Every Fantasy owner has the same wish list on Draft Day: Get as many running backs as possible who touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Well, if wishes came true, we would all have an Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson on our team.
In 2010, there were only 12 running backs who averaged at least 20 touches a game with their combined carries and catches, and they were Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ahmad Bradshaw, Peyton Hillis, Frank Gore, Foster and Peterson. This season that number is more likely to decline since teams continue to prefer tandems to solo acts.
You're lucky to get one featured running back on your Fantasy team. The majority of the running backs on your roster in a standard 12-team league with a 14-round draft are part of a tandem or are a clear-cut backup.
Since not all of the backfields are easy to break down, we're here to look at the difficult running back situations around the NFL heading into 2011. Some you'll like. Others you'll want to avoid.
Editor's note: The splits listed for each team are based on Jamey Eisenberg's speculation on how each running back will be used on rushing downs, passing downs and near the goal line.
Beanie Wells/Ryan Williams, Cardinals
Current Average Draft Position: Wells in Round 12, Williams in Round 9
The Cardinals are counting on Wells to play like he did as a rookie before knee problems slowed him down last year. They traded Tim Hightower to Washington and will go with Wells and Williams in their backfield. Williams has more upside, but Wells will open the season as the starter. We expect Wells to have more value early in the year with Williams coming on late in the season. Wells will work on rushing downs and could have an edge over Williams near the goal line, but Williams will be on the field in passing situations. Both should be viewed as No. 3 Fantasy options on Draft Day.
Rushing downs split: 60/40 Wells
Passing downs split: 70/30 Williams
Goal-line split: 60/40 Wells
|49ers||Frank Gore||Kendall Hunter|
|Bears||Matt Forte||Marion Barber|
|Bengals||Cedric Benson||Bernard Scott|
|Bills||Fred Jackson||C.J. Spiller|
|Broncos||Knowshon Moreno||Willis McGahee|
|Browns||Peyton Hillis||Brandon Jackson|
|Bucs||LeGarrette Blount||Kregg Lumpkin|
|Chiefs||Jamaal Charles||Thomas Jones|
|Eagles||LeSean McCoy||Ronnie Brown|
|Falcons||Michael Turner||Jason Snelling|
|Jaguars||Maurice Jones-Drew||Rashad Jennings|
|Lions||Jahvid Best||Maurice Morris|
|Ravens||Ray Rice||Ricky Williams|
|Rams||Steven Jackson||Cadillac Williams|
|Seahawks||Marshawn Lynch||Justin Forsett|
|Steelers||Rashard Mendenhall||Isaac Redman|
|Texans||Arian Foster||Derrick Ward|
|Vikings||Adrian Peterson||Toby Gerhart|
Ryan Mathews/Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Average Draft Position: Mathews in Round 4, Tolbert in Round 9
Mathews struggled with injuries in his rookie year, which allowed Tolbert to come on and become a Fantasy standout in 2010. The thought this year was Mathews would establish himself as a breakout player, with Tolbert more in a complementary role. That could still happen, but Tolbert is looking like the better Fantasy option, especially with his value compared to his draft position. Both guys will share time almost equally in rushing and passing situations, but Tolbert should have an edge on Mathews near the goal line. On Draft Day, I'm waiting on Tolbert instead of reaching for Mathews.
Rushing downs split: 60/40 Mathews
Passing downs split: 60/40 Tolbert
Goal-line split: 70/30 Tolbert
Joseph Addai/Donald Brown/Delone Carter, Colts
Average Draft Position: Addai in Round 6, Brown in Round 12, Carter in Round 12
The Colts brought back Addai as a free agent and drafted Carter in the fourth round out of Syracuse. Addai is still the main running back to target in Indianapolis since he has the most talent and versatility. In 2010, when Addai suffered with a neck injury, Brown struggled to prove he can be a quality Fantasy option. Still, he is likely more of the handcuff option than Carter if Addai gets hurt again. We envision Carter being used in the Javarris James role in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The only Colts running back Fantasy owners should draft in the majority of leagues is Addai.
Rushing downs split: 70/20/10 Addai/Brown/Carter
Passing downs split: 60/35/5 Addai/Brown/Carter
Goal-line split: 50/40/10 Carter/Addai/Brown
Felix Jones/DeMarco Murray/Tashard Choice, Cowboys
Average Draft Position: Jones in Round 6, Murray in Round 11, Choice not being drafted
Jones has plenty of sleeper potential this season, and he is worth drafting as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with the chance to be a No. 2 option. He should be the best running back in Dallas this year, especially if he can stay healthy for 16 games. Murray could help replace the departed Marion Barber, and Choice will likely be Fantasy relevant for a couple of weeks as well. But Murray and Choice are late-round picks in most standard leagues, while Jones is someone to target on Draft Day. And if the Cowboys elect to use Jones near the goal line then his Fantasy value could skyrocket.
