Arian Foster – It’s no secret that Arian Foster is the best Running Back in fantasy football. His only downside is that the market is drafting his handcuff Ben Tate like a low-end RB2/high end RB3. That is expensive and should give buyers pause due to the opportunity cost of securing Foster’s handcuff. Andre Johnson will always keep defenses from stacking the box, and yet even when AJ was sidelined with hamstring injuries this undrafted free agent didn’t miss a beat. Foster is worthy of a #1 overall selection.
Ray Rice – Ray Rice does everything well but is not particularly great at any one thing, except racking up points for your fantasy team. Despite proclaiming himself ‘The best quarterback in the NFL,” most of the time last year Joe Flacco couldn’t complete a pass over 20 yards to save his life. That’s bad for Torrey Smith owners but VERY good for Ray Rice owners. Flacco’s security blanket racked up a whopping 76 receptions on 104 targets. Both figures rank second only to the Saints’ Darren Sproles. Unless Flacco has an arm transplant Rice will continue to be a force in both standard and ppr formats.
LeSean McCoy – Slim Shady ranked third in points per game in ppr formats last year. There is talk, just like there is every year, of the Eagles lessening Shady’s workload and getting Dion Lewis more involved. I’ll believe it when I see it. If you have a top three overall pick, sit back, relax and draft the Eagles workhorse with confidence. Handcuffing Lewis will be much cheaper than handcuffing Tate. You’ll want to monitor Bryce Brown and his usage as the former Volunteer is a more talented runner and could eventually usurp the #2 role if he improves his pass protection.
Chris Johnson - Chris Johnson held out last year and when he finally showed up to training camp with his pockets filled with cash he was noticeably slower. Early in the season he avoided contact and lacked the explosiveness we saw back in 2009. An extremely porous offensive line didn’t help things. Towards the second half of the season CJ had partially rounded himself into shape. He was noticeably quicker, but still not 100%. The reports from OTA’s and camp are that the ’09 version of Johnson is back. Watch him closely during the preseason to confirm the raves and be ready to pounce on this Titan.
Ryan Matthews –They call him Mr. Glass. The hype machine was out of control surrounding a back that has often had problems making it through a game, let alone a full season without getting injured. His first carry of the 2012 preseason was a microcosm of his short NFL career. Still, he’s a very talented back in Norv Turner’s system, which means elite production when he’s on the field. That’s enough of a temptation to keep his draft price high even though he might miss the first two or three games of the season. One has to wonder if the Chargers will limit his workload once he returns given his propensity for injuries.
Maurice Jones-Drew – Maurice Jones-Drew has missed only two of Jacksonville’s last 48 games. Despite his past durability he poses a moderate risk on draft day due to his holdout. He’ll report eventually, but holdouts are notorious for reporting behind in their conditioning, which leads to injuries on the field. Those who owned MJD in 2010 also recall that MJD had downplayed a knee injury as a non-issue during the preseason. Later he would admit being coy to prevent opponents targeting his knees during games. He struggled through knee pain most of the season before being shut down the last two games. If you target this Jaguar stud make sure you secure Rashard Jennings later as an insurance policy.
Matt Forte – Matt Forte was saddled with one of the worst offensive lines last year, yet his good speed, hands, vision to see seams and cut quickly enabled him to still rush for 4.9 yards per carry. He missed the last four games of the regular season with an MCL sprain and Forte has been dogged by knee maladies in the past, but all indicators point to him being healthy. One should watch him in the preseason to see how he is cutting. Of greater concern is the presence of Michael Bush who will gobble up the red zone looks. Forte never had a good nose for the end zone anyway, but Forte’s number of touches figures to drop at least slightly.
