Oh, those poor running backs. Two of this year's top 10 fantasy running backs are limping into the season with injuries. But there's still plenty of elite talent at the top. Read on to see who ranks first in our Top 10 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings...
1. Arian Foster, Texans
There is no clear-cut No. 1 running back in fantasy football this year, but Foster is as close as it gets. He’s not only a great runner, but he gets help from one of the NFL’s best run-blocking offensive lines and can really make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s a bit injury-prone (in the NFL, what running back isn’t?), and outstanding back-up Ben Tate might steal a couple of touchdowns from him. But there’s too much to like about Foster.
2. Ray Rice, Ravens
Rice remains the centerpiece of the Ravens’ offense, both as a runner and a receiver. My guess is that Baltimore would like to lighten his workload a bit, which is why they drafted Bernard Pierce in the third round. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens stopped using Rice so often on the goal line in order to keep his legs fresh.
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
McCoy is a big-time playmaker in an explosive offense, but the difference between a good year and a great year will be quarterback Michael Vick and his health. If Vick goes down with another injury, the Eagles offense won’t get enough scoring chances to challenge for the top RB spot.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Jones-Drew is holding out of training camp because he’s unhappy with his contract, but I think he’ll be back in the lineup for Week 1. He was the NFL rushing champ a year ago despite the fact that the Jaguars passing game stunk big time, allowing defenses to focus on stopping him.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Lynch had a huge finish to 2011, and this year he’s reportedly looked fitter and faster in training camp. My only real worry with him is that he seeks out contact, which means he could wear down quicker. But as long as he’s healthy, he’s a definite top five fantasy running back.
6. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews suffered a shoulder injury in the first exhibition game. He says he’ll be back in the lineup for Week 1, but I’m not so sure. I expect Mathews to miss a game or two early in the season. Though once he’s back at full strength, he’ll be getting a big workload for the Chargers this year and has a chance to be a breakout star.
7. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
Murray emerged as a big-time runner around midseason last year. The Cowboys will rely on him for the entire season in 2012, especially since they don’t always trust Tony Romo to make the right plays near the goal line. Murray can be a star if he can avoid getting injured again (last season he averaged 91.0 rushing yards per game in his starts before getting hurt).
8. Darren Sproles, Saints
Sproles is such a unique weapon, and Drew Brees loves going to him. Along with the ability to make the occasional play as a runner, Sproles is absolutely deadly as a receiver when he gets a little room to work. He set a single-season record for all-purpose yards a year ago (though kick return yards don’t count in fantasy football), and I believe he’ll have a similarly big season in 2012.
9. Chris Johnson, Titans
Johnson is still known for his amazing 2,000-yard season in 2009, but he hasn’t done much since then. And last year he really struggled, rushing for a career-low 1,047 yards. He’s still one of the fastest players in the NFL and could certainly have a bounce back year, but considering how badly he’s struggled to find running room in recent years I wouldn’t count on it.
10. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Peterson would be near the top of this list if he weren’t coming off a major knee injury. He’s made an incredibly speedy recovery so far, but I think it’s too much to expect him to be anywhere near 100% early in the season, considering he tore two knee ligaments in December. I don’t expect to see the old “Stinky Pete” on the field until midseason at the earliest.