These 2011 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings will be updated often throughout the summer, so make sure you check back from time to time. Also, be sure to check out my other 2011 Fantasy Football articles, which will include sleepers, busts, tons of 2011 Fantasy Football mock drafts and other material. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. Bye: 6. SEPT. 2 UPDATE: Chris Johnson's prayers have been answered! The stud back received a 4-year, $53.5 million deal from the Titans on Thursday afternoon. He's now the No. 1 fantasy player in all formats.
SEPT. 1 UPDATE: Chris Johnson proved just how much of an idiot he is when he lashed out at Titans fans on Twitter (follow me @walterfootball). Forum member Leelee said it best, "CJ proved a new level of stupidity here that I think he might actually sit out the year, so I'm going to bump [Javon] Ringer up."
AUG. 17 UPDATE: Is Chris Johnson insane? Does he really think he's going to receive anything close to $13 million per year? If I'm Tennessee's general manager, I'm saying, "All right, have a nice life, Chris. We're going with Javon Ringer." I have to think this ugly holdout will end before the start of the regular season, and I still would take Johnson in the first round. I actually selected Johnson with the No. 8 overall in a Fantasy Experts Draft, which I will be posting soon. If you do take Johnson, you almost have to make sure you acquire Ringer in the ninth or 10th round.
JULY 28 UPDATE: Chris Johnson is another player to benefit from the Matt Hasselbeck signing. With Hasselbeck at the helm, Tennessee's offense will produce more touchdowns. Of course, Johnson will score some of those.
I didn't like Chris Johnson at all going into the 2010 season. He led the league in carries in 2009, and I thought he'd have a solid, but down year. Well, his YPC dropped from 5.6 to 4.3, but it wasn't necessarily due to fatigue; his offensive line just really struggled to open up holes.
Johnson's line can't be worse in 2011. The Tennessee front graded out as the league's worst run-blocking unit last season, and it'll be a huge surprise if the Titans don't find upgrades via free agency.
The one concern with Johnson, however, is the quarterbacking situation. Jake Locker is a mere rookie. On the bright side, however, teams will have to worry about Locker's scrambling ability, which will draw the slightest bit of attention away from Johnson.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,550 rushing yards. 48 catches. 430 receiving yards. 14 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 282. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 330.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens. Bye: 5. AUG. 26 UPDATE: We have confirmation - Ray Rice will be getting the goal-line carries this year. Rice received two attempts near the end zone at the beginning of the second quarter of the Washington game and converted one of them. This raises Rice's value considerably, and he should now be the favorite as the No. 1 overall pick in PPR leagues. Speaking of which, Rice tied for the team lead with six targets.
AUG. 25 UPDATE: The Ravens signed Bryant McKinnie to be their new left tackle. While McKinnie sucks at protecting the quarterback, he's not a bad run-blocker. I'm hardly praising him, so why the stock up for Ray Rice? Because it allows Michael Oher to play right tackle and Marshal Yanda to stay at right guard. In other words, the dreadful Oniel Cousins is no longer being asked to start, thus Rice will have better run blocking.
AUG. 20 UPDATE:
Ray Rice rushed for 44 yards on seven carries in the preseason victory over the Chiefs. The important thing to note is that he received the opportunity to convert a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter. Rice made the most of it and moved the chains. Perhaps this will help convince John Harbaugh that Rice should be the man on the goal line.
AUG. 12 UPDATE:
Despite the addition of Ricky Williams, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told the media that Ray Rice will be the team's goal-line back in 2011. I'd like to see this for myself in a couple of preseason games, but this is great news for Rice's fantasy potential if true. This could make him the No. 1 PPR running back.
AUG. 1 UPDATE:
Ray Rice could easily finish as the top fantasy back this year. That's because the Ravens just signed Vonta Leach, arguably the best fullback in the NFL. Leach paved the way for Arian Foster's league-leading rushing campaign last season, and could help Rice achieve that feat in 2011.
JULY 28 UPDATE: Ray Rice owners, rejoice. Willis McGahee, the dreaded "Touchdown Vulture," has been released. Le'Ron McClain figures to get some of the touches down at the goal line, but Rice's touchdown total is sure to rise.
