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Offseason Extra: Top 12 RBs for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The biggest decision Fantasy owners might have to make in 2012 is when to draft Adrian Peterson. His knee injury has now made him a risky Fantasy option.

Peterson has been a first-round Fantasy draft pick in every season since 2008, which was his second year in the NFL, but a torn ACL and MCL in Week 16 has left his status for the start of 2012 in doubt. There is a chance he could even open the season on the PUP list.

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In taking a look at an initial Top 12 list of running backs for 2012, Peterson is not among that group. He is not a running back I would target on Draft Day because of the severity of his injury and since it happened late in the year. But Peterson is not alone in his comeback from a serious knee injury.

Jamaal Charles, who also suffered a torn ACL, is in better shape than Peterson. He is worth drafting with an early round selection because his injury happened in Week 2. He should be able to make a full recovery and be ready to go for the start of the season.

We wish Rashard Mendenhall was like Charles, but he is closer to Peterson since his torn ACL happened in Week 17. He might not be ready for Week 1 in 2012, and he should not be drafted prior to Round 4 in the majority of leagues as long as he makes a full recovery.

The injuries to Peterson and Mendenhall have opened the door for Toby Gerhart and Isaac Redman to have increased Fantasy value and fall under the sleeper category. Some other potential sleepers include Mikel Leshoure, Stevan Ridley and Montario Hardesty.

Leshoure, who missed his rookie season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, could be the starter for the Lions in 2012. Ridley has the chance to be the best running back in New England, especially if BenJarvus Green-Ellis leaves as a free agent. And Hardesty could be the starter in Cleveland with Peyton Hillis not expected back. But Hardesty has to prove he can stay healthy and play at a high level.

Some potential busts include Reggie Bush, Cedric Benson and Fred Jackson. Bush and Jackson were Top 15 Fantasy running backs this season, but they should falter in 2012. Daniel Thomas should be more of a factor in Miami, which will hurt Bush, and C.J. Spiller showed he deserves a more prominent role next year after he did a nice job replacing Jackson when he was hurt. Benson is a free agent, and his days as a featured running back are likely over, especially if he leaves the Bengals.

A few other running backs I would draft with caution in 2012 would also be Michael Turner, Steven Jackson and Frank Gore, who were Top 15 Fantasy running backs this season. Even though they are still productive and featured options, they are headed for a breakdown in the near future. And if it happens this year you could be disappointed if you drafted any of them with an early pick.

Top 12 Running Backs for 2012

No. 1
Arian Foster, Texans
2011 stats: 278 carries for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns; 53 catches for 617 yards and two touchdowns (71 targets); three fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 238 (18.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 3 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 1 overall (Round 1)
Foster finished 47 Fantasy points behind Rice for the No. 1 running back spot this season, but that was with him getting just three points over the first three weeks of the season because of an injured hamstring. If Foster hit his average weekly points during that period he would have finished with 293 Fantasy points and ahead of Rice. We like Foster to be No. 1 in 2012 with Gary Kubiak back because the system in Houston is catered to rushing success. Foster could also be in a contract year if he's not signed this offseason, and he again has a favorable schedule in his division and against Buffalo, Green Bay, New England and Denver – all teams that struggled in run defense this season.

2012 sleeper RBs
Mikel Leshoure, Lions
Stevan Ridley, Patriots
Montario Hardesty, Browns

No. 2
Ray Rice, Ravens
2011 stats: 291 carries for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns; 76 catches for 704 yards and three touchdowns (104 targets); two fumbles; one passing touchdown
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 285 (17.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 4 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 2 overall (Round 1)
Rice is a free agent this offseason, but we hope he can work out a new contract to stay with the Ravens without any problems. He showed this season that he can be a featured rusher, and he was second in receptions and targets at running back behind Darren Sproles. Rice can easily repeat as the No. 1 running back in 2012, but we would take him just after Foster. He also has a favorable schedule next season against Denver, Oakland, New England, Kansas City, San Diego and Washington. The Ravens will likely bring in another running back to help share the load with Rice, but he should continue to be the No. 1 option on offense in Baltimore.

No. 3
LeSean McCoy, Eagles
2011 stats: 273 carries for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns; 48 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns (69 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 270 (18.0)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 9 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 3 overall (Round 1)
McCoy might have been the No. 1 running back this season if he played in Week 17. He sat out the season finale against Washington with an injured ankle, and Rice had 31 Fantasy points to take the top spot. McCoy was the picture of consistency this year with double digits in Fantasy points in all but one game. He was No. 2 in weekly average for non-quarterbacks behind Foster, and he should have another outstanding season in 2012 with Andy Reid back. McCoy will be entering a contract year in 2012, which could give him more incentive for a big season, but he is proving that Reid can do wonders with running backs since he is playing just as well, if not better, than Brian Westbrook did in his heyday. McCoy should again be a star next season.

