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...
|1||LaMichael James||Oregon||back for another big season|
|2||Lance Dunbar||North Texas||new coach should feed him ball more than ever|
|3||Bobby Rainey||W. Kentucky||led country in carries last year with 340|
|4||Knile Davis||Arkansas||6.5 ypc best among RBs with 200+ carries|
|5||Marcus Lattimore||South Carolina||can he match his 19 TDs from 2010?|
|6||Ronnie Hillman||San Diego State||new coaching staff brings questions|
|7||Trent Richardson||Alabama||with Ingram gone, it's his show now|
|8||Montee Ball||Wisconsin||John Clay is gone but James White returns|
|9||Marcus Coker||Iowa||No Jewel, Wegher or A-Rob to worry about|
|10||Doug Martin||Boise State||with star WRs gone, will Martin see more carries?|
|11||Cyrus Gray||Texas A&M||finished year with 7 straight 100+ yard games|
|12||David Wilson||Virginia Tech||Wililams & Evans are gone|
|13||Montel Harris||Boston College||does Andre Williams pose a major threat?|
|14||Rodney Stewart||Colorado||quietly accounted for 1600+ yds from scrimmage|
|15||Brandon Bolden||Mississippi||surprisingly finished 14th among fantasy RBs in '10|
|16||James White||Wisconsin||will battle for carries with Montee Ball|
|17||Roy Finch||Oklahoma||Demarco & Madu leave, Finch & Clay are next up|
|18||Joseph Randle||Oklahoma State||Kendall Hunter is gone. Is Jeremy Smith a threat?|
|19||Zach Line||SMU||can he replicate his 244-1494-10 statline in 2011?|
|20||Stepfan Taylor||Stanford||o-line is decimated, but should still be workhorse|
|21||Adonis Thomas||Toledo||had a huge 2nd half of season|
|22||Michael Dyer||Auburn||lots of surrounding talent is gone|
|23||Ray Graham||Pittsburgh||Dion Lewis exits, new HC Todd Graham enters|
|24||Chris Polk||Washington||should be focal point of offense with Locker gone|
|25||Vick Ballard||Mississippi St.||get ready for the MSU hype-machine this offseason|
|26||Andre Ellington||Clemson||Harper is gone, Ellington needs to stay healthy|
|27||Orleans Darkwa||Tulane||ended year with six straight 20+ fantasy pt games|
|28||Edwin Baker||Michigan State||will he continue to see most of the workload?|
|29||Robbie Rouse||Fresno State||can he stay healthy this time around?|
|30||Rex Burkhead||Nebraska||poised to be lead dog with Helu gone|
|31||JJ Di Luigi||BYU||Kariya & Quezada make for possible RBBC|
|32||Tauren Poole||Tennessee||will continue to be RB1 for the Vols|
|33||Mike Ball||Nevada||lots of carries to be had with Vai Taua gone|
|34||Lennon Creer||La Tech||had nice but inconsistent season|
|35||Stephen Hopkins||Michigan||bigger back that Brady Hoke could throw into fray|
|36||Pat Shed||UAB||great PPR league option - 47 rec. (1300+ total yds)|
|37||Eric Stephens||Texas Tech||Baron Batch finally departs|
|38||Isaiah Pead||Cincinnati||1200 total yards and 8 TDs last fall|
|39||Daniel Herron||Ohio State||will 5 game suspension be reduced?|
|40||Shawne Alston||West Virginia||assuming Holgorsen decides Tavon Austin is a WR|
|41||Darriet Perry||Florida Int'l||came on strong 2nd half of year, 16 rush TDs|
|42||Sam McGuffie||Rice||1200+ yds and 10 TDs, beware vulture Eddington|
|43||Silas Redd||Penn State||Evan Royster is gone, PSU always love to run it|
|44||Davin Meggett||Maryland||Randy Edsall loves to run the ball|
|45||Bernard Pierce||Temple||injury-riddled 2010 season, new coaching staff|
|46||Ed Wesley||TCU||will Tucker & James continue to steal carries?|
|47||Latavius Murray||UCF||some uncertainty with Harvey & Weaver in mix|
|48||Jason Ford||Illinois||LeShoure is gone, Ford should see lots of carries|
|49||Charles Sims||Houston||expected to be back after 2010 suspension|
|50||Kendrick Hardy||Southern Miss||Hardy will battle Dennis Johnson for touches|
|51||Keola Antolin||Arizona||had 900 tot yards and 9 TDs, now Grigsby is gone|
|52||Johnathan Franklin||UCLA||1127 rushing yards, 8 TDs in 2010|
|53||Alvester Alexander||Wyoming||over 900 total yards and 14 TDs in 2010|
|54||Robert Turbin||Utah State||should be recovered from knee injury|
|55||Washaun Ealey||Georgia||can he break string of UGA RB disappointments?|