After a prolific 2009 campaign, Ray Rice disappointed in 2010 - and by "disappointed," I mean 1,223 rushing yards and 556 receiving yards.
As disgruntled fantasy owners know, however, Rice had trouble finding the end zone. He saw his touchdown total drop from eight in 2009 to six in 2010. I have to believe his 2011 season will be more like 2009; Rice struggled to find running lanes behind a injured offensive line. It can't be any worse than it was last season. Plus, Willis McGahee is a free agent.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,350 rushing yards. 66 catches. 560 receiving yards. 12 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 263. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 329.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings. Bye: 9. AUG. 30 UPDATE: Some good and bad regarding Adrian Peterson. The All-Pro back looked as strong and spry as ever against the Cowboys, juking defenders, running with power and showing off his great speed. He gained 81 yards on 14 carries. However, he was not on the field in third-down situations or in the two-minute drill just prior to halftime. Lorenzo Booker took over that role. It's a concern for Peterson's PPR status.
AUG. 21 UPDATE: The one fantasy takeaway regarding Minnesota in its preseason victory at Seattle was that Adrian Peterson remained in the game on third down. He actually had the most targets from Donovan McNabb (3), catching two passes for 11 yards. If he stays on the field for all three downs, there's a good chance he could finish as the top fantasy running back this year.
JULY 28 UPDATE: I was slightly down on Adrian Peterson because of his quarterbacking situation. Donovan McNabb isn't very good, but he's a current upgrade over Christian Ponder, so I'm a bit higher on Peterson now.
I ranked Adrian Peterson No. 1 back in April. However, I have some growing concerns:
1. The offensive line isn't nearly as good as it used to be. Unless the Vikings can find an upgrade or two in free agency, Peterson will often struggle to find running room.
2. Christian Ponder is the quarterback. I know Peterson has thrived with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, but Jackson has a big arm, while Frerotte was a veteran. Ponder is an accurate, but small-armed rookie, whom defenses will not respect whatsoever - at least not right away. Peterson will face eight-man fronts on nearly every down.
3. Peterson's reception totals. He had 36 catches last year, but 30 of them came in the first nine games. Peterson had just six receptions from Week 11 on. His reception decline could have been the result of a lingering knee injury, but such a sharp decrease in production is disconcerting, nonetheless.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,430 rushing yards. 40 catches. 390 receiving yards. 13 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 260. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 300.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles. Bye: 7. AUG. 26 UPDATE: For the one person on this planet thinking that the Eagles are going to run a two-back system, LeSean McCoy had a whopping 16 touches or targets in the first half of the victory against Cleveland, compared to just three from Ronnie Brown. McCoy was in the backfield on a 4th-and-1 in the first quarter, which is a clear indication that he'll be the man on the goal line.
AUG. 19 UPDATE: For the one person out there who thinks the Eagles are going to run a two-running back system with LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown, the latter didn't receive a single touch in the first half in the preseason loss at Pittsburgh. McCoy had four carries 25 yards and a 12-yard reception.
AUG. 1 UPDATE:
The Eagles signed guard Evan Mathis. Mathis is constantly injured, but he's a tremendous run-blocker when he's in the lineup. LeSean McCoy will obviously benefit from this.
LeSean McCoy is producing like Brian Westbrook - only he doesn't seem to have the same injury concerns that plagued Philadelphia's former tailback.
McCoy rushed for 1,080 yards, caught 78 balls for 592 more yards and scored nine times in 15 games last year. With opposing defenses worried about QB Eagles No. 7's running ability, McCoy will benefit by picking up chunks of yardage in Philadelphia's explosive offense.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,230 rushing yards. 71 catches. 580 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 232. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 305.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans. Bye: 11. SEPT. 1 UPDATE: Arian Foster won't like to hear this because he hates fantasy football, but he's getting a stock down. ESPN's Dr. Michael Kaplan has examined Foster's MRI, and said that the former No. 1 overall fantasy player will be out 3-4 weeks. As I've said repeatedly, soft-tissue injuries like this tend to linger, so it's time to drop Foster in my 2011 Fantasy Football Rankings.
