Lets me start out by saying that there are three elite 1st round RB no-brainers; Foster, McCoy and Rice (in no certain order). After those three there is a bit of a drop off in fantasy production. If those three are gone I would draft another position in the first round but if you’re one of those people who have to have a running back with your first pick you got to do what makes you feel comfortable.
1. LeSean McCoy: As long as McCoy stays healthy and Andy Reid doesn’t go back to passing the ball 70 percent of the time, McCoy is my number one guy. If you’re in a PPR league his value increases even more because he’s probably going to average around 4 catches and 25 yards (which gives him an extra 6 points every week, not including TD’s) a game. He hasn’t threatened to hold out like a few other elite RB’s this year and with the success he had last year, look for Philly to stay committed to the ground game (also because they need to cut back on the hits Vick takes). I think he is a safer pick than Rice or Foster as well so if you happen to be the first person to take a RB off the board, I’d go with McCoy.
2. Arian Foster: The consistent number one guy on just about everybody’s rankings, he comes in at number 2 on my list. He has had injury problems and fumble issues so he does have a little risk on him. If he continues to put the ball on the ground this year I have absolutely no doubt that Ben Tate will start to take away quite a few carries from Foster on a week-to-week basis. He does play a weak schedule and can give you monster receiving numbers (three 100+ yards receiving games last year!). Because of that weak schedule, Houston could easily clinch the division fairly early and Foster might have limited to no touches in some games at the end of the year. If he can stay healthy all year he could easily end up putting up better numbers than McCoy, but to me McCoy is a safer pick because I have more faith that he will play all 16 games.
3. Ray Rice: Holdout running backs scare me if they miss time in camp (case in point Chris Johnson last year) but Rice is committed to staying in shape even if he misses some time. Joe “Check Down” Flacco adds to Rice’s value because he’s going to get around 5 receptions a game (and average 40+ yards in those games). Rice plays arguably the toughest schedule of all this year’s running backs so I think his numbers will come down just a bit from last year. He’s been as durable as RBs come since he’s came into the league so injury concerns are non-existent. Again, holdout players are risky but if anybody can back from one unscathed it’s this guy.
4. Chris Johnson: Call me crazy but I really like Johnson this year. His holdout last year really hurt him but he did manage to go it together by mid-season (followed by falling off his last four games). His offensive line last year was bad and maybe with the addition of former Viking Steve Hutchinson it can upgrade to average. Johnson is still a receiving threat and has been relatively healthy his whole career so he does have some things in his favor. Johnson has a weak schedule like Foster so look I don’t see a lot of single digit letdowns like last year. He is somewhat of a gamble so I wouldn’t risk reaching for him in the first round; he’s a second round possibility to me.
5. Ryan Mathews: I think this is a make or break year for Mathews. Every year people expect him to break out and become a star but due to injuries it’s never came to happen. Despite battling injuries last year Mathews still managed to become a top 10 fantasy back for the first time in his career. He’s another guy that will get you some extra points receiving and with Mike Tolbert leaving Mathews will get even more touches. He’s a no doubt second rounder with a lot of upside.
6. Matt Forte: Well it’s official, Forte is not going to be holding out. With that red flag gone and the fact that he’s back to 100%, Forte has climbed a little in my rankings. Unlike my assessment of Jay Cutler I think Mike Martz’s departure hurts Forte’s value a little due to the fact that I think his receptions will take a hit. I also think the Bears will be spreading it around more with the arrival of their new receivers. With that said, I think it will end up being a fair trade off for Forte because he’ll be seeing fewer defenders in the box and will be as big as a threat rushing as receiving. He doesn’t score a lot of TDs on the ground (or receiving for that matter) so he’s not a top 5 back for me this year.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew: Last year’s leading rusher scares me going into this year. All signs point to a lengthy hold out and I fear he won’t be as ready for the start of the season as Ray Rice. He is pretty much his team’s offense, with the worst QB in the NFL starting behind center, so teams can stack the line of scrimmage to try and stop MJD. He’s not as big as a receiving threat as the people listed ahead of him and he only gets you a touchdown pretty much every other game. I don’t think has as much potential this year as guys like Forte, Peterson or Mathews but since he’s been a model of consistency his whole career I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I personally would pick up until the 3rd or maybe 4th round.
8. Adrian Peterson: If you have any idea how many games it will take until Peterson gets up near 100% I would like to know. One week people are saying he looks healthy and will be ready for the start of the season and another week people are saying he will be put on the PUP list and not see the field until week 6. Nobody has a clue and it makes projecting Peterson’s fantasy value extremely difficult. The improved offensive line, quality of receivers to prevent stacking the line and weak schedule make me have to put Peterson here at 8. He has HUGE upside this year because people are skeptical of when he will return and will fall in drafts. I would not let him past me in the third round but you could possible get him even later than that.
9. Darren McFadden: This is the year McFadden stays (somewhat) healthy. He was an absolute monster last year before getting hurt (again) and his RB partner Michael Bush is no longer on the team. I can honestly sit here and go on for an hour on how great McFadden could be this year but in all comes down to injuries with him. If you don’t trust in his ability to stay healthy you’re not going to draft him, if you do think he’ll stay healthy he’s an early round pick for you. I have faith this year so I’d take the gamble.
10. Beanie Wells: Beanie is my surprise fantasy back for 2012. He’s another guy with injury problems and has the additional misfortune of having no idea who his QB is going to be for the majority of the year. He’s got a run first coach, a good defense behind him and some great receivers to spread the defense so if he can stay on the field and not on the sidelines he could put together a very nice year. Despite being probable or doubtful for almost every single game last year he still ended up being a top 15 back. He’s a undervalued sleeper for me that you could get in the middle of the draft, after you get both your WRs, a QB, RB and TE.