NFL Fantasy Preview: 2010 Running Back Rankings

adrian peterson vs. chris johnson

Throughout the final two week before the 2010 NFL season kicks off, we here at Total Pro Sports will be giving all of you fantasy football junkies a bit of help before your draft, including rankings at each position, sleepers, busts and other important tips to make this fantasy season a successful one.  Today we start with the running back position.

Each year it seems more and more like the NFL is turning into a run-n’-gun league, leaving several fantasy owners with the desire to stack up on quarterbacks and receivers, while leaving their running back cupboard rather bare.  There is no doubt in my mind that the quarterback and receiver positions have increased in fantasy value due to the sudden rise of the passing game, but running backs are still the foundation of a fantasy team…as long as you have two solid ones, of course.  Sure the days of a featured running back on every team are over, but that only makes it so much more important to get yourself one, or two, of those workhorse backs that are still remaining in this era of the “running back by committee.”  Let’s face it.  If you can get yourself two solid running backs on your roster, it can be the difference between fantasy glory, or an early exit and a whole lot of headaches.

Here is a breakdown of this year’s top 50 fantasy running backs, with a quick outlook on each, and projected stats in 2010 for the top 30 (via the fantasy experts).

Other Positions: Quarterbacks | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Kickers & Defenses

The Elite:

1.  Chris Johnson, TEN340 ATT, 1750 RuYds, 13 RuTDs, 50 Rec, 500 ReYds, 3 TDs

It will be hard for Johnson to duplicate his statistical output from last year, but he should remain as a top-flight fantasy running back in the 2010 season.  At 24 years of age, his legs are still fresh and don’t expect the 2000 yard rushing curse to slow him down.  Another two-thousand yards rushing?  Probably not, but I do expect over 2000 total yards from the NFL’s top playmaker.  Draft him with confidence as the first overall pick in your draft.

2.  Adrian Peterson, MIN325 ATT, 1670 RuYds, 15 RuTDs, 40 Rec, 400 RecYds, 2 TDs

If it isn’t Chris Johnson being taken first overall, it should be Adrian Peterson.  His yardage totals were not what they could have been last year, but he made up for it with 18 rushing touchdowns.  With Brett Favre back under center, teams will be less content to play with eight men in the box against the Vikings, leaving more holes for Peterson to run through, and he will once again establish himself as a top running back in the NFL.  With Chester Taylor out of the picture, expect him to see even more passes thrown his way as well.

The Top Tier:

3.  Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC320 Att, 1480 RuYds, 14 RuTDs, 50 Rec, 425 ReYds, 2 ReTDs

Jones-Drew may be entering the 2010 season with some knee issues, but it looks as though it is not serious, and will only end up giving the Jags workhorse back some extra rest prior to what should be another big season for the 25-year-old.  With most of the Jags’ offense revolving around MJD, there is plenty of potential for this mini-tank to improve on an already impressive 2009 stat line.

4.  Ray Rice, BAL280 Att, 1490 RuYDs, 9 RuTDs, 75 Rec, 715 ReYds, 3 Re TDs

After a breakout performance in 2009, Ray Rice will be ready to give fantasy owners an encore in 2010.  He is a strong, shifty back who excels in the passing game.  He tallied 2041 total yards last year and with a strong offensive line in front of him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him surpass that total this season.  His only downfall is the presence of Willis McGahee.  But trust me.  The Ravens know who their number one back is…Ray Rice.

5.  Michael Turner, ATL340 Att, 1600 RuYds, 15 TDs, 18 Rec, 150 ReYds, 1TD

After an outstanding 2008 campaign, Turner was a big disappointment in 2009.  However, word out of the Falcons camp is that the man they call “The Burner” has rededicated himself and is entering the 2010 NFL season in the best shape ever.  He has once again found that extra gear, leading many to believe that we could once again see the Turner from two seasons ago.

6.  Frank Gore, SF290 Att, 1325 RuYds, 12 TDs, 50 Rec, 400 ReYds, 2 TDs

The only question mark with Gore over the past few seasons has been his ability (or should we say, inability) to stay healthy.  He has missed two games in the past two seasons, and although that does not seem like much, it can have great consequences in a 13 week fantasy season.  But with that being said, Gore is still a top flight fantasy running back who has the speed, strength and receiving skills to play every down for what should be an improved 49ers offense.  If he stays healthy, he can translate an easy schedule into an elite fantasy season.

