What has always been the most important position to draft in fantasy football? The running back, of course! As in real football, you can't do anything without strong running backs.
If you get injury-prone ones, you need strong back-ups. If you have irreplaceable talents, you'll have to do something on their bye weeks.
In this article, I've ranked the top ten running backs in reverse order.
Factors used in the evaluation were some basic rushing stats, basic receiving stats, changes to the team that may directly effect him, and style of runner.
10. Steve Slaton, HB, Houston Texans
Steve Slaton was one of the 23 halfbacks taken during the 2008 NFL draft. However, he was just a third-rounder, and when you're on a roster with Chris Brown and Ahman Green, you won't get a great workload.
Slaton, though, thrived when both Brown and Green went down to injuries, by rushing for a division leading 1,282 yards on 268 carries. His nine rushing touchdowns or also a nice touch to his resume.
But what does Slaton have that's really going to make you want him as one of my top two backs? I have two words: Andre Johnson. Johnson draws a lot of attention in the passing game, while the 5-9 Slaton doesn't demand much coverage.
This allowed him to sneak 50 receptions, one of only eight halfbacks to be able to do that. The yardage and touchdowns weren't impressive, with only 377 yards and a single touchdown, but if Slaton can put up a similar number of catches, he'll have more opportunities to score.
I like Slaton's upside a lot.
The Verdict: Top 20
9. LaDainian Tomlinson, HB, San Diego Chargers
Two years ago, this guy was the guy. Two years later, he's struggling to make the top ten. But hey, its LaDainian Tomlinson. You're not going to go wrong with LT.
His numbers in an "off year" were still very strong. He was tenth in rushing yards with 1,110 yards and scored 11 rushing touchdowns on 292 handoffs. His receiving stats were also impressive, with 52 catches for 426 yards and a touchdown.
But don't expect a decline; at least in the receiving area. Tomlinson has yet to have a season without 50 catches. And although the running back "death age" is 30 years old (Tomlinson hit that mark three days ago) there isn't much a reason to believe that Tomlinson can't pull off another solid fantasy performance.
Give Tomlinson a look as a solid No. 2 back to a potential No. 2.
The Verdict: Top 20
8. Brandon Jacobs, HB, New York Giants
I like Brandon Jacobs' numbers to rise a lot in 2009, considering he isn't sharing so many carries. Tampa Bay Buccaneer Derrick Ward was the main thief, considering he took 182 carries!
Ahmad Bradshaw is the new second-stringer, but I never personally liked Bradshaw on or off the field. Expect most of Jacobs' numbers to rise from 219 carries and 1,089 for 15 touchdowns.
Although Jacobs has a pretty severe red flag; he gets hurt easily. The 6-4, 264 lb. Jacobs tends to do more bruising to defensive tackles and linebackers, but a big reason Ward got 182 carries was because Jacobs was hurt.
Jacobs missed three games in 2008 and five in 2007, so its likely that he'll be benched for more than just the New York Giants' bye week this season.
However, the 5.0 yards per carry average is close to as good as they come. If you can nab a solid No. 2, don't hesitate on Jacobs' as your number one.
The Verdict: Top 15
7. Frank Gore, HB, San Francisco 49ers
Okay, so Mike Martz offensive scheme didn't exactly benefit Frank Gore. But now Martz and his employer Mike Nolan are out of town, and Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye are in.
You'd think that with a quarterback of either Alex Smith or Shaun Hill you'd be doing a little more running than usual. Gore is a power back who can take hits and run for good yardage. In 2008, his rushing stats were 240 carries for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns.
Gore occasionally gets hurt, as he missed two games in 2008 and one game in 2007. His receiving stats aren't too shabby, what with 43 catches and 373 yards for two touchdowns.
Gore does have a bit of a problem finding the endzone, considering eight rushing touchdowns is his career high. Gore is a bit of a risk, but I think that with a new offense he'll be given more of a chance to shine.
The Verdict: Top 15
6. DeAngelo Williams, HB, Carolina Panthers
In 2008, who did you think would lead the halfbacks in fantasy points scoring? Maybe Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson? Maybe you picked a dark horse with Steven Jackson or Brian Westbrook.
But its likely you didn't choose DeAngelo Williams from the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers added to their rushing attack in last year's draft by adding power back Johnathan Stewart, but he only helped Williams' numbers.
On 273 carries, Williams ran for 1,515 yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns.
Williams indeed had a season to remember. But what about his receiving statistics? Actually, Williams only caught 22 passes for 121 yards and a pair of scores. And its also extremely unlikely that Williams repeats the same production as last season, especially when defenses blitz more on the Panthers.
