Fantasy Football: Top 20 Running Backs in 2011

Jason Muckley@@jamuckleySenior Analyst IIAugust 23, 2011

Fantasy Football: Top 20 Running Backs in 2011

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    Fantasy football draft day 2011 is right around the corner. Before sitting down to make your picks, check out my preview of this year's best running backs in the league.

    Find out who is rising and falling, and who will be the best fantasy football option to select with your No. 1 draft pick, and who may fall in some drafts and be a great steal in later rounds.

20. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots

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    Fantasy points last season: 176

    Projected points this season: 178

    Besides being the only running back with at least four names, two capitals in his first name and a hyphenated last name, Green-Ellis is the No. 1 running back on a team that almost always plays with a lead. Green-Ellis is the Patriots' closer, he wears down defenses and closes out games.

    Expect him to rush for around 900 yards and score 12 touchdowns. His contribution receiving out of the backfield will be minimal.

19. Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys

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    Fantasy points last season: 123

    Projected points this season: 180

    Felix Jones' projection for the 2011 is one of the largest jumps of any of the other running backs.

    The biggest difference for Jones this season will include: being the unquestioned No. 1 running back (no Marion Barber in Dallas this season), the presence of new head coach Jason Garrett and Tony Romo will be back from his shoulder injury.

    When the Cowboys came under head coach Jason Garrett midseason last year, Jones saw a lot more looks out of the backfield as a receiving running back. From that point his fantasy value skyrocketed and he became the Cowboys' latest weapon.

    Jones will get about 925 yards rushing and 450 yards receiving in 2011, with about six touchdowns.  

18. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions

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    Fantasy points last season:127

    Projected points this season: 181

    Jahvid Best is in a category similar to Felix Jones as he will see his production in 2011 vastly improve compared to 2010.

    Almost all of last season Best was injured, struggling with turf toe most of the year. I expect Best to bounce back this season and make a huge difference on the Lions.

    Some see in Best major upside, on the same level as one of the best rushers in the NFL: Jamaal Charles.

    In 2011, I project best to rush the ball for 975 yards, have 500 yards receiving and score six touchdowns.

17. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants

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    Fantasy points last season: 179

    Projected points this season: 185

    Despite injury concerns from 2009, Ahmad Bradshaw outperformed expectations with an almost completely injury-free 2010. If Bradshaw can repeat his solid performance from last season, he will prove to be a dependable pick up for your fantasy team.

    I project Bradshaw to rush for 1200 yards, and to get 350 yards receiving. He should score around seven touchdowns.

16. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

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    Fantasy points last season: 199

    Projected points this season: 190

    Forte's decrease in production will not be any fault of his in 2011. The fault will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Bears' front office, who released Olin Kreutz this season, and did very little to bolster the Bears' offensive line.

    Forte will continue to grind it out and put up very good numbers, however, his downgraded line will hurt his production this season.

    I project Forte to rush for 1000 yards and pick up 500 receiving yards. Forte should also score at least eight touchdowns as well.

15. LaGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Fantasy points last season: 126

    Projected points this season: 191

    LaGarrette Blount is a big, huge, powerful running back who could either escape out of the opposing defenders outstretched arms, or bulldoze the defender, leaving tracks on his chest.

    Blount had a breakout season in 2010, and I expect his jump in fantasy production to be huge in 2011.

    Blount should rush for 1200 yards in 2011 and score 12 touchdowns. He will have less than 100 yards receiving.

14. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

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    Fantasy points last season: 42

    Projected points this season: 192

    DeAngelo Williams spent almost an entire season during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns injured missing 13 games over the two seasons. However, the Carolina Panthers still believe that he is the No. 1 back in their offense and paid him handsomely to stay in Carolina.

    Although Williams is a high-risk pick, he has huge upside. The Panthers system is a two-back system, where Williams will share time with Johnathan Stewart, but if is Williams is healthy, he should put up monster numbers.

    I project that a healthy Williams will rush for 1225 yards and tack on 250 receiving yards. In all, he should score about nine touchdowns.

13. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns

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    Fantasy points last season: 218

    Projected points this season: 200

    As amazing as Peyton Hillis was in 2010, at the end of the year it was evident that all those carries for that many games wore him down. He did suffer a rib injury late in the season, but he was losing steam before being injured.

    Expect Hillis to be the No. 1 running back in Cleveland, with a young Montario Hardesty waiting in the wings to take a few carries from Hillis to keep him fresh.

    I project Hillis to rush for 1050 yards, get around 450 receiving yards and pick up around nine touchdowns.

12. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

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    Fantasy points last season: 147

    Projected points this season: 202

    Frank Gore hasn't made it through a full season since 2006. Last year, Gore missed more than five games with a fractured hip, but his upside and potential is too much to pass up.

    Gore is another high-risk, high-reward player who should see lots of playing time in Jim Harbaugh's offense in 2011, especially with the uncertainty of who will end up being the quarterback in San Fran.

    I project Gore to rush for 1150 yards and to have 300 yards receiving. He should score around 12 touchdowns.

11. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

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    Fantasy points last season: 208

    Projected points this season: 205

    After a couple of years of injuries keeping his production down in his first two seasons, Darren McFadden finally showed what he could offer in his 2010 campaign.

