Fantasy Football 2011 Preview: Running Backs

The start of the 2011 NFL season is only a few weeks away, and that means fantasy football owners everywhere should be preparing themselves for their upcoming drafts if they hope to make a strong run for their league’s title this year.  We here at know that it is important to get an edge on your opponents prior to draft day, and we want to give you that edge with our Fantasy Football position-by-position previews.

Today we take a look at the running back position.

The Top 10:

1. Adrian Peterson, MIN – When it comes to a sure thing at the running back position, it doesn’t get much more sure than Adrian Peterson.  He has finished second in fantasy points among running backs in the past two seasons and he’s recorded at least 1500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his four seasons in the NFL, including 1639 total yards and 13 TDs last season.

2. Arian Foster, HOU – Anyone who took the chance on Arian Foster last season was rewarded with fantasy football’s top point producer, as the Tennessee product recorded 2220 total yards and 18 touchdowns.  Duplicating that performance could be tough, but even without fullback Vonte Leach, we still expect Foster to have another monster season in a potent Texans offense.

3. Chris Johnson, TEN – After recording 2006 rushing yards, 503 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns in 2009, CJ2k regressed a bit with only 1364 rushing yards, 245 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns in 2010.  It will be tough for Johnson to duplicate his production from 2009 again, but with Matt Hasselbeck under center, we expect him to improve upon his already impressive 2010 numbers this season.

4. Ray Rice, BAL – The Baltimore Ravens lost Willis McGahee, but they picked up Ricky Williams and fullback Vonte Leach.  While Williams may steal some goal line work, reports out of Ravens camp are that Rice is expected to get an increase in his goal line carries this season.  That could mean big things for the Rutgers product who recorded 1776 total yards last season and 2041 total yards in 2009, but has yet to put up double-digit touchdowns.

5. Jamaal Charles, KC – After breaking out during the second half of the 2009 NFL season, Jamaal Charles asserted himself as a top 5 running back in 2010, as his 1935 total yards and 8 total touchdowns placed him third in fantasy points among running backs.  Look for his workload to increase this season, which could mean big things for a player who averaged 6.4 yards per carry last season.

6. LeSean McCoy, PHI – McCoy showed that he can be a great duo-threat back and a hot commodity in PPR leagues last season when he recorded 78 receptions for 592 yards.  While the likes of Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Ronnie Brown are all expected to eat into McCoy’s opportunities with the ball, his 5.2 yards per carry average from last season and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield still make him a valuable piece in a high-powered Eagles offense.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT -Mendenhall may not factor into the Steelers passing game, but that isn’t a big deal when you can record 1273 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.  As long as Big Ben is around to take the Steelers down the field, you can expect the Illinois alum to get plenty of opportunities to punch it in from the goal line and record double-digit touchdowns once again.

8. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC – Despite playing through injuries and missing the final two games of last season, Maurice Jones-Drew still managed to put up 1641 total yards and seven touchdowns.  Some people believe he is on the decline at this point in his career, but we should probably remind you that MJD is only 26-years-old.  With his injury hopefully behind him, look for Jones-Drew to have plenty left in the tank as he finishes in the top 10 in fantasy points this season.

9. Michael Turner, ATL – Turner is coming off a 334-carry season.  The last time he had over 300 carries, his following season was plagued with injuries.  That is a concern heading into the 2011 season, but with a high-powered offense like the Falcons, it will be hard to avoid taking a touchdown machine like Turner.

10. Darren McFadden, OAK – Just when everyone thought McFadden would turn out to be a bust, he broke out with 1664 total yards and 10 touchdowns in only 13 games during his third season in Oakland.  Some may be worried that he could be a one-hit wonder, but that doesn’t concern us.  Big things were expected out of him coming out of college, and at the age of 23 it appears as though he is finally ready to step up.

Three Sleepers:

Ryan Grant, GB – Grant was injured in the first game of last season and missed the rest of the 2010 NFL campaign.  After watching his club go on to win the Super Bowl, you can bet he will be motivated to get back to work and reestablish himself as the Packers top running back.  Two seasons ago he rushed for over 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns.  It isn’t unreasonable to think that he can do that once again while playing in the Packers’ potent offense.  That is, of course, if he can regain the starter’s role.

Mark Ingram, NO – It is never easy to break into the league as a rookie at the running back position, but Ingram has a very favorable situation in front of him.  The Saints love what he brings to the table and he will certainly get his opportunities to punch it in from the goal line in New Orleans.  If he can stay on the field, I don’t see why he can’t put up double-digit touchdowns in his rookie year.

Tim Hightower, WSH – You have to think that Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan loves the fact that Hightower can run hard, catch the ball and pass protect.  He may not have the starting spot under his belt just yet, but we think he will by the time the season starts.  And with the quarterback situation in Washington looking a little sketchy, that could mean plenty of rushing and check-down opportunities for the former Arizona Cardinals back.

Two Busts:

Ryan Mathews, SD – Mathews had plenty of hype heading into last season, but he was rather disappointing, missing four games due to injury and losing the starting job to Mike Tolbert.  Now word has it that Mathews has struggled to pass some rather easy conditioning tests in training camp.  That is never a good thing for a running back with his size.  Be cautious when drafting Mathews this season.  If you aren’t he could end up disappointing you once again.

Matt Forte, CHI – Forte is a great pass-catcher out of the backfield, but he struggles mightily on the goal line.  With the addition of Marion Barber and Chester Taylor still in the mix, that could spell the end of Forte’s goal line opportunities, which should decrease his touchdowns and fantasy points.  Forte will still be a serviceable back, especially in PPR leagues, but don’t expect him to finish among the top 15 running backs in fantasy points this season.

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