Entering the 2012 season, the consensus had evolved that the stud RB draft strategy was essentially dead in the water in re-draft leagues due to the lack of quality options at the position after you got past the top seven or eight players.
That line of reasoning proved correct as the top eight players at the position managed to top 210 fantasy points (Jamaal Charles put up that total) with the Vikings Adrian Peterson putting up an astonishing 309 points despite returning from an ACL injury suffered late in the 2011 season.
After that, there was little reason to reach for a running back as the point differential from the 9th ranked fantasy running back to the 21st player at the position was just 52 points.
In 2012, waiting to grab your low end RB1 all the way down to a low end RB2 likely paid off.
Expect more of the same in 2013 with several question marks at the position as we enter what proves to be another intriguing offseason.
1. Arian Foster, Texans – Despite getting 60 more touches in 2012 (391 vs. 331), Foster’s total yards dropped from 1,841 to 1,628 as his usage (drop in receptions by 13 to 40) and effectiveness as a receiver (11.6 yards per reception in 2011 vs. 5.4 in 2012) both declined. Foster still managed more fantasy points this season courtesy of 17 touchdowns. He remains in consideration as the league’s top all purpose threat at running back and 2013’s top ranked fantasy running back. Sorry, AP fans.
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – With Percy Harvin on the shelf for much of 2012, the Vikings turned to Peterson and he was lights out, finishing just eight yards shy of matching Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark of 2,105. Over his last ten games, AP had 1,598 rushing yards to go along with ten rushing touchdowns as defenses couldn’t stop him even with eight and nine players in the box. He’s likely to be the consensus top rated fantasy running back but not here as his career-high touches in 2012 and unsettled situation at wide receiver keep AP at number two. It’s worth noting that the five previous 2,000-yard rushers combined to average 1,072 rushing yards in the following season.
3. Ray Rice, Ravens – With the Ravens moving to more of a passing attack, Rice was solid in 2012 but not quite as spectacular as he was in 2011. His total yards dropped to 1,621 as well as his touchdowns (10 from 15 in 2011). Rice’s rushing and receiving yardage were his worst since his rookie season in 2008. This is where the second tier of fantasy running backs begins.
4. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – Lynch finished the year with a career-high 1,590 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, one off his previous high set in 2011. Once the Seahawks offensive line started to gel at mid-season, he got on a hot streak, totaling 941 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over Seattle’s final nine games. Don’t expect much to change in 2013, making Lynch a top five fantasy back once again.
5. Doug Martin, Bucs – The Bucs traded back into the 1st round to grab Martin to pound the ball at opposing defenses and he did nothing to disappoint them in his rookie season. The Boise State product totaled 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 472 yards and a score as a receiver. Martin relegated LeGarrette Blount to pure backup status and emerged as the top rookie running back in 2012. With Schiano back in 2013, expect Martin to once again approach 400 total touches (368 this year) and his fantasy production to remain steady.
6. LeSean McCoy, Eagles – McCoy was a big disappointment in 2012, finishing the year with 1,213 total yards and just five touchdowns in 12 games. With the Eagles offense unable to get in sync and left tackle Jason Peters out for the year, McCoy wasn’t the same player he was in 2011 when he finished the season with over 1,600 total yards and 20 touchdowns. A concussion caused him to miss four games near the end of the season. With Nick Foles likely taking over at quarterback, there is some risk that the Eagles offense will struggle once again in 2013.
7. Trent Richardson, Browns – Despite playing two-thirds of the season with broken ribs, Richardson put together an impressive rookie campaign despite playing in an inconsistent Browns offense. He totaled nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while contributing 51 receptions for 372 yards and a score as a receiver. While there will be a new head coach in Cleveland in 2013, one thing is for certain and that is that Richardson will get the ball plenty. With improvement from Brandon Weeden at quarterback and a pair of emerging wide receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little, the Browns offense could surprise next season.
8. C.J. Spiller, Bills – If you had to rank the reasons why Chan Gailey was given his walking papers by the Bills, his refusal to hand the starting reigns to Spiller has to rank at or near the top. Despite averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception, Spiller only had 250 touches in 2012, gaining over 1,700 yards. Duh. Spiller finished as the 7th ranked fantasy running back and figures to be in that vicinity once again in 2013.
9. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – His season stat line was impressive (1,513 rushing yards, 236 receiving yards and six touchdowns) but owning Charles was an exercise in fantasy frustration in 2012. His production was wildly inconsistent (six games with less than seven fantasy points and 52.1% of his fantasy production coming in four games) as the Chiefs confounded pundits by limiting him to 16 or fewer touches in seven games. Question marks at quarterback and wide receiver (Dwayne Bowe is an unrestricted free agent) hinder Charles’ fantasy value.
