It’s nearing draft time, and while you can research who you think the sleepers and busts are this year, let’s focus on the beginning of the draft. How can you make the most of your first pick? According to NFL.com, four of the top five picks in preseason mock drafts are running backs. Here’s a guide on the Top Five running backs heading into the 2011 season. If you drew the first pick in your draft, make sure you make it worthwhile.
|Hopefully, Jamaal Charles has proven that the Kansas City backfield should be his – and his Fantasy numbers will rise. Photo Credit: Icon SMI|
We’ll analyze the top running backs in the draft so you can make an informed decision about who will help rush your team to victory.
Adrian Peterson, MIN
Peterson is going first in many drafts because he’s proven himself as a consistent running back, both on the field and for Fantasy teams. As a rookie in 2007, he rushed for 1,341 yards with 12 touchdowns (and he added 19 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown). In 2008, he rushed for 1,760 yards with 10 touchdowns and had 21 receptions for 125 yards. Not surprisingly, 2009 was more of the same: 1,383 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns, 43 receptions and 436 receiving yards. Last year, he had a career low of 1,298 rushing yards, but still totaled 12 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 341 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
Projections for this season have Peterson breaking 1,400 rushing yards with about the same number of touchdowns and receiving yards as last year. What’s most impressive is that he has been consistent with a variety of inconsistent quarterbacks. He’s played with Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, Brett Favre and Joe Webb over the past four years. Now with Donovan McNabb in Minnesota, Peterson’s value takes a boost. McNabb is experienced, and he knows how to use his running backs effectively (see: Ryan Torain, 2010 season, before he injured his hamstring).
Pros: Peterson is consistent and will be a leading rusher as long as he can stay healthy. The end of last season did concern some Fantasy owners, but at age 26 and in a contract year, he is motivated to perform well. With an experienced quarterback at the helm, expect great things from Peterson this year.
Cons: Other top running backs will total more receptions and more receiving yards, but if you aren’t in a PPR league, this won’t matter. Peterson is the primary back in Msinnesota, and that’s not going to change. He will get tired by the end of the season, but it’s hard to find a con with picking Peterson.
Chris Johnson, TEN
Likely the first pick in the draft last year, many Johnson owners ended 2010 wondering if that pick was worth it. After an impressive rookie season in 2008, when he rushed for 1,228 yards with nine touchdowns and caught 43 receptions for 260 yards and a touchdown, owners who drafted him in 2009 were rewarded with 2,006 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 50 receptions and 503 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Even Fantasy owners have to admit it’s hard to top that. When he finished the 2010 season with 1,364 rushing yards, 44 receptions, 245 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns some called him a disappointment.
In reality, those numbers are what you should likely expect in 2011. Johnson’s 2009 season was incredible, but odds are that he will not repeat those numbers. In Tennessee, Johnson’s Fantasy value is capped because he is the Titans’ main offense. Kenny Britt is the top WR on the team, but when he’s good, he’s really good, and when he’s not… well, Fantasy owners remember the Week 8 donut he provided last year (or the Week 14, 39-yard effort). With Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, Johnson’s value will rise, as Hasselbeck will use Tennessee’s receivers to spread defenders out so that they cannot crowd the box .
Pros: Johnson is a great runner and as long as you temper your expectations from his 2009 season, he will obviously help your Fantasy team.
Cons: Similar to Peterson, he won’t have as many receiving yards and receptions as some other top running backs, but he will rush enough to overcome that. He’ll have to get used to Hasselbeck, but considering he had success with Vince Young and Kerry Collins, he should be just fine.
Arian Foster, HOU
Looking at last year’s stats, it’s hard not to take Foster as the first pick of the draft, especially in a PPR league. Foster had 66 receptions for 604 yards in 2010. He had two receiving touchdowns in addition to his 16 rushing touchdowns. Foster had 1,616 rushing yards and started 13 games. He played in all 16 games and in 12 of them had over 100 total yards. Look at those numbers turning into Fantasy points before your very eyes.
