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Dynasty Debate: Top 5 fantasy football running backs for 2011

Some suggest that fantasy football season is over. These people obviously don’t play in dynasty leagues, where the season never really does end.

And for those who play in these types of leagues, it never really is too early to starting thinking ahead. To the 2011 season. We’re already in 2011, for goodness sake. Time’s a-wasting!

And so, here is the first in a four-part series, debating who the top 5 running backs will be in 2011. Feel free to argue my Top 5 in the comments below. Similar posts at QB, WR and TE are coming soon.

1. Chris Johnson, TEN. Coming off a “down season” in 2010 for those silly enough to think he’d top 2,000 yards rushing again, Johnson still produced impressive fantasy stats after a slow start. He’s still the team’s primary ball carrier with no real competition in sight. He personally attributed his lower stats to a lingering thigh injury, one he has plenty of time now to nurse back to health.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX. Many wrote MJD off after a horrific start to 2010, but he rebounded nicely as the team finally committed to the run and saw plenty of success in doing so. Jack Del Rio returns in 2011. So does David Garrard. And, so do the chances that MJD will get plenty of carries. Two games each against the Colts and Texans should also help, along with a full offseason to heal up after a slew of 2010 injuries.

3. Ray Rice, BAL. Sporadic at times this year, Rice still produced well in PPR leagues despite a shoddy run-blocking O-line. Here’s expecting the Ravens to address that line during the offseason.

4. Adrian Peterson, MIN. The Vikings struggled most of the year behind a carousel of QBs and a slew of off-field issues. Next season, the QB situation will likely still be questionable unless the Vikings can land a proven veteran starter. Peterson will see plenty of defenses stacked to stop him and make whoever is QBing win games. Peterson will get his stats, but it may be tougher than it has been in the past.

5. Arian Foster, HOU. Flip-flopped on this one. Foster was a beast this year, and if Gary Kubiak wasn’t returning, I’d be more suspicious of ranking Foster here. Also, his playing time could be altered somewhat by rookie Ben Tate, who missed the 2010 campaign due to injury, but will be back in 2011.

Honorable Mention: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte, Michael Turner, Darren McFadden

45 Responses to “Dynasty Debate: Top 5 fantasy football running backs for 2011”

  1. Mike

    I’m going to have to say, I think that list is off. I don’t see anything about MJD at this point in his career that would suggest he will be the number 2 back in 2011. I can’t find the logic when you suggest an unknown factor like Ben Tate taking away from Arien Foster’s production in Houston, but make no mention of Rashad Jennings taking carries away from a suddenly less than durable MJD? Jennings has emerged as a great guy to split the load, and WILL take carries from MJD. MJD is a guy that is 5’7″ and just over 200 lbs who has the running style of a guy 25 lbs heavier. He has 5 years of wear and tear, and don’t assume a knee surgery this year will totally fix what could be the beginning of a chronic problem.

    I also won’t be buying Ray Rice as a top 3 back next year. Their line has really never been dominant, but I think the maturation of Joe Flacco and his added weapons has hurt Rice more than line play. The Ravens can and do pass the ball well, and those numbers were spread around more (Rice lost 15 catches and 150 yards). Plus Rice gets very little shot at the goal line. I don’t see many backs being able to put up top 3 fantasy numbers if they aren’t the main goal line back (aside from a few uber-talenter backs). Still a good back, but I can’t rank him that high.

    Until I see something change, I think Arien Foster repeats as the number one back next year. He blew everyone else away and is a true dual-threat with a nose for the end zone. He plays in a fantastic offense, and I’ll take a shot with him next year. Here is my early list:

    1- Arien Foster
    2- Adrian Peterson
    3- Chris Johnson
    4- Darren McFadden
    5- Jamal Charles

  2. Jay-Mo

    I wasn’t keen on Ben Tate even before he got hurt, as his college performance was a mirage. I can see Arien Foster being a top RB, especially in PPR leagues.

    I wouldn’t sour on Ray Rice. He was getting more touches in the red zone and in goal line situations in December as the Ravens finally realized he needed to touch the ball more for them to be successful offensively. The line is their weakest link. However, I doubt it will be worse next year, especially when Michael Oher has been battling nagging injuries this year and Chris Chester learning a new position on the line.

    That’s my take …

  3. Mike

    I’m not sour on Rice at all. He’s a very good back, I just see him more in the 7-8 range and not top 3. Rice doesn’t seem to be as dynamic as the other guys near the top. He’s less likely to hit a hole and break off a 70 yard TD than the others I mentioned. Hes a great all-around back, but I’ll have to see a commitment to him as a true goal line back before I’ll consider him toward the top of my list.

