Fantasy Football 2012 Rankings: Running Backs V 2.0 (Updated)

Jun 12, 2012; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Most fantasy owners don't care about May and June. OTAs are nice and it can be an important component to determining which players could be deep sleepers, but the overwhelming majority of fantasy titles aren't won months ahead of your draft.

On the other hand, there has really been a strong trend I've noticed with all the mock drafts I've done since February: I've rarely had enough running backs in the mocks that are composed of experienced players/writers. In case you're new to Fake Teams this year, I've made it clear in most of my columns that I will never have less than six running backs on my roster (on teams that require two RBs and a flex). In fact, I'll usually draft eight during the draft and hold eight until the preseason concludes. The reason is pretty obvious because everyone knows that no position can see such an exponential boost in value quite like a handcuff when the starter suffers an injury.

Over the past few seasons, the paradigm of going RB-RB in the first two rounds has fallen out of favor and the RB-WR, QB-RB or even QB-WR has become an acceptable approach to start your draft for picks after the fourth or fifth pick. Well, RB-RB is back, folks. It gets extremely dicey once the first 12 running backs are off the board. Based on my mock experience in a competitive setting, I've felt that I've had my best mocks when I go RB-RB. Although, owners that have the first four picks in a 12- or 14-team league might not be able to take another one of those aforementioned 12 backs in Round 2.

All this early mock preparation has helped us and even though it's not exactly vital information, it's not going to entirely reshape our plan on draft day.

Well, it's training camp time. It's August and oh yeah, it's draft season. Things are different from when I did my first round of rankings (links provided below). Depth charts have solidified, holdouts have become official and players are beginning to go down due to injury.

This time around we will rank the players in tiers and focus more on the recent developments on their situations.

I'm posting a lot of my thoughts on mock drafts on Twitter.

Tier 1


Running Back Comment
1(1) Arian Foster

I'm not saying Arian is number one. Umm sorry I lied. He's number one, two, three, four and five.

Annual KRS-One reference quota: check

2(2) LeSean McCoy Almost every beat writer in Philly is singing the praises of Jeremy Maclin. I'm buying. Consequently, one would think that McCoy isn't going to be as productive as his 20-TD, 1.6K-yard 2011 season. On the other hand, the Eagles should be able to improve on their 24.8 PPG last year, so there should be a bigger pie to go around.
3(3) Ray Rice Rice avoided his holdout and is one of the safest picks. He also had 161.8 yards from scrimmage in his last five games and was second in the league in rushing. 16 games in each of the last three years, too. Safety first third.
4(4) Ryan Mathews Mathews belongs in Major League 3 for creating such a buzz. His upside is as high as any player since he's armed with a great schedule, a potentially prolific O and a big workload.

Tier 2

Running Back Comment
5(5) Chris Johnson The Titans were 21st in scoring last year and it looks like they'll be able to improve on that ranking this year. He should be able to double his TD total of four in 2011.
6(8) Darren McFadden RUN DMC's Lisfranc injury was healed for his OTAs and he looks like he'll be ready. The Razorback has really struggled to stay on the field with a multitude of injuries. If you're feeling saucy and don't mind rolling the dice, McFadden should be a great player to own.
7(7) Jamaal Charles ACL surgery used to be a death sentence in football and basketball. 2012 has seen a lot of advancements in the surgery and studies have shown that the newer ACL surgeries have shown increase strength of the ligament. In fact, some of those studies suggest that double-bundle ACL surgery has 1.5 times the strength of a normal ACL ligament on a vertical plane. The torsion isn't quite as strong as a regular ACL, but there's still a vast improvement compared to the single-bundle surgery from the early 2000s. Charles is entering his prime and his uncanny 6.1 YPC over his career is enough to trump the injury concerns. You might also want to handcuff with the Madden boy.
8(13) DeMarco Murray Murray is on the rise. His broken foot was never really a concern, but at least it's reassuring to see he's claiming to be fully recovered. All signs point to him being featured and former first-round pick Felix Jones looks to be no more than a handcuff. Felix Jones is also expected to be used as a return which solidifies Murray even more.

