Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
We have ranked quarterbacks and tight ends so far, today, it's the running backs' turn.
1) Chris Johnson, TEN - If your league gives bonus points for long touchdowns runs and catches, Johnson is a particularly good No.1 choice. Of his 38 career touchdowns, 17 have been from more than 20 yards out and an amazing 26.3 percent (10) have been "home runs" from 50 yards or more. That's a much higher percentage of "home runs" than you'll get from Adrian Peterson (14.8 percent) or Arian Foster (4.7). "CJ" has produced excellent statistics in every NFL season. He ran for 1,228 yards as a rookie, a stunning 2,006 yards in his second year and 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Last year's numbers disappointed fantasy owners, who unrealistically wanted another 2,000-plus yards season, but you must remember how much trouble the Titans had at the quarterback position. Johnson faced eight- and nine-man fronts on almost every play. With Tennessee signing a quality veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, Johnson should run for 1,600 and a dozen touchdowns and add 350 yards and a couple of scores receiving.
2) Adrian Peterson, MIN - Like Johnson, Peterson struggled against eight- and nine-man fronts due to the Vikings' quarterback woes. Minnesota went out an got Donovan McNabb to steady the position and he should be solid enough for Peterson to improve on last year's 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing. He doesn't have the breakaway speed that Johnson has, which is why he sits just behind the Titans' running back.
3) Arian Foster, HOU - Foster showed flashes of what was to come in the final two games of 2009, but no one was prepared for his 231-yard, three-touchdown opening day. He ended up leading the league in rushing yards (1,616) and rushing touchdowns (16). He also caught 66 balls for 604 yards and a couple of scores. He's got the least history of the top three runners, which makes him more of a gamble, but in PPR leagues he should be the No.1 choice.
4) Jamaal Charles, KC - Charles combined for 1,935 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage in just 275 touches (230 carries, 45 receptions). He should improve on those statistics this season as Thomas Jones continues to slow down and the team gets more confident in Charles' ability to carry the load. He'll never be a "workhorse" back, but if his rushing attempts rise from 14.4 per game to just 17, with his stunning 6.4 ypc, it will be good enough for about 1,750 yards on the ground. Like Foster, in PPR leagues Charles jumps further up the draft board.
5) Ray Rice, BAL - Rice regressed last year from a giant 2009 season (1,339 yards, 7 TDs, 78 receptions for 702 yards), falling in every significant statistical category. However, in the offseason the Ravens have let both of his veteran backups go (Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McCLain) which would indicate that Rice will be an every down back this year. This turn of events should help return Rice to "elite" status.
6) LeSean McCoy, PHI - McCoy isn't a big power back who runs the ball 20 times a game, but when you combine his explosive running with his superior receiving skills you get a top fantasy running back. He had just 207 rushes for 1,080 yards in 2010, but when you add his 78 receptions for 592 yards, you get a quality running back. He's a notch below the top five, unless you are in a PPR league. Touchdowns are McCoy's downfall, as the Eagles prefer a big back and/or quarterback Michael Vick to run them in from close range. Just five of McCoy's 13 career touchdowns have come from inside the five-yard line.
7) Michael Turner, ATL - Turner's 2010 stretch drive was slowed as he played through a groin injury that required offseason surgery. The injury explains why he failed to crack the 100-yard mark in four of his last five games. Despite the problem, Turner led the league with 334 rushing attempts worth 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns. A healthy Turner should improve on those numbers. Turner is not part of the Atlanta Falcons' passing game, which lowers his value in PPR leagues.
8) Rashard Mendenhall, PIT - Mendenhall's current ADP of 10 (courtesy of fantasyfootballnerd.com) may leave the Steelers running back overpriced if last year's situation continues. Mendenhall carried the load for Pittsburgh while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season. In those first games, Mendenhall averaged 22.3 rushing attempts, 102.8 yards and one touchdown per contest. Then "Big Ben" returned, and for the remainder of the season Mendenhall averaged 19.6 carries and 71.8 yards -- and that included a game against the Buffalo Bills in late November in which he had 36 attempts and 151 yards. As long as Roethlisberger is healthy, Mendenhall's production will be limited.
9) Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC - Jones-Drew has been restricted in practice by offseason knee surgery, which makes drafting the Jacksonville Jaguars running back a gamble. But it's a gamble with a huge upside, as a healthy "MJD" is a top-five running back. Even with the "bum" knee, Jones-Drew ran for 1,324 yards last season and caught 34 balls for 317 yards. The difference was that he didn't have the drive to pound the ball into the end zone. His rushing touchdowns fell from 15 in 2009 to just five last year. If you plan on selecting the Jaguars back, you'll have to monitor his progress in camp.
10) Darren McFadden, OAK - McFadden exploded into the star running back we've been expecting since he was selected fourth overall in 2008 NFL Draft. He rushed 223 times for 1,157 yards and caught 47 balls for 507 yards. Twice last year, McFadden posted 50-plus fantasy points in a week. He's clearly become the Raiders No. 1 back, and the fractured orbital bone that will keep him out of practice for two weeks won't change the situation. In fact, the time off might help the injury-prone back by saving wear and tear on his legs.
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