As the 2012 season approaches optimism is in the air no matter what team you are pulling for, heck even the Dolphins said they should win the AFC this year! So as we look forward to this season, I am going to share a short list of players that will be better in 2012.
This week we cover the Running Backs!
- Shonn Greene, New York Jets - Generally speaking, Greene has been a bit of a disappointment in the fantasy football world the past two seasons. With that being said, last season was a significant improvement for the stocky back. The Jets are expected to return to a heavy ground and pound offense under direction of new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Add into the equation that Tim Tebow will see snaps in every game, even if it is only in the wildcat (which I highly doubt). Despite Tebow stealing carries from Greene, this should cause defenses fits and should help Greene out significantly. Greene has also showed that he is improved in the passing game, so he is not going to come off the field much. This offense could help Greene put up close to 1,500 all purpose yards.
- Roy Helu, Washington Redskins - The Shanahans were extremely frustrating to fantasy owners last year with their handling of the running backs in Washington. However Helu's ability is hard to ignore. The second year back out of Nebraska showed flashes of being a franchise back, compiling 640 rushing yards and 379 receiving yards in sporadic playing time. This season, if Helu can remain on the field, he should have a highly productive season. Robert Griffin III and the Shanahan boot game will prevent defenses from over committing, making the stretch game deadly. A healthy Helu could easily topple the 1,500 all purpose yards mark, and in PPR formats he will be a beast.
- Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants - Many people are down on Ahmad Bradshaw, and it is quite understandable. Last season was his worst statistical performance since 2008, he suffers with chronic foot problems, and the Giants spent a first round pick on an explosive running back by the name of David Wilson. However, I still feel that Bradshaw will rebound and have one of his better seasons in 2012. Bradshaw will indeed give up some carries to the speedster from Virginia Tech, but it may not be as much as some would think. David Wilson struggled holding onto the ball in college, and in the pros he will become a target until he proves otherwise. Tom Coughlin is not the kind of coach that will trust a player who puts the ball on the ground, so don't expect too much from the rookie this season. When asked about his foot problems, Bradshaw said he has played through the pain since he was in college, but that for the first time his feet actually feel healthy. He has decided to take it slow allowing them time to continue healing during the offseason. If his plan works, Bradshaw could be the most explosive that we have seen. We also need to keep in mind, that he is only 26 years old, so there is a lot of tread left on those tires, if they indeed fixed his flat. Do not be surprised to see Ahmad put up similar numbers to his 2010 totals where he rushed for over 1,200 yards with 8 scores and added another 300 yards in the passing game.
- Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams - Out of all the many players in the league, Steven Jackson is one player that I have the utmost respect for. Year after year the Rams have sucked, yet he continues to go out there and put his body on the line for that team. He has taken a beating and the 28 year old back probably feels like he is 32. While Jackson has taken a lot of punishment over the years, it is amazing that his physical skills have not eroded yet. While it is true that he will probably miss a game or two this year, I believe Jackson has an excellent season in 2012. With Jeff Fisher taking the reigns we can expect a conventional offense with a dominant ground game that rotates it's running backs to keep them fresh. To make that happen, the Rams wisely drafted Isaiah Pead in the second round and he should be an excellent addition to this squad. Greg Cosell of NFL Films has said Pead reminds him of LeSean McCoy. If that is even close to accurate, Fisher could find himself with another smash and dash combo like he had in Tennessee. I know this could seem like a negative, but I actually expect Steven Jackson to benefit from this greatly. Not only will he be fresh, but it tends to increase the likelihood of him playing in all 16 games. While Jackson's raw yardage numbers may not be increased by much, I think the overall offense will move the ball much better, and Jackson will have many more opportunities to hit pay dirt more frequently. I expect S-Jax to put up at least 10 all-purpose scores this season, a significant increase over the 6 scores he has averaged over the last three seasons.
- James Starks, Green Bay Packers - There isn't much talk about James Starks outside of the fantasy football community right now, but there should be. With the departure of Ryan Grant, the backfield duties are left solely to the 6'2" 218 pound back. While the University of Buffalo product is not as explosive as Grant once was, he is a versatile grinder who can wear down a defense. Sharing snaps last season he still racked up an average of over 60 all purpose yards per game, while Grant contributed another 50 plus all purpose yards per game. So if Starks can stay healthy, it is reasonable to assume that he could greatly increase his production this season. While he may not be a touchdown machine, 1,300 or more all purpose yards is certainly a possibility.
- Mikel LeShoure/Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions - Boom or Bust. These two players came into the league with such high expectations and they have all the physical tools to be stars in this league, but they have had hurdles that have tried to derail their young careers. Jahvid Best is an dynamic playmaker boasting sub 4.4 speed and the Lions have been excellent in finding ways to get him into space to use him as a match up nightmare in the passing game. But Jahvid has suffered from two things. First the injuries have been a major hurdle for him. As a rookie, despite playing the whole season he had turf toe. Well that doesn't sound like a big deal, right? Actually, most people don't know what turf toe even means. Turf toe is when you dislocate your toe. Jahvid played with not one, but two dislocated big toes during his rookie season, showing a toughness and willingess to play through pain. However, his great speed was greatly limited. Last year he was back to full speed again, but after slamming his head on the turf Best had a serious concussion that ended his season. However, this year the Lions don't expect to use him as the primary back. They want to use him the Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles mold which is where he really belongs. They also hope it will help him avoid the punishment he took from getting the ball 18+ times a game. Mikel LeShoure will have a big role to play on whether that plan comes to fruition. LeShoure has been rehabbing like crazy to get back from that devastating Achilles injury last year. Up until that injury, the Lions were blown away by LeShoure. They were convinced he was everything and more than what they thought they drafted. He had the power and toughness in the ground game and was surprisingly capable in the passing game. Unfortunately the injury put an end to his rookie season. Yes, during the offseason he made some boneheaded mistakes and he is going to pay for it. He will not be able to play until Week 3 because of a two game suspension, but this is actually a good thing. LeShoure will have a few extra weeks to strengthen his body and prepare for the Tennessee Titans, where I believe he will put on a show. Best and LeShoure are not going to be selected high in any drafts because there are too many question marks and great risk involved, but by no means will the Lions running back situation look as bleak as it did in 2010. Best and LeShoure both should easily put up over 1,000 all-purpose yards, and I think it is fair to anticipate that each of them could score at least half a dozen touchdowns.