Once considered the biggest difference from winning your fantasy league was the strength of your running backs. The days of going RB-RB in your first two rounds went out of style when watching TV in HD became the only way.
There are very few legit #1 RB’s in the league anymore that get nearly all of the teams hand-offs, in addition to playing on all three downs. The NFL has changed, much like MLB has changed. In the MLB the bullpen consists of a majority of “specialist”, there’s lefty specialist, righty specialist, ground ball specialists, and so on. Now the NFL has moved in a similar direction with players excelling at one area of the game. Most teams rely on a running back by committee or RBBC with a role for either both or on some teams (Dallas and Buffalo) three RB’s. You’ve got between the tackles type running backs, backs that break it out wide, goal line guys, and others that are best served as receivers out of the back field.
There are a very limited few that can do all four things I just mentioned and if you have a chance at one of those backs in your draft I suggest you grab them. If the “elite backs” have all been taken off the board, the running back position becomes very tough to decipher and just as many of the teams in the NFL employee a RBBC, I would suggest you do the same.
Earlier in the week I broke down this year’s QB class:
Today I’m taking a stab at the running backs:
1. Chris Johnson, Titans: Johnson accounted for 50% of the Titans offense in ’09 and other than a little more cash in Johnson’s bank account not much has changed. It certainly helps when you run behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and the offense is centered around your skills. I don’t think we’ll see 2,000 yards rushing this season, but 1,500 yards rushing, 2,000 total yards, and double digit TD’s makes Johnson my #1 overall pick in the draft this year.
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Peterson has been the annual #1 pick in most fantasy leagues for the last couple of seasons and is worth nothing less than the 2nd pick….no matter what. AP has even improved his value in PPR leagues due to his 43 receptions in ’09 (his previous high was 23 in ’08). Now with Chester Taylor in Chicago I expect Peterson to get even more involved in the Viking offense, especially on 3rd downs. AP’s value might even increase if #4 stays retired. Tavaris Jackson isn’t a gunslinger and would be best served handing the ball off to AP.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: MJD is as safe of a fantasy RB as there has been over the last four seasons after only not scoring double digit TD’s once (he had 9 in ’07). MJD is a serious baller in PPR leagues too as you can expect 50+ receptions and 450 yards through the air, on top of a 1,000+ yards on the ground.
4. Ray Rice, Ravens: Rice exploded on the fantasy scene last season rushing for over 1,300 yards, 78 receptions, and nearly 2,000 total yards. This year Rice could become the #1 RB in PPR leagues due to his ability to catch anything thrown his direction and take it to pay-dirt. Rice benefits from running behind a great offensive line again this season, but the Ravens have added more offensive weapons to the team then they’ve ever had before. Expect Rice to flirt with 2,000 total yards and 10 TD’s in ’10.
5. Steven Jackson, Rams: Doesn’t it seem like S-Jax has been around forever? Jackson is still only 27 years old and has been the one bright spot on the Rams over the last three miserable seasons (6-42) in St. Louis. A rookie QB certainly doesn’t help the Rams chances of adding much to the win column in ’10, but regardless Jackson will get more than the lion’s share of the work load. Something like 1,300 yards on the ground, 55 receptions, 1,700 total yards, and 7 TD’s sounds reasonable.
6. Frank Gore, 49ers: The 49ers spent their two first round picks this year improving their O-line, which bodes very well for Gore in ’10. Sure people are expecting more out of Alex Smith this year, but Mike Singletary knows running Gore and playing defense is his best way at winning the NFC West. Gore hasn’t played a full season since ’06, so buyer beware, but when healthy Gore is deadly.
7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: With Willie Parker now in DC, Mendenhall becomes the true #1 RB in Pittsburgh. Mendenhall should get a lot of carries this season, especially with Rothlisberger being suspended for at least 4 games. I’d take Mendenhall at the end of the 1st round or beginning of round 2.
8. Ryan Grant, Packers: Grant is one of the most over looked RB’s in fantasy. He’s their true #1 RB in Green Bay and should get 1,200 yards and 10 TD’s behind a revamped Packer O-line. When the weather gets colder in GB, Grant gets stronger.
9. Shonn Greene, Jets: The Jets ran an astonishing 607 times last season with out a doubt leading the league for carries. This year the long time main stay in the Jets back field, Thomas Jones is gone and the majority of the carries should go to Greene who was phenomenal at the end of last season. Greene will be sharing a back field with LaDanian Tomlinson this year and I can’t imagine the Jets rush it another 600+ times in 2010, but Greene should be good for 1,000+ yards and close to double digit TD’s. Take it from me….this kid is sick!
10. Michael Turner, Falcons: Turner was dynamic when he was healthy last season, the only problem was he missed 5 games in the middle of the fantasy season. This year Turner will try and stay healthy as the Falcons lead back. If healthy he’s a TD monster. Rank him lower in PPR leagues and always draft “The Burner” with caution.
11. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: Due to the carry split in Carolina with Jonathan Stewart, Williams has been one of the most underrated players in fantasy the last couple of seasons. Carolina isn’t going to stop running the ball with either Matt Moore of Jimmy Clausen under center. Don’t forget that D-Will is in a contract season and you know how players play when there’s money on the line. 1,400 total yards and 9 TD’s is worth taking in the 2ndround.
12. Knoshown Moreno, Broncos: Moreno had a solid rookie season just missing 1,000 yards, but that number shouldn’t be an issue this season. Look for 1,100 yards and 8 TD’s. Moreno would be an ideal #2 RB if you can manage making that happen.
13. LeSean “Shady” McCoy, Eagles: McCoy landed in a great situation in Philly last season. He had one year to work with Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb. A year later he’s got the starting gig along with Kevin Kolb to start their own dynamic duo. Mike Bell might steal a few TD’s from McCoy, but that wouldn’t scare me off.
14. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: In the Chiefs final four games of the season Charles rushed for 658 yards and 4 TD’s. He managed 1,000 yards rushing, 40 receptions, and 8 TD’s in limited opportunities. This season Charles will get plenty of chances to show his explosiveness, however new addition in KC, Thomas Jones might steal most of the TD’s away from Charles. Charles value increases in PPR format leagues.
15. Cedric Benson, Bengals: Who expected that Benson would rush for over 1,300 yards with the Bengals last season? Benson again will be the lead force for the Bengals rushing attack without much competition coming from a backup to steal carries away from Cedric. The Bengals have plenty of receiving options this season, but bottom line is the Bengals will need to run the ball first and foremost.
16. Ryan Matthews, Chargers: Matthews got drafted into a great situation in San Diego (anytime you get to work in San Diego would be a great situation). LT is in NY and the Chargers best receiving option is holding out. Matthews gets to be the “man” immediately and will be a great RB #2 to have on your roster. I think Matthews will have similar numbers to what Matt Forte put up in his rookie season: 1,200 yards, 50 receptions, and double digit TD’s.
17. Chris “Beanie” Wells, Cardinals: No more Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin in Arizona makes the Cards more of an offensively balanced team and Wells should benefit from the change entering his second season. Beanie’s a bruiser, but he’s also injury prone (take it from me, I’m a Buckeye).
18. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: Stewart is the highest ranked “back up” running back in my rankings and due to Carolina’s dedication to running the ball Stewart still has high fantasy value. Double digit TD’s for a third straight year makes logical sense to me.
19. Joseph Addai, Colts: This could be Addai’s last season in Indy, but that won’t hurt his fantasy production in 2010. Expect Donald Brown to take a cut into Addai’s carries this season, but in the end Peyton loves him some “Joe”.
20. Pierre Thomas, Saints: Thomas is making a push to be the Saints every down RB and push Reggie Bush to the outside this season. Thomas can do a little of everything, but does lose out on some rush yardage due to his team’s ability to air it out with Drew Brees.
21. Jahvid Best, Lions: Best could be a BEAST in Detroit this season. Best is very fast and playing indoors at Ford Field will only make his speed even more of a weapon. The rookie can run, catch, and even block, making him one of my favorite sleepers amongst the RB’sin 2010. Kevin Smith is coming back from injury and in the mean time Best has been blowing away his coaches in Detroit during camp.
22. Matt Forte, Bears: One of the biggest disappointments in fantasy last season, Forte now gets to work with guru Mike Martz this season. The Bears did sign Chester Taylor, but Taylor is now 30 and this is Forte’s time to shine.
23. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins: When healthy Brown is as good as there is, the problem is that he’s never healthy enough to be counted on. Brown has only played in all 16 games once in the last 5 seasons…no thanks.
24. Brandon Jacobs, Giants: Another disappointment from ’09, Jacobs needs to stay healthy to do what he does best…score TD’s. If healthy he’s a beast, but he’s never healthy and now has Ahmad Bradshaw breathing down his neck.
25. Jerome Harrison, Browns: It’s not like the Browns are going to throw the ball with Jake Delhomme as their QB, so Harrision should get plenty of action. If he can hold off rookie Montario Hardesty, Harrision could be a pleasant surprise.
26. Justin Forsett, Seahawks: If Forsett can win the starting job in Seattle he could be one of the biggest surprises in fantasy this year. Forsett was excellent getting the bulk of the touches in Seattle at the end of last season, couple that with Pete Carroll’s ability to maximize athletic RB’s and Forsett’s ceiling has never been higher.
27. Fred Jackson, Bills: The Bills are an awful franchise, but even in their misery Fred Jackson put up 1,000 yards in Buffalo last season. The Bills drafted C.J. Spiller with the 9th pick in the draft and still have former 1st rd pick Marshawn Lynch making it a very crowded back field competing for carries.
28. Michael Bush, Raiders: Bush pushes Darren McFadden aside in 2010 for the starting role in the Oakland back field. Bush could get 1,000 yards and 7 TD’s this season.
29. Felix Jones, Cowboys: Surprised how low I rank him? Jones is an amazing talent, but can’t stay healthy. He’s definitely high risk/high reward, especially with Marion Barber and Tashard Choice all taking carries away.
