In part two of my four-part series, we'll look at the running backs. Like the quarterbacks, I'll be ranking several players as well as identifying sleepers and duds who might be mistaken for sleepers. Each player also has a power rating out of 10, based on his ceiling and possible risks.
All of my leagues are PPR leagues, so that's how I'll be ranking the running backs, as well as the receivers and tight ends later. And remember to read my QB rankings as well.
1. Chris Johnson--10
While he won't rush for 2500 as he predicted, eclipsing that mark in total yards for the second straight year isn't out of the question. He caught 50 passes last year and averaged 5.6 per carry. While he may not break 2000 on the ground (no one's ever done it twice, let alone in back-to-back seasons), the NFL's fastest man is also its No. 1 fantasy player. His 400+ touches last year may lead to a slight drop in production, but in PPR leagues especially, he is undoubtedly the top pick.
2. Adrian Peterson--10
I tried to write this section without mentioning Brett Favre, but it can't be done. If Favre plays, Peterson is free to run all over opposing defenses. If he doesn't, teams should load the box to stop the run and make Tavaris Jackson beat them. With Favre, Peterson runs a little less but the defense opens up for him. With Jackson, Peterson runs more and may even catch a few more passes. Either way, it's a win for fantasy owners. His fumbling issues and smaller role in the passing game keep him from being No. 1.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew--9
If only he had a little help from Garrard and his receivers. He'll get plenty of looks running and receiving, but as the Jaguars' only real offensive threat, defenses will do everything they can to limit his production. MJD is one of the safest picks in the draft. He led the league in redzone carries, so expect plenty of TDs again this year.
4. Ray Rice--9
If you get a shot at one of the top 4 backs, take it. No running back after Rice is a sure-thing, and you'll be kicking yourself all season for passing on this guy. He caught NFL teams and fantasy owners by surprise last season. It won't happen this year. Rice is the real deal, and in PPR leagues his upside is almost limitless. The only thing keeping him out of the top two is TD vulture Willis McGahee, who the Ravens will likely use in goal-line situations again to save Rice some hits.
5. Frank Gore--8
He doesn't have the same upside as the guys ahead of him. However, Gore has a knack for annihilating bad defenses, and he'll face plenty of those in the NFC West. Alex Smith is still unproven as a starter at QB, so Gore will be asked to carry the 49ers offense for the 3rd straight year. He's been banged up since his breakout year in 2006, but he'll get plenty of touches if he stays healthy.
6. Steven Jackson--8
Like Gore, he'll be expected to carry the offense on his back once again. He only had four TDs in '09, but it's hard to imagine him doing less than doubling that at the least. His touches aren't going anywhere, and the Rams addressed some offensive line issues to give him room to run. Unfortunately, the Rams are still downright awful so he won't get as many redzone opportunities as Gore.
7. Michael Turner--8
The injury bug bit him hard last year, but maybe the extra rest will pay off this year. Turner will get carries in bunches, but he's not a receiver in the least, so he'll see limited action on third down. Expect plenty of carries, yards, and touchdowns, but his role in the offense is too limited for him to go any higher.
8. Shonn Greene--8
Greene was a total freak in the playoffs last year, and the Jets will make sure he gets plenty of carries. His injury history is a bit of a red flag, but he'll have every opportunity to prove doubters wrong. LT will get some carries as well, but the Jets run it so much that this shouldn't be an issue. He isn't much of a pass-catcher at all, so like Turner, all his damage will come on the ground.
9. Rashard Mendenhall--8
Mendenhall seems to define the fantasy RB situation this year. Outside of the Big Four, everyone else seems to be injury prone, unproven, or stuck behind a bad line. Mendenhall fits the bill to some extent with all three of these, but he's a young, talented runner in a one-back system. With so many teams using multiple backs, guys with Mendenhall's upside are hard to find. The Steelers O-line seems to have forgotten how to block. Mike Tomlin wants to pound the football anyway, which means Mendenhall will get plenty of carries. How that turns out is a big enough question to make him no better than a 2nd-rounder.
10. DeAngelo Williams--8
On the other side of the coin we have guys like Williams, unquestionably talented but stuck in a two-back system. He'll get carries, especially with question marks at QB, but Jonathan Stewart clearly hurts his value. Still, he's good enough to make the most of his touches and is one of the biggest home run hitters in the draft.
