Fantasy Football Rankings 2011: Running Backs (Updated)

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Fantasy Football Rankings 2011: Running Backs (Updated)
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At this point I do not believe that Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson will hold out for the entire season.

In fact I don't believe that he'll miss any regular-season games.

But would I be surprised if he did? No.

By missing Tuesday's reporting deadline to accrue an additional season toward free agency, Johnson has indicated that his willingness to holdout for prolonged period of time is more than an idle threat.

Johnson signed a five-year contract, and a player needs four years of service to be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

In other words if Johnson sat out all of 2011 but played in 2012, the last year of his existing deal, he'd still be an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season.

The hopeful news toward the two sides reaching a resolution is that general manager Mike Reinfeldt recently said that the Titans are willing to make Johnson the "highest-paid running back in the history of the NFL."

However, Reinfeldt also says that Johnson has to report to camp first, which Johnson doesn't willing to do. At least, that's the "sense" that Reinfeldt gets.

Here are our updated 2011 fantasy football running-back rankings (based on standard scoring):

 

1.  Adrian Peterson, Vikings

 With the retirement of Brett Favre (we believe) and free-agency departure of Sidney Rice, we expect to see a reversal in the three-year decline in Peterson's rushing attempts (363 to 314 to 283 in 2010).

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. Arian Foster, Texans

 Foster led the NFL in rushing (1,616 yards) and 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 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.

 

3. Chris Johnson, 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 described as "very realistic."

Of course, those numbers will be impossible if Johnson does not report to the Titans.

 

4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

 Despite ranking 14th in the league in rushing attempts (230) and second on his own team (Thomas Jones had 245), Charles finished 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's less-than-deserved share of the workload, Charles is expected to get a larger share of the workload in 2011.

 

5. Ray Rice, 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 with 4.0 yards per rush attempt. Even so, Rice still managed to finish in the top three in yards from scrimmage in 2010.

While the swap of Ricky Williams for Willis McGahee is a push, at best, the addition of All-Pro fullback Vontae Leach, who signed a three-year deal with Baltimore, helps Rice's fantasy value.

 

6. Darren McFadden, Raiders

After two largely disappointing seasons, McFadden, who was the fourth-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, 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.

McFadden will miss the next two weeks with a fractured orbital bone, but he'll be ready for the start of the season.

 

7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

Despite playing through a "bone-on-bone" knee condition and missing the final two games last year, Jones-Drew had a six-game stretch with 100-plus yards and finished fifth in the league in rushing. A couple of months ago, Pocket Hercules said that 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.

 

8. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

 Mendenhall set career highs in rushing attempts (324), yards (1,273), and touchdowns (13) after his breakout season in 2009. Despite having to face the Ravens twice this year, Mendenhall and Steelers' running backs have a fantasy-friendly schedule in 2011.

 

9. Michael Turner, 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 offseason, 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, and Turner has a nose for the goal line (39 rushing touchdowns in past 43 games).

 

10. LeSean McCoy, 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 last year. Even in a league that does not award a point per reception, a receiving yard is just as good as a rushing yard. In other words McCoy finished fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,672).

With the free-agent addition of Ronnie Brown via free agency, however, I knocked McCoy down two spots on this list.

McCoy ranks in the top four of our point-per-reception rankings.

 

11. Frank Gore, 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 scimmage per game over his career, although he has only played one full 16-game season.

 

12. Matt Forte, Bears

Over the three-year period that Forte has been in the league, only three other running backs (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Steven Jackson) have more yards from scrimmage than he. Forte is even more valuable in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues as only Baltimore's Ray Rice has more receptions than Forte during that span.

 

13. Steven Jackson, 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 over the past two years.

While I worry about the cumulative effect of his workload, the Rams offense still runs through Jackson.

 

14. Peyton Hillis, Browns

 Ex-Browns coach Eric Mangini said he expected Jerome Harrison to "seize the opportunity" in 2010. Instead, Harrison was traded, and it was Hillis who seized the opportunity as he finished 11th in the NFL in rushing (1,177 yards) and was one of eight backs to finish with double-digit rushing touchdowns.

That said, Hillis wore (slowed) down as the season went on. In the final five games, he averaged 54 rushing yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry, and scored no touchdowns.

With Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson in the mix, Hillis should see fewer touches in 2011, although he's still the guy in Cleveland.

 

15. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants

 Despite delivering a huge season as the team's featured back (1,235 yards on 276 carries), it could have been better for Bradshaw, who has re-signed with the Giants. After carrying the ball 15-plus times every week in the team's first nine games, Bradshaw had four games with 12 carries or fewer in the final seven weeks of the season.

Unless he solves his fumbling issue (six lost fumbles), Bradshaw could see a reduction of his workload in 2011.

 

16. Shonn Greene, Jets

 It's déjà 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 that "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 (YPC), you get 1,181 rushing yards, which would have been good for 11th in the league last season.

 

17. LeGarrette Blount, Bucs

 Despite having only 30 rushing yards through Week 6 of the 2010 NFL season, Blount reached the 1,000-yard milestone, becoming only the second undrafted rookie running back to do so. In other words he gained 209 more yards than Chris Johnson over his final 11 games of the season (977 to 768).

I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do over the course of a full season as a featured back.

 

18. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos

 With new head coach John Fox preferring a run-first style, the biggest beneficiary should be Moreno even though the Broncos added Willis McGahee.

Moreno, the first of two first-round picks by the Broncos in 2009, averaged nearly 90 yards from scrimmage per game last year.

 

19. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers

 Although injuries limited Williams to six games in 2010, he is two years removed from a 1,515-yard, 18-touchdown season.

From a fantasy perspective, the presence of Jonathan Stewart diminishes the true fantasy value of Williams, who signed a five-year contract with the Panthers (and vice versa).

 

20. Jahvid Best, Lions

 What a start to the season Best had: five touchdowns in his first two NFL games. And then it was all downhill (or uphill?) from there. He scored only one other touchdown (Week 16) over the remainder of the season. Bothered by turf toe most of the season, Best finished the year with just over a 1,000 yards from scrimmage (555 rushing yards and 487 receiving yards).

With the season-ending injury to Mikel LeShoure, one of the team's two second-round picks, Best should have an opportunity for a few extra carries on earlier downs, but Best is better in PPR formats.

 

To see the rest of our top 50 fantasy running backs, click here. For our point-per-reception running-back rankings, click here.

For other positions, see below:

- Standard scoring: Quarterbacks | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Kickers | Team Defenses
- Point-per-reception (PPR) scoring: Wide Receivers | Tight Ends
- Our Cheat Sheets: Standard Scoring | PPR Scoring

To keep track of our fantasy updates: (1) Follow us on Twitter @EDSFootball, (2) "Like" us on Facebook and/or (3) Visit the The Tip Drill, our fantasy football headquarters.

If you have any specific fantasy questions, feel free to send us a tweet or post your question in our fantasy football forum.

Good luck in (all of) your fantasy league(s) in 2011!

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