Fantasy Football Rankings—Running Backs

It’s never too early to start planning ahead for the 2010 fantasy season. My quarterback rankings came first, and now it is time for the running backs.

These rankings are based on my preliminary—and not yet released—2010 projections, which haven’t been scrubbed for off the field issues and consistency factors, plus some players are still bound to change teams via trade, release or inability to agree on a contract with their current club. The rankings are sure to change many times between now and September.

Still, it is great to be thinking and opining about football, and I’m sure there will be lots of discussion right off the top of most RB rankings this year as there is no clear cut consensus number one selection.

For me, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings gets the nod for top spot, followed by Maurice Jones-Drew ahead of Chris Johnson. Peterson is a more powerful runner. He’s managed to stay healthy during his three seasons in the league, he improved dramatically as a receiver in 2009 and he’s the running back most likely to hit the 16-18 touchdown range. Let the quibbling begin.

I haven’t ranked veteran runners such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook because we don’t know where they will be in 2010. Realistically, they are going to be in time shares or backup roles. The same logic applies to rookies so they haven’t been included yet.

Also, with Tomlinson off the roster in San Diego and Darren Sproles not suited for the feature role, these rankings do not include as yet unknown feature back in San Diego next year.

1. Adrian Peterson, MIN—Bit of a disappointment in 2009 but still the best bet to land at the top of the RB rankings in 2010.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC—Big numbers last year despite a lack of talent around him.

3. Chris Johnson, TEN—Most will have him higher but he’s here due to concerns about the dual effects of his overuse in 2009 and his stature.

4. Ray Rice, BAL—No reason why he can’t duplicate his breakout performance from last year.

5. Frank Gore, SF—There’s a lot of young skill position talent in San Francisco. If Alex Smith is decent at quarterback and the O-line is replenished, Gore will be dynamite.

6. Steven Jackson, STL—The Rams O can’t be any worse and SJax was huge last year despite his weak supporting cast and a back injury that slowed him down.

7. Michael Turner, ATL—Injuries are the only thing that are going to slow down
Turner but his lack of receiving ability keeps him out of the top 5.

8. DeAngelo Williams, CAR—Injuries held him back in 2009, otherwise he would have been in the top 10 for the second year in a row.

9. Ryan Grant, GB—Grant isn’t flashy but he’s the undisputed lead back on one of the league’s most explosive offenses.

10. Knowshon Moreno, DEN—Solid but not spectacular as a rookie. Bet on an increased workload propelling him near the top 10 in 2010.

11. Chris Wells, ARI—Kurt Warner is gone, so the Cardinals are going to run more next year and Wells is clearly a more talented back than Tim Hightower. Sometimes it’s that simple.

12. Jonathan Stewart, CAR—There’s no reason why the Panthers won’t have two 1,000 yard backs again in 2010.

13. Cedric Benson, CIN—Undisputed lead back in an offense based heavily on the run. His hard running style makes him susceptible to injury or else he would be in the top 10.

14. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT—Put up solid numbers after taking over for Willie Parker last year but never looked all that impressive.

15. Fred Jackson, BUF—Bills figure to move Jackson ahead of Marshawn Lynch. Finished 17th in the rankings last year so there’s no reason to move him down.

16. Pierre Thomas, NO—Lead back on an offense returning all of its key pieces. Committee backfield keeps him around the 18h position he finished in last year but he has huge upside.

17. Matt Forte, CHI—He’s not overly talented but he has receiving ability, a prerequisite for a back in a Mike Martz offense. Injuries and a poor O-line held him back in 2009. He was just outside my top 10 until the Chester Taylor signing.

18. Shonn Greene, NYJ—Came on strong at the end of last season and in the playoffs. Greene represents major upside with the release of Thomas Jones.

19. Kevin Smith, DET—Bit of a sophomore slump coupled with a knee injury last year that could hold him back early in 2010. Lions have young, talented playmakers on offense.

20. Ricky Williams, MIA—The Dolphins run it a lot, Williams looked fantastic last year and Ronnie Brown is coming off an injury (again). What’s not to like.

21. Joseph Addai, IND—Snuck into the top 10 last year, courtesy of his 13 TD and rookie Donald Brown missing five games. Look for Addai’s role to decrease in 2010.

22. Jamaal Charles, KC—He was a monster for eight games last year, partly because of his receiving ability. Was in the top 10 until the team signed Thomas Jones who will eat into the goal line work and likely get 10-12 carries a game.

23. Ronnie Brown, MIA—He’s missed an average of four games a year over his five-year career and has only one 1,000 yard season. Just giving you the facts.

24. LeSean McCoy, PHI—Brian Westbrook is gone and McCoy takes over full time. McCoy could land higher but Leonard Weaver figures to get the goal line work.