However, Foster didn’t have any competition for his position. Once Ben Tate hurt his ankle in the preseason, the job was Foster’s to lose, and he hasn’t done anything to show that he should lose it. Tate will likely fill in to give Foster a breather, which will only help Foster’s Fantasy value (no one wants an over-worked RB in the Fantasy playoffs. See Hillis, Peyton).
Foster is young – he’ll turn 25 in August – and he does have potential. However, don’t draft him with the expectation that he’ll have a repeat of 2010. In the past decade, a player has scored 18 or more touchdowns in a season 18 times (LaDainian Tomlinson is on the list four times). Out of those 18 times, only seven have reached or exceeded 18 touchdowns in the following season. Out of that seven, Tomlinson did it three times. Is Foster as good as Tomlinson was? Only time will tell, but the odds are stacked against him to have another season like he had in 2010.
Pros: Foster put up great numbers last year. No one is threatening to take his job away from him, and he has proven to be an excellent pass-catching back. He’s fast, he’s big and he moves well with the ball. Matt Schaub trusts him and will continue to use him in the passing game as often as possible.
Cons: The danger of a slump is a very real one. Once other defenses use the time to study his play, they will be less apt to let him rush for 200 yards in a game again. In the last eight games of the season, he only rushed for over 100 yards three times. However, in six of those games, he did have over 100 total yards.
Jamaal Charles, KC
After playing for a 2-14 Kansas City team in 2008, it isn’t surprising Charles didn’t put up rookie totals like Johnson and Peterson. However, in 2009, Charles stepped up. While the team only won four games, he rushed for 1,120 yards, seven touchdowns, and he had 40 receptions for 297 yards and a touchdown. Fantasy owners still weren’t impressed, as Charles still went late in drafts in 2010.
While sharing carries and losing goal line touches to Thomas Jones, Charles rushed for 1,467 yards, five touchdowns and caught 45 receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns. While Jones is still in the picture, after last season, it would be surprising to see him in the game as anything more than a backup to Charles. Jones should be drafted as a handcuff to Charles, but expect Charles to get the carries and chances he’s earned.
Pros: Charles has improved each year, and it looks like 2011 will be no exception. He’s a powerful running back, and his ability to catch the ball rivals any of the other top backs.
Cons: The thorn in his side known as Jones. How many times did Charles owners groan last year when the Chiefs were on the five-yard line and Charles trotted out of the game? Then we watched Jones grab six Fantasy points after Charles made an amazing run to get the ball to that point.
Ray Rice, BAL
While Rice’s 2010 rushing yards were down in 2009, (1,223 compared to 1,339) and his receiving yards dropped (556 in 2010 compared to702 in 2009), he fumbled less and only had two fewer total touchdowns (six in 2010 and eight in 2009). Willis McGahee had six touchdowns last year, but he’s now out of Baltimore. Add McGahee’s 377 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards to Rice this year, and he’s poised to have a great year.
Rice already has a rapport with Joe Flacco, so unlike some of the other top backs; he doesn’t have to work with his quarterback on the playbook. Rice finished third last year in total receiving yards and in total receptions (behind Foster and LeSean McCoy). With the receiving corps resembling last year’s, expect that Rice will again see a PPR leaguer’s dream worth of receptions.
Pros: Rice, like Peterson, is in a contract year and will be motivated to perform well. The Ravens’ schedule is one of the easiest as well this year. Another benefit for Rice is the addition of fullback Vonta Leach (formerly in Houston), who blocked for Foster last year.
Cons: Rice’s numbers haven’t been as high as some of the other top backs; however, the potential is certainly there. He has the backfield to himself now and while his numbers dipped a little last year, this could be his year. Doubters may see the decline from last year and wonder if it will continue, but projections are saying it isn’t so.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know at email@example.com or on Twitter @RotoExpertSarah
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