Tier 3

Running Back Comment
9(12) Trent Richardson There's nothing within the Browns organization that is going to slow down Richardson from being an absolute monster. However, the other teams trying to stop T-Rich could be a huge barrier. Cleveland was 30th in scoring and 28th in yardage. He needs Brandon Weeden as much as anyone.
10(6) Maurice Jones-Drew MJD led the league in carries by a lot in 2011. His 343 carries were 42 more than Michael Turner and MJD's odometer now reads 1,484 carries and 278 catches. The most recent news is his holdout. While the magnitude is far from Mike Wallace, it's still not exactly going to help his value. It might be irrelevant that CJ2K had a disastrous 2011 because of his lengthy holdout, but it's enough for me not to draft a back that is has the league's worst QB under center. What's more, the Jaguars have been awful in the preseason. Gabbert had one completion, seven scrambles and four picks in the preseason. Jacksonville's offense is going to be a nightmare.
11(10) Adrian Peterson He's not human. I'm surprised I haven't heard about a parody A.D. Twitter account that's similar to @CyborgHanson48.
12(9) Matt Forte The Tulane product got his dough with a four-year, $32 million deal and he'll be ready to go in what should be a big-time offense in the Windy City. The concern here is in the infusion of talent could lower his touches and especially his scores. Brandon Marshall is one of the best red-zone targets in the league and Michael Bush. Bush had almost 1,400 yards of offense and one would think that he's going to be more than just insurance for Forte and his MCL injury from last year.

Tier 4 (sizable drop)

Running Back Comment
13(16) Doug Martin Dougie Fresh has already been the top back at training camp. There's certainly a big risk to draft him as a high RB2, but the upside is basically a back in the second tier. LeGarrette Blount has seen very little work with the first team and his numbers down the stretch suggest he's nothing more than a backup. His YPC was only 2.6 in the last three games. I wouldn't consider Martin as a reach in the middle of the third round at all. Heck, even the second round in a 12-team league doesn't seem like a reach.
14(19) Steven Jackson S-Jax has reported to camp in better shape and tweeted on Saturday that he's down to just 5.1 percent body fat. While there isn't exactly a strong correlation between being lean and staying healthy, the news has to be considered as encouraging. Jackson had a "down year" in 2011, but a 4.4 YPC and 1,478 yards from scrimmage seem like nice RB2 numbers. His six TDs should also see an improvement.
15(17) Reggie Bush Daniel Thomas has been a bust so far. He was the top rookie back on a lot of draft boards in 2011 and really hit the skids in the middle of the season. He did improve though. On the other hand, Reggie Bush had a breakthrough year as a featured rusher and looks to have a strangle hold on the gig once again. There is definitely legitimate concern that he'll wear down. It might not be a bad idea to draft him and ship in him in a deal.
16(18) Ahmad Bradshaw Bradshaw does have some upside. The problem is that the feared RBBC is on the horizon with rookie Hokie David Wilson making a splash at camp. Wilson has been impressive and his teammates have raved about his speed and explosiveness. That and his troublesome foot injury make him someone I won't be targeting.
17(14) Frank Gore Frank Gore went from bell cow to Tatum Bell in really just one offseason. Rudi Johnson better watch his bags. The Niners added offensive weapons out the wazoo by drafting LaMichael James and signing bruiser Brandon Jacobs. I've seen a lot of rankings destroy Gore and put him outside of the top 20, but there's still enough of a role for him to have RB2 value. The Niners led the NFC in carries and their offense looks to be more effective than last year. Yes, Brandon Jacobs is a threat to vulture the goal-line touches, but Gore should still be able to get the rock for the majority of the red-zone touches.

