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Top 20 running backs for 2011

Running back. That position where you can pencil in 20 points every week. However, you can also find yourself rotating players in and out each week hoping for a big game.

Top 20 running backs for 2011

Arian Foster scored more fantasy points in 2010 than any other player. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)
Arian Foster scored more fantasy points in 2010 than any other player. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

Running back. That position where you can pencil in 20 points every week. However, you can also find yourself rotating players in and out each week hoping for a big game.

While league scoring dictates just how important the running back position is, most standard scoring leagues put a premium on that spot. Perhaps that is because of the depth at running back.

Last season, Arian Foster dominated the position, outscoring all other running backs by a whopping 91 points. However, he was the only running back to rank among the top 10 players at any position (He was first).

In fact, his 313 points (ESPN standard scoring) were the highest at any position. Behind Foster, however, the race was much closer, with the next 10 running backs finishing within 33 points of each other. Here's a look at those ten, plus Foster:

1. Arian Foster, HOU 313
2. Adrian Peterson, MIN 232
3. Jamaal Charles, KC 223
4. Peyton Hillis, CLE 218
5. Chris Johnson, TEN 216
6. Darren McFadden, OAK 208
7. LeSean McCoy, PHI 206
8. Michael Turner, ATL 205
9. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT 203
10. Ray Rice, BAL 200
11. Matt Forte, CHI 199

In the last few years, the NFL has become a passing league. That is nowhere more evident than in fantasy football. Here's a position-by-position look at the top 10 scorers over the last 10 years:

YEAR RB OB
2001 4 6
2002 7 3
2003* 7 2
2004 5 5
2005* 6 3
2006 6 4
2007* 2 7
2008 2 8
2009 2 8
2010 1 9
* WR also in top 10

So why am I showing you all these numbers? To get to this point: It used to be mandatory that you took a running back with a top-five pick. Now, I would recommend taking a quarterback, and wait to get a running back until the second round.

Especially if you are picking in the middle of the pack, there will be a solid running back left for at least your next pick, if not your next two.

Only one running back was able to crack the top 10 last season. And of the backs ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's pre-draft rankings for 2010, only four finished in the top 25 overall, and only one (Adrian Peterson) in the top 15. Conversely, there were six running backs ranked No. 11 or higher heading into the draft that finished in the top 25.

Basically, don't go all in on a running back.

Even Foster, who I have ranked No. 1, is suspect. He burst onto the scene last year, taking the fantasy world by storm right out of the gate. However, he doesn't have much of a body of work and I could see him regressing this season. Then again, I could be completely wrong.

There is no doubt that having a solid pair of running backs on your team will help make up for other shortcomings, but remember, there is plenty of depth in this list, and even beyond:

1. Arian Foster (HOU, 11) - Foster gets my top spot for one reason, and one reason alone: He single handedly carried me to a championship last season. Okay, having Michael Vick, Jamaal Charles, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin didn't hurt. Foster was a beast last season, and if you are in a PPR league, Foster becomes all the more valuable. He plays in a division where scores can get pretty high, and that will only play to his advantage. With Andre Johnson keeping defense honest, Foster should continue his success this season. 2010 Stats: 1,616 rushing yards, 16 TD; 66 receptions, 604 yards, 2 TD.

2.   Adrian Peterson (MIN, BYE: 9) - Peterson didn't have his best season in 2010, but that can be said across the board for the Minnesota Vikings. I know Donovan McNabb isn't the same quarterback that he was five years ago, but he's a still a threat. Peterson, a staple at the top of the draftboard, brings consistency to the table. That can't be overlooked in fantasy football. Be agressive with Peterson, but remember the diminishing rushing numbers across the NFL before you overspend. 2010 Stats: 1,298 rushing yards, 12 TD; 36 receptions, 341 yards, TD.

3. Jamaal Charles (KC, 6) - Charles was a pleasant surprise to most of his fantasy owners. However, most of them also found themselves cursing Todd Haley on more than one occassion. For some reason, Haley insisted on handing the ball off to Thomas Jones in the red zone. Sure, Jones is the bigger back, but Charles averaged 6.4 yards per carry, compared to Jones' 3.0.  With almost 1,500 rushing yards and 500 passing yards, the man deserves more than eight total touchdowns. Look for him to improve on that number in 2011.  2010 Stats: 1,467 rushing yards, 5 TD; 45 receptions,  468 yards, 3 TD.

