It's all about the matchups.
That's the reality of fantasy football. Your players are only as good as the defense they are playing against. So while we rank running backs by their expected potential, we should also keep in mind something a little more predictable:
Strength of schedule.
There are a number of variables to consider when analyzing strength of schedule based on running production: How good was the opposing defense last year? How many fantasy points per game did they allow? What has changed since? Is it a game that the host team can win? Will they build a lead and run the clock out or will they be playing from behind and abandon the run completely?
I applied those factors to the average draft position of all running backs and developed a top 10 list. From there, I studied their respective matchups and ranked them based on potential minus toughness of schedule.
So, while the crew over at ESPN has Maurice Jones-Drew ranked as their fourth overall running back, I have him ranked much lower.
The general outline of these rankings isn't based solely on strength of schedule. If that were the case, Michael Turner would probably be towards the top, as the Falcons face a lot of teams that last year struggled against the run. Rather, this is a list that considers talent plus the upside of a friendlier schedule.
And, as always, the purpose of this exercise is to win championships. If you're struggling to decide which running back to draft (especially in the first round), this should help you get off of the bubble.