25. Jerome Harrison, CLE—Most will rank him higher but the bottom line is that he did nothing for three years and 89 of his 150 fantasy points came in three games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars.

26. Brandon Jacobs, NYG—Huge letdown in 2009 courtesy of a knee injury that wasn’t disclosed until after the season. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s always out with injuries or having to play through them.

27. Cadillac Williams, TB—Bucs O can’t be as bad as it was last year and young O-line should improve, especially if guard Aaron Sears returns.

28. Felix Jones, DAL—Bank on a bigger role for Jones in 2010 but unless he gets more goal line work, it’s difficult to move him higher.

29. Marion Barber, DAL—Expect fewer yards from Barber, but a similar TD total in 2010.

30. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG—Put up solid numbers with an increased workload in 2009. Key question is whether that workload was the result of Jacobs’ injury or Bradshaw’s effectiveness?

31. Darren Sproles, SD—Coming off a career year with 840 total yards and seven TD. In my opinion, this is pretty much his upside, save for a few more yards.

32. Justin Forsett, SEA—He’s the number one guy in Seattle until the draft. Check back after that.

33. Michael Bush, OAK—He’s been Oakland’s healthiest and most effective back running the football over the past two seasons. Presumably the Raiders will eventually figure that out.

34. Reggie Bush, NO—It looks like the Saints want him back. On the plus side, he equalled a career high in TD last year. On the down side, his touches have declined three straight years, hitting 117 last year.

35. Clinton Portis, WAS—New head coach Mike Shanahan’s teams have a history of running the ball successfully and although Portis wasn’t great last year before being injured, he wasn’t as bad as advertised.

36. Thomas Jones, KC—Coming off two top 10 fantasy seasons, he’s going to eat into Charles’ workload in K.C.

37. Arian Foster, HOU—Let’s assume Foster gets the running downs and goal line carries in Houston next year. The draft may dictate otherwise.

38. Steve Slaton, HOU—He ran it horribly last year but did you know he was the 31st ranked RB playing in only 11 games? Hard to move him lower than this.

39. Donald Brown, IND—Look for an increased role for Brown in his 2nd year. He’s projected here but has major upside.

40. Darren McFadden, OAK—Basically, the Raiders offense is in shambles and in two years, McFadden has done nothing to prove that he’s a feature back.

41. Tim Hightower, ARI—Highly productive first two years in the league but is likely relegated to a backup and pass catching role in 2010. Wells seems too powerful to not get the goal line work.

42. Chester Taylor, CHI—He’s here based on the assumption he backs up Forte but he moves up significantly if he wins the job and is just outside the top 30 if he gets the goal line work.

43. Willis McGahee, BAL—Somewhat surprisingly, the Ravens wanted him back this year. Note that 113 of his 146 fantasy points came in five games.

44. Laurence Maroney, NE—Surprisingly solid season in 2009 but fell into the doghouse at the end of the year. He might not be back in New England.

45. Julius Jones, SEA—What is there to say? He’s never fulfilled the promise he showed as a rookie six long years ago.

46. Sammy Morris, NE—The Pats like him so he’ll be back and score a few fantasy points, almost certainly sitting on someone’s bench. Why bother?

47. Leonard Weaver, PHI—With Westbrook gone, Weaver is likely in line to get the goal line work and some carries as McCoy’s backup.

48. Mike Bell, NO—Great change of pace back for the Saints. Look for another 600 yard, 5-6 TD season if they bring him back.

49. Correll Buckhalter, DEN—Moreno’s in line for more work but Buckhalter has proven to be effective in a backup role.

50. Marshawn Lynch, BUF—No surprise if he’s elsewhere in 2010. Major shocker if he opens the season as Buffalo’s starter.

51. Derrick Ward, TB—Bust in 2009 will be relegated to backup role in Tampa next year.

52. Kevin Faulk, NE—See Sammy Morris above.

53. Leon Washington, NYJ—His injury was a bad one, so expect his upside and touches to be limited for now.

54. Bernard Scott, CIN—Showed some promise as a rookie but workhorse Benson will restrict Scott’s carries unless injuries strike.

55. Jason Snelling, ATL—Looked good last year with Turner and Jerious Norwood suffering injuries but likely earns very limited touches if both are healthy in 2010.

56. Jerious Norwood, ATL—With Snelling’s emergence, he could be attractive trade bait and end up elsewhere next year.

57. Maurice Morris, DET—If Kevin Smith isn’t ready to open the season, Morris may be a useful flex play.

58. Brandon Jackson, GB—Injury prone backup is an effective receiver but has no chance to usurp Grant given his poor running ability.

59. Mewelde Moore, PIT—Surprisingly productive when given an opportunity.