  4. Joe

    I have to agree with Mike’s assessment. I really don’t think it is “souring” on Rice, more trying to justify him being the 3rd overall RB! Jay-Mo, I have to disagree with your assessment that the Ravens saw they need to give Rice the ball more toward the 2nd half of the season.

    Games 1-8 (including the game he played hurt against the Steelers):
    153 rushes — 606 yards, 31 catches — 236 yards

    Games 9-16
    154 rushes — 614 yards, 32 catches — 320 yards

    +1 rush — +8 yards, +1 catch — +84 yards

    I just don’t see this realization “he needed to touch the ball more for them to be successful offensively.” The numbers just don’t back that up at all!

  5. Jay-Mo

    @Joe In the red zone and in December, not overall in the game or in the second half of the season. If you watched their December games, Rice seemed to get more carries in the red zone than he was getting earlier in the season and certainly last year. Exactly how many, I don’t know. I don’t have the coach’s tape. It’s just an observation from watching their games.

    You’re trying to squash my opinion based on looking up ESPN statistics and twisting my original take. The point I was offering is that in 2009 and a good part of 2010 McGahee and McClain stole goal line opportunities from Rice, but that trend “appears” to have ended as the Ravens in the last month or so (don’t have statistical proof to earmark when the Ravens exactly made this switch, maybe at the 12:10 mark in the second quarter of the New Orleans game) have made more of an effort to get Rice involved at the goal line. The key is “more of an effort.” Did he bust off 5 TDS at the goal line, no … but he was getting touches, which to me is good news for future Rice owners.

    I think most fantasy owners know not to over-analyze a previous season’s stats in setting up a draft board. Fantasy sports is predicated on predicting, not claiming something won’t or will happen solely because of prior statistics.

    If that’s the case, New Orleans didn’t need to play Seattle on Saturday since the statistics certainly didn’t back up the Seahawks’ chance of winning.

  6. Joe

    Odd…watching the Ravens game now…Willis has 2 goal line carries, Ray has 0. I’m not predicting that will continue the rest of the game, it just “appears” that is the case. It’s funny how looking at stats is frowned upon in your argument, and I really don’t know how I twisted your original take considering you said Rice “needed to touch the ball more for them to be successful offensively.” Btw I hate to use stats again, but he had only 1 more rushing TD the second half than the first…doesn’t seem like they used him all that much. Again, I’m not sour on Rice, but Jay-Mo do you agree that he will be the 3rd best RB in 2011? What’s you list? I guess ranking Ray 3rd truly is zigging when others zag! Haha

  7. Jay-Mo

    For what it’s whatever it’s worth … I charted the game.

    The Ravens had 21 Red Zone possessions, and Ray Rice was the featured back for 12 of those plays (the last four possessions in the fourth quarter when the game was in hand and Ric being rested). That results in 57 percent of the plays and 71 percent of meaningful Red Zone possessions (taking away the four fourth quarter plays). Of those possessions, Rice had five targets, including a TD.

    McGahee’s two goal line possessions (targets) resulted in (-1) yard gain and a QB sneak. Great fantasy performance. McGahee’s TD came on a 4-and-1 from the 25, not in the Red Zone and at the 4:26 mark, while Rice was getting comfty for his post-game interview.

    And yes, if Rice is there at No 3 on draft boards I’d take him, especially over two three RBs with basically only one year of great production. You confident the Raiders and Chiefs will be as good offensively next year as this year?

    Arien Foster, yea, I’d go with that, but Charles and McFadden over Rice. Sure, if you’d want? Just sayin … yes, I’d favor Rice over AP and CJ in PPR leagues. Who is QB those two teams next year?

  8. Jay-Mo

    @ Joe … good argument. This is exactly the place to provide a comprehensive view on fantasy football … :)

  9. Joe

    I think there is a difference between redzone and goal line possessions. Would you not agree? In the 3 carries inside the 5 yard line (which I would think are considered “goal line”) rice had zero of those carries. I really don’t see the confidence in rice for goal line possessions that you do. And after the 2 years Charles has had you really wanna question the Chiefs offense in terms of running the ball? Is McFadden more of a risk than rice? Sure, but didn’t you say a few posts ago that fantasy football is more about predicting the future than looking at past statistics? From the looks of it, Oakland is going to sign their current OC to be their new HC…I like DMC a lot next year. If Willis comes back next year can you really put Rice in the top 3? Sure if you don’t wanna take the risk of potential studs like Charles and DMC I can understand that, but you would take Rice over CJ and AP? Whatever you are smokin please share! It seems to give you some great delusions! Lol

  10. jzak

    Throwing in a different angle here to consider … Arian Foster. I ranked him fifth for a reason. Actually several. Not sure I’m ready to annoint a guy who had one majorly good year over guys who’ve consistently done it year in and year out. MJD wasn’t his official self this year. Then again, we all heard the reports before the season that he was nursing an injury. A lingering one at that. What are the odds that MJD is able to bounce back next season and be healthy? I’d like to argue that they are better than Arian Foster repeating his breakout season.

