It's time to roll out my top 5 fantasy running backs for the 2010 fantasy season. For those of you that have been reading my Quarterback and Wide Receiver rankings, you know that I don't just join the popular crowd. When it comes to elite running backs though, the top 4 guys are hard not to figure out. I might have them scuffled around differently, but those top 4 have all the key ingredients in place to be elite again this year. They all have solid offensive lines, they all get the bulk of the carries, and they all are big contributors in the receiving game as well. Most people haven't completed their fantasy draft yet. I usually suggest not having your draft until after the 3rd preseason at the earliest. Frankly, it is the 4th preseason game where you can really find some depth for your team. You'll usually see talent jumping off the screen in this game because this is where everyone left in camp not guaranteed a spot is fighting for one. I'll give you a couple names of some possible deep steals that you can watch for in the last preseason game. Now, let's get to the Top 5...
5) Ryan Grant - 2009 Stats - 1,253 Yds, 11 TD's, 4.4 Avg.
Grant is a bigger back with speed and size. He had a solid season last year and if he stays healthy, I believe he should surpass that in 2010. Green Bay could have the number one passing attack in 2010 and they have a lot of receiving threats that the opposing defense has to defend against. Ryan should get favorable matchups in the receiving game as well as coming out of the backfield. The top defenders will have their hands filled with guarding receivers like Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and a great pass catching tight end in Jermichael Finley. Ryan gets the bulk of the carries as well so he doesn't have to worry about coming out of the game in the red zone or splitting the reps like DeAngelo Williams or Ronnie Brown do.
4) Ray Rice - 2009 Stats - 1,339 Yds, 7 TD's, 5.3 Avg.
The toughest decision with putting Ray Rice in the top 5 was whether he would go 3 or 4. The reason for the dilemma is that Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew are real similar "bowling ball" type running backs. Some of the pressure will be taken off of Rice in 2010 thanks to Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco getting new toys in wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. The Ravens also drafted two young tight ends in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. This will be the first season that Flacco has had an allotment of receiving threats. Rice comes in behind MoJo through because he also shares the backfield with Willis McGahee, Leron McClain, and Jalen Parmele. He still gets the majority of the carries but they will eat into some of his fantasy points.
3) Maurice Jones-Drew - 2009 Stats - 1,391 Yds, 15 TD's, 4.5 Avg.
MoJo is just a real physical runner. He's small, but packs a huge punch. He can hide behind those huge offensive linemen and then just burst out for a long gain. He's also a big threat out of the backfield in the receiving game. I'm not a big believer in the Jaguar's quarterback, David Garrard, but MoJo has proven that he can carry this team on his back. He has a young, very talented back behind him in Rashad Jennings, but they usually only use him to spell Jones-Drew. MoJo is the number one red zone threat on this team. They rather pound it on the ground than go to Garrard's arm.
2) Adrian Peterson - 2009 Stats - 1,383 Yds, 18 TD's, 4.4 Avg.
Adrian could easily be the number one fantasy back. He's a monster running the ball. He has a nose for the end zone and seems to step up his intensity the closer he gets to the end zone. The two things that keep him at number two to me is the fumbling problem and can he stay healthy with his violent running style. I also wonder if Brett Favre can keep defenses from stacking up the box against A.D. I know Favre had the season of his life last year, but I'm not that confident that the 41 year old Favre he can be that dominant two years in a row.
1) Chris Johnson - 2009 Stats - 2,006 Yds, 14 TD's, 5.6 Avg.
First off, no. I don't believe that Chris Johnson will become CJ2K this year, however that doesn't mean that I don't think he'll have a good year. I can see him running for 1,700 or 1,800 yards this season. My feeling is that I would expect to see him have more receiving yards this year, and perhaps not enhancing on his already high bar he's established for rushing numbers. CJ's stats shot up after VY started being his QB last year. Now with having Young in place the whole season, you can only expect him to stay firm as the number one back. There's really no reason to over analyze it...He's simply the best back in the NFL!
