Fantasy Football Preview: Running Backs

Fantasy Football Preview: Running Backs

Getting ready for a fantasy football draft this holiday weekend? No problem! All this week, we're looking ahead with our fantasy rankings for the 2012 season.

Previously, I ranked quarterbacks. Now, let's look next to them in the backfield, and focus on running backs. While we might hear about how the NFL isn't valuing running backs as much as they once did, this is the position that gets a good fantasy owner paid at the end of the season.

1. Ray Rice, Baltimore
He got paid, and will continue to produce. As young receivers join Anquan Boldin in an improving passing game, Rice should see more room to run (and catch). Expecting 1,600-1,800 total yards and 14-16 total touchdowns is a good bet for Rice this year.

2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
If you read my quarterback rankings, you saw that I (like many) have serious questions about Michael Vick this year as a fantasy starter. The Eagles need Vick to win a championship, which means they'll ask more from McCoy. If he, and Vick, can stay healthy all season, he could push for the top running back spot.

3. Arian Foster, Houston
Lots of people have Foster on top of their fantasy boards, but everything I said about Vick is also true of Foster. The Texans need him to be healthy to compete in the postseason, which means we should expect Ben Tate to take away some carries along the way this year. There isn't going to be a huge drop-off in per-touch production from Foster, but the number of touches will likely go down.

4. Matt Forte, BEARS
Forte is the toughest call for me at running back this year. The improved group of receivers should, in theory, mean the Bears don't need him to do everything. But that also means he'll get fewer receptions, and the presence of Michael Bush could mean fewer touches in the red zone. Add to those realities the awful Bears line and the pathetic "turf" at Soldier Field, and Forte is a hard player to pick in 2012.

5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
The drama surrounding MJD's contract situation will undoubtedly drag into the regular season, so owners need to keep an eye on the news out of Jacksonville. There are also concerns about his workload the last few years, but if he's on the field, he'll put up big numbers.

6. Chris Johnson, Tennessee
After running all over the league and getting a huge paycheck, Johnson was one of the most hated players by fantasy owners last year. He was an overwhelming disappointment, but wasn't healthy for a large part of the season. With Jake Locker taking over as the Titans' starting quarterback, they'll look for Johnson to get back on track. He could be back near the top of the NFL in rushing yards this year.

7. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
I love Charles in 2012. In 2010, Charles ran for 1,467 yards and had 468 more receiving with eight total touchdowns. Last year, he broke a lot of owners' hearts when he was lost early in the year to injury. Now fully healthy, expecting Charles to return to the form that saw him put up nearly 1,400 total yards in 2009 and over 1,900 total yards in 2010 is appropriate. There is some concern that Peyton Hillis will vulture a few touchdowns, but Charles is as dynamic as any back in the NFL.

8. Darren McFadden, Oakland
When healthy, McFadden is as lethal as any back in the NFL. But, like Vick, the issue here is him staying on the field consistently. There are a lot of owners that will take McFadden in the first round, and will likely be thrilled with his production... until he gets hurt late in the season. Huge upside with plenty of risk here.

9. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
It feels weird putting Peterson anywhere but the top three, but the Vikings need to handle their franchise player with kid gloves this season. In a loaded NFC North, the reality for the Vikings is that they probably aren't going to win the Super Bowl this year. Peterson will be given time to get back to full strength, and will likely see his carries cut back for most of this season.

10. Steven Jackson, St. Louis
Jackson's been as productive as any back in the league the last few years, but he's an easily forgotten man because the Rams aren't a sexy offense. If Sam Bradford can stay on the field for a full season, Jackson could get some support and have a strong season. He's always been good in the passing game as well.

11. Frank Gore, San Francisco
12. Ryan Mathews, San Diego
13. Fred Jackson, Buffalo
14. DeMarco Murray, Dallas
15. Ahmad Bradshaw, NY Giants
16. Reggie Bush, Miami
17. Shonn Greene, NY Jets
18. Donald Brown, Indianapolis
19. Darren Sproles, New Orleans
20. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
21. Michael Turner, Atlanta
22. Willis McGahee, Denver
23. Trent Richardson, Cleveland
24. Cedric Benson, Green Bay
25. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati

From 11-25, the guy to watch is: Donald Brown.
Andrew Luck has spent much of the preseason looking like an NFL veteran, and a healthy Brown will only help him to develop more. Brown's a good receiver and could have some lanes to run into if Luck continues to be efficient in the passing game.

The schedule loves: Reggie Bush.
When December begins, so do many fantasy league's playoffs (Weeks 13-16) and Bush is a guy that could help a lot of owners win money this year. The Dolphins' final four games (from a fantasy perspective) are all in favorable weather environments (not including @ New England in Week 17); they're home for the Patriots, travel to the Niners and then are home for the Jaguars and Bills. San Francisco isn't a great matchup, but the other three could present opportunity for big yards from Bush.

From 11-25, the guy to avoid is: Michael Turner.
As I pointed out when talking about Matt Ryan in our quarterback discussion, the Falcons should feature one of the more lethal passing attacks in the NFL this year. Turner's getting older, and the Falcons could look to use Jacquizz Rodgers in a Darren Sproles-like role this year. His touches and total yards will likely go down this year.

The schedule hates: DeMarco Murray.
The Cowboys might start the year without Jason Witten, but they'll end it with a brutal stretch of games. Fantasy's final four weeks (Weeks 13-16) see Murray and the Cowboys hosting the Eagles, travelling to the Bengals and then hosting the Steelers and Saints.

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