    Why? Well, first of all, he plays for the same Texans team with the same Texans head coach as Steve Slaton. The guy who had a breakout rookie campaign as primary ball carrier in that offense, and then was thrown to the trash heap the next year. Is it fair to compare the two backs? Probably not. Foster doesn’t have the same issue with drops as Slaton did. However, Foster didn’t have the same college track record as Slaton, either. However, the point here is they are both backs in the same situation. If management can move past Slaton so quickly, they could do the same with Arian if he hits some sort of proverbial wall at some point.

    Which brings me to point 2. One indicator that we hammered on in preseason this past year was that running backs that saw a huge increase in carries one year were likely to backpedal the year afterward. It’s the same trend that marked the downfall for Shaun Alexander several years ago. LaDanian Tomlinson fell into this mold, too, although he’s had a nice resurgence with the Jets now. In 2009, Chris Johnson had a record-breaking season with more than 2,000 yards rushing. A major increase in carries, obviously, too. This season, we cautioned not to jump to quickly on Johnson. Not that he wasn’t a top-5 RB talent, but because to expect similar numbers in 2010 was ridiculous.

    So, Arian Foster had how many carries in 2010? How many the previous year? That would be 327 carries in 2010 vs. 54 in 2009 … or six times the amount of carries and overall workload. He also produced a little more than six times the amount of rushing yardage from 2009 to 2010. Not saying that he’ll disappear from the sport, but it is fair to assume that he could follow the same trend as other top backs who had an unexpectedly large jump in carries and overall workload. I still rank him fifth overall, so it isn’t that I think he’ll start coaching PeeWee football or stocking shelves in 2011.

    And, Foster will have some company in 2011. I know Ben Tate isn’t the second coming of Barry Sanders, but he does have talent and has to be considered a bigger threat for carries than a retread Derrick Ward or a fallen-from-grace Steve Slaton. Especially if management tries to rest Foster more or if Foster does struggle some in his second season as the Texans starter.

    All of this weighs on my mind as I made the rankings. Take a time-tested, proven stud back who is coming off one injury-stained season or a healthy back with the red flags I mentioned above.

    I think that is a debate in itself

  11. Mike

    @ Jay-Mo: Rice really didn’t have an appreciable increase in red zone looks in December according to the numbers. As well, in non-ppr leagues, which the original list is for, keep in mind that Rice didn’t even end up to 3 in 2009 when he had his career year. There is no question Rice is a great back. Maybe we are all nitpicking here debating the difference between him being 3rd or 7th in a list. I just see guys like Charles and McFadden as the next wave of dynamic fantasy studs.

    @ jzak: There is so much to debate in your last post I’m not even sure where to start, but lets try…

    As for not ranking a guy with one good year over guys who do it “year in and year out”, Ray Rice has only had one dominant fantasy year. Chris Johnson two. Foster has one, and he did have a couple very good games at the end of 09. I’m not sure they have “proven” much more than Foster yet. If anything, a guy like Rice with a 40-50 point drop off this year may be more of an uncertainty than Foster.

    As per MJD, when I hear “RB” and “knee surgery” in the same sentence, I get concerned. What REALLY concerns me is that MJD made the injury worse by playing on it this season. THAT is a fact I think we all need to let settle in when debating future performance. He hurt his knee in the preseason, then made it worse. I’m certanly not saying MJD is finished, but let’s look at the fact that he is FAR from being a big back, and he has a bulldozing style. Can you SERIOUSLY tell me that there shouldn’t be concern about a guy with that size, that style, 5 years of abuse, and a knee surgery? Throw in a little mix of Rashad Jennings. How can you honestly make a SECOND post mentioning Ben Tate and yet again COMPLETELY IGNORE Rashad Jennings impact on MJD’s usage going forward? Come on, REALLY?!?!

    As per your Steve Slaton comments, Arien Foster is NOT Steve Slaton. Foster doesn’t fumble like Slaton. Foster rushes more and has been more durable than Steve Slaton. Foster has a Marcus Allen style nose for the endzone. Bottom line is Arien Foster is a much better NFL RB than Steve Slaton could have ever been. Foster has worked his way up from the practice squad, to the star of the team. He’s EARNED everything he’s gotten. Reports on him in the preseason were GLOWING. The coaching staff loves him. That’s something they never felt about Slaton. And for Foster not having the “same college track record” as Slaton, let me say….ask Priest Holmes, Miles Austin and Kurt Warner what “college track records” mean….seriously, we all know college performance doesn’t really matter.

    And finally, as per the “increase” in carries…first off, that just a really bad use of the term. It’s like saying a rookie RB had a huge increase his first year. It was his first year as the primary starter, he was little used most of 2009 because he wasn’t on the roster a good chunk of the year. He didn’t get a carry until week 14! And is it REALLY the number of carries a guy gets that influences their future production? I say absolutely not. You have to look at a player’s situation, EVERYTHING around him. What’s changed, what’s stayed the same? It’s hard to deny that Foster seems to be in just about the most stable situation of any back in the league. Same coaching staff, same star QB, same star WR. His situation makes me feel comfortable about ranking him highly. I think any astute fantasy owner has known for years now that Houston would be a prime spot for a stud RB to appear, they just needed to find the guy. I think they’ve found him. Maybe he won’t duplicate the numbers, but considering he was 100 points better than the second ranked back, he even a slip in production could end with him still being the top fantasy back.

  12. Krause

    1. Foster
    2. Peterson
    3. Johnson
    4. Charles
    5. Blount

    Forget MJD, Picking him second is a huge mistake. I like Rice as a top 5 back in PPR but not in regular scoring formats. Yes Blount! Tampa Bays offense is on the rise and They have found an identity. I expect Blount to thrive in their offense. Call me crazy but im usually right.

  13. Mike

    And let me point out a little more on MJD. His carries, yards, and ypc were almost identical this year to last, but his rushing TD’s were MINUS TEN, and he has TWENTY ONE fewer receptions. I don’t know if you guys owned MJD, but I had him in quite a few leagues, and watched very intently. Do you know how often MJD is pulled at the goal line for Jennings? Do you know how often Jennings was in the game on 3rd downs? It was VERY often. Let me state this one more time, you CAN NOT just act like Rashad Jennings doesn’t exist in your assessment of MJD. He took a sizeable chunk of MJD’s fantasy numbers this year, and it’s naive to think that isn’t going to continue next year.

    @ Krause: Agree totally with your MJD and Rice assessments. As for Blount, it’s a bold call, but quite honestly it’s not really that far out there. I called him “klunky” to a friend earlier this season (which I still think he is….LOL), but he is a BEAST. He’s the perfect fit in the perfect situation and he has potential to be a great power back.

  14. Joe

    Well since I have only complained about jzak’s obsessive man-love for Rice, I thought I should put up my top 5.

    1. Peterson
    2. Foster
    3. CJ
    4. Charles
    5. Run DMC

    Sure Run DMC may be a little bold, but if he stays healthy he will be a beast. He averaged 16 standard points per game in the 13 games he played, which would have made him the 2nd best RB this year only behind Foster. He is also big in the passing game with a little over 500 yards receiving and 3 TDs. He had only one really poor game against the Steelers, but come on, who doesn’t? Any DMC owner should handcuff Bush if he stays in Oakland. Also, worried about Tom Cable being fired hurting DMC’s production? Don’t be, because from the looks of it, Hue Jackson (current OC) is the top choice for the job. He is the reason DMC went from bust to beast in 2010!

    And for jzak, don’t worry…I have Rice in at 6th, so you can sleep easy at night knowing how close he is to my top 5! lol

  15. Jay-Mo

    @Mike – “Rice really didn’t have an appreciable increase in red zone looks in December according to the numbers.”

    Can you direct me to a website with these numbers? I’d like to see them. I’m curious, because watching the Ravens games I could swear he was in the lineup more often in the red zone than he used to be.


  16. Krause

    A little off topic… Does anyone think Ryan Grant will be the same runner next year as he used to be or will his knee injury hamper his production?

  17. Joe

    Actually my bad jzak, it seems it was actually jay-mo with the Rice-on…

  18. Joe

    @Joe: also jay-mo, would you agree that there is a difference between “redzone” and “goal line” rushes? Plus who are your top 5? Just curious.