AUG. 28 UPDATE: The big news coming out of the San Francisco contest was the hamstring injury to the consensus No. 1 fantasy player. Arian Foster, who ran for 38 yards on eight carries, clutched his left hamstring after a 9-yard burst. This was the same malady that plagued him in training camp, so it's a concern. He could be ready for the season opener, but soft-tissue injuries tend to linger, so Foster may not be 100 percent for a while. I'm going to drop him to No. 3 overall on my 2011 Fantasy Football Top 150 Cheat Sheet.
AUG. 21 UPDATE: So, Arian Foster is OK. With all the talk of Foster possibly slowing down because of a hamstring injury, the previous year's leading rusher totaled 47 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries in the preseason victory over New Orleans. He was breaking tackles and making defenders miss, showing no signs of being hurt. He's the No. 1 fantasy pick in all leagues.
AUG. 1 UPDATE:
Arian Foster led the NFL in broken tackles last year, but part of the reason he was so successful was the elite blocking of fullback Vonta Leach. Leach, arguably the best fullback in the NFL, just signed with the Ravens. Foster should still be a top-three fantasy pick, but he's no longer the consensus No. 1 fantasy player.
Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson both have a rookie quarterback to deal with. Maurice Jones-Drew's knee is a problem. Frank Gore always gets hurt. Rashard Mendenhall doesn't catch enough passes. Ray Rice doesn't score enough touchdowns. LeSean McCoy's production will take a hit if his brittle quarterback gets hurt. Steven Jackson has shouldered a ton of carries in the past two seasons. Amazingly, despite having just one year of experience under his belt, Arian Foster seems like the safest of the first-round running backs.
As I wrote last year, Arian Foster is Australian for Fantasy Stud. Foster accumulated 1,616 rushing yards, 66 receptions, 604 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. He's a talented back and definitely not a one-year wonder. He'll have tons of goal-line work in Houston's dynamic offense, and his touchdown total could actually increase in 2011 because the defense will be better.
If I have the No. 1 pick in my fantasy football draft, I'm taking Foster, and I'm not thinking twice about it.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,220 rushing yards. 42 catches. 360 receiving yards. 12 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 230. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 272.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers. Bye: 11.
I'm a big fan of Rashard Mendenhall this year even though he belongs in a mental health facility. Mendenhall rushed for 1,274 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010 despite the fact that his offensive line was in shambles. Things can't possibly be worse in 2011, so look for his numbers to improve.
Mendenhall will not be in my top four, however, because he's not a big part of the passing game. He caught just 23 balls last year.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,350 rushing yards. 20 catches. 160 receiving yards. 12 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 223. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 243.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders. Bye: 8.
I don't trust Darren McFadden to stay healthy - he's missed 10 games in his three NFL seasons - but when he's in the lineup, he'll put up terrific fantasy stats for you. Just make sure you have good running back depth if you decide to select McFadden in the second round of your fantasy draft.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,150 rushing yards. 50 catches. 540 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 217. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 267.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs. Bye: 6. SEPT. 5 UPDATE: Matt Cassel might miss a few games with cracked ribs, so Jamaal Charles needs to be downgraded a bit.
SEPT. 2 UPDATE: Jamaal Charles oddly played for two-and-a-half quarters in the exhibition finale. He carried the ball nine times for only 19 yards, and also caught two passes for 18 receiving yards. It gets worse - Charles lost two fumbles. If he keeps putting the ball on the ground, Todd Haley will take touches away from him. Remember, Haley has the mind of a heroin addict and is incapable of making logical decisions. Those expecting Charles to post top-three fantasy running back numbers this year will be sorely disappointed. He's way overdrafted in fantasy leagues.
AUG. 27 UPDATE: Guess who received the first carry for the Chiefs against the Rams? Not Jamaal Charles; it was Dexter McCluster, who served as the third-down back in this contest. Charles had just two carries for four yards, though he had a 7-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty. That's the good news, I guess. The bad news is that Todd Haley made an effort to feature McCluster out of the backfield, a trend that may continue in the regular season. Remember, Haley is in way over his head and lacks common sense. It would be shocking to me if Charles carried the ball more than 250 times this year.
