Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

When I sat down over the weekend and wrote my quarterback rankings, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. I went a little crazy with some of the analysis, and before long, I had a 3,000 word post - and that was only for the top 20.

I knew that I was going to need to rank more than 20 running backs - I settled at 30 - and didn't see it being possible for me to keep going at that rate. Therefore, these rankings provide slightly less analysis than there was for the quarterbacks. It will still be there, but as I get deeper into the rankings, I had to try to cut back or I would never have finished.

Don't worry, if you have any specific questions, feel free to email me, hit me up on Twitter, or just leave them in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Without further delay, here are my preseason rankings for running back:

1. ARIAN FOSTER (HOU, Bye Week 8) - Foster is a beast, plain and simple. Over the past 2 seasons, he has been arguably the best fantasy player at any position. The only issue is Ben Tate, who has become quite the touchdown vulture. Despite the presence of Tate, Foster is still my top running back.

2. RAY RICE (BAL, 8) - Rice was the top-scoring running back in fantasy last season, compiling 2,068 total yards and 16 touchdowns (which includes one passing). His 76 receptions and 704 receiving yards were second to only Darren Sproles. He was also second in the league in rushing yards (1384) behind Maurice Jones-Drew. No reason to think that Rice can't do it again. In a PPR league, I would consider taking Rice over Foster.

3. MAURICE JONES-DREW (JAC, 6) - MJD led the league in rushing in 2011, and you have to think he will at least have the chance to do so again. He may be the Jaguars best receiver as well. Sure, they have Justin Blackmon now, as well as Laurent Robinson. That duo, combined with second-year starter Blaine Gabbert doesn't inspire much confidence, so look for the offense to rely heavily on Jones-Drew.

4. MATT FORTE (CHI, 6) - The Bears finally showed Forte the money, and that's a good thing for prospective fantasy owners. He injured his knee late in the 2011 season, only playing in 12 games. Forte is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, so his PPR value is extremely high. I have him ranked higher than most, maybe because people are hesitant that the addition of Michael Bush will mean less red-zone touches for Forte. I don't think that will make a significant impact, and I think Forte is poised for big things this season. He doesn't get the touchdowns some other backs get, but his combination of receiving and rushing yards (as well as receptions if you play PPR) means he will have plenty of chances to score.

5. ADRIAN PETERSON (MIN, 11) - Health is the main concern for Peterson, but by all reports, he is healthy and will be ready for the season after tearing his ACL last December. Even if he sees limited action in the first two or three weeks of the season, he will be there for the stretch run, when your fantasy team will need him the most. Assuming that he's ready to go, it's impossible for me to put Peterson outside of the top five.

6. LeSEAN McCOY (PHI, 7) - I know, I know. You're all going to hate me for dropping McCoy out of the top five. Allow me to explain.

McCoy and the Eagles lost arguably the best run blocking lineman in the game when Jason Peters went down with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. One person doesn't make the whole offensive line, but Peters is one of the best left tackles ever to play the game, and his absence is certainly going to have an impact on McCoy. This could be most evident on screen plays (most of which go to McCoy), where Peters had the the ability to get out ahead of the play and block men down the field. Since the Eagles use the screen as an extension of the run, any inefficiencies there could certainly carry over to the traditional run game.

Furthermore, Andy Reid calls the plays. As much as Andy Reid loves McCoy, he loves passing the ball down field that much more. I think on talent alone, McCoy is in the top 3, but because some external forces are conspiring against him, I don't think he has as good of a season this year. I could be completely wrong about this (and I hope I am for the Eagles' sake).

7. CHRIS JOHNSON (TEN, 11) - Johnson had a down year in 2011, but that was in due in large part to a lockout-shortened offseason that lingered because of a lengthy holdout. This year, Johnson seems ready to go. With second-year quarterback Jake Locker named the starter, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that the Titans will rely on the ground game to cover some of his growing pains. Johnson, like most of the top running backs, is a duel threat, with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and that is a good thing for a young quarterback to have.

8. DARREN McFADDEN (OAK, 5) - McFadden may be the most talented running back in the league, but how would we know? In four seasons in the NFL, Run-DMC has been has missed time due to injury in each. Last year, he compiled 761 total yards and five touchdowns in just five games before a foot sprain (among other injuries) cost him the rest of the season. Healthy again, there is no reason to expect his production to drop off, especially with Michael Bush in Chicago. The less crowded the backfield is, the better the fantasy numbers are. The main question is, can he finally stay healthy for a whole season?

