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Running Back Rankings – Version 2

Prior to the NFL’s rookie draft in April, I provided my running back rankings. The draft provided a number of surprises that have made a profound impact on the rankings. Teams have also made other moves that either directly or indirectly impact the performance of their team’s running backs, not to mention the plethora of news (whether or not much of it is to be believed) that could impact this year’s fantasy football running back rankings.

At the rookie draft, the Colts shocked the league by using their first round pick on running back Donald Brown. The Jets made a stunning move up to the 5th pick in the draft to select QB Mark Sanchez. Despite having signed free agent running backs Lamont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington (since released due to injury), the Broncos used the 12th pick on RB Knowshon Moreno.

The net effect of the draft was that some teams clearly moved to secure the running back position in the future but likely decreased the production of their running backs for 2009. Joseph Addai of the Colts and Brian Westbrook of the Eagles were definitely the best examples of this and to a lesser extent so was Tim Hightower of the Cardinals, although Arizona was expected to take a running back early in the draft due to his lackluster performance as a starter.

1. Adrian Peterson, MIN – No change at the top where the Vikings trade for Sage Rosenfels solidified the quarterback position regardless of whether Brett Favre joins the team as is expected. Over 2,000 total yards shouldn’t be a surprise with an outside shot at that amount in rushing yards.

2. Michael Turner, ATL – He’s good, he’s fast and he wasn’t used much early in his career so his 2008 workload doesn’t figure to impact him in 2009. Nonetheless, with Tony Gonzalez now at tight end and the team expected to increase Jerious Norwood’s workload, expect a reduced number of touches.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC – They waited until the 7th round before selecting a running back (Rashad Jennings) so it’s pretty clear that Jones-Drew will get a heavy workload. With a poor receiving corps, he will get plenty of action in the passing game and figures to post big numbers provided he can stay healthy.

4. Matt Forte, CHI – He gets huge touches and, while not overly talented, he puts up plenty of yards. With Jay Cutler now at quarterback, Forte will get fewer rushing attempts but the hope is that will be offset by a higher yards per carry average and a few more touchdowns.

5. DeAngelo Williams, CAR – The Panthers will run heavily and there is no reason to think the offensive line won’t continue to open up holes. Backup Jonathan Stewart will likely eat some touches but Williams production in 2008 ensures he remains the team’s starter.

6. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD – With a solid cast of skill players on offense and tight end Antonio Gates presumably healthy for a full season, the Chargers will put up plenty of points. Sproles isn’t a threat to take away major rushing touches and the fantasy world has discounted Tomlinson too much despite a very respectable season in 2008 (1,537 total yards and 12 TD’s.

7. Marion Barber, DAL – Would have been in the top 5 without the injuries and the team will rely more heavily on the run with Terrell Owens gone. Even in a time share with Felix Jones, Barber will put up big numbers if he remains healthy.

8. Clinton Portis, WAS – As with Jones-Drew, no effort was made to upgrade in the draft so Portis figures to get plenty of opportunities, and history indicates that he will make the most of them. Only 27, Portis is a player the fantasy world has begun to doubt too early. Expect him to provide great value. Portis was the top fantasy RB in 2008 before injuries struck.

9. Frank Gore, SF – Mike Singletary says they’re going to run and most expect it will happen. The young offensive line should improve and was solidified with the additions of Barry Sims and Marvel Smith. The 9ers picked up Glen Coffee in the 3rd round but Gore should top 1,600 total yards. Touchdowns will determine whether he turns into a true fantasy stud.

10. Brian Westbrook, PHI – It’s worth repeating – still solid but 71% of his production came in just five games which is cause for concern. The Eagles picked up LeSean McCoy in the 2nd round but the fact remains that Westbrook is the team’s go-to guy on offense and continually wracks up a huge percentage of their total yards.

11. Steve Slaton, HOU – The Texans keep saying they want to reduce his workload but the backups are the injury prone Chris Brown and Ryan Moats and the position wasn’t addressed in the draft.

12. Brandon Jacobs, NYG – Likely a top five running back if he could stay healthy and there was a true number one wide receiver. Nonetheless, touches should increase with Derrick Ward’s departure and the offensive line is still solid.

