Top backs from 2010 are still in prime of careers

Posted July 20, 2011 @ 8 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

The most important position in fantasy football got some new stars in 2010. Our No. 1 overall player for fantasy football, Arian Foster, wasn't even drafted, but he exploded onto the scene in 2010. Backs like Peyton Hillis and BenJarvus Green-Ellis also went from nobodys to TD machines in '10, and Darren McFadden finally ran to his potential.

The rest of the top backs — Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner — aren't going anywhere and all are in the prime of their careers. But 2010 proved that you might pick a back off waivers and be very pleased with the results.

Split backfields also continued to find success. The Chiefs (Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones), Raiders (McFadden and Michael Bush) and Jets (Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson) not only boasted some of the best rushing attacks in the league, each of their backs proved to be solid fantasy players.

1. Arian Foster / Houston Texans

Key stat: In addition to leading the league in rushing yards and rushing scores, Foster led all backs with 604 receiving yards.

The skinny: The breakout star had one of the best offensive seasons after supplanting Steve Slaton as the starter in training camp and never looking back. The Texans have a dynamic offense and Foster will have more company in the backfield with Ben Tate's return from injury, but he proved last season he could carry a heavy workload and be a weapon as a back and receiver.

2. Adrian Peterson / Minnesota Vikings

Key stat: Peterson has rushed for at least 1,298 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his four seasons in the NFL.

The skinny: A.P. managed to be productive last season despite the struggles the Vikings had at quarterback. Those struggles are expected to continue in 2011, as rookie Christian Ponder could be the starter. But that just means more work for Peterson, who appears to have cured his fumbling problem.

3. Chris Johnson / Tennessee Titans

Key stat: Johnson didn't achieve his goal of 2,000 rushing yards, but he still was explosive with eight games of at least 100 yards on the ground.

The skinny: New Titans head coach Mike Munchak wants to get Johnson even more involved in the offense, and Johnson will be a key considering the question marks at quarterback. Johnson should get another season of more than 300 carries and he runs behind one of the league's top offensive lines, making him a surefire top-three pick.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew / Jacksonville Jaguars

Key stat: Also a weapon as a receiver, Jones-Drew was handed the rock at a better clip than his counterparts, leading the league with 21.4 carries per game.

The skinny: The Jaguars have young, talented backs behind Jones-Drew — Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim — but that didn't slow "Pocket Hercules" down in 2010. He is versatile and the best weapon in Jacksonville's offense. If his knee didn't cost him the last two games of the campaign, Jones-Drew could have rushed for 1,500 yards.

5. Michael Turner / Atlanta Falcons

Key stat: The Falcons' workhorse not only led the league with 334 carries, but he was handed the ball a league-high 68 times in the red zone.

The skinny: Turner is at the peak of his career and has been consistently productive since he came to Atlanta. The Falcons give him the ball often, including near the goal line, which makes up for the fact that he isn't a threat as a receiver. With a balanced offense against weak run defenses in the NFC South, Turner is good for another big season, and he may not have many left in his tank.

6. Jamaal Charles / Kansas City Chiefs

Key stat: Charles' 6.4-yard rushing average in 2010 was the second highest of all time for a running back, trailing only Jim Brown.

The skinny: The home-run hitting Charles should get even more carries in 2011 coming off his best season in the league. With Thomas Jones getting older, the Chiefs will give Charles plenty of chances to do what he does best, break off a big run. The biggest fantasy knock on him, though, is his lack of scores.

7. Darren McFadden / Oakland Raiders

Key stat: The versatile, electric back led the league with 14 rushes of at least 20 yards last season.

The skinny: McFadden finally put up big fantasy numbers and had weeks where he probably single-handedly won games for his owners. He still splits carries with Michael Bush, who gets more looks near the goal line, but McFadden's ability as a receiver and his big-play skill makes him worthy of being a No. 1 back.

8. Rashard Mendenhall / Pittsburgh Steelers

Key stat: In his first season starting all 16 games, Mendenhall scored 13 rushing touchdowns, and they were spread out over 10 different weeks.

The skinny: Mendenhall is a big back who can handle a heavy workload as the Steelers' primary runner. He benefits from being in a balanced offense and will get the team's touches near the goal line. Entering his fourth season, Mendenhall could be primed for his best campaign yet in the NFL.

9. Ray Rice / Baltimore Ravens

Key stat: Rice has compiled a 5.1-yard rushing average in his career in the month fantasy owners need it most - December.

The skinny: The dual-threat back had his first career season with more than 300 carries, and could see the ball even more in 2011 if Willis McGahee is gone. Rice guarantees you plenty of touches and yards each time out, but he didn't find the endzone as much as you would want out of a No. 1 back.

10. Frank Gore / San Francisco 49ers

Key stat: In 11 games in 2010, Gore accumulated more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage despite tying a career-low 4.2-yard rushing average.

