Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fantasy Rankings: Part Two

Running Backs

I wanted to break this into tiers like I did with the QBs, but it wasn't possible. Too many different factors going on. Instead I've ranked them one at a time, and this isn't a list of how I think they'll produce statistically, but a list of the order in which I would draft them, based largely on upside and DPV (draft position value). Without further ado ...

1. Adrian Peterson, MIN
2. Sonic Johnson, TEN
I've decided not to actively engage in the "Who's #1?" argument because I've never picked first overall and I don't expect that I will this year, so I'm not going to overthink the issue. But if it does happen, I'll take AP. I think. But you definitely can't miss with either guy. The ideal pick in the draft is second.

3. Ray Rice, BAL
If I'm picking third, I'm definitely considering Peyton Manning. Not because I don't like Rice or Jones-Drew or Turner, but because I can't decide which one of them deserves the third pick. I'd rather be picking in the 6-7 range and have the decision made for me. There are obvious advantages to each guy, but also causes for concern. For the sake of formality I've ranked Ray Rice as my #3 running back. I love his all-around game and propensity to catch another 70 balls and run for another 1200+ yards. But touchdowns are a concern; the Ravens aren't paying Willis McGahee $3.6 million to do nothing. Plus they have a TD-seeking fullback in McClain. Rice should be close to 2,000 all-purpose yards, but I wouldn't expect more than 6 TDs.
4. Michael Turner, ATL

I'm anticipating a big bounce-back season from Turner and thus have ranked him ahead of fantasy darling Jones-Drew. This will be a big year for Atlanta offensively, and Turner will continue to be the work-horse. 18-20 TDs is realistic, and another 300 carries (maybe more) for 1300 yards. He does not catch the ball though, only 11 receptions in the last two seasons.

5. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX
I've got nothing against MJD as a player; it's the Jaguars' offense I don't trust. He's a perennial touchdown machine, and last year with the backfield to himself he ran the ball 312 times along with his usual 50+ receptions. Most rankings have him as the #3 running back. To me, the problem will be consistency. I think he'll have some monster weeks, but also some duds where Jacksonville just can't move the ball. With my first-round pick I want consistency more than anything. I also think his TD total will dip down from 15 to maybe 10 or 12.

6. Steven Jackson, STL
For a few minutes I had Jackson ranked third, but then remembered he was on the Rams. He's an insane talent and averages 1,500 all-purpose yards over the last 3 seasons on the dreadful Rams. Not only do I think the Rams will be better this year on offense, I also think Jackson might be healthy enough to play the whole year. If he racks up 1,500 yards and 8 TDs in just 12 games on a terrible team, what might he do in 16 full games with an improved offense? (Hint: about 1,800 yards and 14 TDs.)

7. Frank Gore, SF
When the 49ers picked two offensive lineman in the first-round of the 2010 Draft, Frank Gore had to be doing backflips. That offense finally seems to be pieced together and Gore might have some room to run if the passing attack picks up where it left off. Injuries are always a concern though, and he hasn't carried the ball 300 times since 2006. If he gets back up to 300 carries and catches another 52 balls, he can definitely crack the 2,000 all-purpose yards mark and probably score another 8-10 times, making him a worthy top 8 overall pick.

8. DeAngelo Williams, CAR
If I'm picking near the end of the first round and the previous 7 guys are gone, I'm taking Andre Johnson and either Manning or Rodgers. I don't love any of the next running backs enough to make them first round picks or early second rounders either. But I do have DeAngelo ahead of the pack because Carolina's offensive line knows how to run-block and I think Matt Moore will lead that offense pretty effectively. But Stewart should steal most of the TDs.

9. Ronnie Brown, MIA
Halfway through 2009 Brown was on pace to be a top 5 running back with 8 TDs and 650 yards. Then he broke his foot and missed the rest of the year. In his stead, Ricky Williams became a major stud with about 90 yards a game and plenty of scores. The point is, Miami can run the ball, and with Jake Long in place anything from 5 yards is automatic. Although Brown probably won't be 100% healthy, he'll still rack up double-digit TDs and at least 800 yards.

