The Top 10 Fantasy Running Backs in 2009
So what makes this and different from all the other top 10 fantasy rankings out there? Good question. I think it is important when preparing for your fantasy draft that you try and disregard some factors.
Never mind who your favorite team is, or who your favorite player might be. Do not just focus on who the “best” player was last year.
I’ve seen a lot of people draft a team that would have been awesome based on last year’s numbers. Granted history matters, but it can not be the sole factor in your draft philosophy.
So I have come up with five key factors to my top 10 rankings. These rankings are based on the team’s offensive balance, its offensive system, the player’s versatility, the team’s strength of schedule, and the biggest factors—does the player score touchdowns?
Offensive balance looks at what other weapons does the team have to relieve some of the pressure on the running game. How many eight or nine fronts will he face?
Offensive system takes into account the dreaded two-back system. Does he share his workload? Does he get taken out when the offensive gets close to the goal line?
Versatility addresses the all-around skills of the player. Is he a threat to add to his production catching the ball out of the backfield. Or does he come out on third downs?
Strength of schedule looks at what kind of match-up problems his team will encounter. As well as, how many games will be played in cold weather late in the season or inside domes on fast turf?
Touchdowns are pretty self-explanatory. Since most fantasy scoring systems put a premium on touchdowns, this is a huge factor in where running backs land in the rankings.
No. 10 Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Jackson is one of the most versatile backs in the league and the focus of the Rams offense. Being the focus of the Rams offense is a two-edged sword, with no other real playmakers to help the defenses continuously key on Jackson.
However this is nothing new. He was still 12th in the league in rushing last year as the Rams only offensive threat despite Jackson missing four games.
Playing in the NFC West will help his numbers as well.
No. 9 Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Gore may be showing signs of wear and tear. Over the last three seasons his carries have dropped from 312 in 2006 to 260 in ‘07 to 240 last year, while his receptions have also decreased from 61 in ‘06 to 53 in ‘07 and down to 43 in 2008.
The 49ers took note of this and drafted Alabama running back Glen Coffee to help share the load, which has pushed Gore down to No. 9 on the list.
The lack of offensive balance the 49ers have had the last couple of years could change in Gore’s favor this year with the addition of WR Michael Crabtree, but it will all depend on the quarterback play.
Will it be Shaun Hill or Alex Smith? Regardless of whom head coach Mike Singletary gives the nod to, you can be sure the 49ers offensive game plan will be to run, run and run some more.
No. 8 Steve Slaton, Houston Texans
Slaton was one of the biggest fantasy surprises last year as a rookie coming out of West Virginia. He finished sixth in the league in rushing with 1,282 yards and added nine touchdowns on the ground.
Slaton also showed how versatile he is by adding 50 receptions and 377 yards receiving. His 1,659 yards from scrimmage puts him in the top 10 on our list.
Will he get hit by the sophomore slump? That is the big question down in Houston. The emergence of WR Andre Johnson as a Pro Bowl player will only help Slaton, as will the continued improvement of TE Owen Daniel as an offensive threat.
No. 7 Marion Barber III, Dallas Cowboys
How can a guy who finished 21st in the league in rushing be No. 7 on the list? Barber played hurt most of the year last year, and still ran for nearly 900 yards while adding 52 catches and 417 yards coming out of the backfield.
I think the improved play of Tashard Choice as well as a healthy Felix Jones will benefit Barber’s fantasy value. While splitting time may reduce his number of touches, it should allow him to return to his role as the touchdown maker for the Cowboys.
Barber had 16 total touchdowns in 2006 and 12 in 2007. He definitely has a nose for the end zone and the Cowboys need to revert back to that game plan.
No. 6 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones-Drew could end up being at the top of the list by the time the season is over. No longer having to share the load with Fred Taylor, he is now the focal point of the Jaguars offense.
Talk about versatility. In addition to his 824 yards rushing, Jones-Drew had 62 receptions and 565 yards receiving. Jones could surpass the 2,000 yards from scrimmage mark in 2009.
Keep an eye on his schedule though. For the most part it is rather favorable, however there is one downside: The Week 16 match-up against New England in Foxboro.
Be aware of the late December game in New England on the week most fantasy leagues have their Super Bowl match-up.
No. 5 DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
It can be argued that Williams had the best year of all running backs last year. His 18 rushing touchdowns were the most in the league. Plus he added two more receiving.
But be careful not to fall into the trap of drafting strictly on last year’s performance. You get no points for what he did last year and there are a couple areas to watch that may affect his 2009 output.
First is the play of quarterback Jake Delhomme, who is coming off one of the worst playoff performances in NFL history. Can Delhomme lead the passing game to be dangerous enough to take the focus off the Panthers ground attack?
And speaking of ground attack, remember Williams actually splits time with Jonathan Stewart, who had a pretty decent year last year in his own right with more than 800 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
If Stewart gets more of the red zone carries this year, it could hamper Williams' value.
No. 4 Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
What a season Turner had in his first year in Atlanta. I know he led all running backs in scoring in our fantasy league.
His 1,699 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns were amazing. However he added almost nothing on the receiving side with only six catches the whole year.
Turner should have another great season as Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta offense continues to mature, but having Jerious Norwood come in for him on third downs drops him to No. 4 on the list.
No. 3 Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Basically Forte was the Bears offense in 2008. He carried the ball 316 times and led all running backs with 63 receptions.
He finished seventh in the league in rushing yardage and had more than 1,700 total yards of offense.
He will benefit the most of any top running back by their team’s offseason moves. The addition of quarterback Jay Cutler will bring much -eeded relief to the Bears offense.
Cutler will come to depend on Forte as his safety value out of the backfield. Don’t be surprised to see Forte surpass the 80 catch mark in 2009.
No. 2 LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
Hampered all season by a toe injury, concerns about LT being “over-the-hill” rang throughout San Diego. Over the hill with 1,110 yards rushing and 426 yards receiving?
Although he will turn 30 this year, look for Tomlinson to bounce back and once again be a dominant force in the Chargers offense.
He may share time with Darren Sproles, which could help in the long run especially with some tough defensive match-ups facing the Chargers.
Not only will the Chargers take on AFC powers Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but they also will face the four tough defenses from the NFC East.
No. 1 Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Surprised? Who else would top the chart of the top fantasy running backs that Adrian Peterson?
Peterson is the definition of a workhorse. He carried the ball 363 times and lead the league in rushing with 1,760 yards.
The Vikings feel they have what it takes to make a run at the Super Bowl and I look for them to rely even more on Peterson especially in the passing game.
Peterson should increase his 21 receptions this season and the offense should be explosive with the addition of rookie speedster Percy Harvin.
There will not be many fantasy drafts that take place where Adrian Peterson is not the first pick.