Last year there were 49 running backs who had at least 100 carries for their respective teams, that means there were 16running backs who were not part of a committee (the Raiders had 3 100 carry guys). Of those 16 teams it looks like only 9 of those teams will have the same situation this year. Tennessee, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and St Louis. All the backs from those teams are considered first round locks except Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant and Lawrence Maroney. Those are three guys that have the potential to give you first round value. Benson and Grant are both going in the 2nd round, but Maroney is currently being draft in the 10th. If you draft any of those first round guys make sure you grab their handcuff around 8 or 9 so that someone doesn’t steal them away from. Now, onto the rankings.
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – His worst fantasy year of his career was 2007 when he had 1609 total yards and 13 TDs. He had 43 receptions last year and without Chester Taylor on the team he’ll play in more 3rd down situations.
2. Chris Johnson, Titans – I hate to say it, but Chris Johnson scares me. No player who has ran for 2,000 has ever done it again in their career and Johnson was just 12 carries away from the curse of 370. He had 214 carries in the last 8 games of last season and also had 3 TDs of 85 yards or longer, something that’s unlikely to happen this year.
3. Ray Rice, Ravens – Willis McGahee was the only thing keeping Ray Rice from being the #2 fantasy back last season and I contemplated slotting him at #2 ahead of Chris Johnson. Rice won’t have 100 catches again this season, but the addition of Anquan Boldin will help open up the running game and I don’t think McGahee vultures near as many TDs this season.
4. Frank Gore, 49ers – The 49ers addressed their most glaring need last year with their first two picks in this year’s draft. Drafting two stud offensive lineman who should start and provide a great impact right away. Gore might be an injury risk but he runs for 1000 yards and 40 catches every year.
5. Michael Turner, Falcons – The Falcons lost Harry Douglas in the preseason last year and that hurt their passing game a lot last year. Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling will see some carries but Turner is still the featured back. He was on pace for 1440 yards and 20 TDs before injuring his ankle
6. Steven Jackson, Rams – SJax had the second most total yards in his career last year, but posted a career low 4 TDs. The last feature back with that few TDs was Thomas Jones who had 1 TD in 2007 but exploded for 13 in 2008
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – MJD loves guys like me who doubt him, but I doubt his ability to repeat his performance from 2009. MJD is a great player and I think that’s pretty obvious, but the team around him is just so bad it will be hard for him to repeat his 2009 season.
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – The loss of Willie Colon hurts a lot, but the addition of Flozelle Adams should help the Steelers offensive line. The first 4 (or 6) weeks of the season the Steelers will rely heavily on Mendenhall without Roethlisberger playing. I think he is the top fantasy scorer 4 weeks into the season and then levels off the rest of the year. Perfect guy to sell high on after week 4.
9. Ryan Grant, Packers – Quick, name all the players you can who have had 2 consecutive 1,200 yard seasons. Did you mention Ryan Grant? Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ryan Grant, and Thomas Jones are the only 4 backs. Grant is consistently undervalued every year.
10. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – There have been rumors floating that since Williams is in a contract year the Panthers are going to give Jonathan Stewart more carries. I think the exact opposite. If Williams is gone after this year why not put the mileage on his legs and not Stewarts?
12. Shonn Greene, Jets – Greene was great when called upon last year and was a beast in the playoffs, Greene will definitely get his yardage, but the one thing that scares me in LaDainian Tomlinson. If LT is used in a Jerome Bettis like role Greene’s value will slip.
12. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Norv Turner has made it clear Mathews will get the ball this season, he should see 250 carries and another 40 receptions.
13. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – The last 8 games last year Charles averaged 20 carries per game and that’s when his fantasy value skyrocketed. Thomas Jones will most likely vulture touchdowns from the youngster but I think that also helps keep him fresh and the feature back.
14. Cedric Benson, Bengals – Benson is almost assured of 300 carries this season and with Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Jermaine Gresham helping the passing offense, the running game should be as open as ever.