The 2nd Tier:

7.  Ryan Matthews, SD280 Att, 1300 RuYds, 10 TDs, 35 Rec, 350 ReYds, 1 TD

He may only be a rookie, but Ryan Matthews will have to learn quick as the workhorse running back in a Norv Turner offensive system.  Turner has produced several elite fantasy backs, and Matthews is expected to be just another fantasy stud to come out of this running back-friendly system.  The Chargers didn’t trade up to take Matthews for nothing.  Expect them to place a heavy load on his shoulders, and this strong back should produce with some big numbers.

8.  Rashard Mendenhall, PIT280 Att, 1290 RuYds, 9TDs, 30 Rec, 300 ReYds, 1 TD

With Ben Roethlisberger behind center, the Steelers have become more of a passing team than what we have previously been accustomed to, but Big Ben is expected to miss at least the first four games of the 2010 season, so expect them to revert back to their running ways.  That is good news for Mendenhall, who should improve upon what was a rather strong statistical output last season.  With a year as the starter under his belt, expect the Illinois product to give the Steeletown fans the running back they have been waiting for since Jerome Bettis’ departure.

9.  Steven Jackson, STL310 Att, 1350 RuYds, 6 TDs, 50 Rec, $00 ReYds, 1 TD

If he were on almost any other team in the NFL, Steven Jackson could very well be a top 5 fantasy running back.  But the sad truth is that Jackson plays for the Rams, and he is also coming off back surgery in the off season, which should have owners second-guessing this all-purpose running back.  Jackson is one guy that I would advise to stay away from, but if he happens to be lurking around late in the second round, or early in the third, it may be hard to pass him up.

10.  Shonn Greene, NYJ290 Att, 1380 RuYds, 11 TDs, 10 Rec, 75 ReYds, 0 TDs

Last year Thomas Jones put up career numbers, but that didn’t stop the Jets from letting him go.  That has to tell you something about Shonn Greene.  Rex Ryan and company love what they have in this Michael Turner-like back, and they are expecting him to carry a giant load on a run-heavy team with an outstanding offensive line.  As long as he stays healthy, expect Greene to pile on the yards and touchdowns, even with LaDainian Tomlinson playing behind him.  After all, with the way the Jets run the ball, there will be plenty of fantasy points to go around.

11.  Cedric Benson, CIN320 Att, 1325 RuYds, 10 TDs, 15 Rec, 115 ReYds, 0 TDs

Benson was a big sleeper last season, but he was hampered by injuries down the stretch.  Fantasy owners will be hoping that history does not repeat itself in 2010.  With an improved passing game, you can expect the rushing lanes to open up even wider for Benson.  As long as he can stay healthy, it should be another big year for the Bengals big back.

12.  Jamaal Charles, KC225 Att, 1250 RuYds, 7 TDs, 50 Rec, 400 ReYds, 1 TD

Jamaal Charles may have very well been one of the top fantasy producers in the second half of last season.  His breakaway speed and ability to find the hole helped record touchdowns of 44, 47, 56 and 76 yards.  His skill-set is reminiscent of Chris Johnson and he comes into this season with a very similar situation to that experienced by C.John last year: a back-up that threatens to steal touchdowns (Thomas Jones for Charles and LenDale White for Johnson), a rather poor offensive team, but the speed and ability to make a big play at any time.  If he can turn out to be anything like Johnson, Charles will be one guy you will want to get your hands on.

13.  Jonathan Stewart, CAR210 Att, 1100 RuYds, 11 TDs, 20 Rec, 150 ReYds, 1 TD

It is a tough call when deciding between Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but I would have to give the slight edge to Stewart because of three factors: He tends to get more goalline work, he is younger, and he has not missed an NFL game due to an injury.  With DeAngelo expected to become a free agent next off-season, the Panthers will want to know what they have in Stewart, and they will likely be impressed with what they find (in case they already didn’t know after his 206 yard performance against the Giants in week 16 of last season).

14.  DeAngelo Williams, CAR220 Att, 1150 RuYds, 7 TDs, 30 Rec, 250 ReYds, 1 TD

Like I said above, it is difficult to separate Williams and Stewart, and while I do believe Stewart to be the more valuable of the two in 2010, I still feel that Williams has a lot left in the tank and will continue to provide solid RB2 fantasy numbers.  The Panthers will stay committed to the run, and there will be plenty of work for both backs.  With a career average of 5.1 yards per carry, expect DeAngelo to make the most of his opportunities and once again surpass the 1000 yard mark.