13. Ronnie Brown, MIA – Solid production in 2008 with less than 250 touches. It says here there will be less of a committee approach in 2009. If so, take note of his 991 total yards and five touchdowns in 2007 before being lost for the season in week 7. Plus, he’s in a contract year.

14. Steven Jackson, STL – The second most talented back in the league but he’s injury prone, the offensive line is being rebuilt and the Rams might have the worst group of wide receivers in the league.

15. Chris Johnson, TEN – He’s not half as good as he thinks he is and talks twice as much as he should but I’m trying not to let that cloud my judgment. Proved that size wasn’t an issue but unlikely to see more than the 294 touches he had last year.

16. Ryan Grant, GB – Injuries held him back in 2008 but still managed to top 1,200 yards rushing but was hurt by a low TD total. A few more scores could vault him into the top ten but, for the first time in years, the Packers have some question marks on the offensive line.

17. Kevin Smith, DET – 670 yards rushing and four TD over the last eight games, despite having to face the Jags, Panthers and Vikings. Underrated.

18. Pierre Thomas, NO – Apparently he’s put on some weight and muscle to improve his short yardage performance which was horrible in 2008. Playing in a great offense, Thomas figures to benefit but the Saints’ pass first mentality relegates him to RB2 status.

19. Joseph Addai, IND – Before the draft, a bounce back season and plenty of TD playing for one the league’s best offences seemed reasonable. With Brown now breathing down his neck and Addai’s inability to be a true workhorse back after three years in the league, a timeshare is the only reasonable conclusion. Huge upside but clearly a boom-bust pick.

20. Derrick Ward, TB – New regime in Tampa will hand the reins to their guy with Earnest Graham in reserve. Might not see the short yardage work but should produce running behind young, powerful Bucs offensive line.

21. Darren McFadden, OAK – He will be the starter with Michael Bush in a short yardage role. Lack of TD will hurt him.

22. Reggie Bush, NO – Average PPG last three years – 11, 11, 12 – which squarely puts him in RB2 territory. Unfortunately, he’s missed ten games in two years.

23. Jonathan Stewart, CAR – Plan is to split carries but he will bust out if Williams goes down and gets to assume the starter’s role.

24. Marshawn Lynch, BUF – Solid player who suffers from having to face the Pats, Dolphins and Jets six times each season plus he’s going to miss three games

25. Thomas Jones, NYJ – Huge season in 2008 as opposition defences respected team’s passing attack. However, rookie quarterback, loss of Laveranues Coles and the selection of Shonn Greene in the 3rd round cloud the picture. Jones wants more money but the Jets have refused, meaning they might be ready to reduce his role and plan for Greene and Leon Washington in 2010.

26. Willie Parker, PIT – Parker is productive when healthy and not facing top defenses. The big concern is there are signs his breakaway speed might be gone.

27. Larry Johnson, KC – Johnson is still talented but his career is at a crossroads, and he may need a change of scenery to rekindle his motivation.

28. LenDale White, TEN – Gets a lot of slack but has averaged 10 PPG two years in a row and gets the short yardage work.

29. Jamal Lewis, CLE – It is a bit of a surprise they haven’t tried harder to replace him. Touchdowns will be hard to come by from an offense that failed to score in its last five games in 2008.

30. Julius Jones, SEA – Greg Knapp brings his massive run production to Seattle but lack of TD will hold him back.

31. Fred Jackson, BUF – Averaged 11 touches in 2008 and will get at least three starts with Lynch suspended. Maybe there’s even a remote chance he takes over and never looks back.

32. Chris Wells, ARI – Cardinals 1st round pick could make some noise playing in one of the league’s top offenses provided he wins the starting job and/or gets the goal line work. Wells doesn’t figure to contribute as a receiver.

33. Earnest Graham, TB – Graham’s 2008 season was not as effective as 2007. This rank assumes he will get the goal line touches in Tampa. If not, drop him out of the flex starter range.

34. Cedric Benson, CIN – Not much competition from the draft (Cedric Scott in the 6th round) and he was the team’s only productive back last year. There are plenty of naysayers out there but it’s all about opportunity so he figures to be decent in 2009.

35. Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Moreno is a talented back who could have a solid year but is likely to be in a time share for at least the early part of the season.

36. Ray Rice, BAL – He’s got a real shot to be the team’s starter but won’t get goal line work or the chew up the clock work so his upside is limited.

