We’re just a few weeks away from the 2012 NFL Draft and the free agency period is finally starting to wind down – this allows us to stop and take a clear view of the player landscape yet again. While many teams addressed their perceived needs at running back through free agency, there are still many more who will likely turn to the draft to fill theirs.
One thing we’ve learned over the years is the draft is extremely unpredictable. Just when you think you have everything figured out, a surprise team seems to take one of the prized backs, throwing dynasty league drafters into panic mode. With that in mind, let’s take a look at all the teams and consider the strength of the possible destinations for running backs.
Before we start taking a look at these spots, there are few things to consider.
First, the offensive lines for the teams were considered, but not the driving factor behind these different tiers. While an offensive line is certainly a huge key for a running back, free agency can take a great one and turn it into a mediocre one pretty quickly. So, while they were certainly taken into account, don’t expect the teams to be ranked strictly in order of their offensive line prowess.
Second, both immediate and future production was considered. While some teams offer a quick opportunity to play, some of those aren’t exactly known for historically great fantasy production. Many others may not offer immediate playing time, but offer a great long term outlook.
Finally, the running back depth charts of all these teams was factored in. While some highly ranked teams already have runners in place, they may be aging quickly. Remember, we’re considering the best landing spots for a combination of both immediate and future production here.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at all 32 teams and see where they rank as far as landing spots for running backs. Each of the teams is put into a tier based on good (four stars) to terrible (one star).
While the Browns aren’t known for producing high quality fantasy backs, you have to love the opportunity for someone here. Whether that’s Trent Richardson or another highly touted back, they really only need to beat out the oft-injured Montario Hardesty for significant playing time. The Browns aren’t known for producing a lot of high quality running backs historically, but the immediate opportunity is just too great here to knock them down the list.
Don’t sleep on the Steelers this April. Isaac Redman isn’t likely the long term answer and Jonathan Dwyer hasn’t proven to be anything special thus far. With Rashard Mendenhall recovering from ACL surgery, the door could be wide open for Pittsburgh to find his replacement. If the Steelers draft a running back early, it could signal the end of the Mendenhall era. Having a running back playing on a historically great team is never a bad thing.
Michael Turner is fading quickly and the Falcons will need to find his permanent replacement soon. While Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers are good players, they’re likely not more than complementary pieces. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones anchoring things, a dynamic running back could carve out a really nice career in Atlanta.
St. Louis Rams
While Steven Jackson has been an absolute beast in fantasy leagues for nearly a decade, the end is coming sooner rather than later. The Rams have done nothing to really address the position for years and they really need to start planning for the future. Any running back drafted in St. Louis would find playing time soon – owners would just need to be patient. Coach Fisher has been known to be keen on relying mostly on one back as well. A future workhorse in St. Louis would be a great dynasty league asset.
Willis McGahee was reborn last year and had a fantastic season. However, he’s aging and has taken a beating over the years. A younger running back with the ability to run and catch could find himself being a fantasy star in this offensive system with Peyton Manning at the helm. Knowshon Moreno just can’t be counted on.
The Colts have been searching for a viable replacement for Edgerrin James for a long, long time. While Joseph Addai was serviceable, he was never explosive or dynamic enough to really be a difference maker. It’s hard to imagine the Colts going into the season with just Donald Brown and Delone Carter to carry the load, regardless of what they’ve been saying in the press this week. The negative is pretty obvious – this team is in big time rebuilding mode.
New York Jets
Does anyone really think Shonn Greene is the long term answer here? Joe McKnight? Bilal Powell? I’m really not sure the future lead back is on the Jets roster at this point. While they may roll with Greene for one more season, they’ll likely be tempted to take someone to fill his shoes. If they take a back early, we’ll know what they think of Powell. If they don’t, there’s still some hope there.
Yes, they just signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and already have Bernard Scott, but do either of those guys really strike fear into other teams? They’ll get them by for a year or two if needed, but a developmental back could climb the depth chart quickly if he impresses in camp.
