2009 Fantasy Running Backs: the Best, the Worst, and the Sleepers

Daniel MaderContributor IMay 19, 2009

Running backs are indisputably the most important weapons to have on fantasy teams. They receive the most points in both receiving and rushing, since typically, NFL teams are reliant on running backs to create a bulk of the offensive production.

Over the last decade, however, teams have used the strategy for multiple running backs in a rotation rather than utilizing a single, featured back. Anybody who has played fantasy football in this time period realizes the headache this has created for fantasy owners.

Below, I will try to lessen the stress by giving you my best, worst, and sleeper picks for this year.


Top Five

1. Adrian Peterson

AP is unanimously the number-one back this year. The Vikings have a good offensive line, and besides the Bears, nobody else in their division has a very good defense.

Not only does Peterson produce an abundance of yardage and touchdowns, but he is a main target in the passing game as well. He is a two-headed monster when it comes to scoring fantasy points.

2. Deanglo Williams 

Williams can't be denied of his production last season. He had over 1,500 yards rushing and 18 TD's, making him the backbone of the Carolina Panthers offense. I expect nothing to change this season.

Williams may even be better off this year. The Saints defense is dismal and Tampa Bay is in reconstruction mode at almost every position. This will give Williams four chances to produce fantasy numbers relatively easily.

3.  Michael Turner

Turner had a career year last year, probably making way for Matt Ryan's great rookie year. The addition of Tony Gonzalez will prevent teams from just loading up eight or nine guys in the box against Turner.

Turner is a pure smash mouth runner who has great acceleration and plows through the line of scrimmage. He proved himself with 1,699 rushing yards and 17 TD's when finally emerging from his backup role with the Chargers. The Falcons will be running the majority of the time, in order to keep pressure off their young QB.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson

LT is looking to come back with a vengeance this year. He has something to prove, with experts and fans saying that he has hit the end of his prime.

Obviously these people have never tried to play on a banged up, extremely painful big toe while running and making cuts.

LT's game is his quick cuts and the ability to run low. When your toe is hurt for the entire season, it becomes painful to quickly change direction and to put your body weight on your toes. LT however is 100 percent now and has felt fantastic in his mini-camp workouts thus far. LT is finally back to form and ready to run.

If you need more than feel good scenarios, then how about the fact that even on his injury he ran for 1,110 yards and 11 TD's. Even on a bad foot he was in the top ten in rushing yards in the NFL and seventh among running backs for rushing touchdowns.

5. Matt Forte

Forte ran for 1,715 yards and 12 total TD's last season as a rookie. He received the Rookie of the Year award for his efforts and was the only true offensive threat on his team.

Even with the addition of Jay Cutler, Forte will once again be the main force on offense. What makes him so dangerous is that he is a threat in the passing game and he will again be the featured weapon (maybe only weapon) for the Bears offensive attack.


Top-Five Sleepers

1. Maurice-Jones-Drew

Jones-Drew is not a sleeper in the sense that people are unaware of his talent—everyone is. He is a sleeper in the sense that his numbers could easily double this year without Fred Taylor.

Jones-Drew had 824 yards and 12 rushing TD's in 2008, accompanied with 565 yards and two TD's receiving. He did all that when he was only in the backfield half the time, so think about what he will do now that he is "the man" in the backfield. Taking Jones-Drew in the opening round would be a solid move by any fantasy owner.

2. Pierre Thomas

Thomas will get the bulk of the carries this year, with McAllister off the Saints and Reggie Bush lining up all over the field. Even last season as the third back, he still managed nine rushing TD's.

I picked up on this guy a couple of years ago when I saw him play in preseason. His bursts through holes and punishing blows on defenders stood out to me. Pierre also has the benefit of being on an explosive offense. Thomas could very well be the biggest surprise of the season.

3. Chris "Beanie" Wells

Wells is my rookie of the year for fantasy teams. He may not be the number one guy immediately. Tim Hightower will likely start, but will eventually lose his spot to Wells.

Wells has a quick first step, and is a big physical runner that Arizona will use to improve one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL. By week three or four, this guy will be the starter for the Cardinals—if not earlier.

4. Larry Johnson

Johnson has something to prove this year. He was hurt during the season and missed three games, but was still banged up even when able to play.

Consider this interesting fact when thinking of LJ: He averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. This is a sure indicator to me that as long as LJ is healthy and given enough opportunity, he will still be a very productive running back to have on your team.

5. Darren McFadden

McFadden will be the starter this year for the Oakland Raiders. Oakland has a decent offensive line that is getting better with time. The addition of Lorenzo Neal could say it all for McFadden this year.

The one question is, what kind of rotation will the Oakland Raiders use with their backs? They still have Justin Fargas and Michael Bush on their roster, meaning McFadden will likely split carries

McFadden had 499 yards and four TD's last year. Not overly impressive, but his season was plagued by injuries while splitting time with Fargas. McFadden, when he did run the ball, had a 4.4 yards per carry average and displayed his talent when Fargas was hurt last season.

Bottom line is McFadden is going to be the featured weapon on the Raiders this year, and the Raiders rushing attack could be one of the best in the NFL.


Top-Five Worst

1. Steven Jackson

Jackson has the disadvantage of being on a team that is sliding fast in the NFL. Their o-line has holes. Though the draft pick of Jason Smith will help, we can't expect he will do what Jake Long did last year by going to the Pro Bowl.

Nobody respects Mark Bulger's arm anymore, and they don't fear anyone in the Rams' aerial attack, because their biggest weapon is Donnie Avery.

Teams will have 8-9 guys in the box just waiting to shut down Jackson, and we all know Jackson isn't the most durable running back.

2. Joesph Addai

Addai has been on a skid ever since his very good performance in the Super Bowl against the Bears two years ago. Granted there has been questions about the o-line in Indianapolis, but the production has completely slacked off.

Addai accrued only 544 yards and five TD's last season, which for a starter on a playoff-bound team is unacceptable. He disappointed many fantasy owners last season who picked him as high as the number-six spot. 

This year may show even less production from Addai. The Colts drafted UConn's Donald Brown in the first round, and they wouldn't draft a running back that high if they didn't plan on using him this year.

Expect Brown to get just as many touches as Addai this year.

3. Tim Hightower

Hightower will not hold the starting role this year with Wells breathing down his neck. As a touchdown specialist, he may have value (10 TD's last season). He has the ability to fall forward, but that's about all the ability he really has.

Hightower had a dismal 2.8 yards per carry last season. Granted, he wasn't the starter for most of the season, but didn't even produce when given the opportunity.

4. Jamal Lewis

Lewis is on the downside of his career and playing for a team that has basically no chance of doing anything. Behind an o-line that is full of holes, it doesn't seem as though Lewis will have much of a wall in front of him.

Lewis had 1,002 yards and only four TD's last season as the starter and didn't split carries with anyone. With Winslow gone this year, teams that play the Browns will not fear the passing attack, even with Edwards still there.

Look for a lot of guys in the box against the Browns and for Lewis to be shut down this year.

5. Knowshawn Moreno

Moreno wont make much impact this season. For the first time in many years, a Broncos running back will not be a way to go in this year's draft. In the Shanahan era, you could count on any running back to put up big numbers, no matter who he was.

Head coach Josh McDaniels brings the spread offense from New England with him, and I personally haven't drafted a running back out of New England since. Even if you wanted to draft a running back out of Denver this year, the roster is way too deep to make one particular choice.

With Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, JJ Arrington, and Lamont Jordan as additions to the Broncos' roster, it is unlikely any back will produce significantly.  Even a waiver-wire pick won't be of much worth this year.