11. Ryan Grant--8
Grant has the fortune and misfortune of wearing the same uniform as Aaron Rodgers. He's clearly the Packers' go-to-guy in the backfield and Rodgers' arm will open things up for him. On the other hand, Green Bay's line has issues and Rodgers isn't afraid to run it himself even in the Packers' pass-happy offense. He isn't enough of a redzone threat with so many other weapons around him to go much higher than this.
12. Cedric Benson--8
A shakier eight than anyone ahead of him, Benson is still the guy in Cincinnati. The Bengals are committed to running the ball and they have the O-line to do it. Benson won't catch a lot of passes and he was basically a total bust until last year. He's in a good situation that should see him put up good numbers for a No. 2 fantasy back, if not a No. 1.
13. Jonathan Stewart--8
The last eight on my list. Stewart would be the unquestioned starter for at least 20 other teams. The Panthers love him, and with good reason. Unfortunately for Stewart owners, they like DeAngelo Williams a little bit too. Still, 200+ carries, 1200 yards, and eight TDs is definitely within reason. He's not a No. 1 fantasy back, but he's an incredible No. 2. If Williams goes down again, look out.
14. Ryan Mathews--7
Admittedly, this is probably too low for Mathews, who was a star in college. Even with Sproles, Mathews will get a ton of carries. However, rookie RBs are tough to predict, even if all the pieces are in place for Mathews to have a big year. He has a ton of upside, but I feel better taking proven commodities early in the draft.
15. Knowshon Moreno--7
I really like this guy, and I would love him on another team. He's got plenty of talent, runs hard and is a freak physically. For some reason, the Broncos seem hesitant to hand him the reins. He's too good not to play, but it could be another year before he really gets his chance.
16. Jamaal Charles--7
Like DeAngelo Williams, Charles is stuck in a bad fantasy situation. He's another home run hitter, but he has his own Jonathan Stewart in new Chief Thomas Jones. Charles had an outstanding second half of the season, but he's not likely to have the same kind of production this year. On top of that, Kansas City is still a mess, so teams will be able to load up the box to slow him down.
17. Beanie Wells--6
Even if it's not a good thing for the Cards, no Kurt Warner and no Anquan Boldin is the best thing that could have happened to Beanie. He finally seems to have won the starting job after splitting carries with Tim Hightower, and Arizona will need every tough yard he can give them. Unfortunately, it may not be as many as his talent and build would have you believe.
18. LeSean McCoy--6
Philly already has a ton of weapons on offense, and McCoy seems primed to become another. The problem is, the Eagles have a full stable in the backfield, so if McCoy's pass-protection issues are still around, he could be headed for the bench. A tougher runner than Westbrook, the chances will be there for him to really grab hold of the running back position. He isn't quite as good a receiver as Westbrook, but Reid's offense will see him catching quite a few passes anyway.
19. Pierre Thomas--6
Thomas is another back doomed by a loaded backfield. Like Moreno, he's the closest thing to an every down back the Saints have, but Sean Payton doesn't seem to mind using him almost sporadically. There's really no middle ground with Thomas; he'll either have a stellar week or an awful one, and it's hard to know when either will occur.
20. Joseph Addai--6
Like Ryan Grant, he probably won't get as many carries as he should since the Colts like to throw it so much. Unlike Grant, though, he will get plenty of looks in the passing game. However, he never broke 80 yards rushing in a game last year, and the Colts like Donald Brown enough to give him some chances as well. You should be thrilled with Addai as your No. 3 back, and a little less than happy with him as a No. 2, but he may surprise.
21. Matt Forte--6
Forte was relatively awful last season, but things should be a little better this year with the Mike Martz offense rolling into town. The Chester Taylor signing hurts, but after Forte's abysmal year, can you really blame the Bears? He should bounce back due to his role in the passing game, but Forte might present a higher risk than he's worth right now.
22. Jahvid Best--5
Another guy that comes with a lot of risk, Best could be anywhere between 1st and 3rd on the Lions' depth chart. With Kevin Smith likely out for Week 1, Best figures to see plenty of action right away. Unfortunately, Maurice Morris also will see his fair share of carries early on. Best is the most talented back on the Lions' roster, but his injury history will probably keep the Lions from giving him the bulk of the carries. The upside is definitely there, but he's no better than a No. 3 fantasy back right now.