15.  Ryan Grant, GB270 Att, 1150 RuYds, 8 TDs, 25 Rec, 180 ReYds, 0 TDs

The Packers offense is expected to be one of the most explosive going into the 2010 season.  Much of that is because of their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, but running back Ryan Grant should also benefit from this high scoring offense.  A model for consistency, Grant is the perfect back to compliment a top flight fantasy runner like Johnson, Peterson, MJD or Ray Rice.  He will get his opportunities to run the ball in all areas of the field, and with no threat to his workload behind him, it should be yet another productive year for the Notre Dame product.

The 3rd Tier:

16.  Pierre Thomas, NO180 Att, 900 RuYds, 8 TDs, 36 Rec, 300 ReYds, 1 TD

With Lynell Hamilton done for the season and Mike Bell now with the Eagles, Pierre Thomas has two less backs to contend with for carries.  And playing in an outstanding Saints offense, there is plenty of potential for Thomas to improve upon his 2009 numbers.  Perhaps the only thing holding the fourth-year back from entering the 2nd tier of fantasy backs is the presence of Reggie Bush, who should see an increase in work after an impressive pre-season.

17.  Jahvid Best, DET210 Att, 1050 RuYds, 5 TDs, 40 Rec, 350 ReYds, 2 TDs

Best, much like the entire Lions offense, has some outstanding potential for a breakout year.  A tough division might make things difficult for the rookie out of Cal, but he has shown glimpses of what he is capable of in the pre-season.  His ability to break off a big run, and catch passes out of the back field has the Lions coaching staff giddy with joy.  There is no doubt that they will give him plenty of opportunities to succeed, and if he can stay healthy, expect him to do just that.

18.  Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG 200 Att, 1000 RuYds, 7 TDs, 20 Rec, 200 ReYds, 1 TD

Last year Bradshaw was able to outplay Brandon Jacobs in the Giants backfield, despite getting fewer carries and playing with fractures in both of his feet.  This season he should be healthy and will likely take over as the top back in New York.  His quickness and ability to find the hole are just a few reasons why you should be taking Bradshaw ahead of Jacobs in you fantasy draft.

19.  Joseph Addai, IND180 Att, 800 RuYds, 8 TDs, 30 Rec, 200 ReYds, 2 TDs

Joseph Addai may be seeing his workload diminish, but as long as he is the number one back in a potent Indy offense, you can always count on him to get his opportunities to punch it in from inside the red zone.  The Colts may be looking to see what they have in Donald Brown, but as long as Addai is in the mix, expect him to be Manning’s go-to guy in the backfield.

20.  LeSean McCoy, PHI220 Att, 920 RuYds, 4 TDs, 40 Red, 320 ReYds, 2 TDs

With Brian Westbrook out of the picture, the Eagles have handed the reins over to McCoy.  The only question now is whether he will be able to run with it.  There is no doubt that Andy Reid will use some of his stronger backs, like Leonard Weaver and Mike Bell, on the goalline, but McCoy should see the bulk of the work, and with a skill set reminiscent of Westbrook’s, fantasy owners will hope that he can produce in a similar manner.

21.  Arian Foster, HOU220 Att, 1000 RuYds, 6 TDs, 25 Rec, 200 ReYds, 0TDs

With Ben Tate out for the season and Steve Slaton having trouble holding onto the ball, Arian Foster appears to have taken a strangle hold on the top spot in the Texans backfield.  After a 110 yard performance in week three of the preseason against the Cowboys, it is clear that Foster is the man in Houston.  Although with Gary Kubiak at the helm, nothing is for sure.

22.  Ronnie Brown, MIA210 Att, 900 RuYds, 7 TDs, 25 Rec, 200 ReYds, 0 TDs

Ronnie Brown is one of those fantasy backs that has risk/reward written all over him.  If he stays healthy he can put up low-end RB1/high-end RB2 numbers.  However, that remains a big “if.”  Brown has missed almost half the year in two of his past three seasons.  Last year he looked great running behind a strong Miami offensive line, but suffered a lisfranc fracture in week nine and was done for the season.  He is expected to enter the 2010 season with a clean bill of health, but the big question will be whether he can keep it that way.

