As usual, the top ball-carriers should be the first off the board. This is even more true this year as there is no consensus top quarterback and a host of solid receivers. The value of getting one of these backs at 7 or 8 is tremendous, making those picks very desirable.
1. Chris Johnson-Feature Back-Tennessee-Average Pick 1
As the reigning top performer, CJ2k is unsurprisingly being drafted at the top. I don't believe he repeats last year's success but he doesn't have to to justify this pick. He led all running backs by 50 points last year. An expected drop-off would cut his lead down to around 10. A poor showing would still be in the top 5. He is entering his third year so he shouldn't be wearing down yet. Schedule: Good stud schedule with lots of mid-level games. Not as easy as last year but still above average.
2. Ray Rice-Feature Back-Baltimore-Average Pick 4
From my February post, "Love him. The talent, the situation, its all there. Who wouldn't want to run behind Mike Oher the next 4 years?" Nothing has changed since then. Rice should not disappoint, running behind the best line in the league, he likely has the lowest floor of any back. The only negative is the tough schedule in his division, going twice against a Steeler D that should still be tough, and the healthy front seven of the Bengals.
3. Frank Gore-Feature Back-San Francisco-Average Pick 8(6)
Gore always puts up numbers when he is in the game. I'd rather have a beast like Frank that misses a few games and scores big than someone puts up lower numbers but stays healthy. I'm high on the 49ers this year, a better passing game and improved line means Gore could be top 6 even missing a couple. If he stays healthy, watch out. A steal in the late first. Schedule: Best in the league, 5 prime matchups. The only trouble spot should be against Green Bay.
4. Steven Jackson-Feature Back-St Louis-Average Pick 7(5)
It can't be worse than last year. The team can't be worse. The defense and line can't be worse. And Jackson was 10th. He also picks up an easier schedule, in fact one of the 4 best, going up against the AFC West and of course the NFC West.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew-Feature Back-Jacksonville-Average Pick 3
Last year's second place finisher is hampered by a poor overall team and a lack of late game leads. Still, his team wasn't exactly a world-beater and he was second last year. Look for a repeat of that success, against a somewhat harder schedule. It is not a bottom half schedule, expect more of the same from the touchdown machine.
6. Adrian Peterson-Feature Back-Minnesota-Average Pick 2
I don't like Minnesota this year and consequently, don't like Peterson. A running back who looks increasingly sluggish behind a line that is in decline to say the least is not promising. I would not be surprised to see Peterson slip further than this, but he is not the 2 pick to say the least. Schedule: Easily the toughest among the top 6 backs. with 5 tougher games and few gimmes.
The first tier should be the first 6 off the board. The second is at your discretion. It is reasonable to take Andre Johnson before the second tier. In general, the first tier of receivers is equal in value to the second tier of running backs. However, with the limited amount of reliable wideouts in 2010, you may be tempted to lock one of them up rather than take one of these backs, where there may be rb value in later rounds.
7. Ryan Grant-Feature Back-Green Bay-Average Pick 18(11)
This situation is too tough to pass up. The feature back on the best team in football. With the Packers consistently leading, Grant will score more touchdowns and Rodgers fewer. They will not likely pass in the red zone as often. A plethora of late game leads and red zone touches will put Grant in the top ten. A clear target in auction leagues and a must take in the mid second round. With the seventh pick, and the 6 off the board, I debate long and hard between Grant and Andre Johnson. Technically, he could be considered tier 1.5. Schedule: Middle of the pack but few games that will give him trouble.
8. Ryan Matthews-Feature Back-San Diego-Average Pick 26(13)
The perceived value of the Charger rookie has finally caught up to the actual value. While not the 4th round steal that he was in early mocks, he is still a value in the second round. Norv contributed to that process, publicly stating the amount of carries Matthews would get. Like Chris Johnson a few years ago, Matthews is entering a perfect scenario. Feature back on a good offense with an easy schedule. As long he has the talent of a mailbox, you would be crazy not to turn your life upside down and draft him. Schedule: The second easiest, and the easy schedules this year are better than usual, thanks to the AFCW/NFCW showdown. Matthews will clean up these cupcakes.
