1. Arian Foster (Houston)
In a weak year for running backs, Arian Foster is the only one I really, really love and I’m taking him #1 in a heartbeat. Yes, the Texans have Ben Tate, but they also run more than almost any team in the league. In the 12 games he was healthy last year, Foster had 268 carries for 1191 yards and 10 touchdowns. Over 16 games, that’s 357 carries for 1588 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Matt Schaub will be back this year, but they won’t run any less. In the 6 games Foster and Schaub played in healthy last year, Foster carried the ball 161 times, which is 368 times over 16 games. He probably won’t have quite that many next season, but he should approach the 327 carries he had in 2010. A full season of Schaub should push his touchdown total closer to the 18 he had in 2010 than the 12 he had in 2011. He lost 2 starting offensive linemen, so he should be a little down from the 4.7 YPC he’s averaged in his career, but the Texans are so good at producing starting offensive linemen in their scheme that it might not matter that much.
Projection: 320 carries 1440 rushing yards 16 total touchdowns 60 catches 600 receiving yards (300 pts standard/360 pts PPR)
2. Ray Rice (Baltimore)
7/1/12: When the Ravens used a 3rd round pick on Bernard Pierce, I thought it would be so that Pierce (27 touchdowns in 11 games last year) could play Willis McGahee’s old role as a short yardage back and vulture touchdowns. However, Pierce is reportedly not impressing in practice and has yet to even leap Anthony Allen on the depth chart. It sounds like whoever Rice’s backup is will be a pure backup this year, so you can feel free to take Rice early in the 1st round in fantasy leagues unless he holds out long into Training Camp. Franchise tagged players can’t sign long term deals after July 16th so there wouldn’t be much point in him doing so however.
Ray Rice went from a good fantasy back to a great one last year when touchdown vulture Willis McGahee signed in Denver. This year, he should make the opposite transition. The Ravens spent a 3rd round pick on Bernard Pierce, who scored 27 touchdowns in 11 games last year at Temple. He’ll vulture touchdowns away just like McGahee did. Rice also might not see the 307 carries he had in 2010 or the 291 carries he had in 2011 because they did spent a 3rd round pick on a backup. Pierce is more talented than Willis McGahee or Ricky Williams.
His 4.7 YPC from 2011 should also decrease with Ben Grubbs leaving town, as well as the potential that Rice holds out into Training Camp. We all saw how that affected Chris Johnson last year. He should still be a good fantasy back, especially in PPR leagues, but he’ll be limited by his touchdown totals. The 5 guys ahead of him on the running back list, as well as some below him on this list, should score more frequently than him.
Projection: 290 carries 1310 rushing yards 13 total touchdowns 70 catches 620 receiving yards (271 pts standard/341 pts PPR)
3. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia)
Andy Reid openly admitted he overused McCoy last season as the 208 pound speedster had a career high 321 touches. He shouldn’t have as many this year, but there is some talk that Reid was smokescreening by saying he’d cut McCoy’s touches. With YPCs of 5.2 and 4.8 over the past two years, he should still have a bunch of rushing yards either way.
He won’t score 20 times again, even without a decrease in touches. I don’t expect Michael Vick to rush for just 1 touchdown again, which will take a few touchdowns away from McCoy, who managed just 9 in 2010. Still, with his pass catching ability, his high YPC, and the explosive offense he plays on, he is once again a top-3 fantasy back.
Projection: 260 carries 1300 rushing yards 15 total touchdowns 60 catches 450 receiving yards (265 pts standard/325 pts PPR)
4. Chris Johnson (Tennessee)
Unlike last year, Chris Johnson won’t be more focused on getting paid this offseason than staying in shape. It took him until the 2nd half of the season last year to even remotely resemble CJ2K, but in his last 8 games, he carried the ball 141 times for 681 yards and 3 touchdowns, good for 282 carries for 1362 yards and 6 touchdowns. He could be even better this season, especially with the addition of Steve Hutchinson at upfront.