|56||Marc Tyler||USC||he and Baxter will likely split carries|
|57||Alfred Morris||FAU||nearly 1000 total yards and 8 TDs in 2010|
|58||Kenjon Barner||Oregon||holds value as backup to LaMichael James|
|59||Cierre Wood||Notre Dame||will he get lion's share of touches?|
|60||Bryce Beall||Houston||Sims returning knocks Beall down a few pegs|
|61||Jared Hassin||Army||totaled nearly 1200 yards and 9 TDs in 2010|
|62||Lamar Miller||Miami FL||will Golden use him like a healthy Bernard Pierce?|
|63||Chris Thompson||Florida State||had big bowl game, will he see enough carries?|
|64||James Sims||Kansas||emerged as frosh for 870 total yds and 10 TDs|
|65||Michael Ford||LSU||Ridley is gone, Ford has a chance to step into mix|
|66||Antwon Bailey||Syracuse||Carter is gone, Bailey should be RB1|
|67||Robbie Frey||Connecticut||Todman gone, new coaching staff in place|
|68||Asher Clark||Air Force||rushed for 1031 yds and 5 TDs, Jared Tew is gone|
|69||Jeremy Eddington||Rice||7 TDs in last 3 games, will vulture from McGuffie|
|70||Malcolm Brown||Texas||true frosh has a chance to step right in|
|71||Cameron Marshall||Arizona State||racked up over 1000 yds and 10 TDs this fall|
|72||Shawn Southward||Troy||DuJuan Harris is gone, Southward has big opport.|
|73||Jeremy Smith||Oklahoma St||could battle Randle for carries|
|74||Jamaal Berry||Ohio State||will get his chance to shine with Boom out early|
|75||Brynn Harvey||UCF||should be back from injury, could push Murray|
|76||Darius Willis||Indiana||lost coach, QB and Doss. Is this good or bad thing?|
|77||Onterio McCalebb||Auburn||how will touches pan out with he and Dyer?|
|78||Le'Veon Bell||Michigan State||excellent frosh year, but disappeared down stretch|
|79||De'Vion Moore||Missouri||will Mizzou lean on run game without Gabbert?|
|80||Brennan Clay||Oklahoma||pairs up with Finch to form a nice backfield|
|81||Lache Seastrunk||Oregon||big time keeper prospect|
|82||Michael Hayes||Houston||could get lost in shuffle with Beall and Sims|
|83||Raymond Carter||Colorado State||should be RB1 on opening day|
|84||Matt Brown||Temple||always a good spot start when Pierce is injured|
|85||Andre Williams||Boston College||could be a nightmare for Montel Harris owners|
|86||Josh Oglesby||Virginia Tech||could be the thunder to David Wilson's lightning|
|87||Perry Jones||Virginia||Keith Payne and his 14 TDs are gone|
|88||Eddie Lacy||Alabama||expected to serve as back up to T-Richardson|
|89||Mike Trumpy||Northwestern||had some nice moments late in 2010 season|
|90||Ronnie Weaver||UCF||fell off the map late in 2010, Murray took over|
|91||Deantre Lewis||Arizona State||dangerous receiving threat - good in PPR leagues|
|92||Dillon Baxter||USC||big potential, can he stay out of trouble?|
|93||LeDarius Perkins||Mississippi State||multi-dimensional threat who should see more touches|
|94||Aaron Spikes||La-Lafayette||nice PPR player, 339 rush, 398 recv, 8 TDs as frosh|
|95||Vincent Smith||Michigan||whoever cements RB1 job will shoot up rankings|
|96||Duane Bennett||Minnesota||new HC Jerry Kill ran it well at NIU with Spann|
|97||Jeffrey Demps||Florida||how will Charlie Weis handle the Gator RBs?|
|98||Joseph Banyard||UTEP||filled in nicely for Buckram, has some potential|
|99||Christine Michael||Texas A&M||will likely take a back seat to Cyrus Gray in 2011|
|100||Gregory Ray||Memphis||should be RB1 on opening day|
|101||Mustafa Greene||NC State||showed flashes in 2010|
|102||Jacquise Terry||Kent State||after strong first 7 games, vanished late in year|
|103||Darrian Mallary||Florida Int'l||forms nice 1-2 punch with Darriet Perry|
|104||Ryan McCants||Oregon State||somebody needs to fill Quizz's shoes|
|105||Paris Cotton||C. Michigan||had a couple explosive games in 2010|
|106||DJ Shoemate||Connecticut||could fight Robbie Frey for carries|
|107||Caleb King||Georgia||overhyped last couple years|
|108||Dennis Johnson||Southern Miss||could battle for starting role|
|109||DeLeon Eskridge||Minnesota||this 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.