Fantasy Football Preview: Running Backs

The preseason has begun and week two is a few short days away. With preseason football comes fantasy football, one of the biggest parts of the National Football League season. I love FF and usually am a part of quite a few leagues every season including face-to-face leagues with friends, online leagues with friends, and online leagues with random people. I’ve already had 2 FF drafts so far but many people have yet to do their drafts. So, every few days, I’m going to come out with a Fantasy Football Preview at each position. In the previews will be the top players at the position, the bottom players at the position, the sleepers at the position, and the questionables at the position. The top and bottom are self-explanatory. Sleepers are those players that many people aren’t considering to be great who you could get at a steal in the later drafts. “Questionables” are those players who may have been good in the past who I don’t think will have a great season or who haven’t had great seasons in the past who I think will explode this season (aka 2010 Arian Foster). With that, tonight I’m spot-lighting the most important Fantasy Football position. The running back.

If you are new to FF, you always want to draft a RB with your first round pick and probably one with your 2nd round pick as well. RBs are the most important as they’ll get you the most amount of points week to week. You probably want to draft 4 to 5 RBs total for your team but you’ll only start 2 to 3 a week. The other 1 or 2 are for back-up during bye weeks, if your starters have tough opponents one week, or get hurt.

Top 5 Running Backs to Draft in 2011

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Viking RB is projected as the No. 1 Overall Fantasy Player

*Note: projected/last season yardage is combined rushing and receiving and rounded to the nearest whole number based on ESPN.com
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Projections: 266 points, 15 TD, 1700 yards
Last Season: 12 TD, 1300 yards
Bye: Week 9

If you don’t have the first pick in the first round, you probably have almost no chance of getting Peterson. He will get drafter first overall in almost every single league unless there’s someone silly who drafts Arian Foster or another great playmaker ahead of him. If you get someone silly in your league and you have the 2nd overall pick, it’s your lucky day! With McNabb at QB in Minnesota, Peterson will get A LOT of carries. He is the number one guy to draft. Period.

2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Projections: 264 points, 13 TD, 1800 yards
Last Season: 16 TD, 1600 yards
Bye: Week 11

He led the league last season in rushing yards with one of the best trios in the NFL with Matt Schaub, him, and Andre Johnson. This year, he’s expected to rush for even more yards and really wow on the field again. If you have the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th pick in the first round, you have a shot at getting him. A lot of people feel they can switch up him and the next few RBs in this league and they’re probably right, the top RBs are all expected to do about the same but if I were you, I’d take this guy if he’s still on the board over the next few guys, hence why I’m putting him number 2.

3. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Projections: 255 points, 12 TD, 1800 yards
Last Season: 11 TD, 1300 yards
Bye: Week 6

He’s asking for almost $13 mil a year in a new contract with Tennessee starting this season. He hasn’t attended training camp or played in a preseason game yet this season because he feels he should get paid not just top RB money but top play-maker money. I’m not sure if he’s worth around $13 million a year (QB money), but I know he’s worth a top pick in your fantasy draft. Draft ‘em if he’s still there when it’s your turn.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Projections: 238 points, 12 TD, 1600 yards
Last Season: 7 TD, 1300 yards
Bye: Week 9

Although he didn’t have as many TDs as the other RBs on this list last season, he also had knee problems and had surgery over the off season. People are iffy on drafting him because of the knee surgery especially since you probably won’t have the opportunity to scout him in the preseason because it looks like head coach is saving him until the regular season. However, he’s still one of the top rushers in the league and I’d take him over Jamaal Charles in Kansas City even though ESPN projects Charles to do a little bit better.

5. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Projections: 238 points, 9 TD, 1800 yards
Last Season: 5 TD, 1200 yards
Bye: Week 5

Our boy Ray Ray is still going to go in the first round in fantasy drafts even after a pretty bad fantasy season last year. Every person in the leagues I was in last season regretted drafting him 3rd, 4th, or 5th overall and complained. However, this season is a completely different story. With Vonta Leach being a Raven (he was the lead blocker for leading rusher Arian Foster last season) and the new offensive scheme of get-back-to-running-Ravens-football, Rice may very well have his best season yet. I think a lot of people are going to hesitate to draft him, so if you do, it’ll work out well for you in the end.

