Saturday, July 7, 2012

2012 Fantasy Running Back Rankings

GHL's 2012 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings are in. The tiers this year seem to be stranger than in years past. We're seeing fewer and fewer truly elite number one guys, then a large second tier with a lot of guys who have potential to be big. And an even longer list of third tier guys who could really get you some sleeper points or turn out to be nothing but busts.

I'll be working on the rest of the rankings this weekend. All I need from you guys is to start pimping GHL for me. Get on Facebook, Twitter, and give me some shout-outs. Let's make GHL better than ever this year.

  1. Arian Foster – Hell, if my opponents want to get all cute and draft LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice before him, by all means. But Arian Foster is my number one. 1,841 all purpose yards last season, and he missed three games. Expect more receptions and more touchdowns now that defenses will have Andre Johnson to worry about again as well. Only concern is if the Texans lock the playoffs early. He is the only RB who I would make a point to draft his handcuff, Ben Tate, as well.
  2. Ray Rice – The safest choice, for sure. If I have the number one pick in my league, it'll be tough choosing between him and Foster. Rice had the better season last year, and is basically a lock to get near the 2,000 yard mark. He's a beast in PPR. Wear and tear will be an issue soon, but in only his fifth year in the league, I'm not concerned at this point.
  3. LeSean McCoy – Incredible season last year, great yardage matched with 20 touchdowns. And it's not entirely unreasonable to expect those numbers to drop. Philly looked hot ending last season and they could be a major force if everyone stays on the same page. Another true elite running back option.
  4. Maurice Jones-Drew – Even on a miserable offense, he totaled just shy of 2,000 all purpose yards. It might be tempting to go with the players beneath him on this list because of their upside, but MJD has shown the consistency that I'm looking for in my first round pick. And there is a good chance that you can get him falling in the late first. Addition of receivers might clear the way for him to have another big season.
  5. Chris Johnson – Time for a bounce-back. Even with an abysmal first half last year, he managed over 1,000 yards rushing. It's the touchdown issue that made him a dud last year. While inconsistency might not go away, Johnson could get back into double-digit scoring and flirt with 1,800 AP yards. Especially if his Tennessee Titans can solidify any sort of passing game.

  6. Darren McFadden – Every year we have a top-ten prospect that can either break out for a monster season, or be quickly forgotten and ruin an owner's year. McFadden is that man this season. Injury has been an issue every season he's been in the NFL, but he showed signs of greatness early last year. There's no more Michael Bush stealing time and TDs, and for the time being, he really doesn't have a backup that looks like he'll get in the way. Be warned, if the Raiders get Cedric Benson like the rumors are saying, then his stock falls a bit.
  7. Ryan Mathews (up in PPR) – He was impressive last year with 1,500 all-purpose yards. Would have been even better without Tolbert taking all his scores. He hasn't shown that he can be a true workhorse back yet, but he is going to get every opportunity to do so. He's going to take a lot of hits, and defenses will try to keep him inside, but if he can last all year, Mathews is primed to be a top-5 producer. He's going in drafts before both MJD and McFadden, so its a bit of a risk, but the upside is definitely there.
  8. Trent Richardson – It is pretty hard for me to have a rookie this high on my board, at any position. But Richardson is stepping in as the true number one running back for the Browns, and is their only offensive threat. Go ahead, I'll give you 10 seconds to name two of their receivers... Anything? I didn't think so. No passing game hurts, rookie quarterback hurts, but he could easily see 300 touches.
  9. Jamaal Charles – So disappointed he went down last season. I had huge hopes for him. In 2010 he almost cracked 2,000 AP. Charles should be completely healthy, but the run-happy Chiefs did sign Peyton Hillis, who will likely cut into number of carries and goal line looks. I'm still high on Charles though, and with him falling to the bottom of the second round, you are getting great value. I'm praying that I'm in a 10-team league with a top three pick, so I can end up with Foster, McCoy or Rice and throw in Charles. That is how trophies are won.
  10. Matt Forte – More than 150 total yards in six of the first nine Bears games last season before his late injury. Above the MCL sprain though, my biggest concern is the new acquisitions in Chicago. Michael Bush will steal some carries and surely some touchdowns, while Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery will open up the passing game. No reason not to expect a similar stat line to last season with at least double the scoring, but his numbers will be a 16 game total instead of a 12 game one.
  11. DeMarco Murray – Can easily be a top-ten fantasy back this year if he can stay healthy. We all remember his string of monster games last season, totalling roughly 800 yards in a span of, what, five weeks? No doubt that Felix Jones will take some of his carries, and Dallas will likely continue to pass every down in the redzone, but you have to imagine that Murray toys with 1,500 all-purpose yards and gets more than two scores this year.
  12. Fred Jackson – He was killing it last year. KILLING IT. 1,376 yards in 11 games. But, he's coming off injury, 31 years old, and C.J. Spiller is sitting there waiting. Watch training camp and preseason closely. If he is going to split time, you're going to want to drop him down the list, but if he looks like he'll be the true number one with Spiller backing him up, then he should have enough left in the tank for another big season.
  13. Marshawn Lynch – I'll tell your right off the bat that he is going too high for my liking. But I can see why so many have a fantasy crush on him. He is a legit RB1 in any league, but with a new contract, new quarterback and defenses stacking the box week after week, I question if he'll approach last season's numbers. Early second round is too rich for my blood.
  14. Michael Turner – I love consistency. So this is no surprise. In his four years with the Falcons, he has more than 10 touchdowns ever year, more than 4 yards per carry every year. And minus the season where he was injured, he has over 300 carries and 1,300 yards each year as well. Carry total won't go down, yardage won't go down, touchdowns won't go down. I wish he had a bit more going for him in the passing game, but nobody's perfect. With Turner, you don't really get traditional 'upside'. The upside you get is that you know exactly what you're getting.
  15. Adrian Peterson – Sure to be the most interesting fantasy football storyline throughout the NFL season. What is going to happen with Adrian Peterson. He's going in the middle of the second round, which is pretty much a dream, but you know that is one hell of a gamble. I'm going to be watching very closely in training camp. My best guess, he'll miss a few games and be limited for a few more. Going as early as he is going, it hurts, but I think I want to pass on him. Let another team take the risk.

