Sep 5, 2012
::RANKINGS UPDATED AS OF SEPTEMBER 8, 2012::
Here we are folks…it is finally Week 1 of the 2012 fantasy football season. Opening kickoff is Wednesday, and most fantasy football drafts have already been completed. Now it’s time to set your lineups, and you probably have a ton of question marks at running back, because that is summarizing the position in the early going. There are top backs returning from injuries, new backs in new places with new roles and rookies all thrown into a very confusing mix. We try to make sense of it all and help you field the best lineup possible in our Week 1 fantasy football running back rankings.
(+PPR) 1. Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) vs. Cincinnati
Already a stud in 2009 and 2010, Rice was simply the best in 2011 with over 2,000 total yards and 15 total touchdowns. The 25-year old is in the prime of his career, has started all 16 games for three straight years and is about as safe a bet as it gets in fantasy football. Rice starts the 2012 season against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team he tore apart last year to the tune of 346 total yards and four touchdowns in two games. Overall, the Bengals were a solid run defense last year, holding opposing runners to 3.9 YPC, but Rice isn’t just any back and clearly has their number. The former Scarlet Knight is quite simply a plug-and-play RB1 who should help lead many fantasy football teams to glory this season.
Point Projection: 23 points
(+PPR) 2. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles) @ Cleveland
Shady cemented himself as an elite fantasy football option in 2011 with over 1,600 total yards and a whopping 20 total touchdowns. While touchdowns vary from year to year, the way the Eagles’ offense is built should continue to give McCoy plenty of scoring opportunities, which he is pretty good at cashing in. One of the safest RB1 options out there, the 24-year-old gets a great matchup right out of the gate in Cleveland. The Browns allowed 147.4 YPG last season, third worst in the NFL, so there will be plenty of running room for McCoy. There’s not a whole lot to say here…McCoy looks poised to make his fantasy owners smile once again in 2012.
Point Projection: 22 points
(PPR+) 3. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears) vs. Indianapolis
Forte became one of the premier pass-catchers out of the backfield last season with 52 catches and 490 yards. He was also very efficient on the ground averaging 4.9 YPC with 997 yards, but he managed just four total touchdowns thanks to vulturing from Marion Barber. Now, the Bears signed Michael Bush for goal line duties, so he will once again struggle for scoring opportunities. Another concern him is that Jay Cutler recently said he wouldn’t be throwing to Forte as much this year, which will hurt his PPR stock. He should still be a decent source of catches and will be the workhorse out of the backfield, but there are plenty of factors working against him in Chicago. If there is a week that owners should have no doubts about Forte’s production it is Week 1 when the Bears host the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts allowed 143.9 YPG on the ground last season, so Forte should have a field day in your RB1 slot.
Point Projection: 20 points
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4. Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders) vs. San Diego
The former No.4 overall pick is entering his fifth pro season and is hoping to stay healthy and not miss any time with injury for the first time in his career. Run DMC was absolutely unbelievable for the first six games of 2011 with 761 total yards and six touchdowns, but then injury struck and he was unable to return. Everyone knows what he is capable of and despite the injury concerns he was still drafted in the first round for many fantasy football teams. The former Arkansas stud survived the preseason and looks 100 percent for a Week 1 matchup against San Diego. The Chargers struggled in stopping the run last year, allowing 122.2 YPG, and Run DMC is going to look to take advantage of that this week. There is a chance for some real big things this season, but can he stay on the field? We will just have to wait and see. For now, he is a must-start RB1.
Point Projection: 18 points
(+PPR) 5. Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) vs. New England
After a lengthy holdout last offseason that lasted through the preseason, CJ2K struggled much of 2011 and managed just over 1,000 yards on the ground. He did have a nice year as a receiver, but he is going to look to get back to the 2,000-yard rusher fantasy owners loved back in 2009. The New England Patriots were so-so against the run last year so that shouldn’t be much of a concern. It is mostly a matter of how good Johnson himself looks, and how smoothly the offense will run with Jake Locker under center. Consider him a low-end RB1 for Week 1 and hope he can show signs of becoming the beast he was a couple years ago.
Point Projection: 17 points
(+PPR) 6. Arian Foster (Houston Texans) vs. Miami **GAME-TIME DECISION - CHECK BACK ON SUNDAY**
Foster quickly tossed aside injury concerns early in the year and finished with another big year with over 1,800 total yards and 12 touchdowns. He made it through preseason healthy and was drafted No.1 overall by many fantasy football owners. He’ll look to reward them (not that he cares about fantasy) Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. The ‘Fins had surprisingly one of the best run defenses in the league last year, allowing just 3.7 YPC and 95.6 YPG and held Foster to 33 yards on 10 carries in their matchup last season. It’s not the greatest matchup, but will the Dolphins defense be as good as last year? Foster will answer that question in Week 1.
Point Projection: 16 points
7. Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons) @ Kansas City
The Burner continues to be one of the most disregarded backs in fantasy football. Sure, there are many things working against him this year such as the presence of two capable backs, the amount of wear and tear on his legs and of course the fact that he doesn’t catch passes. What Turner does, though, and has done for four seasons is rack up yards and score. An injury that slowed him in 2009 is long gone as he since has over 1,300 yards the past two seasons, and in the last four seasons he has never scored less than 10 touchdowns. The Falcons want to lighten up his workload just a bit this year and are looking to pass more, which again could hurt his value, but he is a grinder and should be a solid low-end RB1 this season. The Kansas City Chiefs run defense was ranked near the bottom of the barrel last season, and Turner should be able to find his running lanes and keep chugging along.