  19. Mike

    Ray Rice 3 0 2 1 5 4 0 Bye 9 2 7 1 1 2 10 4 5 Total 56

    Copied from fantasyguys.com

    Sorry the copy and paste format isn’t very good, but it’s the number of RedZone “looks” for Ray Rice per week. A “look” is ANY chance to score, including carries, targets, or passes. So I’m giving him his maximum numbers.

  20. Jay-Mo

    @Joe Yes, there is a difference and yes, my opinion weighed more on red zone touches. However, I remember seeing Rice in a couple of goaline situations, which is something he was never in before. That’s why I would like to see something that has stats on that. I would be helpful for other RB exvaluations too.

    I was only offering insight to those who may be down on Rice because of the McGahee factor. I’m thinking, from what I’ve seen toward the end of the year, the McGahee factor will be less of a roadblock than in ’10 and ’09.

    Just look at Sunday. Rice had 12 opportunities to potentially score. I believe that’s a good opportunity, better than what you could expect Tennessee and Minnesota to have next season with major QB issues?

    Yes, Johnson and Peterson are far more explosive than Rice, but I’d rather rely on red zone possessions than hoping my RB1 breaks a long run.

    On Sunday it ended up Rice had five touches and scored on one. I’m very confident if the game was close, he would’ve been in there for those last four red zone possessions and might have gotten that 4-and-1 carry from the 25 that McGahee got, which would’ve gave him two TDs.

    I dunno, it’s all hindsight. I do appreciate your maturity in resorting to name-calling. Good touch and good reflection on your opinions. I never said Rice was the No. 1 back for 2011.

    Hmm, I guess as of January of 2011 I’d scratch down a rough draft list of:

    1.Arien Foster
    2.Chris Johnson
    3.Ray Rice
    4.Adrian Peterson
    5.Michael Turner

    The reason I’m not more confident in Charles and McFadden is Hue jackson becomes head coach, will also be going through an OC adjustment, but more importantly neither team will have the benefit of playing the NFC West next year (check out what these guys did against those teams) and will have tougher schedules, no Cleveland or Buffalo to pad stats this time around.

    Will either of them suck, no, I’d just rather pick these five guys before them.

  21. Jay-Mo

    @Mike Thanks, appreciate it!

  22. Jay-Mo

    Wow, my graph got really eaten up.

    The reason I’m not more confident in Charles and McFadden is the Chiefs are losing Charlie Weis, and if/when Hue jackson becomes head coach, the Raiders will still be going through an OC adjustment, but more importantly neither team will have the benefit of playing the NFC West next year (check out what these guys did against those teams) and will have tougher schedules, no Cleveland or Buffalo to pad stats this time around.

  23. Jay-Mo

    Dude @Mike fantasyguys.com is a porn site.

  24. Mike

    And let me note:

    Jamal Charles had 8 TD’s in only 26 redzone “looks” 30.8%
    Darren McFadden had 10 TD’s in 38 redzone “looks” 26.3%
    Arien Foster had 18 TD’s in 83 redzone “looks” 21.7%
    Chris Johnson had 12 TD’s in 55 redzone “looks” 21.8%
    Adrian Peterson had 13 TD’s in 47 redzone “looks” 27.7%
    Peyton Hillis had 13 TD’s in 51 redzone “looks” 25.5%
    Maurice Jones-Drew had 7 TD’s in 45 redzone “looks” 15.5%
    Ray Rice had 6 TD’s in 56 redzone “looks” 10.7%

    Now what EXACTLY these numbers mean are certain guys on that list have a much higher probability of scoring when they are targeted or given a carry in the end zone, or have a better chance of scoring on big plays from outside the redzone (which I’ve referred to as being “dynamic”). The numbers are obviously influenced by productivity of the player, hig big play potential, productivity of the team, and by where in the redzone guys are called on to get the ball.

    Seriously, take some time to digest those numbers. Jamal Charles scored THREE TIMES as often per play opportunity given to him in the redzone than Ray Rice. Rice was FAR behind ALL top back by a wide margin. So it shows pretty clearly an inability for Rice to create big plays, get the job done in the redzone and/or the Ravens using him more from the 10 out than the 5 in.

    Oh, and one more guy just as a point of reference on Rice:

    Willis McGahee 6 TD’s in 30 redzone “looks” 20.0%

    Just something to chew on and think about

  25. Mike

    And BTW Jaymo, the numbers suggest that Rice needs FAR MORE redzone looks that ALL the other backs in order to score an equal amount. I don’t just want guys who get an opportunity, I want guys who get the opportunities and have shown an ability to capitalize on those chances. I was honestly shocked by the total redzone looks Rice had, but even MORE shocked at his inefficiency with them!

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