No. 4
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
2011 stats: 343 carries for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns; 43 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns (63 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 249 (15.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 12 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 6 overall (Round 1)
Many Fantasy owners doubted Jones-Drew heading into this season because of his knee problem and the lack of talent around him in Jacksonville. All Jones-Drew did was lead the NFL in rushing with a career year in carries and yards. He also had double digits in touchdowns for the third time in four years, and he should remain the focal point on offense under new coach Mike Mularkey. Jacksonville needs to get better players to help Jones-Drew on offense if the team wants more success, but the Jaguars should remain a run-first team for the immediate future. Jones-Drew might be nearing a decline in production, but he should again post solid stats in 2012.

2012 bust RBs
Reggie Bush, Dolphins
Cedric Benson, Bengals
Fred Jackson, Bills

No. 5
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
2011 stats: 285 carries for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns; 28 catches for 212 yards and one touchdown (41 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 203 (13.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 84 overall (Round 7)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 8 overall (Round 1)
Lynch is a free agent this offseason, and we hope he can return to Seattle without any problems. He has the chance to remain a star after his best season in the NFL. The Seahawks have a good system in place to run the ball, and their offense should improve with a new starting quarterback to replace Tarvaris Jackson. Lynch had a touchdown in 11 consecutive games this season with at least 11 Fantasy points in 10 of those outings. We had him as a sleeper heading into this year, and he is now worth drafting as a Top 10 overall player in 2012. Some Fantasy owners will be concerned about Lynch falling off after a big year, but he should play well as long as he returns to Seattle next season.

No. 6
Matt Forte, Bears
2011 stats: 203 carries for 997 yards and three touchdowns; 52 catches for 490 yards and one touchdown (76 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 157 (13.1)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 21 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 9 overall (Round 1)
Forte is a free agent this offseason, but he is expected to stay with the Bears with at least the franchise tag. We hope there isn't a holdout because Forte has proven to be a star when healthy. He finished the season with a Top 10 weekly average at running back, and he would have had better overall numbers if he didn't injure his knee and miss the final four games of the season. The loss of offensive coordinator Mike Martz will hurt Forte, but he should remain a focal point on offense under new coordinator Mike Tice. You can take Forte ahead of Lynch or even Jones-Drew, but I consider Forte the No. 6 running back coming into the season and a solid selection on Draft Day.

No. 7
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
2011 stats: 222 carries for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns; 50 catches for 455 yards (59 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (average): 173 (12.4)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 52 overall (Round 5)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 11 overall (Round 1)
Health is always going to be an issue for Mathews, who missed two games this year and was limited all season with nagging injuries. But he could be ready for a huge season in 2012 if Mike Tolbert leaves as a free agent. Keeping Norv Turner as the head coach is great for Mathews, who had a solid sophomore campaign this season. He had nine games with double digits in Fantasy points, and that's with scoring only six touchdowns. He showed his versatility as one of only eight running backs with at least 50 catches, and that number could skyrocket if Tolbert leaves since he also had 54 catches this year. Mathews could be a steal with a late first-round pick, and we expect him to have a breakout season in 2012.

2012 rookies to watch
Trent Richardson, Alabama
Lamar Miller, Miami
David Wilson, Virginia Tech
LaMichael James, Oregon
Chris Polk, Washington

No. 8
Chris Johnson, Titans
2011 stats: 262 carries for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns; 57 catches for 418 yards (79 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 157 (9.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 5 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 12 overall (Round 1)
Ranking Johnson at No. 8 was tough for me because I don't know if I would draft him in the first round of most leagues. The hope is that Johnson will improve with a full offseason, and now that he got paid, he should want to show that he can be an elite playmaker. Keep in mind that Johnson is still a workhorse, was among the league leaders at running back in receptions this season and can easily reach 1,500 total yards and double digits in touchdowns, which is something he basically did in all four seasons in the NFL (he had 1,488 total yards as a rookie in 2008). There's now a risk involved in drafting Johnson in the first round, but he should be worth it since there aren't many running backs in the NFL who can do what he does when he's playing at a high level.

