1.) Arian Foster RB, Houston Texans
What is there to say about Arian Foster, after being an Undrafted Free Agent in 2009, he has quickly become the best RB in Fantasy Football. Last season Foster had a down year by his standards. In 13 games Foster accumulated 1,224 rushing yards with 10 rushing TD’s, and 53 receptions for 617 yards and 2 receiving TD’s. When you consider Foster achieved those numbers in just 13 games (missed first 3 with a hamstring injury) it makes his talent even more remarkable. Heading into 2012, Foster is healthy and ready to reclaim the title of No.1 fantasy RB. Looking back at 2010, when Foster ran for a league high 1,618 yards and 16 TD’s, there is no doubt he could repeat that success this season. One thing Foster will have going for him in 2012 is a healthy Texans offense, with Matt Schuab and Andre Johnson back, opposing defenses won’t be stacking 8 in the box on every play. While Ben Tate is still in the mix for carries, Foster is still the workhorse and should get 20 carries a game. While many will debate between Foster and Rice as the No.1 RB, the choice for me is clear. Foster is the more reliable of the 2, and should be the first RB off the board in most leagues.
2.) Ray Rice RB, Baltimore Ravens
Last year’s top fantasy RB, Ray Rice delivered and surpassed the high expectations fantasy owners had for him last season. Rice was the Ravens offense, getting most of the carries, and contributing in the passing game. In 2011 Rice racked up 1,364 rushing yards with 12 TD’s , while hauling in 76 receptions for 704 yards and 3 TD’s. Rice emerged as the Ravens goal line RB, in part because Ricky Williams was his backup. Heading into 2012, Rice will still be the centerpiece of the Ravens offense, and is ready to build upon his success in 2011. The problem I have with Rice is the loss of LG Ben Grubbs. Grubbs was a difference maker on the Ravens Offensive Line, and was one of the reasons Rice stepped up in 2011. Rookie RB Bernard Pierce could also cut into some of the goal line work, but still must prove he can stay healthy.The loss of Grubbs and addition of Pierce will put a dent in the fantasy value of Rice, but he is still the 2nd best RB in fantasy and owners in PPR leagues shouldn’t hesitate to take him as the No.1 RB.
3.) LeSean McCoy RB, Philadelphia Eagles
While LeSean McCoy wasn’t leading the RB class in yards in 2011, he blew away everyone in touchdowns. Last season McCoy racked up a whopping 20 TD’s (17 rushing 3 receiving) , vaulting him to the No.2 spot among fantasy RB’s. It was a gargantuan step for “Shady” McCoy after a 2010 season where we saw McCoy pick up 7 rushing TD’s. What made McCoy’s season even greater was the boost he provided for fantasy playoff team’s in the final 4 games, rumbling for 6 TD’s. It was a great finish for McCoy’s season and it leaves fantasy owners salivating for more in 2012. The Eagles didn’t bring in a complement RB for McCoy, instead they are hoping UDFA Bryce Brown can develop his potential and get some goal line work, a trait he has impressed coaches with in camp. Even if Brown does well in the pre season, it is doubtful he cuts into McCoy’s carries from last season. If there were one thing that could hold McCoy back it would be a healthy Michael Vick, who takes pleasure out of stealing TD’s from McCoy owners. In the end while McCoy may not repeat his TD production from 2011, even a 5 TD decline would still rank him right behind Arian Foster and Ray Rice among RB’s.
4.) Matt Forte RB, Chicago Bears
If it weren’t for the knee injury that cost him 4 games in 2011, odds are there would be plenty of more love for Matt Forte. Last season, Forte was on pace to crush his peers in total yards, as he is one of the best multi purpose backs in the NFL. The problem some fantasy pundits and owners may have with Forte, is the acquisition of Michael Bush. Bush served as the goal line back in Oakland, and while he is expected to serve the same role in Chicago, too many people are taking away Forte’s value and putting it on Bush. There is no denying Bush can be an important piece for this Bears offense, and with the numerous opportunities he should get inside the 10, he is a fantasy asset as well. That still doesn’t change the fact that Forte’s fantasy value isn’t about TD’s. What is special about Forte is his ability to pick up major yards either on a run or on a screen play. The Bears did bring in Brandon Marshall to give Jay Cutler a reliable Wide Receiver to find deep, but that could help Forte’s value more than it will hurt it. Fantasy owners should feel comfortable taking Forte as the 4th RB off the board, and be very pleased with the production this season.
5.) Maurice Jones-Drew RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
As Deion Sanders likes to say “Pay Da Man!” that is exactly what the Jaguars need to do in order for MJD to keep his fantasy value. Maurice Jones-Drew was the best RB in the NFL last year, grinding for 1,606 rushing yards with 11 total TD’s (8 rushing 3 receiving). Despite the career high in yards, Jones-Drew finished as the No.3 RB. As the Jaguars head into 2012, MJD has yet to show up for Training Camp as he waits to get an extension from the Jaguars, but if ownership has their way he won’t get it. The concerns the Jaguars have in regards to MJD’s future durability are legitimate, and owners drafting him should atleast think about it before they draft him. The biggest problem in regards to MJD’s fantasy value in 2012, is the uncertainty in regards to how long he will hold out for. We are entering the 4th week of the pre season (Jaguars 3rd game) and we still haven’t seen Jones-Drew. I have no doubt when MJD does come back, he will step right back into the elite group of fantasy RB’s, but the questions regarding when he will return, and how long it will take him to get back into football shape, drop him from a Top 3 fantasy RB to the No.5 RB.
