Running backs are largely considered the most valuable spot in the game, but I’m usually not the guy who drafts them in the first couple rounds. Running backs to me are like starting pitchers in baseball, there’s a lot of secret quality if you know where to look in the middle rounds.
1. Adrian Peterson- Simple beast. And in a class by himself for safety.
2. Jamaal Charles- Its time for Kansas City to unleash him. He’s been held down by Thomas Jones but the Chiefs would be tragically wrong to NOT give him 15-20 touches minimum per game.
3. Chris Johnson- With a rookie quarterback in town, the Titans will need to run even more. Johnson is a safe bet for 1500-1800 total yards and double-digit scores.
4. Ray Rice- Rice’s value is similar to Charles in that it will be tied to the aging vet (Willis McGehee). But Rice should take on a bigger role and the Ravens are a run-first offense. 1000 yards and 10 scores is the basement expectation for Rice.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew- Whether its Garrard or Gabbert under center, expect a lot of Drew. He can run and he can catch, so there’s a dual threat here, and he should work into a safety valve for the passer as well.
6. Rashard Mendenhall- Another personal favorite, Mendenhall runs like an animal. He’s deceptively fast and there’s not a clear carries vulture, besides Roethlisberger.
7. Arian Foster- I just don’t see Houston running enough to make him a top-5 guy.
8. Michael Turner- I don’t like this ranking, but I also couldn’t put the next couple guys above him. So Turner is here by default.
9. Leshean McCoy- McCoy’s value is tied to Vick. And I’m very low on Vick this season. That being said, he can run and catch and will get enough touches to be good.
10. Frank Gore- Top-5 back when healthy…
11. Steven Jackson- Gets no protection from any type of threatening passing game.
12. Darren McFadden- He finally had his breakout year. I’m concerned defenses will load up to stop the run, and the Raiders will struggle to move the ball, but McFadden is big and bad enough to muscle his yards out and a few scores.
13. Matt Forte- If you read the baseball side of this blog, you know I love power/speed combo guys, well in football I really like running backs who can catch, and considering no one else in Chicago can (I’m looking at you, Mr. Hester), Forte should collect 1500 all-purpose yards.
14. Ahmad Bradshaw- I love him this season. Teams have to respect Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham deep, and Steve Smith short. Bradshaw could get 1500 total yards and 10+ scores. Definitely one of the mid-round backs I talked about as a big-upside sleeper.
15. Jonathan Stewart- The Panthers will not have a passing game. If Clausen is the starter, they will do a lot of handing off. If Newton wins the job, I might not end up owning any Panther players at all because Newton will steal carries from Stewart.
16. Peyton Hillis- Pure bruisers are injury magnets. We watched Hillis wear down late last season and there is reason to think, even if he can manage to stay healthy, running over 250-300 pound linebackers for 16 weeks will leave someone a bit banged up.
17. Knowshon Moreno- If he can stay healthy, there’s 1000 yards and 10 scores here, at least. If Tebow is the starter, expect a good amount of touches for Moreno in a quietly improving, and balanced offense.
18. Fred Jackson- One of the most underrated running backs in football. I think CJ Spiller will play a role like Reggie Bush does in New Orleans. Jackson could reach 1000 yards and decent touchdown numbers.
19. BenJarvis Green-Ellis- The 2011 numbers look about right. 800-900 yards and 10-12 touchdowns.
20. Shonn Greene- Big sleeper to me this season. The Jets run a LOT and I think Greene could be in for an excellent year.
…….The next 20 backs are not all that far apart. They all have questions.
Felix Jones- health
Ryan Mathews- health, carries
LeGarrette Blount- touches
Jahvid Best- health, touches
Deangelo Williams- team, role
Cedric Benson- blocking, protection from passing game
Mark Ingram- touches, passing offense
Ryan Grant- platoon with James Starks, passing offense
Marshawn Lynch- playing time, room to run
Pierre Thomas- health, crowded backfield
Joseph Addai- passing offense
No rookie fell into a plum starting job and therefore none will be that valuable.
There’s a few that jump out at me from around this ballpark. I think CJ Spiller has some upside, maybe gets 1000 yards combined rushing and receiving. Mike Tolbert and Brandon Jacobs can steal some touchdowns. Ryan Torain has upside as the Redskins go-to guy.
Then there’s a group of probable backups who can grab fantasy value.
Danny Woodhead- one of the more fun players to watch, Tom Brady likes to find him in the flat.
Montario Hardesty- He could be a force in the second half of the season when Hillis is worn out.
Chris Ivory- Might be the most talented back in New Orleans.
Ben Tate- Might have been the starter last year before he got hurt and opened the door for Foster.
Tashard Choice- One of my big sleepers this year. Don’t be surprised if he ends up the Cowboys top rusher.
Anthony Dixon- Must handcuff to Frank Gore.
There’s the old guys who will vulture carries from stars, Thomas Jones and Willis McGehee come to mind. Also look to handcuff Adrian Peterson to Toby Gerhart and Bernard Scott to Cedric Benson. Donald Brown, Javon Ringer, and Justin Forsett are other #2 backs with potential.
And those are all the guys I can see you needing to know in standard leagues. Hit me questions for deeper league and I’d be happy to answer them.