The first round has been a big question mark for fantasy football because of injuries and contract issues. Breath easy—I'm going to resolve those issues for you.
With the flurry of Twitter activity over pulled hamstrings and recent news of big contracts, trying to reconcile your draft strategy for the first round running backs might be difficult, but if you're patient and plan ahead, you can take advantage.
Here are the running backs ranked from one to five:
(By the way, check out this type-o from ESPN. Is Chris Johnson really worth half a billion?)
Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson is the top running back in the NFL. He has been for a few years now because of his unique combination of power and speed that no other back can duplicate.
Peterson's fantasy value has skyrocketed because of his quiet off-season, void of any injury or contractual issues that have poisoned many of the other top backs in the league.
Yes, you read that right! It is Jamaal Charles, not Chris Johnson or the injured Arian Foster who is the second best back in fantasy football.
As for style, Charles' is similar to Johnson's but has a little more punch. Charles is on a much better team than Johnson and should get less attention from defenses.
Charles led all running backs in 2010 with an insane 6.4 yards per carry en route to a 1,400 yard season. Keep in mind that Charles didn't even lead his team in carries. Thomas Jones had 15 more carries than Charles for some reason.
With 300 carries, up from a mere 230, and a 5.4 yards per carry—a full yard less than his average last year—Charles will rack up 1,620 and a ton of touchdowns.
I bet you're freaking out. Chris Johnson has been passed again? You bet he has. Ray Rice is fast becoming a star on the Baltimore Ravens' offense.
You need to place a high emphasis on the kind of team a player has around him. They can't do it alone. Rice scored just 18 fewer fantasy points in 2010 than Johnson, and he got to a horrible start.
The Ravens have upgraded their offense with a deep threat in Lee Evans, which will open up the running game for Rice. Willis McGahee has taken his age, weight and the high standards of excellence of The U to Denver, so Rice will get more of the goalline carries.
Rice is an excellent pass-catcher, too. In 2010, he totaled over 500 yards receiving, which is just gravy on top of the 1,200 plus yards.
Finally, we've arrived at Chris Johnson. You can rest easy that the fantasy football world is back in order.
Johnson is capable of avoiding the negative yard runs if he will take what the defense gives him on each play, rather than trying to break each run. While big runs are fun, consistent production is better both in reality and in fantasy.
Here's to Johnson trying to be better for our sakes!
Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback should help Johnson because Hasselbeck will be able to read blitzes better than Vince Young did and use Johnson accordingly. Johnson will see a significant increase in his role in the passing game.
While I have him ranked as the fourth running back, Johnson is the best bet to rush for 2,000 yards in 2011. It's not boom or bust. It's boom or moderate boom.
Philadelphia Eagles' running back LeSean McCoy was only known in fantasy circles a couple years ago. It's one of the cool things about owning a fantasy football team.
Now he's a household name for NFL fans, and he should be. He and Michael Vick are the cornerstones of what is sure to be a high-powered running attack with periodic deep passes in Philadelphia this year.
McCoy's value depends heavily on how often the Eagles allow Vick to run. With only 207 carries last year, McCoy left a lot on the table in terms of yards and touchdowns, but Vick will be told to save his legs in 2011 after signing a $100 million contract.
McCoy is perhaps the best pass-catching running back in the game. With the all of the misdirection runs and mid-to-deep passing plays that the Eagles will run this year, he will certainly turn screens into 30 to 40 yard plays.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Turner and Frank Gore are all running backs that I would strongly consider taking before Arian Foster.
Foster's injury should really worry you. He joked about it on Twitter but sports doctors from around the country have estimated his recovery to take anywhere from two to four weeks. That's a quarter of the season!
Hamstring injuries for running backs are probably second only to severe ankle sprains as the most detrimental injury. Foster is a power back first, who propels his big frame and needs his legs to be 100 percent.
He was the most prolific pass-catching back in the league last year for the Houston Texans, but this is almost assuredly going to decrease with this injury.
The fact that the Texans have a capable back up in Ben Tate doesn't bode well for a fast return, either. Tate was a little talked about back from an SEC school. Sound familiar?