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College Fantasy Football: Way-Too-Early 2011 Running Back Rankings

Oregon standout LaMichael James
Oregon standout LaMichael JamesChristian Petersen/Getty Images
Todd at CollegeFootballGeek.comCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2011

Our offseason machine rolls on with a look at the 2011 running backs in our latest installment of CollegeFootballGeek.com's "Way Too Early" college fantasy football player rankings.

Please understand there's a reason we're calling them "Way Too Early" rankings.  It's just a first glance at the 2011 prospects.  A gut feel.  We haven't fully analyzed returning o-lineman for each school.  We haven't yet plugged in the incoming stud recruits (signing day is February 2nd). We didn't account for all of the new coaching changes.  And we haven't taken a peek at the upcoming fall schedules.  All of that will come with due time. 

We'll release one article per position per day. Here's the schedule:

Friday, January 21 - Quarterbacks
Monday, January 24 - Running Backs
Tuesday, January 25 - Wide Receivers
Wednesday, January 26 - Tight Ends & Kickers

We're going to pass on defensive rankings until later this spring. So, without further ado, let's dive into the running backs!


"Way Too Early" 2011 Running Back Rankings

The running back position took a significant hit this January with 11 high profile names heading early into the NFL draft. That's a surprising large number especially considering there may not be a full NFL season next fall. 

But the returning college RB cupboard isn't bare.

LaMichael James headlines the returnees, and rightly so. The Oregon Duck posted 1,731 rushing yards and scored 24 total TDs last fall. Let's hope he can keep his nose clean this off-season.

North Texas' Lance Dunbar should be in line for another big year.  With former Iowa State head coach now at the helm, expect Dunbar to get the rock often.  Dunbar was simply unstoppable in Sun Belt play and finished the year with three 200+ yard rushing performances in his final five games.

Speaking of hot running backs, Arkansas' Knile Davis was a monster down the stretch.  His 6.5 yards per carry was tops in the nation for running backs with over 200 carries. 

Bobby Rainey returns for Western Kentucky.  He led the country in carries in 2010 with 340. As long as he doesn't wear down, he should be a force again in the Sun Belt.


Some RB questions to chew on:

* What with the carry distribution look like in Madison next fall?  There should be enough to share between James White and Montee Ball, but who is 1A and 1B?

* Boise State loses both starting wideouts Titus Young and Austin Pettis.  Does this mean the Broncos offense will center more around the running game?  If so, this could be good news for Doug Martin owners.

* Boston College's Montel Harris had a rough first half to the season. He went through a five-game stretch where he didn't reach the endzone.  Harris turned things around in the second half of the year before suffering a season-ending injury. This opened the door for freshman Andre Williams to show his stuff.  Williams logged 108, 185 and 73 yard performances in the final three games.  Should Harris owners be worried about Williams in 2011?

* Virginia Tech loses both Darren Evans and Ryan Williams to the NFL.  Should we assume David Wilson will get the lion's share of carries this fall (a la Ryan Williams, who posted 293-1655-21 in 2009)?

* Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle will look to fill the shoes of the departed Kendall Hunter.  With offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen gone, will Randle be utilized the same way as Hunter was?  Does Jeremy Smith pose a threat to Randle's playing time?

* Can Sooner running back Roy Finch live up to the hype?  With Demarco Murray off to play on Sundays, there's been lots of chatter from Norman that the Sooners will not miss a beat with Finch in there.

* Who will take over for Vai Taua at Nevada?  Is Mike Ball ready to be a lead back?  Will Lampford Mark be recovered from a late season injury to battle for time?

* Will BYU senior-to-be J.J. DiLuigi get the chance to build upon his impressive 2010 campaign?  Or will Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada steal just enough touches away to keep DiLuigi from being a borderline elite fantasy RB?

* If Charles Sims returns to the squad as expected, how will Houston share their backfield workload?  Sims, Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes give the coaching staff plenty of options.

* Will new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke roll with Stephen Hopkins as his workhorse?  Hoke did wonders for MiQuale Lewis while at Ball State, and Ronnie Hillman while at San Diego State.

* Can Utah State running back Robert Turbin return to his pre-injury form (he missed 2010 with a torn ACL)?

* After a season of rehabbing back from injury, will Brynn Harvey return to the UCF backfield?  If so, how does that effect up-and-comer Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver?  Until we see how Harvey looks in spring ball, it's tough to rank Murray too high.

* Will Texas ever produce another fantasy-worthy running back?  Could incoming freshman Malcolm Brown be the answer?