15. Beanie Wells, Cardinals – Last year I was one of the guys who said Beanie Wells was trash and couldn’t handle the toughness of the NFL. I have to admit that i was wrong. Wells had a great 2nd half and with no Kurt Warner the offense will need a guy to rely on. Wells will be that guy.
16. LeSean McCoy, Eagles – It will be hard for McCoy to become Brian Westbrook but McCoy did well last year in a difficult offense to learn in one year. McCoy should excel in his second year in Andy Reid’s offense
17. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart’s only barrier to being a top 5 fantasy back in DeAngelo Williams. Even with him in the way Stewart is still a 100 yard threat every week, even if he only gets 8 or 9 carries.
18. Matt Forte, Bears – Many owners who drafted Forte in the first round last year will never own him again, but a knee injury slowed Forte last year and in PPR leagues he will always be a beast. The addition of Chester Taylor actually helps him as does being in a Mike Martz offense.
19. Jahvid Best, Lions – Best has nearly an unlimited upside, but his downside is almost nearly as unlimited. Best hasn’t had 200 carries since he was in High School, but he knows how to make the best of those carries. Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith will still get some carries, but Best will have a great season.
20. Ricky Williams, Dolphins – You can’t trust Ronnie Brown to stay healthy and Williams’ age being used against him is ridiculous. Even if Brown is healthy Williams is the Dolphins back you want to own this season.
21. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – Moreno slowed down towards the end of last season, but that could be expected with it being his first pro season. The Broncos have no reliable wide receivers so expect the ball to get put in Moreno’s hands early and often.
22. Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas hasn’t had 160 carries in a season since he was in High School. Reggie Bush is always a break out candidate, this year is no different.
23. Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai had his most disappointing season thus far in 2009, he had no runs of 21+ yards in 2009 something that is sure to change in 2010.
24. Brandon Jacobs, Giants – Jacobs is another guy that’s hard to trust after his 2009 season. Jacobs has earned the label injury prone and deservedly so, but if he can stay healthy for 16 games he has top 10 potential.
25. Felix Jones, Cowboys – Felix Jones is another guy that has been often injured in his career, but his potential is so immense. Jones has the explosiveness of Chris Johnson, but will probably be limited to 15 carries a game this year with a still healthy Marion Barber getting 10-15 himself
26. Fred Jackson, Bills – In 15 careers starts Jackson has 1154 yards, 54 catches and 5 TDs. He’ll start 2010 as the starter in Buffalo
27. Reggie Bush, Saints – Pierre Thomas should be limited to 15 carries a game at most and Bush is always a threat from the slot. Bush was scoring a lot of TDs before he got hurt last year.
28. Ben Tate, Texans – Tates was one of the most impressive running backs at the combine last year finishing top 3 in the 40, bench press, vertical jump and broad jump. He’s the perfect combination of size and speed, but he’ll have to keep the starting job out of Steve Slaton’s hands.
29. Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber is still a workhorse and should get 12-15 carries a game this season.
30. Jerome Harrison, Browns – With Monatrio Hardesty out a couple weeks Harrison is the clear #1 in Cleveland to start the season.
31. Justin Forsett, Seahawks
32. Michael Bush, Raiders
33. Laurence Maroney, Patriots
34. Tim Hightower, Cardinals
35. Thomas Jones, Chiefs
36. Cadillac Williams, Bucanners
37. Donald Brown, Colts
38. Clinton Portis, Redskins
39. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
40. Ahmad Bradshawn, Giants
41. C.J. Spiller, Bills
42. Darren McFadden, Raiders
43. Darren Sproles, Chargers
44. Willis McGahee, Ravens
45. Leon Washington, Jets
46. Chester Taylor, Bears
47. Steve Slaton, Texans
48. Derrick Ward, Bucanners
49. Correll Buckhalter, Broncos
50. Larry Johnson, Redskins