10. Ryan Grant, GB
The least exciting player in the NFL, all Grant does is run for one of the league's best offenses and get 90% of the handoffs. Another 270+ rushes and 1400+ yards wouldn't surprise me and while most of Green Bay's TDs will be through the air, Grant will sneak in at least 6 or 7 times. He's what I'd call a safe but totally un-sexy pick.

11. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT
Now the main man in Pittsburgh, Rashard will see at least 300 carries and probably 40 catches at least, and especially see a ton of work during the 6 games that Roethlisberger is out. Losing OT Willie Colon for the year caused me to drop Mendenhall from 9th to 11th. It'll be tough to run behind that weak line, but Mendenhall has serious skills and should hit 1,300 total yards and 7-8 TDs.

12. Felix Jones, DAL
Last season the Cowboys' backfield shook out like this: Barber had 214 carries, Jones had 116, and Tashard Choice had 64 . But an overwhelming cry from the fans will have Felix carrying the majority of the balls this year, and his 5.9 YPC makes that legit. Choice should be the change-of-pace guy. And Barber should be the goal-line guy who complains about his role, and then ends up elsewhere in 2011. I've got this all figured out. So what to expect from Felix - probably about 200 carries, 1110 yards, 5 TDs, 30 catches for 200 yards and another 2 TDs. A real good year.
13. LeSean McCoy, PHI
I had McCoy pegged as a super-sleeper last season and drafted him in both leagues, plus all 4 of my practice Yahoo leagues. I couldn't resist getting him in the 10th round, knowing that Westbrook was on his way out. But when McCoy got the job to himself halfway through the season he really didn't take advantage. Now he's got an entire year to himself, with a new QB who may be a little tentative. McCoy had 40 catches last year and should see more like 50-60 this year, plus at least 220 carries and that should give him a total of around 1,300 yards. Touchdowns will be hard to come by in Philly, but no less than 5 for Mccoy is reasonable.

14. Shonn Greene, NYJ
With Thomas Jones out, a lot of boneheads think LaDanian Tomlinson is a valued commodity now. I hope those boneheads are in my league. Because Shonn Greene will be the starter from week 1 to week 17, and LT basically admitted this in his recent interview with Sal Paolantonio. Green probably won't replicate Jones's 2009 numbers (1400 yards, 14 TDs) but as a sophomore he should go for at least 1,000 and 10. Good enough to be a second round pick.
15. Ryan Matthews, SD
Before the NFL Draft even happened I predicted the Chargers would take Ryan Matthews and he would be 2010's Rookie of the Year. No reason to change that pick. Last year LaDanian had 12 TDs and 700 yards as a washed-up piece of crap because the Chargers are that good. Matthews should have a fun rookie season with similar stats, except more yards.

16. Matt Forte, CHI
A unanimous top 5 pick last year, Forte was the fantasy world's biggest bust, all thanks to Jay Cutler and his awfulness. But with you-know-who as the new offensive coordinator (Mike Martz, in case you don't know who) the Bears should throw even more than they did last year, and eventually some of those balls have to go Forte's way. He's averaging 60 catches a season in his 2-year career; I'd bet on 80 this year, which gives him 500+ receiving yards and a few TDs. All he needs to do is run 175 times for 700 yards and 4 TDs and it's a good fantasy season. But watch out for Chester Taylor lurking.
17. Clinton Portis, WAS
Similar to Ryan Grant in that he's become a very boring pick, but also productive. If he can stay healthy, he should be worth 1,200 rushing yards and a handful of TDs. Nobody can turn running backs into stars like Mike Shanahan. However, nobody is more of an RBBC fiend, so on second thought, Portis might only see 160 carries and 700 yards. Bah I hate you Mike Shanahan!

