Fantasy Football: Top-15 Running Backs

gregory caldarellaAnalyst IJuly 30, 2008

1) LaDainian Tomlinson: LT is still the best fantasy workhorse in the game. He saw his season stats dip a bit last year, but how could he possibly replicate his record-breaking 2006 season?

He really stumbled out of the gate, but hit his stride late and finished with typical LT numbers. How he recovers from the knee injury he suffered in the playoffs will remain to be seen in the pre-season (that's if he even plays this time around).

2) Brian Westbrook: I know that everybody and their grandmother has AP ranked a close second to LT, but not here. Westbrook is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and in fantasy leagues.

If your league is a points per reception league, Westbrook is as valuable as they come. He hauled in a receiver's amount of receptions with 90 catches out of the backfield last year. That is just flat out disgusting.

3) Adrian Peterson: AP drops to No. 3 despite his ridiculous rookie performance. He has that rare combination of speed and power and it doesn't even seem as though he slows down to shift gears.

He is a scary force and will produce big numbers but I'm not quite sure he will be able to greatly improve upon his first year campaign. He might be overhyped, but barring any injuries you have yourself a stud.

4) Steven Jackson: This RB truly let down fantasy owners last year. He was coming off an unreal breakout year where he rushed for 1500-plus yards and caught 90 passes. He did not fall off due to lack of production, but instead was hindered by nagging injuries all year.

Nobody is happier to have a healthy Jackson back than Marc Bulger and the Rams' offense will certainly revolve around their young RB once again. Look for S-Jax to bounce back; if you can snag him in the mid-to-late first round, you have yourself a steal.

5) Frank Gore: Here's another highly-rated RB heading into 2007 that saw a dip in his stats. Gore broke out onto the scene a year earlier with a scary all around game. He was nicked up a bit last year, and it also didn't help that Trent Dilfer was running his offense most of the year.

The Niners added more offensive firepower this offseason and also brought offensive guru Mike Martz aboard to jump-start a punchless offense. The addition of Martz can only mean good things are to come from Gore, who should return to form in 2008.

6) Joseph Addai: Addai has been nothing but solid since he came into the league a couple years ago. He plays in a very solid offense that evenly distributes the ball. With Peyton Manning and the air attack of Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison relieving pressure up front, Addai has plenty of room to work with. He also had the most carries in the red zone last year.

Addai is as close as you come to an every-down back who also holds his own through the air.

7) Marshawn Lynch: Lynch had a very respectable rookie season for the Bills. He was the lone bright spot for an offense that struggled to find an adequate quarterback. The Bills play in inclement weather for most of the season and have notoriously leaned heavily on the ground game.

Lynch is clearly the focal point of the offense; look for him to build upon his rookie numbers, especially in the passing game.

8) Marion Barber: This might be a little too high for him, considering he has never been a featured back for a full season, but the potential is definitely there. He is a workhorse type back and gives maximum effort everytime out. The fact that he gets all of Dallas' goalline carries gives him an added boost.

I also see the addition of Felix Jones as not being as detrimental to Barber's production as many have speculated. Barber is a well- rounded back as he has excellent receiving skills and is a solid pass blocker, so I don't see him losing third down duties. This could be a risky pick for you but, regardless of what numbers he posts, at least you know the TD totals will be there at the end.

9) Clinton Portis: Portis is as consistent as they come. He is in an offense that is very run-oriented, although that may change a little with Joe Gibbs' departure. He is not the only effective ball carrier on the team as Ladell Betts cuts into his workload.

Portis had a nice overall season last year, as he stayed healthy and hauled in a nice amount of passes. He is a safe bet for 300-plus carries and all the goalline duties. If you are looking for consistency, Portis is your man.

10) Ryan Grant: Ryan Grant was the biggest breakout fantasy player last year for sure. He burst onto the scene after being acquired from the Giants for a late-round pick early in the season. As a Giant fan I always liked Grant when I watched him in the preseason for the last couple of years and wondered why he never got a chance for more carries. He got his chance last year and made the most of it.

He emerged as a very solid option in a mediocre backfield for the Pack. While many think Grant will fall off this year and not be able to regain the success he enjoyed last year, I see him as sustaining that level of play. Don't reach too early for Grant, but he is certainly a high-end option at the No. 2 running back position.

11) Willis McGahee: Here's a guy who seemed to be rejuvenated once he made it out of the miserable Buffalo offense. He ran with more determination and had one of his most productive seasons yet. The lack of a solid QB option has forced the Ravens to run more often than letting it fly.

Baltimore's O-line took a hit when Jonathan Ogden announced his retirement, but McGahee shouldn't be affected too much by this news. He is a true primary back and might be the last solid primary back on the board at this point. It was also good to see him actually make an impact in the receiving game as he equaled his career numbers with 43 receptions in 2007.

12) Maurice Jones-Drew: MoJo was very hyped heading into last year. He sparkled as a rookie and was a do-it-all type back. He suffered what could be considered a sophmore slump, but I feel it was more in part due to the fact that Fred Taylor had a great season. His role didn't change, as he retained the same amount of carries and receptions, but his production lagged.

He really sputtered in the early-going but was able to get back into the swing of things as the season progressed. He is a frustrating player to have on your team, as he is the typical all-or-nothing producer. However, if Fred Taylor ever were to get hurt, Jones-Drew would immediately become a fantasy stud.

13) Jamal Lewis: I was not very high on this guy going into last year's draft, but he proved me and many others wrong. He revived his career in Cleveland and their offensive attack emerged as one of the best up-and-coming acts in the NFL. He was re-signed for two years and the back-ups were not upgraded, so that is a vote of confidence for how much the Browns will be feeding him the ball.

He looked a lot quicker on his feet, as he looked like the Jamal Lewis of old. With that being said, he could also revert to his late Ravens career form but I wouldn't count on it just yet, at least not this season.

14) Brandon Jacobs: Everyone believes the Giants backfield will be ruled by committee, but that will not happen. Ahmad Bradshaw is a very good change of pace back, but that's as far as he goes right now. Jacobs is the most talented runner on the team and for the Giants to get the most out of his talents they need to feed him the ball about 20 times a game so he can wear down the defense.

It also helps to know that Jacobs will be getting the call in all short-yardage situations. Jacobs might slip in drafts with people high on Bradshaw, but when Jacobs was healthy he produced. Now it's just a matter of staying healthy.

15) Ronnie Brown: He would have been higher on this list he hadn't suffered a torn ACL in 2007. Brown was enjoying what would have been a career year and was the top-ranked  fantasy back when he went down with the injury. He is recovering well from surgery and should be back at full-strength in 2008.

Many are scared off by the return of everybody's favorite pothead Ricky Williams, but don't buy into the idea that Ricky will make as big of an impact as many indicate. Ricky has always found a way to mess things up, but in this case Brown is the better back and the back of the future. Even if a time share were applied, Brown will be more valuable becauses off his versatility.