Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 50 running backs for 2012

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Running backs still reign supreme in fantasy football, regardless of how many people insist that quarterbacks have taken the throne.

With the scarcity of running backs, it becomes even more difficult for fantasy owners to fill their rosters with a pair of capable ball carriers week in and week out. In 2012, the position is as thin as it has ever been at the top. Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Lesean McCoy represent the cream of the crop, but after the top three, it seems every running back comes with question marks.

I will be stockpiling running backs early in my fantasy drafts for that reason. After the first few rounds, the position suffers a huge drop-off in talent. While the third, fourth and fifth rounds will be littered with quality starting wide receivers, fantasy owners are not guaranteed to find a serviceable running back in that range.

The old RB-RB mantra may apply this season, though of course owners are always encouraged to keep value in mind and draft the top player on the board.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the overvalued and undervalued running backs heading into the season and check out the rankings.

Overvalued

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (ADP:7)

Chris Johnson is one of the riskiest picks in fantasy football. Since signing his lucrative contract extension last season, Johnson completely went into the tank, giving very little effort and turning in a pedestrian season as a result. It's tough to warrant taking Johnson in the top half of the first round when there's no guarantee he'll give his best effort every week.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jagaurs (ADP: 9)

Maurice Jones-Drew was a monster last season, leading the league in rushing depite playing in the league's worst offense. That workload could be cause for concern this season. MJD will likely report to camp on time, but even so, I think he will be given fewer carries with Rashad Jennings back form injury. I don't think Jones-Drew is worth a first round pick.

Undervalued

Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions (ADP: Round 6)

The concussions are an obvious concern with Jahvid Best, but at his current ADP he is worth the risk. Best is a game-changer when healthy, and given the unpredictable nature of injuries, he could be a fantasy steal this season.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots (ADP: Round 7)

The New England Patriots are likely to implement a running back by committee approach this season, but that doesn't mean Stevan Ridley won't have value. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a solid fantasy running back over the last couple seasons, and Ridley is far more talented. If he stays out of Bill Belichick's doghouse, he could be a mid-level RB2.

I've ranked the top 50 running backs for fantasy football. Beyond the top 50 is a complete crapshoot, and most of those players will go un-drafted in the majority of leagues. These rankings will be updated as training camps and preseason rolls along.

Fire away in the comments with any comments, complaints, questions or suggestions for fantasy article you would like to see on the site. Feel free to contact me on Twitter with any questions as well @MatthewFairburn

1. Arian Foster | Houston Texans | Bye: 8

Arian Foster is a fantasy stud, plain and simple. He is one of the few feature backs in the NFL these days. Ben Tate wil spell him on occasion, but Foster has the ability to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. He returned from a hamstring injury last season to be one of the most consistent players in the league. You have to take him if you're lucky enough to land the first overall pick.

2. LeSean McCoy | Philadelphia Eagles | Bye:7

LeSean McCoy just got paid, but don't expect the Eagles running back to go into the tank. He is entering the prime of his career and posted ridiculous touchdown totals last season. He has already made Philly forget all about Brian Westbrook and will continue to post elite fantasy numbers for a handful of years. The return of a legitimate passing attack will only help his cause.

3. Ray Rice | Baltimore Ravens | Bye: 8

Ray Rice got his contract taken care of, so the fear of holdout won't be holding back fantasy owners. He is still in the prime of his career and is the focal point of Baltimore's offense. You have to take him if you're picking in the top four.

4. Ryan Mathews | San Diego Chargers | Bye: 7

Norv Turner wants to make Ryan Mathews his featured running back, and the former Fresno State star has the talent to take full advantage. He has had some injury issues in the past, but it's tough to predict injuries from year to year. Draft Mathews with confidence in the top five of your fantasy draft.

5. Darren McFadden | Oakland Raiders | Bye : 5

Darren McFadden has tons of talent, but his ceiling is limited by his injuries. In most cases it's tough to predict injuries, but D-Mac hasn't played more than 13 games in any of his NFL seasons. That being said, when he is healthy he has the potential to win you a week in fantasy football. Not many players possess that type of upside.

