In the second installment of my first round of ranking fantasy football projections for the 2012 NFL season, we are going to be looking at the running back position. Two decades ago, when I started playing fantasy football, the running back position was key to winning you league. Today, not so much. NFL teams have moved away from every down backs and the league has evolved into a pass happy environment with many wide receivers now posting more points than many running backs.
Earlier, I ranked the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks for fantasy football play this season, as of the current environment in the NFL. I will be upgradeding and updating these rankings as the season pulls closer, but there are just 69 days until the first game of the NFL preseason and serious fantasy football players are already breaking down their options for upcoming drafts.
Looking at teams and player situations right now, this is how I rank the top-10 running backs for fantasy football.
1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans– Foster, 25, has recorded over 4,000 total yards and 30 scores in the last two seasons. Foster is in his prime and should be targeted as the first running back taken in your draft. The window is narrow on top running backs in fantasy and Foster is at the apex right now.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles– If you miss out on Foster in the first round of your draft, the selection of McCoy isn’t going to be a significant downgrade. McCoy has come into his own and recorded 20 total touchdowns last season. McCoy saw 30 fewer receptions last season- a 2,000 total yards and 18 total touchdown season isn’t out of the question in 2012.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens– Rice, 25, is coming off a near 2,100 total yard season which saw him hit the endzone 15 times. Rice is currently upset about receiving the franchise tag from the Ravens and could sit out some or all of Baltimore’s camp. Another aspect to consider when drafting Rice, backs which touch the ball 370 times or more, see their production fall off the next season. Rice touched the ball 367 times last season.
4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings– Once considered the top lead back in the NFL, Peterson is coming off an ACL injury and I believe I should have ranked him lower in my rankings, but he is Adrian Peterson. There is no guarantee that he’ll be ready to go at the start of the regular season, draft accordingly.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars– The reigning 2011 NFL rushing leader is ranked fifth in my rankings. Jones-Drew is yet another rusher desiring a new contract, despite having two years remaining on his contract extension. In the last three seasons, MJD has accounted for never less than 1,600 total yards in a single season and 34 total touchdowns. He posted remarkable numbers last season with rookie Blaine Gabbert under center.
6. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans– CJ2K rushed for over a 1,000 yards last season, but that came as a disappointment, recording just four touchdowns. I don’t look for Johnson to come close to repeating his 2,000 yard season in 2009, but Johnson, with a complete offseason in 2012, could log 1,400 rushing yards and 10 total scores.
7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers– Head coach Norv Turner might think Mathews is prepared to lead the NFL in rushing, he gets the nod here at the number seven position because as it stands right now, he’ll get the bulk of the workload for the Chargers next season. There are very few teams which host a feature back and Mathews has to prove he is worthy of that role. If he does, he could be a very valuable selection in 2012.
8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks– Lynch went into ‘Beast Mode” last season for Seattle, posting career rushing totals and touchdowns scored. Lynch just received a new contract, just a word of caution.
9. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns– I’ve never been a big fan of drafting rookie running backs in single season leagues. Richardson enters into a Browns team which has serious concerns offensively. Limited receivers, tight end issues and a rookie quarterback which seems to be penciled in to start the season. Draft with caution.
10. Matt Forte/Darren Sproles– Forte enters the fantasy discussion with contractual issues surrounding him as well as his health. Recent videos show Forte running uphill with 100-pound weights, but running backs need more than straight line strength, they need to be able to cut. Sproles was an integral part of the Saints offense last season but his success moving forward is going to depend on the future of QB Drew Brees.