NFL Predictions: Running Backs Who Will Break the 1,000-Yard Mark in 2012
Based on recent history, predicting the amount of 1,000-yard rushers the NFL will see in 2012 shouldn't be too difficult.
It's determining the names making up that list which serves as a much more daunting task.
Dating back to 2007, the amount of 1,000-yard backs from year to year has varied ever so slightly—with no less than 15 and no more than 17 breaking the mark.
There are, of course, the no-brainers. Steven Jackson has reached the milestone for seven straight seasons. Chris Johnson is four-for-four for (confusing?) his career and Adrian Peterson likely would've extended his streak of perfection (four straight from 2007-2010) if he hadn't suffered a devastating knee injury with four games remaining in the 2011 season.
Aside from these elite backs (and a couple others), however, the 1,000-yard rushing club typically experiences a fair amount of turnover from year to year.
In 2011, only eight of the 15 1,000-yard rushers accomplished the feat in 2010 as well. Oddly enough, seven of 2009's 15 1,000-yard rushers failed to repeat in 2010.
So, which running backs can we expect to eclipse the mark in 2012?
After examining all 32 franchises and their respective stables of ball-carriers, I've assembled a list of 16 whom I believe will rush for 1,000 yards or more in the upcoming season.
Injuries will unfortunately derail the seasons of multiple running backs who are capable of producing 1,000-yard seasons in 2012—it happens every year. This list includes talented RBs who do not often make it through the rigors of a 16-game NFL season, because, for now, that's the only amount of games we can project them to play in.
The list is in order based on how many yards I've projected each running back to gain in 2012, which has been included in each slide.
16. Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
260 Att, 1,145 Yds, 4.4 Avg, 5 TD (15 games)
245 Att, 1,065 Yds, 4.3 Avg, 8 TD
Jackson is reaching Emmitt Smith (11) and Barry Sanders (10) territory in terms of consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The 29-year-old battled through an atrocious overall performance by the Rams' offense in 2011, but will find himself surrounded by a bevy of new, talented faces heading into a brand new season.
That said, rookie RB Isaiah Pead stands as arguably the first backup worthy of stealing reps from Jackson since Marshall Faulk decided to hang up the cleats.
Faulk's final 1,000-yard performance (he had seven) came in his eighth NFL season, and Jackson is entering his ninth. Faulk had 2,155 total carries after eight years, and Jackson currently sits at 2,089.
He'll break the 1,000-yard mark once more in 2012, but there's a good chance it's the last time he does.
15. Shonn Greene (New York Jets)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
253 Att, 1,054 Yds, 4.2 Avg, 6 TD (16 games)
264 Att, 1,091 Yds, 4.1 Avg, 8 TD
With no other proven options left on the depth chart, Rex Ryan and the Jets will lean on Greene heavily in 2012. The former Iowa Hawkeye was given a career-high 253 carries a year ago, and responded with the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Personally, I'm not expecting great things from Greene or the Jets offense in general this fall. That said, a clock-controlling style of play will likely have the fourth-year back in the running for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season by default, if nothing else.
14. DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
164 Att, 897 Yds, 5.5 Avg, 2 TD (13 games)
252 Att, 1,165 Yds, 4.6 Avg, 6 TD
Murray only reached the end zone twice in 2011, but the 1,000-yard club isn't concerned. Any ball-carrier who averages 5.5 yards per carry in his rookie campaign is a prime candidate to become a member in his sophomore season.
Murray's breakout performance—highlighted by a 253-yard game in Week 7 against the Rams—a year ago thrust him to the top of the Cowboys' stable of backs and it's now his job to lose.
The 24-year-old piled up 824 of his 897 rushing yards in 2011 from Week 7 to Week 14, an eight-game span. For those who don't care to do the math, that's 1,648 yards over a 16-game season.
Expect a slight regression in yards per carry for Murray in 2012, who is no longer a secret in the Cowboys' backfield.
The schedule is stacked with opposing defenses who are stout against the run game as well, but the explosive Oklahoma product will still inflict his share of damage in 2012.