Darren McFadden - It’s not a question of if, but when Darren McFadden will go down. If you could be guaranteed 16 starts from the former Razorback, a top four RB ranking becomes automatic. His long, quick strides give him 4.33 speed. He smoothly changes directions faster than you can blink. Owners hold their breath almost every time he’s in traffic because it doesn’t take much to send him to the trainer’s room. In 2010 McFadden was second only to Arian Foster in ppr scoring formats. He isn’t going to stay healthy, so backing him up is a must. Therein lies the problem. Taiwan Jones and his elite speed is such a tease, but he can’t stay healthy with a heavy workload, so Raider brass wants Goodson to be the backup. The problem with that is Goodson is dinged up with a weak shoulder. To be secure you’d have to draft three backups to include Lonyae Miller, and that’s a lot of roster to burn up with insurance policies.
Marshawn Lynch – Marshawn Lynch gets disrespected in PPR circles because he doesn’t catch the ball much. He still outscored training room stalwart Ryan Mathews in 2011. If you pass on the brittle Charger and draft the Seahawk gladiator you won’t have to hold your breath every time he touches the ball, but you do have to worry anytime he gets behind the wheel. He’s featured in Seattle’s backfield and he should get 300 touches as long as he stays off the sauce and doesn’t run over any pedestrians.
DeMarco Murray – DeMarco Murray has significant upside in Cowboy backfield. AS with so many backs this year, the key to his success is staying on the field. Over a six game stretch he gained 754 yards on the ground and 154 yards through the air before an ankle injury ended his season. The injury bug plagued him at Oklahoma so the only question is health. He’s worth a second round selection due to his skillset but he’s not for the risk averse.
Michael Turner – If you believe the fantasy talking heads you might think that Michael Turner has one foot in the retirement home and will serve as tailback emeritus during the 2012 campaign. The fact is the Burner rushed for 1,340 yards last year. That’s more than Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews and Chris Johnson posted in 2011. Only Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice gained more on the ground than this Falcon. Not much has changed. He hasn’t slowed down yet. The problem in PPR formats is that his 17 catches for 168 yards both represented career highs. He still averaged over 300 carries over the last 4 years. Word is Jacquizz Rodgers will take a chunk of those in 2012. Of course they’ve said that every year about the #2 in Atlanta and it hasn’t happened yet.
Steven Jackson – It only seems as though Steven Jackson is entering his 25th season in the NFL. The battering Ram is only 29 and has represented consistent, albeit unexciting production in Saint Louis the last three seasons. The early returns on the Oline are scary. Confusion and missed assignments on the front line kept the entire Rams offense in shackles in week one of the preseason. There was no time for pass plays to develop, stretch the defense and take the heat off of SJAX, who remains a safe play with limited upside.
Adrian Peterson – One just wasn’t enough, so AD decided to double his pleasure with two ligament tears: his ACL and his MCL. Still less than a year removed from the injury, shrewd owners will tread lightly here even if the best running back in the league slips. He represents the classic value trap. In the spring he was outrunning teammates and the buzz started that he could be ‘fine’ by camp. Don’t believe it. Even if he suits up week one the Vikings will bring him along slowly. Let others take the risk.
Darren Sproles – Darren Sproles made a splash in his Big Easy debut, reuniting with his San Diego battery mate Drew Brees and corralling a league best 86 receptions. Which was a very good thing because he only received 87 carries. There is risk of some regression. It will be interesting to see the adjustments made during the offseason to shut down the Saints second most targeted receiver. A healthy Mark Ingram might also cut into his touches slightly, but Spoles remains a safe high end RB2 in PPR leagues.
Ahmad Bradshaw – Ahmad Bradshaw has earned a reputation as an injury prone back. He’s had numerous problems and procedures on both feet in recent years. There have been mixed reports about what exactly he had done but it involved some sort of injection. Despite the label, Bradshaw is tough as nails and frequently plays through pain. He’s missed only four games the last three years. He claims to be 100% heading into the season. When on the field he produces like a high end RB2 and can be had for much less than that during drafts.