Tier 5

Running Back Comment
18(21) Michael Turner The Falcons haven't made it a secret that they'll be airing it out. Turner should still score plenty of TDs though.
19(20) Fred Jackson According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect different results. Well, I'm insane. Fred-Jax was in a near identical situation last year with C.J. Spiller threatening to usurp his carries. Jackson went on to being one of the best backs in the league before fracturing his fibula in his 10th game. Spiller became the ultimate understudy down the stretch last year and was a huge asset on a ton of championship teams. This time around, I'm betting against Jackson.
20(15) Roy Helu Oh Shanahan how we loath thee. Tim "Hobbling" Hightower is currently the starter for the Redskins. Hightower has been seen with a hitch in his giddy up in camp and it's fair to assume that he isn't quite over his ACL injury from Week 5. Helu stepped in and was a true workhorse with 24.0 carries in the last four games of the fantasy season. He also had a 14-catch game earlier in the year.
21(22) Shonn Greene Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow .
22(11) Marshawn Lynch We're all going to be waiting to see whether or not Lynch gets suspended. I'll set the O/U at 4.5 games. Keep an eye on Robert Turbin.

Tier 6


Running Back Comment
23(26) Darren Sproles Mark Ingram has to be better this year. Consequently, Sproles won't be the tremendous force he was last season. The Saints have recently said that Ingram will get in the 200-touch neighborhood. The Heisman winner had 122 carries in 10 games, so the extrapolated total would have been 195 touches had he played in 16 games. Just to be clear, Sproles is a high-end RB2 in PPR leagues.
24(27) Ben Tate If you buy a Ferrari, you had better be sure you have insurance for it. Ben Tate would become a true RB1 in the event of an Arian injury.
25(38) James Starks Sure, you could draw comparisons to DeMarco Murray. Starks is in a high-powered offense and they're going to be pass a lot like the Cowboys. The main difference is that the Packers really don't even need to run to set up the pass. Rodgers is just that good. Conversely, there's something that can be said about a running back on a team that is the favorite to lead the league in scoring again. Starks has seen good news at every angle: he's looked as fast as ever, his competition has fallen by the wayside and his offensive coordinator is calling for a breakout season. This paragraph brought to you by the makers of rose-colored glasses.
26(35) Stevan Ridley Ridley is gaining steam as the preseason approaches. Shane Vereen is reportedly losing ground and he's being pushed by undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden. The Patriots could lead the league in scoring, so if Ridley wins the job and gets the goal-line carries, double-digit TDs could be within his grasp.

Tier 7

Running Back Comment
27(33) David Wilson Eli Manning isn't a coach, but when he sings the praises of a teammate, we should listen. Wilson does need to work on his pass protection and he's probably going to have a tough time accumulating value in the early part of the season. I'd expect his arrow to point upward once the calendar hits October.
28(33) Donald Brown The good news for Brown is that he's listed as the starter and he's probably the best pass-protecting back Indy has at this point. Indy's top priority is going to be making sure their prized piece from Stanford stays upright and healthy. The bad news on Brown is that he hasn't exactly separated himself from the likes of Delone Carter. New coach Chuck Pagano said that the Colts are going to be a power rushing team. Even though Brown was somewhat effective between the tackles, if Delone Carter can get his vaccination for fumblitis, then he could leapfrog the U Conn Husky. Don't forget that Indy's defense is terrible. They might not have a say on whether they can be a power offense in the fourth quarter.
29(29) DeAngelo Williams It's one thing to be in a time-share RBBC situation. It's another when that split has the quarterback getting most of the rushing scores. The Memphis product is atop the depth chart, though.
30(30) Jonathan Stewart Most of the time it can be exciting to draft a 25-year-old running back in a contract year. That's not the case with this Duck. Mike Tolbert could impede Stewart's goal-line touches.
31(31) Mark Ingram Remember when Mark Ingram won the Heisman? While I wouldn't vehemently disagree that Ingram isn't a first-round talent in the NFL Draft, it doesn't seem like we should totally write him off. He could rack up some TDs in 2012 and one would think that Drew Brees isn't going to complete an NFL record 468 passes in 2012.