He’ll probably also get more carries. The Titans don’t have another back capable of challenging him and they should run more than the 376 times they ran last year, 30th in the league. His touchdowns should also increase. The 22/8 passing/rushing touchdown ratio the Titans had last year should prove to be an outlier. Finally, if Jake Locker is under center, his rushing ability and ability to throw stretch the defense with his arm will take the defense’s focus off of Johnson. Johnson had his best years when Vince Young, who could do the same sorts of things, was under center.
Projection: 300 carries 1320 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 45 catches 350 receiving yards (233 pts standard/278 pts PPR)
5. Ryan Mathews (San Diego)
8/13/12: Mathews has broken his collarbone and will miss 4-6 weeks, which puts his week 1 and week 2 status in doubt, dampening the outlook for a player who looked poised to have a breakout year. He still remains a 1st round pick in fantasy circles, though, and he may be undervalued, going now in the late 2nd on average. Before the injury, he was going off the board 7th overall.
Yes, he will miss a game or two, but you had to figure he would when making projections for him. When in the lineup, he could easily lead all backs in fantasy points per game as the Chargers’ “everything” back. If he can play 14 or 15 games and not sustain another injury, he could still finish the year as a top-5 back. There’s no guarantees he won’t get hurt again, especially with his history, but collarbone injuries are not lingering injuries. Unfortunately, there’s not a good handcuff for him as Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley, and LeRon McClain, 3 mediocre backs, will split carries if he misses any time, making all 3 fantasy irrelevant.
I love Ryan Mathews this year. Allow me to explain. He’ll be the clear lead back for the first time in his career. The Chargers don’t have a good #2 back like they had what Matt Tolbert over the past 2 years, as well as Darren Sproles in 2010. Mathews will only have fullback Le’Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley, who has 32 career carries, to compete with for carries.
In his 3rd year, the former 12th overall pick should rank among the league leaders in carries for the first time as long as he stays healthy. The Chargers have talked him up all offseason and said that he’s ready to be a feature back, which Norv Turner’s offenses normally have. For a back with a career 4.7 YPC, that could put him among the league leaders in rushing yards. He also plays on an explosive offense, which should be even better this year as Philip Rivers bounces back from one of his worst career seasons.
Mathews has never gone over 7 touchdowns in a season, but Mike Tolbert had 21 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons. And, again, he’s gone. Finally, Mathews is a threat in the passing game. Last year, he caught 50 passes for 455 yards, numbers that should be up as Rivers’ bounces back and Mathews sees more of the field. Between Mathews and Tolbert, Chargers running backs caught 104 passes last year. Rivers loves throwing to his backs.
Projection: 260 carries 1170 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 52 catches 440 receiving yards (227 pts standard/279 pts PPR)
6. Matt Forte (Chicago)
7/26/12: Forte has signed and will not hold out. He was on pace for a career high 2145 yards from scrimmage before getting hurt last year through 11 games and through 8, he was actually on pace for the 2nd most yards from scrimmage of all times. Michael Bush will steal some goal line carries, but when has he not had a back stealing goal line carries from him? Other than that, Bush will be a pure backup who will be lucky to get 1 carry for each of Forte’s 2. He’s a sneaky good value in the end of the 1st, beginning of the 2nd round in a year where good running backs are tough to find.
Like Ray Rice, there’s the threat of Forte holding out into Training Camp and becoming rusty. The Bears have also added Michael Bush through free agency so Forte should go back down to the 238 carries or so he had in 2010, rather than the 271 he was on pace for last season. Still, Forte is a top-10 back coming off of injury.
Projection: 250 carries 1150 rushing yards 9 total touchdowns 60 catches 540 receiving yards (223 pts standard/283 pts PPR)
7. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City)
7/26/12: I’m moving Hillis down with the news that the Chiefs will try to have their backs touch the ball combined 500 times, but I’m actually moving Charles up because he’s been cleared for the start of Training Camp and should get the majority of the touches. There will be a 60-40 split or so and Charles, who has averaged 6.1 YPC in his career, could get a career high in touches. There’s major upside with him in the 2nd round, provided he stays healthy and plays close to 100% of his 2010 self.
