Fantasy NFL 2011: Which RBs Will Have an Impact Next Season?

Song FlaglerContributor IMarch 3, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ah, the all-important running back position in fantasy football.  Almost every draft strategy says to pick a running back first.  I think that's true for the most part, although I think we are shifting to a pass-first offensive scheme in the NFL. 

The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl on the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the hands of his many receivers (who all look like stars). The Patriots and Colts seem to place less emphasis on the running game.  And as more college teams choose the spread offense, more NFL teams may tailor their offensive schemes towards the quarterbacks they draft. 

I'm not saying the running back is no longer important, I just think that—from a fantasy perspective—the position may not be quite as meaningful.

That being said, I still think it should be the first or second position taken in a draft, especially if you have a flex player on your roster.  I've spent some time thinking about which running backs may end up being your next fantasy league MVP, and here's what I see this year (in the order of their fantasy value).

Adrian Peterson

Peterson did a great job holding on to the football this year, and I may be more inclined to go after him this year.  I know fumbles don't hurt from a fantasy perspective, but I just couldn't force myself to draft the guy knowing he could cost me four points a game four or five times a year. 

I don't really need to say a lot about Peterson, although he could see some challenges with a new offensive coordinator, a question at quarterback and a potentially shortened season, which could affect the way the offensive line works together. 

But, despite all that, Peterson is a beast and must be drafted in the first round—high in the first round.

Jamaal Charles

Charles may quickly move into the top running back spot on anyone's fantasy draft board.  He is on a young, exciting team with a little more experience at quarterback and exciting players around him, including Dwayne Bowe (who I will discuss when I talk about wideouts), Dexter McCluster and Tony Moeaki. 

No defense can choose to stop the run because the passing game is proficient.  So, Charles should find success again this year, despite the fact that they'll have a new offensive coordinator in Bill Muir.

Muir is promoted from offensive line coach, so the system may not change enough to hurt Charles' chances.  Expect him to get you double-digit points every week.

Ray Rice

Rice was on both of my fantasy championship teams, so I might be a bit of a homer, but I expect Rice to have a monster season this year.  He only had five touchdowns rushing, but he managed to rush for 1,220 yards, not to mention what he did in the passing game.

I think he will have a more prominent role this year, and I believe he is a fantasy stud most weeks (except when he faces Pittsburgh).

Michael Turner

Turner may be getting "old" at 29, but the Falcons run a very balanced offense and are very disciplined.  Turner should see around the same productivity as last year—1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.  If Peterson and Charles are not available, take Turner. 

Maurice Jones-Drew

And what about little (don't tell him I said that) Maurice Jones-Drew?  Honestly, I'm not sure how to feel about him.  I think he has some definite value. But the Jags can't seem to find sustained success.  Jones-Drew found success most of the year and went on a monster tear late.  He's young and has strong legs.  I would put him as a stud, too.

There are a few other running backs who may be worthy of a high draft pick.  Matt Forte will be a question mark with Mike Martz as coordinator, but he is a prolific back. 

Rashard Mendenhall will always put up numbers with the Steelers, and he is their top running back for sure.

There are some questions at running back, too, and some of those names may surprise you. 

You've probably already asked yourself where is Arian Foster?  I've seen far too many times where a running back carries a majority of a team's load and then falters the next year.  I expect the same this year.  But I'd still take him in the second or third round, depending on who I go after.

Chris Johnson—how could I put a 2,000-yard rusher on the bottom of this list? 

Well, the Titans are a mess right now.  There's no idea who the quarterback is, and they have a new coaching staff.  Johnson will still put up good numbers, but I wouldn't take him before any of the other running backs listed here.