AUG. 10 UPDATE:
Hey, guess what? Jamaal Charles is No. 2 on Kansas City's depth chart. What a surprise. I can't believe Todd Haley thinks Thomas Jones deserves to play at least as much as Charles. I mean, wow. I'm astonished. In all seriousness, Haley is once again proving that he's way in over his head. He doesn't believe Charles can carry the ball 250-plus times, so Charles and Jones are going to have a near-even split once again. Remember, Haley gave Charles ONE touch after the first series in the second half of the playoff loss to Baltimore. The man has no idea what he's doing.
AUG. 4 UPDATE:
The Chiefs signed fullback Le'Ron McClain, a decent run blocker who will help offset the loss of Charlie Weis for Jamaal Charles. Charles will get a bump in my 2011 Fantasy Football Rankings, but if you plan on spending an early pick on him, remember that the egomanaical Todd Haley doesn't believe in Charles as a 250-carry-per-year guy.
Jamaal Charles is a stud. It's just a shame that his head coach doesn't know it.
Charles totaled 1,467 rushing yards, 468 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2010. Unfortunately, his production will decline just a bit next season because Charlie Weis is gone. Weis did a great job of masking Matt Cassel's deficiencies, but we all saw the real Cassel in Kansas City's playoff loss. With Cassel presumably struggling and the egotistical Todd Haley calling the shots, Charles will find it difficult to match his 2010 numbers.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,280 rushing yards. 45 catches. 400 receiving yards. 7 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 210. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 255.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers. Bye: 7.
By now, everyone knows the concern with Frank Gore. He's an unbelievably talented running back, but always seems to get hurt. Gore has played a full 16-game slate just once in his 6-year career.
With that being said, Gore's known fragility might make him somewhat underrated. He'll definitely be drafted lower than he should, so you might be able to get some value with him.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,200 rushing yards. 50 catches. 400 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 208. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 258.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys. Bye: 5. AUG. 30 UPDATE: I'm sure all of you are anticipating a Felix Jones update because I have him ranked higher than just about anyone. Jones was great yet again at Minnesota, rushing for 20 yards and a touchdown on five carries in about one-and-a-half quarters of action. He was also targeted four times, catching three balls for 18 receiving yards. Jones looks like a completely different running back than what we've saw the past couple of years. His new bulk gives him good power - he was on the field at the goal line - and he still has his speed and quickness. He's a must-have in all fantasy leagues.
AUG. 22 UPDATE: Last year at this time, I fell in love with Arian Foster and told you to pick him no matter what in your fantasy draft. I feel almost as strongly about Felix Jones. Jones looks awesome. He has a great combination of power, speed, elusiveness and quickness. He catches passes, breaks tackles and makes nice cuts. He's also good in pass protection and big enough for goal-line carries, so he'll always be on the field. Make sure you get Jones in your league. I took him late in the third round of my 2011 Fantasy Football Experts Draft (PPR), and that was before his seven-carry, 56-yard performance against the Chargers. I like him even more now.
AUG. 13 UPDATE: The most impressive Dallas starter in the preseason opener against Denver was running back Felix Jones, who looked both quick and strong during his limited action. Jones' second carry was a burst up the middle in which he broke two tackles for a gain of 18 yards. Jones finished with 23 rushing yards on three attempts as well as a 16-yard reception. I really like him as an RB2, especially in PPR leagues. With Marion Barber gone, Jones is poised for a huge season.
The job is all Felix Jones' if he wants it. Marion Barber is not expected to return to the team next year. Jason Garrett hates Tashard Choice. And DeMarco Murray is a rookie who isn't getting any work in the OTAs because of the lockout.
Jones has to show that he can stay healthy and carry the ball 200 times per season. Of course, he hasn't been able to do that yet, and there's no reason to believe he'll do so in 2011.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Stats: 1,180 rushing yards. 48 catches. 410 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2011 Fantasy Points: 207. Projected 2011 PPR Fantasy Points: 256.