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Fantasy: Which injured running backs will deliver in 2012?

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Justin Boone, TSN.ca
8/15/2012 1:44:47 PM
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One of my favourite scenes in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises (don't worry I'm not going to spoil anything) is when Bruce Wayne goes to the doctor under the pretense of getting a physical to go heli-skiing.

The doctor proceeds to tell the billionaire crime fighter that he is suffering from a variety of injuries, which the audience knows is from his years battling Gotham's villains.

It's a surprisingly realistic moment for a superhero movie, where we finally get a glimpse of the toll that being Batman puts on the human body, or at least the fictional human body.  

Last year we received a similar reality check at the running back position as several of the top rushers went down to season-ending injuries. 

After the top three of Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy, the running back position becomes a long list of question marks and injury concerns. 

Figuring out which ball carriers are fully rehabbed and ready to produce on your fantasy team could mean the difference between dominance or disappointment in 2012. 

Let's run down the list of this year's top tailbacks, as we try to save the day by avoiding those who aren't fully recovered from their 2011 injuries. 

THE SUPERHEROES

Arian Foster (Texans) - A unique personality off the field and unique talent on it. Foster has excelled in the Texans system and emerged as one of the best backs in the NFL. Houston's offence will run through Foster yet again, en route to big-time fantasy numbers.

Ray Rice (Ravens) - While Joe Flacco has yet to emerge as the franchise quarterback the Ravens hoped for, it hasn't mattered because of the brilliance of Rice. After the Ravens rewarded Rice with a long-term contract, expect Rice to reward the team with another banner year.  

LeSean McCoy (Eagles) - While it may be tough to repeat the 20 total touchdowns from last season, McCoy is one of the most elusive backs in the NFL and his production shouldn't drop off much. McCoy benefits from playing in a backfield where Michael Vick is a constant threat to run.

THE RIDDLERS

Darren McFadden (Raiders) - Truly one of the most gifted backs in the league, McFadden arrives in training camp each year and blows us all away with his talent. Unfortunately, he's also guilty of blowing away the fantasy hopes of countless owners when he goes down to injury.  McFadden is one of the greatest risk/reward players and is the first round's biggest question mark.

Chris Johnson (Titans) - After holding out last year, Johnson arrived in camp out of shape and never really found his stride as the season progressed. Reports out of Titans' camp this year are much more positive, suggesting the fire may be back, but it's understandable that owners may avoid potentially being fooled again.  

Matt Forte (Bears) - Before Forte's injury last season, the Bears appeared to be a playoff team. Forte is now healthy and with his contract dispute settled he is ready for another big year. The presence of Michael Bush shouldn't cause too many worries, because Forte has never been a huge goal line threat. However, to be confident in Forte one has to put aside concerns about the Bears' offensive line, which is nearly impossible to do. 

Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars) - With each day that passes, Jones-Drew is missing practices as he hopes to get paid after leading the league in rushing last season. You can't argue with MJD's ability, but he is beginning to look like this year's Chris Johnson. Injuries and ineffectiveness tend to find those who miss the majority of the preseason.

Ryan Mathews (Chargers) - Everyone has jumped off the bandwagon after Mathews broke his clavicle on the first carry of the preseason. Mathews could be back for Week 1, but it's far more likely that he misses a game or two. Despite that, he is still slated to be a workhorse in San Diego.  

DeMarco Murray (Cowboys) - In a four-game stretch last season, Murray averaged 150 yards per game. It's that kind of production that has fantasy owners salivating at the Cowboys' lead tailback. Although, it is important to remember the ankle injury that sidelined him a year ago and the fact that Dallas has a well-established passing game.  

Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks) - Beast mode may avoid a suspension for an off-season DUI charge, as the league will wait for the legal process to run its course first. That means Lynch could remain a top ten back this season behind a solid run-blocking line. Through the final nine weeks of 2011, Lynch posted six 100-yard games and added nine touchdowns.  

Trent Richardson (Browns) - Everyone loves the promise of a highly touted rookie running back and Richardson is no different. On an offence that lacks an identity, Richardson could very well become the bell cow early on. The third overall pick in this year's draft does come with some uncertainty after he had his knee scoped and will likely miss the rest of the preseason.  Beware of the Dawg Pound in Cleveland, misery has a way of manifesting there.