* Former UConn head coach Randy Edsall loves leaning on a workhorse running back.  Now that he's at Maryland, does he have someone on the roster that fills that RB1 role?  Davin Meggett, perhaps?

* With Texas Tech RB Baron Batch out of the way, will Eric Stephens step in and take the bull by the horns?  Or will we be burned (again) by trusting the Red Raider running game?

* TCU's Ed Wesley ended the year with a whimper.  With everyone around him gone —except for the other running backs vying for his job (Matthew Tucker and Wayman James)—what shold the expectations be for Wesley this fall?

Spring ball will hopefully give us a few answer to these lingering questions.  For now, here's how we rank the running backs...

1LaMichael JamesOregonback for another big season
2Lance DunbarNorth Texasnew coach should feed him ball more than ever
3Bobby RaineyW. Kentuckyled country in carries last year with 340
4Knile DavisArkansas6.5 ypc best among RBs with 200+ carries
5Marcus LattimoreSouth Carolinacan he match his 19 TDs from 2010?
6Ronnie HillmanSan Diego Statenew coaching staff brings questions
7Trent RichardsonAlabamawith Ingram gone, it's his show now
8Montee BallWisconsinJohn Clay is gone but James White returns
9Marcus CokerIowaNo Jewel, Wegher or A-Rob to worry about
10Doug MartinBoise Statewith star WRs gone, will Martin see more carries?
11Cyrus GrayTexas A&Mfinished year with 7 straight 100+ yard games
12David WilsonVirginia TechWililams & Evans are gone
13Montel HarrisBoston Collegedoes Andre Williams pose a major threat?
14Rodney StewartColoradoquietly accounted for 1600+ yds from scrimmage
15Brandon BoldenMississippisurprisingly finished 14th among fantasy RBs in '10
16James WhiteWisconsinwill battle for carries with Montee Ball
17Roy FinchOklahomaDemarco & Madu leave, Finch & Clay are next up
18Joseph RandleOklahoma StateKendall Hunter is gone.  Is Jeremy Smith a threat?
19Zach LineSMUcan he replicate his 244-1494-10 statline in 2011?
20Stepfan TaylorStanfordo-line is decimated, but should still be workhorse
21Adonis ThomasToledohad a huge 2nd half of season
22Michael DyerAuburnlots of surrounding talent is gone
23Ray GrahamPittsburghDion Lewis exits, new HC Todd Graham enters
24Chris PolkWashingtonshould be focal point of offense with Locker gone
25Vick BallardMississippi St.get ready for the MSU hype-machine this offseason
26Andre EllingtonClemsonHarper is gone, Ellington needs to stay healthy
27Orleans DarkwaTulaneended year with six straight 20+ fantasy pt games
28Edwin BakerMichigan Statewill he continue to see most of the workload?
29Robbie RouseFresno Statecan he stay healthy this time around?
30Rex BurkheadNebraskapoised to be lead dog with Helu gone
31JJ Di LuigiBYUKariya & Quezada make for possible RBBC
32Tauren PooleTennesseewill continue to be RB1 for the Vols
33Mike BallNevadalots of carries to be had with Vai Taua gone
34Lennon CreerLa Techhad nice but inconsistent season
35Stephen HopkinsMichiganbigger back that Brady Hoke could throw into fray
36Pat ShedUABgreat PPR league option - 47 rec. (1300+ total yds)
37Eric StephensTexas TechBaron Batch finally departs
38Isaiah PeadCincinnati1200 total yards and 8 TDs last fall
39Daniel HerronOhio Statewill 5 game suspension be reduced?
40Shawne AlstonWest Virginiaassuming Holgorsen decides Tavon Austin is a WR
41Darriet PerryFlorida Int'lcame on strong 2nd half of year, 16 rush TDs
42Sam McGuffieRice1200+ yds and 10 TDs, beware vulture Eddington
43Silas ReddPenn StateEvan Royster is gone, PSU always love to run it
44Davin MeggettMarylandRandy Edsall loves to run the ball
45Bernard PierceTempleinjury-riddled 2010 season, new coaching staff
46Ed WesleyTCUwill Tucker & James continue to steal carries?
47Latavius MurrayUCFsome uncertainty with Harvey & Weaver in mix
48Jason FordIllinoisLeShoure is gone, Ford should see lots of carries
49Charles SimsHoustonexpected to be back after 2010 suspension
50Kendrick HardySouthern MissHardy will battle Dennis Johnson for touches
51Keola AntolinArizonahad 900 tot yards and 9 TDs, now Grigsby is gone