Jamaal Charles – Jamaal Charles looked faster than one would expect coming off of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but it was straight line speed and he didn’t look quite as explosive as he did before the injury, not to mention his lightning quick cuts were not on display. Peyton Hillis is now in Kansas gobbling up the goal line carries as well as some touches between the 20’s. Expect the Chiefs ease number 25 back into football shape. If you still want to invest, watch him preseason week three to see if he trusts his knees.
Frank Gore – Frank Gore received his highest number of carries since 2006 but his receptions plummeted from 46 to 17 last year. Gore is currently part of a 25 man backfield. Ok, not really, but it does include Rock Cartwright, who is having a great camp, Brandon Jacobs (currently nursing a knee injury), rookie LaMichael James from Oregon and Kendall Hunter. Yuck. Even after cuts there will be too many mouths to feed.
Fred Jackson – Fred Jackson is coming off of a broken leg, is 31 years old, and shares the backfield with a very young and talented CJ Spiller. The fantasy market has fully incorporated these factors into his draft day price. What the market has completely ignored is that this ‘old geezer’ was the fourth most productive fantasy running back last year when on the field. He’s already priced at his floor so invest heavily and relax knowing that you’ll at least break even, at best you’ll have a steal if he hits his ceiling once again.
Roy Helu – Insanity: noun. 1. repeating the same action expecting different results, 2. drafting a Redskins running back. What you see is what you get: a perpetual revolving door of tailbacks as Mike Shanahan tries to prove to onlookers how clever he is and how his system is so great that even crappy running backs produce well in it. Roy Helu may be the best horse in the stable, but it matters not. Musical chairs will continue. Stay away unless you’re in a draft champions format and can afford to draft the entire lot of Redskin RB’s.
Chris Wells – Buckeye Nation came to know Chris Wells as that lovable, extremely talented back that is injured 24/7/365 but is tough and willing to play through pain. The problem is that his performance clearly suffered when he wasn’t 100%, leading his detractors to give him the moniker “Beanie Smells.” Wells has had problems with his ankle and knee for a couple of years. With knee injuries you can never trust when players or coaches say because they’re more interested in protecting the player than telling the truth. The truth lies in the tape. Stay away until you see visual evidence that he’s cutting with confidence.
Trent Richardson – It’s been reported that Trent Richardson recently underwent ‘minor’ knee surgery. I humbly submit to you that there’s no such thing. It was his second operation causing Richardson to be a major question mark entering the 2012 season. Nevertheless, if he slips into the 4th round he might be worth the risk due to his upside. A healthy Richardson poses a lethal strength-speed combination that defenses rarely see. Just be sure to have a backup plan in case his knee problems resurface during the season.
Shonn Greene – Shonn Greene is slow, lacks explosiveness, runs to contact and doesn’t break many tackles. He gets what is blocked and nothing else. On top of that, now the ‘Tebow-cat’ offense threatens to steal goal line carries. That doesn’t change the fact that Greene will still get 250+ touches and is a serviceable RB3
Reggie Bush – Reggie Bush proved his critics wrong and held up nicely to the rigors of being the Dolphins bell-cow. He tallied 217 carries and caught 43 passes while missing only one game. The Dolphins plan to implement a West Coast style offense with a no huddle execution. Both approaches should lead to a decrease in carries and an increase in receptions for the former Heisman champion. Reggie once caught 89 passes back in 2006. Don’t expect that many this year, but it does give you a taste of the upside Bush presents in PPR leagues.
Doug Martin – Doug Martin is a shorter version of Matt Forte with good vision, speed, and quick cutting ability. He is able changes direction without losing speed. There have been mixed signals from head coach Greg Schiano about whether or not Martin will start. Unfortunately this appears to be a fluid situation and it could remain that way until either Martin or LeGarrette Blount asserts themselves. Blount struggled in pass protection last year so Martin should at least see a healthy number of snaps in passing situations, and if he earns the Lions share of carries there is tremendous upside with this first round pick out of Boise State.
CJ Spiller – CJ Spiller took advantage of Fred Jackson’s misfortune and exploded with 391 rushing yards and 172 receiving yards over the last five games, giving him 21.5 ppg in ppr formats. Action Jackson has returned healthy and happy, relegating this Clemson Tiger to his backup role. It’s not clear how the touches will be divided. At 5’11” and weighing in at 197, what Spiller lacks in size he makes up for with his speed and quickness. Buffalo loves to spread the field wide with multiple receiver sets. That opens things up for speedsters like Spiller. Buffalo will also line him up out wide to get him in space allowing his talents to shine.
BJGE – Cincinnati Bengals welcome BenJarvis Green-Ellis to the jungle in hopes that the Patriot castoff can inject some energy into the Bengals lifeless running game. The only threat to carries on the roster, Bernard Scott, hasn’t display any noticeable speed, quickness, or acceleration since his rookie season in 2009, so talk of the scat back from Abiline Christian usurping the starting role is overblown unless he can regain what he’s lost. That’s good news, as any upside would likely come from an increase in carries (only 180 last year) and a greater number of goal line looks than he received in New England.
Jonathan Stewart – Jonathan Stewart runs a 4.46 40, has good hands and great acceleration. The Panthers gave him 178 carries in 2010 and only 142 last year. With the addition of Mike Tolbert that number is at risk of falling further and goal line touches along with it. Stewart is one DeAngelo Williams injury away from being a fantasy stud, but until that happens this elite talent remains merely a flex option.
Willis McGahee – In 4 games as a starter with Kyle Orton at the helm McGahee gained 381 yards on 81 carries and caught 6 receptions. His production dipped when Tim Tebow took over, but things are more promising now for the Denver backfield with Peyton Manning taking over. John Fox loves his veterans. The problem is he also likes committees. Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman also figure to get carries. McGahee should get the lions share of touches but the exact mix will depend on how well Moreno and Hillman pass protect for the former Colt MVP.
LeGarrette Blount – LeGarrette Blount broke out late in 2010 by rushing for over 1,000 yards on 201 carries. The one-dimensional back struggles in pass protection, tipping opponents off that a run coming whenever he enters the game. The Buccaneers often trailed by large margins, which frequently kept Blount on the sideline and his fantasy owners frustrated. Blount has rededicated himself, losing extra weight and showing up to meetings on time. He has also agreed to stay awake during meetings and to not punch anyone unless they deserve it.
Mark Ingram– Mark Ingram is the next back contributing to the injury prone chorus. Last year the preseason hype train was slowed when the Saints first round pick averaged less than 9 ppg in PPR formats over the first seven games, and was finally derailed when turf toe reared it’s ugly head. He also had to have another knee surgery in the spring. Even if he clears all of the health hurdles, he’s competing with with Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas for a role in the backfield. New Orleans features more of an aerial attack than a ground assault and Ingram was targeted just 13 times in the 10 games he played in. Pass.
Stevan Ridley – Ridley Ridley Ree, the fantasy market sees something I don’t see, and that is why on earth Stevan Ridley is being drafted in the 6th round. Bill Belichick is a poor man’s Mike Shanahan when it comes to running back shenanigans, making Ridley more or a liability than an asset outside of draft champions formats. The Law Firm has left the building, but nothing has changed. Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead are still on the roster and will likely limit Ridley’s viability as a fantasy starter.
Jahvid Best – Jahvid Best is expected to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and may not even play this season due to lingering issues with multiple concussions. He’s a very talented back, but unfortunately there’s serious question whether he’s seen his last snap on the football field.
DeAngelo Williams – Those who draft DeAngelo Williams will certainly experience a certain schadenfreude if Jonathan Stewart goes down with an injury. Short of that this 29 year old veteran from Memphis is nothing more than a boring low end flex option. Two straight years D’Will has failed to eclipse the 10 point mark and now steamroller/battering ram hybrid Mike Tolbert enters the fray to steal most of the goal line carries. Not interested.
Isaac Redman – Isaac Redman’s stock took a slight hit when he went down with minor hip and groin injuries, but the activation of Rashard Mendenhall off of the PUP list is a major blow. The presence of Jonathan Dwyer and the possible return of Mendy in week 5 make this a situation to avoid.
Michael Bush – Michael Bush will take over the goal line role in the Windy city. He’s officially the backup to Matt Forte, but given the latters history with knee problems it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bush earn a large minority of the touches to keep Forte healthy and fresh. He’s a nice flex option with upside.
Peyton Hillis – The Madden curse struck again as Peyton Hillis followed up his breakout season in 2010 with an unmitigated disaster. Arguably the biggest bust of 2011 fantasy drafts, this Madden victim wore out his welcome in Cleveland as teammates and fans questioned his toughness and willingness to play through minor injuries. Whispers surfaced that he even feigned being hurt because he was unhappy about his contract. The fantasy relevance to all this is that he’s got a lot to prove heading into the 2011 season and very little pressure as the #2 back behind Jamal Charles in Kansas City. He should see a healthy number of regular and goal line carries as the Chiefs ease Charles back after his ACL tear. Nice upside potential here.
Ben Tate – Arian Foster produced 4.4 yards per carry last year, Ben Tate 5.4. I’m just sayin’….. Tate is one of the more expensive handcuffs on the market. If Foster were to go down, Tate would immediately be a solid RB1, he’s also an adequate flex type/bye week filler.
Toby Gerhart – The reports surrounding AD’s rehab has gradually shifted from unbridled optimism a few months ago to cautious optimism with some suppressed trepidation sprinkled in. One never knows with knee injuries, but the tea leaves seem to indicate that Peterson will be brought along slowly and that Toby Gerhart should receive the bulk of the carries to start off the season. When Peterson was out weeks 12-14, Gerhart averaged 19 carries and 73 yards rushing per game, but the real crème brulee was his contribution to the passing game with 15 receptions.
Felix Jones – During his first two years in the NFL, Felix Jones was one of the most elusive runners in the game. In the blink of an eye Jones could blow by defenders and be headed to the house. 8.9 yards per carry in 2008, followed up by 5.9 YPC in 2009 illustrate the point. The problem was how brittle Jones was. He didn’t break tackles; tackles broke him. So he bulked up and to become more durable. The result was he became ‘just a guy’ in the Cowboys backfield. The offense line was a mess last year. This preseason that mess has become a porous sieve. It’s early in the preseason but the early returns should scare away fantasy owners from investing in this mediocre backup.
David Wilson – David Wilson was a track star at Virginia tech and has surprising strength for someone his size. Listed at 5’10” and 206, he can turn on the jets and break tackles. He doesn’t excel in pass protection and that may be why he’s still listed third on the depth chart behind DJ Ware. There is definitely significant upside here playing in Eli’s offense, but he may cost you an 8th round pick and might not see as much action as fantasy owners would like unless injuries strike.
Pierre Thomas – Pierre Thomas is nominally third in the Pecking order in a pass oriented Saints offense. He is historically injury prone but did manage to stay active for the full slate of 16 games last year. He’s due to get hurt again. That is, if he gets enough touches. Even when Mark Ingram was out with an injury Thomas’ workload did not increase. He’s a very talent back that consistently pumps out 5 yards per carry, but with a ceiling a 10 touches per game his upside is rather limited.
James Starks – The Packers hate running the ball, even in the red zone, but they do it once in a while to keep defenses honest. When they do run, John Kuhn gobbles up the goal line work. Assuming Brandon Saine doesn’t make the roster, that leaves Cedric Benson, Alex Green and James Starks to share sparse work between the twenties. Oh, and Starks has had a rough preseason and is battling turf toe. What more could you ask for in a Running Back?
