Saturday, August 14, 2010

NFL Fantasy Football: Rating the Running Backs

Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kevin Kolb, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, have already been rated insofar as the fantasy football draft for QBs.

Even though fantasy running backs aren't the crown jewels they used to be, this sports betting podcaster argues that the position is more exciting than ever. The Eddie George mold – the boring bruiser who churns out four yards per play – is a thing of the past. Today belongs to the hybrid back, the guy who can bust a play up the middle but just as easily break a run outside and score a 50-yard touchdown or even line up at receiver.

The man topping our fantasy list embodies the hybrid back like no one else today. Enjoy this top 20 list, fantasy football fans.

1.              Chris Johnson, Titans

After his ridiculous 2,000-yard season, some bettors will scare you off Chris Johnson. They'll tell you he was last year's DeAngelo Williams – a guy who relied too heavily on fluky, long runs and can't duplicate his performance. But if you remove Johnson's big runs, he still would've had elite rushing numbers last year. He's the real deal, the fastest running back on Earth, and a good receiving threat.

2.              Adrian Peterson, Vikings

For anyone worrying that Brett Favre's potential absence could hurt AP – don't. He posted monster numbers with guys like Tarvaris Jackson under center before Favre ever donned purple. He's still football's premier power back.

3.              Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

You have to love MoJo. Even on a weak team, this human bowling ball runs for power but also has breakaway speed and receiving ability. He's as good a sports pick as any to lead the league in touchdowns.

4.              Ray Rice, Ravens

Rice has the upside to be fantasy's No. 1 back; he runs in a great offense and led all tailbacks in catches last year. His only obstacle his Willis McGahee, who steals almost all the goal-line carries.

5.              Michael Turner, Falcons

The sleek, rock-hard Michael Turner was the NFL's second leading rusher in 2008. Chunky Michael Turner lost his burst and got hurt in 2009. Turner reportedly trimmed back down in the offseason and should be his old self again. He'll score a ton.

6.              Shonn Greene, Jets

Greene reminds me of a young Larry Johnson; he's powerful, runs angry, and doesn't catch many passes. With Thomas Jones out of the picture, Greene should totally break out in 2010. Don't worry about LaDainian Tomlinson stealing too many touches.

7.              Frank Gore, 49ers

Gore actually has more total yards from scrimmage than any back in the last four seasons. But he still gets nicked up from time to time and just lost his center to an injury. He's riskier than the names above him.

8.              Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

Mendenhall's skills aren't extraordinary but he'll have a nice opportunity in Pittsburgh this season. The Steelers' NFL futures may suffer early on without Ben Roethlisberger but Mendenhall should see a spike in touches as a result.

9.              Steven Jackson, Rams

Poor, Poor Steven Jackson. The guy somehow managed 1,416 yards on the awful Rams last year. How good could he be on a real team? We may never find out.

10.           DeAngelo Williams, Panthers

Even though he regressed in 2009, the speedy, shifty Williams was still fairly effective, topping 1,100 yards. Glass half full: splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart keeps him fresh. Half empty: it holds him back.

11.           Ryan Mathews, Chargers

Mathews has crept into the top five or six on far too many draft boards. I agree that he has an excellent shot at 1,000 yards and 10 scores in his rookie season, as the Chargers didn't trade up for him to ride the pine. But let's let him prove himself just a little bit.

12.           Ryan Grant, Packers

Grant may be the most boring RB1 on the board but perhaps also the most underrated. He very quietly has two straight 1,200-yard seasons under his belt and hit paydirt 11 times last year.

13.           Beanie Wells, Cardinals

Chris "Beanie" Wells is certainly one of the riskier picks because Tim Hightower steals so many touches from him. But he has the talent to be a star-caliber No. 1 starter. Maybe Ken Whisenhunt will realize that and really unleash him in 2010.

14.           Cedric Benson, Bengals

If he weren't so brittle, Benson would climb five spots on this board. He was fantastic for Cincinnati last year, averaging 96.2 rushing yards per game. Only Chris Johnson averaged more.

15.           Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

It's a testament to Stewart's ability that he cracks my top 15 as a "backup." He's a devastating power-speed combo and would be a top-four back if his buddy DeAngelo Williams ever went down.

16.           Pierre Thomas, Saints

Some NFL betting experts expect Thomas' role to expand with Mike Bell gone and Lynell Hamilton hurt. But there's still another guy named Reggie Bush lurking in the shadows.

17.           Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

There was arguably no better running back in the second half of 2009, but Charles doesn't have a clear path to 20 touches per game. Thomas Jones will threaten him, as will coach Todd Haley's annoying mind games.

18.           LeSean McCoy, Eagles

He'll get another shot at posting big numbers in Philadelphia's offense because of his pass-catching ability, but I'm not totally sold on McCoy just yet. After he drew rave preseason reviews last year, his 4.1 yards per carry underwhelmed me.

19.           Knowshon Moreno, Broncos

Too bad he twinged his hammy in training camp. I had – and still have, really – a good feeling about the multi-talented Moreno for 2010. Denver will use him a lot more now that Brandon Marshall isn't around.

20.           Jahvid Best, Lions

I almost put the safer Joseph Addai here but Addai has Donald Brown to worry about. Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes to feature one back – and the rookie Best is much more talented than the banged up Kevin Smith.


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