6.) Chris Johnson RB, Tennessee Titans
CJ2K? CJ1K? which Chris Johnson are we going to see in 2012. After rushing for an earth shattering 2,006 yards in 2009, Johnson hasn’t broken 1,400 yard marker in the 2 years following. Last season was the worst of Johnson’s career, after signing a big extension in Training Camp Johnson only cracked the 1,000 yard mark on the last game of the season. Johnson seemed to lose a step last season, whether it was the decline of the Titans offensive line or Johnson’s motor he left fantasy owners and Titans fans cursing his name. Heading into 2012, Johnson has a new QB in Jake Locker, and hopefully a new attitude going into the season. One thing to keep an eye on is the workload of CJ1K, in 4 seasons he has carries 1,187 and his YPC average has dropped from 5.6 in 2009, to 4.3 in 2010, and finally a disappointing 4.0 in 2011. If Locker pans out as the Titans QB, the Titans could turn more to the passing game, with a healthy Kenny Britt and rookie WR Kendall Wright, there are more weapons than the team had in 2011. Odds are Chris Johnson will finish around 1,200 yards with 7 TD’s, ranking him just outside the Top 5 RB’s.
7.) Adrian Peterson RB, Minnesota Vikings
There is no question that Adrian Peterson is the most talented RB in the league, but coming off an ACL injury, his fantasy value takes a dive. In 2011 Peterson only rushed for 970 yards, but in those same 12 games he picked up 13 total TD’s (12 Rushing 1 Receiving). Then in Week 13 against the Redskins, Peterson was lost for the season with Torn ACL. Peterson was just activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list last week, and while he is expected back for Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, questions still remain about how healthy his knees are. History shows it takes 2 years to get close to the explosiveness prior to the injury. Peterson even at 80% is still one of the better RB’s in fantasy football, but Peterson plays for the Minnesota Vikings. Christian Ponder will continue to develop, enabling defenses to leave 8 in the box and key in on the VIkings running game. Peterson should be a safe bet to play in all 16 games, but he shouldn’t be taken before the top 6 RB’s are off the board.
8.) Jamaal Charles RB, Kansas City Chiefs
How frustrating was Jamaal Charles in 2011, well I’d be happy to provide you with a quote from owners that drafted him with the 3rd overall pick, but much of it would have to be censored. In Week 2 against the Lions, Charles crippled the hopes of fantasy owners and Kansas City Chiefs fans when he went down with a torn ACL. While there is little good that comes from that injury, the timing of it may be the one golden pebble in the disaster that was Jamaal Charles 2011 season. Charles has had nearly a full year to recover, and after seeing him in the first 2 pre season games, the quickness and agility is very close to being back. While “very close” isn’t Top 5 RB special, it still has the chance to make him a Top 10 RB this season. Charles game is all about making guys miss, and then sprinting down the sidelines for a 65 yard TD. While he won’t have the same quickness and elusiveness as he did before the injury, he still has enough to make guys miss, and outrun most defenders. As for the addition of Peyton Hillis, just look back at Charles best season. In 2010, with Thomas Jones serving as the team’s goal line and short yardage back, Charles ran for 1,467 rushing yards and 8 TD’s (3 receiving). Hillis should serve in a nearly identical role as Jones did in 2010. I expect Charles to come back with a bang in 2012, contributing in the running game and passing game, and finishing the season as a Top 10 fantasy RB.
9.) Marshawn Lynch RB, Seattle Seahawks
After a breakout season in 2011, you could say I am a little low on “Skittles” A.K.A Marshawn Lynch. While Lynch set career highs in carries (285), yards (1,204), and TD’s (12), I believe fantasy owners who expect similar results in 2012 will be severely disappointed. The Seahawks made significant upgrades at QB in the off season bringing in Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson, either of which are an upgrade over last years starter Tarvaris Jackson. The team also improved their receiving game with WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow, while both players may have lost a step, they provide upgrades for a Seahawks offense that didn’t have anything except for a running game in 2011. The biggest issue I have with Lynch is the inconsistency on a yearly basis. After 2 1,000 yard seasons in Buffalo, Lynch fell off the next 3 seasons, only playing 29 games with a combined 1,187 yards. I expect the Seahawks to pass the ball more in 2012, while Lynch will see a drop in yards and TD’s. I still believe he can finish near the Top 10 among RB’s, and serve as a No.1 RB’s in most leagues.
10.) DeMarco Murray RB, Dallas Cowboys
Last season DeMarco Murray broke on to the scene in a very big way. Making his first NFL start against the St. Louis Rams running all over their defense for 253 yards. The game threw Murray into the spotlight, and vaulted him to the top of the Cowboys depth chart. In the final 7 games Murray ran for 571 yards (81 Yards per Game) but only finished the season with 2 TD’s. Murray ended his season with a broken ankle, continuing a pattern of injuries throughout his career. Heading into 2012, the Cowboys are committed to Murray as their guy in 2012, with Felix Jones struggling to stay healthy, and Murray blowing away coaches in camp, Murray won’t have to look over his shoulder this season. The biggest problem for Murray comes down to health and the Cowboys offensive line. As long as Murray can stay healthy, I believe he can be a 1,000 yard back and be the next great RB in Dallas.
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