9. Rashard Mendenhall-Feature Back-Pittsburgh-Average Pick 12(8)
The second tier after Grant is pretty even. They all have potential. They all have a question. It is mostly a matter of preference, so ignore the numbers and think about the facts. Mendenhall is on a team that could struggle offensively in a division of tough defenses. The line has been less than satisfactory. But, he did fine last year in the same scenario. The team has always focused on the run and will do so even more with Big Ben. I pegged Mendenhall as a sleeper for two years(only once successfully.) Now my opinion fits right into the mainstream. Schedule: One of the tougher ones, at least 5 games will pose problems for the oline.
10. Cedric Benson-Feature Back-Cincinnati-Average Pick 21(12)
I feel Benson has one more solid year in him. I feel Cincinnati had a rash of injuries at the end of last season and the the defense will be solid. However, I worry about both of these predictions. Everything is in place for the Bengals but it could fall apart all too easily. High risk/reward pick, but one of the last few feature backs. Schedule: A lot of medium difficulty games on a schedule that is surprisingly mediocre.
11. Michael Turner- Feature Back-Falcons-Average Pick 9(7)
Turner is lower risk/reward than his tier mates. That makes him a better first round pick in essence, however, he is likely gone before there is value in picking him. With the second tier guys, you are looking for the one who slips to the second round, and that will rarely be Turner. All the same, he has an easier schedule than last year, although not as easy as the cupcakes he faced in 08. It should be a bounce-back year for the Falcons, and I wager Turner capitalizes on that to finish top 10.
Number 2 fantasy backs are a tricky species. At least one of them will slip to the early 4th, so it will be very tempting to take a receiver in round 3. Most drafts will play out with the last of the go-to wideouts coming off the board in round 3. More than likely, the smart play will be to take one of them, and grab the tier 3 back that drops to you in the 4th. This tier is mostly guys with high upside, and considerable questions.
12. Shonn Greene-Lead Back-Jets-Average Pick 20(11)
Questions: Tomlinson's presence. Team falling back. Reasons: Greene showed something at the end of the year and you have to think he is the man going forward. I like his future prospects, but I like Greene 2011 more than Greene 2010. I worry about what LDT will do to Greene's numbers, especially on the goal line. Tomlinson will pout if he doesn't get the when they are on the one, and the Jets may placate him like Norv did last year. Secondly, the disastrous Tomlinson touches may play a part in the fading team success that I see for the Jets this year. The upside is there, and he is being drafted based on that. I don't want to be stuck with a guy that gets pulled at the goal line. Schedule: Slightly harder than average.
13. Joseph Addai-Lead Back-Colts-Average Pick 42(20)
Questions: Donald Brown will take away carries. Health risk. Reasons: There is so much value to being the Colts running back, that it surprising how low Addai is being drafted coming off a top 10 year. Yes, Brown was injured and will be back, but Addai's value wasn't in stockpiling yards. It was in finishing off Peyton Manning's drives with 2-yard touchdowns. He should still do that as even when Brown was healthy, Addai still got the goal line carries. If the analysts thought Brown was going to take that many carries, shouldn't he be ranked a lot higher? There is a disconnect and both Colts are ranked too low. Schedule: On the easy side of average. Lots of middle level games.
14. Dangelo Williams-Lead Back-Carolina-Average Pick 15(9)
Question: Timesplit. Reasons: Success in timesplit over 2 years. Opinions vary about the two Panther backs, and while Williams has had demonstrably greater success with the same line on the same team, this is as high as I'm willing to go for a guy that is projected to get half the carries on an average at best team. He will do fine but aside from a Stewart injury, there is not a lot of upside here. Schedule: On the hard side of average.
15. Ronnie Brown-Lead Back-Miami-Average Pick 46(22)
Question: Injury risk. Timesplit. Reasons: Miami is an upward moving team, meaning more points for a pair of backs that already scored in bunches. Brown may be counted on to miss a few games but when he is in, he should score big. As always, I will take the guy that scores and goes out, allowing you to play someone else, over someone who clogs up your roster with low scoring games. Schedule: Full slate of easy, medium and hard games, with the quirk of the best schedule for fantasy playoffs.
16. LeSean McCoy-Lead Back-Philadelphia-Average Pick 32(17)
Question: Inexperience. Reasons: The Eagles are still a decent team with a good offense. McCoy is the only back that fits the system. He will have too many opportunities to put up points to avoid taking him ahead of backs on bad teams, even if they are more talented or have done it before. Schedule: Almost entirely middle-level games, the kind a stud back would dominate and a border starter would struggle against.
