The 2012 fantasy running back outlook isn't optimistic

I'm a fan off all things paranormal. I don't know why, it's just very interesting to me. From television shows to movies and real-life accounts, if it has some sort of paranormal aspect, I'll watch it. I rarely get scared, though. It's almost as if I watch to see if there's something that might actually make me jump out of my seat. Remember that scene in "The Ring" when Samara comes out of the television and does that decrepit walk? OK, that was cool and creepy. So was the scene in "Paranormal Activity 2" when all of the cabinets and drawers suddenly opened at the same time. Yeah, I admit to jumping a bit there.

Want to know something that will definitely scare the bejeezus out of me? Take a look at the fantasy running back position in 2012. You thought Linda Blair's head spinning and spitting pea soup in "The Exorcist" was frightening? How about trying to decide on drafting either Darren McFadden or Fred Jackson next season? And the scares don't stop there -- almost every notable running back in the entire league has some sort of question mark entering the offseason.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. Want proof? Below is a list of 20 prominent members of the running back position who could turn your 2012 fantasy football draft and season into a nightmare.

Chris Johnson, Titans: I think there is less concern with Johnson than a lot of backs, but he's still a gamble after what was a horrendous 2011 campaign. On the bright side, CJ2K will have a full compliment of OTAs, training camp and preseason contests to prepare for next season. And at the age of 26, he still has a few good years left in him. There isn't a bigger risk-reward runner, though.

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: Lynch is coming off a magical season with 1,204 rushing yards, 13 total touchdowns and 215 fantasy points. Great numbers, right? But be honest, do you think Lynch is going to score at least one touchdown in 11 straight games again .. ever? What's more, he reached a clause that made 2011 a contract year. I'd have a hard time investing a first-round pick in Lynch.

Michael Turner, Falcons: Aside from his huge game against the awful Bucs run defense, Turner averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and 56 rushing yards in his final five games. He also carried the football 300-plus times for the third time in four years. Oh, and Turner will be 30 at the start of the 2012 season. As good as he's been in Atlanta, Turner has bust written all over him heading into next season.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Peterson was on pace to finish among the top running backs in fantasy football again, but then the unimaginable happened -- he suffered a gruesome knee injury that required a surgical procedure to repair. Now there's a chance he could miss the start of the season as he recovers. Once he returns, there's no guarantee he'll be the same powerful back he was before.

Ryan Mathews, Chargers: Upside isn't an issue with Mathews -- he posted 50 catches and over 1,500 scrimmage yards in 2011. What is a major cause for concern is his proneness to injury. Over his first two seasons in the NFL, the Fresno State product has missed a combined six contests. I still think he's worth a late first rounder in 12-team leagues, but Mathews is a risk-reward selection in fantasy land.

Darren McFadden, Raiders: If McFadden could avoid injuries, he would easily be one of the top five running backs in fantasy football. But this brittle veteran hasn't played in more than 13 games in a single season, and a foot ailment cost him nine contests in 2011. His injury woes make him far too much of a risk to take in the first round, especially if the Raiders retain the services of Michael Bush.

Steven Jackson, Rams: If drafting a running back in the second round who has averaged 5.3 total touchdowns over the last three years doesn't concern you as a fantasy owner, then there's nothing to worry about with Jackson. Aside from his lack of scoring production, he's also seen his rushing yardage decrease in each of the last three seasons as well -- plus Jackson isn't getting any younger.

Frank Gore, 49ers: Gore finished 12th in fantasy points among backs in 2011, but look into the numbers. His receptions and touchdown catches have dropped in three straight years, so he's being phased out of the pass attack. Furthermore, Gore could end up playing more games this season than ever before (including the playoffs) -- that's not good for an aging back with a track record of injuries.

Fred Jackson, Bills: Considered one of the best draft bargains in fantasy football this past season, Jackson was on pace to post enormous numbers. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken leg in Week 11 and missed the final six games. In his absence, C.J. Spiller exploded -- now it looks like a committee situation is imminent for 2012. That lowers the statistical ceiling for both of these talented backs.