There’s buy low potential here with Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs are going to try to replicate their 2010 offense so there will be plenty of carries to go around for both Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis and they should split them evenly like Charles and Thomas Jones did in 2010. Charles has a career 6.1 YPC and figures to be able to make the most of those carries. Peyton Hills will get the goal line carries, but Charles should still have a solid year.
Projection: 250 carries 1250 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 40 catches 320 receiving yards (205 pts standard/245 pts PPR)
8. Shonn Greene (NY Jets)
7/1/12: Greene has he has been led to believe by the coaching staff that he will exceed the career high 253 carries he had last year. They don’t seem confident in backup Joe McKnight with LaDainian Tomlinson gone and they want to get back to running the football more. Greene isn’t very talented, but he’ll get you volume yardage as he could be one of the league leaders in carries if he stays healthy. Tebow will also help him the way he helped Willis McGahee last year.
The Jets didn’t add another back until the 6th round this year, even though they lost LaDainian Tomlinson, who was their #2 back. Some take this as a sign that they believe in Greene’s ability to take the next step as a back, but I take it as more of a sign of confidence for Joe McKnight than anything. Remember, this team had a lot of interest in moving up for Trent Richardson, which would have made Greene the #2 back. Greene should have similar production to last year, maybe a little better if Tebow takes over as the starting quarterback and forces front 7s to focus on his ability to run the ball as well. Just ask Willis McGahee how valuable that is. Tebow would probably vulture some touchdowns though, but Mark Sanchez could too. He scored 6 times last year on the ground.
Projection: 270 carries 1220 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 30 catches 220 receiving yards (192 pts standard/222 pts PPR)
9. Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)
8/27/12: Wilson under center will be a good thing for Lynch. The Seahawks will become even more conservative and run more, while Wilson’s rushing ability will open things up on the ground for Lynch. I still don’t like Lynch to match his 2011 production because he’s an injury prone, one hit wonder, known for slacking off and probably will now that he’s gotten paid, but I’m moving him up.
8/13/12: It sounds like Lynch won’t be suspended, at least in 2012, as Roger Goodell wants to wait until the result of his DUI case before assigning any penalty. That likely means that any suspension would take place in 2013, if ever. I still don’t like him this year, as a one year wonder, behind a poor offensive line, after getting a new contract, but I’m bumping him back up to my original projection for him.
7/26/12: Lynch was arrested again. He’s already been suspended for 3 games in the past so I expect some sort of 2-4 game suspension again for him. He also runs behind a poor offensive line (which is why he averaged just 4.2 YPC last year) and he was pretty mediocre in 2009-2010. Let him be someone else’s problem.
Lynch is another back I’m staying away from. He’s only managed more than 202 carries once in the last 3 years and that was last year. He’s been an underachiever most of his career and I expect that to be the case next year now that he’s gotten a new contract. He’s also often injured because of his running style.
Projection: 250 carries 1100 rushing yards 10 total touchdowns 20 catches 170 receiving yards (187 pts standard/207 pts PPR)
10. Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville)
9/2/12: MJD finally reported. Rashad Jennings will get the week 1 start regardless and could get the bulk of the carries for the first 2 weeks or so of the season as MJD gets back into football shape and learns the offense. There are also way too many similarities to the Chris Johnson holdout last year for me to be comfortable projecting MJD’s usual level of production until the 2nd half of the season (Chris Johnson averaged 3.0 YPC through the first 8 games last year and 4.8 through the final 8). MJD is also a candidate to get hurt lose carries some more carries than he originally would have is Jennings impresses in his tryout as starter. I’m moving him up, but he’s hardly a sure thing fantasy running back.
8/27/12: Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to report and says he’d “welcome a trade,” though he also said he’d prefer to stay in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have announced that Rashad Jennings will start week 1 regardless as MJD will take some time to get back into top football shape and because he missed an entire offseason of offensive install with a new coaching staff coming in.