Top 3 Running Backs to Stay Away From in 2011
I’m not going to put a bunch of random names you’ve never heard of in this section. These will be guys you (probably) know or at least have heard of at some point who I think aren’t worth it unless your several rounds deep in your draft.

1. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Projections: 142 points, 8 TD, 900 yards
Last Season: N/A; Rookie
Bye: Week 11

You may be thinking: “Why Ingram?” He’s a first-round draft pick RB from Alabama. He’s a rookie in this tiny tiny offseason. He won the Heisman. Heisman winners usually don’t do too well in the NFL. Also, he’ll be competing with 3 or 4 other RBs in New Orleans for carries including Pierre Thomas and newly-acquired RB Darren Sproles. I just don’t expect him to get a ton of touches or perform extremely well when he does get the ball.

2. Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
Projections: 155 points, 6 TD, 1200 yards
Last Season: 7 TD, 1000 yards
Bye: Week 7

Ohhh Cedric. ESPN has him ranked as the 25th RB overall. He’s not projected to have a bad season to take him as a back-up in case your starter gets hurt or has a tough opponent (aka Ray Rice week 1 against the Steelers) but I don’t think he’ll have a thousand yards this season. There’s just too many off the field issues including many arrests for idiotic behavior. I could be completely wrong on this one since they traded Ochocinco and T.O. won’t be in Cincy this season as well as probably having a rookie starting QB. Peyton Hillis is definitely the number 1 RB there (more on him below) and Benson will probably be the number 2, I just don’t see it panning out for fantasy owners.

3. DeAngelo Williams/Johnathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers

I’m not going to include their stats since it’s two guys for one spot but Williams is projected 196 points and Stewart 171. Regardless, remember what team they’re on. The Carolina Panthers who were awful last year and will be awful this season whether it’s with Jimmy Clausen or overall first pick Cam Newton at QB, they will still be bad. Though these 2 backs are good for the Panthers and will come in handy for #1 or #2, you shouldn’t exactly be counting on them to earn you top fantasy points every week.

Sleeper Running Backs in 2011

1. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Projections: 172 points, 8 TD, 1200 yards
Last Season: 7 TD, 700 yards
Bye: Week 6

The guy went 12th overall in the 2010 draft but didn’t see too much action since he was a rookie and behind Darren Sproles. Now that Sproles has gone to New Orleans and Mathews has had time to really know the offense, expect him to have a lot more yardage and a few more TDs.

2. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projections: 172 points, 10 TD, 1200 yards
Last Season: 6 TD, 1000 yards
Bye: Week 8

You know him as the Oregon guy who punched the Boise State guy a few years back. He was signed by Tennessee as an undrafted free agent and then picked up by the Bucs off the waiver wire last season. Not only was he a great pickup for them, he was also a great pickup for fantasy owners off the waiver wire as well (probably the best behind Mike Vick). People still don’t really know who he is and after last season, he’s sure to get more carries and do even better. Why not take a little risk?

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Projections: 148 points, 6 TD, 1000 yards
Last Season: 6 TD, 700 yards
Bye: Week 6

You all remember that amazing run he had last season in the playoffs against the Saints where he broke like 9 tackles to score a TD? Yes, he’s going to do more of that this season. Well at least more running and scoring. Before that amazing playoff run which I’m sure he’ll forever be known for, he seemed to get better and better as the season wore on. He’s going to have a better year than last season especially with a healthy offensive line in Seattle. Take him in a later round to play as a 3rd starter.

In a few days, I’ll do my next installment of the 2011 Fantasy Football Preview where I’ll look at QBs or WRs (I haven’t decided yet). Stay tuned!

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