Sometimes winning fantasy football leagues is all about drafting running backs who become success stories. And sometimes it is about avoiding running backs who epically fail.
Even though 2011 was definitely the year of the fantasy quarterback, with Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford and other throwers not named Curtis Painter putting up unbelievable numbers, running backs will be hot commodities in 2012.
Running backs are not as consistent as they once were. With the advent of more two-back, split-the-carries systems, not to mention injuries and free agency, it is harder than ever to predict which RB will prosper from year to year.
There are four running backs on my radar, though, and they are not blipping on my screen because I think they are primed for Pro Bowl seasons. This foursome is going to endure some fantasy turbulence next year.
So here are four running backs whose fantasy stock will fall in 2012:
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
See what can happen when Bush actually finds the field for 15 games? He did so last season for the first time since his rookie campaign back in 2006, and blessed the fantasy owners who were lucky enough to draft him with 1,086 yards—probably 500 more than anyone projected for him.
Bush prospered as the feature back in a run-first offense with one of the best blocking lines in the NFL. All this time the experts got it wrong. They thought Bush would be better off on artificial turf in a high-flying offense where he could be used on screen passes and toss sweeps as a part-time player. The exact opposite turned out to be true.
But Miami drafted Daniel Thomas last year for a reason. He is not just an insurance policy for when Bush sprains a knee or tears a toenail. He is supposed to be the thunder to Bush’s lightning; the straight-ahead runner who can barrel forward for hard yards inside since Bush is better outside.
And in case Thomas does not pan out in his sophomore season, since his rookie year left a little to be desired, Miami doubled down and signed the Canadian Football League’s leading rusher, Jerome Messam, who is Brandon Jacobs-like at 6'3" and 245 pounds.
Would you bet your mortgage, your car or your 401K on Bush staying injury-free two straight seasons? If you would, then I have some wonderful real estate in Afghanistan you should buy. Bush is due to get hurt or due to lose more carries to the Thomas-Messam two-headed monster.
Cedric Benson, Free Agent
It is about time Cincinnati realizes that Benson, while a solid runner who can always find four yards between the tackles, is nothing more than an average tailback and should not be the full-time workhorse he has been.
Benson rushed for over 1,000 yards for the third season in a row in 2011. Hey, that is nice and all, but delve deeper into the numbers. He has never scored more than eight touchdowns in a season, and has never had 200 receiving yards in a season, either. He has averaged below four yards per carry for his career. Benson is the poor man’s Ottis Anderson—and the dude fumbles too much, too.
This does not even take into account Benson’s colorful off-the-field history. He has been in court and jail more often than Lindsay Lohan. He was arrested in 2008, 2010 and 2011, so who knows what he will do for an encore in 2012? Imagine the ratings gold if Benson ended up on Judge Judy?
Benson might be durable on the field, but he is not reliable away from it. It is about time Cincy notices they need a dynamic running back to compliment quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. Benson should get 10-to-12 carries per game for another team, not 15-to-20 with Cincy. I predict this is the year the Bengals finally come around to that.
Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals
Wells has had more knee surgeries than Katy Perry has had No. 1 hits. This ranks him right up there with Bush as one of the biggest injury risks at the running back position.
Yet Wells is coming off the best year of his short career as he set personal pro bests with 245 carries for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns, even though he missed two full games and parts of others thanks to his cranky knee.
But Wells only had two 100-yard games last season, with one being for 228 yards against the St. Louis Rams and the other a 138-yard, three-TD outburst versus the New York Giants before they started playing defense. Take those two games out of the equation and Wells’ stats were pedestrian—681 rushing yards and a half-dozen touchdowns in a dozen games.
I have knocked Wells in past columns. I would trust Cris Carter to get me into the Hall of Fame more than I would trust Wells to get me 1,000 yards.
Let’s be honest, Arizona was trying to get Wells out of the way last year when they drafted Ryan Williams in the second round of the draft. If Williams did not tear up his knee in the preseason, Wells may have never sniffed 1,000 yards.
The Cardinals would be foolish not to acquire another starter-type RB to share carries with Wells considering Wells’ checkered medical history. If you are a gambler and want to risk a semi-high fantasy draft pick on Wells, feel free. Just be prepared to name your team the Arthroscopic Surgeries.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Free Agent
Great name, great fantasy stats the past two seasons. "The Law Firm" rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns over the past pair of years, and was the main man whenever New England decided once out of every five plays to run the ball to keep defenses honest and give Tom Brady’s shoulder a break.
But Green-Ellis is a plodder. He is not blessed with sprinter speed or superhuman strength. He is an overachiever with a tremendous touchdown drive. He reminds me of Antowain Smith, a Pats tailback from yesteryear who shared a lot of similar traits. Both fall into the "good, but not great—solid, but not spectacular" category.
The Patriots have been angling to get more speed in the backfield. Drafting Stevan Ridley last April was the precursor. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and had New England’s only five runs over 20 yards last season. And with extra draft choices at their disposal, do not be shocked if the Patriots draft another talented runner with big-play ability in the early rounds this year.
Green-Ellis has been a wonderful story and could stick as the short-yardage/goal-line guy next season with the Pats if he is re-signed—but the chances he will be the No. 1 RB are 50-50 at best.