While Defenses may win Championships in the NFL, it is usually the running game that helps win titles in Fantasy Football. Yet the current trend in the NFL to move away from featured backs who average 20-30 touches a game, to tandems of runners who share the workload, makes drafting the right running back for a Fantasy Football franchise a daunting task. Now, not only does an owner have to worry about the abilities and durability of a runner, he also has to worry about the way a team will use the player over the course of the season. That being the case, here then is a list of the top 10 running backs to draft during the 2011 Fantasy Football season.
Arian Foster (Houston Texans)
Foster is the only runner to average over 100 yards per game last season, winning the NFL rushing title by a wide margin and scoring a league high 16 touchdowns along the way. The fact that Foster added another 604 yards and 2 touchdowns receiving makes taking him first overall a no-brainer. As if that wasn’t enough, the 230 lb runner adds durability and fresh legs (less than 500 total career touches) as two more reasons why you should look no further for a lead back.
Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans)
It was unrealistic to expect Johnson to post the type of numbers he did in 2009 when he totaled over 2,500 yards from scrimmage. Still, Johnson ranked up over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. Those numbers included 8 games in which he gained over 100 yards rushing and three games in which he scored multiple times. While he may never top 2,000 yards again, Johnson is a safe bet to hover around the 1,400 yards, 10 touchdown plateau for years to come. That said, draft him without reservations.
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
With 5,782 yards rushing and 52 touchdowns over his first four seasons in the NFL, Peterson is as sure a thing as there can be in Fantasy Football. He would be ranked much higher if not for the Viking’s current woes at the quarterback position. However, even if the Vikings are able to find a suitable substitute for Farve this year, Peterson should do no worse than a 1,250 yard, 10 touchdown season. Look for him to add another 400 receiving yards to those totals.
Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons)
A cut below the top three only because he will not catch many passes coming out of the backfield, Michael Turner is nevertheless and elite back whose a threat to lead the league in rushing any year. Injured in the later part of 2009, Turner was back to form last year racking up 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns over the course of the regular season. Fantasy Football owners can expect more of the same this year, especially since Atlanta added Julio Jones to their offense.
Jamal Charles (Kansas City Chief)
Jamal Charles won’t see nearly the amount of touches other elite backs get, and given his size, he will never be the type of back who scores a lot of touchdowns. Having said that, Charles is an electrifying runner who averages 6 yards a carry for each time he carries the ball; for comparison the great Jim Brown only had a 5.2 career average. Add to that the fact that he is also an excellent pass catcher, and you end up with an elite Fantasy Football runner.
Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens)
Had a breakout season in 2009 when he totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, Rice did not slow down all that much last season when he rushed for 1,220 yards and gained another 556 yards on 63 receptions. Yet while his yards from scrimmage will hover somewhere north of the 1,500 barrier for a few years to come, Rice will not get there with too many 100 yard rushing days and he will only be good for a half dozen touchdowns along the way. Still, by now he is a proven commodity and should be one of the first 10 backs chosen in any Fantasy Football Draft. However, his numbers may be affected some by the addition of Ricky Williams this year.
Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh Steelers)
The right back in the right system, Mendenhall has had back to back seasons in which he has topped the 1,000 yard barrier, and last season he did it while adding 13 rushing touchdowns to his totals. A throw back to the featured backs who got over 300 carries a season not so long ago, Rashard will see the ball often enough to pile up decent Fantasy Football numbers again, just don’t expect him to catch many passes.
Darren McFadden (Oakland Raider)
Finally began to measure up to his massive potential turning in a season in which he rushed for 1,157 yards and caught passes for another 507 yards, despite missing three games last year. The fact that he has been dinged up each of the first three seasons in the league remains a concern, and he may be out again be out for a few weeks this season following a preseason injury, however, his upside may be worth the worth the risk.
Maurice Drew-Jones (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Yes, he is coming off of knee surgery, which makes him a high risk, high reward pick, but Drew-Jones should be back to full form come the start of the regular season. And yes, his touchdown totals were a bit off too, but you can expect a reversal of that this season. In short, there is no reason to expect less than 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns from Drew-Jones this season.
Peyton Hillis (Cleveland Browns)
Though he slowed down over the last two games of the season, Hillis was still the surprise find of 2010, as no one expected the former 7th round draft pick to reel off a season in which he gained over 1,600 yards from scrimmage to go along with 13 touchdowns. The question is, can he do it again? Perhaps. Until then he remains a high risk, high reward back, who will at least reward you with a dozen scores even during a less productive season.
The Next Best Five:
LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)
A poor man’s Ray Rice who will pile up the yards from scrimmage in the high flying Eagles offense.
Steven Jackson (St. Louis Rams)
Jackson would be ranked much higher if he did not already have over 2,000 touches in the NFL. The wheels may come off soon, but until then he may have a few great games left.
Matt Forte (Chicago Bears)
His rookie season in 2008 may end up being his best, but should still get you 1,500 yards from scrimmage and score 6-8 times this year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England)
Coming off a 1,008 yard and 13 touchdown season and playing in the right offense, Green-Ellis may make for a great second back.
Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers)
Gore always seems to be getting nicked and now he is coming of a broken hip. Still, when he is healthy he is a Fantasy Football elite.