30. Tim Hightower, Cardinals: Due to Arizona’s new offensive look I expect to see a lot more focus shifting to the RB’s in the desert. Add that Beanie Wells can’t stay healthy and Hightower’s excellent receiving abilities and Timmy could be a nice mid round pick up.
31. Steve Slaton, Texans: Nobody swung and missed harder on Slaton last season than I did. I still think Slaton will have a solid bounce back season in Houston even if he’s competing for his old job with Ben Tate and Arian Foster.
32. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants: Bradshaw was poised for a breakout season in ’09, but multiple injuries sidelined those hopes. The competition in NY is getting close and Bradshaw could see 1,000 yards in 2010.
33. Thomas Jones, Chiefs: It’s pretty amazing that Jones has racked up over 1,100 yards on the ground in each of his last five seasons. Now as the #2 in KC that streak might be in jeopardy, but I’d jump on him considering how late he’s been going, not to mention the TD’s he’s likely to steal away from Jamaal Charles.
34. Clinton Portis, Redskins: Back with coach Mike Shannahan, Portis hopes to find the Fountain of Youth that once had him as an annual 1,200 yard threat. I’m not sure that’s going to happen with whom Clinton has blocking for him this year, not to mention now having Larry Johnson and “Not So Fast” Willie Parker on the depth chart.
35. C.J. Spiller, Bills: Why the Bills drafted Spiller with the 9th pick in the draft still baffles me, since they already had a tough decision to make with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. The Bills still have a garbage O-line. Spiller has more value in a PPR league, but I’m not expecting much from him this season.
36. Reggie Bush, Saints: The expectations out of the former #2 pick have fallen to an all time low in 2010. Bush really only has value in PPR league or league that reward points for special teams.
37. Darren McFadden, Raiders: He can’t stay healthy and has never rushed for 500 yards…why do we put ourselves through drafting a guy like this?
38. Marion Barber, Cowboys: Barber takes a big fall this year because of the crowded back field in Dallas and Jerry Jones obsession with fellow Razorback Felix Jones.
39. Donal Brown, Colts: Brown didn’t get much of a chance to prove his 1st round worth as rookie, but with Addai most likely in his last season in Indy, the transition to Brown will start to be made this year.
40. Laurence Maroney, Patriots: I still get amazed that the Patriots stay successful even without much a ground game. Maroney’s in a contract year and will need to prove his worth. I’d gamble with Maroney as my 4th RB.
41. LaDanian Tomlinson, Jets: Wow, how the mighty have fallen. LT could be a real steal in the later mid rounds of your draft. Try to get him there if you can. I think there’s a few more TD’s left in the LT tank.
42. Montario Hardesty, Browns: Hardesty could be a nice pick up this seaon. There are several guys with less potential and less of an opportunity.
43. Carnell Williams, Buccaneers: Somebody has to carry the ball in Tampa, why not the ol’ Cadillac?
44. Ricky Williams, Dolphins: Will this be his last year in the NFL? Regardless Williams’ is a hard nosed runner that finds the end zone and we know Ronnie Brown won’t play in all 16 games.
45. Chester Taylor, Bears: Taylor can blame the six teams in front of the Vikings that let Adrian Peterson slip in the ’07 draft for him becoming nothing much more than a 3rd down back in his NFL career. Now in Chicago Taylor has Matt Forte in fron of him. Sure Taylor will catch a few balls and is a must handcuff for Forte owners, but Taylor offers little else on a fantasy level.
46. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers: Not that long ago the Bucs gave Ward a bunch of money to be their starter, but Ward hasn’t stayed on the field long enough to prove his worth. Maybe this will be his repeat season of going for over 1,000 yards.
47. Ben Tate, Texans: Tate was a stud at the combine and could be in a nice situation in Houston. The only problem is that he joins a crowded back field in H-Town (my birth city).
48. Kevin Smith, Lions: Last year Smith was an emerging star, now he’s fighting for time with Jahvid Best. Coming off serious surgery I wouldn’t expect much from Smith early on, but he could be a nice force building steam late in the season.
49. Mike Bell, Eagles: Bell’s a hard runner that is a monster around the goal line.
50. Leon Washington, Seahawks: Leon is coming off of a serious broken leg and now has to compete with a similar type player in Seattle with Justin Forsett for carries.
51. Willis McGahee, Ravens: Willis scored a dozen TD’s in ’09, but that doesn’t appear to be in line for a repeat in 2010. At this point in his career McGahee is best for TD only leagues.
52. Darren Sproles, Chargers: Used primarily as a 3rd down back in San Diego, Sproles is a “feast or famine” type fantasy back.
53. Bernard Scott, Bengals: He’s the Bengals #2 back and with Cedric Benson having a history of injuries, Scott is a nice insurance policy for Benson owners.
54. Jason Snelling, Falcons: Turner’s bound to miss a game or two right? Snelling is a solid back up in the ATL and a must handcuff for Michael Turner.
55. Toby Gerhart, Viking: Sure the Vikes have AP, but they didn’t draft Gerhart in the 2nd round to just sit the bench did they?