52Johnathan FranklinUCLA1127 rushing yards, 8 TDs in 2010
53Alvester AlexanderWyomingover 900 total yards and 14 TDs in 2010
54Robert TurbinUtah Stateshould be recovered from knee injury
55Washaun EaleyGeorgiacan he break string of UGA RB disappointments?
56Marc TylerUSChe and Baxter will likely split carries
57Alfred MorrisFAUnearly 1000 total yards and 8 TDs in 2010
58Kenjon BarnerOregonholds value as backup to LaMichael James
59Cierre WoodNotre Damewill he get lion's share of touches?
60Bryce BeallHoustonSims returning knocks Beall down a few pegs
61Jared HassinArmytotaled nearly 1200 yards and 9 TDs in 2010
62Lamar MillerMiami FLwill Golden use him like a healthy Bernard Pierce?
63Chris ThompsonFlorida Statehad big bowl game, will he see enough carries?
64James SimsKansasemerged as frosh for 870 total yds and 10 TDs
65Michael FordLSURidley is gone, Ford has a chance to step into mix
66Antwon BaileySyracuseCarter is gone, Bailey should be RB1
67Robbie FreyConnecticutTodman gone, new coaching staff in place
68Asher ClarkAir Forcerushed for 1031 yds and 5 TDs, Jared Tew is gone
69Jeremy EddingtonRice7 TDs in last 3 games, will vulture from McGuffie
70Malcolm BrownTexas true frosh has a chance to step right in
71Cameron MarshallArizona Stateracked up over 1000 yds and 10 TDs this fall
72Shawn SouthwardTroyDuJuan Harris is gone, Southward has big opport.
73Jeremy SmithOklahoma Stcould battle Randle for carries
74Jamaal BerryOhio Statewill get his chance to shine with Boom out early
75Brynn HarveyUCFshould be back from injury, could push Murray
76Darius WillisIndianalost coach, QB and Doss. Is this good or bad thing?
77Onterio McCalebbAuburnhow will touches pan out with he and Dyer?
78Le'Veon BellMichigan Stateexcellent frosh year, but disappeared down stretch
79De'Vion MooreMissouriwill Mizzou lean on run game without Gabbert?
80Brennan ClayOklahomapairs up with Finch to form a nice backfield
81Lache SeastrunkOregonbig time keeper prospect
82Michael HayesHoustoncould get lost in shuffle with Beall and Sims
83Raymond CarterColorado Stateshould be RB1 on opening day
84Matt BrownTemplealways a good spot start when Pierce is injured
85Andre WilliamsBoston Collegecould be a nightmare for Montel Harris owners
86Josh OglesbyVirginia Techcould be the thunder to David Wilson's lightning
87Perry JonesVirginia  Keith Payne and his 14 TDs are gone
88Eddie LacyAlabamaexpected to serve as back up to T-Richardson
89Mike TrumpyNorthwesternhad some nice moments late in 2010 season
90Ronnie WeaverUCFfell off the map late in 2010, Murray took over
91Deantre LewisArizona Statedangerous receiving threat - good in PPR leagues
92Dillon BaxterUSCbig potential, can he stay out of trouble?
93LeDarius PerkinsMississippi Statemulti-dimensional threat who should see more touches
94Aaron SpikesLa-Lafayettenice PPR player, 339 rush, 398 recv, 8 TDs as frosh
95Vincent SmithMichiganwhoever cements RB1 job will shoot up rankings
96Duane BennettMinnesotanew HC Jerry Kill ran it well at NIU with Spann
97Jeffrey DempsFloridahow will Charlie Weis handle the Gator RBs?
98Joseph BanyardUTEPfilled in nicely for Buckram, has some potential
99Christine MichaelTexas A&Mwill likely take a back seat to Cyrus Gray in 2011
100Gregory RayMemphisshould be RB1 on opening day
101Mustafa GreeneNC Stateshowed flashes in 2010
102Jacquise TerryKent Stateafter strong first 7 games, vanished late in year
103Darrian MallaryFlorida Int'lforms nice 1-2 punch with Darriet Perry
104Ryan McCantsOregon Statesomebody needs to fill Quizz's shoes
105Paris CottonC. Michiganhad a couple explosive games in 2010
106DJ ShoemateConnecticutcould fight Robbie Frey for carries
107Caleb KingGeorgiaoverhyped last couple years
108Dennis JohnsonSouthern Misscould battle for starting role
109DeLeon EskridgeMinnesotathis guy has seemingly been around for like 7 years


Todd DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com, your premier destination for all things college fantasy football.

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