The fantasy quarterbacks rankings got a bit long so I decided to split the running backs into two posts. Here are the top 15. Check back in the next 24 hours for the rest.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
Tomlinson’s numbers came down from a monster 2006, but he was still an elite fantasy back, piling up 18 touchdowns and just under 2,000 rushing/receiving yards. He has 69 touchdowns over the last three seasons and has had 50-plus catches in each of his seven seasons in the league. The Chargers have rushed for touchdowns on 38 percent of their red zone trips in the last three seasons. That’s the highest total of any team in the NFL.
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
The scary part: Peterson had 77 fewer carries than Tomlinson, but only 133 fewer yards. As a rookie, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and showed more explosiveness than any back in the league (224 yards in Week 6; 296 yards in Week 9). Health is a concern with Peterson. He missed two games last season and when he returned, his numbers weren’t the same (rushing totals of 3, 78, 27 and 36 respectively in the season’s final four weeks). If you’re looking for a player who can carry you and has the potential to put up a historic fantasy season, Peterson’s your man. But if you want a safer pick, you may want to bump him down one on your list behind…
3. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
Ridiculous numbers last year with 2,000-plus rushing/receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Westbrook got his money a couple weeks ago and remains the focal point of the Eagles’ offense. The best part about Westbrook is he doesn’t need 20 carries a game to be a great fantasy running back. He’s a lock for 60 catches and 600 yards receiving at the very least. And in terms of injury concerns, Westbrook has missed only one game each of the past two seasons.
4. Steven Jackson, Rams
He’s still holding out, so if your drafts are this weekend, that’s a concern. The Rams were a mess last year, and Jackson was no exception, managing an underwhelming 1,002 yards on the ground and six total touchdowns while missing four games because of injury. He came on down the stretch though, totaling over 100 rushing/receiving yards in seven of the final eight weeks weeks. While it would be asking a lot for Jackson to match his ’06 season when he rushed for 1,528 yards and had 90 catches for 806 yards, you can expect him to return to being a top-five running back.
5. Marion Barber, Cowboys
Only Tomlinson has more rushing touchdowns than Barber over the last two seasons. He ran for 10 TDs last year after notching 14 in ’06. Julius Jones is now in Seattle, and Barber is poised to get more carries. Don’t let the addition of rookie Felix Jones scare you. He’s unlikely to get more carries than the 164 Julius got last year. By the way, Barber had 44 catches last season.
6. Joseph Addai, Colts
He averaged just 46 yards per game rushing from Week 10 to Week 17 last season. That number is slightly deceiving since he only had 10 carries over the final two weeks. But even from Week 10 to Week 15, he averaged just 52.5 yards per game on the ground. The good news is Addai had 15 total touchdowns, and double-digit scores are a good bet in the Colts’ offense, but he’s getting a little overvalued in this year’s drafts.
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
The touchdowns weren’t there last season (five rushing, one receiving), but Gore still put together over 1,500 rushing/receiving yards. Stat that should scare you: Gore went without a rushing touchdown in all but one game after Week 2. If Gore performs like an RB1 this season, it’ll likely be due to his production as a receiver since Mike Martz is the new offensive coordinator.
8. Ryan Grant, Packers
Once he became a staple in Green Bay’s backfield in Week 8, Grant was a fantasy beast. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, had 11 runs over 20 yards and found the end zone eight times. You should be happy if Grant’s your RB1 and ecstatic if he’s your RB2.
9. Clinton Portis, Redskins
Portis carried 325 times last season, tops in the NFL. The results were solid as he piled up 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns. Portis also set career highs as a receiver, catching 47 balls for 389 yards.
10. Jamal Lewis, Browns
Lewis was great in his first season with Cleveland, ranking fifth in the NFL with 1,304 rushing yards. The veteran averaged 4.4 yards per carry, his best mark since 2003, and he finished strong with 100-yard games in four of the season’s final six weeks.
11. Willis McGahee, Ravens
McGahee had knee surgery recently, which should bump him down the rankings slightly. In his first year in Baltimore, McGahee ranked eighth in the NFL with 1,207 yards rushing. He had eight touchdowns, his highest total since his rookie season. McGahee also set a career high with 43 catches.
12. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
He went down with a foot injury and didn’t play after Week 9 last season. The Chiefs, meanwhile, had the worst rushing offense in the league (78 yards per game) and just six touchdowns on the ground. In 2006, Johnson carried the ball 416 times, an NFL record. The hope here is that he’s healthy and can bounce back.
13. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
His nine rushing touchdowns ranked seventh in the league last year. Jones-Drew has 26 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’s not the featured back, with 12 attempts or fewer in all but three games last season, but Jones-Drew is a threat in the passing game, having totaled 843 receiving yards over the last two years.
14. Marshawn Lynch, Bills
He had a strong rookie season with nearly 1,300 rushing/receiving yards and seven touchdowns. According to Athlon, Lynch’s 21.5 carries per game led the NFL. However, he showed little production as a receiver with just 18 catches for 184 yards.
15. Willie Parker, Steelers
After scoring 16 touchdowns in 2006, Parker found the end zone just twice in 2007. He led the NFL in rushing when he went down with an injury in Week 16, but don’t forget, the Steelers used their first-round pick on running back Rashard Mendenhall.