I can’t pretend to be a fantasy football expert. As much I want to be, I’m just a football starved fan who happens to spend his free time pondering this year’s sleeper running back. All of his free time.
I’ve played this beautiful thing called fantasy football half of my life, and these entries are simply my advice. I don’t claim these to be fact. I will sometimes be wrong, and while I will most likely place the blame of the wrongness on some thing aside from myself, it happens. Rarely.
Disclaimer: A few weeks ago Ryan Matthews would have made this list easily. His stock was sky high and fantasy experts across America were drinking the collective koolaid. (Don’t lie, you were too.) But back in week one of the preseason, during his first and only carry, poor little Ryan broke his collarbone and it looks like he’s gonna be sitting out for a few weeks. He will be back eventually, and the injury isn't the type that will linger once he’s back, but clavicle injuries force you to basically do nothing during the recovery period. A month or more of lying around won't help his conditioning any and makes his early season outlook grim. Current reports suggest that he will be out until at least week one, and if you are deathly ill at RB, and I mean desperately gasping for simply anyone at the position, Ronnie Brown should be good for about 15 touches a game until Ryan gets back.
Trent Richardson is another name that was under consideration, but after a knee scope was announced, he fell straight off the list. The rookie runner has promise, but I would rather someone else take the chance on what might be the Brown’s only legitimate offensive weapon this year.
#1- Arian Foster. Arian should end as the unanimous #1 pick. The man is the perfect running back for Coach Gary Kubiak’s system, and he is slump-proof. He had 1,800 total yards last year…in 13 games. 25-year-old bell cows with 2 straight 600 yard receiving years don’t come around too often. Take him whenever possible, and make sure to grab fantasy’s #1 handcuff, Ben Tate while you’re at it.
#2 – Ray Rice. While I do love Arian, I consider Ray Rice the safest pick in all of fantasy. The best fullback in the game leads the way for him, there is literally no talent behind him, and the defense of the Ravens always keep the team in a position to run the ball. The man even threw a TD last year. The downside is that over the last 3 season, with playoffs included, he has averaged 400-plus touches a year. That’s a lot of wear and tear, and I would keep that in mind in keeper leagues, but for this year, the 25-year-old should pump out another top 5 finish.
#3 – LeSean McCoy. 20 touchdowns won’t happen again, but there’s no denying that McCoy is a game changer who is here to stay. The comparisons to Barry Sanders are starting to become nauseating, but even the casual fan can see why commentators can’t shut up about it. He might be the best receiving RB in the game today and he is a center piece in one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
#4 – Darren McFadden. If you’re the gambling type, Run DMC is the guy for you. But if you want guaranteed points all year long, you might as well just keep looking down the list. In my opinion, McFadden is the most talented back with the pigskin when healthy. But that is the problem. He hasn’t played 16 games yet in his career. There is true scoring champion potential here, but you must constantly beware injury, and with no clear cut hand cuff, McFadden is the ultimate boom or bust option this year.
#5 – Chris Johnson. 2,509 total yards, 16 total touchdowns. And to think, it was just 2 years ago. CJwhateverK fell in a huge slump last year, but even at his worst he showed he could at least still exploit bad run defenses. The bottom line is that he just didn’t score TD’s last year. Last year he scored just 4 times, his other 3 years had TD numbers of 10, 16, and 12. He did have a career low in total yards, but with 1,465 of them, and any back in the league would take that as a career low. The speedster is paid, focused, and poised for a top 5 finish, don’t sweat at all if you are left with him after Arian, Ray, and LeSean fly off the board.
#6 – Matt Forte. Matty Forte is both an interesting and frustrating player. After 12 weeks last year, he was leading the league with nearly 1,500 total yards, but just 4 TDs. It seemed that he had evolved into an elite half back and while a late season knee-sprain held him out of the last four games, it’s a non-issue now. The problem is touchdowns. They have never really been Matt’s forte. (see what I did there?) and the addition of redzone dynamo Michael Bush doesn’t make matters any better. But if you are one of those pattern guys, his career TD total numbers of 12,4,9,4 seem to indicate that another decent TD year is coming. But it most likely means literally nothing; just take it as random info. Forte should be a lock for solid yardage but will most likely lack the TDs.
#7 – Marshawn Lynch. Now that it looks like he is safe from suspension, Beastmode can safely be drafted. He did have his big year in the “ooh so important” contract year, but I don’t think that will change his output very much. Reports have him in shape and on the move in practice, and we all know that Pete Carroll will feed the beast. His career workload hasn’t been too much, as he has never topped 285 carries and while he isn’t known too much for his receiving ability, he did catch 47 balls with Buffalo in 08’. With check down machine Matt Flynn in town, look for Marshawn to be more involved in the passing game as well. His yardage won’t blow anyone away, but he is a redzone champion and offers steady and consistent scoring.
#8 – Maurice Jones-Drew. Not even a hold out could keep Pocket Hercules off of this list. MJD has been one of the most consistent RBs in fantasy over the last 7 years. If his holdout situation isn’t resolved by your league’s draft time, he is going to fall, and some brave soul is going to reach out and either ruin his team, or make a beautiful decision. It will depend completely on your league when he goes, but the reigning rushing champ won’t fall too far. If he is there late second round I would pounce. An MJD that is in camp and ready to go would be number 4 on this list.
#9 – Jamaal Charles. He has a career per carry average of 6.1 yards. An ACL tear ended his season in week one last year, and fantasy football enthusiasts across the country are wondering if he will come back the same. After watching a few preseason games, I believe he will be. But new addition Peyton Hillis is sure to take all goal-line carries and a chunk of 3rd downs as well. JC has a revamped O-line in front of him that should rank in the top 5 this year and he should also push 40 receptions again. Simply put, if he is healthy, his yards will be plenty, but his touchdowns may be sparse. Grab Hillis if you take the chance on JC, if Charles were to reinjure himself, Hillis would be a low end RB1.
#10 – Steven Jackson. That’s right, the man who has averaged only 6 TD’s a year the last 5 years. I see the Ram’s offense finally getting back on track under Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. It is no secret that the Rams love to run Steven into the ground every year, usually for inconsistent mixed results, but this year seems different. Jeff Fisher’s team have always focused on running the ball and protecting the QB. One way that Sammy Bradford has learned to protect his self is checking down. Look for S-Jax to catch 50 balls this year while receiving 20 carries a game.
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