  16. Darren Sproles (up in PPR) – I really want to have him higher, but I just can't. Of course he will be a monster in PPR leagues, and even a great player to own in standard, but he hardly gets touches, which concerns me. Sproles had 86 receptions last year, but just 87 carries. And when I'm looking for a top running back, I'm looking for more consistency than that. Will he break 1,000 AP yards, of course. But the Saints have too many running backs for me to go too high on Sproles. He's going in the mid 3rd, so he is a solid RB 2.
  17. Reggie Bush – If you look at his season stats from last year, there is a bit to be desired, but if you look at the stats from the second half of the season, you know why I have Bush higher than most. He ended 2011 with four straight 100-yard games. While the passing game has left Miami and all the heat will be on him, I think he can hold out. Don't expect a ton unless Miami can prove they can move the ball a different way as well. Risky, but Bush is falling to the early 5th round, so, yes please.
  18. Ahmad Bradshaw – Exciting when Brandon Jacobs left, not so much when they got David Wilson to replace him though. Bradshaw should see more carries than last year and with that, more yards, but I wouldn't count on anything extraordinary from him. Giants are moving further and further from the run, and Bradshaw just hasn't proven that he can be reliable in the passing game.
  19. Shonn Greene – I'm going to call him my first sleeper. I think he absolutely has the potential to break out this year and become a top 10 talent. And since he is falling all the way into the middle of the fifth round, if you can grab him, then he could be your crowning achievement. He was close to 500 rushing yards in the Jets' last six games. The Jets are always saying that they want to run, and now LT is completely out of the picture. There is no RB2 in sight really, and the quarterbacks aren't the picture of accuracy. Greene could get a lot of work. Definitely worth the risk in round five.
This is where things start getting messy. Unproven starters, number one backs on poor teams, two-headed running back tandems. For roughly the next 20 guys you are going to see similar baseline numbers. I have no doubts that one or two of the people in this group will go nuts this year (Donald Brown, James Starks and Jahvid Best being my favorite sleeper candidates). And some of them will bust.
  1. Steven Jackson – Always consistent, but you have to think the injuries will catch up to him sometime soon. He's broken 1,100 yards for the last three seasons, broken 1,000 yards much longer than that. And surprisingly he is no schlub when it comes to catching out of the backfield. He's falling this low for me mostly because his average draft position is in the late second round. Not a place I want to pick up someone who is aging, hurting and playing for a team with no pass support and a rookie running back in place to take some time.
  2. Doug Martin – Bucs traded up to take him, which instantly says something. Blount is out as the starter, he'll still steal some carries and touchdowns, but Martin is definitely writing his own destiny this year. Bucs will give him every chance to succeed.
  3. Frank Gore – Injuries make him risky, but I really don't like how crowded that backfield has gotten. Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James. Add the fact that last season was Gore's first since 2006 to play every game, and there are some question marks here. He'll still get over 1,000 with little question, but there isn't much upside there.
  4. Roy Helu – Another backfield that is too messy for me to be confident about. Shanahan has all but declared war on the fantasy football community by starting a different back every week. Expect some headaches if you go after Helu. Upside is there as the Skins should be much better, and he's going in the early 6th which is nice. Just make sure you stock up on Aleve.
  5. Isaac Redman – He's this high on my list only because he's so high on everyone else's. I'll tell you now that I have no plans on touching him, especially since he is being drafted in the fourth round. Outside of his playoff performance in Denver, Redman did nothing as a starter in place for Mendenhall. With Mendy out, Redman will get a lot of work, but he just has no track record of success, so I won't take the gamble.
  6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis – He was a decent back for years. But defenses hardly cared about his as they were focusing all their efforts on Brady and the passing game. How will BJGE fare without that pass support. It's anyone's guess really. He faces tough defenses all year. Shouldn't split too much time, but I have no reason to believe he'll be outstanding. Better numbers than last season, but nothing to celebrate.
  7. Donald Brown – I'll give him a slight sleeper nod. Brown if falling to the seventh round despite reports that Indy has all intentions on using him as a workhorse. That being said, the Colts offense should still be laughable in 2012 and being the feature running back could well mean next to nothing. Not much of a risk since he is going so late, I'll pull the trigger and let him warm my bench to see how things pan out.
  8. Jonathan Stewart – I've never liked any Panthers' running back. I don't like having to guess who will get the most carries that week. And now adding Tolbert to the roster, I don't like the situation even more. I'm going to pass on the entire running back corps from Carolina, but if you like his PPR upside and can stand so many people stealing his TDs, go ahead.
  9. Beanie Wells – Last year's rookie Ryan Williams is could be a bit of a problem, but Wells showed a bit of toughness last year and looked good. He doesn't have much upside, and does nothing at all in the passing game, but if he can stay healthy and ward off his backup, he could put together another acceptable statline.
  10. James Starks – No, you shouldn't expect Green Bay to stop passing any time soon. But, the starting job belongs to Starks's alone. Touches won't be too high, but he could make them count at 4.3 yards per carry last season. And he is decent in the passing game. TD total will be low, but he could approach 1,000 yards and surprise some people.
  11. Willis McGahee – He had three years of nothing in Baltimore and then broke out in his first stint in Denver. Denver was a run-first last year, and many things have changed. There are a lot of younger running backs behind him and he has a QB that is itching to pass. He'll lead the team in rush attempts and yardage, I'm sure, but he has no PPR upside.
  12. DeAngelo Williams – Pretty much exactly what I said about Jonathan Stewart. Too frustrating for my taste.
  13. Mikel Leshoure – Another crowded backfield, but if anyone emerges, I think that Leshoure stands the best chance. He's got legal nonsense, and coming off a massive injury, but he's going in the early 9th round. Sounds like sleeper potential to me.
  14. Ben Tate – A must have in my opinion if you own Foster. He's currently going in the 7th or so. It's out of control that he can put up the numbers he does despite being a locked RB2. Even with Foster getting all the love, Tate could see 1,000 yards again. And, heaven forbid Foster goes down, Tate will become your best player overnight.
  15. Jahvid Best – Seems to be the definition of risk. He looks awesome when he's on the field, but that's unfortunately not too often. He's going to early for me, you can get Helu, McGahee, Wells or Donald Brown around the same time. I'll pass on him, but the upside is there.
  16. C.J. Spiller – Watch the preseason closely. Where you want to take Spiller has a lot to do with how he'll be used. He was impressive last year after Fred Jackson went down, but if he is again used strictly as a number 2 then he's in trouble. In deeper leagues, I would want him as a handcuff is I owned Jackson.
  17. Mark Ingram – Should lead the team in carries, and his touchdown count should rise. He should be there only real goal line choice if they opt to run it. It really all depends on how the Saints use him. I'd like to see him on the field more, but there are still three good RBs on the team.
  18. Stevan Ridley – If you want to touch any Patriots running back, well, more power to you. I for one will be staying right over here though. Not worth the headache. Ridley is my pick though to stand out for them. He'll lead them in carries but do nothing in the passing game.
  19. Peyton Hillis – Not sure what to think of him outside of the whole handcuff situation. I don't see him doing much of anything if Charles can last all year. Let's just hope he doesn't get another mean case of sore throat.
  20. Michael Bush – He knows his role and he does it consistently. Vulture touchdowns, give the number one a break. With Forte holding out, I would probably reach higher for him than I should.
  21. LeGarrette Blount – Can be super dominant, but he has issues. Bucs moving up for Martin doesn't help him much. I still think he gets over 150 carries this year and a chance at redeeming himself. Going in the 9th round, it seems like everyone has written him off.
