Last week, we debuted our positional rankings for the 2011 fantasy football season. Last night, we released our first cheat sheet of our top 150 players for 2011.
One of the things we noted in our fantasy running back rankings was the reduction in the number of workhorse running backs nowadays. That said, the first six (and 12 of the first 16) players on our cheat sheet are running backs, with only two quarterbacks and two wide receivers cracking the top 16.
Here are our top 25 players (out of 150) for the 2011 fantasy football season:
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: Recently, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, "We'll major in giving the ball to Adrian." Those words are music to fantasy owners' ears, as Peterson has seen a three-year decline in rushing attempts (363 to 314 to 283.) Although Peterson missed a game last year, he needed 31 rushing attempts, which would have been a season high, to have reached 2009 levels. That said, Peterson ranks second in yards from scrimmage over the past three seasons (5,239) and has scored 54 touchdowns in 61 career games.
2. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: Over the past three seasons, no running back has more yards from scrimmage than Johnson, who set the single-season record in 2009 when he became the sixth running back to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark. While his numbers dipped last year, Johnson still has "the same goal" of 2,500 rushing yards, which he describes as "very realistic." However, Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean thinks Johnson will be a no-show to training camp if he doesn't get a new contract.
3. Arian Foster, RB, Texans: Foster led the NFL in rushing (1,616 yards,) rushing touchdowns (16) and all running backs in receiving yards (604) in 2010. In addition, he was second among running backs in receptions with 66. If there's any concern about Foster, it's the return of a healthy Ben Tate, who was the team's second-round pick in 2010. But there's no doubt that Foster will remain an elite fantasy running back in 2011.
4. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs: Despite ranking 14th in the league in rushing attempts (230) and second on his own team (Thomas Jones had 245,) Charles ranked second in the league in rushing yards (1,467) and yards from scrimmage (1,935) in 2010. While fantasy owners have been frustrated by Charles' less-than-deserved share of the workload, he is expected to get a larger share of the workload in 2011.
5. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: To some degree, Rice disappointed fantasy owners in 2010. While setting a career high in rushing attempts (307), Rice saw a year-over-year decline in most of his stats and set a career low in yards per rush attempt, with 4.0. Even so, Rice still managed to finish in the top three in yards from scrimmage in 2010. With the Ravens unlikely to keep Willis McGahee, who has a total of 27 touchdowns (24 rushing and three receiving) in the past three seasons, Rice could see the end zone more often in 2011.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: Despite playing through a "bone-on-bone" knee condition last year, Jones-Drew rushed for 100-plus yards in six consecutive games before missing the final two games of the season. A couple of months ago, Pocket Hercules said he was ahead of schedule on his rehab and it was "going to be fun" proving "a couple of people wrong." Rashad Jennings, who rushed for 359 yards in the final six games, is likely to cut into MJD's workload a little more in 2011.
7. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: Despite missing three games last year, Johnson still finished with 86 receptions and 1,216 yards. Based on his per-game averages, Johnson would have finished with 106 receptions and 1,496 yards if he played a full 16 games. In other words, he would have been just four yards short of a third consecutive 100-reception, 1,500-yard season.
8. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: Injured for a good portion of the 2009 season, Turner led the NFL in rushing attempts in 2008 and 2010. There are some concerns with Turner—he turns 30 next off-season, he averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per rush attempt and he doesn't help out in the passing game at all. That said, 16 active players have more carries than "The Burner" so I'm not as concerned about his workload as others. Turner has a nose for the goal line (39 rushing touchdowns in past 43 games.)
9. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles: McCoy, the Eagles' second-round pick in 2009, had only one game with more than 20-plus carries in Andy Reid's pass-first offense. Even so, McCoy finished fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,672).
10. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: If it weren't for the concussion suffered against Detroit that caused him to miss a game and a half, Rodgers would have thrown for 4,000-plus yards for a third straight season. Even so, he was only 78 yards shy of the mark, despite being without Jermichael Finley and much help in the running game for the majority of the season. While he's nowhere near as dangerous on the ground as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Rodgers has finished either second or third in rushing among quarterbacks in the past two seasons.
11. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers: Mendenhall set career highs in rushing attempts (324), yards (1,273) and touchdowns (13) after his breakout season in 2009. And, fortunately for fantasy owners, you don't get penalized for Mendenhall's tweets. (And that actually applies to the other professional running back that plays half of his games in the state of Pennsylvania.)
