Hotdogs or hamburgers? Cats or dogs? Paper or plastic?
Why do people feel the need to debate in twos? Why do fantasy “experts” seem to think that the top overall draft slot belongs to either Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson? What about Maurice? You know: Mr. Jones-Drew?
As you’ll see in my following redraft running back rankings for 2010, complete with player capsule, I have no problem bucking the norm when it comes to my fantasy backfield …
1. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX. Seeing his workload increase from 197 carries to 312, and being the only focal point of a team lacking star power, Jones-Drew continues to produce consistently impressive numbers totally under the radar. Chris Johnson hasn’t proven he can maintain the sick pace he showed us last season. Adrian Peterson has a knack for dropping the pigskin, and rookie Toby Gerhart will take every opportunity he can get to show that he’s the reliable goal-line option when Peterson struggles with more dropsies.
2. Chris Johnson, TEN. The Titans did nothing major to bring in another back to spell Johnson. In fact, they got rid of LenDale White and brought in an even more questionable commodity in rookie LaGarrett Blount. I still worry about him replicating even a part of his amazing 2009 stats, but the upside makes it hard to pass at him at this slot.
3. Ray Rice, BAL. The key to Rice’s coming-out party in 2009 was his excessively impressive offseason work habits. This offseason? The Ravens are saying he’s done even more and is one of the best conditioned backs in the league. We high school football people know that good conditioning is the best way to avoid injury. Some question whether some of Rice’s receptions will be lost to newcomer Anquan Boldin, but even if he loses some catches, his incredible 9.0 yards per reception and respectable 5.3 yards per carry will keep Rice at the top of the rankings for the foreseeable future.
4. Adrian Peterson, MIN. Not sure why I feel so strongly that Peterson will see a drop in stats … but every time Peterson fumbled, especially in the playoffs, I kept having violent flashbacks to Steve Slaton fumbling away my 2009 fantasy hopes. Brett Favre’s presence keeps defenses more honest, and Peterson is still worthy of a top pick. I just worry that the fumbles and his bruising style of running will eventuall catch up to him. That’s why I suggested, in one post, to consider trading Adrian Peterson in dynasty leagues.
5. Frank Gore, SF. Age and injuries seem to have a better handle on how to slow Gore than opposing defenses. When he plays, he is a homerun threat. The Niners have a cupcake schedule, and Gore will be used plenty throughout the season.
6. Michael Turner, ATL. I am not a Turner aficionado from a fantasy standpoint, and this is not a PPR ranking, but it is hard to discount what Turner can do when focused and ready to prove his critics wrong. Reports state that Turner basically lived at the Falcons practice facility this offseason and is in excellent shape. This all combined with what I feel will be a very nice bounceback season for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing game, and Turner shouldn’t slip too far on your draft board.
7. Steven Jackson, STL. There is no reason to think that Jackson won’t continue to produce despite the mediocrity around him. Like Barry Sanders, Jackson makes the most out of his situation and shines. The Rams will be spoonfeeding Sam Bradford as much as possible, meaning a heavy reliance on the running game once again.
8. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT. Young back who could become elite this season, he also has a lot of red flags attached to his fantasy value in 2010. Loss of Big Ben to suspension means that the offense will be feeding the ball a lot to Mendenhall … but it also means that defenses will be keying on him. Mendenhall had some inconsistency issues from week to week last season, although his final stats were impressive considering he wasn’t starting for the first quarter of the regular season. Still, his potential tied with the Steelers return to run-first football is a combination worth taking a risk on.
9. DeAngelo Williams, CAR. When healthy, Williams is the primary ballcarrier for a team that knows how to grind out the rushing stats. Even if he somehow fell behind upstart Jonathan Stewart and became second fiddle, Williams would still produce over 1,000 yards and double-digit TDs. Stewart did just that in the RB2 role last year. Plus, I have a feeling the Panthers run Williams into the ground before losing him to free agency next year. Just a hunch.
