Yes, it’s a passing league, as I said in the Top 10 Quarterbacks post, but there are still running back studs who dominate games in the NFL and fantasy alike.
Some of the rankings on this non-PPR Top-20 list really came from out of nowhere. So, are the surprises keepers for 2010? Should Cedric Benson be picked as a Top-20 running back in 2010? Let’s discuss some backs:
Chris Johnson — The case has already been made about him being the No. 1 pick in 2010, and he did everything in his power to make that argument stand up through the end of the season. Dude averaged 25 points per game in non-PPR leagues. In comparison, Adrian Peterson averaged 19 and Maurice Jones-Drew averaged 18.43.
Adrian Peterson — While he was the second greatest running back in the land and amassed 303 points, Peterson did not live up to some expectations. Blame Brett Favre. But when a fresh Peterson rushes for two bills today against the Cowboys, the Vikings decision to not run their superstar running back into the ground will look great in the real NFL. If you can’t bring yourself to pick Johnson with the first pick, or you get the second selection, you’ve gotta take Peterson.
Maurice Jones-Drew — For some owners, MJD’s 2009 season will be remembered for that questionable knee he took at the goal line with his team still trailing. He thought he was making a smart play, running down the clock, but you’ve gotta put points on the board. MJD will also be remembered for mixing monstrous performances with mediocre ones. But I wouldn’t write your team off if you reach for MJD at No. 1 in 2010.
Ray Rice — What a sleeper Rice was. Those of you who drafted early and got him as cheap as a bag of rice at your local grocery store, reaped massive rewards, especially after they stopped with the whole Willis McGahee at the goal line stuff. I can’t wait to see where he goes in next year’s drafts.
Thomas Jones — Used to be that 30-year-old running backs were decrepit old men. Jones laughs at that and continues to put his naysayers in their place. He averaged 16 points and scored a total of 259. He’ll be 32 during the 2010 season. He’s too old to keep it up, right? Keep thinking that and ninjas will keep drafting him as a RB2 with RB1 production until he actually slows down.
Frank Gore — He scored just 0.40 points over the course of three weeks leading up to the 49ers bye week. If he scored his average, 15+ points, over those three weeks he would have finished with 296 or so points. That’s more than MJD or Ray Rice. Owners always draft Gore and hold their breath until injury strikes because the six or seven 20+ point games every year are really nice.
Ricky Williams — Like Rice, Williams was an unbelievable value in 2009. Nobody drafted him expecting a 14 points per game average. The interesting thing is that he was good even before Ronnie Brown got hurt. The more interesting thing is that he’s a year and three months older than that old guy Thomas Jones. Like Jones, Williams will be undervalued (again) despite his final ranking this year. However, he’s not a top-10 back in 2010 either.
Steven Jackson — As great as Jackson is, his 2009 season will be remembered for the donut he put up on championship weekend. For months (it seemed) his last name was Jackson Q (back), but he played anyway. Not during your Super Bowl. He’ll be a top-10 pick in 2010 and he deserves it. If the Rams improve incrementally and any part of the team takes pressure off this superstar back he could put up a monster season.
Ryan Grant — His several great weeks were mixed with several mediocre ones. Jay-Mo thinks he doesn’t have more than two years left. I argue that he could have one or two more than that. He’ll be 28 on Dec. 9, but his legs aren’t as worn as most 28-year-old backs because he’s only had three years as a starting running back in the NFL. In other words, he’s the next Thomas Jones.
Jonathan Stewart — The final back in the top-10 is easily one of the most exciting to watch in all of football. He scored 33 points in your championship game and 29 in your semifinal contest. How the team handles their stud running backs, don’t forget about DeAngelo Williams, will determine their final value. If Matt Moore remains the starting quarterback, or if they bring in an upgrade over him, both backs will easily fit in the top-20 in 2010.
Jamaal Charles — Solid from Week 10 on and great from Week 14 on, Jamaal Charles should be high on everyone’s lists in 2010. His performance over the final seven weeks smells of Top-3 running back material. Another back that should be picked in some interesting spots in 2010.
Cedric Benson — One of the Platinum Shuriken MVP candidates who just missed the cut, Benson really started strong out of the gate, rewarding players for taking a chance and drafting him as a top-20 back. There’s no reason to believe his performance will decline considerably in 2010, so count him as a Top-20 back.
Joseph Addai — He fell and fell some more in early mock drafts, but Addai didn’t lose as many carries to Donald Brown as the haters said he would. Top-13? That’s a No. 1 RB in deep leagues. Donald Brown didn’t show enough to make us think otherwise, so we’ll keep him in the top-15 for next year.
Rashard Mendenhall — The Steelers have to get completely right if we want Mendenhall to show what he can really do. Is he the guy who broke out for 36 points against the Chargers in Week 4 or is he the guy who managed just 7 points against the Browns in playoff week 1?
DeAngelo Williams — Had Matt Moore been the starter earlier, we’d probably be talking about the Panthers in the playoffs this weekend. They are blessed with some serious offensive talent, including Williams, who averaged 12 points per week despite scoring just 16 points over the final six weeks.
Fred Jackson — Jackson’s better than Marshawn Lynch. He averaged 11 points per game, but most of his success can be attributed to his three 20+ point games. If the Bills make the right choices, he could return to the top-20 in 2010, but I have a feeling he’s the least likely out of all these backs to make a return.
Matt Forte — Hey, shhhh. Forte really wasn’t that bad. In fact, maybe we overestimated his worth after his rookie season in 2008. Jay Cutler’s going to get better and the Bears are going to score some points in 2010. Forte moves up a couple spots, probably into the top-10 in 2010. You can write it down if you want, but it’s right here in white and black.
Jerome Harrison — Hey, one bonus about him not being used all season then breaking a team record: There’s no way Eric Mangini will be able to keep him out of the lineup in 2010. He could easily finish as a top-10 running back next year.
Knowshon Moreno — Remember those rookies from 2008? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen in 2009 — probably won’t happen in 2010 either. That was a special group, but at least we got Moreno this year. He and Beanie Wells will be linked forever because of their draft class. Round 1 goes to Moreno, and thus he’ll probably have a higher rank in 2010, but I can’t wait for Round 2.
Michael Turner — So, there’s this curse about running backs who get 6,812 carries in a season and how they get hurt or disappoint the following season. The 2009 preseason poster boy for that rule was Michael Turner. Yeah, he finished in the top-20, but only scored four total points in the final 7 weeks. It says on this report that his overworked knee and ankle were limiting him. Note: No running back reached the “Curse of 370” mark in 2009. However, Chris Johnson led the league with 358 carries and also had 50 catches for 408 total touches. What about 2010? You’ll pay pay for a top-20 back to get Turner in 2010, and that’s closer to his real value. He was overpriced in 2009.