By Derek of The Sportmeisters
Hello Football Fans! It’s July, and that means OTA’s and minicamps are all but over and actual training camp is around the corner. Preseason games start on Aug. 13, and boy oh boy I can’t wait.
Now, what I am here to discuss today are my preseason, pre-training camp fantasy rankings for the running backs. Remember, these rankings are based on the player lasting a full 16 games. I am not projecting injuries, but I will tell you who your injury risks are.
Obviously, my rankings are likely to change, but here are my first projections of the year.
1. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
Projection: 330 carries, 1600 yards, 13 touchdowns, 25 receptions, 225 yards, one touchdowon
All Day Adrian Peterson is one of the most exciting players in football today, and that translates into a premier fantasy back.
He has 23 touchdowns, 3500 total yards, and 40 receptions in two years. He has the potential to break any play for a big touchdown and had 10 100-yard games last year.
He will probably go No. 1 overall in most drafts, but if he falls into the top five, don’t hesitate to grab him.
2. Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons)
Projection: 330 carries, 1475 yards, 14 touchdowns, six receptions, 50 yards
The Burner proved last year that he has the talent to be a No. 1 running back in the NFL after being a backup for five years. He had 1699 yards and 17 touchdowns last year and looks to do the same this year.
Atlanta is a run-first team, and Turner should get near the same amount of carries as last year (377).
Watch out for a possible breakdown due to the workload, but rumor has it the Falcons want to get Jerious Norwood more involved in the offense. That may mean a few less carries for Turner, which could be a good thing.
He will be a top five pick in all drafts.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Projection: 265 carries, 1150 yards, 10 touchdowns, 65 receptions, 575 yards, three touchdowns
MJD finally gets his chance to be the No. 1 guy this year after the release of Fred Taylor.
He has piled up 38 touchdowns in three years, not including his two return touchdowns.
Now that he is the No. 1 guy, you can expect more carries and more yards, not to mention his receiving ability.
He will be a first-round pick in most drafts.
4. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers)
Projection: 275 carries, 1245 yards, 11 touchdowns, 45 receptions, 375 yards, two touchdowns
Most people say that LT is on the decline or that he won’t return to his fantasy greatness.
I think he was hurt more than he let on last year, and now that he is healthy and that Philip Rivers has proven that he can beat a defense, he will be much more effective. He will lose carries to Darren Sproles, but not as many as you may think.
He should remain a first-round pick, but most people will pass on him, leading to the second round. If you can land him in the second round, you just may get the steal of the draft.
5. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears)
Projection: 300 carries, 1200 yards, nine touchdowns, 58 receptions, 450 yards three touchdowns
Forte burst onto the scene last year with a monster rookie season. He carried the ball 316 times for 1238 yards and had 63 receptions for 477 yards and 12 total touchdowns.
With Jay Cutler at quarterback, he may see fewer eight-man fronts and should put up similar numbers to his rookie year, both running and receiving.
He will be a sure-fire first-round pick.
6. Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams)
Projection: 315 carries, 1325 yards, 11 touchdowns, 55 receptions, 450 yards, one touchdown
After two injury-filled seasons, Jackson hopes to bounce back.
New head coach Steve Spagnuolo has said that he plans to use Jackson as the centerpiece of the offense, which means 20-30 carries a game. If he can stay healthy, he is a monster and one of the best backs in the league.
Even with his injury history, his upside continues to make him a first-round pick.
7. DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers)
Projection: 270 carries, 1275 yards, 11 touchdowns, 20 receptions, 150 yards, one touchdown
This guy was the surprise of 2008.
Williams wasn’t even expected to be the starter when the team drafted Jonathan Stewart, but Stewart had injury problems, and Williams took full advantage of the playing time.
Stewart still carried the ball 183 times for 833 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, but that didn’t stop Williams from having the most fantasy points for a running back. He carried the ball 274 times for 1518 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns.
Stewart will eat into his carries a bit, but Williams is still the No. 1 guy. Expect him to be a first-round pick in most drafts.
8. Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers)
Projection: 285 carries, 1200 yards, eight touchdowns, 45 receptions, 365 yards, two touchdowns
For two years we have been waiting for Gore to have that follow up to his 2006 breakout year, and both years we were left a little disappointed. He has missed three games in the past two years and hasn’t been nearly as effective.
He now has another new offensive coordinator, and head coach Mike Singletary has said that the 49ers will be a run-first team.
Look for Gore to go in the first round, but don’t be surprised to find him in the second.
9. Steve Slaton (Houston Texans)
Projection: 295 carries, 1255 yards, eight touchdowns, 50 receptions, 325 yards, two touchdowns
The 2008 sleeper of the year produced huge numbers as a rookie. Slaton carried the ball 268 times for 1282 yards and caught 50 passes for 377 yards with 10 total touchdowns.
He no longer has Ahman Green to split carries with and is in the perfect offensive scheme for his style of running.
Look for Slaton to put up similar numbers to his rookie year, and look for him to come off the board in the first two rounds.
10. Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans)
Projection: 260 carries, 1200 yards, nine touchdowns, 40 receptions, 325 yards, two touchdowns
No more Smash and Dash? Well, only in name.
Johnson has broken out into his own and created his own new nickname. However, his fantastic rookie year looks to make him a fantasy stud. He had 1228 yards on 251 carries and 10 total touchdowns.
He has blazing speed and the ability to make people miss, so look for Johnson to get more touches this year. But he will still share carries with LenDale White, especially around the goal line.
Johnson will be gone within the first two rounds, so don’t expect to be able to wait for him if you want him.
11. Marion Barber (Dallas Cowboys)
Projection: 255 carries, 1050 yards, 11 touchdowns, 40 receptions, 320 yards, one touchdown
Marion the Barbarian was a bit of a bust last year, only rushing for 885 yards and just seven touchdowns, though he did catch 52 balls for 417 yards and added another two touchdowns.
However, that is nothing close to what we expected from him, especially with him finally being the No. 1 guy with Julius Jones going to Seattle. He was banged up toward the end of the year, and his numbers suffered from those injuries.
He will now lose some carries to a healthy Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, but he should be the goal line back and should bounce back and have his first 1000-yard season.
Look for him to go in the first two rounds.
12. Brandon Jacobs (New York Giants)
Projection: 255 carries, 1175 yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 receptions, 50 yards
Jacobs did what he was supposed to do last year. He used his combination of size and speed to score 15 touchdowns, with 12 coming from inside the five-yard line.
The one problem with Jacobs has been his inability to stay healthy for a full season. He has missed eight games in the last two years.
With Derrick Ward now in Tampa, Jacobs will likely get more carries and should reach the 1000-yard mark for the third straight year.
Look for the big monster to come off the board within the first two rounds.
13. Brian Westbrook (Philadelphia Eagles)
Projection: 240 carries, 1055 yards, eight touchdowns, 50 receptions, 425 yards, four touchdowns
Here’s a guy who just can’t ever stay healthy for a full season. He has never played all 16 games in his seven years in the NFL.
However, he is the focal point of that offense when in the game, and you can’t deny his skill set is perfect for a fantasy running back.
The risk of drafting him is the injury factor, but the reward is possibly having a top five running back on your team.
Look for Westbrook to fall toward the second or third rounds, and definitely don’t reach for him in the first, unless you really, really want him.
14. Clinton Portis (Washington Redskins)
Projection: 300 carries, 1275 yards, nine touchdowns, 30 receptions, 200 yards
Portis was fantasy’s best running back the first half of 2008, rushing for 944 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he fell off the second half with just 543 yards and two touchdowns.
Portis doesn’t have much to worry about in losing carries, but Ladell Betts is rumored to get a few more carries this year.
However, Portis is still the No. 1 guy and is still going to be taken in the first two rounds.
15. Thomas Jones (New York Jets)
Projection: 255 carries, 1100 yards, 10 touchdowns, 25 receptions, 150 yards, one touchdown
Jones enjoyed his career-best season last year, scoring 15 total touchdowns and rushing for 1312 yards behind a revamped offensive line and with Brett Favre at quarterback.