4. Chris Johnson (TEN, 6) - Johnson had a good season in 2010, but nowhere near what was expected. He was playing hurt, behind a less-than-stellar offensive line, and with a suspect passing game. While those last two things may still remain, Johnson appears healthy. As long as his holdout doesn't affect his preparation, Johnson should be ready to dominate once again. 2010 Stats: 1,364 rushing yards, 11 TD; 44 receptions, 245 yards, TD.

5. Ray Rice (BAL, 5) - Rice never ceases to impress. For such a small back, he plays with a rare combination of speed and power. He also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something than can turn a fantasy running back from good to great. Look for him and Joe Flacco to combine on more than one passing touchdown this season. 2010 Stats: 1,220 rushing yards, 5 TD; 63 receptions, 556 yards, TD.

6. LeSean McCoy (PHI, 7) - McCoy plays on arguably the most dynamic offense in the league. That can be both a blessing and a curse at the same time. The addition of Ronnie Brown shouldn't hurt McCoy's numbers too much, as long as Michael Vick and more importantly Andy Reid remember that passing isn't the only way to move the ball down the field. McCoy seems okay with that, however, as picked up 78 receptions last season. With the way Vick likes to scramble around, he often needs a safety valve, a position Shady McCoy used to his advantage last season. 2010 Stats: 1,080 rushing yards, 7 TD; 78 receptions, 592 yards, 2 TD.

7. Frank Gore (SF, 7) - Gore missed 5 games last season with an injury, and now that he is healthy and his holdout is over, look for him to return as the catalyst of the 49ers offense. Alex Smith will be back under center, so not much has changed. One thing Gore would like to see changed, however, is his touchdown total. There's no reason to think that can't happen in 2011. 2010 Stats: 853 rushing yards, 3 TD; 46 receptions, 452 yards, 2 TD.

8. Michael Turner (ATL, 8) - Turner scores touchdowns. That's what he does. When he gets the ball near the goal line, he's getting in. Matt Ryan knows that. Turner knows that. While the Falcons are more well-known for their passing game, it's Turner that puts in the work. He's consistent. He'll score for you. Always a solid pick-up. 2010 Stats: 1,371 rushing yards, 12 TD; 12 receptions, 85 yards.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC, 9) - MJD didn't have his best season either last year. He just doesn't have the weapons around him. He is basically the entire offense, and opposing defenses know it. He still put up 1,600 combined yards last season, but he was stymied when the Jags got inside the red zone. Again, MJD is a solid player, especially in the second or third round. 2010 Stats: 1,324 rushing yards, 5 TD; 34 receptions, 317 yards, 2 TD.

10. Rashard Mendenhall (PIT, 11) - No matter how much changes in Pittsburgh, they will always be a grind-it-out type of team. Mendenhall thrived in the early-season absence of Ben Roethlisberger, grabbing four touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season. He then scored five over the next nine games. But when the weather cooled off, Mendenhall went back to work. He scored four more touchdowns in the last three games of the season. And yes, you have to value what players do at the end of the season higher, because that is likely playoff time in your fantasy league. 2010 Stats: 1,273 rushing yards, 13 TD; 23 receptions, 167 yards.

Here's a look at the rest of my top 10, plus their stats from 2010:

11. Steven Jackson (STL, 5) -  1,241 rushing yards, 6 TD; 46 receptions, 383 yards.
12. Darren McFadden (OAK, 8)
- 1,157 rushing yards, 7 TD; 47 receptions, 507 yards, 3 TD.
13. Peyton Hillis (CLE, 5)
- 1,177 rushing yards, 11 TD; 61 receptions, 477 yards, 2 TD.
14. Matt Forte (CHI, 8)
- 1,069 rushing yards, 6 TD; 51 receptions, 547 yards, 3 TD.
15. DeAngelo Williams (CAR, 9)
-  361 rushing yards, TD; 11 receptions, 61 yards.
16. Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG, 7)
-  1,235 rushing yards, 8 TD; 47 receptions, 314 yards.
17. Ryan Mathews (SD, 6)
- 678 rushing yards, 7 TD; 22 receptions, 145 yards.
18. Jahvid Best (DET, 9)
- 555 rushing yards, 4 TD; 58 receptions, 487 yards, 2 TD.
19. Jonathan Stewart (CAR, 9)
- 770 rushing yards, 2 TD; 8 receptions, 103 yards, TD.
20. Knowshon Moreno (DEN, 6)
- 779 rushing yards, 5 TD; 37 receptions, 372 yards, 3 TD.

 


Matt Mullin is a sports producer at philly.com. You can reach him by e-mail at mmullin@philly.com. Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

Matt Mullin Sports Editor
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From football to baseball, Fantasy Island is your stop for all things fantasy, with a Philly spin. Reach Matt at mmullin@philly.com.

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