10. Chris Johnson, Titans – After starting the season slowly with 108 total yards in his first three games, CJ2K (does that nickname still fit?) came on, totaling 1,361 total yards and six touchdowns over his final 13 games. The Titans offensive line was a mess and Jake Locker failed to emerge at quarterback but Johnson didn’t help matters by consistently trying for the big run rather than taking what the defense gave him. He has the potential to emerge as the top ranked fantasy rusher but his inconsistency is bound to drive his fantasy owners crazy.
11. Matt Forte, Bears – If it seemed like the Bears weren’t using Forte correctly in 2012, it’s because they weren’t. After the season general manager Phil Emery called out the team’s former coaching staff for Forte’s lack of use and effectiveness as a receiver, as he had career lows in receptions (44) and yards (340) while averaging just 7.7 yards per reception, the 2nd lowest average of his career. Expect Forte to be used more by the Bears new coaching staff and for him to emerge as a low-end RB1 in 2013.
12. Alfred Morris, Redskins – Where or where do you rank Alfred Morris? The rookie 6th round pick had an outstanding season, finishing the year as the 5th ranked fantasy running back with 1,606 rushing yards (2nd in the league) and 13 rushing touchdowns (also 2nd). Unfortunately, Morris was persona non grata as a receiver with just 11 receptions for 77 yards and we are all aware of head coach Mike Shanahan’s penchant for his brief love affairs with his running backs.
13. Stevan Ridley, Patriots – Ridley enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, finishing as the 10th ranked fantasy running back with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The issue with Patriots back over the last few years had been their inconsistent usage but Ridley was surprisingly consistent in 2012, gaining eight or more fantasy points in 12 of 16 games.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – After years of heavy use, MJD got a break in 2012 as a foot injury limited him to just six games. The limited use should prove to be helpful as he carried the ball more than any running back form 2009 to 2011. However, the Jaguars offense remains a mess with a questionable quarterback situation which limits MJD’s upside,
15. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys – Murray looks great when he’s healthy but that hasn’t been often during his two-year career as he has missed 13 games. A sprained foot suffered in Week 6 caused him to miss six games and his production suffered behind a bad Cowboys offensive line, limiting him to just 66.3 rushing yards per game in the ten games that he was healthy. Murray topped 100 yards in Week 1 but not again and his fantasy upside is limited by his injury issues, the team’s offensive line and the Cowboys propensity for throwing the ball.
16. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – There weren’t many bigger busts than Mathews in 2012 as he failed to live up to the Chargers offseason predictions that he would emerge as one of the league’s top talents at running back and remain healthy even with a planned increase in his workload. Mathews broke his right clavicle in the preseason and by midseason, the Chargers had clearly abandoned the heavy workload plan in an attempt to keep him healthy. A broken left clavicle in Week 15 ruined that plan and Mathews finished the year with just 707 yards on the ground to go along with a 3.8 yards per carry average and just a single touchdown.
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders – We’re into the huge talent, huge injury concern portion of the rankings with Run DMC up next. Despite playing in five more games in 2012 than in 2011 (12 vs. 7), he managed to increase his yardage total by just 197 as he was held to a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. McFadden didn’t seem to gel with the Raiders new zone-blocking scheme, whose ineffectiveness caused offensive coordinator Greg Knapp to be sent packing. Look for the Raiders to return to a power rushing attack in 2013 but a breakout season for McFadden seems unlikely given that he has missed 23 games over his five-year career.
18. Frank Gore, 49ers – Gore didn’t fall off the cliff in 2012 as many expected, finishing the season with 1,212 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, nearly identical totals as he put up in 2011. Gore will turn 30 prior to the 2013 season but neither Kendall Hunter nor LaMichael James seems ready to assume starting duties, making Gore a solid RB2 next season.
19. Reggie Bush, Dolphins – Bush will be playing somewhere in 2012 but it’s anybody’s guess as to where. Miami is clearly desperate for playmakers so a return to the Dolphins seems in order but the team has a pair of young backs in Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas that it may wish to develop. Bush fell just 14 yards shy of hitting the 1,000 rushing yard mark for the 2nd consecutive season but he still managed a solid 4.3 yards per carry on the ground while averaging 8.3 yards per catch. At 28 on opening day, Bush has lots of gas left in the tank.
