The NFL may have become a pass first league, but running backs are still crucial to success in fantasy football. The League’s top running backs are versatile and have adapted to the changes in the league by becoming effective receiving threats to complement their rushing prowess. The players on this list command defensive attention as versatile offensive players, and deserve a high pick in your fantasy draft.
1. Arian Foster
Foster exploded onto the scene in 2010 with an incredible week 1 performance against the Colts and has been unstoppable ever since. Despite missing the first three games of the 2011 season with a hamstring injury, Foster still finished 5th in the league in total rushing yards last season with 1,224, 6th in total attempts with 278, and tied for 8th with 10 touchdowns, and 2nd in yards per game (94.2). Foster is also a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield, and caught 53 passes for 617 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. The Texans are one of the few running teams left in the NFL, and given a full healthy season, Foster should continue to be dominant. There is some concern about the strength of the Texans’ offensive line after Eric Winston was cut and Mike Brisiel left in free agency, but the Texans are confident in replacements Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler.
2. Ray Rice
With 395 combined rushing attempts and receiving targets last season, it’s no secret that Ray Rice is the Ravens’ offense. Rice finished with an NFL-best 2,068 all-purpose yards last season, second in total yards rushing, and tied for third place with 12 total touchdowns. He remains the NFL’s quintessential dual threat running back, posting three consecutive seasons of 1,700 all-purpose yards. After being franchised this offseason, Rice signed a five year, $40 million contract and has made it clear that he doesn’t plan on leaving Baltimore anytime soon.
3. Matt Forte
After finally ending “contentious” contract negotiations this sumer and signing a four year contract worth roughly $32 million, Matt Forte should be a valuable fantasy running back in 2012. Forte missed the final four games of last season with an MCL tear, but before his injury led the league with 1,487 all-purpose yards and 123.9 total yards per game, and 7.15 yards per touch. Forte is the only player in NFL history to gain 900 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving in each of his first four seasons, and with a full season he should finish as one of the top running backs in the league.
4. LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy has dramatically improved every season since his rookie season in 2009, and although a regression towards the mean is more likely for McCoy in 2012 he should still be one of the most productive running backs in the NFL. McCoy led the league (and set an Eagles’ franchise record) last season with 17 rushing touchdowns and finished as the fourth-leading rusher with 1,309 yards. McCoy also caught 48 passes for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. McCoy also became one of the league’s highest paid running backs this offseason, signing a five year contract extension worth $45 million with $20.765 million guaranteed.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew
Nobody has accomplished as much with less support from his team as Maurice Jones-Drew. Behind the miserable play of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Jones-Drew carried the Jaguars offense and scored 44% of the team’s total touchdowns. He led the league with 343 attempts and 1,606 rushing yards last season, and also continued to be a viable receiving option with 43 receptions for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, after only three years into his five-year contract from 2009 Jones-Drew is demanding a new deal. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith isn’t planning on renegotiating, and Jones-Drew has threatened an extended holdout if a new deal isn’t reached.