18. Knowshon Moreno, DEN
He's only ranked this high because he has every opportunity to see a boatload of carries in Denver and because he's the team's best offensive player after injuries and trades decimated them. He'll probably have a very low YPC but still see 1,000 yards and maybe 6 or 7 TDs. And he's got big sleeper-potential because of his immense talent.
19. Cedric Benson, CIN
Speaking of talent, Cedric Benson has none. Absolutely none. He overachieved last year and won't do it again. Don't listen to the "experts" who call him a top 10 pick. That's nonsense. Take him in the third or fourth round and expect a decline in every one of his statistics, but still a steady 50 yards a game and 5 or 6 TDs. Not bad on your bench.

20. Pierre Thomas, NO
Some weeks he'll explode, but other weeks he'll only have 5 carries for 15 yards. He shares the backfield with Reggie Bush and Heath Evans steals some short-yardage stuff. Plus the Saints throw the ball more than just about anyone. If Brees doesn't get hurt Thomas will be a decent #3 RB; if Brees does get taken down by the Madden Curse, Thomas will suffer just like the rest of the Saints and be next to useless.

21. Jerome Harrison, CLE
22. Jamaal Charles, KC
These guys had similar 2009s and have very similar expectations heading into 2010. Both came out of no where, and both blew away the league with huge plays week after week after week. But both play for bad offenses led by bad quarterbacks, so let's not overrank them. Also, both the Browns and Chiefs drafted running backs in the second round. But upside these guys both have in bunches, especially Harrison who runs behind a better line.
23. Joseph Addai, IND
In a contract year, Addai's season could go one of two ways. Either the Colts figure "You're gone next year, so we're not going to waste our time playing you," or the Colts give him a chance to prove himself in a contract year so he can get paid next year by someone else. The former is what happened to Willie Parker and Brian Westbrook last year, though they both got the ball early in the year before "injuries" forced them to the bench. I expect Addai to have the same fate; he'll come out strong for 4-5 weeks, and then suffer a phantom "injury" which makes Donald Brown the new guy. Addai is a great guy to draft and trade 3 weeks into the season.

24. Beanie Wells, ARZ
He'll supplant Tim Hightower as the main man in Arizona and I'm guessing that in the post-Warner era they won't have the second most pass-heavy offense in the NFL this year. Which should mean plenty of carries for Beanie and plenty of TDs too. Hightower will still be the third-down back and limit Beanie's overall touches. Plus Matt Leinart stinks. So I'm keeping my expectations low.

25. Ben Tate, HOU
He's got every chance to take over the #1 job in Houston's backfield, and if he does he could be a fantasy darling. But if he doesn't, I'll feel stupid about ranking him this high. Wait and see what happens in their camp before drafting him. But for now, I think he's got the clearest path to the job and it should be a cushy job.
26. Tashard Choice, DAL
The first #2 RB on this list, Choice has big-play potential and plays for the potent Cowboys offense and still has a lot of prove.
27. Jonathan Stewart, CAR
Stewart should good for double-digit touchdowns behind a very good offensive line.
28. CJ Spiller, BUF
I fully expect Spiller to take a spill and miss most of the season, but I can't deny the cat has skills. If he were drafted by just about anyone else I'd rank him in the top 20. Buffalo has no semblance of an offensive line, or a quarterback. But skills are skills. Let's see what he can do.
29. Brandon Jacobs, NYG
I'm not crazy about the idea of taking Brandon Jacobs and his knees, but I also don't want to completely forget about the Giants' backfield. They can block really well and someone will do well. It might be Bradshaw. I don't know. But last season Jacobs was a second-rounder, and now you can grab him late. So it might be worth a shot.
30. Willis McGahee, BAL
I don't know what his role in Baltimore will be, but I know he'll have a role. He's too good not to. But whether or not he's the goal-line guy or simply the change-of-pace guy is yet to be determined. Probably some of both. Rice might be too good to take off the field. Definitely a smart handcuff pick for Rice owners.

