Fantasy Football Tier Rankings: Running Backs

Kevin RobertsSenior Writer IJuly 7, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 23:  Maurice Jones-Drew #32 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on November 23, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

(Above: Some are selecting MJD number one, overall.)

As with the receivers and quarterbacks, this list is here to split up the A's from the B's,  and let you know where to draft guys, roughly.

Okay, so Adrian Peterson is your running back with the first pick. That was easy. Hell, Yahoo suggested it, right?

But now what?

The second round rolls around, and now you don't know who is the better pick—Marion Barber or Brandon Jacobs.

Read on to find out.


Tier One (Rounds One and Two)

1. Adrian Peterson—Minnesota Vikings

AP, All-Day, whatever.

Call him anything you'd like, so long as you're still calling him the best back in the game.

Through several mocks, I continue to see Turner being selected over Peterson far too many times. It's a trend, folks. Don't follow it.

2. Michael Turner—Atlanta Falcons

Turner was a beast last year, rushing for nearly 1,700 yards, while racking up 17 touchdowns.

With the addition of Tony Gonzalez and the maturity of Matt Ryan, Atlanta is likely to make their offense a little more balanced, which will undoubtedly shrink those numbers.

Turner should still churn out 1,400 yards and 10 scores, but he's not a better option than Adrian Peterson.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew—Jacksonville Jaguars

With Fred Taylor in New England, Jones-Drew finally has the backfield to himself.

However, if that offensive line isn't leaps and bounds better than it was last year, I'm not sure that's something Jones-Drew will be too happy about.

Still, the Jaguars know how to run the ball, and with the right places supposedly in place, MJD could be in for a huge season as the feature back.

4. Steven Jackson—St. Louis Rams

Usually, Jackson would find himself as the third-rated back, and maybe even the first two years ago. However, he's barely been able to crack 1,000 yards the past two years, and he still plays for the Rams.

He is what makes that offense go, though, so he's easily a top-five fantasy back.

5. Frank Gore—San Francisco 49ers

Gore has put together two straight "down years" of 1,000-yards rushing, and arguably so, simply because of his remarkable talent.

The 49ers are once again determined to run the ball, and if the offense around him can develop some consistency, he could get back to his 2006 numbers.

Gore is too talented to put up mediocre stats for three straight seasons.

6. Brian Westbrook—Philadelphia Eagles

Westbrook's untimely injury/surgery opens the door for rookie LeSean McCoy. Good, let your fantasy opponents worry about it. As for you, just draft the guy with the knowledge that when he plays (and he will), he's pretty much the Eagles entire offense.

He's not old and decrepit, like many experts would lead you to believe. He can still get you that elusive championship.

7. Ladainian Tomlinson—San Diego Chargers

Tomlinson's toe is supposedly good to go, but let's not forget, the guy is still going to be 30 at the end of June.

That doesn't mean he can't still be productive. In fact, with an ailing foot for most of last season, he still cracked 1,100 yards and 10 scores.

That was his version of a "down" year. I like that.

8. Matt Forte—Chicago Bears

Everyone is hyping up Matt Forte as this glorious "do-it-all" back, but they're failing to realize a key element.

Now that Jay Cutler has arrived, this stagnant pass attack that Chicago was accustomed to just got some meat to it.

The Bears won't be turning into gunslingers, not by any means, but to expect Forte to post Adrian Peterson or Michael Turner numbers is simply obscene.

9. DeAngelo Williams—Carolina Panthers

You can't rate last season's rushing touchdown leader outside of the top 10, can you? I don't think so, either.

However, I don't see Williams duplicating both the amount of yardage he has last year, nor the 18 scores.

Jonathan Stewart continues to impress, and should vie for more carries. I'd guess both backs crack 1,000 yards before suggesting Williams repeats his 2008 numbers.

10. Steve Slaton—Houston Texans

Slaton is a dual threat who should only improve with a stellar offense surrounding him. Pay no attention to a "lessened workload" rumor.

The Texans will do everything they can to keep Slaton involved in the games, ensuring a balanced attack.

Exceeding his rookie numbers of 1,600 total yards and 10 total touchdowns is very possible.

11. Clinton Portis—Washington Redskins

As long as Portis can stay healthy, he's a RB1, and a great asset to any fantasy team.

Considering the Redskins are still knee-deep in the Jason Campbell experiment, Portis should see plenty of touches, as well as some receptions out of the backfield.

Don't worry about this talk about Ladell Betts "looking great" in OTA's. Everyone says that. Portis is their guy. Draft him with confidence.