Tier 8

Running Back Comment
32(32) Michael Bush The Bears should have quite a bit of success moving the ball in 2012. Bush is the heavy favorite to be the goal-line back and should see a number of short-yardage carries. He should find a way to flirt with 800 yards and eight TDs. He would also vault to RB1 status should something happen to Matt Forte.
33(23) Beanie Wells It was going to be Ryan Williams that had all the question marks this training camp, right? Well, Coach Whiz said that he expects Beanie to practice next week and he should be a go for the preseason very soon. The bottom line is that Ryan Williams is rising and Beanie is falling. There could be a flip-flop in the rankings in a week or so.
34(24) Willis McGahee Monday brought the news that Knowshon Moreno has been cleared for team drills and looks to be over his ACL tear. The Denver Post says not to rule out the former Bulldog for the starting gig. Moreno actually does make more sense than McGahee to work next to Peyton Manning. Moreno still isn't on the radar in even 14-team leagues, but his presence is enough to downgrade Willis 10 spots from May's ranks.
35(37) C.J. Spiller The Bills are going to use Spiller and Fred-Jax in two-back sets and Spiller was already utilized in the slot last season. The Bills would be wise to run the ball more in an effort to not turn the ball over so much. Their defense looks vastly improved and Ryan Fitzpatrick led the league with 23 interceptions.

Tier 9

Running Back Comment
36(45) Ryan Williams A popular sleeper last year, Williams looks like he's poised for that distinction again. He was a pleasant surprise in camp and was able to avoid the PUP list. A torn patellar tendon is a serious injury and it goes without saying that even the biggest Williams supporters should limit his expectations. The Virginia Tech product is on the short list of players I'm most excited to watch this preseason.
37(46) Mikel LeShoure LeShoure pulled his hamstring last week in camp and calmed everyone down by saying that he's "straight." He also mentioned that the injury was probably due to overcompensating his surgically-repaired Achilles' tendon. LeShoure will serve a one-game suspension and the Lions look to have a two- or three-headed rushing attack with Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith. They were also 31st in the league in rushing attempts last year and led the league in passing attempts.
38(36) Isaac Redman The news on Rashard Mendenhall has been all over the place. First he's ahead of schedule. Then he's months away from hitting the field. It does look like Mendy will suit up in 2012, so it's going to be tough to draft Redman as a flex. Although, if you really swung and missed in your draft, you can make a case for Ike as a top 30 back.
39(34) BenJarvus Green-Elllis The Lawfirm had six TDs in his last 10 games. Good right? Kinda. He had just a 2.8 YPC in those six games and wasn't effective in any other aspect besides punching the ball in for six. He's an inferior talent and the Bengals aren't going to give him many opportunities at the goal line.

Tier 10

Running Back Comment
40(49) Isaiah Pead Steven Jackson gets a lot of flack for being injury prone. However, a lot of people forget that S-Jax has missed just two games in the last three years. That trend does seem likely to come to an end now that the Beaver has 2,507 touches in his career and he just turned 29. Pead looks to be the handcuff for Jackson owners and he could be featured sans Cap'n Jack. While Jackson is healthy, Pead will be nothing more than a change-of-pace back and won't be a player fantasy owners can use.
41(42) Peyton Hillis While I probably have Jamaal Charles higher than anyone out there, it's certainly a good idea to handcuff your first-round pick. Especially if that understudy could be featured. The problem with Hillis is that his 2011 was one of the worst for any player. He surprisingly missed a game because had strep throat and was out for a month and change due to a hamstring issue. If you do draft Charles, you might want to move Hillis into the top 35, though.
42(41) Toby Gerhart Adrian Peterson's status is still up in the air. Toby Gerhart would get the bulk of the carries in the early going and would be a nice flex option at worst. The Vikings get the Jaguars and Colts for the first two weeks.
43(NR) Robert Turbin The probability of Marshawn Lynch being suspended has decreased. We should still fear the wrath of Goodell and with Lynch's previous three-game suspension on his rap sheet, you'd think it would be a severe suspension even though it's fairly minor offense. If you're going to gamble on Lynch, Turbin makes for a nice insurance policy.
44(25) Jahvid Best The Detroit offense is shaping up to headed for the dreaded RBBC tag. The worst part is that it could be a three-man committee. Best still hasn't practiced and his concussion problems are an enormous cause for concern. Best has the skills to be a fantasy beast with his 112 yards and 4.5 receptions per game over his six games last year. Risk vs. reward.
45(NR) Kevin Smith Smith becomes an attractive RB2 for Week 1. It's actually as attractive as Kate Upton since the Lions get the Rams in their opener. St. Louis allowed the most rushing yards of any team during the fantasy season.