31. Darren McFadden, OAK
Based solely on the upgrade at QB in Oakland, I think McFadden will have the best season of his young career. Fargas is gone. I don't think Michael Bush is a major threat. Don't get carried away, but he'll definitely improve on his TD total from 2009 - which was a whopping ONE. He's also a solid receiver out of the backfield.

32. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG
New York's #2 and a good bet to take over the #1 spot as Jacobs is a walking injury. But stress fractures and bone spurs are frightening.

33. Jahvid Best, DET
Well, let's see what he can do. Don't expect any more than 2 or 3 TDs all year, but maybe he'll have some breakaway speed and a few big-yardage games. Not a bad guy to draft if you're a Lions fan.
34. Michael Bush, OAK
Because of McFadden's injury history and Oakland's improved offense, I think Bush is worth a late pick.

35. LaDanian Tomlinson, NYJ
First, he got a JETS tattoo on his leg. Then he guaranteed a Super Bowl victory. What a dork. I get it, he's bitter at the Chargers for dumping him. But he was downright awful last year and the Chargers did the right thing. And as the Jets' back-up, he'll be more of a headache than he's worth during a disappointing 9-7 year. He's good for maybe 5-6 TDs and 500 yards.

36. Reggie Bush, NO
You know what you're getting from him: 70 receptions and 500 receiving yards and a few flips into the end zone. And maybe another 400 rushing yards if you're lucky.
37. Marion Barber, DAL
The number 3 guy in Dallas but he should still be good for 8-10 TDs, and maybe more. Unless he pouts about being used solely as the goal-line guy and finds himself benched.

38. Justin Forsett, SEA
Replaced Julius Jones in Seattle and had lots of value heading into this season, but Leon Washington (new 3rd down back) and LenDale White (new goal-line back) make this a crowded backfield to avoid.

39. Darren Sproles, SD
He'll have some huge fantasy games and some complete duds. He's a guy I'd recommend drafting very late, and then after a 150 yard, 2 TD game see what you can trade him for.

40. Donald Brown, IND
If you can deal with a slow start, take Brown in a late round and stash him on your bench for a while. Once Addai either gets hurt or gets "hurt," Brown becomes the #1 RB on a Peyton Manning offense. That's a good place to be.
41. Chester Taylor, CHI
One of the best backup RBs in the league. It's a shame he hasn't been a featured back since his 1,500 yards in 2006.

42. Thomas Jones, KC
Everyone was so outraged at the Jets for dropping Jones to save a few million bucks. Let's see how he performs when he doesn't have 3 Pro Bowlers blocking for him. My guess is the Jets will look pretty smart.

43. Tim Hightower, ARZ
If Beanie Wells gets hurt or just downright stinks, Hightower is back atop the Arizona depth chart.

44. Steve Slaton, HOU
If Tate doesn't earn the job in training camp, it's Slaton's to lose.
45. Cadillac Williams, TB
Let's be honest: you don't want any Tampa Bay players on your fantasy team. Period.

46. Marshawn Lynch, BUF
He'll probably split carries with CJ Spiller early, but refer to the previous statement: you don't want any Bills either.

47. Jerious Norwood, ATL
Though Jason Snelling is Michael Turner's immediate backup, Norwood is the third-down back and should catch 25-30 balls for 200 yards or so, and maybe run the ball 5 times a game.
48. Laurence Maroney, NE
You know what I say about drafting a Patriots running back: It's better to let Lord Voldemort babysit your Muggle child.

49. Montario Hardesty, CLE
I bet you didn't expect to see a a guy named Montario on this list did you? The Browns picked him in the second round and they've got Joe Thomas and Alex Mack blocking, so what the heck.

50. Mewelde Moore, PIT
Pittsburgh's #2 and 3rd down back.

51. Leon Washinton, SEA
A big-play guy with breakaway speed but trapped on Seattle's offense.
52. Jason Snelling, ATL
Good handcuff for Turner.
53. Derrick Ward, TB
See #45.

