Aug 5,2010

2010 Fantasy Football Rankings: The Top 11 Workhorse Running Backs

Main Entry: running back
Function: noun
Date: 1924
Definition via Merriam-Webster: a football back (as a halfback or fullback) who carries the ball on running plays

Main Entry: workhorse
Function: noun
Date: 1543
Definition via Merriam-Webester: (1) a person who performs most of the work of a group task, (2) something that is markedly useful, durable, or dependable

Main Entry: Fantasy Football Champion
Function: Proper Noun
Date: 1962
Definition via The Fantasy Football Girl: a person who can identify and draft the league’s best Workhorse Running Back (unless they follow a genius draft strategy and outsmart everyone else) and play each match-up with strategy and finesse

So maybe it’s not that easy. Still, owning a Workhorse Running Back can certainly give your FF team an advantage. Since only 11 teams have a no-questions-asked-getting-nearly-all-of-the-touches-main-man, I’ve ranked the Top 11 Stud RBs below.

#1) Adrian Peterson

Big surprise, right? Well coming from me it should be. Last year I had him ranked at No. 5, which I will admit was low. That being said, he has yet to be the top fantasy earner for any year in which he’s played. On the other hand, he’s consistently been in the top 5, finishing just behind Chris Johnson by 617 rushing and 67 receiving yards last season. So yeah, the kid has proven that he can go All Day… and Each Season.

While his skill is undeniable, his position on the team also adds to his reliability. Chester Taylor‘s replacement, rookie Toby Gerhart, has some talent, but a playing style that’s very similar to AP’s. Furthermore, Gerhart isn’t built to be a third down back, which means All Day won’t have any competition and will also be forced to develop his receiving skills. Critics will point out his butterfingers, but I believe the Purple Jesus will rise to the occasion and continue to be a solid stud for the Vikings and fantasy teams.

#2) Maurice Jones-Drew

At 5’7″, MJD has proven that good things really do come in small packages. Last season, he actually improved his rushing stats by 562 yards and scored a whopping 16 touchdowns. He may be the only back who is actually getting better with age (somebody knock on wood… quick).

Truth be told, MJD is my favorite RB in the league. I love to watch him, root for him and win with him. He has both the heart and mind of a true champion. He may not be the biggest or fastest RB out there, but his will is certainly the strongest. Combine that with the fact that he’s an FF die-hard who often drafts himself on at least one team and you’ve got a recipe for success.

#3) Chris Johnson

He wasn’t dubbed Sonic The Hedgehog for nothing. Last season CJ rushed for over 2,000 yards, caught for 503 receiving yards, averaged a whopping 5.6 yards per carry, and scored an impressive 16 touchdowns. This time last year, No. 28 stated his goals very clearly – he wanted to be named MVP and rush for 2,000 yards. This season he’s aimed his sights even higher, saying that he hoped to break 2,500 rushing yards. With a new contract in place and LenDale White out of the picture, there’s no reason he won’t be able to pick up where he left off.

That being said, I’m a teeny tiny bit worried about his durability. Being a smaller guy and having come off such a huge season, I’m concerned that he might not have enough left in the tank for a second go around. Then again he’s only 24 years old and has plenty yet to prove. Either way, he’s a phenomenal pick… just make sure to manage your expectations accordingly.

#4) Frank Gore

Yes, I realize this isn’t 2006… but I still think Gore has one more monster campaign left in him. Even though he was out for two games last season with an ankle injury, the former Pro-Bowler still managed to score a career-high 13 touchdowns and rush for nearly 1,200 yards.

Now that the 49ers have addressed their largest deficiency by beefing up their O-line with two young – but certainly capable – linemen, Gore should be better protected… and therefore limping less often. Some consistency at QB would also be nice, but considering Samurai Mike‘s run-first coaching style, Gore is sure to get plenty of touches. Still, I’d advise Fantasy owners to insure their investment and handcuff Anthony Dixon to this lead RB.

#5) Rashard Mendenhall

Every cheat sheet needs a few surprises, right? I know that most analysts think I’m crazy for ranking Mendenhall so high, saying he’s unproven and fumble prone. And all of that may be true… but I think with Big Ben out for the first 4-6 weeks, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are going to rely heavily on the ground attack and thus the former Illini as well.

Sure, the loss of Willie Colon hurts, but the addition of Flozell Adams should help solidify and strengthen the Steelers O-line. Additionally, Mendenhall is young enough (only 23) and perfectly sized (5’10” and 225 lbs.) for the position and subsequent beating that most every-down backs take.

As with most things, however, there is a catch. You don’t want to hold on to Mendenhall for all 17 weeks. I think he’s going to be dynamite coming out of the gate, but start to dramatically trail off as the season progresses. My advice is to draft him early and sell him high – around week 5. It’s a gamble, but so is drafting anyone out of the top three.

#6) Ray Rice

He may not be the biggest, strongest, or fastest… but he’s certainly the most diverse. In a break-out sophomore season, Rice wowed fans and critics with his electric playing style and deft receiving ability. In the air, he led all running backs with 78 receptions for 702 yards. On the ground, he managed to stomp out 1,339 rushing yards. Plus he’s only 23 and totally adorable.

So why isn’t he in my top 5? Two words: Willis McGahee. The aging RB, who seems less like a Raven and more like a vulture, will be back for the 2010-11 season under a new $3.6 million contract and is expected to get most of the goal line carries. Ray-Ray definitely put up amazing stats last year, but he only scored 7 rushing touchdowns to McGahee’s 12. While I imagine the disparity in these numbers will even out a bit next season, fantasy owners should still remain practical about Rice’s reality rather than his potential.

#7) Steven Jackson

Would you rather be A) the star player on a losing team or B) the worst player on a winning team? Steven Jackson clearly went with Option A. On the upside, he’s a phenomenally talented player. On the downside, he plays for the St. Louis Rams.

Hopefully the addition of both Jason Smith and Jason Brown will provide this workhorse RB with better blocking and protection. On any other team, he’d be scoring TDs in the double digits. Last season, however, he could only cobble together a meager four. Regardless, while Spagnuolo tries to return on the $78 million investment that is Sam Bradford, Jackson should rack up plenty of touches. Just keep your fingers crossed that he can make it past the goal lines a few times without getting completely pummeled.

#8) Michael Turner

This time next year I hope to be calling No. 33 not only “The Burner,” but also “The Comeback Kid.” In 2009, he was on track for another statalicious season before suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 10. That injury sidelined the former Pro Bowler for the bulk of six games and subsequently crushed fantasy dreams web-wide.

This season, however, Turner has been working out, slimming down, and getting back into tackle busting shape. In fact three months ago, Coach Mike Smith said the following about the 28 year old’s recovery: “I thought Michael looked very good. (There are ) no ill effects from the ankle. I thought he was putting his foot in the ground and cutting, and that was the big thing we wanted to make sure we saw, his ability to cut. I think he’s in great shape.”

Fortunately for Turner and unfortunately for fantasy owners, Coach Smith has also stated there will be “parameters” on how often Turner carries the ball this season. Obviously, the Falcons organization would like to keep this workhorse working and so he might have to share carries with Norwood and Snelling. Luckily, neither of those backs are a real threat to The Burner’s fantasy potential.

#9) Ryan Mathews

Whereas I think Mendenhall will start the season strong and peter off as the weeks progress, I believe Mathews will start slowly… but finish with a surprising amount of gusto. A life long fan of the Chargers and an LT devotee, Mathews is motivated to pick up where his idol left off.

The Chargers clearly don’t see Sproles as their every down back or they wouldn’t have traded up to get Mathews. However, I do think that Sproles will carry the stone more frequently early in the season as the rookie learns the ropes and routes. Once he’s comfortable though, I expect Coach Turner to let him loose, creating another weapon within the already solid SD offense. Mathews has everything from skill to strength of schedule in his favor. Fantasy owners only have to hope that he can learn as quickly as he can run.

#10) Ryan Grant

The best thing about owning Ryan Grant is that no one is nipping at his heels to be the main guy in Green Bay. The worst thing about owning Ryan Grant is that no one is nipping at his heels to be the main guy in Green Bay. It seems that Grant is consistent, but not exactly explosive. Perhaps if there were a hot rookie or a back with receiving potential, No. 25 might be a bit more motivated to move it.

That being said, he’s coming off of his most successful NFL campaign to date. In 2009, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored 7 more rushing touchdowns than he did in 2008. With any luck those numbers will continue to improve. Grant is definitely a great RB2 for any fantasy team. Unlike Green Bay, however, I wouldn’t make him your main guy.

#11) Cedric Benson

Consider me a bitter Bears fan, but while I think Benson has talent, he’s completely devoid of hustle. For the record, I’d draft DeAngelo Williams (who is certain to share carries with Jonathan Stewart) over this douche-wad any day. Since he’s technically a workhorse, however, I’ll take my emotions out of it and slot him in at number 11.

Despite having an elite core of reality television stars wide receivers, Coach Lewis likes to keep the game on the ground. In fact, in 2009 the Bengals ran the ball 52 percent of the time. In that same season, Benson rushed for 1,251 and scored 6 TDs. That’s not bad considering he was sidelined for 3 games with a hip injury. Assuming he doesn’t puss out or get hurt, No. 32 is a solid pick late in the first round or very early in the second.

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