the offense, and he should get a lot of touches this year. Taking into consideration the soft schedule he is slated to face and this could be a huge year for S-Jax.
5. Matt Forte – Chicago Bears: Ever since Forte has entered the league he has been carrying the Bears offense on his back. The only knock against him is that he is performs less than desirable in short yardage situations, particularly near the goal line. He has great hands, an impressive second-level burst and can make defenders miss in space. The new additions at receiver on his team should bring some defenders out of the box, but due to his already mentioned problems with punching the ball into the end zone and the recent acquisition of bruiser Michael Bush via free agency he shouldn’t be expected to score copious amounts of touchdowns.
6. Darren Sproles – New Orleans Saints: With all of the noise about the Saints and their former/locked out coaches and the players and all that jazz that was all over ESPN for months, I think some people forgot that Sproles set a record for all-purpose yards last season. He lines up all over the field and should get more chances in the slot now that Robert Meachem is gone. With Drew Brees at quarterback it doesn’t look like this offense will slow down anytime soon, and this is good news for fantasy owners of Sproles.
7. Reggie Bush – Miami Dolphins: One of the most hyped college players of the last decade has finally started to show he can live up to his potential. The Dolphins got rid of their most productive receiver in recent history and have quarterback questions. They also just released former standout Chad Johnson due to off-the-field conduct issues. This means Bush is going to have to shoulder the team, luckily for him they play what looks right now to be a favorable schedule for running backs. I guess we’ll see.
8. Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans: CJ2K is his nickname, but does anybody remember why? Oh yeah, before he signed an extremely lucrative contract he rushed for 2,000 yards in a single season, in that same season he also racked up over 500 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns. It was just a short few years ago, but ever since then he has been nothing like the player he was in 2009. The good news here is he hasn’t missed much time due to injury throughout his career.
9. LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles: A rough schedule and explosive playmakers all around him are what sunk McCoy down to the ninth spot in this ranking. He is one of the fastest backs in the league with the ball in his hands and is extremely elusive. He is good at improvising and catching the ball, which fits the style of play of dynamic quarterback Michael Vick perfectly. They do play a rather tough schedule, but an offense like Philadelphia’s can produce against almost any defense.
10. Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Seahawks: Lynch surprised me and I’m sure many others by coming on strong late last season and putting up some great fantasy numbers. He has an enviable schedule due to playing in the NFC West. While this wouldn’t scare many people away, it is good to keep in mind that in Week 16 (the week of most NFL fantasy playoff championships) they are playing the 49er’s, who at that point in the season may be jostling for home field advantage and possess a stellar rushing defense.
11. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings: In my mind still the best overall runner in the game but has struggled with injury issues the past couple of years. He plays on a young offense that is struggling to find its way in the powerful NFC North. The Vikings have a schedule most running backs would be comfortable facing. If Peterson could come back in Week 1 and produce to his full potential and avoid the injury bug he would be a top 3 RB pick.
12. Fred Jackson – Buffalo Bills: A broken leg derailed what was looking to be a career year for Jackson last season. The emergence of C.J. Spiller as a capable back will hurt Jackson’s production, as well as a healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR corps. According to my amateur analysis Jackson might have the easiest schedule among the players on this list and he is a solid mid-third round pick in most leagues.
13. Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Frank is one of two trusted and respected offensive members of this team, he and Vernon Davis are unquestionably talented. If Alex Smith can get the ball to his retooled receiving platoon Gore should have some new lanes to run in. LaMichael James might steal some touches from Gore, as well as Brandon Jacobs near the goal line, but as long as he can stay healthy he should knock on the door of the upper echelon rushers this season.
14. Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders: One of the most dynamic running backs in the league on a team that has been struggling since they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in XXXVII. Carson Palmer came to the team midseason last year and is throwing the ball to some promising young talent. The Raiders have a rough schedule and has had recent injury problems. As long as he fully recovers he should have a solid year, but the quality of the team might hold him back from being top ten this season.
15. Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: Turner has had a few fairly good seasons of late, and can be counted on to stay healthy. The high-quality receiving options make it silly for the Falcons not to throw the ball at least half the time, which keeps Turner’s touches down. The Falcons favorable schedule and his recent success makes it seem that Turner will probably do better than 15th among running backs this season, but I just don’t see it.
16. Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs: A much anticipated year last season was cut very short by a torn ligament (that same torn ligament cut short a much anticipated fantasy season for me). With Dexter McCluster looking more like a gimmick guy and Peyton Hillis being the big bruiser Charles looks like the surefire choice as their #1 running back. Even though Dwyane Bowe isn’t with the team now, he will be back and with all the attention he draws; along with up-and-coming tight end Tony Moeaki, Charles will find he has a lot of room to take his signature long strides. Charles is a solid #2 option and will probably be gone by the 6th round.
17. Demarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys: Forget Felix Jones, Murray is the new workhorse for “America’s Team”. His numbers are blown up a bit by a huge game against a weaker team, but 5.5 yards per carry is solid and if repeated he could have a lot of yards this season. They play a tough schedule, and he did have some slight injury issues last year, but if he can stay on the field this year he will be a great help to the Cowboys and whoever picks him up in fantasy.
18. Willis McGahee – Denver Broncos: After a couple years in Baltimore behind Ray Rice McGahee went to Denver and was put back into a starter role and flourished. The coming of Peyton Manning should push McGahee’s numbers higher than they’ve been since his first year with the Ravens. There will finally be a good balance on offense. As talented as McGahee is and as much as Manning will help his play, he will probably also hinder it. If you need proof look at all the running backs after Edgerrin James in Indianapolis.
19. Ahmad Bradshaw – New York Giants: Playing in the NFC East and winning the division (not to mention the Super Bowl) are contributing factors to their tough schedule for the upcoming season. Bradshaw should have more opportunities to run the ball with big Brandon Jacobs heading to San Francisco to pilfer Frank Gore’s touchdowns. I wouldn’t take Bradshaw until the 6th round or later.
20. Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers: Was having a big year until he fell sick with the injury bug last season. Was healthy and primed to make big strides this season, until he broke his clavicle in his first preseason game. Mathews could be in the top five of these rankings if it weren’t for his trouble with staying on the field. Take him at your own risk.
Some other running backs who might show they deserve to be included on this list next year include:
Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers: Has to share the backfield with DeAngelo Williams, but is extremely talented and playing on an improving offense.
Shonn Greene – New York Jets: No matter who plays quarterback, their mantra this year will be “run the ball”. This bodes well for anyone who picks up Shonn Greene midway through the draft.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis – Cincinnati Bengals: He should flourish in a system that is more running back friendly than his former team, the New England Patriots.
Trent Richardson – Cleveland Browns: How else will this team score any points?
And below are the entire ratings. #NFLFF2012