12. Chris Johnson—Tennessee Titans

Johnson's situation may work out a lot like Williams' (above), but in the opposite way. He is clearly the future for Tennessee at running back, so his overall touches should only increase, and I wouldn't be shocked if Jeff Fisher gave him some of Lendale White's goal-line attempts.

Johnson has the physical running style to run into massive linemen, but has the speed and agility to bounce outside, as well.

If he can keep improving as a receiver, he could be even more dangerous.

13. Marion Barber—Dallas Cowboys

Barber's value ultimately hangs on what happens with the Dallas offense. How much will Felix Jones and Tashard Choice be used, and when? Reports are leaning more towards Barber and Jones being on the field together much of the time, which could be either good or bad for Barber's value.

I still feel that Marion Barber hasn't played his best football, and if everything goes according to plan, he could be looking at 1,300 yards and 12 scores.

It should be noted that nothing ever goes according to plan.

14. Brandon Jacobs—New York Giants

Just to help with the usual wear and tear Jacobs endures through the season, the Giants will continue to give him breathers with Ahmad Bradshaw.

Considering Jacobs has missed eight games in the past two years, that's probably a good move.

Still, that flaw in Jacobs' game is almost a strong suit, because it reveals his production in limited action.

In 25 games with New York as the starter, Jacobs has more than 2,100 rushing yards, and 19 touchdowns.

The only question is, do you get 2007's four-touchdown Jacobs, or the paydirt machine (15 TD) from last season?

Tier Two (Rounds Three through Five)

15. Marshawn Lynch—Buffalo Bills

Lynch has shown glimpses of being a truly exceptional back, while having games where he's practically invisible as an offensive presence.

Since he won't be playing with Buffalo for the first three games, his stock obviously drops a bit. If you can take missing one of your stud running backs for the first three game (I hope you can), then he'd be a good steal if you can get him past the third round.

16. Willie Parker- Pittsburgh Steelers

Does anyone remember how awesome this guy was in the first two weeks of the season?

Parker isn't even 30 and it seems everyone wants to push him out, despite still performing at a high level.

As long as he gets the majority of the touches, Parker is a premier back, and a return to his 2006 numbers wouldn't be out of the question.

17. Reggie Bush–New Orleans Saints

We get it. Reggie Bush isn't a feature back. He can't run well inside the tackles. He'll never reach his full potential.


That doesn't matter. Bush is a fantasy god.

When healthy, he can dominate for you in three ways, as he's used for about 10 carries as a runner, fields at least five catches a game, and also returns punts.

Bush has fielded at last 800-plus combined yards and six scores in every season he's been in the league, while amassing more than 1,000 combined yards in his first two seasons.

The downside is he has missed 10 games in the past two years, so his knee has become a cause for concern.

But since recent mocks have him falling all the way to round five or six, he's worth the risk.

18. Lendale White—Tennessee Titans

White will continue to battle Chris Johnson for carries, while his touchdowns should drop a bit.

He'll still be their third-down and goal-line back, but the Titans are all about Chris Johnson.

If Johnson can improve his inside running, he could soon render White obsolete.

19. Joseph Addai—Indianapolis Colts

Don't believe the Donald Brown or the rumors that the Colts ownership is down on Addai.

He's still the best running back on the team, and there's no way Indy is dumping him after one poor season.

His two seasons before 2008 beg of you to make him a third-round pick.

20. Thomas Jones—New York Jets

Will he be as effective without a quality quarterback? It doesn't look good.

He had more than 1,000 yards while playing behind Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens in 2007, but only managed one rushing touchdown.

With Favre on board, he ran for 13.

Jones is getting older, too, and will likely lose more carries to both Leon Washington and Shonne Green.

21. Ronnie Brown—Miami Dolphins

When healthy, Brown is at times a fantasy stud, and his value is worth that of a high RB1.

However, with last year's Wildcat formation fully installed, Brown doesn't control the carries, and has to share with Ricky Williams and others.

Still, 1,200 combined yards and 10 touchdowns say he's worth a mid-rounder.

22. Ryan Grant—Green Bay Packers

Grants' yards per carry were way down last year, and many wondered if it was the poor line play, or him not being as good as everyone thought he was.

His four touchdowns may not entice you, but his carries and yardage will. With 312 carries and more than 1,200 yards, it's clear that Green Bay runs the ball, and will continue to make that a focal point of their offense.

Even if Grant isn't as successful as he was in 2007, he's still going to be touching the ball more than 300 times.

23. Larry Johnson—Kansas City Chiefs

Any contract disputes are gone, at least for now, and Johnson and the Chiefs appear to be on the same page.

Johnson was actually having a terrific start to the season, but with a team suspension and attitude problems, he went on to miss four games.