10. Pierre Thomas, NO. No, I didn’t forget to take my medicine. Pierre is in the perfect situation to excel this season. Primary back in an massively effective offense. Loss of Mike Bell and lack of other veteran backs being brought in means that Thomas will receive plenty of carries and opportunities. His 5.4 yards per carry suggest so. The best thing in Pierre’s favor this season was the Saints refusal to sign him to a long-term lucrative contract. He has to play for his supper, so to speak, and has a plenty big chip on his shoulder and plenty to prove. I wouldn’t draft him this early, because he’ll likely fall into your early third round, but backs like Thomas make it much easier to draft receivers and other positions early on draft day.
11. Shonn Greene, NYJ. Showed us flashes of brilliance at the end of last season, and there is plenty to like in 2010. LaDanain Tomlinson will be used more than people think, but Greene should still get plenty of carries in a rush-happy offensive scheme.
12. Ryan Mathews, SD. I struggled putting a rookie running back this high, but the Chargers sacrificed a lot to get Mathews as their back of both the present and future. He has no real competition for carries … Darren Sproles is a different type of running back and won’t zap Mathews’ statistical potential too much. What I like best about Mathews is the excessively easy schedule the Chargers are facing in 2010, one full of defenses that will allow Mathews to mature quickly and efficiently at the pro level.
13. Beanie Wells, ARI. Sure Tim Hightower’s presence affects Beanie’s overall stats to a degree, but Wells showed as the season wore on last year that he has plenty of burst and potential. There is no reason to think that Wells won’t continue his emergence as a back on the rise, especially as the Cardinals transition to a more rush-based philosophy to make the transition easier for new QB Matt Leinart.
14. Jamaal Charles, KC. There is little doubt that Charles was en fuego to close out the 2009 season. Then, like a splash of ice water over a sunburn, the Chiefs shocked many by acquiring Thomas Jones, another back who can churn out yardage in big chunks. What does this mean? Much too early to tell, but considering Charles hasn’t been an elite back for the course of a full season. Also, looking more closely at Charles’ most elite performances in 2009, they all came against mediocre teams. His 100-plus yard games were against Oakland, Buffalo,Cleveland, Cincinnati and Denver. Still, the upside potential is there, just hard to know what to expect.
15. Ryan Grant, GB. Even as a Packers fan, I neglected to see how valuable Grant was last season from a fantasy standpoint … impressive especially considering the O-line was in shambles much of the season. His 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns seemed to come out of thin air. The Packers offense continues to be a juggernaut, and a solid, consistent running back is key for keeping defenses in a tizzy. Grant should continue to quietly produce solid numbers.
16. Felix Jones, DAL. One of the best indicator of a back who has what it takes to produce big numbers is his yards per carry. Jones averaged nearly six yards per tote on 116 carries last season. He burst onto the scene in the postseason, too, and claimed the starting RB gig in the Big D. There are some injury concerns for Jones, but then again, reports are that he’s bulked up in a good way this offseason, and is actually a bigger back now that Marian Barber. His upside in that high-powered offense is immense. Like I said in a previous post, he is this year’s Ray Rice.
17. Jonathan Stewart, CAR. Even as technically the No. 2 back the last two seasopns, Stewart still managed 10 touchdowns each year and 1,133 yards last season. Not shabby. If he can get more carries in that offense (like if DeAngelo is injured, falls off a cliff, loses one of his legs, etc.), than Stewart could be a beast. Injury concerns seem to be a yearly stressor for fantasy owners.
18. LeSean McCoy, PHI. The next Brian Westbrook? Time will tell. McCoy is quick, provides a nice weapon in the passing game and could produce big things in an Eagles offense that always seems to move the ball well. Uncertainty at the moment in how the team will adjust in the transition from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb, from Brian Westbrook to McCoy full-time and how the young runner will handle a full slate of games all factor into his ranking being lower than other young RBs on this list.