But, with some shaky quarterbacking from Jake Delhomme and Stewart's record of injuries, Williams is still due for another superb season.
The Verdict: Top 10
5. Chris Johnson, HB, Tennessee Titans
Chris Johnson is fast. Really fast. His 40-time at the NFL Combine was an astonishing 4.24, and his play in the NFL has shown it. Johnson's rushing stats were 251 carries, 1,228 yards, and nine touchdowns.
Johnson was only a rookie in 2008, and he truly put the "dash" in smash-in-dash (even if he is "Every Coach's Dream now or whatever). He also got involved in the passing game, by recording 43 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown.
However, be sure to draft Johnson with a few warnings. His teammate, LenDale White, is in a contract year and has lost some serious weight. He'll probably snatch some carries from Johnson, particularly around the goal-line.
Johnson is also coming off of an injury, but he should be able to heal it. Another thing about Johnson is that he is one of few halfbacks I can see realistically improving on all of his fantasy point-scoring statistics.
The Verdict: Top 10
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, HB, Jacksonville Jaguars
This offseason, the New England Patriots took a free agent away from the Jacksonville Jaguars; a halfbacks by the name of Fred Taylor. His back-up, Maurice Jones-Drew, is now the man in Jacksonville.
Jones-Drew has a very good combination of speed and power, and he showed that by placing in the top 25 among halfbacks in yards despite the fact he played second fiddle to Taylor. He recorded 197 carries for 824 yards and 12 scores.
Jones-Drew will also get to play behind a better offensive line, including Tra Thomas, Brad Meester, and rookie Eugene Monroe. However, unless Alvin Pearman or Chauncey Washington really strut their stuff, its likely that Jones-Drew does a lot of the dirty work alone, which could lead to injury or defenses keying on him.
Jones-Drew is a very solid number one halfback with more rewards than risks.
The Verdict: Top 10
3. Matt Forte, HB, Chicago Bears
The highest rated of all the 2008 rookies, Matt Forte boasts some serious fantasy potential for many years to come. Let's start by glancing at his rookie year stats: 316 carries for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, and a whopping 63 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns.
Forte has truly shown the ability to move the football by ground and by air, and with Jay Cutler in town, his numbers could improve because a lot of the pressure he faced from defenses last year will be offset somewhat.
Even better news for Forte is the fact that he can now run off tackle better with the addition of Orlando Pace. While Pace is a bit aged and roughed up, there's no denying that he can still get it done.
Center Olin Kreutz and hopefully a healthier defense will also contribute to Forte's fantasy success. He is easily a No. 1 halfback you could use for your fantasy team.
The Verdict: Top 5
2. Adrian Peterson, HB, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson had a red-hot 2008 season, by rushing for a league-leading 1,760 yards to compliment his 363 carries and 10 touchdowns. What's not to like about that production?
Well, maybe the fact that part of being a halfback in the NFL involves being an active member of the pass attack, which Peterson was not in 2008; he recorded just 21 receptions, 125 yards and zero touchdowns.
There's also no reason to believe that teams won't key on him, because he is basically the team's only proven offensive weapon.
More against Peterson; last season, he fumbled the football nine times. Granted, he only lost four, but we all know that the re-recovery a fumble for an offense is nearly pure luck.
Chester Taylor might steal some carries, but he is aging and there isn't much reason to believe he'll take more than last year. Whether Brett Favre is the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback in September or not doesn't make much of a difference on Peterson's fantasy status.
Take Peterson as your No. 1 back and expect some of the best results of all NFL players.
The Verdict: Top 2
1. Michael Turner, HB, Atlanta Falcons
There is a lot of debate over whether Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons or Peterson should go No. 1, but most seem to side with Peterson. However, Turner has a slight edge for me.
First off, his statistics from 2008 were 376 carries for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. But don't draft him for his receiving ability; he had six receptions in 2008! And that's a career high for him.
There is one x-factor in this whole debate; Matt Ryan, the team's quarterback. If he can do as well as he did in his rookie year, the team may opt to throw more to more than capable receivers Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and newly acquired tight end Tony Gonzalez, over running with the power back Turner. With all those offensive weapons, you can't key on Turner as a defense.
I give Turner a slight edge over Peterson and the field.
The Verdict: Top 2
Other running backs in consideration were:
- Brian Westbrook, HB, Philadelphia Eagles
- Clinton Portis, HB, Washington Redskins
- Steven Jackson, HB, St. Louis Rams
- Ryan Grant, HB, Green Bay Packers
- Ronnie Brown, HB, Miami Dolphins
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