Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 10 RB's - 2012

by Russ Bliss (6/15/12)

This is probably the toughest year to put together a top 10 fantasy RB list as there is a clear top 7 but after that you could name any of 10 other guys to finish 8-10. In 2011, one fantasy point per game separated the 8th ranked RB from the 13th. With so many teams utilizing more of a committee approach, feature RB's are harder to find, and sometimes not even that successful (one of the reasons why Steven Jackson isn't on the top 10 list here). In 2012, there is the elite stud and two others right behind him. The 4th and 5th RB's are pretty clear cut, as are the 6th and 7th. For our STARTERS Fantasy Football Draft Analyzer, the proven production of Fred Jackson and Reggie Bush from 2011 was enough to have them crack the top 10 over injury concerns like Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson. If Darren Sproles would get the primary work for the Saints he probably would have made the list. Ahmad Bradshaw as a chance to really take off with no Brandon Jacobs in New York, but can Bradshaw stay healthy? And can he hold off David Wilson? Can DeMarco Murray stay healthy? Is this the year Michael Turner finally stops getting all those carries and TD's? Lots of questions, and plenty of room for debate, but that's part of the fun of fantasy football!  

1) Arian Foster, Houston Texans: There really couldn't be anyone else at the top of the RB list regardless of scoring system. Even though Ben Tate proved very capable of handling the load when Foster missed 2 of the first 3 games of the 2011 season, when Foster was healthy, he was the workhorse RB most of the time and still averaged more fantasy points per game played than any other RB. He does it all: runs for yards, catches a lot of passes for yards, and scores touchdowns. Ben Tate is a must handcuff to Foster in the middle rounds, but Foster is a must with the first pick of the draft.

2) Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: Rice was fantasy's top scoring RB in 2011 as he finally added the one thing to his game that had in prior seasons been lacking: touchdowns. Rice could be hurt by holdout, but is fully expected to be there for the start of training camp and the Ravens don't seem to be concerned as they haven't really added any RB's to challenge Rice's role as a 3 down workhorse. With an average of 1,308 rush yards, 72 receptions, and 654 receiving yards over the last 3 seasons, as long as he can score 10+ TD's, he's a great fantasy RB1.

3) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy has the upside to challenge Foster for the top spot, but it's hard to not think that a RB who checks in just under 200 lbs will be able to repeat his 20 total TD's again in his career. On the plus side, McCoy is young, has great speed and receiving abilities, and has proven to have a nose for the end zone. On the negative is that lack of ideal goal line size, and the fact you have to wonder if Michael Vick will only have 1 rushing TD again in 2012. Will McCoy put up comparable or even better numbers in 2012 than he did in 2011? Maybe, but I doubt it. But those who take McCoy before Foster and Rice may end up kicking themselves for chasing a player after he's had his career season.

4) Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: Mathews is a player whose star is on the rise for fantasy football RB rankings in 2012. With Mike Tolbert gone from San Diego Mathews gets a chance to be a feature RB and the Chargers say that he is ready for the challenge. While he was the primary RB over Tolbert in 2011, they did have a split in the duties. Despite that, Mathews still had over 1,000 rushing yards and caught 50 passes. The biggest problem with Mathews is his penchant for minor injuries, but if he avoids those, he's in line to be a top 5 fantasy RB this year with the upside to compete for a spot amongst Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy for the second tier behind Arian Foster.

5) Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: Few players disappointed fantasy owners in 2011 as much as Chris Johnson did. Johnson was usually one of the top 6 picks in 2011 fantasy drafts but only put up 1,047 rush yards, 418 receiving yards, and 4 total TD's. He had more games with fewer than 30 rushing yards than he had with over 100 rushing yards. A prolonged holdout after the lockout ended could easily have been the culprit though. Things are different this year as Johnson has been working with his teammates and all reports say he is primed for a rebound to greatness in 2012. There are some concerns that the new offensive system will rely on the passing game more, but Johnson has proven to be capable of catching the ball with 194 receptions in his 4 year career. Some may be soured on him after his dud 2011 season but I like Johnson a lot and have no problem with him ranking 5th overall.

6) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: Few players went into 2011 with as many questions as MJD. He was coming off an off-season marred by concerns about his knee, and by the time the season started, Jacksonville had jettisoned their starting QB, instead going with a poor journeyman and a rookie. Despite this, MJD turned in his best rushing season of his career. He was a model of consistency week in and week out with no games with fewer than 63 rush yards, and 6 with over 100 yards. And he did it despite the most woeful passing attack in the NFL. Opponents knew they had to stop MJD going into every game, and still they couldn't. If the Jaguars passing attack can just be mediocre, it may open things up for MJD in 2012. There is concern about the amount of carries he's received the last 3 seasons combined, but he has proven durable and dependable for fantasy owners. The biggest hurdle for fantasy owners right now is the potential of a holdout by MJD as he is unhappy with his current contract (which still has two years left on it).

7) Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders: When healthy, McFadden has proven to be a fantasy star. He has a great combination of speed and power. In the 6 games in 2011 he played in before suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss the rest of the year, McFadden had racked up 610 rushing yards, 151 receiving yards, and 5 total TD's. Only 3 RB's in 2011 averaged better fantasy points than those stats produced. Michael Bush is gone from Oakland so McFadden should have all the goal line carries to himself and with the Raiders expected to be a run oriented offense in 2012, there's a lot of upside with McFadden to have his best season. Provided he can stay healthy that is.

8) Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills: Like with McFadden, Jackson was tearing it up in 2011 before his season came to an end. A broken leg cost Jackson the last 6 games of the season. But in the first 10, he was the biggest surprise of the season having amassed 934 rushing yards, 442 receiving yards and 6 TD's. He's healthy now and signed a 2 year contract extension during the off-season. It seems like Jackson is getting very little respect in the fantasy community this season as some expect C.J. Spiller to force the situation to be a RBBC. But until Jackson got injured, Spiller only received 21 rushing attempts. Buffalo may work Spiller in a little more in 2012, but Jackson is still going to be the primary RB. For years now Jackson hasn't gotten the respect he deserves and I have no doubt that barring injury, he's going to finish 2012 as a top 10 fantasy RB.

9) Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins: A bit of a surprise to find Bush listed in the top 10 fantasy RB's for 2012, but when you look closer, it's not that much of a stretch of the imagination. In 2011, Bush ran for almost 1,100 yards on only 216 rushing attempts, the first time in his career he's ran for over 1,000 yards. In the last 4 regular season games of 2011 he played in, Bush ran for 100 yards or more in 3 of them, and over 200 yards in the other.  In three of those 4 games the Dolphins also finally gave him 20+ carries, meaning they were confident enough in his ability to carry such a load. Finally, 2012 is a contract year for Bush so he'll be motivated. His skills should translate well into the Dolphins new west coast offensive system, especially as a pass catching RB on a team lacking any dynamic WR's. Bush may not be much of a threat for 10 TD's, but the yards should be there in enough quantity to be a solid weekly performer. The biggest concern for Bush is whether Daniel Thomas will improve from last year's disappointing rookie to take some of the playing time.

10) Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: Forte probably would rank higher on this list if not for the current bad blood between him and the Bears in terms of a negotiating a new contract. There's usually a correlation between unhappy holdout situations and disappointing fantasy seasons (see Chris Johnson last year). Forte can be a top 5 fantasy RB in the Bears new offensive system, but everyday he isn't there makes it easier to envision free agent signee Michael Bush forcing a RBBC. Forte's one flaw in his game the last 3 seasons has been a lack of ability to push the ball into the end zone more often. That's an area where Bush could take over and excel in.

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