Yesterday we covered the Top 20 Quarterbacks, and today we will run down the Top 20 Running Backs of the 2012 Fantasy season. This use to be a position of great importance in the first round of the draft, but not so much anymore.

There are very few runners who are worthy of a first round pick and many runners split time, so it is tough to judge value for some of them. Injuries have become such a factor as well, that unless you get a Top 5 runner, it may be worth the wait to get your first.

#1 LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (Age 24)
McCoy is the man in Philly, and he showed it last year totaling 20 TDs. He will be more than productive this year and I expect him to push for nearly 2,000 yards of total offense. In PPR formats McCoy has even more value as he can easily catch 50 balls. There is no one behind him to take any reps away and the Eagles have an arsenal of weapons that will avoid many defenses from trying to just focus on McCoy. He is what we call fantasy gold, and the closest runner to a sure thing.

#2 Arian Foster, Houston Texans (Age 26)
Speaking of a sure thing, this guy is a scheme beast. Do not know if he would be this productive on another team, but he is more like a 1b in these rankings really. An undrafted FA from a couple of years ago, in 13 starts last year, he scored 12 times and put up 1,800 total yards… IN ONLY 13 GAMES! Ben Tate even managed 1,000 total yards along with 4 scores in this offense, that’s pretty good too. So I’ll take Foster as the #2 fantasy runner this year, with upside obviously being the #1 runner overall. I would cuff him with Tate just in case.

#3 Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (Age 25)
Rice's fantasy value has never been higher, he is an every down back who can catch extremely well and find the goal line in the red zone without a problem. McGahee was a TD vulture until he left last year, and Rice really showed what he can do. He accounted for 15 total touchdowns last, which was what he had his entire career coming into the year. In PPR leagues you could even consider him as a 1c. He has caught over 60 balls every year he has been in the NFL, so it easy to see why the Ravens wanted this contract dispute over. He is the last of the 1x players.

#4 Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (Age 25)
Wow... look, Mathews got injured…AGAIN! This time he was in a car accident, from of all things, going too fast. Now that Ricky Bobby is done being an idiot on the road, maybe he can focus on being the #4 runner I expect him to be. I made reference to him being hurt again because he always is. His elbow, his knee, his head, his leg, whatever… he is a china doll. But IF he can stay healthy, and that’s a big IF, he can easily become a top 5 runner. With the loss of Tolbert, that solidifies the fact that he is the new every down back. Those are priceless this day in age in the NFL. But let’s hope Matthews does not trip on the way to the games, he might need to be placed on IR.

#5 Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (Age 27)
Johnson had a lot to prove after his hold out last year, but it did not go as well as he would have liked. His touchdowns dropped off, largely because the team’s offense was just not good. He will have a full year of training camp and should see a larger roll again this year because he will be in shape. Johnson is very good at catching passes as well, and with Locker coming along, he may need to rely on CJ2K a lot. Johnson will not come close to the 2K he had a few years ago, but he is still an every down back and a stud to boot.

#6 Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (Age 22)
This guy can do it all, run, catch, block and win.  Richardson a guy the Browns took to be the staple of their offense, and he can be with an offensive line like they have in Cleveland. He has a wall to run behind and that helps out with a young guy’s confidence. TRich lands on a team with a rookie QB as well, so he will be relied upon greatly this coming year. He should easily receive 300 touches and if the offense moves the ball, expect him to get double digit touchdowns.

#7 Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (Age 25)
Darren McFadden has a heart of a lion but a body of a spider. Fragile does not begin to describe this guy. In his best year, which was 2010, he had over 1600 total yards and 10 scores. That is pretty good, but if you add up his other three years, McFadden only has a combined 2,000 plus yards and 10 TDs. That means he is not really good or missed a lot of games. I'll say he missed a lot of games to say the least. He is coming of an ankle injury that made him miss most of last year, and when you’re a running back, rumor is you need your ankles. Manage expectations, but his upside is unbelievable.

#8 Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (Age 27)
Forte has settled the contract dispute that caused him to miss OTAs, but that is OK; he is recovering from a major knee injury and needed the rest. He didn't miss much. Forte will be back for the start of the season and will be as big of a beast as ever. He is a very productive back who managed good numbers behind a horrible O-line last year. He now has a pretty good receiver out wide in Marshall, so that will cause defenses to not just focus on Forte all the time. Cutler is back and healthy and loves to drop it off, and keep in mind, Forte has never had less than 50 catches in a season. With the Cutler and Marshall combo back together, that should help the PPR numbers for Forte even more. Worry very little about Bush and Bell as a back ups, just draft them for the cuff.

#9 DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (Age 24)
Murray is a really fast back and is a quick as anyone in the game, but he manages to get banged up a lot dating back to his college days. However, with an offense as loaded as his and a backup who can’t pass a conditioning test as well as having his own injury history, you can’t pass on Murray here. Murray was waiver wire gold last year but will not be this year as he is in the top 12 of everyone’s board. He had a hefty average of 5.7 yards per touch and accounted for over 1,000 yards of offense in his rookie campaign. It bothers me that he managed to only get two scores, but that will no doubt increase. The studs around him with Tony Romo throwing to Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten make him too good to pass up.

#10 Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (Age 27)
Peterson's knee is going to be fine, so let’s get that out of the way now. However, I should disclose that I’m not a doctor and I just play one on websites. He is not just some running back who tore an ACL; he is a freak of nature. Already sprinting just months after  the injury and now making cuts and looking just as good as he ever has. (I have him in a dynasty; I’ve been paying close attention.) Peterson is coming off a career low 209 carries and still has enough miles for this year. He has never posted under double digit scores, so he is great value in the end of the second tier, even if he misses the first few games. This is the kind of guy you want on your fantasy team. He is a beast with something to prove. He is not someone you would make your first overall pick, but second or third? Sure.

#11 Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (Age 26)
Skittles looked like “Beast Mode” again last year posting 1,300 total yards and 13 scores. Lynch is the only play maker on this team, other than Rice, so he should approach 300 touches this year. Although he has not consistently caught 40+ balls, he has done it once before, so the potential is there. Lynch is an every down back who drops to this position on the board because of legal troubles. Be very cautious if you take him, and be prepared for a suspension.

#12 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (Age 27)
MJD is the only guy this team has worth a damn. Gabby sucks, Blackmon is not even signed yet, receivers suck and Mercedes Lewis is overweight. It is just a mess, and may not be worth the risk even though he has been the main offensive focal point over the past few seasons. MJD has had at least 330 touches each of the last three years. So he gets the opportunities, and opportunity wins championships, plus he is a TD hawk. With that said – Draft with caution! Hold out issues and history of lower leg injuries as well as just being on a bad team just make it a risky situation.

#13 Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Age 25)
Charles' season last year was over before he knew it. Blew out his knee against Detroit and had tons of time to get ready ever since. It happened early in the season, and from everything I have read, he has recovered well. Charles has a career average of 6.6 yards per touch and is very versatile out of the backfield. The Chiefs signed Peyton Hillis to a one year deal and he has something to prove, so he will take many carries away from Charles. Charles is a play maker, and you want play makers on your fantasy team.

#14 Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons (Age 30)
Everyone is down on this guy, I think it has a lot to do with the media hype of Quizz, but Turner will still perform at a very high level this year. Even though he is 30 years-old, he has many miles left on his legs as he has only had three seasons of 300 plus touches. Every year that he has been in Atlanta, he has had double digit touchdowns and that will not change this year. I see 1,100+ yards and 10 TDs for Turner. With all the options Atlanta has in the passing game, defenses cannot possibly just focus on Turner and the run game.

#15 Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints (Age 29)
Darren Sproles caused a lot of defenses headaches last year and rightfully so. He is small, fast, quick, and one damn good athlete. He returns punts, kicks, carries the ball well and is a great receiver out of the backfield. In PPRs he could possibly be drafted higher than this. On just 173 touches in 2011, he produced 1,300 plus total yards and nine scores. I don’t expect him to duplicate those numbers, but he will come close and still catch many balls. Sproles should not be your first runner, but you can do way worse for your number two.

#16 Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (Age 26)
First of all, I have a little resentment towards him as he cost me some cash in the SB squares with his "fall in the end zone" mishap. UGH! Bradshaw is going to have a chance to show what he can do as the lead back this year. The Giants went out and replaced Brandon Jacobs with David Wilson who was taken in the first round this year. Bradshaw was most productive when he was in a committee with someone who was capable, as his best year of 2010 proved that when he produced 1,500+ total yards and 8 total TDs touchdowns when Jacobs was good. Bradshaw may be able to top that this year, but it is always a gamble with him.

#17 Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins (Age 27)
Last year was his best year to date as he ran for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and had 1,382 total yards with 7 scores. He is phenomenal as a pass catcher out of the backfield and rumor has it that he will be used more often in that sense. He has been claiming that he can reach 2,000 total yards this year, so maybe he is under the impression he will get more opportunities, and that’s a good sign for any fantasy football owner who has Bush or is targeting him on their rosters. I know he has a history of injuries, but he is a talented back that has become better at being a running back.

#18 Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Age 23)
I mentioned yesterday that Greg Schiano loves to run the ball and he is committed to doing it this season. Martin has a good history in college of running the ball all over the field, as he is strong up the middle and quick outside. He has great ability at being a receiver out if the backfield and can block when needed as he showed he can pick up the blitz in college. Granted that is college and that is all we have to go off of. LaGarrette Blount can have an effect on him if he struggles early, but Martin should be the best runner on his team, and will get the majority of the carries.

#19 Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (Age 29)
He has tons of miles on him, and is way older than his actual age in football years, but he should still perform as a #2 runner. With the new OC Shottenheimer wanting to wear teams out by running the ball, this will be one of the teams that ground and pound the most this year. They drafted Pead to be a replacement down the road and a good number two for Jackson this year and maybe next, but Jackson should still see 18+ carries a game. He managed to put up almost 1,500 total yards and still caught 42 balls last year. His only downside is he only scored 6 times. Fisher is a guy who likes to give the balls to his play makers, and Jackson is the only one he has right now.

#20 CJ Spiller, Buffalo Bills (Age 25)
After Fred Jackson went down with his broken leg, Spiller stepped up and filled in nicely. He accumulated over 500 total yards, caught the ball 20 times and scored four times over the last five games last year. Other than Stevie Johnson and Fred Jackson, there is not much on this team. They already stated that they might work Spiller out wide as well and that will help his value in PPR. Spiller can perform as a low end number two this year, so do not be surprised if he does.

Join me tomorrow as I will go over the Top 20 Wide Receivers of the 2012 season. See you then.

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