Just miss Top 5
Jamaal Charles averaged 5.9 yards a carry last season. He could easily be in the top 5 if you fell like Todd Haley wouldn't screw up a good thing and if Thomas Jones doesn't take away a lot of the reps.
LeSean McCoy is in almost the same situation as Ryan Grant. He has a lot of talent around him to take the pressure off him. He's also a very young and talented back.
Frank Gore always puts up top notch numbers, but he has a tendency to get hurt quite often missing the amount of carries it would take to get him near the top. Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon will also play a part in Gore's numbers not being as high in 2010.
Michael Turner had a down year last season, but should bounce back strong. He's cut in the mold of a Ray Rice/MoJo type back. If he's completely healthy, then he might give those two a run for top "bowling ball" back this year.
DeAngelo Williams would easily be my number three fantasy back if he didn't split carries with Jonathan Stewart.
Question Mark Backs
Cedric Benson could burn you this year. He's not the safe pick everyone is making him out to be. He seems like he might be complacent and Bernard Scott seems to be the more dynamic back between them. Come mid-season; don't be surprised if Scott is the starter.
Steven Jackson is on most people's top five. My only problem with him is that the Rams run him into the ground. The life expectancy of a NFL running back isn't that long. Jackson has already played several careers based on the way they use him.
2nd Year Backs
Arian Foster will be a steal in most fantasy leagues. He's got great speed and size and runs perfect for the zone scheme.
Knowshon Moreno has caught up to NFL game speed. He'll have a breakout year if he can get and stay healthy.
Shonn Green had a solid year in 2009, but LT will hurt him in fantasy this year.
Beanie Wells doesn't have enough weapons around him and Tim Hightower will cut into half his reps.
Jahvid Best will be the number one rookie back. I know everyone is picking Ryan Matthews, but Best's style will give NFL defenses fits.
Ryan Matthews is going to get the bulk of the workload in San Diego and he'll be solid until he hits the rookie wall. His second half of the season will be vastly worst than the first half.
CJ Spiller is the most talented back in this class. Unfortunately, he went to a team with no quarterback and the worst o-line. He's going to blow your mind in a lot of games, but he won't put up the numbers like Best and Matthews in 2010.
Montario Hardesty is on a team with a lot of depth at running back. If he can stay healthy and beats out Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis, and James Davis, then he should have a solid year.
Reggie Bush will show this year why he was the number two overall pick in 2006.
Michael Bush will start in Oakland and have Raider's fans forgetting about Darren McFadden.
Justin Forsett and Leon Washington are going to become the new dynamic duo in the zone running scheme in Seattle.
Willis McGahee looks to be in the best shape of his life. If he gets traded to a team that will give him reps, jump on him.
One Injury Away
Rashad Jennings will be a household name if MoJo goes down.
Chris Henry will be a top back in Houston, if Arian Foster gets injured, not Steve Slaton.
Bernard Scott is a solid fantasy player. They just need to get Cedric Benson out of the way.
DJ Ware has a tough ladder to climb. He has Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs ahead. Jacobs seems to get injured every year. So, if Bradshaw goes down, then the empire state will make Ware overnight success.
You don't have to take my advice, you could simply go with the most popular fantasy trends and recommendations or follow the most popular pundits and talking heads picks, but then you'll just be watching your friends in the fantasy playoffs.....
P.S. - Dr. Roto will be kicking off his NFL Fantasy Football coverage with a live podcast this Friday night at 10pm EST. If you would like to participate and be "On the Air," the number to call in is (646) 915-9367. For you baseball only fantasy types, never fear as Dr. Roto will continue is year round coverage of Fantasy Baseball as well.- Jayson Braddock
Jayson appears on Sports Radio 790 AM in Houston, TX once a week as the football insider on the Dylan Gwinn show. He's a graduate of the Sports Management World Wide Football GM & Scouting Course and has been mentored by former NFL player / executive John Wooten and Sporting News.com NFL Draft Expert Russ Lande. His work is mostly appreciated by die-hard fans interested in every little detail about their team and not just watered down mainstream talk.
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