6. Trent Richardson | Cleveland Browns | Bye: 10

Trent Richardson is going to play a featured role in Cleveland's offense, running behind a solid run blocking unit. His supporting cast isn't the greatest, but look what Maurice Jones-Drew did last year down in Jacksonville. Richardson has as much as talent as any rookie running back in recent years, and he is in a good enough situation to make a difference.

7. DeMarco Murray | Dallas Cowboys | Bye: 5
NFL TEAM

DeMarco Murray burst onto the scene last year after a Felix Jones injury. Murray went down late in the year himself, but he is going to get touches in one of the most explosive offenses in the league. That's tough to bet against.

8. Chris Johnson | Tennessee Titans | Bye: 11

People who are drafting Chris Johnson are drafting him based on the CJ2K we saw a few years ago. He was not the same running back in 2011. He put up terrible numbers and didn't seem to give much effort on many occasions. Upside alone keeps Johnson in the top ten.

9. Jamaal Charles | Kansas City Chiefs | Bye: 7

Jamaal Charles was lucky to tear his ACL in the opening week of the season, giving him ample time to recover. Peyton Hillis is now in town to steal touchdowns, but Charles is an explosive back playing behind a terrific offensive line.

10. Matt Forte | Chicago Bears | Bye: 6

Matt Forte had returned to form last season before injury. He signed a new deal this offseason and comes into the season healthy along with the rest of the Bears offense. I'm not as concerned as some about Michael Bush. Bush faded towards the end of last season and won't be much more than a change of pace guy.

11. Maurice Jones-Drew | Jacksonville Jaguars | Bye: 6

I discussed Maurice Jones-Drew above. His workload scares me a bit. I wouldn't feel comfortable drafting him in the first round.

12. Doug Martin | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Bye: 5

Doug Martin is currently being drafted in the fourth round, and while I understand the hesitance to draft a rookie running back, Martin was brought in to replace LaGarrette Blount, who hasn't been all that impressive. The volume Martin is likely to receive in a run-first offense is not exactly common among running backs these days.

13. Fred Jackson | Buffalo Bills | Bye: 8

Fred Jackson was in contention for a rushing title before injuries slowed his 2011 campaign. The entire Buffalo Bills offense had injury problems last season, but they are back healthy now, so Jackson has some value.

14. Michael Turner | Atlanta Falcons | Bye: 7

Michael Turner is definitely on the decline. He faded towards the end of the season, but there was stil some burst in his legs at times in 2011. He's not going to face much of a challenge for carries in Atlanta's offense, so I would still feel comfortable starting Turner as my No. 2 running back.

15. Steven Jackson | St. Louis Rams | Bye: 9

Steven Jackson is another declining back, but one that can still contribute due to sheer volume. He is 29 years old, so he could hit a wall and completely fall apart, but his talent level is enough to warrant RB2 status in a thin crop this year.

16. Adrian Peterson | Minnesota Vikings | Bye: 11

Despite reports of how quickly Adrian Peterson is recovering from his knee injury, the turnaround is too quick for Peterson to fully regain form this season. It seems stupid to bet against Peterson, which is why I would roll the dice on him as my second or third running back, but I refuse to believe he will be the Purple Jesus of old come opening day.

17. Marshawn Lynch | Seattle Seahawks | Bye: 11

Marshawn Lynch's latest arrest makes him a questionable fantasy commodity. His lucrative contract is another reason to avoid him. Something tells me I'll be crossing Lynch off my list pending Roger Goodell's suspension ruling.

18. Frank Gore | San Francisco 49ers | Bye: 9

Frank Gore is on a steady decline, and he struggles to stay healthy. But he will still have a chance to be the main back in a run-heavy offense. His upside alone keeps him in the top 20.

