Fantasy Football 2011 Rookie Rankings: Running Backs

Nick SeroCorrespondent IIIJuly 11, 2011

LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 14:  Daniel Thomas #8 of the Kansas State Wildcats carries the ball as Olaitan Oguntodu #44 of the Kansas Jayhawks defends during the game on October 14, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Sports Cannon prides themselves every year in making the best fantasy football rookie rankings so that you are prepared for success each season. This season we have checked the schedules, the training camp competition and the overall abilities of each rookie to determine which rookie, if any, will be a breakout star.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, it happens every year. You have grown up believing that in order to win in fantasy football you need to have great running backs, not good but great. So when a bright eyed rookie is drafted in the first round of the real NFL Draft fantasy football players all get excited. Rarely does it work out in the favor of the fantasy football team owner, but then again there is bound to be another Adrian Peterson out there somewhere.

The trick is to not getting caught up in the hype. You have to think realistically when drafting rookies, some player’s only value is in keeper leagues. So how stacked is your team? Can you afford to draft a rookie running back in the fourth round? Probably not, but there has to be value there for any pick.

So unless you are drafting for the future, make sure you know the situation of any running back you are drafting.


1. Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins

As of now Thomas looks to be the one rookie going in to a wide open backfield. Thomas is a three down back and could end up being one of those rare feature backs we don’t see anymore. Just for that fact Thomas has to be the best rookie for this season. Long term value is a different question. Thomas has had some fumble and injury issues in his past and won’t last long in the NFL if he can’t hold on to the ball. The Dolphins have a decent offensive line, however and only got better by drafting Mike Pouncey. ADP: 75


2. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

 Some are already calling Ingram the new Emmitt Smith, although we can see some similarities we aren’t quite ready to hand him that distinction. Mark steps in to a favorable situation: playing for a contender with a smart, hardworking veteran quarterback. The Saints are a pass first offense, but will look to Ingram when they are in the red zone. There is definite potential to Ingram as a fantasy starter this season, but his TD production is tied to Pierre Thomas’ health. ADP: 63


3. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals

 Williams is one of six running backs on the Cardinals roster this season. Lucky for him none of the other five have done enough to impress their run-first head coach, Ken Whisenhut. Williams has more than enough ability to become a feature back in the NFL, the question is whether he will ever be given that opportunity in Arizona. Beanie Wells was the team’s first-round pick in 2009 and still has three years remaining on that rookie contract. Tim Hightower was the team’s best back last year, but the drafting of Williams marks the end of wither Hightower or Wells’ careers. ADP: 96



4. Roy Helu, Washington Redskins: 

 Helu will enter Redskins’ training camps as the third running back on the depth chart. Luckily for Helu the two backs in front of him have made their careers as backup running backs. What makes Helu even more of an enticing pick is that his head coach, Mike Shannahan, has proven a few times in his career he can make any back look great. Helu has tremendous athletic ability to go along with a large frame, he just doesn’t have the vision or tenacity required to be a starter. Helu will likely have his bumps and bruises in the beginning of the year. Once he is in the coach’s good graces he could be a great pickup. ADP: 113


 5. Demarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

 There is still some uncertainty to whether the Cowboys will elect to keep Marion Barber but at this point all signs point to him playing elsewhere. Murray would likely start as the team’s third down back behind Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The fact the Cowboys invested a third-round pick in Murray says that the team is interested in adding some new blood to the running attack. Murray is better suited as a third down back, catching passes out of the backfield. With a healthy Tony Romo and a trigger happy Jerry Jones, we could see Murray injected in to the lineup sooner than later. ADP: 139


6. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions

 Sorry, but we don’t buy the hype. Jahvid Best had a great start last season in Detroit but was hampered with turf toe issues all season thereafter. Leshoure was drafted to be the in-side the tackles complement to Best’s shiftiness. Already you can see how a back sharing carries would be far down our list. In the case of Helu and Murray they are only sharing carries for the time being, Leshoure was drafted specifically to share carries. Add the fact that the Lions face the league’s toughest fantasy run schedule and you can write BUST all over this one. ADP: 121


7. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons

In Michael Turner’s first season as a Falcon he led the league in rushing yards and the Falcons made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback fresh off of the Michael Vick indictment. What many don’t realize is that Turner’s backup, Jerious Norwood had one of his best season as the complimentary speed back to Turner. Norwood is likely gone this offseason, paving way for Rodgers to be that speed back for the Falcons. Still, his best numbers will likely stick around 500 yards and 3-4 touchdowns. Turner is getting any younger, however, and his health has been a question in the past. ADP: 184


 8. Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers

 Last season Brian Westbrook was almost forgotten until Frank Gore had his routine mid-season breakdown. Then Westbrook finally had his chance and had moderate success ending the year with a 4.4 yard per carry average. Hunter is more in the Westbrook form than any back on the 49ers’ roster and will get all the opportunity in the world to be the number two back for the Niners. Brian Westbrook is likely gone this offseason, and backup back Anthony Dixon looks to be more of a fullback this season. Hunter has a good chance of seeing real carries this season, but we want to see more before we bump him up too high. ADP: 130


 9. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots

 Last season marked the first since Corey Dillon that a Patriot running back eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season. The Patriots went out and drafted two backs this season, making it a very good bet that there won’t be a 1,000 yard rusher in Foxboro this season. Shane Vereen is a very fast and agile running back that will likely be used similarly to how Danny Woodhead was used last season. He would have to unseat Danny Woodhead in order to do that, but there’s a better chance than not that Woodhead was a one-hit wonder in New England. Vereen could impress this season, though we think it was the other rookie back, Stevan Ridley, who will be the long term work horse of that running back group. ADP: 157


10. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

  It may be unfair to rank Ridley above Alex Green, Taiwan Jones or Delone Carter as our tenth best rookie back, but Ridley fits the mold of Corey Dillon (see above). At LSU, Ridley was a tough runner that did not shy from contact and routinely fell forward. He will no doubt start his career behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but we all know how quickly Bill Belichick likes to switch running backs. ADP: 264


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Nick Sero is a featured fantasy football expert with The Sports Cannon. The Sports Cannon supplies you with everything you need, from rookie rankings, player rankings, even team previews.

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