23. Ronnie Brown--5
Yet another high-risk player, Brown has been plagued by injuries his entire career. The Dolphins love to run the ball, though, so if he manages to stay healthy, 1200 yards and 10 TDs is within reason. Ricky Williams had a surprisingly good year once Brown went down, but at 33, don't expect the same from him again. Even with his injury problems, Brown is the safer pick.
24. Felix Jones--5
Talented enough to belong in the top 15 of this list, Jones has the misfortune of splitting carries with Marion Barber. Jones is the bigger home run threat, and his role is expected to expand this season. Barber should still steal some of his short yardage and goal line carries, but Felix averaged over a yard more per carry. He's simply more dangerous than Barber, and more dangerous than several guys ahead of him on this list, if only he wasn't part of a platoon.
25. Brandon Jacobs--5
We're well past the point of feature backs, but Jacobs used to be THE guy in New York, and he can be again if he's healthy. That's a big if, but at the very least he should split carries with Ahmad Bradshaw and see plenty of goal line opportunities. The yards may not be there like they once were, but the touchdowns should be. This could be Jacobs' last shot to be a starter, and we know he's been there before. Worth the risk as a 3rd RB as long as you don't draft Bradshaw too.
26. Justin Forsett--5
Forsett has a chance to win the starting job in Seattle convincingly, which gives him more upside than most of the other guys in the 20s. Leon Washington's presence is a problem, but Forsett will see most of the carries if he can produce. Washington is more of a big play threat, so watch for him to steal some touches on 3rd down. Forsett could surprise this year and put up top 20 RB numbers, but it isn't the greatest situation for him.
27. Jerome Harrison--5
Someone has to carry the ball for the Browns, and Harrison looked good when given the chance. Rookie Montario Hardesty will steal some of his carries, and the Browns' offense won't be potent enough for Harrison to get a lot of redzone chances. He's certainly no more than a No. 3 fantasy back.
28. Ricky Williams--5
He doesn't deserve to be here on his own, but another Ronnie Brown injury is too real a possibility to ignore. Don't expect another 1000 yard season unless Brown goes down early, but the Dolphins run it enough to make Ricky worth a look. 800 yards and six TDs is a safe enough bet.
29. Marion Barber--5
He's never come close to reaching his potential, but he still has a role in the Cowboys' offense. Barber has less upside than Felix Jones, but will probably see more goal line chances. He'll be helped by Dallas' other weapons at receiver and tight end.
30. Reggie Bush--5
He's still not a downhill runner even though he did show some flashes of toughness last year. Fortunately, he's a big part of the passing game and there's always a possibility he takes a kick all the way back. Pierre Thomas is still going to get most of the carries on 1st and 2nd down, but Bush could still see 1000 total yards with 40 or 50 catches to make him valuable enough in PPR leagues.
1. Michael Bush
Like Harrison, someone has to carry the ball for the Raiders, and McFadden has been disappointing. Bush is a tougher inside runner, so don't be surprised if he starts seeing the bulk of the carries midway through the season. He's a better waiver wire option than a draft day selection, but keep your eye on him for the first couple weeks.
2. Arian Foster
Houston's backfield situation is a fantasy disaster, but with Ben Tate out of the way and Steve Slaton likely to see the field mostly on 3rd down, Foster will get a chance to be the guy. The Texans are still going to throw it a little too much for him to see a ton of carries even if he does emerge as the full-time starter, but for a few weeks at least he'll get his chances.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson
Yes, he's washed up and clearly Shonn Greene's backup. However, the Jets ran it over 600 times last year. Even if Greene gets 350 carries, there's still plenty to be had. He's a deep sleeper, but if he can make the most of his touches behind a terrific O-line, he's worth a late round draft choice.
1. C.J. Spiller
Why did he have to go to the Bills? He clearly has a brighter future than Jackson and Lynch, but he'll have to prove he can run between the tackles. Spiller will get touches, but not enough to be a fantasy starter every week.
2. Washington Redskins
It would have been fun for LT to sign with the Skins and add to their collection of now perennial underachievers in the backfield. Portis, Larry Johnson, and Fast Willie Parker are all equally washed up, making it impossible to draft any of them. Unless two of them get hurt, this is a fantasy disaster. Plus, McNabb's addition means Washington will throw it more. Stay away.