19. Isaac Redman | Pittsburgh Steelers | Bye: 4

With Rashard Mendenhall on the shelf for the beginning of the season, Isaac Redman will have a chance to carry the load for the Steelers. Pittsburgh revamped its offensive line in the offseason, so Redman should find some running room. At the very least, Redman will be a solid RB2 until Mendenhall returns.

20. Jahvid Best | Detroit Lions | Bye: 5

Jahvid Best is a dual-threat back playing in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Injury risk or not, Best's upside is too much to pass up in a thin running back crop.

21. Jonathan Stewart | Carolina Panthers | Bye: 6

DeAngelo Williams has been a road block to Jonathan Stewart's fantasy stardom since the Panthers selected the former Oregon Duck in 2008. Stewart is the more talented back, so could this be the year he finally overtakes Williams?

22. Roy Helu | Washington Redskins | Bye:

Mike Shanahan is the enemy of fantasy football owners. For now, Roy Helu is the favorite to lead the Redskins in touches. That could change, but with RG3 in town, Washington could have a dangerous running game, so the lead back has some value.

23. Darren Sproles | New Orleans Saints | Bye: 6

Darren Sproles won't present much value in fantasy football drafts this year after a breakout 2011 campaign. I'm not sure Sproles will be able to reach the same touchdown production he had a year ago.

24. Chris Wells | Arizona Cardinals | Bye: 10
NFL TEAM

Beanie Wells was a No. 1 running back when healthy a year ago. Wells is recovering from knee surgery, and Ryan Williams will be back from injury, but Beanie is the superior runner. He'll be in and out of the lineup, but should still manage a decent return for a mid-round pick.

25. Stevan Ridley | New England Patriots | Bye: 9
NFL TEAM

The Patriots' running back battle will be one to watch throughout the preseason, but for now, it appears as if Stevan Ridley is the man to own. He is a vicious inside runner and will, at the very least, vulture some touchdowns in New England's backfield.

26. Ahmad Bradshaw | New York Giants | Bye: 11

Ahmad Bradshaw is a lower body injury waiting to happen. David Wilson will be breathing down his neck, and I'm not convinced Bradshaw will be able to hold him off for long. He's not worth his current average draft position.

27. James Starks | Green Bay Packers | Bye: 10

The Green Bay Packers may not be a ground and pound team, but they certainly aren't afraid to stay balanced. James Starks has no competition in Green Bay's backfield and has been a surprisingly effective runner in his career. He's a big value pick in the sixth or seventh round.

28. David Wilson | New York Giants | Bye: 11

David Wilson is a game-breaking talent. I've made it clear that I don't have much faith in Ahmad Bradshaw. Part of my lack of faith in Bradshaw comes from my belief that Wilson is the real deal. Mark my words, Wilson will shoot up preseason fantasy football draft boards.

29. DeAngelo Williams | Carolina Panthers | Bye: 6

DeAngelo Williams is certainly overpaid, but he plays in an offense that could quickly develop into one of the NFL's best. There's still some tread left on D-Willy's tires.

30. Ben Tate | Houston Texans | Bye: 8

Ben Tate is an Arian Foster injury away from being a top ten fantasy back. As it is, he makes a decent RB3.

31. Mark Ingram | New Orleans Saints | Bye: 6

Mark Ingram was a favorite of mine last season, and he burned me. But his talent is still there. Injuries could hold him back, but New Orleans' offense is lethal, and Ingram will get his share of carries in 2012.

32. Reggie Bush | Miami Dolphins | Bye: 7
NFL TEAM

Reggie Bush is currently being drafted within the first four rounds of most fantasy drafts based on his career year in 2011. That's buying high, which is never a smart move in fantasy football. Not to mention, Miami has one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

33. Shonn Greene | New York Jets | Bye: 9

I've drafted Shonn Greene too many times to bite on his mid-fifth round ADP. Quite frankly, he's not a very talented running back.

34. Felix Jones | Dallas Cowboys | Bye: 5
NFL TEAM

The 2011 version of Felix Jones may have been one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of the decade for me personally. Jones is a brittle back, but DeMarco Murray isn't exactly durable either. Maybe Jones will finally get his chance to shine in 2012.

35. BenJarvus Green-Ellis | Cincinnati Bengals | Bye: 8

Take BenJarvus Green-Ellis out of New England, and he's an under-talented change of pace back. He won't have nearly as many scoring opportunities in Cincy in 2012.

36. Willis McGahee | Denver Broncos | Bye: 7

Is Willis McGahee ever going to run out of gas? If Ronnie Hillman doesn't pass him on the depth chart during training camp, McGahee could have another solid year.

37. Toby Gerhart | Minnesota Vikings | Bye: 11

Adrian Peterson blew out his knee in December. Do you really think he will make a full recovery by September? If you have doubts about Peterson, Toby Gerhart is a guy to target late in your drafts. He'll likely set a career high in carries.

38. Donald Brown | Indianapolis Colts | Bye: 4

Donald Brown is in a make or break season. The former first rounder will get one last crack to be the lead runner in Indy. I'm not all that optimistic.

39. C.J. Spiller | Buffalo Bills | Bye: 8

Another former first-rounder that has failed to live up to the billing, C.J. Spiller actually closed out 2011 strong. He's still a bit overvalued considering Fred Jackson's presence, though.

40. Rashad Jennings | Jacksonville Jaguars | Bye: 6

Rashad Jennings will be an incredible value in fantasy leagues this year. Maurice Jones-Drew carried the ball a ton last year, while Jennings had a chance to refocus himself, spending the year on injured reserve. He'll get an increased role this year, and should MJD's holdout continue or an injury occur, Jennings could be a top 20 running back.

41. Isaiah Pead | St. Louis Rams | Bye: 9

Isaiah Pead was drafted to be the successor to Steven Jackson. With Jackson getting up there in age, Pead's time could come sooner rather than later.

42. Kevin Smith | Detroit Lions | Bye: 5

Kevin Smith played well in limited action. The Lions backfield will be crowded again in 2012, but Smith has a track record of solid production. Can he stay on the field?

43. Robert Turbin | Seattle Seahawks | Bye: 11

If Marshawn Lynch is suspended, Robert Turbin, the explosive fourth rounder out of Utah State, will fit in wonderfully with Seattle's zone blocking scheme. Stash him away in case Lynch is sidelined for any length of time.

44. Mikel Leshoure | Detroit Lions | Bye: 5

Whomever emerges from the Detroit backfield is going to be a weekly start in fantasy leagues. Depending on his recovery from injury, Mikel Leshoure could be that guy.

45. LaGarrette Blount | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Bye: 5

LaGarratte Blount is now stuck in a timeshare and is not worth more than a late-round flier. There are plenty of running backs with more upside than Blount.

46. Shane Vereen | New England Patriots | Bye: 9
NFL TEAM

Shane Vereen is a versatile back, and Bill Belichick loves versatility. There's a chance he could win some carries in the preseason.

47. Michael Bush | Chicago Bears | Bye: 6

Michael Bush wasn't signed to a free agent deal to sit on the bench. He'll chip away at Forte's carries and is a favorite to get some goal line work.

48. Peyton Hillis | Kansas City Chiefs | Bye: 7

Jamaal Charles has some injury concerns, and Peyton Hillis has a very affordable ADP at the moment. At worst, Hillis should be in line for goal line carries.

49. Pierre Thomas | New Orleans Saints | Bye: 6

Pierre Thomas doesn't have a ton of upside, but he is the most reliable ball carrier the Saints have.

50. LaMichael James | San Francisco 49ers | Bye: 9

The 49ers backfield is extremely crowded, but LaMichael James has the talent to command touches on offense. San Francisco will be running the ball quite a bit, and you have to think Jim Harbaugh will get the ball in his hands.

51. Bernard Scott | Cincinnati Bengals | Bye: 9

While Bernard Scott can't shoulder the load on his own, he is definitely the most talented back on the Bengals' roster. That's worth a late-round fantasy draft pick.

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