His 800-plus yards and five touchdowns are a solid output, considering his time off the field.

Johnson could easily emerge as a 1,500-yard rusher, while operating behind an improved pass attack.

Tier Three (Rounds Six through Eight)

24. Knowshon Moreno—Denver Broncos

Moreno is great, don't get me wrong. But he's a rookie, and he's playing in a New England system.

Josh McDaniels isn't going to run Moreno to death in his first season-you can count on that. The plan is to use three or four backs, divide the touches, and keep the runners legs' fresh.

Moreno could easily have a huge rookie season, based on his talent alone, but it may not be as explosive as many feel.

25. Kevin Smith—Detroit Lions

Smith and the rest of Detroit would like to forget their 0-16 2008 season. I say don't. At least not where Kevin Smith comes into play.

With more than 1,100 total yards and nine scores, Smith churned out a solid season, overall.

If the passing game and pick up the slack a bit, and the new O-line additions can help, Smith could shoot for 1,200 yards and some more scores.

He's talented enough to be a feature back. He just needs better blocking ahead of him.

26. Derrick Ward—Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ward put up 1,000 yards as a backup in New York, and jetted to Tampa Bay to cash in and secure a starting job.

He's down here at 26 because he's going to be 29, and he's only had one good season.

Still, it's hard to ignore that gaudy 5.6 yards per carry.

27. Pierre Thomas—New Orleans Saints

The big question is, will he get the bulk of the carries?

That all depends on Reggie Bush, really. But with more than 600 yards, a 4.8 yards-per-carry average, and nine touchdowns last season, it's clear that Thomas is ready.

A split in carries is likely, but if Bush isn't red-hot, the Saints could go to Thomas more.

28. Felix Jones- Dallas Cowboys

There are rumors that Jones will be sharing the backfield with Marion Barber, and even if they aren't true, you still should draft him.

Jones is an electric player that can take it the distance any time, and would have been on more highlight reels last year, had he not bowed out to injury.

His value is in the middle rounds right now, but that could change very quickly.


Tier Four (Mid-to-Late Rounds)

29. Cedric Benson—Cincinnati Bengals

Which Cedric Benson do you trust: The one who was a bust, or the guy who tore it up in the final three weeks of 2008?

Considering he's on the Bengals, had done nothing until the final three weeks, and is Cedric Benson, I'm leaning far away from him repeating the 2008 production.

If you get Benson, I suggest tag-teaming him with Brian Leonard.

30. Darren McFadden—Oakland Raiders

McFadden is one again a boom-or-bust pick, as he's clearly in a muddled RBBC, yet also has the most talent of any rusher on his team.

If Oakland were smart, they'd trade Justin Fargas, and/or Michael Bush, and let their best running back start.

McFadden should be used even more as a receiver out of the backfield, and while he may not lead the team in carries, his touches should increase.

31. Leon Washington—New York Jets

With Thomas Jones and age, Washington is likely to be integrated more and more in the offense.

As always, if your league rewards points for return yards and scores, Washington is a great asset, and provides you with a dual threat at the running back spot.

Washington is also a deadly man in the open field after the catch, and whoever is the staring quarterback for New York will likely dump-off to him often.

32. Chris "Beanie" Wells—Arizona Cardinals

Tim Hightower was a fifth round pick, showed some flashes, and then disappeared.

Chris Wells is the first rounder that just cost Hightower his chance at starting.

Wells has a tough running style blended with rare speed for a man his size. His only main knock is playing through injuries, which is widely overblown.

It may take some time, but Wells will eventually be starting for Arizona in 2009.

33. Darren Sproles—San Diego Chargers

Tomlinson is still the man, but the Chargers didn't franchise Sproles for nothing. He will see more action as a receiver out of the backfield, and will be used more as a change-of-pace back.

Like Leon Washington, Sproles is a deadly weapon on returns, so feel free to draft him extra early if your league rewards return points.

34. Jonathan Stewart—Carolina Panthers

Stewart is guaranteed at least as many carries as he had in 2008, and he'll probably get even more.

While DeAngelo Williams was the yardage and touchdown fiend last year, you can look for the yards to be a bit more evened out, while Stewart gets the first crack on goal-line carries.

Williams is a stud in his own right, but Stewart could put up better numbers if given more carries.

35. Le'Ron McClain—Baltimore Ravens

McClain is expected to take on more of a lead-blocking role, which should significantly reduce his carries.

He is expected to stay on goal-line duty for the most part, however, and should be called upon in most short-yardage situations.

McClain still has value, providing he is being used ahead of Willis McGahee.

36. Julius Jones—Seattle Seahawks

Jones may not look like much at times, but he's the best back on Seattle's team, and he's starting.