Tier 11

Running Back Comment
46(39) Ronnie Hillman Hillman was a hot topic back in May, but a lot of ambivalent reports from the Denver beat writers have subsided the hype. Knowshon Moreno looks like he's going to throw his hat in the ring. Hillman is currently been behind Lance Ball on the depth chart. On the plus side, he is getting a bunch of snaps in camp on passing downs. His value on draft day still has a pulse as a sleeper, but he's not a guy that owners should consider as an asset for the first month of the year.
47(NR) Vick Ballard Ballard is the hot name this week with analysts raving about him. Donald Brown is losing his grip on the crown as the Colts starter. Is that a crown? Probably not, but I digress. Chuck Pagano wants a power rushing attack and Ballard fits the bill a 5-foot-10 and 22 pounds. Keep an eye on him.
48(47) Felix Jones Felix Jones is going to be the kick returner for the Cowboys and will spell DeMarco Murray. Murray did break his foot last year and there have been some concerns about his durability. Jones probably wouldn't be feature if Murray did miss time, though. Phillip Tanner is a capable third-string option.
49(44) Bernard Scott You can take the cat outta the jungle, but you can't take the jungle outta the cat. Wait.. That doesn't work. We'll save that one for Cedric Benson. Well, Scott should see plenty of snaps with the Bengals and could be used as a weapon as they attempt to shift gears to more of a balanced attack.

Tier 12

Running Back Comment
50(50) Rashad Jennings If it hadn't been for an ACL tear for Jennings, there's a good chance that MJD wouldn't have been the league's leading rusher. Jennings was coming on strong at the end of 2010 with two 100-yard rushing games in his last four contests. He finished 2010 with a stellar 5.5 YPC. There's a very good chance he'd be featured if for some reason MJD missed time. It's worth noting that as of August 2nd, the Jaguards and MJD aren't in contact yet.
51(NR) Rashard Mendenhall Mendenhall still doesn't have a timetable to make his 2012 debut. There's definitely a chance that he can miss all of 2012, but the alluring of the Steelers potentially having a big-league O might make him worthy of a stash.
52(NR) Evan Royster Royster is atop the depth chart for the Redskins. So there's that. Thanks, Shanahan.
53(48) Daniel Thomas Thomas improved his game outside of ball carrying with better blitz pickups and understanding of the offense. The problem is that Lamar Miller is having a great camp and it's unlikely that Thomas would get a featured role if/when Bush goes down.

Tier 13

Running back
54 LeGarrette Blount
55 Lamar Miller
56 Bilal Powell
57 Tim Hightower
58 Montario Hardesty

Tier 14

Running Back
59 Jacquizz Rodgers
60 Taiwan Jones
61 Alex Green
62 Knowshon Moreno

Tier 15

Running Back
63 Marcel Reece
64 Shane Vereen
65 Javon Ringer
66 Jonathan Dwyer
67 Chris Ivory

Tier 16

Running Back
68 Cedric Benson
69 Darren Evans
70 Pierre Thomas
71 Bernard Pierce
72 Jackie Battle
73 Delone Carter

Tier 17

Running Back
73 LaMichael James
74 Dion Lewis
75 Mike Goodson
76 Leon Washington
77 Kendall Hunter
78 John Kuhn
79 Joe McKnight

Tier 18

Running Back
80 Brandon Jacobs
81 Danny Woodhead
82 Philip Tanner
83 Mike Tolbert
84 Lance Ball
85 D.J. Ware

Thanks for reading! I'll be updating this as the week progresses, so be sure to check back.

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