Proceed with caution when drafting RBs

Answer: Bookstores, digital cable, Adam Rank's comedy career, and the 300 carry a year running back.

Question: What are things nearing extinction?

We saw two more potential mail-carrying running backs lose that status during the draft (Ahmad Bradshaw and LeGarrette Blount), so now the number is less than it was before. The importance of getting one of these running backs has never been greater -- conversely, if you can't, then your best bet is to take wild stabs in the dark to fill out your RB position on your fantasy team. Maybe that's a little harsh. Maybe a stab in a poorly lit room is better.

Most teams are in a time-share situation in the backfield, so if you really want that running back up high, you better be right about him. If not, wait and grab depth as your draft progresses. So who's worth a high selection and who isn't? Let's take a look at the RBs with the highest percentage of their teams' total carries in 2011, and see what it means for 2012. Basically the players fall into two categories: guys I can't wait to get, and ones I won't even write down as possibilities for my draft. How's that for being definitive?

1. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (70.1 percent of all Jaguars rushing attempts). The Jaguars went from no weapons besides MJD to a full-service offense. Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon and Mike Thomas are a pretty nice trio of wide receivers, and Marcedes Lewis will be back to being a top tight end. That being said, MJD is still the only weapon on the ground, and their ability to throw better than last year will keep them in games. As a result, he won't be irrelevant in the third quarter of a lot of 30-3 deficits. He's still a first-rounder.

2. Chris Johnson, Titans (69.6 percent). I'm not alone in expecting a bounce back year from CJ2K (or CJ1K, which is really more accurate). The Titans will give him every chance to be the player he was two years ago. I'm willing to throw everything I saw last year out the window and I'll take him sometime in the second round and reap the benefits while others lay off him because they're not sure he can be who he used to be.

3. Michael Turner, Falcons (66.4 percent). He's still the only one handling the football on the ground in Atlanta, but he's a bigger RB who will be 30 when the season starts. Atlanta will continue their evolution of throwing the football first and foremost, so a dip in his statistics is on the horizon. Is this the season that his production falls off a cliff (which is how his career is going to finish)? Turner heads my list of players I won't even draft because I'm not sold on him continuing to be elite.

4. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (64.1 percent). I think I'm more scared of drafting Lynch in the second round than I am of the mountain people in "The Hills Have Eyes" (original or remake). Beware of the RB coming off the career year, especially in an offense that's going to throw it a little more than they did a year ago. Is he still in "beast mode"? I don't want to find out first hand, so I won't even draft him. Nor will I eat Skittles. Not that I did before, but I really will put my foot down now.

5. Steven Jackson, Rams (63.5 percent). Because of CJ2K's rapid decline, Jackson didn't get the attention he should have for his nosedive in 2011. He topped 76 yards in a game once over the last seven weeks. Just one touchdown after October? I know the Rams should be better this season, but Jackson just isn't who you think he is. He averages about five TDs a year. His yards and carries have decreased in each of the last three seasons. I think we've seen his best. I'm not at the point where I don't draft him, but if I do it has to be late and in my "bargain" phase where I'm getting great value for him.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens (63.3 percent). What can you say about a guy who will consistently get you 20 points a game as a RB? His offense is good enough where his production won't be affected, and he'll get even more goal-line carries this season. He would be my top-rated RB for 2012. In fact, my top four for 2012 are Rice, McCoy, Arian Foster and Ryan Mathews (more on him later).

7. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (60.6 percent). There's two things keeping McCoy behind Rice. One is I know the Ravens are going to get him the ball every week, where I can't say the same for the Eagles. He's their best and most indispensable player, and still he had 10 games with less than 20 carries. Despite that, he's a monster that could go for 30 points in standard leagues any given week. The second thing is Philadelphia also stopped using him out of the backfield as the season progressed, so I can't count on him for production there.

8. Cedric Benson, Bengals (60 percent). He's currently a free agent, and even when he signs, his fantasy value will be negligible. There's a reason why the Bengals would let go of a guy they counted on that much a season ago. The fact that he's still out there tells me no one else believes in him either. He won't even be on my draft board.

9. Shonn Greene, Jets (57.1 percent). The good news is the Jets didn't bring in any new running backs after signing Tim Tebow. But Greene is going to lose goal-line carries to him, and he's going to share the overall load with Tebow, Joe McKnight and even Bilal Powell. When Tebow's in the game, Greene won't touch the football, so that's three or four series a game at the least in which he won't get any points. I had him in two leagues last year, this year that number will be zero.

10. Frank Gore, 49ers (56.6 percent) The 49ers are doing everything they can to decrease his responsibility. From Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James to the 13 different WRs they signed, the signal couldn't be clearer. The 49ers have drafted four running backs in the past three seasons, and are going to throw more often ... "Thanks Frank, but we can take it from here." And did I even mention his propensity for injury? No one's fantasy stock has fallen as far as his since the close of 2011. Make it five out of this top-10 list who will be on rosters other than mine this year.

The rest of the top 20

  1. Michael Bush, Bears (54.9 percent). 12. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (53.1 percent). 13. Beanie Wells, Cardinals (52.9 percent). 14. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (52.5 percent). 15. Arian Foster, Texans (50.9 percent). 16. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (50.9 percent). 17. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (46.6 percent). 18. Reggie Bush, Dolphins (46 percent). 19. Willis McGahee, Broncos (45.6 percent). Matt Forte, Bears (44.5 percent).

Bold predictions

Massive season for Mathews: This time next season, we'll be talking about Ryan Mathews like we do McCoy. He's ready to explode, and without Mike Tolbert's presence Mathews will play every down and get the goal-line carries he hasn't so far. He's ready to be a top-five fantasy running back. There's more running backs ranked Nos. 11-20 that won't even be on my draft board at all. No matter what, I can't see myself taking Blount, Mendenhall or McGahee. I don't trust that any of them will be healthy enough, nor get the workload to make it worth even playing them as a flex.

Bank on Bush: Don't be afraid of taking Reggie Bush high. He's the only weapon the Dolphins have and he'll have a very similar season to a year ago. If you want to wait on your RBs, he's a low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2 -- you'll likely be able to get him in the fourth round. Owners will be scared off because they don't think he can do it again in an offense that's starting over. But MJD didn't have that much difficulty in the same situation a year ago.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for NFL.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download his weekly Cover Two podcast with Steve Wyche at NFL.com. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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