He has decent speed and deceptive quickness, and still has the talent to be a solid back in the NFL.

Draft him as a low-end RB2, or as a quality backup.

37. Chester Taylor- Minnesota Vikings

Anyone who can put up almost 800 yards as Adrian Pererson's backup definitely warrants some notice.

Taylor may not be a starter, but his production is way too good to be drafted below the likes of other backups, such as Ray Rice, or Rashard Mendenhall.

If AP went down, Taylor would easily be a top-10 back.

38. Jamal Lewis—Cleveland Browns

Lewis is still sludging around with his feet seemingly in mud, but he's still the starter, and he gets the job done.

At least, fantasy-wise.

As long as Lewis is getting more than 250 carries, he has value.

39. Ray Rice—Baltimore Ravens

Much like McCain, Rice is walking into a RBBC situation, and despite constant praise from coaches, he may not get the touches his selection would suggest.

Rice is being taken much too early in recent mocks, despite the fact that he's not even the full-fledged starter.

If you can find him in the late rounds, bite. Just don't burn a fifth-rounder on him.

40. Rashard Mendenhall—Pittsburgh Steelers

As far as I'm concerned, Mendenhall is just Willie Parker's backup, and he's an extra talented body at the position.

There is no need to split the carries when Parker is healthy, as he's still the best rusher on his team.

Mendenhall is a fantastic pick for dynasty leagues, and is a good insurance picks if you are a Parker owner.

41. Willis McGahee—Baltimore Ravens

McGahee's value isn't much more than a handcuff to either Ray Rice or La'Ron McClain at this point.

He is still a good running back, but it seems the wear of the NFL has begun to chip away at his knees.

Have we seen the end of McGahee as an NFL starter?

42. Jerious Norwood—Atlanta Falcons

If the Falcons want to keep being successful, they'll need to pass more, and run the ball less with Michael Turner.

They need more balance, both from the passing game, and the energy/health of their rush attack.

Norwood is an explosive option that can light up the field by running, catching, or returning kicks.

He should hover around 100 carries for the fourth straight year.

43. LeSean McCoy—Philadelphia Eagles

McCoy's value rests solely on Brian Westbrook's health. If Westbrook can play, McCoy will probably be used very little, or just late in blow-outs.

The other obstacle is the complexity of the Eagles offense. Even if Westbrook was out for the start of the season, it's not a guarantee McCoy would be the starter. Likely, yes—but not a guarantee.

Still, considering Westbrook's age, a recurrence of this injury or another injury is likely, so grabbing McCoy as insurance is recommended.

44. T.J. Duckett—Seattle Seahawks

Duckett is good for nothing but touchdowns.

He is still Seattle's short yardage and goal-line king, so he does have some value.

45. Donald Brown—Indianapolis Colts

Contrary to popular belief, Brown will not be stealing Addai's job away.

Brown is a great prospect with tons of talent, but unless Addai is hurt, his value isn't very high.

46. Ladell Betts—Washington Redskins

Despite the off-season rumors that Betts was "looking great" and could stand to get "more carries", I wouldn't buy too much into it.

He's a good, powerful back, but the Redskins like to keep Clinton Portis on the field.

And if Jim Zorn's slow-to-learn offense is going to progress, that's the way it will be.

47. Brandon Jackson—Green Bay Packers

Jackson has been used more and more in Green Bay's offense, but a possible resurgence by Ryan Grant could render Jackson useless.

DeShawn Wynn could also steal some of Jackson's carries.

Still, if Grant suffers and injury or gets off to another slow start like last year, Jackson could be a nice stash-away steal.

48. Fred Taylor—New England Patriots

The Patriots are likely to use 3-4 running backs in their ground attack; this is true. But they didn't bring in a big-name back like Taylor for no reason.

They now have a little more fire power at the position, and they'll use Taylor to the best of his and their abilities.

Anywhere from 600-800 yards is likely, while 1,000 isn't unrealistic.

49. Ahmad Bradshaw- New York Giants

Bradshaw will continue to serve as a backup to Brandon Jacobs, but with Derrick Ward out of the picture, he should see a significant increase in his carries.

As a change-of-pace back, Bradshaw could still put up solid enough numbers for some spot starts, and could even hold strong value as a starter if Jacobs went down.

50. Jamaal Charles—Kansas City Chiefs

With Larry Johnson's checkered past with Kansas City, it'd be wise to keep tabs on both Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith.

With Smith still rehabbing an injury, however, Charles appears primed to take over the top back-up spot, and should be in for 100-plus carries. An injury to Johnson would make Charles a solid feature back.