37. Leon Washington, NYJ – Look for the Jets to get him more involved in 2009.

38. Darren Sproles, SD – Sproles is too small to be a starter, and good luck predicting when he’ll go off.

39. Felix Jones, DAL – Absolutely dynamic when healthy last season and the Cowboys are talking about getting him more involved, including having Marion Barber and Jones in the backfield at the same time.

40. Donald Brown, IND – Reports out of Indy are solid but let’s see how he handles the blitz pick up with the pads on. He won’t play until he can protect the franchise (Peyton Manning).

41. Fred Taylor, NE – Unless the light goes on for Maroney, he’s easily their most talented back. Taylor averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2006 and 5.4 in 2007 before dropping to 3.9 last year due to Jaguars struggles along the offensive line.

42. Jerious Norwood, ATL – He looks great. Every year we hear about more touches but it never happens.

43. Tim Hightower, ARI – This is a difficult to forecast. Hightower likely won’t start because of his failure in that role last year, but could get goal line looks and will definitely be involved in the passing game. Basically, if he doesn’t get the goal line work, his value is extremely limited.

44. Ricky Williams, MIA – Still has the ability but it says here that Ronnie Brown takes on a more prominent role this year.

45. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT – Boom or bust. Hopefully in 2009, he doesn’t take on Ray Lewis.

46. Le’Ron McClain, BAL – Initially it appeared he would get increased touches in 2009 but the move to fullback, insertion of Ray Rice as the starter and selection of Cedric Peerman figure to reduce his role. Nonetheless, he should get the goal line work.

47. Michael Bush, OAK – His week 17, 177 yard and two TD effort against the Bucs wasn’t a fluke. He produces when given a chance.

48. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG – Bradshaw runs as good or better than Ward but he’s not as good a receiver. The team is high on Danny Ware and rookie 4th round pick Andre Brown, and there is a sneaky suspicion that team doesn’t trust Bradshaw, who is entering the final year of his contract.

49. Glen Coffee, SF – 49ers rookie will get a chance to unseat Michael Robinson as Gore’s backup.

50. Chester Taylor, MIN – Touches decreased from 186 in 2007 to 146 in 2008. Expect another drop in 2009.

51. Sammy Morris, NE – He’ll have a couple of decent games before he gets hurt.

52. Brandon Jackson, GB – Proved in 2008 that he has some ability but is no challenge to Grant as the starter.

53. LeSean McCoy, PHI – It is difficult to tell what his role will be because he’s a very similar back to Westbrook. Presumably he will only play when Westbrook is gassed or injured.

54. Jamaal Charles, KC – A talented, fast back who will be the first option if Johnson is traded, benched, suspended, released, etc. Charles is a decent sleeper candidate.

55. Willis McGahee, BAL – He’s pretty much done in Baltimore unless injuries strike or Ray Rice falters. Let somebody else make this mistake.

56. Maurice Morris, DET – He is what he is. Now he’s the backup in Detroit.

57. Kevin Faulk, NE – Best of luck figuring out when he will have a big game.

58. LaMont Jordan, OAK – Maybe he gets the goal line work, maybe he sits on game day.

59. Mewelde Moore, PIT – Looked better than Willie Parker for much of last year but now he is 3rd on the depth chart.

60. T.J. Duckett, SEA – He’ll get some touchdowns but not much else.

61. Correll Buckhalter, DEN – With Moreno on board, he’s no more than a third down and change of pace back.

62. Greg Jones, JAC – Currently the top backup in Jacksonville. Jones might steal a couple of TD from Jones-Drew.

63. Laurence Maroney, NE – Looks like Tarzan, can play like Tarzan but more brittle than melba toast.

64. Jerome Harrison, CLE – Likely Cleveland’s backup unless 6th round pick James Davis beats him out. Lewis is getting old but there are no indications the Browns are looking to reduce his role.

65. Kolby Smith, KC – Smith could produce if Larry Johnson is traded.

66. Rashad Jennings, JAC – Slid in the draft until the 7th round but reports out of Jacksonville have been positive. Might be 3rd string but is more likely than Greg Jones to assume the lead role if Jones-Drew goes down.

67. Shonn Greene, NYJ – Don’t believe the hype that he’s a threat to steal numerous carries from Jones. More likely, they play him selectively with the best case scenario being him taking the goal line work away from Jones.

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