Rushing downs split: 60/30/10 Jones/Murray/Choice
Passing downs split: 60/30/10 Jones/Murray/Choice
Goal-line split: 50/30/20 Murray/Jones/Choice
Daniel Thomas/Reggie Bush, Dolphins
Average Draft Position: Thomas in Round 6, Bush in Round 13
Thomas has the potential to be the No. 1 rookie this season based on his role and opportunity. He will be used in the majority of rushing down situations and also near the goal line in a run-based offense for the Dolphins. Bush will play his role with 10-15 touches a game, and he is clearly the better receiver than Thomas. But Bush has played 16 games just once in his career, and Thomas might find himself doing all the heavy lifting for most of the year. He's worth drafting as a No. 3 Fantasy running back, but he could easily end up as a No. 2 option. And Bush should be considered a late-round pick in the majority of leagues, with his value slightly higher in point per reception formats.
Rushing downs split: 70/30 Thomas
Passing downs split: 70/30 Bush
Goal-line split: 80/20 Thomas
Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs, Giants
Average Draft Position: Bradshaw in Round 3, Jacobs in Round 8
Bradshaw is still the best running back for the Giants, but coach Tom Couglin has said he wants to get Jacobs more involved this season after he averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year. While that might happen, which will help Jacobs for 2011, we still value Bradshaw as a high-end No. 2 running back. He is worth drafting in Round 3. Jacobs, meanwhile, could be a steal in Round 8. He had nine touchdowns last season, but he could easily reach double digits with an increased workload.
Rushing downs split: 60/40 Bradshaw
Passing downs split: 80/20 Bradshaw
Goal-line split: 60/40 Jacobs
Shonn Greene/LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Average Draft Position: Greene in Round 4, Tomlinson in Round 12
Fantasy owners were extremely disappointed with Greene last year after he was drafted in Round 2 in the majority of leagues and turned into a complete bust when Tomlinson outplayed him. This year, the Jets plan to ride Greene early and often, and we're once again buying in, but he's safer with a pick in Round 4. Tomlinson is expected to be used in passing situations, but he could also take a few goal-line reps. He's more of a late-round pick at this point in his career, but his value is slightly higher in PPR leagues. The Jets also might use Joe McKnight in some Wildcat packages, but Greene is the running back to target for the Jets this season.
Rushing downs split: 70/30 Greene
Passing downs split: 80/20 Tomlinson
Goal-line split: 70/30 Greene
Ryan Grant/James Starks, Packers
Average Draft Position: Grant in Round 5, Starks in Round 12
Starks helped the Packers win the Super Bowl last season when Grant was on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in Week 1. But Grant is now back as the starter, and Starks is better suited for a reserve role. We like Grant as a No. 2 Fantasy running back, and he looks like great value in Round 5. Starks could get some increased work each week, but he won't touch the ball enough to make him Fantasy relevant in most formats. The Packers could also use rookie Alex Green on passing downs, but Grant has the most Fantasy value for the Packers running backs in 2011.
Rushing downs split: 80/20 Grant
Passing downs split: 60/40 Starks
Goal-line split: 70/30 Grant
DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
Average Draft Position: Williams in Round 6, Stewart in Round 5
We had high hopes for Stewart this season before the Panthers decided to bring back Williams as a free agent. And now that he's fighting yet another problem with his Achilles', Stewart might be less of a factor than originally thought. Williams will remain the starter and get the majority of touches, but he hasn't been able to finish the past two seasons due to injury. Stewart, even when completely healthy, is on the decline from a Fantasy perspective. Look for their ADP to reverse with Williams being drafted ahead of Stewart, especially now with this latest injury news. Williams should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy option while Stewart is a No. 3 running back on Draft Day.