This year, there’s no Favre, but the O-Line is still the same. They also still haveTony Richardson, who is the best blocking fullback in the game.
However, Leon Washington is expected to take some of his carries, and the Jets drafted Shonn Greene to take even more.
Jones is not happy with his contract and may be playing to try and get a new one, so expect a good year, but not like last year.
He should go in between rounds two and four.
16. Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions)
Projection: 255 carries, 1050 yards, eight touchdowns, 35 receptions, 275 yards, two touchdowns
Smith had an up and down rookie year. He started out slow and was considered a bust for the first half of the year, but he bounced back with 708 yards and five touchdowns in the last eight games. He also was used as a receiver, catching 39 balls for 286 yards.
The Lions got rid of Rudi Johnson, but brought in Maurice Morris. However, Smith is still expected to be the featured back.
Expect him to go in the early rounds, most likely between rounds three and five.
17. Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints)
Projection: 235 carries, 950 yards, eight touchdowns, 33 receptions, 325 yards, two touchdowns
Thomas benefited from the injury to Reggie Bush and took full advantage to show his skills. He carried the ball 99 times for 501 yards and six touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
Without Deuce McAllister looming, Thomas is expected to be the main ball carrier, with Bush going back to his third down duties and slot receiver.
Thomas should be drafted in the first five rounds, with some people even reaching for him in the first round.
18. Ryan Grant (Green Bay Packers)
Projection: 290 carries, 1175 yards, seven touchdowns, 15 receptions, 100 yards
Grant was expected to post huge numbers after coming out of nowhere in 2007.
However, after holding out of camp and dealing with hamstring issues, he started off slow, not scoring a touchdown until week seven. He finished strong with three 100-yard games in his last nine games.
He should be helped by a full preseason and training camp, but don’t reach for him until at least the third round, and don’t expect him to be there after the fifth.
19. Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders)
Projection: 220 carries, 945 yards, six touchdowns, 38 receptions, 330 yards, two touchdowns
McFadden was supposed to be the next Adrian Peterson, but he was hampered by injuries in his rookie year. He was held to just 499 yards and four touchdowns in just 13 games.
He still has Justin Fargas and Michael Bush to steal his carries, but the Raiders wouldn’t have drafted him fourth overall last year if they didn’t intend for him to be the No. 1 guy. If he stays healthy he should have a great year, but that’s a risk you take if you draft him.
Look for him between the third and sixth rounds.
20. Joseph Addai (Indianapolis Colts)
Projection: 240 carries, 1000 yards, seven touchdowns, 35 receptions, 300 yards, two touchdowns
So a guy has one bad year and everyone is off the bandwagon?
Addai was hurt last year and was a big time bust, only rushing for 544 yards and scoring seven total touchdowns in just 12 games. Not to mention that the Colts drafted Donald Brown this year to take his carries.
However, I think Addai will bounce back and have the type of year he had when he shared time with Dominic Rhodes in his rookie year.
Look to steal Addai between rounds four and six.
P.S. Don’t forget his quarterback is Peyton Manning.
21. Marshawn Lynch (Buffalo Bills)
Projection: 230 carries, 925 yards, seven touchdowns, 25 receptions, 150 yards, one touchdown
Lynch’s value is hurt by a three-game suspension to start the year. He may appeal and get the suspension reduced, but he will still miss at least one game.
He is true to his “Beast-Mode” nickname when he is on the field, rushing for 1036 yards and eight touchdowns with 47 receptions for 300 yards and a touchdown in 15 games last year.
If he weren’t suspended, he would probably be higher on the list, but with the suspension, look for him to fall in between rounds three and five.
22. Larry Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs)
Projection: 255 carries, 1050 yards, seven touchdowns, 20 receptions, 245 yards
Johnson has been virtually invisible the past two years after having a monster 2006 season in which he rushed for 1789 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He has missed 12 games the past two years, and there is the possibility that he may be released by KC, as he doesn’t appear to fit in the new offense. But even if released, he should find work as a goal-line back somewhere, as he still has the size.
Watch his offseason status and look for him in the middle to late rounds, depending on what happens.