17. Knowshon Moreno-Lead Back-Denver-Average Pick 21(14)
Question: Team offense. Late season slip. Reason: I've always been a fan of the former UGA back, but I apparently am more scared of his team quality than the majority. The second half of Denver's season exposed their start as a fluke and I don't think they make much noise this year. Moreno has a future but I doubt he is a fantasy star just yet. Schedule: Top 6 schedule is the main quality in his favor, 7 advantageous games. UPDATE: Preseason injury should not affect his performance too much. Unless it leads to them bringing in another back, I would only bump him down below Charles.
18. Jamaal Charles-Lead Back-Chiefs-Average Pick 31(16)
Questions: Poor offense. Poor oline. Thomas Jones taking carries. Reasons: Charles is a beast. At the end of last year, he was running over defenses behind the same line that didn't produce for Larry Johnson. Thomas Jones should not be a factor, who has had success running behind strong lines on teams with good defenses. That is not the Cheifs. However, this is the flip side to the Addai situation. Somehow the experts have Charles ranked above Addai and Jones above Donald Brown. This is sheer lunacy. There are many more points to be had in the Colts offense than in the Chiefs. Schedule: Very light, as long as he starts the year he should keep his job.
This tier is compose of of third rbs, guys with high potential but substantial risk. Backups that give you a chance to breakout and do something. You should probably try to get at least one. In a deep league, a nice strategy is to take one top tier back and two of these guys. That way you double your chances of hitting big.
19. Pierre Thomas-Lead Back-Saints-Average Pick 38(19)
If Thomas got the majority of the carries on a good offense like the Saints, he would be atop 10 pick. Unfortunately, I, and many others, do not trust Sean Payton to give him the carries he needs. More than likely, he splits up the carries three ways again. Making matters worse is Payton's tendency to give Reggie Bush goal-line carries. However, the potential is there to have a knockout season. Schedule: Middle of the road with a full slate.
20. Felix Jones-Committee Back-Cowboys-Average Pick 49(23)
Jones could break out in a big way. He is probably the best of the Cowboys backs at the moment. The problem is that Marion Barber is the definite goal line guy. On an offense like the Cowboys, there will be enough yards to make Jones a decent spot starter. If anything happens to Barber(an injury prone guy,) Jones will be a lot more than that. Schedule: All middle range matchups, making it tough if he's splitting carries. If he get the majority he will excel.
21. Jonathan Stewart-Committee Back-Panthers-Average Pick 35(18)
Some analysts have Stewart as high as 10. This is foolish. He could end up that high, but so could Felix Jones or Pierre Thomas. On a mediocre team like Carolina, a second back just isn't worth more than a late-4th. He has been worse than teammate Dangelo Williams per carry for two years now. He needs Williams to miss games to be an obvious starter.
22. Matt Forte-Lead Back-Bears-Average Pick43(21)
Forte was outstanding two years ago and awful last year. He could be the feature back of a rising offense or lose his job to Chester Taylor. He is the definition of risk/reward. I'm high on the Bears and like the idea of taking a risk on at least one of these guys. More than anything, the oline couldn't possibly be worse. Decent schedule if he was the star we thought he was a year. Not enough prime games that 2009 Forte could put up points on.
23. Ben Tate-Lead Back-Texans-Average Pick 86(35)
Could be considered a sleeper, but I think he chances of starting are as good as Forte's and much better than Stewart's. If he is, then he is the lead back for one of the best offenses in the league. At the least, the failures of Texan backs on the goal line last year should give Tate first crack at red zone chances. Potentially, you can get a starting quality rb in the the 8th round. Schedule: On the tougher side, Tate will be hoping Schaub can throw him into the red zone. UPDATE: It looks Tate is out for the year, immediately slide Arians Foster into this spot. Foster has less competition for this spot than Tate did. Foster ended 2009 with two good names, we know as much about him as we did about Tate.
24. Brandon Jacobs-Lead Back-Giants-Average Pick 51(24)
A potential, goal line/workhorse back on a mediocre team. The upside of what Jamaal Charles probably ends up being. The downside is a potential disaster. Jacobs was just not good last year. With his size and style, he may be hitting the downward slope of his career early. Most likely he ends up a serviceable matchup starter. Unfortunately, against the second toughest schedule, those will be few and far-between.
25. Marion Barber-Lead Back-Cowboys-Average Pick 69(29)
The starting back of one of the best teams that has the edge for the goal line carries is ranked awfully low here. But injury risk and push from a young speedy back for carries will do that. Potentially, Barber stay healthy, scores a bushel of touch downs and becomes a steal. The alternative is Jones getting the bulk and going from future rb to present rb.