54. Kevin Faulk, NE
See #48.
55. Dexter McCluster, KC
The Chiefs rookie might split carries with Jamaal Charles and unknown rookies have this sneaky way of secretly being really good.
56. Javon Ringer, TEN
Hedgehog handcuff .

57. LenDale White, SEA
I think Pete Carroll will make LenDale the featured guy on the goal-line simply because of the USC roots.
58. Kevin Smith, DET
Depending on when he returns from injury, Smith might supplant Best as the go-to back.

59. Fred Jackson, BUF
I think he's better than Marshawn Lynch but probably won't get much of a chance as the #3 back in Buffalo.
60. Correll Buckhalter, DEN
Might see a decent amount of carries if McDaniels employs a RBBC system, which he did last year.
61. Rashard Jennings, JAX
For Jones-Drew.
62. Bernard Scott, CIN
For Benson.
63. Anthony Dixon, SF
For Gore.
64. Toby Gerhart, MIN
Although if AP does get hurt, they might go with someone else.
65. Mike Bell, PHI
Decent handcuff for McCoy, a possible TD guy too.

The Importance of YouTube

Basically, there are two variables in the rushing yards equation:

One is the Situation that running back X is in, and the other is running back X's ability. That's it. Situation and ability. Too often, fantasy football owners forget all about factor number 2. But while situation dictates how many carries a player will have, ability determines what the player will actually do with those carries. And that makes all the difference.

The problem is, we don't really know how talented each player is. We think we do, but we don't. We know the players we watch week after week; I know the Lions. But since we don't attend practices or study game film, all we get is whatever ESPN gives us. Which is often misleading hyperbole, because ESPN is in the entertainment business, not the business of truth and honesty.
To solve this problem, I rely highly on Youtube for fantasy football purposes, and I recommend you do the same. If you're curious about a certain player, just look them up. Not their career stars, but their actual highlights. You can tell a lot about a player, especially a running back, by how impressive their highlight reel is.

For example, several years ago I was intrigued by young Cedric Benson on the Bears, so I YouTubed him. What I saw was one five-yard TD after another on a stacked Texas team, and no speed, and no elusiveness, and I knew this guy was an imposter. Nothing special. It was so obvious. That same summer, I was curious about this guy named Brandon Marshall, who my fantasy magazine labeled as a sleeper. 30 seconds into his unbelievable highlight reel, I was hastily writing his name down as someone I HAD to pick, and that season he had 1,300 receiving yards and 7 TDs on my team. And who could forget the classic Vernon Davis highlight where he plasters some poor college defender with the most violent stiff arm I've ever seen. That single play made me covet Davis for the past three seasons; the one year I don't draft him, 2009, he explodes for 13 TDs. It's a pretty simple deal folks. If the guy isn't impressive on YouTube, he's not going to be impressive on the field or on your fantasy team.

It's all about situation and ability. Two basic variables in the equation:

carries * yards-per-carry = total rushing yards
Situation detemines the number of carries, while ABILITY detemines what you do with those carries.

There's a reason why Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, the two greatest running backs ever, have career YPCs of 5.0 and 5.2, while Emmitt Smith and LaDanian Tomlinson have YPCs of 4.2 and 4.3. Adrian Peterson's career YPC so far is 4.9. Sonic Johnson's is 5.3. Cedric Benson's? how about 3.8.
So my advice is this: don't overlook talent on draft day. Forget about situations and touchdown-vulturs and RBBCs. If the guys has elite talent, he'll produce elite stats. Chris Johnson had a supposed TD-vulture in LenDale White last year, but when you score from 80 yards out over and over, you create your own touchdowns. My biggest regret is that I didn't YouTube Sonic last summer. If I had, I would have found this, and I woulda picked him, and I woulda crushed all you suckers.

Stay tuned for Part Three: Wide Receivers.

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