13. Fred Jackson (Buffalo Bills)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
170 Att, 934 Yards, 5.5 Avg, 6 TD (10 games)
241 Att, 1,214 Yds, 5.0 Avg, 11 TD
The 31-year-old was a serious threat to claim the rushing title before suffering a broken fibula in Week 11. To that point, Jackson had ran for at least 100 yards in six of the Bills' previous 10 games and was averaging 93.4 yards per contest (1,494 yards over 16 games).
Backs typically suffer a serious decline in production once they reach Jackson's age, but he didn't play a down in the NFL before turning 26 and doesn't have the wear and tear of most backs who are playing on the wrong side of the 30-year mark.
Jackson is back to full health, and the Bills are a young, talented squad looking to establish themselves in the upper echelon of NFL teams.
Third-year speedster C.J. Spiller showed promise after Jackson's injury and figures to earn a portion of the workload moving forward, but expect Jackson to return to form and join the 1,000-yard club once again.
12. Trent Richardson (Cleveland Browns)
Al Bello/Getty Images
Did Not Play (Rookie)
305 Att, 1,234 Yds, 4.0 Avg, 9 TD
Peterson (2007), Johnson (2008), Steve Slaton (2008) and Legarrette Blount (2010) are the only rookie RB's to have surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in their rookie seasons from 2007 until now.
Can the third-overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft become the next?
Richardson is arguably the most talented ball-carrier coming out of college in some time, possessing an extremely rare blend of size, speed and vision. The Browns lack of a passing game will likely force the coaching staff to put their new workhorse to the test early and often this fall.
Richardson recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, something that may cause him to start slow in 2012.
But he's expected to be game-ready as the season kicks off, and Cleveland will need to ride Richardson and their young, talented defense hard if they expect to maneuver through a tough division en route to a long-awaited playoff appearance.
11. Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
262 Att, 1,047 Yds, 4.0 Avg, 4 TD (16 games)
284 Att, 1253 Yards, 4.4 Avg, 10 TD
2011 was a terribly unproductive season for CJ2K's standards, despite racking up a career-high 53 receptions in the passing game.
You can say it was the holdout that affected his overall play a year ago, but either way, something wasn't right.
In my opinion, the problem was a lack of carries. Johnson averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the five contests he received 20 or more carries, going for at least 130 yards rushing in four of them.
Johnson is a full participant at Titans' camp this time around, and he's working hard to turn his fortunes around.
Provided he gets an adequate amount of carries, you'll likely see the Chris Johnson of old return in 2012.
10. Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
282 Att, 1,211 Yds, 4.3 Avg, 8 TD (16 games)
257 Att, 1,274 Yds, 4.9 Avg, 10 TD
Jacobs and James—as well as Kendall Hunter—will get their touches, but this is still No. 21's backfield.
Playoffs included, the 49ers all-time leading rusher carried the ball 311 times last year, despite being rested often late in the season to keep him fresh for a playoff run.
Don't get me wrong, I understand running backs typically drop off once they approach the 30-year-old marker, and the 29-year-old Gore's football history is littered with injuries.
As for the stable of running backs, it's as talented a group as the 49ers have seen in a long time—perhaps ever.
But the rest of the offense looks much improved as well, and when at full health, Gore remains one of the top RBs the NFL has to offer. His vision, patience and one-cut ability haven't regressed, and until they show signs of deteriorating, "Frank the Tank" will continue to rack up rushing yards in the Golden City.
9. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
203 Att, 997 Yds, 4.9 Avg, 3 TD (12 games)
280 Att, 1,281 Yds, 4.6 Avg, 8 TD
With the talented backup and former Oakland Raider Michael Bush now in town, the Bears won't need to rely on Forte as the main source of their rushing production.
Like a lot of running backs, however, the fifth-year pro has proven he's most effective when receiving the bulk of the load each game.
The Tulane product was on pace for a 1,300+ rushing season if a sprained MCL hadn't ended his season prematurely.
Now at full health, there's no reason to believe Forte won't thrive in a potent offense that not only added Bush, but Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall as well.
8. Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
113 Att, 614 Yds, 5.4 Avg, 4 TD (7 games)
274 Att, 1,304 Yds, 4.8 Avg, 9 TD
An absolutely undeniable talent, McFadden's biggest issue thus far into his young career has been staying on the field.
With Bush now playing in Chicago, the importance of the former Arkansas' superstar remaining in the lineup increases even more.
In 2010, McFadden turned in a 1,157-yard performance on 223 carries. If he plays a 16-game season in 2012, he could see anywhere from 275 to 300 carries out of the Raiders' backfield.
That many carries for a back this explosive could be just what Oakland needs to drown out the Peyton Manning hype and capture an AFC West title this season.
7. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
12 Att, 82 Yds, 6.9 Avg, 0 TD (2 games)
235 Att, 1,331 Yds, 5.7 Avg, 6 TD
Charles posted an unheard of yards-per-carry of 6.4 in 2010, ranking second in the NFL with 1,467 rushing yards despite toting the rock just 230 times.
Ready to build on that amazing performance, the former Texas Longhorn tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2011 season and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve.
Now healthy, will Charles return to form in 2012?
Kansas City brought in power-back Peyton Hillis to complement Charles' blazing speed, a combination that could wreak havoc on opposing defenses if both can stay healthy.
I don't expect much rust from Chiefs' speedy tailback, and have trouble believing he won't rejoin the ranks of the NFL's top rushers in 2012.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
343 Att, 1,606 Yds, 4.7 Avg, 8 TD (16 games)
286 Att, 1,333 Yds, 4.7 Avg, 9 TD
The reigning NFL rushing champ is in the midst of a training camp holdout, but that's not entirely why I'm forecasting a considerable regression in 2012.
2011 was an amazing season for MJD, who put forth a career-best campaign despite playing for an offense that lacked even a single serviceable weapon outside of its superstar.
You'd better believe he deserves a new contract, though he seemingly won't be receiving one anytime soon.
It's hard to believe the undersized back with an oversized passion for the game would sit out a season in search for more money, but neither side seems to be giving in.
Even with the top receiver in the 2012 draft, Justin Blackmon, now on board, Jones-Drew remains the engine of the Jaguars' offense, and it just can't run without him.
Assuming he finds his way onto the field in 2012, it'll be another productive year for Jones-Drew. As productive as 2011? Not likely. But solid enough to remain among the NFL's best?
5. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
208 Att, 970 Yds, 4.7 Avg, 12 TD (12 games)
291 Att, 1,398 Yds, 4.8 Avg, 11 TD
Peterson's grueling recovery from MCL and ACL injuries have him on pace for a projected return at or around Week 1, so he may be a little slow coming out of the gate.
Nonetheless, it isn't going to take the four-time 1,000-yard rusher long to get back into the swing of things.
Peterson has been rehabbing his knee like it's nobody's business and said he felt like "a kid in a candy store" at his first practice back from injury.
Per NFL blogger Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports:
I was like a kid in a candy store today. When I came out here and they threw me in with the first group. I was smiling. I had to try to calm myself down. I was going a little too fast for a walkthrough in the beginning. For me, this is so satisfying. I had a lot of people doubting me and saying this and saying that. But I kept my faith and kept working hard. Now, I'm back in the mix.
He hasn't even put the pads on yet.
When healthy, we all know what AP is capable of. Entering his sixth NFL season, there's no reason to believe he's going to stop now.
4. Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
301 Att, 1,340 Yds, 4.5 Avg, 11 TD (16 games)
312 Att, 1,427 Yards, 4.6 Avg, 13 TD
Atlanta's regular season schedule is absent of run-stopping defenses, and Turner is going to take full advantage of it.
With wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones in addition to tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons have plenty of reasons to operate their offense through the air. But pounding the rock with their franchise running back will still be a staple of this unit.
Aside from an injury-plagued 2009 season, Turner has consistently proven he can efficiently operate as a 300-carry per year option out of the Falcons' backfield.
