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Fantasy Football: F&C's In-Depth Running Back Rankings & Projections

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Drafting an elite running back is essential in fantasy football, but the problem is there are so few of them anymore. A majority of teams have abandoned the featured back role and have moved to running back-by-committee approach.

While running backs are still first round targets for many fantasy owners, according to ESPN's average draft position (ADP) data, fewer running backs are being taken in the first round of fantasy drafts this year.

The list below is projections based on standard scoring* fantasy leagues and risk and upside.

 

*Standard scoring:

  • 10 rushing yards = 1pt.
  • TD rush = 6 pts.
  • 10 receiving yards = 1pt.
  • TD reception = 6 pts.

 

 

1) Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Despite missing three games due to injury, Foster still managed to have a great fantasy season. He finished as the fourth highest scoring running back in standard scoring leagues and led all fantasy running backs with 18.3 points per week. Projected fantasy points: 333  

 

2) Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Rice proved this year that he can score touchdowns, as well as rack up a ton of yards. Rice went from 6 touchdowns in 2010 to 15 TDs in 2011. He also tallied more than 2,000 total yards and never missed a game. Durability and production are why he's a top 5 fantasy pick. Also, the Ravens were 12-0 in 2010 when they ran the ball 20 or more times. That kind of success should mean more Rice in 2012. Projected fantasy points: 312

 

3) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

All of those rushing touchdowns that Michael Vick was supposed to get this year went to McCoy. His 20 touchdowns led all running backs and solidified his spot in the top 5. McCoy is also someone who plays hurt, which fantasy owners always like to see from their players. Projected fantasy points: 268

 

4) Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

It's been a far fall from grace for Johnson. After a dreadful 2010 season, Johnson is looking to rebound next season. Keep one thing in mind when drafting Johnson, he can't be as bad as last season. Projected fantasy points: 224

 

5t) Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

McFadden would be a top 5 fantasy pick if he could stay healthy. Another injury-plagued season in 2011 knocks him down this list. He's the definition of high risk, high reward player. Projected fantasy points: 222   

 

5t) Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

After an injury-shortened season in 2011, Forte has plenty to prove in 2012. The Bears rewarded Forte with a contract extension this offseason and should be called upon to do a lot for the Bears. newly signed running back Michael Bush could steal goal line carries. Projected fantasy points: 222 

 

7) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

Despite playing behind a rookie quarterback in 2011, Jones-Drew still managed to have a solid fantasy season. He finished with nearly 2,000 total yards and 11 touchdowns. The arrival of the offensive-minded Mike Mularkey as head coach will only improve Jones-Drew's stock in 2012. Jones-Drew is looking for a new contract and has not reported to Jaguars camp. A prolonged holdout could impact his fantasy value. Projected fantasy points: 221

 

8) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

The more he ran last year, the better he got. Lynch finished the season with 13 touchdowns, including a stretch where he scored a touchdown in 11 straight games. He also emerged as the Seahawks every down back, getting close to 25 touches on average per game. Seattle invested a lot of money in Lynch this offseason, so look for him to be counted on even more this season. Projected fantasy points: 210

 

9) Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

Jackson racked up 1,376 total yards and six scores before a leg injury ended his season in Week 10. Jackson's value took a hit slightly when C.J. Spiller filled in nicely for him late in the season. Still, he's likely to be the centerpiece of the Bills offense again this season. Projected fantasy points: 204

 

10) Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

Richardson is a powerful runner with great vision and agility, and should fit nicely with the Browns. He’s battling a minor knee injury, but once he’s healthy he will be the centerpiece of the Browns offense and will be running behind a very good offensive line. Projected fantasy points: 192

 

11) DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Murray burst into the spotlight after a 253-yard rushing performance against the Rams. An ankle injury ended Murray's season early in 2011, but he’s healthy now. The only concern about Murray is his lack of touchdown production. He finished 2011 with just two scores. If he can bump that up, he could be a steal at this draft position. Projected fantasy points: 191

 

12t) Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants

Bradshaw has the versatility and the opportunity to have a major fantasy impact this season. Bradshaw is expected to be the Giants featured back with Brandon Jacobs now in San Francisco. A lingering foot injury is a concern, but he's still a solid pick. Projected fantasy points: 190

 

12t) Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams

The Rams were awful last year, yet Jackson put together a solid season. He finished with nearly 1,500 yards and six touchdowns. New head coach Jeff Fisher says Jackson will get a heavy workload this season. Projected fantasy points: 190

 

14) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The rookie Martin comes to the Bucs at a perfect time. The Bucs desperately need a back like Martin, someone who can make defenders miss and gain big chunks of yards. He’s also versatile enough to get carries on first and second down and then stay on the field to catch passes and block on third down. LeGarrette Blount may steal some carries, including goal line touches, but Martin will be the guy for most of Tampa’s offensive plays. Projected fantasy points: 185

 

15) Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

Sproles finished 2011 on a high note, catching 15 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. His skill set is perfect for the Saints high-powered offense. Projected fantasy points: 169

 

16) Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers

In his second NFL season, Mathews showed he could play hurt, be an every down back and score touchdowns near the goal line. He was the best player on the field for the Chargers late in the season. His value skyrockets now that Mike Tolbert is in Carolina. Projected fantasy points: 165

 

17t) BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals

During his four years in New England, Green-Ellis averaged just over nine carries per game. Over that same time, Cedric Benson carried the ball nearly 20 times per game for the Cincinnati Bengals. Bottom line, Green-Ellis' carries are about to double and his stats should improve dramatically. Projected fantasy points: 164

 

17t) Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons

When you look at just the stats for 2011, Turner had a pretty good season. However, when you dig deeper on those numbers, you discover a concerning trend with him. Despite rushing for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns, Turner had a stretch at the end of the season where he struggled. From Weeks 12 to 16, Turner averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry and scores just one touchdown. At age 30, Turner's days as a featured back may be coming to an end. Monitor the Falcons running back situation this offseason, Turner may be moving down draft boards. Projected fantasy points: 164  

 

17t) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Peterson tore his ACL and MCL late in 2011 and opened training camp on the PUP list. Peterson says he’s healthy enough to practice, but the Vikings are preaching patience. Monitor his situation closely as training camp roles along. Projected fantasy points: 164

 

17t) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

Charles should be fully healed from an ACL tear suffered early in 2011. He's an explosive runner that fits perfectly into Kansas City's offensive system. The Chiefs have so few playmakers, Charles' return will be a welcomed sight. The arrival of Peyton Hillis could take some fantasy points away from Charles. Projected fantasy points: 164

 

21) Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos

McGahee was supposed to be the back-up in Denver in 2011. Instead, he became Denver’s featured back and finished with nearly 1,200 rushing yards. McGahee will turn 31 during the season, and one has to wonder how much he has left in his legs. With that said, he showed no signs of slowing down last season and had one of his best games of the year in Week 17. His biggest challenge could be keeping rookie Ronnie Hillman off the field. Projected fantasy points: 161

 

22) Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins

A change of scenery did wonders for Bush in 2011. In his first year in Miami, he put up career numbers, which included his first 1,000 rushing season. His six rushing touchdowns were also the most since his rookie season and his 1,382 total yards marked a career-high for him. I can't see Bush having the same success in 2012, simply because he hasn't been able to stay healthy for consecutive season. However, few expected him to have so much success in 2011 so he might be worth the gamble. Projected fantasy points: 160

 

23) Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts

Brown emerged as the Colts featured back last season after an injury to Joseph Addai. Brown, who many consider a bust, showed flashes of promise. With Addai no longer on the Colts roster, Brown is the Colts’ best option right now. Projected fantasy points: 145

 

24) Shonn Greene, New York Jets

Despite all the problems the Jets had last season, Greene wasn't one of them. He put together a decent year, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. The hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator will benefit Greene. Sparano's offense is built around a power-running game. This is also a contract year for Greene. Projected fantasy points: 140

 

25t) Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

While he had a solid season in 2011, Gore's days as the Niners featured back may be numbered. Second-year running back Kendall Hunter will certainly get more looks next season and the addition of Brandon Jacobs doesn't bowed well for Gore either. However, Gore is still a valuable commodity because of the Niners run-first offense. Projected fantasy points: 139

 

25t) Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals

Wells put together a solid season last year for the Cardinals. His 1,047 rushing yards were good enough for 14th in the league and his 10 rushing touchdowns were eighth best in the league. Wells had offseason knee surgery and started training camp on the PUP list. Monitor his progress as training camp continues. Projected fantasy points: 139

 

27) Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers

With Rashard Mendenhall likely sidelined for the start of the 2012 season, Redman becomes the starter for the Steelers. Redman, despite being 27 years old, doesn't have a lot of mileage on his legs. In three seasons with Pittsburgh, he's carried the ball just 162 times. However, Redman has been effective in his limited action. The two games last season, after Mendenhall's ACL injury, Redman rushed for 213 yards and touchdown. Projected fantasy points: 137

 

28) Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

With BenJarvus Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati, Ridley likely takes over the featured back role in New England. Ridley saw limited action during his rookie season, but played well when he got a chance. He averaged more than five yards per carry and showed a nice burst. Also look for fellow second-year back Shane Vareen to get an opportunity for carries in 2012 as well. Projected fantasy points: 122

29t) Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers Projected fantasy points: 121

 

29t) Michael Bush, Chicago Bears

Bush took advantage of his extended playing time last year filling in for the oft-injured Darren McFadden. Bush finished with 977 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. As Matt Forte's back-up in Chicago, Bush will likely get 5-10 touches per game, including goal line carries. Projected fantasy points: 121

 

31) DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

Carolina invested a ton of money in Williams, and he paid them back with a solid season in 2011. Williams finished with more than 800 yards rushing, seven touchdowns and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Williams will split time with Jonathan Stewart and newly signed Mike Tolbert. Projected fantasy points: 113

 

32) Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Ingram's rookie season was cut short by a toe injury that forced him to miss six games and the playoffs. Ingram is a terrific young running back and has a great situation in New Orleans. However, draft him with expectation that he'll miss some games and will sometimes get lost in the Saints high-flying offense. Projected fantasy points: 103

 

33t) Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers

If the Panthers made Stewart their featured back, he's be a top 10 fantasy player. Unfortunately, he's splitting time with the well-compensated DeAngelo Williams and the recently-signed Mike Tolbert. Stewart was solid in 2011, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He also tallied more than 1,100 yards and scored five touchdowns. However, as long as Williams stays healthy, Stewart is not on the field enough to be an every week fantasy starter. Projected fantasy points: 100

 

33t) Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings

Even if Adrian Peterson is healthy enough to start the season, Gerhart will still get his carries. Look for Gerhart to be on the field early in the season as Peterson works his way back from a knee injury. Gerhart can also catch passes out of the backfield, which should keep him on the field all season even when Peterson is 100-percent healthy. Projected fantasy points: 100

 

35) Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions

Smith scored seven touchdowns last season for the Lions and he could be their most reliable running back heading into the season. With Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure both coming off serious injuries, Smith could be in line for more carries in 2012. Projected fantasy points: 93 

 

36t) David Wilson, New York Giants

With Ahmad Bradshaw's history of missing games (4 last season) and his lingering foot issue, odds are good that the rookie Wilson will get an opportunity to get some carries this season. Giants coaches have praised Wilson this offseason, calling him explosive. Projected fantasy points: 87

 

36t) Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs

After a drama-filled season in Cleveland, Hillis will be looking for a fresh start in Kansas City. Hillis' breakout season in 2010 made him a top 20 fantasy pick last year, only to fizzle out and leave many fantasy owners with a big hole in their line-up. As Jamaal Charles' back-up, look for Hillis to get 8-12 touches per game, including some goal line carries. Projected fantasy points: 86

 

38t) C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

After a lackluster rookie season, and most of 2011, things finally clicked for Spiller. During the final six weeks of last year, with Fred Jackson out with an injury, Spiller rushed for 446 yards (79% of his total rushing yards) and scored five touchdowns (6 TDs total in 2011). He'll likely start the season as Jackson's back-up again, but his late-season success could get him on the field more in 2012. Projected fantasy points: 85

 

38t) Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins

After a promising start, Thomas' rookie season was mostly a struggle for the young Dolphin. In his first two NFL games, Thomas had 239 total yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Thomas owners, that 239 yards accounted for 36% of total yardage for the season and that touchdown was his only score of the year. With new head coach Joe Philbin now in charge, it's not clear what role Thomas will play in the offense. Monitor his situation this offseason. Projected fantasy points: 85

 

38t) Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars Projected fantasy points: 85

 

38t) Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Thomas had a very good season last year for the Saints, but he doesn't get enough touches to make him an impact fantasy player. Despite his limited role in New Orleans' offense, he still managed nearly 1,000 total yards, 50 receptions and six touchdowns. He's a solid player on a solid team, but his fantasy impact is limited because he will only get 5-12 touches per game. Projected fantasy points: 85

 

42t) Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons Projected fantasy points: 84

 

42t) Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers Projected fantasy points: 84

 

44) Ben Tate, Houston Texans

The Texans run the ball so often that Tate is more than just Arian Foster's handcuff. Tate finished 2011 with nearly 1,000 yards rushing and four touchdowns. While Foster is the guy in Houston, Tate is a pretty second option. He's a must draft player if you own Foster, and make sure you don't wait for him to fall. Tate is valuable enough that other fantasy owners will be targeting him as well. Projected fantasy points: 82

 

45) Evan Royster Washington Redskins Projected fantasy points: 80

 

46) LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a stellar rookie season, which included 1,007 rushing yards and six touchdowns, Blount had a down year in 2011. He failed to reach 800 rushing yards and scored just five touchdowns in 14 starts. Blount is expected to be unseated as the starter by rookie Doug Martin, but should still get some touches including goal line carries. Projected fantasy points: 79

 

47) Chris Rainey, Pittsburgh Steelers Projected fantasy points: 70

 

48t) Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers

Tolbert joins a crowded backfield in Carolina and will likely see a decreased work loaded, compared to last year. Despite sharing touches with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Tolbert should still get plenty of targets and goal line opportunities. Projected fantasy points: 69

 

48t) Roy Helu, Washington Redskins

Helu showed some promise during his rookie season, but as long as Mike Shanahan is his coach drafting any Washington running back is a scary proposition. In his four games as the Redskins featured back, Helu rushed for 387 yards and two touchdowns. In the other 12 games, he managed just 253 yards and zero touchdowns. Helu is also a dangerous threat as a receiver out of the backfield, but right now he’s third on the Redskins RB depth chart. Projected fantasy points: 69

 

50) Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos

Hillman has a great opportunity to make an impact as a rookie for the Broncos. Hillman will eventually back up Willis McGahee, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2011. Hillman is a player you may have to stash on your bench for a while, but he will get his shot eventually. Projected fantasy points: 66

 

51) Shane Vareen, New England Patriots Projected fantasy points: 65

 

52t) Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals Projected fantasy points: 63

 

52t) Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts Projected fantasy points: 63

 

54t) Taiwan Jones, Oakland Raiders Projected fantasy points: 62

 

54t) Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins Projected fantasy points: 62

 

56) Danny Woodhead, New England Patriots Projected fantasy points: 62

 

57) Bernard Scott, Cincinnati Bengals Projected fantasy points: 61

 

58) Alfred Morris, Washington Redksins Projected fantasy points: 56

 

59t) Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks Projected fantasy points: 52

 

59t) Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams Projected fantasy points: 52

 

59t) Alex Green, Green Bay Packers Projected fantasy points: 52

 

62t) James Starks, Green Bay Packers

Starks will likely start the season as the Packers top running back. But before you get too excited, Green Bay doesn't run the ball that often. Also, Starks has had a hard time staying healthy. Projected fantasy points: 51

 

62t) Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco 49ers Projected fantasy points: 51

 

62t) Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys Projected fantasy points: 51

 

65) Mike Goodson, Oakland Raiders

Backing up the oft-injured Darren McFadden in Oakland will always make you a hot fantasy commodity. Heading into the season, Goodson is slated to fill the Raiders number two running back role. Goodson showed promise during his short career in Carolina. He will be given a chance to compete for carries, especially if McFadden is lost to an injury, again. Projected fantasy points: 50

 

66) Bilal Powell, New York Jets Projected fantasy points: 43

 

67t) Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcon Projected fantasy points: 42

 

67t) Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs Projected fantasy points: 42

 

69t) Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins Projected fantasy points: 41

 

69t) Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions Projected fantasy points: 41

 

71) Joe McKnight, New York Jets Projected fantasy points: 39

 

72) Dion Lewis, Philadelphia Eagles Projected fantasy points: 36

 

73) Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers Projected fantasy points: 36

 

74) Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens Projected fantasy points: 31

 

75) Marcell Reece, Oakland Raiders Projected fantasy points: 30

Matt Lechner

Matt Lechner Bio

Football has always been a passion of mine. I played in high school and was a four-year letter winner at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. I also spent four years as a Minnesota Vikings ball boy and my grandfather spent a season with the New York Giants.

For 10 years, I worked as a television news reporter, covering several significant stories including presidential campaigns, September 11 attacks, opening day at Target Field and Vikings playoff games. I currently work for a Minneapolis-based health care provider managing the company’s digital content, including social media.

When I’m away from work, I’m searching for trends, stats and storylines to better help people understand the NFL and fantasy football.

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Cedric Hopkins

Cedric Hopkins runs this sports law/fantasy football blog. If you have issues with it, it's all his fault. Cedric was an athlete-student at the University of New Mexico (Basketball - Go Lobos!). He then morphed into a student-athlete when he attended law school in San Diego. Age replaced athleticism and now he writes appellate briefs for criminals (alleged criminals, of course) in state and federal cases, including writing U.S. Supreme Court briefs.

For years Cedric has researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, he's combining his two passions: researching and writing about sports. When he's not in court arguing a case before a judge (or writing about himself in the third person), he'll be doing the same with his articles on FieldandCourt.com. Follow me, er, him on Twitter (opens in a new window).