This is a smart move by the Jaguars because this situation is eerily similar to Chris Johnson’s situation last year and Johnson averaged 3.0 yards per carry for the first half of the season before looking like his old self and averaging 4.8 per in the 2nd half of the season. Don’t expect MJD’s production to resemble his normal levels of production until around midseason and he’s also an obvious injury risk if he’s out of shape. Remember, he’s had a lot of usage over the past 3 years (1084 touches). Those types of guys are injury risks to begin with.
7/1/12: Maurice Jones Drew might be the most serious holdout this year. The Jaguars are refusing to even talk contract right now with him and he should miss at least the start of Training Camp unless something drastically changes. This reminds me a lot of Chris Johnson’s holdout last year and Johnson was out of shape as a result of it. MJD is also coming off leading the league in carries, which means he could be more worn down this season, and he’s on a terrible offense that isn’t in the red zone much and frequently faces 8 man fronts. He’s incredibly talented, but I’d let someone else take him in the 1st round.
Maurice Jones Drew led the league in carries last year. History suggests that this means he’ll have a down year this year. At the same time, he’s so talented, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had yet another fantastic season. He probably won’t have the 343 carries he had last year, especially with his top backup Rashad Jennings coming back from injury. His YPC and touchdown potential are also stagnated by the offense he plays on. Nonetheless, he should be one of the top fantasy backs this year.
Projection: 250 carries 1080 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 37 catches 300 receiving yards (186 pts standard/223 pts PPR)
11. Ahmad Bradshaw (NY Giants)
The Giants spent a first round pick on a back this year, which shows they’re committed to getting back to the run in 2012. David Wilson is more talented than Brandon Jacobs, but he won’t steal all the goal line carries. Wilson is also only just a rookie, which, if you look at what rookie first round pick backs have done in history, suggests he won’t have a huge impact, at least as a rookie.
Bradshaw is still the guy at least this year. And you only have to look at Joseph Addai (2009), Chris Wells (2011), DeAngelo Williams (2008), Marion Barber (2008), Fred Jackson (2010) and so on to see how a team spending an early pick on a running back can have a positive effect on the incumbent starter. All 5 of those guys had arguably the best season of their careers in the season immediately after their team drafted a back early.
Projections: 230 carries 1010 rushing yards 9 total touchdowns 38 catches 300 receiving yards (185 pts standard/223 pts PPR)
12. Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)
8/27/12: Doug Martin has not only won the 3rd down job, but he’ll probably get the bulk of the 1st and 2nd down work too. Blount is still a valuable handcuff because of the history of rookie running backs in the NFL (1stround backs have averaged 165 carries per year as rookies since 2007) and because the Buccaneers will run a lot, but Martin is moving up.
Doug Martin will be the lead back over LeGarrette Blount, but rookie running backs haven’t had a ton of success in the past and Blount, however useless he is on 3rd down, is still a great runner on 1st and 2nd down and could see a fairly even split with Martin in Martin’s rookie season on downs 1 and 2, especially if Blount shows up in shape this season. He wasn’t last year, but a new coaching staff and a new back to compete with could very well change that.
Projection: 240 carries 1060 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 35 catches 300 receiving yards (184 pts standard/219 pts PPR)
13. Darren McFadden (Oakland)
8/27/12: I’m still down on McFadden, but I’m moving him up because he’s looked really good this preseason. He’s not worth a 1st round pick though. He’s way too injury prone. He’s never played more than 13 games in a season or had more than 227 carries and has only once gone over 113 carries in 4 seasons. He’s their everything back, but he’s almost a sure bet to miss 3-4+ games, at least.
Darren McFadden has only once gone over 113 carries in 4 seasons. There’s upside here, but there’s also downside. He’s a talented back who averages 4.8 YPC over his career and he’ll have no competition for the lead back job if he’s healthy, I just don’t trust him to be healthy.
