In today's era of pass-happy offenses and running backs by committee, running backs may not be the mortal locks to dominate the first round of fantasy drafts that they once were. However, having a solid stable of ballcarriers is still an essential part of building a fantasy football team.
The top overall pick in the majority of fantasy leagues this summer will likely be Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who gained over 2,000 total yards last year en route to being fantasy football's top performer at the position in 2011.
Rice also chipped in 76 receptions, giving the fifth-year pro added value in leagues that award points for receptions. With no missed games over the past three seasons, Rice's durability is enough to bump him past Arian Foster of the Houston Texans and to the top of the fantasy heap among running backs.
Meanwhile, the first rookie running back selected in fantasy drafts this year will undoubtedly be Trent Richardson, who was selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns in last month's NFL draft. After gaining over 2,000 total yards as a junior, the former Alabama star will immediately garner lead back status in Cleveland.
With precious little competition for carries, Richardson should at the very least possess higher end fantasy RB2 value and is worth consideration as a second-round pick in 12-team leagues.
Fantasy owners looking for a "sleeper" back may want to cast their glances toward the Steel City, as Isaac Redman of the Pittsburgh Steelers could be poised for a breakout 2012 campaign.
The torn ACL suffered by Rashard Mendenhall late last season leaves his availability for the beginning of the upcoming campaign in doubt. As Redman showed with his 17 carries for 121 yards in relief of Mendenhall in last year's playoff loss, he is capable of being productive when afforded the opportunity.
Turner was fantasy football's eighth-ranked running back, gaining over 1,300 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in 2011. Turner turned 30 in February, has racked up over 300 carries in three of the past four seasons and rushed for over 100 yards only twice after the Falcons' Week 8 bye last year.
Age and wear and tear are becoming real concerns for the ninth-year bruiser.
Here's an early look at the Top 20 running backs for the 2012 season, in point-per-reception (PPR) fantasy football leagues.
1. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
9. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
10. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
11. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
12. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
13. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (R)
14. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
15. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
17. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
18. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
20. Chris Wells, Arizona Cardinals