Top 10 Fantasy Football Running Backs for 2010
1. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
I’ve heard many football fans say they expect a dropoff from Johnson this season. After he rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 TDs in 2009, a dropoff still leaves room for Johnson to be No. 1 overall in your fantasy draft. Johnson carried the ball 358 times in ’09, and he also caught 50 passes for 503 yards and two TDs. A contract dispute has some worried that Johnson won’t be ready to go once the season starts, but I don’t see the Titans letting this drag into the season; they simply can’t afford to NOT have Johnson on the field. Oh, and as for that dropoff? Johnson ain’t having it; he says his goal for 2010 is to rush for 2,500 yards.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Few backs have Peterson’s raw power while still maintaining some shiftiness. It’s usually one trait or the other. But the 25-year-old out of Oklahoma continues to impress with his physical style and deceptive agility. It translates to good things for fantasy owners, as Peterson has amassed 4,484 yards and 40 touchdowns during his first three seasons in the league. He’s coming off a year in which he rushed for 1,383 yards and a league-best 18 rushing TDs. He also caught 43 passes for 436 yards.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
I saw a lot of MJD while he was at UCLA, and it was hard to avoid comparing the diminutive back to another former Pac-10 Conference little big man – Ken Simonton. Both players are 5-foot-7 and a few ticks over 200 pounds; both had stellar college careers; and both appeared to have games best suited for the NCAA level and not pro football. I was right about Simonton on that front – he rushed for 1,028 yards, 1,705, 1,559 and 971 during his four seasons at Oregon State before fading away, his professional highlight coming in 2003 when he was named NFL Europe Offensive MVP. About Jones-Drew, however, I was wrong. This guy is a legitimate pro, and the numbers back him up – 1,391 yards on 312 carries in 2009 to go with 53 catches for 374 yards. MJD was second among NFL backs in 2009 with 15 rushing touchdowns.
4. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
There’s a lot to like about Rice, who, at 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds looks a lot like Jones-Drew. In 2009, Rice showed he can produce a lot like Jones-Drew, as well, rushing for 1,339 yards and seven TDs. But his versatility might be his best asset – Rice caught 78 passes for 702 yards and a touchdown in ’09. If there’s a chink in the armor here it’s the presence and re-emergence of Willis McGahee, who stole some goal-line touches in 2009, scoring 12 times and rushing for 544 yards. If Rice stumbles, McGahee will be there to pick up the slack – and the carries – but so far so good despite the tandem, and I expect it to be more of the same for Rice in 2009.
5. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Gore battled ankle issues in 2009, but still earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, filling in for Steven Jackson, who skipped the game with an injury of his own. Gore rushed for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games in ’09, and also caught 52 passes for 406 yards and three TDs. He hasn’t dipped below 1,000 yards since his sophomore NFL season of 2006, when he broke out for 1,695 and eight TDs. The 49ers bolstered their offensive line during the offseason, so all expectations are that Gore will get the ball early and often in 2010.
6. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
I pulled off a big-time trade in my keeper fantasy league to snag S-Jax early in his rookie season of 2004 and have never regretted it. OK, maybe one regret – he plays for the Rams. But Jackson consistently overcomes his lackluster surroundings, putting up star numbers in a sputtering offense – 1,416 rushing yards and 322 receiving in ’09. If there was one frustration last season, it was that Jackson reached the end zone only four times. I look for him to at least double that in 2010. He’s coming off surgery for a herniated disc in his back, but don’t let that scare you away – Jackson says he’s healthy and ready to go.
7. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Instinct tells me to avoid running backs in committee situations, if only because it’s frustrating as hell to figure out which guy to play each week. Williams will again share touches with bruising back Jonathan Stewart, but it’s tough to ignore DeAngelo’s 2009 production – 1,117 rushing yards, seven TDs and 29 receptions for 252 yards. That followed a 2008 season in which, despite Stewart’s presence, Williams put up 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns.
8. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
I’m not a fan of going with rookies in the first round of fantasy drafts, but I’d snag Mathews without much second-guessing. The rookie out of Fresno State led the NCAA last season with an average of 150.7 yards per game on his way to 1,808 yards and 19 touchdowns on 276 carries. Mathews takes over as the Chargers’ lead back from Day 1, and although he’ll share some touches with Darren Sproles, I expect him to take off in San Diego’s high-powered rushing attack.
9. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
I like Burner a lot, but it’s always tough to rank a player coming off a nagging injury. In Turner’s case, it was five missed games over the last seven of 2009, and the two he did play in during that stretch saw him total 40 yards on 13 carries, combined. Before the injury, he had been on a roll, with 428 rushing yards and three TDs in a three-game stretch. I like Turner to rebound to that level, but I’m gonna have to see it before I can place him back in the top five.
10. Shonn Greene, New York Jets
I realize many fantasyland experts are real big on Greene, but he’s my wild-card pick for 2010. By that I mean, I don’t view him as a sure thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were a top 10 fantasy back in 2010, not one bit. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he faded out of the top 25 picture. Call me unrealistic if you will, but I just don’t think LaDainian Tomlinson is done quite yet, and if Greene stumbles even the least bit, LT could re-emerge. And I say “re-emerge” with full awareness that Tomlinson’s “down season” of 2009 included 730 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Chargers. Still, I’m picking Greene this high based on potential. The Jets showed in ’09 that they’re a big-time rushing team, and Greene takes over the spot in which Thomas Jones carried the ball 331 times for 1,402 yards and 14 TDs in ’09.
These guys just barely missed the top 10 cut:
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s more or less a coin flip between Mendenhall and Greene for the last spot in the top 10. I like Mendenhall’s game, and all indications are that the Steelers will rely heavily on the ground game in 2010. Mendenhall has shown he can deliver, rushing for 1,108 yards and seven TDs in 2009, his second year in the NFL. I could see Mendenhall losing a few touches to rookie Jonathan Dwyer, but I do expect more of the same statistically from Mendenhall in 2010.
Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions: I like Best’s power-speed combo, and he’s an end zone hound, having reached paydirt 12 times during his 2009 season at California despite missing the tail end of the schedule following a scary injury at Oregon State on Nov. 7, 2009. Best escaped with a concussion, and the Lions traded up to select him 30th overall in the 2010 draft. With RB Kevin Smith set to miss the first part of the season as he recovers from a knee injury, Best will get ample opportunity to shine early and often.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals: Benson broke out for 1,251 yards and six TDs in 2009, showing he’s still got plenty left in the tank. I see the addition of Terrell Owens as a positive for Benson in 2010; with Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant out wide, Benson could have a little more room to roam in between the tackles.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints: On the plus side, Mike Bell is gone. On the negative side, Reggie Bush is still around and listed as the feature back. Still, Thomas will get his touches; he rushed for 793 yards and six TDs in 2009 on 147 carries, and also caught 39 passes for 302 yards.