No. 9
Darren McFadden, Raiders
2011 stats: 113 carries for 614 yards and four touchdowns; 19 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown (23 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 100 (14.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 18 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 15 overall (Round 2)
McFadden was on his way toward a monster season before he hurt his foot and missed the final 10 games. Prior to the injury, he was averaging 16.7 Fantasy points per week. Over 16 games, McFadden would have finished with 267 Fantasy points, which would have made him the No. 3 running back in standard leagues. Now, we know McFadden has a lengthy injury history, and he has yet to play more than 13 games in a season. But 2012 could be a big year if Michael Bush leaves Oakland as a free agent as expected. That means McFadden won't lose many carries, and the Raiders should again lean on him to carry their offense, which should be more explosive with Carson Palmer at quarterback (the two didn't start a game together this season). McFadden is worth the risk in Round 2, but just be prepared for him to miss some time. The hope is he misses three games or less and not the majority of the season.

No. 10
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
2011 stats: 12 carries for 83 yards; five catches for 9 yards and one touchdown (six targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 11 (5.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 6 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 23 overall (Round 2)
This is likely the spot when Fantasy owners will have to make a tough decision with Peterson, Gore and Fred Jackson. All of them are worth drafting here, especially in comparison to Turner and Steven Jackson. And Peterson will move up if he proves to be 100 percent healthy. But Charles has the edge over Peterson in his recovery from a torn ACL since his injury happened in September. He should return at close to 100 percent by the time training camp starts. And the good news for Charles is the Chiefs will likely lean on him quite a bit, especially if Thomas Jones is gone. Kansas City has a great schedule with games against Indianapolis, Carolina, Cleveland, Buffalo and Tampa Bay, as well facing the AFC West. Charles also was a beast prior to his injury with 2,587 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and 85 catches for 765 yards and four touchdowns in the two years prior to 2011.

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No. 11
Michael Turner, Falcons
2011 stats: 301 carries for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns; 17 catches for 168 yards (27 targets); two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 203 (12.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 13 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 18 overall (Round 2)
As stated above, Turner is one of several running backs I don't want to draft this year. He had a successful season this year with more than 1,300 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, but this is now three times in the past four years where he has at least 300 carries, which is beginning to take a toll. He is not a threat as a receiver, and the Falcons are trending toward a passing team with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Turner will remain a candidate for double digits in touchdowns, which is why he remains a Top 12 running back, but his yardage should begin to slip. He closed the season with only two games with double digits in Fantasy points in his final six outings, and he will be 30 in 2012. Draft him early, but do so with caution.

No. 12
Steven Jackson, Rams
2011 stats: 260 carries for 1,145 yards and five touchdowns; 42 catches for 333 yards and one touchdown (58 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 170 (11.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 19 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 21 overall (Round 2)
Jackson is another running back on the decline, but he might have at least one good season left. He remains a risky option to draft in Round 2, but there aren't many workhorse running backs like him. He will have a great schedule in 2012 against weaker run defenses in Green Bay, Washington, New England, the Jets, Tampa Bay and Buffalo, along with his division opponents. New coach Jeff Fisher will emphasize the run, and the Rams should look to improve their offensive line to also help protect Sam Bradford. Jackson closed the season on a high note with double digits in Fantasy points in three of his final four games, and you should expect 300-plus touches and quality production. We'll find out if the Rams add a running back in the draft, which is likely, but Jackson can still be helpful for what might be his final standout year as a featured rusher.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Dolphins to release WR Brian Hartline after six seasons
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) The Dolphins have officially released longtime wide receiver Brian Hartline on Friday, per the team's official website.

Hartline, drafted by Miami in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, signed a five-year, $30.775 million contract in 2013. His cap number for 2015 was $7.3 million. After registering 1,083 yards in 2012 and 1,016 yards in 2013, Hartline took a step back in 2014 with a disappointing campaign where he caught only 39 passes for 474 yards and two scores. The 28-year-old has 4,243 yards and 12 touchdowns through six seasons in the league.


Report: Falcons release longtime WR Harry Douglas
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) The Falcons have cut ties with Harry Douglas. The team released the 30-year-old wide out on Friday, according to Pro Football Talk.

Douglas has been with the Falcons since 2008, and had a year remaining in his deal. He racked up 258 receptions, 3,130 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, he turned 75 targets into 51 catches for 556 yards and two scores. This comes a day after the team released veteran running back Steven Jackson, as new coach Dan Quinn prepares for roster shakeup this offseason.