Jacquizz Rodgers – Jacquizz Rodgers profiles as a poor man’s Maurice Jones-Drew. The problem is that Michael Turner is still on the roster and the numbers say he’s every bit the runner he was back in 2008. Contrary to what you’ve heard in the fantasy press Jacquizz isn’t going to tote the rock 250 times in 2012 unless Turner gets injured. The Burner has missed only 5 games over his four year Falcon career. He has also averaged over 20 carries a game over that time span. He had 301 carries last year. His yards per carry was 4.5; Vintage Turner. The Falcons gave us the same noise last year and it didn’t happen. Should we believe them now?
Shane Vereen – If you must own a New England rusher, Shane Vereen is the most appealing option. You might as well consult a lucky astrology mood watch when trying to figure out how Bill Belichick is going to deploy his backfield. Shane Vereen is just as likely/unlikely to emerge, and he will cost a LOT less. As with Stevan Ridley it will be feast or famine, with very few feasts.
Rashard Mendenhall – Rashard Mendenhall was recently activated off the PUP list and could see action week 5. At that point he’ll be just 9 months removed from a torn ACL. Too soon too expect a full workload or complete recovery. Expect Pittsburgh to spread the wealth on the ground initially. Mendenhall at best is an end game stash in hopes that he might surprise the second half of the season.
Kendall Hunter – Kendall Hunter contributed 473 yeards on 112 carries to the 49er offense in 2011. On the one hand, he’s in a great situation with Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, and Vernon Davis opening up running lanes. On the other hand he’s playing second fiddle to Frank Gore and has to share that fiddle with LeMichael James, Brandon Jacobs (when he returns from his knee injury) and possibly Rock Cartwright.
Knowshon Moreno – Knowshon Moreno is another in a lengthy list of ACL victims. He admitted that he’s not 100% yet and the Broncos will surely limit his workload with Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman, and possibly Lance Ball in the stable. He’s more of an option in Draft Champion formats for depth if you own McGahee.
Ronnie Hillman – Ronnie Hillman is a smaller scat back type with great playmaking ability. He has tremendous upside in this system with Peyton Manning’s aerial assault. The problem is Hillman isn’t the best in pass pro’ and he’ll need to improve that before John Fox trusts him. A hamstring injury that has lingered throughout camp and into the preseason makes the hill for playing time that much steeper.
Daniel Thomas – Daniel Thomas is a below average back that needs two injuries to have a noticeable fantasy impact this season. He’s second on the depth chart and Reggie Bush has a checkered injury history, but Lamar Miller is far more talented and should move passed him on the depth chart in short order. Move along, nothing to see here.
Lamar Miller – The Miami Dolphins got an absolute steal when they took Lamar Miller in the fourth round. He is very explosive, has lightning quickness, possesses excellent straight-line speed, and tremendous juke ability. He led all running backs at the Combine with 4.40 40-yard dash. He’s buried on the depth chart at the moment and there are concerns whether his ankle and knee will hold up, but if the Dolphins get him the ball in space, look out.
Ryan Williams – Déjà vu. Another running back, another knee injury. Can he cut? Does he have confidence in his knees? Only the tape will tell. Watch him this preseason. If he cuts quickly and with confidence move him ahead of Beanie on your cheat sheets.
Isaiah Pead – There were two running backs in the 2012 draft that leap right out of the screen when you watch the film. Isaiah Pead was one of them. Isaiah Pead is a poor man’s version of Chris Johnson in his prime; a little less speed and but a little more lateral quickness. He’ll serve as the Rams change of pace back and backup the relatively durable Stephen Jackson. In his first exhibition he looked like an inexperienced rookie making mistakes and losing a handoff. Once he settles in he’ll be fine.
LeMichael James – LeMichael James is another third down back with great playmaking ability. He’ll likey post a big game or two, but as long as Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter remain healthy his touches will be limited. However, if at any time he carves out a larger role, go all in.
Javon Ringer – Javon Ringer shined in the 2009 preseason showing impressing strength as a power back with adequate speed. Since then he has regressed but he’s still the handcuff for Chris Johnson owners.