With the 2012 Fantasy Football season less than a month away, it’s time to really dig into this bizarre RB crop. There are only three sure things among fantasy RBs this year, so your approach to the draft must be more focused than previous years. Take notes, print your draft board and don’t reach for any player. Below you will find the top 50 fantasy RBs for 2012. Sleepers are marked with an asterisk (*).
1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles - He scored at least one touchdown in 12 of 16 games in 2011 and he’s the Eagles’ best player.
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans - He only played 12 and a half games last year, but still finished 4th among RBs in overall fantasy points. Foster is an absolute stud and a surefire top three pick in all drafts.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens - The top fantasy RB of 2011, Rice avoided a holdout this season, making him a top five pick in all drafts.
4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans - A contract holdout caused him to have a slow start to the 2011 season, but Johnson found his groove in the second half of the year and should be a top fantasy RB option in 2012.
5. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers - He recorded over 1,000 yards and six scores in 12 and a half games last season, including four performances with at least 114 yards on the ground. With a full, injury-free season, Mathews might be a top five overall fantasy scorer in 2012.
6. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears - Like Rice, he avoided a holdout, but he’s still a slight gamble considering the Bears brought in Michael Bush to vulture the goal line carries in Chicago.
7. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders - If he could stay on the field, he’d be arguably the top option at his position, but that’s just not the case. You’re probably a good poker player if you take McFadden in your fantasy draft.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars - Big red flag here. He’d be No. 4 on this list if he wasn’t holding out after claiming the NFL’s rushing title in 2011.
9. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys - For his six-game stretch as a starer before breaking his ankle as a rookie, Murray was the best fantasy RB in the game. However, his past injury history keeps him out of the top five on this list.
10. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns - This is as high as any rookie deserves on any fantasy rankings list. However, the Browns’ offensive line is vastly improved from a year ago and Richardson is supposed to be the next big thing. Draft him at your own risk.
11. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams - He always gets a truckload of carries and still has elite RB ability, but the Rams’ offense has been horrible in recent years. If that changes under new head coach Jeff Fisher, Jackson might be a top five option again, but that’s being really optimistic.
12. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers - He posted five straight 100-yard rushing performances before being injured in Week 10 of last season. Don’t let the 49ers’ crowded backfield scare you; Gore is the man in San Fran.
13. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks - He finished a stunning sixth in over fantasy points among RBs in 2011, but now Lynch has been paid and he has a history of laziness. Beware…
14. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints - Unless he loses a ton of carries this year in the Saints’ crowded backfield, Sproles is a high-end No. 2 option heading into 2012, especially in PPR leagues.
15. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Word on the street is he’ll start the season on the PUP list. If that’s the case, Peterson is the biggest gamble in this year’s draft.
16. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs – Same song, second verse. However, Charles is reportedly back to near full health, but it’s still risky to draft an RB coming off a torn ACL.
17. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants - With Brandon Jacobs gone, Bradshaw should see plenty of carries in 2012.
18. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills - If he hadn’t ended the season on IR, Jackson would easily be a top 10 pick. However, he’s risky coming off a broken leg.
19. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons - The only reason Turner is this far down the list is because he won’t receive 300 carries again this year. Falcons head coach Mike Smith has made it clear he plans to limit Turner’s carries by utilizing Jacquizz Rodgers and more of a passing attack.
20. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Another rookie in the top 20. It’s odd, but Martin is already the established starter in Tampa Bay. Couple that with the success of another recent rookie rusher there and the stars are aligned for Martin.
21. Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins - He really found his groove with his new team in 2011, recording his first 1,000-yard rushing season. However, he might be playing with a rookie QB in 2012 and that’s not a good thing…
22. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos - He was as steady as the day is long in 2011, rushing for 1,200 yards and four scores in Denver’s hobbled offense. With Peyton Manning under center now, McGahee is in prime position to at least match his totals from a year ago.
23. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions - If he can stay on the field, Best is a top 10 option. However, don’t believe it until you see it.
24. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots* - He’s now atop the depth chart in New England, but that doesn’t mean much. The Patriots pass the ball a ton, but Ridley has the potential to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for you…if you’re lucky.
25. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers - He remains held back due to the Panthers’ crowded backfield and Cam Newton hogging all the goal line carries.
26. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals - He’s going to have to get healthy before he even gets drafted, but Wells has the potential to put up big numbers if can stay on the field.
27. Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers* – Sleeper alert. If he indeed starts the season as the feature back, he might make a dynamite fantasy option. However, keep tabs on the RB situation in Pittsburgh right up until draft day.
28. James Starks, Green Bay Packers* - Ryan Grant is gone and there’s finally a featured RB in Green Bay. Of course, that’s not saying much considering the Packers’ pass-happy attack. Consider Starks an No. 3 WR with upside.
29. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts* - He’s now a featured back in Indy, but it remains to be seen how he’ll handle that workload. If he does well early, he’ll be great trade bait by Week 3.
30. Benjarvis Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals - Yes, he’s in a new place with the potential to produce, but the Bengals have made it clear they will use a committee backfield, meaning the Law Firm is nothing more than an average No. 3 RB at this point.
31. Mark Ingram, Saints – He looked good in the Hall of Fame Game, but Sproles is still the No. 1 RB in New Orleans.
32. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers - He’ll only get 150 carries and none of those will be in the red zone.
33. Shonn Greene, New York Jets - Sure, the Jets are predicting a “monster year” for Greene, but they did the past two years and look what happened. Plus, Tim Tebow will get all the goal line carries for New York.
34. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins – Word of advice: don’t draft any RB from Washington. Helu is technically atop the depth chart, so it’s understandable that he’ll be drafted, but Mike Shanahan is fantasy football’s greatest villain.
35. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – Once a top 10 pick, he will likely start the season on the PUP list. However, Mendenhall will be a hot waiver wire pickup once he returns if Redman struggles.
36. Ryan Williams, Cardinals - If he can’t stay out of trouble, Williams isn’t worth a roster spot. However, he has “feature back potential” according to head coach Ken Wisenhunt, so he might be dynamite in a bottle if Wells gets hurt.
37. CJ Spiller, Buffalo Bills – He had a great end to the 2011 season, but that’s only because Fred Jackson was injured. They might share carries, but there’s now way Spiller will start.
38. Peyton Hillis, Chiefs - Don’t count on any 2010 magic here; Hillis is in Kansas City for one reason: to be Charles’ backup.
39. Ben Tate, Texans – Same here; he was great when Foster was injured, but Tate won’t see the field if the superstar is healthy.
40. Toby Gerhart, Vikings - He’ll likely be the starter in Week 1 with Peterson still sidelined, but don’t expect No. 1 or No. 2 RB numbers from Gerhart, especially with a sophomore (in this case, a second-year rookie) QB under center.
41. Michael Bush, Bears – He won’t be putting up any big numbers unless Forte is injured, so Bush is nothing more than a benchwarmer at this point.
42. Bernard Scott, Bengals – He’ll split carries with Green-Ellis, but that doesn’t mean Scott is worth a starting spot in your lineup.
43. Michael Leshoure, Lions - He simply can’t stay out of trouble. If Leshoure could stay healthy and out of trouble, he might do some damage on the field. Until then, he’s nothing more than a late-round flyer.
44. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins - He got off to a good start as a rookie last year, but was then overshadowed by Reggie Bush and often injured. Consider Thomas a No. 4 RB with upside.
45. David Wilson, Giants – Another late-round flyer with upside is Wilson, who takes over Jacobs’ spot as the No. 2 RB in New York. That might garner some goal line carries for him, but likely nothing more.
46. Tim Hightower, Redskins – See hashtag: #Shanahanigans
47. Mike Goodson, Raiders* – Big sleeper alert here. Goodson could be the next Michael Bush if McFadden misses time due to injury and you can bet your bottom dollar he will.
48. LeGarrette Blount, Buccanneers - It’s unknown what he did to lose the starting job in Tampa Bay, but it now belongs to Martin.
49. Pierre Thomas, Saints – If Ingram misses time with injuries, Thomas becomes the No. 2 option in New Orleans and thus a No. 3 fantasy option.
50. Rashad Jennings, Jaguars – If you draft Jones-Drew, you better draft Jennings, too. Holdouts and feature RBs don’t mix.
What do you think? Rant your comments below on how you would rank these RBs.