What? Fantasy football predictions and rankings for next season? The NFL season isn't even over yet!
That's what those who didn't win their respected championships are saying. But for me, it is never too early to come out with fantasy rankings.
Injuries have plagued the season for many top running backs this year. Knee injuries sustained by Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Rashard Mendenhall and Matt Forte ring a bell. And what ever happened to that Darren McFadden guy?
Never mind injuries, where did some running backs disappear to? Chris Johnson and Madden cover-boy, Peyton Hillis looked like shells of their past-selves.
Because of such injuries and disappearing acts, ranking the top running backs for 2012 is a tough task.
This back is dangerous every time he touches the rock. After missing the better part of three games, Foster still wound up with 1,224 yards rushing and over 600 yards receiving in 2011. In total, that's over a whopping 1,800 total yards with 12 total touchdowns.
Foster often saw eight men stacked in the box, mostly due to the loss of Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub for a good part of the year, but still managed 4.4 YPC. Foster didn't have as big a workload, with backfield mate Ben Tate taking 175 carries from him, allowing Foster to further rest his body.
Foster seemingly always racks up 100 yards, whether through the air or on the ground on an every game basis.
With the team presumably healthy going into 2012, look for Foster to remain amongst the top backs taken in all fantasy drafts.
Shady put up incredible numbers in his second year starting for the Eagles. Racking up just short of 275 carries, McCoy nearly kept his yards per carry average on par with his 5.2 YPC from his 2011 campaign. McCoy put up a gaudy 20 total touchdowns this year, the most in Philadelphia Eagles history.
His receiving numbers went down slightly, which may have come from the injury to Michael Vick, but more than made up for it in rushing yards. Only losing three fumbles his entire career, McCoy is as sure as they come with the ball.
With over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and with his ability to breakdown defensive schemes and opponents alike, McCoy will battle Foster for the top spot in fantasy next season.
Rice is as consistent as they come. Averaging over 1,300 yards rushing and 600 receiving the past three years, he is the best dual threat back in the game. The knock on Rice has been that his touchdown totals left something to be desired. With 15 TD's this season, Rice has silenced his critics.
At the start of next season, Rice will only be 25, leaving many productive seasons ahead of him. In 2011, when fed the ball over fifteen times, the Ravens were 11-0. The formula apparently works.
Look for more of the same from Rice next season...1,250 rushing yards, 650 receiving and between 12-14 TD's.
MoJo too, is the face of consistency. Leaving his best work for the latter part of the season, Jones-Drew led the league in rushing, with over 1,600 yards, and had his usual 300+ yards receiving. Returning to his 2009 form, he also accumulated 11 TD's.
MoJo's hands became an issue in 2011, as he fumbled six times, but only losing one. Having a lackluster supporting cast, the numbers Jones-Drew has been able to put up are astounding.
With hopes that the Jaguars improve their supporting cast, it's scary to think what MJD can do in the next couple seasons. Some owners may be wary of his workload over the course of three years, and may be scared to pull the trigger because of his chronic knee problems, but MJD has yet to disappoint.
Forte looked like the Forte of old, on pace to rush for more yards than he did in his rookie campaign of 2008 and eclipsing his receiving totals from last year.
Then he got injured.
Diagnosed with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, Forte played in only 12 games this year. He was the focal point of the Bears offense, touching the ball over 250 times, but with an underwhelming 4 TD's. With the Bears in major need of O-Line help, look for them to sign a serviceable vet or draft a top lineman to give Forte and Co. much needed help.
Known for starting every game since his rookie year, this season put a blemish on his fantasy outlook health-wise. Although his injury was not as major as Peterson and Charles', owners may feel squeamish in drafting him, leaving him a comeback candidate for 2012.
Gore saw a resurgence in 2011, putting up his best rushing numbers since 2006. Gore stayed relatively healthy and sured up his often unsteady hands, only losing 2 fumbles.
Although at times unspectacular, Gore often has stretches where he looks unstoppable, highlighted when he rattled off five straight weeks with 100+ yards rushing or a TD.
The downside to drafting Gore is his health, age and extreme drop in receiving yards and catches. He had been averaging close to 50 catches for his career, only to see that number drop to 17 this year. Health-wise, he has only had one year where he's played in all 16 games. And at the start of the season next year, Gore will be 29, the age where running backs start to show wear on their tires.
Gore is a high-risk, high-reward player going forward.
Turner can put touchdowns and yardage up in bunches...or get stacked fronts and put up goose eggs.
That's what owners come to love and hate about Turner. When Turner put up 100+ yard efforts in 2011, he had only one long rush in each, making his yards per carry average look tremendous.
Having only seven games with a YPC average of 4.0 or higher and knowing that Turner will be 30 at the start of 2012, makes Turner a tricky pick in the first round.
Turner owners though, can rely on him to score at least 10 TD's. Plus, Turner has increased his yardage output receiving over the past two years.
The injury bug has always hit Peterson. Throughout college and his pro career, Peterson has been hampered with injuries...but not of this magnitude.
While the Vikings believe he'll be back "around" the start of the regular season, a torn ACL and MCL are serious and unpredictable injuries. With the actual timetable for his return in question, gauging his overall fantasy value is tough. But with his already impressive profile and NFL career, it is hard to question his numbers.
Peterson has put together five straight seasons of 10+ TD's, while just thirty yards short of putting together five straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards. His fumbling issues of the past have been resolved and has consistently had a strong YPC average.
While owners may have to wait a few weeks before seeing any semblance of production from Peterson, the wait will payoff. If he can be had mid-to-late first round, you have to pull the trigger.
I know it hurts to see for you CJ owners, but Johnson didn't have terrible numbers.
Sure, he didn't get anywhere near the rushing totals of the past few years, but he did eclipse 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth straight season and increased his efforts in the passing game from 2010.
Johnson showed glimpses of his former self throughout the season, but looked like the arrival of Matt Hasselbeck hampered the spacing Johnson needed to perform. Couple that with the lack of workload. Johnson saw 300+ carries the past two seasons, seeing more than fifty less in 2011.
Don't expect CJ to be back to his '2K' self...think more along the lines of 1.2K in 2012.
Charles was considered to be a top five fantasy running back coming into 2011. A torn ACL sidelined Charles for most of the season though.
Chiefs expect Charles to be at full health by the start of training camp, and to resume his duties as the main running back for Kansas City. Charles had over 3,300 yards from scrimmage over the two prior seasons and increased his YPC and receiving yards every year since his rookie campaign.
Looking at those numbers, and knowing that his injury was a freak one, number 10 on this list may be a modest ranking.
Fred Jackson RB Buffalo Bills: Jackson was putting together an incredible season before it was cut short due to injury. On pace to blow away all of his previous highs, Jackson will have another stellar season next year. Just be careful not to draft Jackson too high. His age is advanced for an NFL running back, and doesn't have the best O-line in the world.
Marshawn Lynch RB Seattle Seahawks: Where did this come from? Lynch had his best season, well...ever in 2011. "Beast Mode" looked like a man possessed from Week 9-on, having a TD in all but two games in that span. He's not in the top ten because he's been far too unpredictable throughout his career. If he can repeat what he did in 2011, Lynch owners will be very happy.
Darren McFadden RB Oakland Raiders: Run DMC came out of the gate with guns blazing in 2011. Looking to improve on his impressive numbers from the year before, he had already eclipsed 600 yards rushing through six weeks, though got injured in Week 7 and didn't come back for the rest of the regular season. He is the epitome of a high-risk, high-reward player.