Matt Forte, Bears: Wait, how is Forte a risk? Hear me out. First, he was thriving in a contract year with the hope of landing an extension from the Bears. Unfortunately, he injured his knee and missed the final four games before a deal was reached. Now there's a chance that Forte could hold out, much like Chris Johnson in 2011. Oh, and Forte lost his OC Mike Martz, who used him a lot of like Marshall Faulk.

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: Mendenhall ripped up his right knee in the Steelers' season finale, so he's at risk to start the 2012 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. And much like Peterson, he is no bet to be as effective as before he suffered the ailment. Considering he finished a middle-of-the-road 19th in fantasy points last season, he's in danger of becoming a fantasy bust.

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: Charles told me that he expects to come back "stronger and faster" from his reconstructive knee procedure, and the fact that he injured himself back in Week 2 is an advantage from a recovery standpoint -- that makes him a better option than Peterson or Mendenhall. But any runner coming off ACL surgery is at risk to see his numbers decline in his first year back.

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: If you want upside, Murray is loaded with it. In fact, he's a major fantasy breakout candidate in 2012. Unfortunately, he's also a risk due to his proneness to injuries. Dating back to his time at Oklahoma, that was the knock on Murray -- he couldn't avoid the trainer's room. And what happened to him as an NFL rookie? Murray busted his ankle and missed the final three weeks.

Beanie Wells, Cardinals: Wells is coming off the best season of his career, rushing for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns, but is he in line to see similar production in 2012? That all depends on the status of Ryan Williams, who is expected to be back from a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. In a worst-case scenario for fantasy owners, Wells and Williams could wind up in a committee situation.

Jahvid Best, Lions: Despite his talent, it's going to be tough to draft Best after he missed 10 games with concussion issues. While the Lions are optimistic that he'll be back on the field in 2012, Best is a huge risk in fantasy land for two reasons. First of course, is his proneness to injuries. Second is the presence of Kevin Smith and the expected return of Mikel LeShoure from an Achilles tendon injury.

Reggie Bush, Dolphins: Kudos to NFL Fantasy LIVE's Dave Dameshek for predicting a solid season from Bush in 2011. But now the question is, can he do it again? Bush lasted 15 games last season, something he hadn't done in the previous four years, so I don't consider him to suddenly be a durable back. What's more, there's no guarantee that a committee situation with Daniel Thomas won't emerge in the very near future.

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers: Remember the upside we saw from Blount as a rookie? Yeah, well that didn't turn into much last season. The Oregon product rushed for just 781 yards with five touchdowns, and fumble issues caused him to lose playing time to Kregg Lumpkin in the final weeks. It's anyone's guess which Blount we'll see in 2012, but he's no lock to be a fantasy impact maker.

Peyton Hillis, Browns: In 2010, Hillis was one of the top-scoring running backs in fantasy football. The Madden curse took care of that last season, unfortunately, as he missed six games due to injuries and finished with major statistical declines across the board. Now slated to become a free agent, Hillis' future in Cleveland is clouded at best -- so is his future value in fantasy leagues.

Roy Helu, Redskins:Redskins coach Mike Shanahan hates our fantasy teams. So despite the potential that Helu showed as a rookie, he's not guaranteed anything under the black cloud of "Shanahanigans." If the Redskins decide to retain pending free agent Tim Hightower (ACL surgery), we could be looking at another mess with Helu, Hightower and Evan Royster. Again, no guarantees here.

Willis McGahee, Broncos: McGahee was a pretty nice fantasy option this past season, finishing with 1,199 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. But his 248 carries were the most he's had since 2007, and he'll be hard pressed to handle another huge workload at the age of 30. The Broncos will also have the disappointing Knowshown Moreno back in the mix, so a committee could be imminent.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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