23.  Matt Forte, CHI210 Att, 950 RuYds, 4 TDs, 40 Rec, 300 ReYds, 0 TDs

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in fantasy football last season, Matt Forte enters 2010 looking to regain his 2008 form, when he recorded 1715 total yards and recorded 12 total touchdowns as a rookie.  With the Bears expected the throw the ball more under Mike Martz’s offensive scheme, and Chester Taylor now in the mix, Forte may not have as many opportunities to see the ball, but if he can prove that 2008 was no fluke, he may quickly become one of 2010’s biggest fantasy sleepers.

24.  Knowshon Moreno, DEN220 Att, 1000 RuYds, 5 TDs, 20 Rec, 150 ReYds, 0 TDs

The Broncos expect to place even more responsibility on the shoulders of Moreno after a decent rookie campaign, but things have not started out well for the Georgia product in his sophomore season as he suffered a hamstring injury during training camp. He is expected to be ready for week one, but with a depleted offense and a lingering injury concern, this may not be the breakout year for Moreno that many have been anticipating.

25.  Beanie Wells, ARI200 Att, 900 RuYds, 6 TDs, 15 Rec, 100 ReYds, 0 TDs

Much like Moreno, many are expecting Wells to break out in his second NFL season, but I would beg to differ.  Wells has continued to struggle with pass protection and has also had some troubles holding onto the ball in the preseason.  With a proven back in Tim Hightower threatening to cut into his workload, Wells will have little room for error.  Couple that together with the fact that teams may decided to stack the box against the Cards (due to their lack of a downfield threat at the quarterback position) and it could be a rough year for Wells.

26.  Felix Jones, DAL170 Att, 950 RuYds, 4 TDs, 15 Rec, 150 ReYds, 1 TD

The Cowboys’ backfield remains a big question mark going into the 2010 NFL season.  With Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice all looking for carries, this situation has “committee” written all over it.  Jones appears to be the best option, but a history of injuries has owners somewhat skeptical about his potential.  If he can stay on the field, expect him to get the ball and make some big plays with it, but if he misses half of the season with injuries, don’t be too surprised.

27.  Michael Bush, OAK 180 Att, 850 RuYds, 5 TDs, 15 Rec, 100 ReYds, 0TDs

The Raiders thought the future of their running game was solidified when they drafted Darren McFadden, but he has failed to live up to expectations and has struggled to stay on the field.  Last year Bush was able to take advantage of the situation and outplayed McFadden, giving the Raiders a reason to anoint him as their number one back.  With McFadden missing time due to an injury already, the stage was set for Bush to take over, but now he has a broken hand.  He may be able to go for week one, but this is certainly something owners should keep an eye on.  When healthy, Bush holds some major sleeper potential.

28.  Reggie Bush, NO100 Att, 480 RuYds, 4 TDs, 50 Rec, 500 ReYds, 2 TDs

Many people would label Reggie Bush as a bust, but I would suggest you don’t write off the 25-year-old back just yet.  The Saints looked poised to use the former Trojan often in the preseason, and he responded with some big performances.  With his playmaking skills, there is no doubt that Sean Payton will do everything he can to get the ball in the hands of Bush.  Don’t be surprised if this is the year that he truly breaks out in the fantasy world.

29.  C.J. Spiller, BUF140 Att, 650 RuYds, 4 TDs, 45 Rec, 380 ReYds, 2 TDs

Had he been drafted by a team other than the Bills, I would likely have Spiller up around the spot I placed Jahvid Best.  Unfortunately that was not the case, and Spiller will have to endure several years of playing within a terrible Bills offense.  They will still look to get him the ball as often as possible, and that is always a good thing for someone with Spiller’s skill set, but with teams zeroing in on him, he may have a tough time finding any openings.

30.  Clinton Portis, WSH140 Att, 600 RuYds, 6 TDs, 20 Rec, 150 ReYds, 0 TDs

With the additions of Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, the Redskins find themselves with a rather crowded backfield, but the bulk of the carries should still belong to Clinton Portis.  Mike Shanahan and Portis were able to put together some magic during their time in Denver, and while we don’t expect them to duplicate those statistical outputs, Portis could put up some nice numbers in what should be an improves Redskins offense.

And The Rest:

31.  Ricky Williams, MIA – A great handcuff for Ronnie Brown owners.  If Brown gets injured again (a very likely scenario), Williams will once again have the opportunity to shine.

