With the increasing trend of NFL teams using committee backfields, the list of true running back workhorses continues to shrink. As a result, running backs are likely to fill the first and second rounds of most 2011 fantasy football drafts making it more important than ever to snag one of these guys early.
1. Adrian Peterson
Despite team struggles and quarterback issues in 2010, Peterson still finished with his 4th straight 1,200+ yard season with double-digit TDs. While he only averages 30 receptions per season in his career, Peterson is still one of the leagues most consistent fantasy running backs and a top-three overall pick no matter who’s under center for Minnesota.
2. Arian Foster
Ben Tate’s season-ending ankle injury opened the door for Foster to go from preseason sleeper to Fantasy stud in 2010. Tate, who the Texans drafted with a second-round pick last year, will be healthy to start the season and there is some speculation that he may cut into Foster’s workload. We’re not too worried about that. If you get a top-three pick, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Foster.
3. Chris Johnson
After rushing for over 2,000 yards and 14 TDs in 2009, fantasy owners had high expectations for Johnson in 2010 and he was drafted as the No. 1 overall pick in many drafts. His yards per carry dropped from 5.6 to 4.3 last year, resulting in “only” 1,364 rushing yards. The only real downside for Johnson again this year is the quarterback situation in Tennessee. Despite his lack of a quality quarterback, he’s still an elite fantasy RB, making him worth a pick between No. 1 and No. 4 overall in all leagues.
4. Jamaal Charles
Despite splitting carries with Thomas Jones, Charles clearly emerged as the better running back in 2010. He had more than 1,900 total yards and eight touchdowns despite getting 20 carries in a single game just three times. Charles will be splitting time with Jones again this year and it is possible that the Chiefs will continue to limit his carries to protect their Pro Bowl player. However, with an increased workload, Charles should be a candidate for 2,000 total yards and double-digits touchdowns.
5. LeSean McCoy
McCoy only broke the century mark on the ground three times last season, but he totaled nine games of 100+ yards from scrimmage. McCoy’s rushing numbers will likely be limited with Michael Vick as quarterback, but the Eagles will continue to rely on him heavily in the passing game. McCoy led all running backs with 78 receptions last year, which is a great bonus in PPR formats.
6. Rashard Mendenhall
The Steelers relied heavily on Mendenhall last season, totaling 324 carries for 1,273, resulting in a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry average. That also resulted in 13 rushing TDs, which was second in the league behind Arian Foster. Mendenhall remains one of the true workhorse backs and will continue to see a huge workload with Pittsburgh’s run-heavy offense. Mendenhall does not offer much of a boost in PPR leagues, but it still a top-10 back in standard formats.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew
Jones-Drew had a frustratingly slow start to 2010, posting only one 100-yard rushing game and only three TDs in the first seven games. Starting Week 8 of the season, MJD went six straight games of at least 100 yards rushing and reminded fantasy owners why he was a top-five pick. The big story surrounding him entering this season his the health of his knee. If Jones-Drew is healthy, he’s a safe bet for 1,600 total yards and double-digit TDs, however you may want to monitor the situation during preseason if you are targeting him on draft day.
8. Ray Rice
Despite having a larger workload in 2010, Rice was unable to duplicate his 2009 performance and ended the seasons with only five rushing TDs and just one receiving. On a brighter note, Rice was second among running backs in receptions with 63 and there is good chance the Ravens will cut Willis McGahee before the season begins. Without McGahee, Rice could finally get most of the goal-line carries. Whether the Ravens cut McGahee or not, Rice is still a solid fantasy back with strong value in PPR formats.
9. Darren McFadden
After battling injuries his first two years in the league, McFadden started a career-high13 games last season and finally outperformed our expectations with 1,664 total yards and 10 TDs. He’s a solid RB1 option with a great upside, but injuries are part of the deal in drafting him.
10. Michael Turner
After a disappointing 2009 season that was cut short due to injury, Turner rebounded in 2010 with 1,371 yards and 12 TDs on 334 carries. That is the second time in three seasons that he logged more than 330 carries and the third straight season with double-digit TDs. While his overall numbers were good, he did post a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, and slowed late in the season. We expect another typical season from Turner with a lot of carries and more TDs than catches.