Rushing downs split: 60/40 Williams
Passing downs split: 70/30 Williams
Goal-line split: 60/40 Stewart
BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Danny Woodhead/Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen, Patriots
Average Draft Position: Green-Ellis in Round 5, Woodhead in Round 12, Ridley and Vereen not being drafted
This backfield is a mess, and I don't want any of New England's running backs on my Fantasy team unless it's with a late-round pick. Green-Ellis should remain the starter, but he could lose goal-line touches to Ridley, and he doesn't catch the ball. Woodhead and Vereen have more value in leagues where receptions count, but they might not score many touchdowns. Leave it to coach Bill Belichick to ruin Green-Ellis after his big year in 2010, but he's looking more like a bust this year with the additions of Ridley and Vereen. Ridley has the most upside of this group, and his Fantasy value could continue to rise.
Rushing downs split: 40/30/20/10 Green-Ellis/Woodhead/Ridley/Vereen
Passing downs split: 40/30/20/10 Woodhead/Vereen/Ridley/Green-Ellis
Goal-line split: 40/30/20/10 Green-Ellis/Ridley/Woodhead/Vereen
Our Jamey Eisenberg was recognized for his accuracy.
Our Dave Richard named a finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year
CBSSports.com honored by the N.Y. Times/FantasyFootballLibrarian.com Rankings Accuracy Challenge
Recognized for Best Article in Major Media by the FSWA
Darren McFadden/Michael Bush, Raiders
Average Draft Position: McFadden in Round 2, Bush in Round 10
McFadden finally lived up to his potential last season with his breakout campaign, and now Fantasy owners want to know if he can do it again. We think he can, but Bush will also be a factor as well since McFadden has missed 10 games over three seasons. Both running backs are versatile and will split reps somewhat evenly, but McFadden clearly has more upside. He's worth drafting toward the end of Round 1 or beginning of Round 2, and Bush should be drafted higher than his listed ADP. Look for Bush to be drafted in Round 8, and he's a capable No. 3 running back in all leagues.
Rushing downs split: 65/35 McFadden
Passing downs split: 70/30 McFadden
Goal-line split: 55/45 Bush
Tim Hightower/Ryan Torain/Roy Helu, Redskins
Average Draft Position: Hightower not being drafted, Torain in Round 7, Helu in Round 10
Hightower's ADP is based on drafts done prior to the trade. His draft value is on the rise, and he should be considered a sleeper on Draft Day, especially with Torain dealing with a hand injury in training camp. The trade for Hightower lowered the value for Torain and made Helu someone who should only be taken with a late-round flier. Hightower has a good history of catching the ball out of the backfield and also working at the goal line, and if he can push Torain for carries on rushing downs then Torain's value will be limited. We would draft Hightower as early as Round 7 as a No. 3 running back and Torain is more of a No. 4 option. Helu could still play a role this season, but he's someone you will likely add off the waiver wire.
Rushing downs split: 50/40/10 Hightower/Torain/Helu
Passing downs split: 50/30/20 Hightower/Torain/Helu
Goal-line split: 50/40/10 Hightower/Torain/Helu
Mark Ingram/Pierre Thomas/Darren Sproles, Saints
Average Draft Position: Ingram in Round 5, Thomas in Round 11, Sproles not being drafted
Ingram has so much potential that he should be a Fantasy star this year, and he and Daniel Thomas will go back and forth for the No. 1 rookie honor. But as long as Pierre Thomas remains in the mix, with Sproles working on passing downs, Ingram's value could be somewhat limited. Ingram and Thomas could share work on rushing downs, and Sproles will be on the field during passing situations. We consider Ingram a No. 2 Fantasy running back, but Thomas should still be drafted with a late-round pick. He's a steal in Round 11. As for Sproles, he's not worth drafting in the majority of standard leagues, but he should be taken with a late-round selection in all PPR formats.
Rushing downs split: 60/35/5 Ingram/Thomas/Sproles
Passing downs split: 50/30/20 Sproles/Thomas/Ingram
Goal-line split: 50/40/10 Ingram/Thomas/Sproles
And just in case the holdout lingers ...
Chris Johnson/Javon Ringer/Jamie Harper, Titans
Average Draft Position: Johnson in Round 1, Ringer and Harper not being drafted
We're looking at the Titans here if Johnson is not with the team for Week 1, which would put Ringer as the starter and Harper as the No. 2 option. Obviously, if Johnson comes to terms with a new contract, then he's the lone running back in Tennessee to target on Draft Day, with Ringer just a handcuff option in the majority of leagues. If Johnson is out then you should consider Ringer a No. 3 Fantasy running back with upside. And even Harper would have sleeper potential if he's elevated to the No. 2 role.
Rushing downs split: 70/30 Ringer
Passing downs split: 80/20 Ringer
Goal-line split: 70/30 Harper