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Top 20 NFL Fantasy Football Running Backs: Preseason Edition

Arian Foster fantasy footballWelcome back friends and family and advice seekers, another season of Fantasy Football is upon us. The last hot days of August are where we are torn between trips to the shore and watching preseason games and doing football homework. We stop at the store not only just for milk and bread, but also for that magazine full of player stats and information that will help put us over the top this year. Last year is far behind, the past is the past, and it is redemption time!

I am proud to be back here again this season at as a fantasy writer, bringing my savvy and smarts to all of our followers. I play this game like it is my life sometimes, and I have good results and some trophies and rewards to show for the hard work. It’s a thrill, a joy and an all-out way of living for me from August until January. I watch NFL drafts, preseason games, do several mock drafts and it’s never enough.

I will let you in on this secret though: No one can predict injury, demotion, fumbles etc., so remember we are all only as smart as the end result. I bring you my best possible predictions, but nothing is concrete. So go in with your mind wide open, and leave your heart at the door. Hometown love gets you very little, and hate for a division rival of your team does not help much either. Dog eat dog is the theme, and to be the man, you have to beat the man! In other words here is my first pre-draft piece, the Top 20 NFL Running Backs, Enjoy!

[adinserter block=”1″]20. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins: In a busy backfield this guy is my favorite, and an excellent all-around back. Last season, in limited action he went over 1,000 total yards and caught 49 passes. A 4.2 yards per carry doesn’t hurt matters either. The knock from his coach is that he is not a great pass blocker, but we don’t get points for that here. He will go later in most drafts only because of his spot on the Redskin depth chart, but as a whole, he may be one of the best options to have. Having a rookie at QB can mean more passes as a safety valve, and Helu makes the most out of his touches. If you wait and miss him, you will be tortured by him, I promise!

19. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: In August of 2011 Bradshaw was one of the hottest names in the NFL after a terrific 2010 season. Then it all came crashing down. Injuries, a rebirth for Brandon Jacobs, and a loss for the holes had Bradshaw owners in tears. 2012 is here and he may be down on some peoples list but he still will be the main carrier here. If he can find his way back to 2010 when he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 47 receptions he will be a steal this late. Brandon Jacobs is gone and there is a rookie as his back up. It is clearly his job to lose, and worth the gamble here.

18. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons: He may not be “The Burner” as much now, but every year Turner brings the heat. He has had back-to-back 1,300+ yard seasons, double-digit TD’s, and yes even finding himself more involved in the passing game each year. The fear is all the hype surrounding teammate Jacquizz Rodgers and how he will steal touches. Rodgers is a Darren Sproles-type player with speed and skills, but Turner is the veteran and the leader here. Yes, he comes in at number 18 here, but you would be lucky to get him this late if he can continue his regular production.

17. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins: At one point early in his career he was the guy we loved to hate. Come on let’s face it, big money contract, dating Kim Kardashian, waving his finger at Brian Urlacher in the playoffs, who liked Reggie Bush outside of New Orleans? Now we fast forward: No longer lost in the shuffle in New Orleans, and now a bigger, stronger lead back in Miami, and it paid off for owners last year. Very few backs were as good as Bush near the end of the season, and over the last 4 games he averaged 130 rush yards, including over 200 in week 11, 8 catches and 2 TD’s. If Bush stays healthy he can easily do this again as Miami looks to rebuild its offense. He will need to earn touches, but if he does them like this, he will be just fine.

16. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints: Who kicked themselves more in 2011? The San Diego Chargers or fantasy owners who passed on Sproles? Clearly a tie, am I right? Yes, he was a share-time player and was on the filed less than a lot of players, but he so paid off. Over 1,300 yards of offense, a whopping 86 catches, 6.9 yards per carry, and 9 TD’s are amazing numbers, so you can imagine how big he can be if he plays more! The Saints are probably well aware of what they have here, and despite having a lot of weapons to use, he will be the busiest again this year.

15. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys: Bursting on to the scene in 2011, Murray proved valuable when he was healthy. 5.5 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at, and he also hauled in 26 catches, so we know he has the hands. The big drawback was his lack of TD’s. The fear is that Felix Jones is still in Dallas, and was a guy handpicked by owner Jerry Jones, also they have a lot of guys who deserve touches all over the field. I find Murray to be the most talented RB in Dallas, but we have to wait and see how that plays on the field. If you take Murray, you may also have to try and grab Jones.

14. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: His name is never the sexiest pick, and you rarely hear owners moaning and groaning when someone slaps Gore’s name up on the draft board. Truth be told though, Gore can handle his own, as in 2011 when he gained over 1,200 rush yards, and scored 8 TD’s. People question his health, yet he played all 16 games last season. The one problem, his catches went down drastically to just 17 in 2011. The 49ers loaded up with WR’s this off-season, but that could make things more open on the ground for Gore. You can’t beat the possible outlook at getting him in the 4th round based on history, can you?

13. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns: As long as his knee is healthy, he will be the load-carrying back for the Browns. It seems like Cleveland is doing all they can to make him comfortable too, as they put the second best back, Chris Ogbonnaya, at number 4 on the depth chart. Richardson can follow up from what Ogbonnaya did last year, 4.6 yards per carry and 23 catches in limited play, which a guy like Richardson should be able to top. Yes, the usual fears apply: He is a rookie, he comes in banged up, has a rookie QB, and is a Brown. However if you remember, when Peyton Hillis had his huge break out year he was also a Brown, also dealing with a young QB and had a history of being banged up. Someone will take him early, now what can he do?

12. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: What is it that owners dislike about Jackson? Why would they dislike his multiple 1,000+ yard seasons? His 40+ catches every year? Perhaps it is his improved 4.4 yards per carry in 2011? Every year Jackson gets less and less respect, but he always finds his way to get good numbers. More TD’s would be nice, and as the Rams offense improves, so should Jackson’s already good numbers. He is the king of the second-tier backs, but we all need them too don’t we? For a fantasy team that will pile up WR’s early, he is a prime top back.

11. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: K.C. seems to do all it can to make us afraid of this guy. The Thomas Jones thing, the 3 back committee, and now Peyton Hillis is in the fold. Charles of course needs to prove he is back from his 2011 knee injury, and if he can you can’t bet against his numbers. 6 yards per carry, 8 TD’s per season, and a career high 1,467 rushing yards in 2010 are awesome stats. They like to imply a hammer and nails type running attack in K.C. The big back hammers the defense then the speed back nails it shut. Charles is that ultimate speed back and has great hands. If he is healthy he can easily return to Top 5 status!

10. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: Before his clavicle snapped, Mathews was considered a Top 5 pick by any draft “expert” you would ask. The Chargers ditched Mike Tolbert, and added some veterans to fill that spot, but none are a big threat to Mathews. Head coach Norv Turner said he will touch the ball even more than last year, when he rushed for close to 1,100 yards at 4.9 per carry and caught 50 passes. He will heal and is expected back close to the beginning of the year, so while you can no longer take him in round 1, he will be gone by round 3 by a patient owner with a good bench. Be that owner!

9. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: Raise your hand if you had “Skittles” as a top 10 back last year. Okay liars, but your hands down and listen up. Lynch found his game again last year with over 1,200 yards rushing, 12 TD’s, 28 receptions and at 4.2 yards per carry average. He showed big play skills, power running, and a team attitude that made him a model player for the Seahawks. Now he has to clean up his act off the field so he can be fully trusted. He is probably the only certain thing going into this season for Seattle, and if he can follow 2011’s performance up, will be a Top 5 player!

8. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: The nickname “All Day” has become more and more fitting for Peterson, because all day, every day I wonder about him and his value. Yes, the man runs like a bull, and has done little to make us believe he is not an excellent back. Now though in 2012 he needs to come back from a big injury, a rumored police incident, and a bad offense. I would be lying if I said I don’t trust him, come on the guy had 12 TD’s last year despite missing time, but also got less catches. Peterson is an enigma, and he needs to be solved. However if he solves himself like usual, he will post numbers that can lead a team a long way, um a fantasy team that is!

7. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders: The make or break season for McFadden is here, and at just 25 years old. You can’t argue his talent, 5.4 yards per carry, 3 catches per game and 5 TD’s in just 7 games last year, but it is his injuries that make owners suffer. Last season he missed 9 games, 3 the year before, and 2 the year before that. His main backup, Michael Bush is now in Chicago, which means more action for “Run DMC”, and if he can prove he can carry that load he may be the best fantasy back in the league. However another DMC year injury wise like last year, and people will quit on him quickly. I for one love this guy, but even the best of love comes with the highest of caution.

6. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: Production of the highest caliper is what you get from MJD. 1,600 yards last year, 11 TD’s and 4.7 yards per carry in 2011 is just another year in the life for Drew, but he has issues this year that scare some. He did not get his new contract he wanted, and contracts hurt players ( see Chris Johnson ), and has a young and uncertain QB to deal with this year. It is easy to love MJD, his power running style, his great hands and his nose for the end zone, but it is also easy to fall into the trap of fear that is the Jags mess. You still can’t pass him up in the late first round or early second, and why should you?

5. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: I chuckle at everyone who knocks him. I chuckle at the Bears for trying to take touches from him, and I will laugh at owners who pass him by at the appropriate time. Before his injury last year, Forte was piling up the fantasy points with his usual style of catches and yards, 4.9 per carry to be exact. And as always, expect over 50 catches. He is an open-field nightmare for defenses, and makes the most out of his plays. Yeah, we all know Michael Bush can play, and may hurt his TD’s, but heck he has never been a huge TD guy and still gets the digits. Some players play better with something to prove, Forte did it last year when wanting a contract, and will give it his best this season to prove that he belongs well ahead of Bush. I for one like Forte.

4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: On a hunch, I am getting myself back in the CJ2K business. In 2009, Johnson was being dubbed “The next L.T.” and was seen by many as the best player in the NFL. A contract holdout, new QB’s, and a lack of training camps and dedication led to a tough last few years for Johnson. The fact is he can still run like the wind, he catches 50+ balls every year, and despite his slow start in 2011, still found his way over 1,000 yards. Taking him this early is a risk, no doubt, but I love the way he plays, and he is back to his comfort zone. The Titans are the prime example of the run setting up the pass, so they will need him, they will trust him, and he very well should produce. He has proven he can go over 2,000 rush yards, not many backs can say that, and now lots of owners want to say that again.

[adinserter block=”1″]3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles: Much like the man he replaced, Brian Westbrook, McCoy snuck up on the fantasy world and has become a superstar. 20 total TD’s last year along with over 1,300 rushing yards at a 4.8 per carry clip are excellent stats, now imagine if he goes back to the guy who caught 78 passes in 2010 over the 48 in 2011. McCoy is high on everyone’s charts, and he should be, as the Eagles will need to run the ball to help protect QB Mike Vick. The scary thing is, McCoy can only get better, and this season he may be the best. Take that chance, even possibly as early as first overall.

2. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: His off year of 2010 was a distant memory in 2011 when Rice hammered defenses for over 2,000 total yards, also catching 76 passes and scoring 12 TD’s. The Ravens rewarded him with a new contract and the assurance that he is the leader of that offense. Where he differs from McCoy is that around the goal line he is the main choice, and does not have a running QB that may look to create more. Rice runs with the power of a big back, the speed of a fleet back and the smarts of a hall of fame back. If not for the talent of the only guy ahead of him, Rice would be number 1, and in some people’s eyes, he is!

1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Numbers, they rarely lie. Over 3,000 rushing yards, 30 TD’s and 119 catches over the last 2 years by a guy who was an undrafted free agent has to sell everyone on the fact that Foster is the fantasy leader at RB. Yes, he missed a few games last year, and shared carries with Ben Tate, but yet still was a top 5 producer, and helped Houston become a serious contender in the league. He now has his starting QB back, a good offensive line, and the out and out will to be a winner. He is number 1, maybe not as clear as last year, but this guy is still number 1. This is our new L.T., so use it as a measuring stick, get that top pick, and make it Foster.

So here are my top fantasy football RB’s going into 2012. There are many familiar names, but all the guys who should be counted on to put up the numbers. We will look at QB’s and WR’s coming up in the near future, until then sit down and do your homework!

If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at

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