Projection: 200 carries 960 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 41 catches 350 receiving yards (179 pts standard/220 pts PPR)
14. Steven Jackson (St. Louis)
8/31/12: Isaiah Pead has failed to lock down the #2 back job behind Steven Jackson. He will split the role with follow rookie Daryl Richardson. This is good and bad news for Jackson’s fantasy stock. The good news is that there’s no immediate threat to his workload and he should see the type of carries he’s used to so long as he’s healthy and running well. The bad news is that there’s no obvious handcuff should he get hurt so you’re taking a big risk with Jackson that he doesn’t get hurt or decline. History suggests he might have one more good year in him so he’s worth that risk in a weak running back class outside of the top-10 backs.
Like Michael Turner, Jackson will be getting a reduced workload this season, but Jackson’s reduced workload is more well known after the Rams spent a 2nd round pick on a running back, Isaiah Pead. Pead will be able to do what Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood couldn’t last season, reduce Jackson’s workload. He’s also 29 in July and has 2138 career carries and stagnated fantasy wise by the offense he’s on. He’s only scored 10+ touchdowns once in his 8 year career.
Projection: 240 carries 1010 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 40 catches 330 receiving yards (176 pts standard/216 pts PPR)
15. DeMarco Murray (Dallas)
DeMarco Murray is a very talented back and he should be the lead back because they only have the injury prone and disappointing Felix Jones behind him. There was even some talk that Jones would be traded or cut this offseason. However, Murray got hurt down the stretch last year, something that happened to him often at Oklahoma in college. It’s tough to project him among the league leaders in carries for that reason. It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys have only rushed for an average of 10 touchdowns per season in the last 3 years, including just 5 last year.
Projection: 240 carries 1080 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 35 catches 250 receiving yards (175 pts standard/210 pts PPR)
16. Fred Jackson (Buffalo)
There was a time when Fred Jackson was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2011. In 9 games when he was healthy, he had 163 carries for 917 yards and 6 touchdowns, good for 290 carries for 1630 yards and 11 touchdowns over 16 games. However, CJ Spiller was really good down the stretch for the Bills and they did use the 9th overall pick on him 2 years ago.
Jackson is 31, though he has only 817 carries in his career because he spent years working his way up out of Division-III Coe College. They also just gave him an extension, but I still think we’ll see closer to a 2-1 split between Jackson and Spiller rather than the Jackson dominated split we saw early last year. I also don’t see him averaging 5.5 YPC again. He should still get the goal line carries and he catches the ball a good amount as well.
Projection: 200 carries 920 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 35 catches 350 receiving yards (175 pts standard/210 pts in 6 pt TD leagues)
17. Frank Gore (San Francisco)
Jim Harbaugh said their selection of LaMichael James wasn’t an indictment on Gore’s ability, but I don’t think there’s any way the addition of James, as well as Brandon Jacobs, doesn’t cut into Gore’s carries as he heads into his age 29 season. He probably has another 2 good years as the lead back, but he won’t see the 282 carries he had last year, even if he does stay healthy for 16 games for just the 3rd time in his 8 year career.
Projection: 220 carries 1010 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 35 catches 280 receiving yards (171 pts standard/206 pts PPR)
18. Trent Richardson (Cleveland)
8/27/12: Trent Richardson is expected to be back for week 1, so I’m moving him up slightly, but I’m still down on him because he’s a rookie on a poor offense and coming off an offseason in which he had 2 knee surgeries. He’ll be overdrafted.
8/13/12: Poor Browns. They just can’t catch a break. Trent Richardson will have to undergo surgery on his left knee. That surgery is just a scope so it’s as minor as it comes, but this is the 2nd time that knee has been operated on this year, so it’s not what you want to see from the player you just spent the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on.
The Browns expect Richardson to be back for the opener, but that’s not certain and it’s definitely possible he’ll miss a couple games at some point this season with lingering knee pain. The Browns could also scale back his workload early in September. As talented as Richardson is, rookie running backs have had trouble adjusting to a 16-game NFL season in recent years as 1st round pick running backs have averaged just have just averaged 165 carries as rookies since 2007. It’s important to keep fantasy projections for him conservative as a rookie.
