NFL fantasy 2012 RB injury report (cont.)
Darren McFadden would be in the discussion for the top tier if not for the continual injury problems. McFadden has the size and the speed to be elite, but not the health. There are a couple ways to play this. You could draft McFadden high -- late first round, early second -- but you'll need to come back with not one but two other upper tier RBs. The other way is to pass up McFadden and his risk, which is tough to do given his upside.
Ryan Mathews was creeping up draft charts until he broke his clavicle in the first preseason game. His selection spot seems to be the pivot point in most drafts where people stop taking the RB slot and start shifting over to other positions. The Chargers want to take Mathews up from the 222 carries he had last year, but no one seems sure that he can handle an increase and keep his health. Lingering muscle strains and his body type lead me to think that he's always going to have those kind of concerns, which will lead to Ronnie Brown getting more touches than anticipated.
DeMarco Murray made his bones with a ridiculous Week 7 performance in which he blew up for 250-plus yards. Then his season ended on a fractured ankle. Murray's odd stat line only includes two TDs, despite a high YPC. Given his lack of track record, it's hard for me to accept the risks of someone with an injury history and an unknown durability as a high second-rounder.
With Brandon Jacobs gone, Ahmad Bradshaw should be jumping up the charts, not falling, right? Somehow, he is, even among experts. Bradshaw has plenty of backups who can keep him from being overexposed. His foot injury last year depressed his stats, but the Giants showed just how good they are with their playoff run. Bradshaw has risk with his recurrent foot problems and his size, but he's also the perfect fantasy RB2.
With 20 TDs in 15 games, LeSean McCoy is no joke. McCoy did all that despite Vick missing games. Actually, it was McCoy taking on the TDs that did in Vick's fantasy value. TDs tend to be randomly distributed outside of the goal line, but it's predictable in the sense that you can determine role. There's more than enough offense to go around, and in the prime of his career, McCoy hasn't been overused.
Roy Helu proved himself a nice pickup last year as he emerged as the back to have in a bundle. With a real QB in front of him, the expectation is that Helu won't be overexposed, allowing him to do the things he does well and make slight maturations to his game. It's a solid expectation. The risk is more that Robert Griffin III is a bit more Cam Newton, taking some of the touches and TDs from Helu than injury. Tim Hightower is also going to get some carries, but he's never been able to hold a job long term and starts the season recovering from a knee injury. Evan Royster is also in the mix.
Matt Forte is coming back from a sprained MCL, not an ACL as many seem to think. He's had plenty of time to heal, and I'm sure the Bears were confident in the knee before he signed the big extension this offseason. There's no reason to think that the knee will hold him back. With an improved offense around him, Forte could put up elite numbers if he and Jay Cutler stay healthy. That means the Bears need massive improvements on the O-Line. If you believe that will happen, Forte could be worth a top five pick.
Jahvid Best still hasn't been cleared to return from concussion, and as with any longstanding concussion problem, there's just no way to tell when he might be ready. The Lions' frustration with him shows the culture of the NFL hasn't changed significantly. Balancing Best's best interests with the team's is necessary, but the perception can't make Roger Goodell very happy. This risk, along with the presence of Kevin Smith and Mikel LeShoure (who's proving very injury prone himself), make Best a late pick at best.
James Starks is the best back for a team that really doesn't use one. The Packers will pass to set up the run again, then use a committee of runners once they do start handing the ball off. There's limited upside here, but Starks is probably a bit underrated given his actual talent.
Adrian Peterson may not be human. He's ready to come back from ACL surgery and seems to be exactly where he left off. He could have been ready as quickly as four months, so even while he's ahead of schedule now, it might be even more extreme. Peterson is risky, yes, but likely far too low and a real steal if he drops into a second tier of RBs behind a couple QBs and WRs. A recent article on value based drafting by Chet Gresham had Peterson at a ridiculous ADP of 24! An argument can be made for picking Peterson 1-1, but it's hard to make any argument other than the knee for dropping him below 1-5. I'm here to tell you that argument is a loser. Arian Foster is a bigger health risk.
Forget 370. The Falcons realize that even 300 carries might be a bit much for "The Thighs" at this stage in his career. Fewer touches isn't a bad thing for Michael Turner. He'll still get the bulk of carries, some goal-line looks, and won't be supplanted by the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers, even if an increased role makes him a valid fantasy option. Turner's durability is an asset here, even if his lack of upside turns some away.
DeAngelo Williams returned from a sprained foot to show he still had something left. It's a very fluid situation in Carolina. While Jonathan Stewart might be on the way out, Cam Newton took up some of the runs. Williams will likely lose some goal-line carries to Mike Tolbert as well. The talent is still there, but once again the opportunities aren't. If you're wondering about Stewart, my editors would probably like it if I just said "see DeAngelo Williams" here. It's almost all the same for Stewart, except he's actually more durable. The timeshare works for the Panthers, not for fantasy players.
Mark Ingram's first season was marred by injuries and ineffectiveness. He never became the kind of runner that Sean Payton thought he was drafting. Then again, what runners have really succeeded in Payton's New Orleans offense? It's pass first, leaving the carries to the grinders like Pierre Thomas. Stuck between Thomas and Darren Sproles (who is more durable than you'd expect from someone his size) while trying to come back from knee surgery is a tough situation for anyone. Ingram might end up being Reggie Bush Part II, without the burst.
The Bucs surprised a bit with their pick of Doug Martin, which made people sit up and think they were missing something. He's better and way faster than LeGarrette Blount, but that's hardly a compliment. Martin was healthy at Boise State, so health and durability shouldn't be one of the unknowns for him.
Beanie Wells has not proven he can stay healthy over any significant period. His knees seem to be degrading by the day, giving the Cardinals only brief, tantalizing flashes of the talent they drafted. He showed up at camp still hobbled by offseason knee surgery that was far more involved than the Cards let on. It opens an opportunity for Ryan Williams to come back from his own season-ending patellar tendon rupture and establish himself as an option. The coaches seem to love Williams' work ethic, so there's a lot to worry about for Wells' few remaining fans.
Some fantasy analysts, including some I really respect, are down on Steven Jackson. While there are certainly issues to be aware of, like the bad Rams offense and Jackson's age, I have to disagree with ranking him in the mid-20s. Jackson has gone for 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons. He's played 15 or more games the last three seasons. He's amped up his workouts, so much so that a guy who looked like he was chiseled out of stone last year is getting "best shape of his life" stories already. Jackson is perhaps not the sure thing he once was, but if he slipped to me in the second round, I'd take him.
Frank Gore is another back with exceptional talent but someone whose career has been defined more by injuries. Oddly, Gore has a combination of the traumatic and the nagging, both intertwined. However, the risk is a bit overplayed. He's played in 14 or more games five out of the last six seasons, bookending years ('06 and '11) in which he played in all 16. Jim Harbaugh has other options in the backfield, but none have Gore's talent or upside. Sometimes understanding the risks of a player leads to downgrades. Gore is one of them where understanding the risk usually leads to an upgrade. Don't bite too hard on Brandon Jacobs, who never established himself as a goal line option in New York. At best, Jacobs is a handcuff.
Fantasy players shouldn't have to worry about the moral failings of their players. I draft for production, not sainthood. Marshawn Lynch might lose some of that production to a suspension. A previous season-starting suspension led to a disappointing season, so there's that as well. Lynch's one epic playoff run has colored his value, which includes some nagging health concerns. He's probably slightly overvalued here, with good value being more toward the back end of the RB2 line.