19. Joseph Addai, IND. Another quiet fantasy performer in the vein of Ryan Grant, Addai notched 10 TDs and more than 800 yards last season despite rookie Donald Brown nipping at his heels. While people continue to expect Brown to blow past Addai on the depth chart at some point, but Addai has done enough to keep the starting gig short of an injury or major production breakdown.
20. Jahvid Best, DET. A rookie back with upside, I wonder how he fares on a team that is struggling to find its identity. The Lions, while much improved lately, will still likely be passing more than running in games where they fall behind early. Playing a tough schedule, the Lions will be playing catchup more than one would like. Best is still penciled in as a starter, but there are also rumors circulating that he could be used in more of a Reggie-Bush-like role. Time will tell how valuable Mr. Best can be.
21. Knowshon Moreno, DEN. Whoa. Moreno 21st? You saw that right. I’m a huge advocate of yards per carry stats and how they indicate a back’s potential in the league. Moreno’s 3.6 yards per carry last year in mostly a starter role worries me to no end. Can’t find any successful RB who started with such a low average. Add to that Denver’s loss of Brandon Marshall, and that defenses can key more on the run in 2010, and I’m not touching Moreno in redraft leagues this summer.
22. Cedric Benson, CIN. True story: I had worked my way down to spot No. 29 on this list before I realized that I forgot to add Benson. As you can tell, I’m not his biggest fantasy fan. He could still get a suspension from off-field troubles this past offseason … issues that arrose while he was in the middle of contract negotiations. Not a smart move. Prior to 2009, Benson was the king of underachieving, and yours truly feels he’ll revert back to his old ways. Bernard Scott, meanwhile, is a talented back and will likely take carries from Benson, even if Cedric magically stays on the field for a full slate of games.
23. Ronnie Brown, MIA. What can Brown do for you? How about stay healthy for a season? Brown was producing well once again for the Dolphins before a Lisfranc fracture derailed his 2010 campaign. Ricky Williams slid into the starting role and didn’t look back with an impressive showing. Brown will return to the starting role this season, but is facing an uncertain future. If he plays well, his pricetag will likely become too steep for the Dolphins next year. If he flops, the Dolphins won’t be quick to bring him back yet again over Ricky Williams. It is an important season for Ronnie, and typically those situations bring out the best in a player, but the uncertainty keeps him from climbing higher on this list.
24. Fred Jackson, BUF. The three-headed Bills RB monster can be hard to decipher. However, CJ Spiller looks to be a hybrid-like player in the offense and not a primary ball carrier. Marshawn Lynch has been on the outs with the Bills for quite some time now. His yards per carry were noticeably lower than Jackson’s last season, and Jackson finished the 2009 campaign with an impressive 33-for-212 showing against the Indianapolis Colts backups in Week 17. Methinks he’ll remain the main option in Buffalo.
25. Montario Hardesty, CLE. A very odd situation in Brownsland considering how impressive Jerome Harrison was at the end of 2009, but Hardesty was drafted as the next great thing, and Harrison has been losing offseason steam ever since. Jamal Lewis could tell you that the Browns are able to make a back fantasy-worthy, and whoever becomes the main option could be a great value pick in your respective redraft leagues. It seems that all the “experts” expect that player to be Hardesty, but watch training camp closely for signs that things could flop the other way.
26. Michael Bush, OAK. The Oakland Raiders mysteriously have been making some smart decisions this offseason so far. They’ve drafted better, admitted it was time to eat some humble pie in terms of moving past the Jamarcus Russell experiment and soon they could be doing a similar maneuver with that Darren McFadden guy. Michael Bush has proven to be the better option in various facets and should land the early downs back gig in Raidersland. He can produce sneaky-good fantasy numbers when given enough opportunities, and I’m predicting that will happen this season. Watch this situation closely during the preseason.