Jamaal Charles (Chiefs) - The bad news was that a torn ACL put Charles on the injured reserve early last season. The good news is that it happened at the beginning of the year, meaning the speedy back had nearly a full calendar year to rehabilitate. Now it's just a matter of finding out whether he regained his explosiveness, which was once among the game's best.

Adrian Peterson (Vikings) - If Peterson can pull off a miraculous recovery from a torn ACL and MCL in December, then he could swing fantasy titles from his current average draft position in the second round. All Day is a specimen, but the safe bet is that he will be eased back into action early in the year, leading to career lows for Petereson.

DEFENDING THEIR TURF

Steven Jackson (Rams) - Jackson has been getting it done in a Rams' uniform ever since the team parted ways with Marshall Faulk. Now the club has drafted a new rusher in Isaiah Pead, who has impressed in camp. Don't expect Jackson to give up any carries to the rookie, as new coach Jeff Fisher loves a good workhorse in the backfield. The bigger issue for Jackson will be the quality of the Rams' offence and just how often they will be able to get him near the end zone.

Fred Jackson (Bills) - What more does Fred Jackson have to do to get our respect? Up until Week 10, Jackson was arguably football's most productive back with 917 rushing yards, 392 receiving yards and six touchdowns. However a fractured fibula brought a quick end to that in Week 11. In his absence C.J. Spiller showed well and now Jackson will need to fight off the young back to recapture the bulk of the carries in Buffalo.

Ahmad Bradshaw (Giants) - Brandon Jacobs has headed to the West coast, leaving Bradshaw to run wild in New York. Not so fast. The Giants selected David Wilson in the first round of this year's draft and by all accounts the rookie is the real deal. Expect another solid season from Bradshaw, but injury concerns and a talented rookie could hold him back. 

UNDERVALUED 

Darren Sproles (Saints) - Pay no attention to the minor knee injury he suffered in last week's preseason action. Sproles will be lighting it up on the ground and in the air for the Saints come the regular season. While Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas figure into the rotation, Sproles has finally found a team that knows how to take advantage of his particular skill set.   

Doug Martin (Buccaneers) - The hype train for Martin has been slowed by him playing with the second string offence in the preseason opener. Make no mistake, the Buccaneers didn't take Martin to have him play second string. New coach Greg Schiano is making the rookie prove himself before he hands over the reins to the offence... and he will.

RETIRED SUPERHEROES  

Frank Gore (49ers) - Remember the days when Gore was a first round pick and championing fantasy teams to titles? Those days are over and, if anything, a top 20 ranking might be generous for a declining running back in a crowded backfield (Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James). The 49ers will run often, but Gore's workload will be reduced.  

Michael Turner (Falcons) - Turner is another ball carrier who will see his numbers drop in 2012. The Falcons' offence projects to be a high-scoring unit, but their strength will be through the air (Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez). If they do go to the ground game, it may be the quicker Jacquizz Rodgers stealing the show. Turner will need double digit touchdowns to remain an effective fantasy play. 

BEST OF THE REST

Isaac Redman (Steelers) will fill in for Rashard Mendenhall for the first half of the season in Pittsburgh, maybe more.... Benjarvus Green-Ellis (Bengals) brings his boring, yet steady style to Cincinnati where he will do his best Cedric Benson impression... Donald Brown (Colts) is trying to prove that he wasn't a first round bust for the Colts and Andrew Luck could help him do just that... Shonn Greene (Jets) could benefit from Tim Tebow taking over the offence in New York (if that happens this season)... Willis McGahee (Broncos) was underrated last year and he's underrated once again as the veteran back in Denver...  Reggie Bush (Dolphins) avoided serious injury in 2011, but it's not hard to envision him missing time and opening the door for Daniel Thomas or Lamar Miller in Miami... Beanie Wells (Cardinals) will need to fight off sophomore Ryan Williams in Arizona's rushing attack... Stevan Ridley (Patriots) is the back to own in New England, if you are inclined to partake in the Patriots' run game... Peyton Hillis (Chiefs) could be a sneaky pickup as he splits time with Jamaal Charles in Kansas City's two-faced backfield.

 

McFadden, Peterson, Charles (Photo: Getty Images)

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(Photo: Getty Images)
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