Fantasy Football 2012 Rankings: Running Back Part I

Raise your hand if you think you could be fantasy's top back in 2012.

Ah, running back. Fantasy football's most important position that requires about 75 percent of your effort on the waiver wire and at the end of your draft. Every week some back will suffer an injury and it could cost him a week all the way up to the season. Running back isn't what it used to be and the dreaded RBBC (running back by committee) tag has grown to pandemic levels. Yes, it's across the continents.

From a strategy standpoint, the importance of drafting running back is based on how much competition you have in your league. If you know the vast majority of the owners spend most of their free time doing research and checking multiple fantasy sites like this one for tips on who to add/draft, then you know the "sleepers" at running back will be off the board before the eighth round. In other words, addressing RB in the draft should be a priority for your draft strategy.

On the other hand, if you find yourself stacked at back every year in your league, then it's OK to wait on back a little bit. That said, if you do consider running back as your weakest position after your draft, it's not a pleasant feeling to start a back that isn't even a starter on his own team.

Lastly, quantity over quality is a solid way to attack running backs. Running backs come out of the blue like no other position and it's very rare for guys like Victor Cruz and Cam Newton to emerge as must-start guys.

OK. That's it. Let's rank these bad boys after the jump:

Rank Running Back Comment
1 Arian Foster The only concern with Arian is that he tweets another hamstring injury. He has to go number one.
2 LeSean McCoy Shady had 17 scores on the ground and 3 in the passing game last season. He also led the league in first downs. Vick should have more success in scoring which could limit Shady's scores, but that's not enough to knock McCoy from the 2 spot.
3 Ray Rice He could hold out. Although, that's not the reason why he's not number two. Rice, McCoy and Foster are clearly the top-three picks in fantasy drafts this year in competitive leagues.
4 Ryan Mathews Norv Turner has already said that Mathews is due for a "breakout year" and he has no competition behind him. The Chargers were fourth in the league in plays per game last year and should move the ball effectively in 2012. He also finished last season on a high note before pulling his calf muscle. He has the upside to the the top back.
5 Chris Johnson He was a colossal bust last year. It took CJ2K until November to clear the 3.0-YPC mark; he finished with 4.0. Coincidentally, Johnson had exactly 4.0 rushing scores as well. A great GPA, but not a great touchdown total. Chalk it up to his holdout or whatever last year, but there's almost no chance he'll be that bad again in 2012. His job is safe and he's ripe for the pickin' the first round at this point.
6 Maurice Jones-Drew He led the league in rushing by a mile even though everyone and their mother was worried about his meniscus. He's 27 and he might need an extended warranty with 1,762 touches on his odometer. All that said, he's one of the safest picks you'll find in the second half of the first round.
7 Jamaal Charles He'll almost have a full year to rehab his torn ACL and it looks like he should be ready for the preseason. His career 6.1 YPC is too enticing not to to consider him as an RB1.
8 Darren McFadden The Raiders are going to ride Run DMC like friggin' Secretariat this year. They didn't spend a pick on a back and they only made a small trade for Mike Goodson. Michael Bush is in Chicago and there's no doubt McFadden is going to be extremely busy for the team that ranked seventh in rushing yards, carries and YPC. The injury bug is his only concern. It's a behemoth bug though.
9 Matt Forte Speaking of Michael Bush, the Bears came out of nowhere to get him for a reason. Forte was a workhorse for them last year and it resulted in the Tulane product tearing his MCL. He's very unlikely to get goal-line carries and the Bears figure to be more reliant on the passing attack.
10 Adrian Peterson The Vikings put on an exhibition on Wednesday to show an Adrian Peterson workout. The training staff did caution everyone that Peterson isn't likely to be ready for Week 1 though. That said, it's seeming more and more likely that he should be ready in September. Stay tuned.
11 Marshawn Lynch Lynch had a career-high 4.2 YPC last season and it looked like their young O-line was going to go through some serious growing pains. Lynch and the Hawks got hot and Lynch finished the season as a must-start back. I might be a little lower on Lynch than most and that's partly because Robert Turbin is likely to get a piece of the pie for snaps. We'll see.
12 Trent Richardson The Browns get the unenviable task of facing the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens twice while also facing the NFC East. T-Rich is going to be a busy man, but he doesn't really have the upside to emerge as an elite back like the 11 guys above him since the Browns are likely to be in the bottom five for PPG (30th last year).
13 DeMarco Murray The Cowboys only had five rushing TDs last year and DeMarco is coming off a broken ankle. Plus, he's going to split the carries with former first-round pick Felix Jones. The potential pitfalls outweigh the upside.
14 Frank Gore A lot of people are off the Frank Gore bandwagon with the competition of Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. The Niners were third in the league in carries last year and Gore got 299 touches. He'll get his. For PPR leagues, he did only catch the ball 17 times. So there's that.
15 Roy Helu This man was by far the hardest to rank of any player in Part I. The Shanahanigans subsided last year once Helu emerged, so I'd feel somewhat comfortable in taking Helu in the fourth round of fantasy drafts. There isn't much behind him with only Evan Royster and sixth-round back Alfred Morris behind him. That said, it does take a little slice of crazy to take him.
16 Doug Martin

Do I love you? Do I lust for you? Am I a sinner 'cause I do the two? Can you let me know right now, please? Bonita Apple-Doug.

Yes, I like Doug Martin a lot and I've wrote about him twice during the draft coverage (columns at the bottom). He might be cracking my top-15 backs by the time training camp comes around.

17 Reggie Bush The Dolphins have arguably the crappiest set of skill position players in the league. Daniel Thomas isn't a threat and rookie Lamar Miller will likely need at least a year to get his feet wet. R-Bizzle (nobody calls him that) had a stud-like 129.8 yards per game in his last four contests and has the ceiling of a top back for 12-team leagues. Bush does have injury concerns, however.
18 Ahmad Bradshaw The Giants are going to become a passing team this year. Eli took some huge strides in the playoffs and they just ditched their goal-line back. David Wilson is likely to be a factor and Bradshaw's oft-injured foot seems like it could be lurking.
19 Steven Jackson The Rams have already said that S-Jax carries will be cut down and Isaiah Pead should see a nice chunk of the workload. For what it's worth, he has a rep for being an injury-plagued player and that is incorrect. He's only missed two games in the past three years.
20 Fred Jackson Fred-Jax should see the lion's share of the carries, but it's more like a kitten's share. C.J. Spiller was fantastic last year and the Bills will find a way to get him snaps. No, they aren't going to play him in the slot again this year.
21 Michael Turner Turner is 30 and the Falcons are stacking the deck for a potent passing game. He looked awfully slow down the stretch last year and really struggled in the second level.
22 Shonn Greene Tony Sparano has already gone on record saying he "likes" Shonn Greene and we should be inclined to believe him. The Jets only have a third-down back in Joe McKnight and a 240-pound rookie in Terrance Ganaway. The Jets are going to likely be in the top five for rushing attempts and Greene should have every opportunity to tote the rock 20 times per game. He might run like he's 30, but he's only 26 and just has 546 carries as a pro in the regular season.
23 Beanie Wells Weenie Bells started hot last season with 107 rushing yards per game and 1.7 TDs in that span. He, as expected, fell off even with minimal competition behind him. Besides shredding the Rams for 228 in one game after the aforementioned hot start, Wells failed to crack 84 rushing yards in any other game. Ryan Williams is coming off a torn patella tendon and could be a factor. Wells does have some upside though.
24 Willis McGahee Another guy that I admittedly have low on my board. San Diego State rookie Ronnie Hillman seems like a great fit for the Broncos and it feels like he'll hit the ground running for them. Not to mention Willis has 1,901 carries in his NFL career. He'll be 31 in September. The upside of being Peyton Manning's back is more than offset by all those question marks.
25 Jahvid Best The Lions didn't bother to grab more depth at back even with Mikel LeShoure puffin' like his name was Sean Combs. He should see tons of snaps in a high-powered offense while LeShoure recovers from his torn Achilles and likely serving a four-game suspension. The Lions get the Rams Week 1. That's enough for me to want to draft him and try to trade him after what should be a big game.

Thanks for reading! Here are the other fantasy football columns I've written lately:

Quarterback Rankings

Rankings Reaction: ESPN

Ranking of the every drafted player in keeper leagues (yes, every drafted player)

Draft Analysis for Rounds 2-7

Draft Analysis for Round 1

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