Fantasy Football 2012: Running Back Rankings and Tiers
As offenses in the NFL shift their focuses to the passing game at an increasing rate and teams switch to two-back systems, productive fantasy running backs are becoming more and more difficult to find.
Fantasy leagues tend to require at least two running backs to start per team, and running backs tend to be more consistent than their receiving counterparts.
Consistently good is better than consistently bad, so fantasy teams with productive running backs have a decided advantage over teams without good rushers.
Because of that, I think running back is still the most important position in fantasy football.
It should be treated accordingly.
Here’s what my draft board looks like.
Tier 10: Handcuffs/Bench Options
Any player in this tier has the opportunity to rip off at least a solid game or two if injuries strike the guys ahead of them on the depth chart (or if they heal up from some injuries of their own).
But I doubt they’ll incite confidence as starters in the first month of the fantasy season.
Unless they are drafted as handcuffs, the following guys will likely be selected very late, or will be available on the waiver wire following your draft.
65. Dion Lewis, Philadelphia Eagles
64. Joe McKnight, New York Jets
62. Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
61. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
60. Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
59. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions
58. James Starks, Green Bay Packers
57. Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers
56. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
Tier 9: Depth Options
If one of these running backs is on my team, I’m expecting him to be my No. 5 or No. 6 fantasy running back. Most, if not all, of these rushers should be around in the late rounds of your drafts.
55. Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys
54. Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins
53. Mike Goodson, Oakland Raiders
52. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
51. LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers
50. Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars
49. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
Tier 8: Low Risk, Medium Reward
Each running back listed below should also be found in late rounds of drafts. Each is still a handcuff, on pass-oriented teams (Cedric Benson) or has a younger rusher breathing down his neck (Beanie Wells).
If one of the players on this list is on my team, I’m looking for him to be my No. 5 running back. They should also be available in the late rounds of your drafts.
48. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
47. Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers
46. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
45. Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers
44. Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins
43. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals
42. Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams
41. Phillip Tanner, Dallas Cowboys
Tier 7: Tandem Options, Part 1
Upon drafting the running backs in this group, I would expect for them to be my No. 4 or No. 5 fantasy rushers. They’ll be available in the middle-to-late rounds.
40. Michael Bush, Chicago Bears
39. David Wilson, New York Giants
38. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
37. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
36. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions
35. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
34. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tier 6: Tandem Options, Part 2/Matchup Plays
I like the members of this tandem group a bit more. Shonn Greene qualifies as a tandem rusher as he has a non-zero chance of sharing the backfield with Tim Tebow.
I wouldn’t mind having any of these players as my No. 4 fantasy rusher in leagues that allow only two starters at running back. I’m not interested in starting any of them in the immediate future, however.
The following running backs should be available in the middle rounds.
33. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
32. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs
31. Evan Royster, Washington Redskins
30. Shonn Greene, New York Jets
29. Ben Tate, Houston Texans
Tier 5: Tandem Options, Part 3/Flex Options
The players in this list would be fantastic No. 4 fantasy running backs or decent No. 3 options.
They would be solid bye week plays and if the questions around their backfield situations dissolve, they have the potential to deserve more playing time in your fantasy lineup.
I’m looking for the following players in Rounds 6 or 7.
28. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
27. Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
26. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
25. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
24. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Tier 4: Low-End Starters
The running backs listed below have fewer questions surrounding their roles than most of the preceding players. I would like having them as number three options on my own team, and would look for them starting around Round 5.
23. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
22. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
21. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
20. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Tier 3: No. 2 Options
Any back in this list would be a fine No. 2 fantasy running back for most teams, and will likely be drafted accordingly.
But these are the guys that I would rather have as my No. 3 backs.
The following players should be around in the third or fourth rounds.
19. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
18. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
17. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
16. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
15. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
14. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Tier 2: No. 1 Options
The running backs listed here will most likely be drafted as some team’s fantasy bell cow.
All of them have tremendous upside.
All of them have questions, but any of them could be the top fantasy rusher.
If you miss out on the players in Tier 1, you’ve got to get one or two of these guys. They should be available in Round 2 or 3.
13. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
12. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
11. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
9. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
7. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
Tier 1: Absolute Must Haves
I want two of these running backs.
Even if I have to spend each of my first two picks, I will get two of these running backs.
Even if I had the first two picks of the draft, I will get two of these running backs.
The position is that important.
6. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
5. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Feel free to pick apart my rankings below, and be sure to check out my 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings!