Fantasy Football 2011: The Top 25 Running Back Projections

Brian Dezelske@@BrianDezelskeCorrespondent IIIAugust 9, 2011

Fantasy Football 2011: The Top 25 Running Back Projections

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    As the 2011 NFL season approaches, it's time to start planning your fantasy-football strategy and getting yourself prepared for your upcoming draft(s).

    I've gone through and ranked the top 25 running backs for you to think about as your draft approaches.

    Let’s dive in and take a look at the most important position in fantasy football.

25. Ryan Williams

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    Beanie Wells is going to be the Arizona Cardinals starter, right?  Yes, Wells will be the Week 1 starter. 

    But if Wells comes out of the gate looking like he has the past couple of seasons, do not be surprised to see Coach Whisenhunt give the starting job to Ryan Williams.

    A lot of people are buzzing about the second-rounder out of Virginia Tech. 

    He has enough explosiveness to run between the tackles, but he’s fast enough to get around the edges and get run away from defenses.

24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    I just love saying that name.  I love his nickname even more—“The Law Firm.”

    There is no doubt that Green-Ellis had a great year with 13 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards.   

    The Law Firm mostly benefited from the Patriots trade of Laurence Maroney and injuries to Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk.

    With Kevin Faulk coming back, Danny Woodhead in the mix and Sammy Morris, I can’t foresee him duplicating the year he had in 2010, especially the way Bill Belichick loves to use running backs by committee. 

    Draft him in the fifth round and put him on your bench.  Who knows?  He may find himself in that role again this year.

23. Cedric Benson

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    On the plus side, Benson’s best year scoring touchdowns came in 2010 with eight.  On the negative side, he rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry, compared to the 4.2 yards per carry in 2009. 

    He also cannot seem to keep himself out of trouble off the field.

    He is at his best when he pounds the ball between the tackles, but he’s not going to make defenders miss, so don’t expect the big play.

    He will be the starter this year for the Cincinnati Bengals, but I would hesitate on selecting him as a No. 1 back for your team.  He would fit really well as a flex option though.

22. Jonathon Stewart

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    I’m not sure what to make of the Carolina Panthers running game this year.

    New Panther head coach Ron Rivera brought Rob Chudzinski with him from San Diego to be the offensive coordinator.  What does this mean? 

    It means that the Panthers are going to be passing the ball more.  Chudzinski is a pass-happy coordinator who was the coordinator in Cleveland during the 2007 season when Derek Anderson had his Pro Bowl year.

    Something else to consider is the fact that rookie No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton, will be the starter when the season kicks off.  How many times will Newton’s number get called inside the five-yard line?

    Couple that with DeAngelo Williams re-signing with the team, and you can expect Stewart to be a No. 2 back at best.

21. DeAngelo Williams

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    You can reference what I said about Jonathon Stewart, and you can add to that the fact that he missed 13 games last year due to injury.

    I would personally stay away from this guy, but if you really need a running back you could do worse.

20. Jahvid Best

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    Jahvid Best’s stock just rocketed up a bit with rookie running back Mikel LeShoure going down for the season with a torn ACL.

    While playing in all 16 games last season, Jahvid Best played with injuries of his own that kept him from performing to the best of his ability.

    If he can stay healthy and prove that he can run between the tackles, Jahvid Best could be a nice pickup somewhere in the third round.

19. Ryan Matthews

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    Ryan Matthews has a lot of upside, but did struggle at times last year and he also struggled with injuries. 

    If he can straighten out those problems, Matthews should improve upon his rookie campaign and be a solid No. 2 back with potential to be a No. 1.

18. Knowshon Moreno

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    Moreno is a versatile back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, so he is a threat to score in the passing game. 

    However, he did miss three games last year due to a hamstring injury, so injuries are a concern with Moreno. 

    If he stays healthy, and picks up new head coach John Fox’s run-heavy offense, there should be plenty of touches for him, even with newly acquired Willis McGahee in the mix on offense.

    He won’t be a No. 1 for you, but he should be a decent No. 2 back.

17. Frank Gore

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    Frank Gore has only played one full season for the 49ers out of the seven he has been with them, and only played in 11 games last year. 

    Now with Gore holding out for a bigger contract and being as injury prone as he has in the past, drafting him too early could make for a wasted pick. 

    If he remains healthy, he could be a steal in the middle or latter part of the second round, but I would stay away from him earlier than that.

16. Ryan Grant

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    All indications are pointing to him returning to the running back of 2009. 

    The emergence of James Starks last year may cause Grant’s carries and overall numbers to go down a bit, but not enough to worry about.

    If he stays healthy, he will be a great No. 2 back for anyone’s fantasy team.

15. LaGarrette Blount

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    I loved what this kid did last year as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He stepped in and took over as the starter in Week 7 and never looked back.

    Blount should improve upon last year’s 1,000-yard season with a young stud quarterback in Josh Freeman, and with Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Kellen Winslow stretching the field.

    You only wonder if he can keep his head in the game and not lose his temper.  With as good a rookie season as he had, his past troubles may still haunt him.

14. Matt Forte

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    Matt Forte should be a PPR monster in Mike Martz’s offense again this year.  In 2010, he posted over 1,000 rushing yards and over 500 receiving yards.  He did only put up nine total touchdowns though.

    The Chicago Bears still have questions on the offensive line, with the departure of Olin Kreutz at the center position.

    If the Bears can’t figure out their O-line issues, Forte’s numbers will slip this year.

13. Ahmad Bradshaw

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    It looks like this is the year that Ahmad Bradshaw will take almost all control of the running game.  Brandon Jacobs will still get some carries, but the amount will be even less than last year.

    If Eli Manning can cut down on the amount of interceptions, Bradshaw’s touchdown total could exceed double digits this year.

12. Peyton Hillis

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    I really wanted to put this guy higher on the list.  My hesitation towards players who come out of nowhere and put up huge numbers for one season, prevented me from doing so.

    If Colt McCoy can keep defenses at bay—keeping safeties from creeping up in the box—Hillis could have another year like we saw last year.

    It really all depends on Colt McCoy.  Can McCoy efficiently pass the ball well enough to keep defenses guessing?  We shall find out soon enough.

    As a football fan, I really want this guy to succeed, because I really want to see the Cleveland Browns organization to succeed.  Browns fans deserve it and the city of Cleveland deserves it.

11. Darren McFadden

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    We finally got out of Darren McFadden what we Run DMC fans were used to during his Arkansas Razorback days.

    If McFadden can side-step the injuries, he will undoubtedly improve upon his 1,157 rush yards and 10 total touchdowns from 2010.

10. Steven Jackson

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    This dude has been in “Beast Mode” for years.  He has carried the Rams through some rough years, where he was literally the only option.

    He is the one running back I feel may struggle this year because of all he has had to do in the past.

    However, the St. Louis Rams were on the brink of the playoffs last year.  Jackson has a legitimate quarterback in Sam Bradford, and a legitimate defense helping out the offense. 

    I can see all of the excitement that surrounds this Rams team giving Jackson the fuel to produce a season similar to his 2006 year.

9. Ray Rice

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    I have a feeling that I am going to receive a lot of criticism for Ray Rice being so low.  The critics would have a right to be mad at me, if this list was based off of PPR scoring. 

    He is one heck of a player and he has a bright future ahead of him.  We just cannot look at him as an elite fantasy back yet.  I said elite fantasy back. 

    While he has piled up the yards in his two seasons as the Baltimore Ravens starter, eight total touchdowns are the most he has had in one season back in 2009.

    He just needs to see the end zone more, before he can move up this list.

8. Rashard Mendenhall

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    This guy is not going to make my list of Top 10 athletes to follow on Twitter, but he certainly makes my top 10 on this list. 

    He’s not breaking any rushing records anytime soon, and he’s not going to blow your doors off with his speed.  What he will do is grind out around 1,300 yards and get you double-digit touchdowns. 