23. Ronnie Brown (Miami Dolphins)
Projection: 235 carries, 975 yards, seven touchdowns, 35 receptions, 275 yards, one touchdown
It usually takes two years to return from a serious knee injury like Brown had in 2007, but he had a great year in 2008 with the Wildcat offense. He shared carries with Ricky Williams and still rushed for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Brown looks to be on track to be the No. 1 guy in Miami again and could be in line for a breakout year.
Watch out for the time-share though, and look for him between rounds four and seven.
24. Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints)
Projection: 165 carries, 550 yards, five touchdowns, 70 receptions, 535 yards, four touchdowns
Bush was on fire the first half, rushing for 294 yards and two touchdowns, plus 42 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
Then, he got hurt, yet again, and missed four games.
He tried to come back, but he was still hurting and missed the final two games, totaling six games lost. He also missed four games in 2007.
With Pierre Thomas’ emergence, Bush may be relegated to third-down duties and slot receiver, limiting his fantasy expectations. However, I believe it will be more of a time-share than people expect, and Bush is too explosive not to get the ball.
Look for him in the middle rounds and you might just get a big time steal.
25. LenDale White (Tennessee Titans)
Projection: 195 carries, 800 yards, 11 touchdowns, five receptions, 20 yards
The other half of the former “Smash and Dash”, White carried the ball 200 times for 773 yards and an amazing 15 touchdowns, considering he was splitting carries with Chris Johnson.
This year, Johnson is the clear favorite for more carries, while White is in the final year of his rookie contract and appears to be on the Titans bad side. He will still be the goal-line back and could still score 10+ touchdowns, so he is still a valuable fantasy running back.
Look for him in the middle rounds.
26. Willie Parker (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Projection: 275 carries, 1100 yards, seven touchdowns, 10 receptions, 100 yards
“FWP” Fast Willie Parker had another, less friendly name with the Sportmeisters last year, as I’m sure he did with quite a few owners.
Parker was injured and limited to 11 games last year, only rushing for 791 yards and five touchdowns.
With Rashard Mendenhall coming back from injury and Mewelde Moore playing so well last year, Parker’s value may be at an all-time low. However, he should still be the No. 1 guy and could post decent numbers, if he gets the carries that I think he will.
Look for Parker in the middle to later rounds.
27. Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers)
Projection: 195 carries, 855 yards, eight touchdowns, 12 receptions 75 yards
Stewart had a great rookie season even though he battled nagging injuries. He rushed for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns despite splitting carries with DeAngelo Williams.
This year will be more time-share, but with that Carolina offensive line in front of him, Stewart will still be a valuable fantasy back.
Look for him in the middle to late rounds and expect similar numbers to his rookie year.
28. Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns)
Projection: 265 carries, 1000 yards, six touchdowns, 20 receptions, 135 yards
Lewis had a down year, much like the entire Cleveland offense. He still managed to rush for 1002 yards and four touchdowns, though.
With a new head coach who likes to run and a good offensive line in front of him, Lewis could return to the 1000 yard mark yet again, but don’t expect his 2007 numbers (1304 yards 9 touchdowns).
Look for Lewis in the later rounds, and you just may get a good sleeper.
29. Chris Wells (Arizona Cardinals)
Projection: 215 carries, 945 yards, six touchdowns, 15 receptions, 120 yards
Beanie Wells was the Cardinals' first-round pick and is expected to share time with Tim Hightower. However, he is expected to see more of the carries and has the talent to be fantasy relevant even in his rookie year.
He has a great offense around him and could be a nice middle to late round sleeper.
30. Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts)
Projection: 200 carries, 875 yards, six touchdowns, 22 receptions, 215 yards, one touchdown
Brown was drafted to take some of the heat off of Joseph Addai coming off his injuries. Expect Brown to see his share of carries, much like they used Addai in his rookie season.
If that’s the case, Brown could have very nice value in the later rounds.
There are my first projections for fantasy football. The running back position is the most important position in fantasy football, so choose wisely. Any questions or concerns, email me at Derek@Sportmeisters.com.