    McFadden led the league last season in carries 20 yards or more with 14. Expect his production to continue in 2011.

    McFadden should rush for around 1150 yards, have 520 yards receiving and score around eight touchdowns in 2011.

10. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams

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    Fantasy points last season: 182

    Projected points this season: 206

    The increase this season for Steven Jackson will be due to the maturation of quarterback Sam Bradford. He will be able to effectively move the ball better this season and give Jackson the ability to do serious damage against opposing defenses.

    His carries may decrease, but because of the threat of Bradford, defenses will play softer against the run and guard against the pass, opening up big lanes for Jackson to tear up the field.

    I project Jackson to rack up 1250 yards on the ground and 400 yards in the air. He should haul in seven touchdowns.

9. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons

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    Fantasy points last season: 205

    Projected points this season: 206

    Michael Turner was one of the best running backs in 2010, but he slowed towards the end of the season. He is nearing the magic 30 years old for running backs, and despite his huge year last season he could be headed for a downturn.

    I project his numbers to increase slightly in 2011 as he should maintain around 1380 yards rushing, and be around 100 yards receiving. He gets a lot of opportunities in the red zone and should score around 12 touchdowns.

8. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

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    Fantasy points last season: 200

    Projected points this season: 210

    I have Ray Rice projected lower than most other analysts because of his struggles last season. He only had six touchdowns and got off to a very slow start in 2010.

    On a positive note, Willis McGahee is no longer stealing red-zone carries and subsequent touchdowns, but an older Ricky Williams instead will fill that role.

    I project Rice to rush for 1230 yards and pick up 560 receiving yards, his touchdown total should increase to about 8.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Fantasy points last season: 203

    Projected points this season: 215

    Rashard Mendenhall isn't flashy and doesn't have lightning-quick speed. Instead, Mendenhall knows how to find the end zone. Last season, Mendenhall was second only to Arian Foster with 13 rushing touchdowns last year.

    Pittsburgh plays a smash mouth game and is a run-heavy offense. Mendenhall gets a lot of touches and will continue to see a lot of goal line chances in 2011.

    I project Mendenhall's numbers to continue to rise with 1290 yards rushing and 215 yards receiving. He should also match last year's rushing total of 13 TDs.

6. LeSean McCoy

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    Fantasy points last season: 206

    Projected points this season: 225

    LeSean McCoy is in a great position to improve upon his amazing season last year. 

    He became an every-down back when he improved his pass-blocking abilities last year, and the extra playing time helped him explode.

    Although he will not get as many carries as most, McCoy should equal his 1080 yards he ran for on the ground, but eclipse last year's receiving yards and be around 650. McCoy figures to score around 10 touchdowns as well.

5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Fantasy points last season: 186

    Projected points this season: 235

    Among top fantasy running back picks, Maurice Jones-Drew is probably the riskiest. MJD has serious upside when he's healthy. The key word is when. Last year, MJD struggled with a knee injury early on, then by midseason was tearing up defenses. However, at the end of the season, when the fantasy season is on the line, MJD broke down.

    MJD underwent surgery on his meniscus during the offseason, and it remains to be seen if he can remain healthy in 2011.

    I project MJD to rush for 1260 yards, and have 430 receiving yards. Overall, he should get about 11 touchdowns. 

4. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Fantasy points last season: 223

    Projected points this season: 240

    Jamaal Charles is at the peak of his career in 2011. He is a home run hitter who can break a tackle and take the ball 75 yards for a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    His counterpart, Thomas Jones is aging rapidly, and it looks like Charles will see even more carries in 2011.

    This season Charles will eclipse the 1500-yard mark, and rack up over 400 yards receiving. Look for his touchdown totals to go up to about 10 scores.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Fantasy points last season: 232

    Projected points this season: 250

    All-Day Adrian Peterson, expects to again be atop the fantasy football charts as the most dependable, durable back with the biggest potential. I rank him third here because of the quarterback situation in Minnesota.

    If McNabb struggles in 2011, it will affect the entire team and all players will suffer in production. Peterson, however, will remain one of the top running backs in the league, no matter who is in at quarterback and his numbers should improve from last year, although they'll still fall short of being the best in the league.

    I project Peterson to get 1350 yards rushing and 350 yards receiving and about 14 touchdowns.

2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

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    Fantasy points last season: 216

    Projected points this season: 255

    Don't worry about Chris Johnson's paycheck in 2011. The Titans will pay Johnson and make him the most valuable running back in the league. Also, the lack of wear during the mostly pointless offseason will make him ready for the ever-important regular season that much more.

    Chris Johnson is the fastest back in the NFL and has the greatest potential to single-handedly destroy an opponent in any given fantasy week. 

    I project Johnson to pick up 1460 yards rushing and about 400 yards receiving. Johnson should also score about 12 times.

1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Fantasy points last season: 303

    Projected points this season: 265

    It is true that Arian Foster led all running backs last season in fantasy production with 303 points. I don't see Foster coming near that number this season, but, oddly enough, I see what looks like a reasonable number for Foster still leading all running backs in 2011.

    Foster is working with a very talented front line and looks to see at least 300 touches in 2011. He will continue to produce in 2011 and show everyone he was not a fluke last season.

    I project Foster to rush for 1380 yards, get 550 yards receiving and score about 13 touchdowns to again lead the league in 2011.