Top 4 Fantasy RB Busts for 2012

RBs are always at a premium in any draft, but there's a few guys you should be cautious jumping the gun with this year.

Breaking down running back busts is a little bit easier than breaking down QB busts for one simple reason – there’s more ways that a back can fail. While there’s injuries and lack of production, just like at the quarterback position, the RB slot has the death knell of the “running back by committee” approach. Feel comfortable taking Roy Helu in the fourth? Have fun when Evan Royster makes a bid for the starting job. Think that Jonathan Stewart is a sleeper because he’s now secure with a five year contract extension? It’s all well and good until you realize that DeAngelo Williams is still officially listed as the starter on the Panthers web site. Had an early draft and got Ryan Mathews at an early spot? The preseason hurts, my friend.

Ultimately, anything can happen with the running back position. (Everybody who drafted Jamaal Charles in the first round last year nods their heads slowly.) But you can always be safe with your picks. Here’s four guys I’d be very careful with if you’re looking to draft them this year.

Note: Average draft positions are found here. The draft positions here were accurate as of 8/20/12.

Top Four Fantasy RB Busts

4. Reggie Bush - Miami Dolphins
numberFire Rank: #59 (#21 RB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
Average Draft Position: #49 (#23 RB)
Projected Points: 149.38

In his first full season as a starter for the Miami Dolphins, Reggie Bush gained 1,086 yards on the ground, had 6 rushing touchdowns, and had 43 catches for insane PPR league numbers. That's all well and good, it's just very likely that his stats were an anomaly. Reggie Bush has never topped 200 fantasy points on an entire season, despite starting at least six games every single year. Despite being used as a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield, he has only passed 1000 combined receiving and rushing yards twice - 2011 and his rookie 2006 campaign. The Curse of the Kardashian seems to be broken, but don't forget, he still has Daniel Thomas (#41 RB on our fantasy draft kit) entering his second season who is likely to see more carries (a Pierre Thomas-like role to pair with Bush, perhaps?). Fourth Round seems entirely too early for me, I'm waiting to see if I can get him in the sixth.

3. Darren McFadden - Oakland Raiders
numberFire Rank: #29 (#12 RB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
Average Draft Position: #8 (#6 RB)
Projected Points: 167.66

Don't get me wrong, I like Darren McFadden. He's a perfectly capable fantasy starter, and I'd take him in the late second or early third round in a heartbeat. (He went #27 overall in the numberFire mock draft.) But at #8, where his average draft position is holding right now? I'll pass quicker than the Oakland A's are trying to pass on Oakland. (Low blow, Black Hole Denizens? I'll move on.) McFadden wasn't a particularly successful back last year - only 30% of his touches last year can be considered "successes" in increasing the Raiders' odds to score. That was second on his own team, as Michael Bush converted 33% of opportunities for successes. On an average rush, the Raiders' chances of scoring dropped -0.02 points per play (Net Expected Points rating). If you're looking for a comparison there, DeMarco Murray, a similar type of player, had a +0.04 NEP per play rating. McFadden has also never played more than 13 games in his four seasons. He's not the surefire fantasy anchor for me.

2. Kevin Smith - Detroit Lions
numberFire Rank: #185 (#33 RB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
Average Draft Position: #70 (#27 RB)
Projected Points: 104.07

An average draft position of #27 running back often means that the player will start in some leagues at the flex position, or at the very least be called on often to start on your fantasy roster in case of emergency. And as asked in numberFire's question forum, Smith's sure to be helped because of Jahvid Best's injury troubles, right? I wouldn't jump to that conclusion too quickly, if I were you. Mikel Leshore will start the season with a two-game suspension, but once that is done, I expect the Lions to want to see what he can do. At the very least, I expect his production to be greater than Smith's. Even as the full-time starter his first two years in the league, Smith has never topped 1000 rushing yards, and he's only hit above 4 TDs in a season once in his career (his rookie year). His last season as a full-time starter, in 2009, he finished with a mediocre 146 fantasy points. For comparison Mike Tolbert put up 152 fantasy points for the Chargers last season while starting a grand total of one game. Ouch. If you draft him, I wouldn't want to be caught relying on him - make it a late selection.

1. Trent Richardson - Cleveland Browns
numberFire Rank: #65 (#22 RB in our Fantasy Draft Kit)
Average Draft Position: #28 (#16 RB)
Projected Points: 142.78

Here are the past five rookie RBs drafted in the first round, with the stats from their rookie year.

2011 Mark Ingram: 122 rush attempts, 474 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs, 46 receiving yards, 0 receiving TDs
2010 C.J. Spiller: 74 rush attempts, 283 rushing yards, 0 rushing TDs, 157 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
2010 Jahvid Best: 171 rush attempts, 555 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs, 487 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
2009 Knowshon Moreno: 247 rush attempts, 947 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 213 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
2009 Donald Brown: 78 rush attempts, 281 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs, 169 receiving yards, 0 receiving TDs

Since 2003, there have been 21 RBs drafted in the first round. Only four of those (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Cadillac Williams, and Willis McGahee) rushed for over 1,000 yards in their rookie year. Seven of those 21 RBs went in the top ten picks; only AP and Williams were able to hit the 1,000 yard barrier. Yes, some of those guys were not the featured backs, but many others (Ronnie Brown, anyone?) were. Richardson has the potential for sure to break the trend, but the Browns' three top running backs last year combined for 1,187 total on the season behind that offensive line (and no Lawrence Vickers, a big part of Peyton Hillis's success in 2010). Call me a skeptic until I see the production, at least as a surefire starting fantasy back.