2012 Fantasy Football: Early Top 50 Running Back Rankings

Kevin Hanson@EDSFootballAnalyst IIIApril 8, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 1: Maurice Jones-Drew #32 of the Jacksonville Jaguars breaks free on a 56-yard run against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on January 1, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 19-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Jaguars had the league's worst-ranked offense, which makes what running back Maurice Jones-Drew did all the more impressive.

Jacksonville averaged only 259.3 yards per game of total offense, but that was primarily due to their deficiencies in the passing game. The Jaguars averaged only 136.2 passing yards per game in 2011.

Despite having to face many eight-man fronts, Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards. And perhaps more impressively, he became the first running back in league history to rush for at least 80 yards in 15 of 16 games.

Along with Atlanta's Michael Turner, MJD was one of only two running backs to go over 300 carries. "Pocket Hercules" had a league-high 343 carries, which is the fourth most over the past five seasons.

Here are some more notes on running backs:


Ray Rice

Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was designated with the franchise tag this offseason, set career highs in rushing yards (1,364) and receiving yards (704). He also scored a total of 15 touchdowns, which shatters his previous career high of eight.

Rice has three straight seasons with 1,200-plus rushing yards and 500-plus receiving yards and 60-plus receptions.


Willis McGahee

The Broncos running back, who turned 30 in October, was one yard shy of 1,200 yards for the third time in his career and the first time since 2007. That said, he had a career low in rushing touchdowns (four) last year.


Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks for four years, finished the season with 1,204 rushing yards and 212 receiving yards with 13 total touchdowns last year.

He was particularly tough from Week 9 on, rushing for 100-plus yards six times in his final nine games, including against the 49ers, the league's top-ranked run defense.


Matt Forte

In the 11 games he finished, Bears running back Matt Forte was an absolute stud. During those 11 games, he had 985 rushing yards and 490 receiving yards on 52 receptions and he was on pace for 2,145 yards from scrimmage for the season.

Like Rice, however, Forte is not thrilled about being designated with the franchise tag. In fact, he felt "disrespected" by the fact that the Bears signed free-agent running back Michael Bush to a four-year deal.

Although it's a great (real) football move, Bush signing with the Bears diminishes both backs' fantasy value.


Arian Foster

Despite missing three games, Houston's Arian Foster carried the ball 278 times for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns and had 53 receptions for 617 yards. Counting the postseason, Foster had nine 100-yard rushing games and three 100-yard receiving games in 15 total games last year.

Through last year's postseason, Foster has 656 carries for 3,125 yards and 29 touchdowns plus 127 receptions for 1,272 yards and four touchdowns in 31 games over the past two seasons.

Foster's teammate Ben Tate finished with 942 rushing yards and 98 receiving yards. Tate rushed for 100-plus yards four times last year.


LeSean McCoy

Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, the Eagles' second-round pick in 2009, set career highs in carries (273), rushing yards (1,309) and rushing touchdowns (17).

McCoy sat out Week 17, but he scored at least one touchdown in every game he played except for Weeks 11 and 16.


Reggie Bush

Reggie Bush nearly doubled his previous career high with 1,086 rushing yards on 216 carries. Like McCoy, Bush sat out Week 17 for the Dolphins. Before that, Bush had rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games; no running back had more rushing yards than Bush (519) during that four-game span.


DeMarco Murray

From Weeks 7 to 12, no running back had more rushing yards than Cowboys rookie DeMarco Murray (761). (Note: Rams running back Steven Jackson (593) had the second most during that span.)

Going into the 2012 season as the unquestioned feature back, Murray will be one of the top 10 to 12 backs off the board in 2012.


Injury Liabilities

Three elite running backs are coming off torn ACLs: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles and Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall. Of the three, Charles' injury happened the earliest (Week 2), which gives him the best chance to be ready for opening day.

Meanwhile, Peterson is already running. Coach Leslie Frazier said, "Our trainer, Eric Sugarman, was really impressed with his movement and the things he was able to do. He's on schedule. He's doing well."


Shonn Greene

Jets running back Shonn Greene set career highs across the board: carries (253), rushing yards (1,054) and touchdowns (six) in addition to receptions (30) and receiving yards (211).

That said, Greene was mostly mediocre aside from a two-game span in Weeks 13 and 14: 46 carries for 217 yards and four TDs plus six receptions for 84 yards.


Chris Johnson

Speaking of mediocre, Titans running back Chris Johnson had a lackluster season with the exception of a four-game span. Johnson rushed for a total of 486 yards and had three of his four 100-yard games of the season during that stretch.

In the other 12 games, however, Johnson had 177 carries for 561 yards (3.17 yards per carry) and one rushing touchdown.


Washington Redskins Backs

In the final six games of the season, the Redskins had five 100-yard rushing games by rookie running backs. Roy Helu, their fourth-round pick, had three of them and Evan Royster, a sixth-round pick, had two of them.


BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Only four players had more rushing touchdowns than BenJarvus Green-Ellis (11), who signed with the Bengals earlier this offseason. Of the players with double-digit rushing touchdowns, "The Law Firm" had the fewest rushing yards (667), by far.

In 510 career regular-season carries, Green-Ellis has yet to fumble.


Based on standard scoring (i.e., not point-per-reception (PPR) scoring), here are our 2012 fantasy football running backs rankings:

1. Ray Rice, Ravens
2. Arian Foster, Texans
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
5. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
6. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
7. Darren McFadden, Raiders
8. Chris Johnson, Titans
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
10. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
11. Matt Forte, Bears
12. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
13. Steven Jackson, Rams
14. Michael Turner, Falcons
15. Fred Jackson, Bills
16. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
17. Frank Gore, 49ers
18. Darren Sproles, Saints
19. Reggie Bush, Dolphins
20. Roy Helu, Redskins
21. Shonn Greene, Jets
22. Willis McGahee, Broncos
23. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
24. C.J. Spiller, Bills
25. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals
26. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
27. Isaac Redman, Steelers
28. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
29. Mark Ingram, Saints
30. Michael Bush, Bears
31. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
32. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
33. Ben Tate, Texans
34. Montario Hardesty, Browns
35. Peyton Hillis, Chiefs
36. James Starks, Packers
37. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
38. Jahvid Best, Lions
39. Brandon Jacobs, 49ers
40. Pierre Thomas, Saints
41. Mikel LeShoure, Lions
42. Toby Gerhart, Vikings
43. Donald Brown, Colts
44. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
45. Ryan Williams, Cardinals
46. Bernard Scott, Bengals
47. Evan Royster, Redskins
48. Shane Vereen, Patriots
49. Kevin Smith, Lions
50. Felix Jones, Cowboys
51. Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons

Note: We excluded rookies from our rankings, but we will include them after the 2012 NFL Draft in April.

More 2012 Rankings: QBs - WRs - TEs

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