32.  Justin Forset, SEA – He is expected to start in the Seahawks backfield, and if he can continue to find the holes like he did last season when given the opportunity, he may be able to put up some solid numbers against weaker opponents.

33.  Cadillac Williams, TB – This is one Cadillac that always seems to break down.  He was able to stay healthy for the entire season last year, but I wouldn’t count on him doing the same in 2010.

34.  Monterio Hardesty, CLE – The Browns drafted Hardesty with hopes that he will become their lead back.  An injury has slowed down that process, but he is expected to return for the beginning of the season and it may not be long before he is carrying the load.

35.  Thomas Jones, KC – Jamaal Charles is the man in Kansas City, but don’t forget about Thomas Jones.  At 32 years of age, he still has what it takes to make it in the NFL.  Last year he had a career year with the Jets.  While he likely will not do the same again in 2010, he should see plenty of work from the goal line.

36.  Marion Barber, DAL – Many people feel that it is Felix Jones’ turn to take over the Cowboys backfield, but a trimmed down Barber thinks otherwise.  He has managed to hold onto the starting job for now, and although he may lose that role at some point, he should still see most of the work on the goal line.

37.  Fred Jackson, BUF – Jackson showed last year that he can do it all in the Bills backfield.  He may miss a game or two due to a hand injury, but once he returns he should see his fair share of carries.  Only problem is that he still plays for the Bills.

38.  Jerome Harrison, CLE – Harrison was a monster at the end of last season, but that wasn’t enough to convince the Browns management as they went out and drafted Monterio Hardesty.  Harrison may start the season as the starter in the Browns backfield, but just don’t expect him to stay there long.

39.  LaDainian Tomlinson, NYJ – Greene is expected to be a workhorse back in New York, but with the way the Jets run the ball, there should be more than enough carries to go around.  With a great line in front of him, and some goal line carries, expect Tomlinson to put up some decent fantasy numbers.

40.  Steve Slaton, HOU – Another huge disappointment from the 2009 season, Slaton now finds himself in a back-up role.  He will get his opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield, but he simply can’t be trusted to hold onto the ball.

41.  Tim Hightower, ARI – This was expected to be the year that Hightower’s role diminishes in favor of Beanie Wells, but with Wells struggling early, Hightower may have one more year of fantasy relevance in him.

42.  Donald Brown, IND – With Joseph Addai in the last year of his contract, the Colts will want to see what they have in Donald Brown.  Expect him to get his fair share of opportunities to prove himself, and if he can impress his coaching staff, he may find himself with an increased workload in a strong Indy offense.

43.  Brandon Jacobs, NYG – Jacobs’ value has diminished as Bradshaw’s has increased, but that doesn’t mean the big bruising back can’t still make an impact.  If he can show that he still has something in him, he should see plenty of goal line duty.

44.  Leon Washington, NYJ – Forsett is expected to be the starter, but that is not set in stone.  Pete Carroll may look to give Washington the opportunity to step into the starters role, and if he can prove himself, his fantasy value should be much greater than initially expected.

45.  Larry Johnson, WSH – Given Portis’ injury history, Johnson may very well become a starting back sooner rather than later.  Something all fantasy owners should keep their eye on.

46.  Willis McGahee, BAL – Ray Rice will get most of the carries between the 20s, but it is McGahee who will get most of the goal line work.  And in a strong offense like Baltimore’s, than can translate into some big fantasy numbers.

47.  Kareem Huggins, TB – Many of you may be asking yourselves, “who is this guy?”  Well after a strong preseason, he has moved up the Bucs’ depth chart behind Cadillac for the starting job.  And given Cadillac’s inability to stay healthy, it may not be long before he is the go-to guy in Tampa.

48.  Chester Taylor, CHI – Taylor may find himself behind Forte on the depth chart, but he will get plenty of opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield in Mike Martz’s system.  And if Forte falters, it could be Taylor’s turn to shine.

49.  Laurence Maroney, NE – I hate New England running backs and I will likely never draft one.  But if you do plan on picking up on of these Patriots, Maroney is your guy.

50.  Darren McFadden, OAK – Much like the Patriots running backs, McFadden is also someone I would prefer to stay away from on draft day.  He has failed to live up to expectations and I don’t expect 2010 to be his turnaround year.

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