  22. Toby Gerhart – Leaves a lot to be desired as a rusher, but he works well in the passing game. He's really only going to be a name for the first few weeks as Peterson recovers, after that, don't expect much at all.
From here on out we are looking at supporting cast. Some act as handcuffs, others are reserves in deep leagues. In your standard leagues, this is likely going to be your Free Agency market. Sleepers can emerge, but none of these guys will be seeing any starting lineup of mine in Week 1.
  1. Jacquizz Rodgers – If Atlanta has any plans of limiting 30 year old Michael Turner, then Jacquizz Rodgers is the man who will fill in.
  2. Tim Hightower – Just another head in the Washington Redskins backfield. Potential to do some damage if there are injuries to others, but nothing to get too excited about.
  3. Pierre Thomas – Still sees time, but likely to get much less than last year and the Saints are happy with the production of Sproles and looking to get Ingram more involved as their number one runner.
  4. David Wilson – Should be the Giants' number two back. Should see a good amount of touches compared to other backups since Bradshaw is far from a work horse. We just need to see how his talent will translate to the NFL.
  5. Felix Jones – Nothing more than an explosive change of pace back. He has a harder time staying healthy than Murray. Will play a backup role, but still get chances.
  6. Cedric Benson – I think he's headed to Oakland, so you might want to grab him if you've got McFadden. Benson has more than 1,000 yards in his past three seasons and is still only 28. He's falling all the way to the bottom of the 13th round. So you don't really have that much to lose taking a risk on him.
  7. Ryan Williams – Essentially his rookie year. I had high hopes for him last season before he was injured before the first game. Wells looked good enough last year, but still fragile. If he goes down Williams could be a nice addition to your fantasy team.
  8. Robert Turbin – The only man backing up Marshawn Lynch. Maybe another beast in the making.
  9. Ronnie Hillman – Will never be a truly elite pro back, but I want to keep an eye on him. He could end up to be a change of pace playmaker for Denver. Definitely a better play in the passing game than McGahee.
  10. Daniel Thomas – Next in line for the Dolphins, but he did not impress as a rookie. Bush stepped up and is unquestionably the top dog in Miami. With Thomas in a backup role on an unimpressive offensive team, he doesn't have much going for him.
  11. Rashard Mendenhall – Even if he does come back from his Week 17 injury sometime this year, he'll be splitting time all the way with Redman. Doubt he's ready to go by Week 1.
  12. Bernard Scott – BenJarvus Green-Ellis is no stranger to backup running backs. Scott shouldn't do much more than he does normally though.
  13. Isaiah Pead – One of my sleepers with a decent upside. He won't really even be splitting time, you have to imagine since Steven Jackson is Steven Jackson. But if the starter is slowed by injury or they do want to limit his carries, Pead was brought in to do just that.
  14. Shane Vereen – Just one quarter of the mess in New England. He was the Pats' second round pick in 2011, so you have to think that they don't want to waste him. Should be a part-timer.
  15. Joe McKnight – I like his chances better than Bilal Powell, but it's anyone guess as to who will be the second man behind Shonn Greene. Pay attention to the preseason if you are in a league deep enough to consider him.
  16. Rashad Jennings – Pretty much always makes the list. When you're the only backup to one of the league's few elite runners, you are going to have people going for you.
  17. Chris Polk – The Eagles' next in line if anything happened to LeSean McCoy. Polk is likely to see very little playing time, but if the Eagles want to rest McCoy for any reason, Polk is the likely go-to.
  18. Kendall Hunter – This spot could easily go to either LaMichael James or Brandon Jacobs. Take your pick really. Watch preseason and training camp to figure out who the 49ers' backup will be.
  19. Chris Rainey – I have a lot of question marks around Isaac Redman, and if for some reason he gets hurt or fails to produce and Mendenhall isn't ready to come back yet, then Rainey could be the man in Pittsburgh.


  1. After reading your WR rankings I was sold on keeping A.J. Green in my auction league for $3. Now, reading up on high you are on Ryan Matthews should I keep him instead for $18?

  2. I have to say A.J. Green. He saves you more money and is more of a lock I think than Mathews. You can use that extra money to help secure a more solid and proven RB option like Foster, Rice, MJD, McCoy, whoever.