27. Brandon Jacobs, NYG. Last year was a train wreck for the Giants running game, and especially for Brandon Jacobs. After averaging 4.8 yards per carry the previous three years, Jacobs managed just 3.7 last year amidst injuries and downright bad play. Considering his career average yards per carry are much better than last year’s debacle, it would logically seem that he should see at least some sort of rebound if he can stay healthy. Ahmad Bradshaw will be taking away some carries, but Jacobs is still the top option for the Giants.
28. Matt Forte/Chester Taylor, CHI. Cheating here, I know. However, I’m not a fan of Forte at all after last season’s statistical implosion. Early nuggets of news from Chicago suggest that Forte will see a significant decrease in carries this season. Chester Taylor was brought in by this regime and will be given every chance to succeed. If Taylor can rumble over Forte in the pecking order much like a Hummer flattens a roadkill raccoon, he could be a very nice value pick in fantasy circles. Not saying that Forte doesn’t have a chance of rebounding somewhat in that offense … just that his window of opportunity closing faster than the mouth of a piranha in a chum stream.
29. Carnell Williams, TB. Bumped up a little in this rankings in late June when it was announced that Cadillac will be the bonafide lead horse in the Buccanneers backfield. Derrick Ward has proven he is, at best, a backup option. While Carnell hasn’t been a major home run threat lately, he is able to grind out stats and is one of a dwindling number of backs who aren’t stuck in a RBBC nightmare.
30. Justin Forsett, SEA. Forsett was easily the best Seattle running back last season, and outside of a short LenDale White sighting, Forsett continues to be the best upside guy in the backfield. According to one LA Times report, Forsett is an “instant Pete Carroll favorite.” The problem with Carroll is that he’s histotically been a guy who’s used a committee backfield approach, and considering the Seahawks may be playing catch-up a decent amount this season, the running game may be too erratic to trust in.
Other RBs of note:
If not for the logjam in the Houston backfield, one of Arian Foster, Steve Slaton or Ben Tate would be a juicy addition to my RB rankings. However, Tate will allegedly be spoonfed during his rookie campaign, and while Arian Foster was effective at the end of 2009, it is hard to believe that the Texans aren’t going to include Steve Slaton into the mix where they can, too. At this point, the situation is just too muddied to get uber-excited over.
Reggie Bush continues to be an interesting name in fantasy circles … especially in PPR formats. Of course, his name value will likely lead to him being drafted too early for my taste in most leagues, Bush could see some more action this year as Mike Bell left for Philly and Pierre’s workload needs spelled somewhat. Lynell Hamilton could be a super, super sleeper depending on if there are any injuries … and Pierre does have some dings on his record.
Ricky Williams should be rostered in most standard 12-team (or higher) leagues. Sure, he’s technically the second option in Miami, but Ronnie Brown has proven as durable as a wet sheet of toilet paper at times.
Felix Jones does have some injury concerns and Marion Barber seems closer to receiving AARP junk mail than an increased workload, so keep an eye on Tashard Choice, who could be a sneaky addition late in drafts.
Speaking of aging players, the Redskins seem to be filled to the gills with them. At running back, Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker all will be looking for carries. Some rumors suggest Brian Westbrook will be added to the mix, too. Portis and Johnson should be the frontrunners for carries, but relying on either isn’t advisable. One player to watch is Ryan Torain, who is just 23 years old and showed some promise in Denver before injuries relegated him to the bottom of the heap. This is more a dynasty league suggestion than anything redraft owners need to worry about, however.
The Patriots backfield is just too inconsistent to depend on for weekly fantasy production. Reports suggest that Bill Belichick has lost faith in Laurence Maroney in crucial situations due to fumbling concerns. Fred Taylor may find himself fighting for a roster spot. Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Benjarvis Green-Ellis have all been given chances to emerge as the team’s top option, but none have taken advantages of those opportunities.
Don’t miss my 2010 redraft rankings/player capsules at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. Curious about dynasty leagues and running backs? Check out my very early composite dynasty RB rankings.