Everyone loves to draft a guy that he thinks is a sleeper. Why? Because it’s our way of proving to everyone else that, “Yes, I know more than you.” Beyond that, it’s simply quite fun to draft a guy that surprises everybody else.
Like I said before, it’s not that fun to draft Ichiro. You know exactly what you’re getting. (Or at least you used to know, before this season.) On the flip side, thinking about Jason Heyward’s upside gives us all visions of glory.
But when it comes to drafting running backs for your fantasy football team this year, save the “sleepers” for other positions.
Assuming you are in a 10 to 12 team league, or a fun weekly challenge game like FanDuel, and you have to start at least two running backs, it won’t be good enough to simply know which guys are in the top five.
Here are my top 25 running backs for 2011, along with some guys I think you should stay away from. The latter group is who we’ll start with.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: The “Stay-Aways”
- Mark Ingram – The Lockout will hinder rookies greatly this year. The rookie running back slump continues, even though the kid has unreal talent.
- Joseph Addai – As a Colts fan, I think I speak for everyone else in Hoosier Country when I say, “You just can’t trust this guy.”
- All Other Colts’ Running Backs – If you need me to explain this one, you have probably never played fantasy football.
- Jonathan Stewart – Just a hunch, but I think the Panthers will try to justify spending a billion dollars on DeAngelo Williams…if only for this season.
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis – Also a hunch, but I have a feeling that the Patriots are going to be high-flying, just like they were in their 18-1 season. Expect a lot of passing, yards, and scoring…through the air.
- CJ Spiller – At this point, he’s destined to become a homeless man’s Devin Hester. And in a league that no longer has kickoff returns, that isn’t a good thing.
- LaDainian Tomlinson – Eight steps beyond washed-up at this point.
- Daniel Thomas – See Ingram, Mark.
- Fred Jackson – I just don’t see the Bills leading a lot of games this year. Their running game and Mr. Jackson will suffer.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #21-25
- Marshawn Lynch
- Ryan Mathews
- Mike Tolbert
- Ahmad Bradshaw
- Shonn Greene
Ironically, these guys are all pretty similar. Most of them like to pound it inside and eat up short yardage situations. Expect all of them to be able to punch it into the end zone for you as well.
Of these five, Greene has the most upside since the Jets will likely be good, but Sanchez will still struggle, causing them to rely heavily on their defense and running game.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #16-20
Your “all or nothing” guys…that will win you weeks, and break your heart.
- Jahvid Best
- Felix Jones
- Knowshon Moreno
- Ryan Grant
- LeGarrette Blount
These guys are all on the same level to me.
Best intrigues me the most because I feel that he has the most raw talent of the bunch…but as we are all well-aware, his injury history will scare many away.
I really think this could be Knowshon Moreno’s breakout year, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ended up as a top seven running back…though the QB situation will make his job that much more difficult.
Beware of Ryan Grant. The Packers’ RB was injured for most of last season, and he will come back hungry, ready to show everyone that he is, in fact, very important to his team’s success. Also, it’s probably a safe bet that Green Bay will be winning a lot of games this year, and Grant will be benefactor #1.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #11-15
- DeAngelo Williams
- Frank Gore
- Matt Forte
- Steven Jackson
- Peyton Hillis
None of these guys will earn you high praise on draft night, but they will all give you an easy 1000 yards, 8 TDs, and receptions out of the backfield. Again, the lockout will affect a lot of young guys, players on new teams, and players with new coaches.
While Williams, Gore, and Hillis are all playing for new coaches, they will definitely be one of the foundational elements that their coaches are hoping to build upon. Gore, Forte, and Jackson are about as “Ichiro-esque” as you can get. Barring injury, expect solid numbers from them across the board.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #10
I have to place him this high, but I’m scared to death of him myself.
- Michael Turner
It’s possible he’s past his prime. It’s possible that all of the carries the past few years have killed his legs. It’s possible that Atlanta will become more of a passing team this year. It’s also possible he has one more year left in him.
This is all I know. Someone will draft Michael Turner in your league this year, and it will either make, or break his team. I am scared to death of him, but I also know he could have one more good year left in him, and I understand he could very well come back to bite me.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #8-9
“Old Reliables” that may not be so reliable.
- Maurice Jones-Drew
- Rashard Mendenhall.
If healthy, both Jones-Drew and Mendenhall will easily be top-ten RBs. Both of their teams love to grind it out, and both guys can do the job. However, Mendenhall has had fumble issues in the past, and just how long can a guy as small as Mo-Joe stay healthy?
If it were me, and I drafted either of these guys early, I would take his backup late in the draft – especially if I had Mo-Jo, because I think Rashard Jennings could really surprise some people this year, if given the opportunity.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #6-7
The new kids on the McBlock.
- Darren McFadden
- LeSean McCoy
These two guys have more “home-run” ability than anyone besides Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and maybe Adrian Peterson.
McCoy will be playing in a high-powered offense that has surprisingly less weapons than you thought. Seriously, they have Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and…yeah you thought they had more, didn’t you? Well, McCoy will surprise a lot of people this year that didn’t take notice before. He is one of the smoothest runners in the game, and can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
McFadden, on the other hand, finally seemed to figure it out last year. If he is finally putting the work in to match his unbelievable talent, the Raiders could have a top five fantasy player on their team, easily.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #4-5
Don’t be disappointed with these guys.
- Ray Rice
- Arian Foster
We have all been there. We get the fourth pick in the draft, and we love three guys. Obviously, those three guys go 1-2-3, and we are stuck fuming to ourselves for the next four picks. On draft day, don’t be “disappointed” with Rice or Foster.
Sure, maybe the next three guys will have marginally better years, but the fact is that in most seasons the difference between guys 1-3 and 4-6 isn’t really that big. Be happy with either of these guys, and then focus on building out the rest of your team. Nobody has ever won a fantasy league with just one guy, but plenty have lost it by not concentrating for half of their draft.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #2-3
- Chris Johnson
- Jamaal Charles
I think these are the only two guys in the league that could rush for 2000 yards. They could also both get injured or, in CJ’s case, randomly miss a lot of time because of contract issues. Either way, if things go well, Charles and Johnson will make a LOT of fantasy owners happy with their home run ability coupled with their coach’s love for the running game.
Fantasy Football RB Rankings: #1
- Adrian Peterson
In my opinion, he’s still the best in the biz.