Richardson will be the feature back in Cleveland, but I’d be wary of drafting him too early. These are the 1stround rookie running backs since 2007 and how many carries they had as rookies, as well as their yards per carry. Mark Ingram- 122 (3.9), CJ Spiller- 74 (3.8), Ryan Mathews- 158 (4.3), Jahvid Best- 171 (3.2), Knowshon Moreno- 247 (3.8), Donald Brown- 78 (3.6), Chris Wells- 176 (4.5), Darren McFadden- 113 (4.4), Jonathan Stewart- 184 (4.5), Felix Jones- 30 (8.9), Rashard Mendenhall- 19 (3.1), Chris Johnson- 251 (4.9), Adrian Peterson- 238 (5.6), Marshawn Lynch- 280 (4.0). Richardson is better than most, if not all of those backs, but I’d still temper my expectations because he could hit a rookie wall in his first 16 game season. He also doesn’t play on a very good offense, so his YPC and touchdown potential isn’t great.
Projection: 230 carries 980 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 32 catches 260 receiving yards (166 pts standard/198 pts PPR)
19. Michael Turner (Atlanta)
There was some talk about the Falcons cutting or trading Turner, who turned 30 this offseason. Instead, they’ll just be reducing his workload, which Mike Smith himself said. The coaching staff is really high on Jacquizz Rodgers, who figures to see more of the field in his 2nd year. Meanwhile, Turner is on the wrong side of 30 and has 300+ carries in 3 of his last 4 seasons. I’ll let someone else overdraft him.
Projection: 200 carries 900 rushing yards 10 total touchdowns 12 catches 100 receiving yards (160 pts standard/172 pts PPR)
20. Jonathan Stewart (Carolina)
8/31/12: Jonathan Stewart’s ankle injury seems to be nothing. It looked bad when he was on crutches after the game, but he’s unlikely to miss any regular season time. I’ve put his original projections back.
8/27/12: Jonathan Stewart sprained his ankle. It’s not a huge deal and he probably won’t miss more than a week or two, but he’s currently in a race to start week 1, so I’m moving him down slightly.
Stewart and Williams both averaged 5.4 YPC last season thanks to defenses having to worry about Cam Newton, but Newton also takes carries away from them, as well as touchdowns. Newton won’t score 14 times this year so Stewart and Williams will both score more touchdowns, but other than that, their stats should remain fairly similar to what they produced last season. Stewart has more fantasy value because he’s the better pass catcher. He caught 47 passes for 413 yards last year, though it’s worth noting he had never surpassed 18 catches for 139 yards in a season before that. Williams, however, has managed just 27 combined in the last 2 seasons.
Projection: 150 carries 750 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 37 catches 310 receiving yards (154 pts standard/191 pts PPR)
21. Willis McGahee (Denver)
8/20/12: McGahee’s top backup, Ronnie Hillman, has been dealing with hamstring problems all Preseason. Those things can linger, so it becomes less likely that Hillman overtakes McGahee, especially since Head Coach John Fox doesn’t like rookies. McGahee is still heading into his age 31 season, but he’s reportedly the clear lead back and he should get a bunch of carries and a bunch of goal line carries on an explosive offense.
There’s nothing but downside with McGahee this year after a surprise bounce back year last year. Remember, he’s a season removed from averaging 3.8 YPC as Ray Rice’s backup in Baltimore behind a better offensive line. Now he’s 31 in October. He’s getting drafted too early and Hillman is getting drafted too late as he has real sleeper value.
Projection: 200 carries 820 rushing yards 9 total touchdowns 20 catches 130 receiving yards (149 pts standard/169 pts PPR)
22. Stevan Ridley (New England)
8/7/12: Of the Patriots two 2nd year backs, Stevan Ridley has been the most impressive. He looks poised to take over almost the entirety of BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ old work load (410 carries in the last 2 seasons), leaving Vereen as most a change of pace back. He’s much more explosive than BJGE too and could have double digit touchdowns on this explosive offense.