Point Projection: 16 points
(+PPR) 8. DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys) vs. New York Giants
Murray is one of the most interesting and intriguing running back options in all of fantasy football. Last year as a rookie, Murray exploded for 253 yards on 25 carries filling in for the injured Felix Jones, and he followed that up with two more games exceeding 130 yards on the ground. However, a broken ankle cut his exciting season short. He also had injury issues at Oklahoma, so there is plenty of concern here. What fantasy owners saw in those few games was an impressive mix of speed and power that proves he can be a force in this league if healthy. Last year, Felix Jones showed he can’t handle a full workload, and while Jones is going to get his fair share of carries, Murray is going to get the chance to be the lead back. The New York Giants were inconsistent against the run last year, allowing 121.5 YPG. The Giants were the team the Cowboys were facing when Murray broke his ankle, so the young runner could be looking for some redemption against their division foe. There is plenty of upside here but also plenty of risk. Consider him a solid RB2 for Week 1.
Point Projection: 15 points
(PPR+) 9. Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams) @ Detroit
S-Jax has been a household fantasy football name for the past seven seasons as a consistent runner with solid receiving skills whose biggest flaw was the team he played on and their lack of scoring ability. Now 29 and in his ninth year in the NFL, the big man has some miles on him and has dealt with injuries in the past. He should still be considered a low-end RB1 this year, but owners will have concerns in the back of their minds all season about the aging runner who now has an exciting young rookie in Isaiah Pead behind him. Despite all the concerns, Jackson is an obvious must-start Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, who allowed 5.0 YPC to opposing runners last year along with 128.1 YPG. He should be able to get off to a nice start in 2012.
Point Projection: 15 points
10. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs) vs. Atlanta
Charles’ 2011 season was cut short early when he tore his ACL in Week 2. If there is one positive to look at, though, it’s that it happened so early last season and he looks recovered and ready to be a force again in 2012. The Chiefs also brought in Peyton Hillis to share carries this season which does hamper his value. The two could work well together and provide a balanced rushing attack while both catching a fair amount of passes. Charles can’t be considered a clear-cut RB1 just yet, but Week 1 could go a long way in bringing him back to that status. Unfortunately for him, the Atlanta Falcons held opponents to 97 YPG on the ground last year, so it could be a tough go of it for Charles. Start him and hope for decent RB2 production.
Point Projection: 14 points
(+PPR) 11. Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions) vs. St. Louis
With Jahvid Best starting the season on the PUP list, Smith will start as the Lions top runner. The veteran back had a handful of big games last year but suffered from his own injury issues as well. He as already been troubled by ankle issues this preseason but practiced Monday and barring any setbacks looks good to go against the St. Louis Rams in Week 1. Smith couldn’t ask for a better matchup to start the season as the Lions host the Rams, who had the second worst run defense in the league. The team gave up 4.8 YPC and 152.1 YPG to opposing runners last season. As long as his ankle holds up, expect a solid game both on the ground and through the air Sunday.
Point Projection: 13 points
12. DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers) @ Tampa Bay
D-Willy rejoins longtime battery-mate Jonathan Stewart for 2012 after a so-so 2011 season sharing the workload. With Cam Newton’s running ability and Mike Tolbert also in the mix, it’s going to be tough for Williams to find scoring opportunities this season. Week 1, however, may be his best chance up against the worst run defense in 2011. Tampa Bay allowed a league-worst 156 YPG and 26 touchdowns to opposing runners last year. Couple that with the fact that Stewart may be out, and Williams could be a surprising producer this week. His value strongly hinges on the status of Stewart.
Point Projection: 13 points **RANKED AS IF JONATHAN STEWART IS OUT**
(PPR+) 13. Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants) vs. Dallas
When Brandon Jacobs left New York to join San Francisco this offseason, many joked that Bradshaw finally had a 260-pound weight lifted off his back. Well, that may be the case, but the 26-year-old averaged a concerning 3.9 YPC last season and totaled just 926 yards, saving his fantasy football season only by scoring 11 touchdowns. It was a drop from the over 1,500 total yards Bradshaw accumulated the year before. Sure, his continued foot problems could be attributed, but who is to say they got any better this offseason? Bradshaw will be starting this year, but he will now be pushed by rookie David Wilson, a similar runner who has shown plenty of burst this preseason and will provide the Giants with fresh legs from time to time this season. In Week 1, Bradshaw goes up against the Dallas Cowboys, a team he struggled to gain yardage against last year. In two games against the Cowboys, Bradshaw totaled just 89 yards, but did manage to find the end zone twice in their second contest. Bradshaw is a good RB2 for Week 1, and owners will hope he can find a bit more consistency throughout this season.
Point Projection:13 points
14. Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) vs. Carolina
The Bucs first round pick beat out LeGarrette Blount this preseason and will start at running back for the Bucs in Week 1. The rookie out of Boise State gets to ease into the NFL with a matchup against the Carolina Panthers soft run defense. The Panthers allowed 130.8 YPG on the ground last season, so while the rookie is a bit of a wildcard, he has the matchup to make an impact in Week 1.
Point Projection: 12 points
15. Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers) @ Green Bay
For the first time since 2006, Gore managed to play a full 16 games in 2012 and was pretty effective overall with 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The team seemed to move away from using him as a receiver as 2011 was the first time in five seasons as the starter Gore didn’t catch at least 43 passes, finishing with just 17. It hurt his PPR value, but by lightening his workload a bit the Niners hope he’ll be able to stay healthy longer. The Packers were OK against the run last year, just not nearly as effective as their Super Bowl team two years ago. Consider Gore an RB2 for Week 1.
Point Projection: 12 points
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