New York Giants
Giants running backs are dropping like flies, so they’ll likely have the position ranked highly on their priority list this year. While Ahmad Bradshaw is the unquestioned starter, he’s never exactly been the picture of health.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have James Starks and Alex Green at the moment, but you just don’t feel like they have a ton of confidence in either for the long term. The only reason the Packers aren’t a four star destination in my mind is their reluctance to run in general. With Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball all over the yard, there aren’t as many opportunities as you’d think. Regardless, this would still be a pretty nice landing spot.
Jahvid Best is recovering from his concussions and could be one hit away from retirement. Mikel Leshoure is seemingly spending his free time eating marijuana. Kevin Smith is always hurt.
You do the math.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It seems pretty apparent they’re not comfortable with LeGarrette Blount over the long haul. While Blount could be a good short yardage option, the Bucs could really use someone who could make some dynamic plays on offense and be a weapon in the passing game. Blount’s existence keeps this from being a four star location, but it’s right on the cusp.
Darren McFadden has obvious injury risk, but the addition of Mike Goodson to a depth chart that already has Taiwan Jones would make Oakland a tough spot for anyone new to find time.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are notoriously fond of unpredictable committee attacks and already have two young running backs in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen on the roster. It would be a pretty big surprise to see them invest another high pick in a runner.
With Daniel Thomas and the resurgent Reggie Bush on the roster, the Dolphins don’t currently have a glaring need at the position. While both Thomas and Bush have long term question marks, the entire franchise just doesn’t look ready to provide fantasy excellence any time soon.
At this point, it looks like the Bills are going to invest in both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller long term. With Johnny White and Tashard Choice also in the mix, this would be a bit of a mess.
The Ravens could be in the market for a backup to Ray Rice, but any player drafted would be just that…a backup.
After investing heavily in Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks have a lot of other needs to address. Someone drafted here could eventually get some time, but Lynch is Seattle’s best weapon on offense at the moment. If he falls back into mediocrity, it could get interesting, though.
After committing so much money to CJ2K, the Titans seem set at the position, especially considering they still have Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper behind him on the depth chart.
While it would be easy to move them up a tier on this list since MJD is starting to age a bit, don’t forget they still have Rashad Jennings, who they really seem to like.
San Diego Chargers
This looks like the Ryan Mathews show in 2012. A backup could be useful with Mike Tolbert gone, but the Chargers look like they’re all in for the long haul with Mathews. A bigger, Mike Tolbert-like back could be interesting, but it’s hard to see Mathews getting off the field.
Beanie Wells had a bit of resurgence last year, though he’s still considered an underachiever in most circles. Ryan Williams is still recovering from his injury, but he should have a chance to contribute this season. Having another back in the stable just wouldn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense and would create real fantasy chaos.
Kansas City Chiefs
Peyton Hillis is only signed for one season, so there could be room for a bruiser to go along with Jamaal Charles eventually. However, any running back here would be buried at first and still be playing second fiddle to Charles if Hillis was to move on after the season.
Would you take LeSean McCoy off the field?
Felix Jones will likely be moving on here soon, but DeMarco Murray is the future here. This would be a decent spot for a developmental player, especially considering the injury history of Jones and Murray, but this spot wouldn’t exactly excite many fantasy owners.
Adrian Peterson’s injury is one of fantasy football’s biggest storylines of the offseason, but it sounds like he’s recovering well. Toby Gerhart is still in the mix for Minnesota and even though he hasn’t been overly impressive, he’s still a player who would clog up the depth chart for a new runner. Don’t sleep on Lex Hilliard, either.
They have the best offensive line in football, but they also have Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
As long as Matt Forte is re-signed, the Bears will be set now that they’ve signed Michael Bush – any new running back here would be lucky to see the field at all in their first couple of seasons.
New Orleans Saints
Joining a depth chart with Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas wouldn’t exactly be a recipe for success.
If they add a running back in the first two rounds, just quit. Seriously.
San Francisco 49ers
After adding Brandon Jacobs to the likes of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, this depth chart seems pretty set and that’s without even mentioning Anthony Dixon.
Look, I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of Roy Helu or Evan Royster, but you have to make this list with the assumption that RGIII works out and Mike Shanahan and his coaching carousel remains intact for the foreseeable future. I’d actually like to do an article at some point with ten things I like better than Mike Shanahan and the way he handles his running back depth chart.
One of those will be death.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK