It is now time to get a final look at the most important position (popular opinion) in fantasy football. Since scarcity is a huge problem for this position, I am here to break down each running back. I will include my personal rank and thoughts on him and the average draft position (ADP) of each player as well. Want to know who is No. 1? Arian Foster. No kidding, huh? For anyone who has done any research of their own on these first five to ten running backs, they will seem like a no brainer. Let’s dive right in to this pool of fantasy greatness and frustration!
1. Arian Foster. Houston is the best running offense in the league, so who is the one leading the charge? Arian Foster, arguably the best running back for the past couple of years. I do suggest handcuffing Tate to him, because Foster isn’t invincible.
ADP: Consensus No. 1 on every site.
2. Ray Rice. Another great running back that is the focus of his team’s offense. The Ravens love him and I love him. Great for PPR and standard leagues. He is incredibly durable and versatile. Drafting him is a no-brainer.
ADP: He is usually being grabbed within the first three picks of the draft.
3. LeSean McCoy. He scored 17 touchdowns last year. There is a good chance that won’t happen again; however, he is a fantastic runner and receiver. He is another durable option and the Eagles use him a lot.
ADP: Being picked in the top three as well.
4. Ryan Mathews. He almost had a breakout season last year. Without Mike Tolbert making the backfield a running back by committee (RBBC), Mathews is free to be a bellcow. He occasionally gets injured but has the potential to become elite alongside the big three (Foster, Rice, and McCoy). (Ed. note: Article submitted in advance of Mathews’s Thursday injury.)
ADP: Getting drafted typically between picks 7 and 12.
5. Chris Johnson. Do not expect another 2K season out of him. But last year, in my mind, was an anomaly. So far in camp he has been hitting holes and avoided dancing in the backfield, which was a major issue last year. His role in receiving will be expanded this year, which means a boost for PPR leagues.
ADP: Expect to see him gone before pick 10.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew is showing few signs of slowing down, and the new offense will be all about him, as usual. The supporting cast at receiver should help. While MJD is usually a great RB1, the holdout has me a little wary of him. This is still the same running back who won the rushing title last year.
ADP: Being picked between six and 12.
7. Trent Richardson. Yes, he is a rookie. Can you remember any good, consistent rookies over the past three years? You most likely didn’t get beyond one hand. In this case, the fact that he is guaranteed 300-plus carries if healthy and is the focus of the Browns offense. With his great skill-set, he should realistically gain at least 1,200 yards and score 5-10 TDs. Only injury can stop him from being a RB1 this season.
ADP: Being drafted in between picks 12 and 18 in most cases. If you are in an ESPN league he is ranked 36 (as of August 9) and is being drafted at 27.
8. Darren McFadden. The definition of stud when healthy, but the key is “when healthy.” Chances are he will not complete a 16-game season. Keep that in mind when drafting him. With Michael Bush gone, he should get more carries per game, which is a both a good and bad thing.
ADP: Between 9 and 14, except on ESPN where he is being drafted at 24 on average.
9. Matt Forte. While Mike Martz leaving Chicago could hurt his overall numbers a tad, expect Forte to still be a major foundation of offense, yet not quite as much with Bush the likely guy at the goal line.
ADP: Typically between 11 and 17.
10. Marshawn Lynch. I do wonder if he can keep up 2011’s level of play. However, he will get the ball a ton, and no suspension seems to be coming anytime soon.
ADP: Between 18 and 26.
11. DeMarco Murray. Felix Jones is out and Murray is in. While not a spectacular player, he is the bell cow of this team and will be on the field a lot. He has some injury issues, but they aren’t as bad as those of McFadden.
ADP: Anywhere from 14 to 23.
12. Jamaal Charles. He is on track to be the starter and seems to have recovered well from his injury last year. The Chiefs got a new OC and obtained Peyton Hillis, who could potentially cause this backfield to become a RBBC.
ADP: Between 17 to 29.
13. Fred Jackson. Jackson has stated that he believes himself to be a top-five back. I would agree if not for a few factors: C.J. Spiller, and Jackson’s injury from last year. His age is not a concern in my mind since he has little wear, but with Spiller possibly making it a RBBC, I drop him from top 5 to 13.
ADP: Between 29 and 35.
14. Steven Jackson. He may only be 29, but with how much wear and tear he has endured, he could break down at any time. I see this as his last year before he starts sharing time. But luckily, this is 2012 and not 2013, so draft him as a RB2.
ADP: Anywhere from 23 to 31.
15. Adrian Peterson. A serious injury or two can knock you from being a consensus top-three back to RB2 status. He’s a risky pick who’s probably ready to practice, but they are being cautious so he’s on active PUP for now.
ADP: Between 19 and 24.
16. Doug Martin. LeGarrette Blount may be listed as the No. 1, but barring injury, Martin should be the lead back by Week 1. He was the most versatile back in this year’s draft and has the running skills and mentality to carry the load all three downs.
ADP: Wide range of 34 to 49. On ESPN, he is being drafted around 70 (due to them ranking him at 83).
17. Michael Turner. The Falcons have made it publicly known that Turner won’t be carrying a large load. I still fully expect him to get around 250 carries and 8-10 TDs. His ceiling isn’t high, but his floor is low.
ADP: Between 29 and 35.
18. Ahmad Bradshaw. He runs very hard and produces when on the field, but his lingering foot issues mean you can’t truly count on him. He is healthy in camp so far, which is a good sign. David Wilson should be drafted to handcuff him.
ADP: Between 24 and 36.
19. Willis McGahee. He did a great job in 2011 and with Peyton Manning in Denver now, McGahee should be able to retain the No. 1 spot while having a great passing game to keep defenses honest.
ADP: Wide range from 54 to 79.
20. Darren Sproles. It is hard to envision him matching last year’s production with the mess they have in New Orleans. But Sproles is still in a great offense with Drew Brees at the helm, which means lots of receptions. If you are in a PPR league, bump him up 12 spots.
ADP: Between 19 and 42.
21. Frank Gore. He finally made it 16 games last season, but his production waned as the season went on. There are a lot of talented RBs behind him now, making this a RBBC. I suggest having him as a low-end RB2.
ADP: Between 32 and 42.
22. Shonn Greene. The addition of Tony Sparano is great news, but Greene needs a little more help up front and is far from a special player. There is high potential that Tim Tebow vultures TDs, but Greene is a good low-end RB2.
ADP: Between 45 and 63.
23. BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm doesn’t seem to be a big upgrade from Cedric Benson, but he has little wear on him and will more than likely receive at least 275 carries.
ADP: Anywhere from 47 to 73.
24. Peyton Hillis. He should get plenty of work, maybe even a ton of work if Charles has more issues. The offensive line is looking solid, which helps make Hillis a good flex back.
ADP: Wide range from 77 to 97.
25. Jonathan Stewart. He is a real good back stuck in a RBBC. His 47-catch total was a surprise in 2011, but DeAngelo Williams won’t leave and Mike Tolbert could vulture short scores, limiting Stewart’s upside.
ADP: Between 72 and 86.
26. Reggie Bush. He seemed like a candidate to be called a bust until last year. Finally cracking the 1,000-yard mark has people finally looking Bush’s way in standard leagues. While he flourished last year, this year could be different with a new offense and solid depth behind him.
ADP: Between 45 and 56.
27. DeAngelo Williams. He is a fine RB, but Williams’s role with Stewart and now Tolbert is a concern, yet his numbers will likely be solid and he is a great talent. He’s still worthy of a being a bye-week plug-in despite his RBBC status.
ADP: Anywhere from 77 to 103.
28. C.J. Spiller. He is still developing, and Fred Jackson is still the No. 1 back, but Spiller’s coming-out party late in 2011 was impressive and showed big upside. He’s good for depth on the bench.
ADP: Between 71 and 89.
29. Stevan Ridley. A physical back with versatility, Ridley gets a big bonus with the Law Firm gone. He has a great chance to get a lot of snaps with Danny Woodhead as the only “experienced” back left on the roster.
ADP: Between 69 and 90.
30. Roy Helu. He could very well be productive due to his size, speed, and versatility, but Helu is far from a lock and overvalued right now due to the presence of Evan Royster and Tim Hightower. Mike Shanahan doesn’t commit to any one back for long, but Helu is good when he does start.
ADP: Between 49 and 68.
31. Michael Bush. He has rock-solid size, power, and versatility. However, Bush should be only an active role-player with Forte still starting for the Bears. If Forte is out of the mix for some reason, Bush has huge upside.
ADP: Between 84 and 99.
32. Isaac Redman. Should be the guy until Rashard Mendenhall is back, which might not be until midseason. Jonathan Dwyer is still pushing for snaps, but I expect Redman to be a good flex back for the first half of the season.
ADP: Between 51 and 78.
33. Mark Ingram. His rookie season was ugly with injuries and an undefined role, but Ingram did certainly show that he can be a good back. However, with Pierre Thomas and Sproles there, expect another RBBC.
ADP: Between 82 and 105.
34. Ryan Williams. Williams has some injury problems, but he’s extremely talented and has a massive upside if things go perfectly. His recovery is going well in camp, and Beanie Wells is still being plagued with injury issues.
ADP: Between 99 and 118. On ESPN his ADP is 148, which is a steal.
35. Kevin Smith. He looked significantly better in 2011 in terms of movement. Mikel Leshoure is injured and has a two-game suspension. Smith is a very solid rental player at worse, yet durability issues still plague him.
ADP: Between 117 and 167.
36. Ben Tate. Tate is easily the best pure backup in fantasy and likely a top-10 back if starting in place of Foster. If you own Foster, grabbing Tate is recommended, as he is a great handcuff.
ADP: Between 73 and 92.
37. James Starks. Proving to be more frustrating than anything else in Green Bay’s pass-happy offense, Starks has limited explosiveness but should clearly be well in the mix. He’s good for depth on your bench.
ADP: Between 71 and 93.
38. Beanie Wells. He really proved himself playing through injuries in 2011, yet major durability questions remains and Ryan Williams is nipping at his heels. If you get Wells or Williams, make sure to get the other back.
ADP: Between 54 and 70.
39. Donald Brown. Finally healthy and confident in 2011, Brown looked good, yet he’s far from a stud and lead back. As of now, he is still the main back for Indianapolis, which make him worth a roster spot in my eyes.
ADP: Between 78 and 98.
40. David Wilson. A very explosive runner who projects as a lead back, Williams could easily do very well if called upon to carry a heavy workload. As of right now he is backing up Bradshaw, but with Bradshaw’s injury history I see Wilson eventually taking over later in the season.
ADP: Between 91 and 105. On CBS his ADP is 125.
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