The skinny: Gore has been consistent for years and at age 28, he still has the potential to get what he could have got in '10 if he stayed healthy — 2,000 yards from scrimmage. With questions about the 49ers' passing game, Gore is their top option on offense. Durability is a concern, but he is still productive enough to be a top-10 back.

11. LeSean McCoy / Philadelphia Eagles

Key stat: In addition to gaining more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, McCoy led all running backs with 90 targets and 78 catches out of the backfield.

The skinny: McCoy displayed his dual-threat skills as a running back, proving to be one of the top receiving backs in the league. While Michael Vick's running ability will take away some carries from McCoy since he runs so much for a quarterback, the Eagles find plenty of ways to get McCoy involved in the offense and he doesn't have a handcuff to worry about.

12. Matt Forté / Chicago Bears

Key stat: Forté had the least amount of carries in his career (237) in 2010, but the highest rushing average (4.5 yards).

The skinny: The Bears' offense under Mike Martz is perfect for a back like Forté with solid receiving abilities. It took a while before the Bears started balancing the offense and getting him the ball more, but they had an 8-1 record when he had 50 or more rushing yards. Forté should continue to see more touches in 2011 in what should be an improved offense.

13. Steven Jackson / St. Louis Rams

Key stat: One of the more underrated backs in the league, Jackson is on a streak of six consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

The skinny: Jackson has proven the past two seasons he can be durable and handle a big workload. The Rams' offense is improving with QB Sam Bradford, and Jackson proved to be a solid receiving option during Bradford's rookie season. His rushing average is low and he doesn't score often, but he is productive and will get touches often.

14. Peyton Hillis / Cleveland Browns

Key stat: In his breakout season, Hillis gained 86.4 total yards per game against the tough run defenses in the AFC North.

The skinny: Hillis bulldozed his way through defenses in 2010 and surprised as a stellar receiver as well. The Browns could have a better passing offense in '11 to balance out Hillis' run game. If healthy, Montario Hardesty could cut into his carries, but Hillis will be the one getting the ball near the goal line.

15. Ahmad Bradshaw* / New York Giants

Key stat: Bradshaw had career highs in carries, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards, and carried the ball at least 20 times in five different games last season.

The skinny: There is some uncertainty surrounding Bradshaw, who is due to be a free agent, but if he remains with the Giants he should be primed for another big season after a career year in 2010. Brandon Jacobs is still around getting goal-line touches, but Bradshaw should get more looks. His versatility should not be ignored.

16. LeGarrette Blount / Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key stat: The undrafted rookie rushed for a league-high 511 yards in December and January, rushing for 102.2 yards per game during that stretch.

The skinny: Character problems kept Blount from being drafted, and the Titans cut him before the season. But he blossomed in Tampa Bay, coming on strong late in the season. He deferred some goal-line carries to Cadillac Williams, but Blount's size and speed combo make him a great option as a No. 2  fantasy back.

17. Ryan Mathews / San Diego Chargers

Key stat: When Mathews finally got healthy, he got nearly 18 carries per game in the final four contests.

The skinny: The rookie struggled in his first season with injuries and living up to preseason hype. Mathews played well at the end of the season, including a 26-120-3 performance in the season finale. Mike Tolbert had a big season and is the goal-line back, but the Chargers want to use Mathews more in 2011.

18. DeAngelo Williams* / Carolina Panthers

Key stat: Williams is tied with Chris Johnson for the highest rushing average among active backs (minimum 750 attempts) at 5.0 yards a carry.

The skinny:  Foot injuries cost Williams 10 games in 2010 and he missed three in '09. It remains to be seen if he has peaked as a runner after big seasons in '08 and '09. Williams is a home-run hitting back but also a free agent. If he remains in Carolina, he will be splitting the load with Jonathan Stewart.

19. Marshawn Lynch / Seattle Seahawks

Key stat: In 11 games with Seattle in '10, Lynch rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry and lost three fumbles.

The skinny: An angry runner, Lynch left his mark at the end of 2010 with his ground-shaking (literally) 67-yard TD run in his 19-131-1 playoff performance. He hasn't gained 1,000 yards since 2008, but he could be a sleeper this season. He stayed healthy last season and will be Seattle's top back, but he could use a consistent passing game to complement him.

20. Benjarvus Green-Ellis / New England Patriots

Key stat: The Patriots' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004, Green-Ellis led the league with 181 yards in the red zone last season.

The skinny: A revelation in New England last season, "The Law Firm" was a touchdown machine. Heading into 2011, though, Green-Ellis will have more company in the backfield, as the Patriots drafted two backs. With Danny Woodhead's emergence as a receiving back, Green-Ellis is predominatly a two-down player, but is still the No. 1 back and the guy they turn to near the goal line.


Editor's note: Players with an asterisk after their name are veterans who could switch teams via free agency or trade once the lockout has ended.