20. Steven Jackson, Rams – Despite ceding touches and playing time to 7th round pick Daryl Richardson, Sjax topped 1,000 rushing yards for the 8th consecutive season, finishing the year as the 17th ranked fantasy running back. He also remained productive in the passing game with 321 receiving yards but managed just four total touchdowns for the season as the Rams struggled on offense. His contract situation is a question mark but expect Jackson to return to St. Louis in 2013 and approach 300 touches once again next season.
21. Darren Sproles, Saints – Coming off a 2011 season in which he set career highs in rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns, Sproles was a marginal disappointment in 2012 as a broken hand limited him to just 13 games. His PPG dropped from 11.6 to a still respectable 10.7 but his usage in the running game declined. With Sean Payton likely back in New Orleans in 2013, look for Sproles to put together another solid season.
22. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – The Law Firm topped 1,000 rushing yards for the second time in 2012, as he finished the season strongly with four 100 yard games and 543 rushing yards between Weeks 11-15. Unfortunately, he remains a plodding runner, averaging under 4.0 yards per carry for the 2nd consecutive season. The Bengals clearly like him but with multiple 1st round picks in tow may decide that an upgrade at running back is in order.
23. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw looks good and runs hard when he’s healthy but that hasn’t been often enough for the Giants liking. He topped 1,000 rushing yards for the 2nd time this season but both Andre Brown and rookie 1st round pick David Wilson showed flashes of brilliance, clouding Bradshaw’s future with the Giants. His return is likely but not guaranteed.
24. Mikel Leshoure, Lions – Leshoure was merely decent in 2012, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and gaining 798 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He displayed some ability as a receiver with 34 receptions but ceded playing time to journeyman Joique Bell during the season, a sign the Lions weren’t satisfied with his performance. With Jahvid Best’s return in doubt, Leshoure figures to get one more crack at solidifying his hold on the starting job in 2013.
25. Shonn Greene, Jets – A free agent at season’s end, Greene set career highs in rushing attempts (276), rushing yards (1,063) and rushing touchdowns (eight) in his contract year. Unfortunately, he looked like the same old Shonn Greene plodding his way to a 3.8 yards per carry average. With little behind him on the depth chart, look for him to remain a Jet in 2013.
26. Mark Ingram, Saints – After two seasons in which he averaged 3.9 yards per carry and totaled 1,076 rushing yards, it is safe to say the Saints nabbing Ingram late in the 1st round of the 2011 draft was a mistake. The sunny side up crowd can point to his production over the last four games (250 rushing yards) as hope for 2013 but Ingram no better than a RB3 entering next season.
27. Fred Jackson, Bills – 2013 looks like the year Fjax will cede the starting job to C.J. Spiller. Jackson remains a talented player but the Bills offense sorely needs the playmaking ability which Spiller supplies and that should relinquish Jackson to backup duties. Even then, he should see enough touches to be a solid RB3 or flex option. It’s not like the Bills are loaded with other options at the offensive skill positions.
28. Vick Ballard, Colts – Ballard isn’t ever going to get in the conversation discussing the league’s top backs but the 2012 5th round pick had a solid rookie season with 814 rushing yards and 152 passing yards as he nudged his way to the starting job throughout the course of the season. He averaged 67.9 rushing yards over the Colts final 11 games and would have been a low end RB2 if not for his paltry touchdown total (two). Donald Brown and Delone Carter both return in 2013 but the starting gig is Ballard’s to lose.
29. Willis McGahee, Broncos – On the plus side, McGahee performed well in 2012, gaining 731 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards per carry during the ten games he played. Unfortunately, a torn MCL ended his season and backup Knowshon Moreno performed just as well in his absence, gaining 668 yards and scoring three times over the Broncos final six games. Expect a timeshare in 2013 with 2012 3rd round pick Ronnie Hillman also getting in on the action.
30. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – See above. The Broncos backfield looks like it will resemble the Panthers backfield in 2013
31. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Ah, the Panthers backfield. Three solid running backs plus the league’s top rushing quarterback. Williams at least stayed healthy in 2011 and was solid down the stretch with 517 total yards and four touchdowns in his last four games.
32. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – See above. Stewart appeared to be the Panthers back to own in 2011 courtesy of his superior pass catching ability but this dude just can’t stay healthy.
33. Michael Turner, Falcons –With little tread left and a $5.5-million salary, Turner may not return to the Falcons in 2013. He averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry in 2012 with Atlanta turning into more of a passing team. There were several games where Turner was an afterthought in the game plan and it won’t be a surprise if the Falcons jettison the 30-year old prior to next season.