7/26/12: Joseph Addai was cut. Move Ridley up slightly.
It’s always tough to know what Belichick is going to do with his backs. As it stands, it sounds like Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will fairly evenly split the early down carries and Woodhead will stay in his very specific role as a pass catching/3rd down back. Ridley and BenJarvus Green Ellis combined for 268 carries last year. Ridley and Vereen should split those carries this year with Ridley probably being the lead back. Ridley has the most value in fantasy leagues because he’ll probably be the lead back and the goal line back. Bill Belichick is known to be a very frustrating coach for Fantasy Football owners, however.
Projection: 180 carries 850 rushing yards 9 total touchdowns 14 catches 100 receiving yards (149 pts standard/163 pts PPR)
23. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota)
7/1/12: The good news is that Peterson will probably be back for week 1. The bad news is that he may be Toby Gerhart’s backup when that happens, in an effort to ease him back in. I wouldn’t take him in the first 2 rounds, despite his upside, and if I did take him, I would make sure to grab Gerhart as a handcuff.
Adrian Peterson tore his ACL late last season, but he’s making a remarkable recovery and could play week 1. He put himself at 50/50 for Training Camp and it’s definitely a situation to monitor because of how good Peterson is when healthy. It wouldn’t be unheard of for Peterson to be back week 1. Wes Welker did the same in 2010 with a shorter recovery period. However, even if he plays all 16 games, I expect a career worst season for Peterson, as was the case with Welker in 2010. The Vikings won’t want to overwork him and will give some carries to Toby Gerhart, a former 2nd round pick. He could also average a career low YPC.
Projection: 200 carries 840 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 21 catches 160 receiving yards (148 pts standard/169 pts PPR)
24. Darren Sproles (New Orleans)
I have Darren Sproles rated lower than most places. The reason behind this is that he gets so few carries, he needs to average a very high YPC and catch a ton of passes to be fantasy relevant. He did that last year, averaging 6.9 YPC and catching 86 passes for 710 yards last season. However, those were both clear career highs and probably not replicable. Also, 7 of his 9 touchdowns were receiving last year. 7 receiving touchdowns for a running back is also unheard of. I don’t see that as replicable either. He should still come close to all 3 of those numbers in an explosive offense and a role he fits in perfectly.
Projection: 80 carries 450 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 70 catches 600 receiving yards (147 pts standard/217 pts PPR)
25. Peyton Hillis (Kansas City)
7/26/12: The Chiefs reportedly want running backs Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles to touch the ball a combined 500 times next season, less than I originally projected (going off the 539 times that Charles and Jones touched the ball combined in 2010). However, they’ll still run a ton so Hillis is a decent RB3, who pass catches and will get the goal line carries. He’s also got a lot of upside since Charles is coming off a torn ACL.
Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for 475 carries in 2010. Hillis and Charles could approach that this season running behind a much improved offensive line. Remember, Hillis is less than 2 years removed from rushing for 1177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries on a stagnant Cleveland offense in 2010. He may not be as talented as Charles, but he catches passes and will get all the goal line carries. An inferior Jones scored 6 times in 2010. Hillis could get in double figures in 2012.
Projection: 170 carries 770 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 30 catches 220 receiving yards (147 pts standard/177 pts PPR)
26. DeAngelo Williams (Carolina)
8/31/12: Jonathan Stewart’s ankle injury seems to be nothing. It looked bad when he was on crutches after the game, but he’s unlikely to miss any regular season time. I’ve put Williams’ original projections back as well.
8/27/12: With Stewart getting hurt, even a minor injury, Williams gets the opportunity to be a pure feature back on one of the best running games in the league for a week or two. I’m moving him up slightly.