Rams QB coach is a big fan of Sam Bradford
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:53 am ET) Rams quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke is perfectly happy with starting quarterback Sam Bradford, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Love him. Love him," Weinke said when asked about Bradford. Weinke, who has evaluated quarterbacks for a couple of seasons now, said Bradford had one of the best pro days he's ever seen. "A few years ago when Andrew Luck came out they said who would you compare him to? And I said the closest I would see is Sam Bradford."

As part of Weinke's interview process with the team, he met with Bradford for roughly three-and-a-half hours. It wasn't really a formal meeting, though, it was more so the two could get to know eachother. 

Bradford has reportedly been granted permission to seek a trade, but it doesn't appear Rams' ownership wants to part with the 27-year-old quarterback. 


RB Steven Jackson, cut by Falcons, isn't planning to retire
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) Though he's without a team at the moment, running back Steven Jackson has no plans to retire. 

The Falcons officially released Jackson Thursday night, with immediate questions emerging about his future. On his own website, though, Jackson posted a statement saying he isn't hanging up the cleats just yet.  

"A lot has been written lately about my future," Jackson wrote. "There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defense over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game -- let's just say you were really feeling me at that point.

"Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense. I still have a warrior's heart. There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs. I know what I am still capable of, and I have every intention of proving it."

Jackson also admitted his two seasons with the Falcons were a disappointment as the organization did not reach the postseason in either season. He combined for only 1,250 yards in 2013 and 2014 after posting eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards when he was with the Rams. 


Raiders expected to release safety Tyvon Branch
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Raiders will be parting ways with safety Tyvon Branch, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora

Branch only played in three games during the 2014 season due to a foot injury that placed him on injured reserve. That followed his 2013 season in which Branch was only able to participate in two games. 

However, Branch could be a commodity in what is otherwise considered a weak safety market. 

Branch signed a four-year, $26..6 million contract with the Raiders in 2012, with $17.6 million guaranteed.


Browns working to re-sign CB Buster Skrine
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Browns are hopeful they can re-sign cornerback Buster Skrine but are probably going to have to try to do so after he hits the free agent market, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Skrine had a single-season best four interceptions in 2014 and will be someone that could command a hefty price tag on the open market. The Plain Dealer reports that Skrine is expecting anywhere from $5.5 million to $7 million per season. 

The Browns should be in a good position to match an offer for Skrine. Depending on what the 2015 cap number per team is, the Browns are likely to have well over $30 million to spend in free agency. 


Colts, Matt Hasselbeck agree to one-year contract
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) It looks like Matt Hasselbeck's NFL career will extend at least one more year. 

The Colts reached a one-year deal with backup quarterback Hasselbeck, the team announced on Thursday. 

Hasselbeck, 39, will enter his 17th year in the NFL. After starting out as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay for his first two seasons in 1999 and 2000, he joined the Seahawks via a trade and quickly established himself as a starting-caliber quarterback. 

In 16 NFL seasons, Hasselbeck has totaled 34,948 yards, 203 touchdowns and 148 interceptions. He'll be the top candidate to back up Andrew Luck next season. 


Report: Vikings, Adrian Peterson can communicate with each other
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) Now that Adrian Peterson has been moved back to the Commissioner's Exempt list, the Vikings can reach out and communicate with him, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Peterson had been suspended by the NFL until April 15 and upheld by an arbitrator. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrator's decision, sending the case back down to go through the CBA. The NFL has removed the suspension, for now, while moving Peterson back to the Commissioner's Exempt list. 

The NFL announced in a statement that it is appealing Doty's ruling

Since the Vikings want Peterson to remain with them, they can now reach out and hold talks directly. While suspended by the NFL, the Vikings were unable to communicate with him. This is an interesting development because the Vikings have publicly stated they want him to stay in Minnesota. 

However, at least one report as indicated Peterson wants to leave and continue his NFL career elsewhere


Falcons release running back Steven Jackson
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Falcons released running back Steven Jackson on Thursday, the team announced.

Jackson was owed $3.75 million in 2015, but with running back Devonta Freeman on the roster, it appears Jackson is expendable. In 2014, Jackson rushed for 707 yards and six touchdowns on 190 carries.

By cutting Jackson, the Falcons saved $3.7 million against the salary cap, reports the NFL Network.


Redskins sign Ricky Jean Francois to three-year contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Redskins signed defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois to a three-year deal Thursday, reports the NFL Network.

The deal is believed to be worth $9 million with $4 million guaranteed. With incentives, the deal can reach $11.25 million.

Jean Francois was cut by the Colts on Monday. In 2014, Jean Francois totaled 28 tackles and three sacks.


 
 
 
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