With the NFL draft behind us, we continue to update our 2012 fantasy football rankings with running backs next up. Although this is our third update of the offseason, it's our first update that includes rookies.
Cleveland's Trent Richardson is clearly the top rookie running back in this year's draft class for both re-draft and dynasty formats. Many of the backs in the next tier of running backs landed in spots where they could end up splitting carries with another featured back, which makes them better options in dynasty formats.
Based on standard scoring (i.e., not point-per-reception (PPR) scoring), here are our 2012 fantasy football running backs rankings:
1. Arian Foster, Texans
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. While Ben Tate is more than a capable backup, the Texans love to give Foster a workhorse's workload.
2. Ray Rice, Ravens
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) plus he scored a total of 15 touchdowns, which shattered 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.
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
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.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Despite having to face many eight-men 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.
5. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews, a top-12 pick by the Chargers in 2010, racked up more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage—1,091 rushing yards and 455 receiving yards on 50 receptions—despite missing two games last season.
With the departure of Mike Tolbert, who rushed for 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons, Mathews could truly break out if (albeit a big if) he can stay healthy for a full season. In addition, Mathews and the Chargers running backs have a favorable schedule from a fantasy perspective.
6. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed with the 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.
He rushed for 100-plus yards six times in his final nine games including against the 49ers—the league's top-ranked run defense. Can he duplicate last year's success, especially after getting a big contract?
7. Chris Johnson, Titans
Titans running back Chris Johnson had a lackluster season with the exception of a four-game span (Weeks 9 to 12). 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.
Based on pure talent, McFadden could be a top-five pick overall in any fantasy draft. Add in his injury risk and you're playing with fire. In his four seasons in Oakland, McFadden has played a total of 45 games including only seven last year and has missed at least three games every year he's been a pro.
Over his 20 games in the past two seasons, however, McFadden has averaged 121.6 yards from scrimmage (YFS) per game. Over a full 16-game season, that would be 1,945 YFS. Feeling lucky?
Peterson, who recently ran for the media in Minnesota, expects to play in Week 1. Considering Peterson will only be around nine months removed from his ACL injury at the start of the season, there is no guarantee that he will be ready Week 1; it might take a year before he regains his pre-injury explosiveness.
When healthy, however, Peterson is one of the best two or three backs in the league, and he has been a touchdown-scoring machine—64 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns in 73 career games.
10. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
From Weeks 7 to 12, no running back had more rushing yards than Cowboys rookie DeMarco Murray (761). (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/should be one of the top 10 or 12 backs off the board.
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.
12. Trent Richardson, Browns
There's plenty to like about Richardson, who is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Not only does Richardson have freakish strength, he has good speed for his size, soft hands and he goes into a situation where he will have the opportunity to be an every-down back.
On the flip side, Richardson will likely face many eight-men fronts with the lack of perimeter weapons in the offense, and he'll have to face the stout AFC North run defenses six times per year.
If interested, check out our way-too-early 2013 NFL mock draft.
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