    Mendenhall tallied 13 total touchdowns last year, which was tied with Adrian Peterson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis for second among running backs, only to Arian Foster.

    The last time I checked, flash and pizazz are not factors in fantasy football championships.  Scoring touchdowns are though.

7. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    MJD has been a fantasy machine for a few years now, and some “experts” feel that load that he’s carried for the Jaguars over that time may have had something to do with his struggle to find the end zone last year.

    He did go four weeks in a row without a touchdown, in the middle of the season, and scoreless the last three weeks also. 

    I'm not worried and neither should you be.  The yards were there last year, so I expect 2011 to be a bounce-back year from a scoring standpoint. 

6. LeSean McCoy

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    LeSean McCoy is the starting running back in one of the most exciting offenses that we have seen in some time. 

    He would push for one of the top running back spots in a PPR format, because of his versatility out of the backfield.

    For the people who worry about his touches because of Ronnie Brown coming to town, stop worrying. 

    Andy Reid loved having Brian Westbrook for all those years.  During those years, Reid also had Correll Buckhalter.  Buckhalter never threatened Westbrook for the starting job.  This is the same type of situation, so expect McCoy to keep seeing plenty of touches.

5. Chris Johnson

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    The only reason Chris Johnson is this low is because he still has not reported to Titans training camp.  Nobody really knows if he is going to report at all. 

    If he does report to camp, we don’t know what kind of shape he is going to be in.  We can expect him to be in shape, but we just don’t know.  That scares me when drafting my fantasy teams. 

    Once he reports and gets himself into game shape, he will move up this list.

4. Michael Turner

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    Yes, I have him in ahead of Chris Johnson.  If I were ranking running backs for a PPR league, then he would be a few spots lower—but in a standard scoring league you cannot deny the fact that he gets in the end zone.

    He put up almost 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.  Those are great numbers.

    The downside to Turner is his number of carries over the past few seasons.  “Experts” are worried that there may not be any tread left on the tires, but he is only 29 years old.  It’s safe to say that Turner has at least one more year left of carrying the load like he has.

    Given Atlanta’s schedule this year, the first five weeks will be the toughest tests for that Falcons' run game, but it should be smooth sailing after that.

3. Arian Foster

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    It seemed that before anyone knew who this guy was, he had racked up over 1,600 yards and 18 total touchdowns.

    But I am not a big fan of putting guys on a pedestal after just one year, so I am a little skeptical when it comes to Arian Foster.    

    Why? Because now everyone knows who he is, including opposing defenses.

    The Texans have the quarterback and receivers to take attention away from him, so it will be interesting to watch. 

    He has already pulled a hamstring this season, which happened to be on his first carry of the Texans' first practice.  Hamstrings have a tendency to linger for quite a while, so monitor the situation before you just go and select him.

2. Adrian Peterson

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    We all know what All Day is capable of doing and we all know that other than the quarterback, nobody realizes the importance of a solid offensive line more than a running back.

    The Vikings O-line struggled at times with run blocking, but the subtraction of Bryant McKinnie and the addition of Charlie Johnson over at the left tackle spot will pay dividends early and often. 

    With Donovan McNabb running the offense, defenses will have to respect his passing ability and will not to be able to bring that eighth and ninth guy up into the box.

    If McNabb hits on all cylinders with his receivers, Adrian Peterson could repeat his 18-touchdown performance of 2009.

1. Jamaal Charles

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    I am really high on this kid. 

    Jamaal Charles had a breakout season in 2010, and he rushed 1,467 yards and had eight total touchdowns, while carrying the ball 15 less times than Thomas Jones. 

    Don’t expect Thomas Jones to have more carries than Jamaal Charles in 2011, and I also don’t see Jones logging more than 600 yards either. 

    The beneficiary of those extra touches and yards will be Charles and he’s also running behind a great offensive line. Add to that newly acquired Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain, who will be leading the way. 

    Charles will be facing mainly easy defenses until the Chiefs' November 27th showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. You put all that together and you have a recipe for a top fantasy back in 2011.


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