Under the Microscope: Top Fantasy Running Backs

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Under the Microscope: Top Fantasy Running Backs

As 2010 fantasy football drafts draw closer, we address one of the first dilemmas that your team will invariably face: “Who should I draft at running back?”

We now take an inside look at the top-six fantasy candidates.


Cast of Characters


Donald Buckram, UTEP
Lance Dunbar, North Texas
Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh
Bernard Pierce, Temple
Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
Shane Vereen, California

 

2009 Fantasy Production

Name Fantasy Pts Rush Att Rush Yds Rush TDs Rec Rec Yards Rec TDs
Jacquizz Rodgers 367.3 273 1440 21 78 522 1
Donald Buckram 345.7 259 1594 18 30 453 3
Dion Lewis 319.3 325 1799 17 25 189 1
Lance Dunbar 295.8 200 1378 17 28 300 2
Bernard Pierce 240.1 236 1361 16 8 39 0
Shane Vereen 216.1 183 952 12 25 244 2

 

 

2009 Snapshots

Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

  • Small but powerful back that gains yards after contact.
  • Is the workhorse of the offense.
  • Provides a receiving threat and adds fantasy value in Points Per Reception leagues.

Donald Buckram, UTEP

  • Is the main touchdown weapon of the UTEP offense.
  • Averaged over 20 carries per game.
  • Has a passing attack to complement him and keep defenses honest.

Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

  • Workhorse back that averaged 25 carries per game.
  • Very athletic with the ability to break the big play.
  • The combination of a power running game and good defense will allow the coaches to lean on Lewis late in games when playing with the lead.

Lance Dunbar, North Texas

  • Averaged 25 carries per game after becoming the clear cut starter.
  • Explosive back that averaged 6.89 yards per carry.
  • Is the main offensive threat for the North Texas team.

Bernard Pierce, Temple

  • Is the center piece of the Temple offensive attack.
  • Plays in the “defense optional” MAC conference.
  • Strong offensive line to open up holes.

Shane Vereen, California

  • After taking over the starting role, averaged 27 carries per game.
  • Explosive playmaking ability that can bust the big play on the ground or in the air.
  • California has boasted the most efficient rushing attack in the Pac-10 over the past five years.

 

What’s the Scoop?

Jacquizz Rodgers returns to an offense that has a veteran offensive line, but will be breaking in a new quarterback.

Although there are injury concerns about Jacquizz’s small size, he has missed very little playing time over the past two seasons. He should remain the top workhorse of the offense once again in 2010.

Donald Buckram has experienced trigger-man Trevor Vittatoe to lead the UTEP passing attack.

The passing game should be more efficient, which will make it harder for defenses to key too hard on Buckram. With four good offensive linemen returning, there are no major holes up front to contend with.

In 2009, Buckram didn’t get going until the middle portion of the season. He has a chance to outperform his 2009 numbers.

Dion Lewis had an amazing debut as a true freshman in 2009.

Look for Lewis to be bigger, faster, stronger, and more importantly, smarter on the field. The coaches know they have lightning in a bottle when it comes to Lewis’ playmaking ability, and they will continue to lean heavily on the running game.

The passing game will be going through a transition, which means that, although he could see more carries early in the year, defenses might be able to limit his yards per carry while they key in on stopping him.

Lance Dunbar stormed onto the scene in 2009 in a season where many people thought North Texas would find their stride in the air, not on the ground.

Dunbar is the undisputed starter, and will continue to see his workload increase with the move of 2009 starting quarterback Riley Dodge to receiver.

But the North Texas defense is not good, and they will find themselves playing from behind in many games. How much they can afford to feed Dunbar the ball while trailing will determine just how high his fantasy value will be for the 2010 season.

Bernard Pierce established himself as the centerpiece of the Temple offensive attack.

Pierce suffered from injuries in the last several games of 2009, but backup running back Matt Brown was efficient in his absence.

Although there are split-carry concerns, Temple coach Al Golden has made comments this summer that Pierce will continue to be the workhorse, and that he could see his load increase behind a very experienced offensive line.

Shane Vereen played second-fiddle to the talented Jahvid Best in 2009 until Best was lost for the season late in the year. Once taking over the starting role, Vereen showcased his ability to carry a strong workload.

California has four offensive linemen returning, as well as starting quarterback, Kevin Riley. Vereen will easily hit the 1,000-yard mark, but head coach Jeff Tedford has utilized a two-running-back attack in the past.

True freshman, Trajuan Briggs could find his way onto the field, thus cutting into how many carries Vereen will receive.

 

If Your Fantasy Draft Was Today...

As you look at these six running backs, it’s important to understand that all of these players are very good. We believe these are six of the bigger fantasy names people will consider for their 2010 drafts.

We like Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers as a safe choice for the No. one fantasy running back. There's a lot to like about “The Quizz.” He does receive a workhorse amount of carries. There are no worries about split carries.

Although Rodgers doesn’t rack up as many rushing yards as some of these other backs, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in receiving offense. If you play in a Points Per Reception league, then Quizz’s fantasy value goes up even more.

The one player that could contest Rodgers for top billing is UTEP’s Donald Buckram .

UTEP was a pass first, run second offense before Buckram came out of nowhere in the middle of the 2009 season. Due to Buckram's late start in 2009, it is very possible that he will out-gain his 2009 statistics this fall.

Even if the passing game wakes up in 2010, Buckram should still be the main red zone weapon, ensuring his fantasy value remains high.

What we like the most about Dion Lewis is that he has the largest workload of carries in the bunch.

Pitt will be breaking in a new quarterback, so the opportunity for more carries, and more importantly, more red zone scoring opportunities, could go up. With a less experienced passing attack the coaches could decide to call Lewis’ number in the red zone in situations where they would have passed the ball last season.

Bernard Pierce has a very good chance to blow away his 2009 numbers. The coaches are promoting Pierce as a Heisman candidate, and they have stated there is no split-carry situation for 2010.

The fact that Pierce didn’t come on until midway through the season last year, as well as missing the last several games, means that his season totals were lower than what we can expect for 2010.

We like the production that comes with Lance Dunbar, but there are areas of concern.

The Mean Green will be breaking in a new quarterback. If they can’t generate enough passing production to keep defenses honest, it will be difficult for Dunbar to get enough space to make things happen.

There are many high-powered offenses in the Sun Belt Conference. North Texas has a poor defense, and they may find themselves too far behind for Dunbar to keep up with his season averages over the course of the 2010 season.

Shane Vereen is one of the hot names this draft season.

His amount of carries per game in 2009 might be deceiving. Vereen should average the same amount of carries that Jahvid Best had two seasons ago. There are two talented backs ready to become the next “Shane Vereen” for the Bears.

So, expect the coaching staff to rotate runners once again. But Vereen is more durable than Best was in 2008, and should not miss as many games as Best did during his Cal career.

 

Joe Arpasi is the co-owner of CollegeFootballGeek.com , your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.

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