Tomorrow kicks off the preseason for the NFL. This means you should start looking into how you will be drafting your fantasy football team, if you haven’t already. Depending on where you are seeded in your pool is what kind of draft you make. Sometime being the first three picks can force you into choices you wouldn’t normally make. What I intend to do is look at each position and go down what I feel should be the first 15 players to go at that position. Today’s position is the one that is always the first to run thin, running backs. Now you may have the rankings a little different than what I have but no matter. These are the guys you want to have on your team due to the amount of work they get. If you are lucky enough to get two of them on your roster, congratulations! You are on your way to making the playoffs for your league.
*All statistics are courtesy of nfl.com
1. Adrian Peterson – What can be said about this kid. Even with the horrible passing game last year and playing on a bad flipper at one point, he just produces. He finished with 1,298 yards over 15 games. Peterson had 12 rushing touchdowns and one receiving with one fumble all year. If this isn’t a fantasy stud for running backs, I don’t know what is.
2. Arian Foster – Show of hands please. How many knew this kid off the practice squad would be the number one fantasy back last year? This kid was nothing short of amazing last season with several games over 120+ yards and multiple touchdown games. I was lucky enough to draft him last season after pick Forte. I can bet he will be going before Forte this year, and in some cases Peterson. Could there be a letdown this season? Of course there could be. 1,616 yards rushing, 604 yards receiving, and 18 total touchdowns I would think it would be hard to improve upon that performance.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew – After the stellar 2009 season, many fantasy owners felt that MJD had arrived and was poised to become a premier running back. Well, injuries and a lack luster offense killed MJD’s number and performance last season. Finishing with 1,324 rushing and seven total touchdowns, last year was a letdown for his owners. With the extended time off and some much needed R & R I look for MJD to have a bounce back year. Someone of his talents doesn’t have a poor performance back to back.
4. Jamal Charles – Going into his third season in Kansas City, last year was a make or break for Charles. Many in the league felt if he was going to continue to play in the NFL, he would need to step up and show he had the moxie. Jamal not only silenced his critics but went on to have his best season as a pro. Charles finished with 1,467 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns. A nice plus for owners was the 468 receiving he added to his stat line. Look for a lot more of the same from him but with a few more scores.
5. Ray Rice – As Joe Flacco has grown over the past two seasons, so has the amount of room Rice has had to work with. Yes, his yardage had dropped off from the previous year; 1,339 yard rushing in 2009 and 1,220 rushing in 2010. The thing to look for with any back is work load, and Rice was able to get the ball almost 50 more times over the season. When every carry means something, those extra touches could mean several wins over your season. Oh, by the way, did I mention he had zero fumbles?
6. LeSean McCoy – LeSean McCoy. Quick, great hands, nose for the end zone and deserved of the ranking I am giving him. With Vick having no worries on a quarterback controversy and a solid year under his belt with the offense, look for McCoy to benefit tremendously. Last season he had 1,080 yard rushing, 592 yard receiving, 9 total touchdowns and a couple of fumbles. If the Eagles can stay healthy, they could be the team coming out of the NFC to play for the championship.
7. Rashard Mendenhall – The biggest knock on Mendenhall is his quarterback. Sometimes Ben likes to force a ball in when they could easily pound the ball into the end zone. Still Mendenhall had 1,273 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. I would look for the same from him this season. No major changes have happen in Pittsburgh to affect his carries.
8. Frank Gore – Gore is a feast of famine back. The skills are there and in 2009 was one of the top scores in fantasy. Unfortunately for Gore the reason for his up and down performance is based on the San Francisco team. Too many times were the 49ers playing from behind. Having to put the ball in the air will cut into the carries and hurt his production. Is he still a top ten back? If he wasn’t I wouldn’t list him here but it is a buyer beware. Last years number; 853 yards rushing, 452 yards receiving, and five total touchdowns. In 2009 Gore hit the end zone thirteen times.
9. Michael Turner – Since coming from San Diego to Atlanta in 2008, Turner has truly been “The Burner”. Unless he is injured, Turner consistently finds the end zone. Over his past three seasons Turner has 17, 10, 12 touchdowns. Don’t look for him to be a threat receiving out of the backfield though. He has not had a receiving touchdown in Atlanta and his receiving yards are nonexistent.
10. Darren McFadden – After struggling with injuries 2008 and 2009 seasons it was nice to see what a fairly healthy McFadden can do. With his most productive season to date at 1,157 yards rushing and 507 yard receiving some were able to get him drafted in the late rounds last year. Not this year folks. Look for more production this season as McFadden has become acclimated to the offense. Darren has ten total touchdowns last season.
11. Steven Jackson – I’m sure I’m going to take heat for this one from Rams fans but you are watching the final good days of Jackson. Multiple injuries over multiple seasons and an offense that is finding a new identity are a mixture for poor numbers. I’m not saying Jackson won’t get his yardage. He hit 1,241 yards rushing and six touchdowns. I am looking at a young quarterback in Bradford who proved he can handle the load with 590 attempts and a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels that like to air it out.
12. Matt Forte – Probably one of the most frustrating backs to own. There are games when he is brilliant and then there are those games where he should be brilliant but barely makes the stat sheet. So why would I place him here? Everyone likes a gamble! Besides, he does get a lion’s share of the workload in Chicago for now and is always a threat to break one on a screen pass.
13. Ryan Mathews – With the departure of Sproles to New Orleans, Mathews is now the man in San Diego. This will be his second year and if he can stay healthy, the potential upside is huge. With the limited action he did see, Mathews put up seven touchdowns and 678 yards rushing. With the open offense that San Diego runs, look for a 1,000 yard season with nine of more total touchdowns.
14. Peyton Hillis – With Cleveland limited on weapons, Hillis is the best choice to get them scoring points. With a couple of lackluster years in Denver his coming to Cleveland was a breath of fresh air for him. Yes I used Cleveland and fresh air in the same sentence, allow me to explain why. Hillis put up 13 touchdowns which was more than he had in both years in Denver. 1,177 yards on the ground and 477 in the air crushed all his other totals. Down side other than playing in Cleveland is his inability to secure the ball at times. Hillis coughed up the ball eight times last season.
15. Chris Johnson – Nope, not crazy so don’t ask. Yes, I just placed the same back that put up over 2,000 yards rushing in 2009 in spot 15. I would have left him off all together if I didn’t think he will get a deal done before the season starts. If Tennessee can come to terms with Johnson, you can shift him right up to number three. I still like Foster due to the offense. Unless I am missing something Tennessee is in turmoil. There is a new coach and the quarterback situation is still off. If Tennessee is going to win games, Johnson will need to carry them and the defenses will know that.
Agree or disagree, these are the top of the heap. I will bet all of these guys will be gone no later than the third round. Feel free to comment below if you think I’m off on this, which I’m not. Next breakdown will be the wide receivers, my favorite. See you soon!