1. Arian Foster
Last season, Ray Rice had 1,364 yards rushing, 704 yards receiving, and 15 total touchdowns. Arian Foster, on the other hand, has 1,224 yards rushing, 617 yards receiving, and 12 total touchdowns. The difference is Foster did that in only 13 games. He was on pace to have a better fantasy season than Rice. While that alone doesn’t necessarily convince me that Foster should be the number one ranked fantasy running back, Foster’s 2010 season does. Foster had 12 more total touchdowns and over 550 more total yards than Rice did in 2010, a season in which both players played all 16 games. The other reason I like Foster over Rice is that defenses will focus more on stopping Rice than stopping Foster because the Texans have a stronger passing game than the Ravens.
2. Ray Rice
I came very close to putting Ray Rice number one. I expect a huge season out of him, but Foster has been the more productive fantasy running back over the last two seasons. You really can’t go wrong with either of these players however.
3. LeSean McCoy
If LeSean McCoy took a dip in fantasy points this year, I can’t really say I’d be all that surprised. McCoy had 20 total touchdowns last season. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to repeat that kind of performance this season. McCoy was an unbelievably good fantasy running back in 2011, but touchdowns come and go, which is why I think Foster and Rice are more sure bets this year.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew
According to the latest news on Maurice Jones-Drew, his holdout is now officially over and he will be ready to play in the Jaguars season opener. MJD has 954 carries over the last three seasons, the most of any running back. While I still think he’s got at least two or three very good seasons left in him, the fact that the Jaguars have essentially run him into the ground is concerning.
5. Adrian Peterson
If there’s one running back that I think is being underrated by the fantasy experts this season, it’s Adrian Peterson. If he can stay healthy, I expect Peterson to be a top-three fantasy running back. His status for the Vikings season opener still remains up in the air, but I think he’ll play with a chip on his shoulder.
6. Chris Johnson
For all the all talk of Chris Johnson’s “disastrous” 2011 season, it really wasn’t all that bad from a fantasy perspective. Inconsistency plagued him, and he only averaged 4.0 yards per carry, but he still had a solid fantasy season. Johnson may never have another season like he did in 2009, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s no longer a premier fantasy running back.
7. Jamaal Charles
When Jamaal Charles went down for the season in week one last year, so did the Chiefs. Charles is the Chiefs offense. Don’t let the arrival of Peyton Hillis scare you, Charles should be one of the league leaders in carries.
8. Matt Forte
Matt Forte’s most attractive fantasy quality is definitely his receiving ability. Now that Jay Cutler actually has some serious weapons to throw to on the outside, however, Forte might not be the Bears best receiver anymore.
9. Fred Jackson
Before Fred Jackson went down midway through last season, he was having a phenomenal season. The Bills rely on him heavily, and he could be a top five fantasy running back this year if he can stay healthy.
10. Darren McFadden
McFadden could be the toughest player to place on this list. He’s never been able to stay healthy, so why should 2012 be any different? Take him at your own risk.
11. Trent Richardson
Some people are a lot higher on Trent Richardson than others. Personally, I think he’s going to have a solid rookie year. I expect him to get a lot of carries, but not necessarily a lot of touchdowns in the Browns offense which I expect to struggle to put points up on the board.
12. Ryan Matthews
Quite honestly, I don’t understand all the hype surrounding Ryan Matthews this year. His career is off to a good start and while 2012 could be a breakout year for him, there’s no reason to expect that he’ll outperform some of the more proven running backs that have been placed below him on draft boards. It’s not like he had that good of a rookie season.
13. Michael Turner
Many are hailing 2012 as the season in which Michael Turner falls off. Critics cite his excessive carries over the last four seasons with the Falcons. Here’s the issue I have with this theory. Michael Turner’s yards per carry moved up from 4.1 in 2010 to 4.5 last year. If he had still gotten a lot of carries last year and seen his production dip, then I would buy into it. Falcons head coach Mike Smith has acknowledged the need to spell Turner more often, but that doesn’t mean he still won’t be an effective workhorse running back this year. Turner will of course fall off at some point like all running backs do, I’m just not sure why everyone seems so convinced it will be this year.
14. Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson’s days as an elite fantasy running back are probably behind him, but he’s still been very effective over the last few seasons. A lot of people seem to be sleeping on him, so you could get him with a late-round steal.
15. Darren Sproles
It’s a little tough to compare Sproles to other fantasy running backs because of the role he plays in the Saints offense. I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to repeat the monster year he had last year, but Sproles’ versatility make him an effective and consistent fantasy performer week in and week out.
16. Frank Gore
I don’t think Gore is going to put up the numbers he has in the past with the stable of running backs the 49ers are heading into the year with. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James could all potentially dip into Gore’s production.
17. Marshawn Lynch
A lot of people seem to really like Marshawn Lynch this year, and most fantasy experts have him going in the top 10 for running backs. While I am aware that Lynch had probably the best second half of last year of any running back, I’m also aware that he’s been extremely inconsistent throughout his career. In his six-year career Lynch has only once had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
18. Willis McGahee
How will the addition of Peyton Manning affect Willis Mcgahee’s production? Negatively, I’m afraid. I doubt McGahee will get the amount of touches required to be a top-10 fantasy running back, but he’s still a quality starter in most leagues.
19. DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray just hasn’t proven anything to me just yet. Cowboys running backs seem to come and go, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Murray was another example.
20. Doug Martin
Fantasy experts are a lot higher on Doug Martin than I seem to be. Martin has a promising future, but I don’t know if he’ll fare any better than LeGarrette Blount did last season running behind the Bucs offensive line.