Last week, I examined
the Top 10 running backs from 2011 in hopes of identifying who among
them might be primed to disappoint and fall from the ranks this
upcoming season. This week, I’ll take an educated wag at who,
conversely, might be ready to emerge (or perhaps reemerge) in 2012
to snag the vacated spots. Some of the names won’t surprise
you, I’m sure, but some certainly might. After all, did anyone
peg Victor Cruz for a Top 10 run before the start of last season?
Here goes nothing…
All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy RBs from last season...
Johnson, TEN: Johnson’s 2011 season got off to a rocky start
when he groused about his contract, held out for most of training
camp, and then, after finally securing his dough at the beginning
of September, showed up out of shape and woefully unprepared to
demonstrate why he deserved such a significant raise in the first
place. Things only got rockier from there. Looking tentative and
even timid, Johnson failed to top the century mark in his first
three starts...cumulatively! He also failed to score during that
three-game set. Though he would eventually turn things around a
bit and post several 100-yard games (and even a few scores), most
fantasy owners had cut bait by then—something the Tennessee brass
was rumored to be considering, as well, midway through the season.
Talk about a swift fall from grace, huh?
Johnson is looking to leap back into the
So, that’s the bad news on Chris Johnson. Here’s some
good news. The Titans didn’t jettison him and, accordingly,
he’s still the main man in Music City. He’s still supremely
talented and very much in his prime (only 26 years old). He’s
still 100 percent healthy. Most importantly, and by all accounts,
he seems eager to prove 2011 was an anomaly and is even, according
to some observers, looking like the Johnson of old in camp. Training
camp chatter may be cheap, yes, but guys like him simply don’t
grow on trees. He possesses sprinter’s speed, an unmatched
burst, great vision, soft hands, and a fair amount of swagger. I
don’t know about you, but I like my meal tickets both talented
and brash. If anything’s going to prevent CJ2K from flirting
with 2K in 2012, it’s a suspect offensive line and an unsettled
quarterback situation. Regardless, I don’t think either of
those things will prevent him from comfortably reaching 1.5K territory.
McFadden, OAK: Johnson argued during his holdout that he had
significantly outperformed his rookie contract. The same cannot
be said for Darren McFadden, a fellow 2008 draftee. For the bargain
price of $12 million, Tennessee gained an NFL MVP and the record-holder
for most yards gained from scrimmage in a single season. For the
tidy sum of $60 million, Oakland gained a perennial tease who can’t
even stay on the field long enough to help them earn a return on
that sizeable investment.
Make no mistake about it: Darren McFadden is a flat-out stud who
is perfectly capable of justifying that contract someday. When he
plays, in fact, there are few in the league who can match his production
on a per-game basis. In the two seasons he’s lined up as a
full-time starter, 2010 and 2011, he’s ranked second and seventh,
respectively, for fantasy points per contest. Take away the abbreviated
Week 7 start from last year (he left early in the first) and that
2011 ranking moves from seventh to fourth. There should be no question
that, when healthy, Run DMC is a solid Top 10 running back.
Alas, for all his natural gifts (size, speed, elusiveness), the
former Razorback hasn’t made it unscathed through even a single
one of his four professional seasons. Last year was particularly
frustrating for fantasy owners, as the Raiders were less than forthcoming
about the nature of his injury. This would be the same Raiders organization,
by the way, that made only a token (and unsuccessful) effort to
retain Michael Bush, McFadden’s backup and easily the league’s
most valuable handcuff. Uhhhhh…. On the positive side, it
does create a magnificent high-risk/high-reward situation for the
risk-tolerant among you. McFadden’s clearly going to garner
most of the carries in Oakland this year. If he does manage to stay
upright for the long haul, I believe nobody in the league has a
higher ceiling at the position.
Richardson, CLE: A year ago, there was guarded optimism in Cleveland.
Mike Holmgren was finally putting his imprint on the club after
the forgettable Mangini era. Colt
McCoy was making strides at quarterback after a better-than-expected
2010 showing. The Browns were even able to boast of a Madden cover
boy, Peyton Hilllis, in the backfield, pretty heady stuff for a
franchise that has only reached the playoffs once since its reincarnation
Fast-forward a year and.... The supposedly surging Brownies stepped
back to 4-12 after successive 5-11 campaigns. The luster wore off
of McCoy’s prospects and he’s going to be replaced by
28-year old rookie, Brandon Wheeden. Hillis, who spent all year
underachieving and then jousting with management over a contract
extension (sound familiar?), bolted for Kansas City after the season.
Sigh. Will this seemingly cursed franchise and city ever catch a
Ahhh, but hope springs eternal in NE Ohio thanks to the NFL draft.
This year, the Browns snagged a guy who some are calling the best
running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in 2007. Now that is
heady stuff, especially considering who we just discussed. Does
he deserve the hype? Well, he’s ideally constructed (a shade
under 6’ and about 220). He has superb quickness and breakaway
speed. He breaks more tackles than anyone I’ve seen at the
collegiate level (think “beast mode”). He’s a
willing blocker who can also catch passes (read: he’s a three-down
back). Oh, and did I forget to mention he’s also got virtually
no competition for touches in the Cleveland backfield? I’m
a born skeptic, people, but I’m extremely bullish on Trent
Richardson, even before he’s notched a professional carry.
If you can get him without overpaying, I would respectfully submit
that you won’t be disappointed.
Next: Wide Receivers