12. Michael Vick, Eagles: On a per-game basis, it wouldn't surprise me if Vick posted better statistics than Rodgers in 2011. In an eight-game stretch from Weeks 9 to 16, Vick posted 2,219 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns, six interceptions, 489 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns—nearly 12 fantasy points per game from his rushing statistics alone during that span. But will Vick stay healthy for 16 games (or 15 games since most fantasy championships take place in Week 16)? That's what worries me.
13. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: Megatron was my second-ranked preseason receiver last year as well, but the gap is narrowing. For the second time in three seasons, Johnson finished with 1,100-plus yards and 12 touchdowns (although he should have had 13 last year.) The addition of rookies Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure could help divert a little bit of the extra attention opposing defenses give him.
14. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: After two largely disappointing seasons, McFadden broke out in 2010. McFadden missed three games, but he finished second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage on a per-game basis (128.0), behind only Foster.
15. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Although he is only 27 years old, Jackson ranks sixth all-time among active players in rushing attempts (1,878), including 654 attempts in the past two seasons combined. Although he set a career low in yards per carry (3.8) last year and has only 10 touchdowns in the past two seasons, Jackson has accounted for 3,362 yards of total offense in the past two seasons.
16. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: Gore got off to a great start in the first half last year—over 1,000 yards from scrimmage (691 rushing yards and 348 receiving yards), which was especially impressive considering the team's general offensive woes. Recovered from the broken hip he suffered in Week 12, Gore has averaged more than 103 yards from scrimmage per game over his career although he has played only one full 16-game season.
17. Roddy White, WR, Falcons: Last year, White set career highs in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) and has now scored double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. For four straight seasons, White has had 85-plus receptions and 1,100-plus yards. The addition of Julio Jones should take some targets away from White, but it should also keep opposing defenses more honest in coverage.
18. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: Although he missed three games last year, Nicks took a big step forward in his second season, finishing with 79 receptions, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was tied for fourth in touchdowns and his 80.9 yards-per-game average ranked fifth in the NFL.
19. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: Since becoming a Saint in 2006, Brees has thrown for 4,300-plus yards and 26-plus touchdowns every season. In other words, the floor is high. And while Brees will spread the ball around in the Saints' high-powered offense, one thing is for sure: He's going to air it out. Last year, Brees threw a career-high 658 pass attempts, which is the third-most in a season in NFL history. But he also has the fifth-highest (652 in 2007) and seventh-highest (635 in 2008) totals as well.
20. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts: With the exception of Drew Bledsoe's 691 pass attempts in 1994, no quarterback in NFL history aired it out as much as Manning did in 2010 (679 attempts). In other words (or numbers,) Manning threw 42.4 pass attempts per game in 2010. Manning has thrown for less than 4,000 yards only twice in his 13-year career and threw for a career-high 4,700 last season. Provided Dallas Clark and Austin Collie can stay healthy for a full season, Manning should be good for 4,500-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns for a third consecutive season.
21. Greg Jennings, WR, Packers: For the second time in his career, Jennings finished with 1,200-plus yards and 12 touchdowns. It was the first time, however, he did both of those things in the same season. Provided Jermichael Finley stays healthy and the Packers have more of a running game, Jennings should see a few less targets in 2011, but he's still a top five option.
22. Matt Forte, RB, Bears: Over the three-year period Forte has been in the league, only three other running backs (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson) have more yards from scrimmage. Forte's value is even greater in PPR leagues, as only Baltimore's Ray Rice has more receptions than Forte during that span.
23. Shonn Greene, RB, Jets: It's deja vu all over again with Greene. Last year, Greene was expected to become the team's workhorse running back with the departure of Thomas Jones. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer recently said "we expect a breakout season" from Greene, who is expected to get 18-20 carries per game. If you multiply 18 carries per game by last year's 4.1 yards per carry, you get 1,181 rushing yards, which would have been good for 11th in the league last year.
24. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Stewart, the Panthers' first-round pick in 2008, is likely to take over as the team's featured back as DeAngelo Williams is expected to leave via free agency. Without Williams and after returning from injury himself, The Daily Show rushed for 602 yards in the team's final six games for the league's 32nd-ranked offense.
25. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: Wayne, who will turn 33 in November, has been remarkably consistent (1,000-plus yards for seven straight seasons) and durable (hasn't missed any games in past nine seasons.) Last year, Wayne set a career high in receptions (111) and finished with his second-highest yardage total (1,355).
To see the rest of our top 150 fantasy football cheat sheet, click here.
From now until the start the of the 2011 season, we will update and expand our rankings, add different formats, such as point-per-reception (PPR), keeper, etc., in addition to creating fantasy profiles and projections for all players and offering lists of sleepers and busts, etc.
Or all of the above.