Copy and paste: Stewart and Williams both averaged 5.4 YPC last season thanks to defenses having to worry about Cam Newton, but Newton also takes carries away from them, as well as touchdowns. Newton won’t score 14 times this year so Stewart and Williams will both score more touchdowns, but other than that, their stats should remain fairly similar to what they produced last season. Stewart has more fantasy value because he’s the better pass catcher. He caught 47 passes for 413 yards last year, though it’s worth noting he had never surpassed 18 catches for 139 yards in a season before that. Williams, however, has managed just 27 combined in the last 2 seasons.
Projection: 160 carries 800 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 20 catches 160 receiving yards (144 pts standard/164 pts PPR)
27. Mark Ingram (New Orleans)
8/7/12: Mark Ingram is healthy and the Saints reportedly want him to have 200 touches or more this season. He was on pace for 213 as a rookie in 10 games, missing 6 with injury. There’s definitely upside with him potentially having a breakout year in 2012. He’ll also get the goal line carries, which there figure to be plenty of in New Orleans.
I’m not expecting the breakout season for Mark Ingram that many are. For one, he just had another knee surgery. He’s not the most durable player. Two, the Saints have 2 other talented backs, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, to take carries from him. Finally, no Saints’ running back has surpassed 176 carries since 2006. Sean Payton loves to use multiple backs and he has multiple talented backs once again this season. I know Payton isn’t the coach, but their two interim coaches are both former Payton assistants. The offensive philosophy will likely be the same. Besides, I’m sure Sean Payton will find some way to bend the rules or break them without getting caught and have some influence on this team.
Projection: 170 carries 770 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 25 catches 170 receiving yards (142 pts standard/167 pts PPR)
28. Donald Brown (Indianapolis)
With Joseph Addai gone, Donald Brown looks like the clear lead back in Indianapolis. However, the former 1st round pick has had a very inconsistent career. Both Delone Carter and Vick Ballard could challenge for his job at some point this season if he struggles. There is some upside here with Brown in an improved Indianapolis offense.
Projection: 180 carries 770 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 20 catches 180 receiving yards (137 pts standard/157 pts PPR)
29. LeGarrette Blount (Tampa Bay)
Everyone is assuming that the selection of Doug Martin by the Buccaneers will be doom for LeGarrette Blount in Tampa Bay. However, you only have to look at Joseph Addai (2009), Chris Wells (2011), DeAngelo Williams (2008), Marion Barber (2008), Fred Jackson (2010) and so on to see how a team spending an early pick on a running back can have a positive effect on the incumbent starter.
Tampa Bay is still planning on running the ball a ton this year and rookie running backs tend to disappoint so Blount should still get a good amount of carries. He’ll actually be motivated this year with a new coaching staff and a 1st round running back to compete with. However useless he is on passing downs, he’s still a good runner when he wants to be and he could get the goal line carries. There’s some buy low upside with him given where he is being drafted.
Projection: 180 carries 810 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 8 catches 60 receiving yards (129 pts standard/137 pts PPR)
30. Cedric Benson (Green Bay)
8/27/12: Cedric Benson is reportedly really impressing the Packers, to the point where James Starks might not even make the roster, in favor of a less injury prone, albeit less talented option like Brandon Saine. Benson will be the clear lead back on an explosive offense, albeit one that doesn’t run much, while Alex Green will serve solely as a change of pace back.
8/13/12: The Packers have signed Cedric Benson. He’ll get the opportunity to run behind a great offensive line and he’ll have plenty of room to run with the Packers’ passing game spreading things out. Heading into his age 30 season, he’s got little to no explosion, but he can run through holes and he should get the bulk of the Packers’ early down work as he was signed in response to James Starks’ disappointing Training Camp, preseason, and his recent turf toe injury. He’s also shown surprisingly durability with 956 touches over the past 3 seasons, 5th in the league over that time period behind only Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, and Steven Jackson. On top of all that, he’ll get the goal line work on one of the league’s most explosive offenses. He’s the Packers’ running back to own.
Projection: 160 carries 720 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 20 catches 140 receiving yards (128 pts standard/148 pts PPR)