Turner doesn't do much damage as a pass-catcher, so the majority of his touches always come via the run game, making him a near sure shot to post top-five numbers once again.
3. Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
291 Att, 1,364 Yds, 4.7 Avg, 12 TD (16 games)
314 Att, 1,453 Yds, 4.6 Avg, 14 TD
Despite a 5'8", 212-pound frame, Rice—like Jones-Drew—is as good as it gets in terms of a durable, sure-handed, dual-threat RB who can garner 350+ touches a season without breaking down.
A rare breed, indeed.
Rice's yardage and touchdown totals from 2011 were career highs, but I don't believe he's reached his ceiling just yet.
Now equipped with long-term security, the 25-year-old is going to make easy work of a tough schedule and break personal records once again.
Realizing that the Ravens were 11-0 in 2011 when Rice carried the ball at least 18 times (1-4 when he didn't), head coach John Harbaugh should make sure the former Rutgers Scarlet Knight eclipses the 300-carry mark in 2012.
2. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
273 Att, 1,309 Yds, 4.8 Avg, 17 TD (15 games)
298 Att, 1,525 Yds, 5.1 Avg, 15 TD
McCoy was targeted 21 less times in the passing game a year ago than he was in 2010, but carried the ball an extra 67 times.
The 24-year-old responded with a marvelous effort from the ground, piling up 17 touchdowns in an offense that didn't even fully reach its potential in 2011.
I expect McCoy, who has developed into one of the league's elite ball-carriers, to garner even more carries in 2012. If the Eagles are running on all cylinders the entire year, football fans in Philadelphia may want to prepare for a season of epic proportions from the Pennsylvania native.
1. Arian Foster (Houston Texans)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
278 Att, 1,224 Yds, 4.4 Avg, 10 TD (13 games)
324 Att, 1,649 Yds, 5.1 Avg, 19 TD
The rushing king from two seasons ago sat out three games in 2011, and still ran for over 1,200 yards.
You haven't seen anything yet.
It should baffle anyone that the former Tennessee Volunteer went undrafted in 2009, because he's arguably the best ball-carrier the NFL currently has to offer.
At just 25 years of age, we'll be seeing Foster run wild for another couple of years, too.
Houston has a backup RB in Ben Tate who is capable of a 1,000-yard season himself (ran for 942 in 2011), even if Foster plays all 16 games. How? Because the Texans' running game is as dominant as they come.
Despite Tate's presence, however, the 6'1", 229-pound Foster is on the cusp of a career year in 2012, one even more remarkable than his 1,616-yard season in 2010.
Of course, that's just one man's opinion on the matter.
2011 1,000-Yard Rushers Who Missed the Cut
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Ryan Mathews (San Diego Chargers)
Mathews would've been a no-doubter on this list if not for a broken clavicle suffered on his first carry of the Chargers' opening preseason game of 2012. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks, but I'm not so optimistic of a quick return.
Willis McGahee (Denver Broncos)
It's the Peyton Manning show in Denver now, and I do not foresee the 30-year-old McGahee returning to 2011 form for another year. The Broncos ran the ball 117 times more than they passed a year ago. Do not expect anything close to a repeat in 2012.
Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks)
There's a huge question mark surrounding Lynch's status to open the 2012 season as a result of a DUI charge earlier this year.
If beast mode is put on hold, there will likely be no repeat this year. The Seahawks drafted a potential steal in Utah State's Robert Turbin, a back who runs with a similar style.
Even if Lynch isn't suspended, I think the talented young Turbin will warrant enough carries as the season wears on to keep his skittles-craving teammate from reaching the 1,000-yard mark in 2012.
Bush rushing for 1,000 yards? Don't expect that again.
Beanie Wells (Arizona Cardinals)
Former second-round pick Ryan Williams enters the picture in 2012, and will keep Wells from a 1,000-yard club repeat.
Cedric Benson (Green Bay Packers)
Benson finally found a team to play for in 2012, and its not outlandish to think he can get a substantial amount of carries in Green Bay. Enough to reach 1,000 yards for a fourth consecutive season?
I'm not predicting it.
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