9. JAMAAL CHARLES (KC, 7) - Charles was poised to become an elite running back heading into the 2011 season after showing steady improvement in his production since entering the league in 2008. In 2010, Charles carried the ball just 230 times for an astonishing 1,467 yards. That's 6.4 yards per carry. He was even better as a receiver, catching 45 passes for 468 yards (10.4 yards per catch). Unfortunately for Charles - and those who drafted him high in the first round - a torn ACL in the second game of the season cost him all of 2011. He's back and ready to go this season, and if the team around him wasn't so unimpressive, I would probably have him ranked higher. If Charles falls into the third round, I would snatch him up before you wind up regretting it.

10. MARSHAWN LYNCH (SEA, 11) - The good thing about Lynch is that he seems to be the only real running back in Seattle, and in a league where platoons seem to be the standard, this is a coveted attribute. But then there are the negatives. Lynch just got a big contract, so there a chance that complacency sets in and he takes a step back in 2012. He also runs behind a suspect offensive line that suffered several key injuries in 2011. Lynch had a career year last season, and I think it will be hard for him to repeat those numbers.

11. DeMARCO MURRAY (DAL, 5) - After a slow start to the 2011 season, Murray had quite the coming out party against the Rams in Week 7, rushing for 253(!) yards and a touchdown. After that, however, he came back to earth. He rushed for over a hundred yards twice in the seven games after before his season was ended by a broken ankle in Week 14. If he can stay healthy (which was also a problem for him at Oklahoma) Murray should be the feature back, with Felix Jones as the back up. I wouldn't look for 200-yard performances every week, but he should be a solid option if you miss out on one of the top-10 guys.

12. FRED JACKSON (BUF, 8) - Jackson was a monster last season, rushing for over 100 yards in seven of the first 10 games before breaking his leg in Week 11. Unfortunately for him, the emergence of C.J. Spiller and the fact that Jackson is 31 years old, could lead to less touches in 2012.

13. MICHAEL TURNER (ATL, 7) - Turner has been a solid pick over the years, and I don't see that changing this season. He ran for over 1,300 yards last season and 11 touchdowns. His value drops in PPR leagues because, well, he only had 17 receptions all of last season. He did, however, place second in carries, and while that shows a commitment to the run, it also shows that if his touches drop off, his stats won't be far behind. Still a solid pick.

14. STEVEN JACKSON (STL, 9) - If you're looking for touchdowns, Jackson is NOT your man. The Rams' running back has scored just 16 touchdowns over the past 3 seasons, and that is not good for fantasy. Definitely a top contender for an RB2, though.

15. FRANK GORE (SF, 9) - Don't worry. I draft Gore in every fantasy league I am in so he probably won't be on the board by the time you're looking for a second string back. He went to the U, so you know  he would be a fantastic addition to any fantasy roster that needs a little street cred. (Seriously though, the addition of Brandon Jacobs could hurt his touchdown numbers.)

16. RYAN MATHEWS (SD, 7) - I really like what I see out of Mathews in terms of ability, but the kid just can't stay healthy. If he can stay on the field in 2012, he is poised for his best season yet, since now both Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles are gone. Both of them took a considerable amount of points away from Mathews over the last few seasons, but then again, so did injury.

17. AHMAD BRADSHAW (NYG, 11) - With Jacobs in San Francisco, Bradshaw could see his touchdown numbers improve this season. After playing the last few years in a crowded backfield, he finally has the chance to carry the load on his shoulders alone. D.J. Ware will get touches, but Bradshaw is the man in the Giants' backfield.

18. DOUG MARTIN (TB, 5) - If you already had your draft - you probably didn't if you are reading this - and picked Martin, then you lucked out. LeGarrette Blount's stock is on the decline, and that can only mean good things for Martin. He will likely get the bulk of the carries, with Blount doing a lot of the grinding in short-yardage situations. The only caveat is that a lot of rushing touchdowns are scored in those situations.

19. DARREN SPROLES (NO, 6) - He's part of a crowded backfield in New Orleans with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory, but his versatility as a receiver makes him the top fantasy player of the group.

20. REGGIE BUSH (MIA, 7) - Bush was one of the big surprises last season. Daniel Thomas may see more carries this season, but with rookie Ryan Tannehill starting for the Dolphins (along with a bunch of nobody receivers), it would appear there will be plenty of carries to go around. The only problem is that opposing defenses will likely see that coming as well.

21. TRENT RICHARDSON (CLE, 10) - Young player with a lot of upside. Unfortunately for him, he plays on the worst team in a very tough division.

22. WILLIS McGAHEE (DEN, 7) - Age and injury always a concern. But having a real quarterback in Peyton Manning could help open up the offense.

23. DONALD BROWN (IND, 4) - A lot of upside for Brown. With Andrew Luck under center, Brown could get a lot of touches.

24. BEANIE WELLS (ARI, 10) - Wells was 14th among running backs in fantasy scoring last year. But when it comes to rankings, he gets looked over every year, and I'm not sure why. Oh wait, I know. He's always injured.

25. BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS (CIN, 8) - The law firm is now free from New England, where running backs go to die. He has had double-digit touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, but most of them were from inside 5 yards.

26. SHONN GREENE (NYJ, 9) - Green had decent numbers in 2011, but half of his six rushing touchdowns came in one game, so it's safe to assume that you can expect consistent scoring out of him.

27. JONATHAN STEWART (CAR, 6) - Stewart, along with DeAngelo Williams, would get much higher grades if the team didn't have four legitimate rushing threats. Also hurting him is the fact the other two (Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert) will get the bulk of the carries inside the five yard line.

28. MICHAEL BUSH (CHI, 6) - He proved what he could do last season, when he was called upon to fill in for an injured Darren McFadden. He will play second fiddle to Matt Forte this season, but he will still see some touches, especially near the goal line.

29. C.J. SPILLER (BUF, 8) - Spiller will see more touches this season, and is just a Fred Jackson injury away from being a huge steal.

30. STEVAN RIDLEY (NE, 9) - Patriots running backs are never safe picks, but if you're going to take one, Ridley is your guy.

That's it for my rankings. Here's a quick look at how they compare to the top 30 from ESPN and Yahoo:

Rank Fantasy Island Yahoo!
1 Arian Foster (HOU, 8) Arian Foster (HOU, 8)
 Arian Foster (HOU, 8)
2 Ray Rice (BAL, 8) Ray Rice (BAL, 8) Ray Rice (BAL, 8)
3 Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC, 6) LeSean McCoy (PHI, 7) LeSean McCoy (PHI, 7)
4 Matt Forte (CHI, 6) Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC, 6) Chris Johnson (TEN, 11)
5 Adrian Peterson (MIN, 11) Chris Johnson (TEN, 11) Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC, 6)
6 LeSean McCoy (PHI, 7) Marshawn Lynch (SEA, 11)  Darren McFadden (OAK, 5)
7 Chris Johnson (TEN, 11) Matt Forte (CHI, 6) Trent Richardson (CLE, 10)
8 Darren McFadden (OAK, 5) DeMarco Murray (DAL, 5)  Adrian Peterson (MIN, 11)
9 Jamaal Charles (KC, 7) Jamaal Charles (KC, 7) Matt Forte (CHI, 6)
10 Marshawn Lynch (SEA, 11) Adrian Peterson (MIN, 11) DeMarco Murray (DAL, 5)
11 DeMarco Murray (DAL, 5) Darren McFadden (OAK, 5) Jamaal Charles (KC, 7)
12 Fred Jackson (BUF, 8) Ryan Mathews (SD, 7) Ryan Mathews (SD, 7)
13 Michael Turner (ATL, 7) Steven Jackson (STL, 9) Fred Jackson (BUF, 8)
14 Steven Jackson (STL, 9) Fred Jackson (BUF, 8) Marshawn Lynch (SEA, 11)
15 Frank Gore (SF, 9) Trent Richardson (CLE, 10)

Doug Martin (TB, 5)

16 Ryan Mathews (SD, 7) Michael Turner (ATL, 7) Michael Turner (ATL, 7)
17 Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG, 11) Frank Gore (SF, 9) Steven Jackson (STL, 9)

Doug Martin (TB, 5)

Darren Sproles (NO, 6) Darren Sproles (NO, 6)
19 Darren Sproles (NO, 6) Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG, 11) Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG, 11)
20 Reggie Bush (MIA, 7) Willis McGahee (DEN, 7) Reggie Bush (MIA, 7)
21 Trent Richardson (CLE, 10)

Roy Helu (WAS, 10)

 Frank Gore (SF, 9)

Willis McGahee (DEN, 7)

Reggie Bush (MIA, 7)

Roy Helu (WAS, 10)


Donald Brown (IND, 4)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN, 8)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN, 8)


Beanie Wells (ARI, 10)

Jonathan Stewart (CAR, 6)

Beanie Wells (ARI, 10)

25 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN, 8)

Stevan Ridley (NE, 9)

Jonathan Stewart (CAR, 6)


Shonn Greene (NYJ, 9)

Shonn Greene (NYJ, 9)

Shonn Greene (NYJ, 9)


Jonathan Stewart (CAR, 6)

Beanie Wells (ARI, 10)

Isaac Redman (PIT, 4)


Michael Bush (CHI, 6)

Ben Tate (HOU, 8)

Peyton Hillis (KC, 7)
29 C.J. Spiller (BUF, 8)

DeAngelo Williams (CAR, 6)

 Willis McGahee (DEN, 7)
30 Stevan Ridley (NE, 9)

Isaac Redman (PIT, 4)

Donald Brown (IND, 4)

I'll be posting more rankings soon, so make sure to check back.

Matt Mullin is a sports producer at You can reach him by e-mail at Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin