As we inch closer to the Super Bowl, football is still—and will continue to be—at the forefront of our minds for the next few weeks.
While the next fantasy football season seems eons away, let’s stay on that subject and squeeze more juice out of it before we turn our passion toward fantasy baseball.
With that said, let's break down running backs heading into the 2012 season.
As any shrewd fantasy football player knows, you’ll only go as far as your running backs take you. So, what I intend to do in this slide show is dissect the top 12 running backs to target for next year’s draft.
So, without further ado, here are your top 12 running backs entering 2012.
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While only playing in 13 games and getting the majority of reps in just eight contests, DeMarco Murray still showed what kind of bright future he has ahead of him
First order of business for Murray is to prove he is over his fractured right ankle and be ready to go by camp. By all indications, he should be ready come August.
After rushing for 895 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, Murray should have no trouble besting those numbers next year in what should be a breakout year for the second-year running back out of Oklahoma.
There is no denying that carrying the load for the 49ers is taking its toll on Frank Gore.
At 29, Gore is getting up there in age, but he still produces at a high level. This past year, Gore rushed for 1,211 yards while scoring eight touchdowns, all while being hampered by nagging injuries.
It’s reasonable to expect at least one more good year for Gore, as the 49ers are a run-oriented offense. That doesn’t figure to change, so have faith in Gore that he can still run at an elite level.
Okay, I’ll turn a blind eye to the awful 2011 season that we just witnessed and say that with a year off with no truncated preseason and a protracted contract holdout, Chris Johnson will rebound.
Nowhere to go but up, right?
After a miserable (at least by CJ2K standards) 2011 season that saw Johnson rush for just 1,047 yards and score only four touchdowns, expect his numbers to fall somewhere between his glory years and last year.
Prospective owners can get behind that.
Much like Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson has felt the brunt of trying to carry his team’s offense.
But credit Jackson for continuing to shine despite the shoddy support he receives. Jackson was once again solid in 2011, rushing for 1,145 yards while recording five touchdowns. Jackson also posted 322 yards receiving and a touchdown.
As long as he is healthy and receiving the majority of the workload, you should expect a similar stat line from Jackson next year.
After an up-and-down rookie season and struggling for stretches in his sophomore campaign, Ryan Mathews ended the season on fire and should be ready to take off in 2012.
Mathews ended his season rushing for 1,091 yards and scoring six touchdowns. Mathews also had 50 receptions for 455 yards.
It appears Mathews is ready to put it all together next year. While Mike Tolbert still has a place with the Chargers and could vulture some TDs away from Mathews, Mathews should still put up beastly numbers and be the main weapon in the Chargers’ rushing attack.
While many of his contemporaries will have a long road to get back to full heath (see Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, etc.), Matt Forte has a good chance of starting training camp in the best shape after suffering a knee injury late in the season.
Forte should be raring to go come the start of the 2012 season, after rushing for 997 yards and scoring three touchdowns in only 12 games. For good measure, Forte also recorded 52 receptions for 490 yards and another score last season.
Plan on drafting the multi-dimensional Forte at the end or Round 1 or at the beginning of Round 2.
If you want dependable and reliable, then look no further than Michael Turner.
Year in and year out, all Turner does is churn out productive numbers, and 2011 was no different. This past season, Turner rushed for 1,340 yards (good for third in the league) to go with 11 touchdowns.
The only concern is that Turner is about to turn 30, but after sitting for many years behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner should have enough gas for another couple of good seasons.
Sure, you have your doubts about Marshawn Lynch replicating his stellar 2011 campaign in 2012, but what he did this season should not be ignored.
That’s because Lynch rushed for an eye-opening 1,204 rushing yards while scoring 12 touchdowns (including a stretch where he scored in 11 straight games).
With Lynch reviving his career in Seattle, expect him to keep trying to prove doubters wrong and have a strong encore.
Regardless of how awful the Jaguars offense is, MJD always remains the one constant in an otherwise bleak setting.
Jones-Drew was at it once again in 2011, rushing for 1,606 yards and scoring a respectable eight touchdowns. Jones-Drew also added 43 receptions for 374 yards receiving and three more touchdowns.
While Blaine Gabbert will go through his ups and downs at quarterback, MJD will always be there for the Jags.
When you strictly factor in yards from scrimmage, there is no one better than Ray Rice.
Rice is arguably the game’s best dual-purpose running back. In 2011, Rice ran for 1,364 yards and scored 12 touchdowns while also racking up 704 receiving yards and another three touchdowns.
Rice is the Ravens’ offense, and that won’t change. Plan to draft Rice within the first few picks of next year's drafts.
Although his "Dream Team" teammates didn’t live up to their end of the bargain, all LeSean McCoy did was go out and produce.
When you rush for 1,309 yards and score 17 touchdowns while adding 48 receptions for 315 receiving yards and an additional three scores, you are doing something right.
Sorry to go cliché, but the sky remains the limit for McCoy.
After battling injuries early in the season, Arian Foster went out with a bang in the playoffs and should be at the top of everyone’s radar next year.
Foster rushed for 285 yards while scoring three touchdowns in his two playoff games. Those efforts came after he rushed for 1,224 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns in the regular season.
It appears Foster is ready to keep rolling, and at age 25, he is at his peak.