26. Ricky Williams-Committee Back-Dolphins- Average Pick 52(25)
Williams showed that he still has some in the tank. His problem is Ronnie Brown is ahead of him on the depth chart. The potential is there on a strong running team like Miami. But Williams' age and timesplit makes him too risky to take before this point.
27. Donald Brown-Committee Back-Colts-Average Pick 108(41)
Since everyone is convinced Brown is going to take carries away from Joseph Addai, you would think he would be ranked higher. Count your blessings, he is a steal. Potentially, he could be the top back on the number one offense. Why would you ever take guys that are potential top backs on awful teams ahead of him?(see tier 5) Even in a split on the Colts, he has value. Should Addai much talked-about injury-proneness appear, Brown is a top 10 guy.
They lack the upside of a tier 4 back but have a better shot to be solid as they have the pole position to be the lead back on a team that won't necessarily put up as many points. The value in these guys is as dependable starters in very deep leagues. Not ideal third or 4th backs.
28. Jahvid Best-Feature Back-Lions-Average Pick 64(27)
While Kevin Smith was wildly overrated last year, it seems people have picked up on the fact that being a feature back doesn't mean much when you're on the Lions. Schedule: Medium difficulty.
29. Beanie Wells-Lead Back-Cardinals-Average Pick 29(15)
No Warner means the Cards are on the decline, Not to the Lions level, but with Hightower lurking on the goal line, Wells will have a hard time putting up points. Schedule: Favorable, with many favorable matchups.
30. Darren McFadden-Lead Back-Raiders-Average Pick 84(34)
The Raiders running game should be string but McFadden will share the load with Micheal Bush. Still, he should put up points against that easy schedule. Dependable, but without much upside.
Thomas Jones-Second Back-Chiefs
Running behind the worst line, on a team with the worst passing game and the worst defense of his career.
Reggie Bush-Committee Back-Saints
Tim Hightower-Goal Line Back-Cardinals
The goal line carries dry up without Kurt Warner to toss it into the red zone.
Timesplits on a bad team: They are bad enough on a good team, but on a bad team, there is no reason to take a committee back, except as a late sleeper. Even then....
Jerome Harrison and Montario Hardesty: Cleveland.
Harrison had a nice end of the year but if Cleveland though he was that good, they wouldn't have picked Hardesty so soon. He will get a share, and a full load in Cleveland is barely draftable. Moreover, this is the toughest schedule in the league. Not many 300 yard games in there.
Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller and Marshawn Lynch: Buffalo
Too many guys with too few TDs, especially if Lynch is getting the goal line and nothing but. Also, they face one of the toughest slate of defenses.
Justin Forsett, Leon Washington and Julius Jones: Seattle
Even if Forsett gets the majority, is that worth drafting him? You take a risk to get an upside of a third running back? Schedule: Mediocre.
Michael Bush-Committee Back-Raiders-Average Pick 106(39)
According to Heyward-Bey could end up carrying the load.
Steve Slaton-Committee Back-Texans-Average Pick 145(49)
Astonishing low considering the way he played two years ago. If he gets it together, you have a starting back on a top 5 offense in the last round.
Willis McGahee-Goal Line Back-Ravens-Average Pick 137(48)
Value as a spot starter just for his goal line thefts. The Ravens running game and line is strong enough to support two backs. More so than Carolina.
Chester Taylor-Committee Back-Chicago-Average Pick 118(45)
If he plays third down back, he still has more value than this. Anything goes wrong with Forte and old Chester is suddenly quite a steal.
No point in handcuffing someone if their backup isn't going to preform. I wouldn't bother with cuffing Chris Johnson, because whoever goes in isn't getting close to is numbers. The handcuff is better executed when the starting back receives a portion of his value from the line or situation.
I have a feeling Peterson goes down this year. Gerhart should do decently.
Such a good situation, I'd play LaDanian Tomlinson if he was starting for Green Bay.
A bit more than a handcuff, but should be drafted as one by anyone who takes Pierre Thomas.
I just think the rookie has potential. If he gets a shot, he could priduce.
Did well in his spots last year.
Scenarios to keep an eye on
Washington and New England are completely unclear at the moment. Both should be decent teams and sport fantasy value at the running back position, if we knew who might get the bulk of the carries. Noone is quite draftable but don't forget these teams exist.