Fantasy football preview: Scouting the running backs

Posted: August 27, 2009

Adrian Peterson, Vikings: While Peterson is a different style runner, Barry Sanders proved that you can still gain 2,000 yards even though all 11 defenders know you're getting the ball.

Matt Forte, Bears: Gets the nod for second in these rankings based largely on the 63 catches he had a year ago. Some compare Forte to Brian Westbroook. He's not as quick as Westbrook. Edgerrin James is more like it.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: MJD's value is soaring, now that he no longer has to share carries with Fred Taylor.

Michael Turner, Falcons: Led the league with 376 carries, and Atlanta's coaches acknowledged that's too much. With backup Jerious Norwood expected to get more work and the arrival of tight end Tony Gonzalez, the 17 touchdowns Turner scored last season figure to be reduced, too.

Steve Slaton, Texans: Added about 10 pounds in the offseason, which should get him more short-yardage and goal-line carries.

Steven Jackson, Rams: Former Eagles assistant Pat Shurmur has brought the West Coast offense to St. Louis. Doesn't matter what the offense is, though. If Jackson is healthy - and he is at this point - he's a horse.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: He surely had a monster 2008 (1,515 yards, 18 TDs), but teammate Jonathan Stewart casts enough of a shadow to make Williams a risky top-five running back.

Chris Johnson, Titans: Used his Twitter account to seek ideas for touchdown celebrations. Would love to know what Walter Payton thinks.

Frank Gore, 49ers: In his fifth year, he's still waiting to crack 10 touchdowns. He's OK as a second running back, but avoid making him your first.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers: A risk as a No. 1 back, but high-reward potential as a No. 2. Still had more than 1,500 total yards and 12 TDs last season.

Marion Barber, Cowboys: Even with Felix Jones expected to get more work, Barber still has to be the Cowboys' choice around the goal line.

Larry Johnson, Chiefs: It's hard to imagine a guy being a sleeper 3 years removed from a 19-touchdown campaign, but Johnson would be a third-round steal.

Brian Westbrook, Eagles: There is no such thing as absolute (see Tomlinson above), but one law of fantasy is to beware of 30-year-old running backs coming off injuries.

Kevin Smith, Lions: Reportedly has improved as a blocker, which figures to keep him on the field more often. Should be OK as a No. 2 running back; a third-rounder in 12-team leagues.

Julius Jones, Seahawks: Wherever new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp goes (Atlanta, Oakland), a good running game always seems to follow. Those in deeper leagues ought to keep an eye on Seattle reserve T.J. Duckett, who had 16 touchdowns in two seasons under Knapp in Atlanta.

Cedric Benson, Bengals: The guy had one foot out of the NFL door before he straightened himself up in time to become the Bengals' primary back. With Carson Palmer back under center, Cincy should have even more room to run.

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos: The first thing a rookie needs is an opportunity. With 30-somethings LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter also on the depth chart, Moreno will get that chance.

Joseph Addai, Colts: Anybody who spends a high pick on Addai obviously didn't get burned by him last year. The Colts took Donald Brown in the first round, which should tell you something.

Clinton Portis, Redskins: For the 38th consecutive year, Washington's coaches are talking about getting Ladell Betts more involved with the offense. Portis averaged an ugly 2.9 yards per carry in the five games after Thanksgiving last year.

Marshawn Lynch, Bills: The best play with Lynch, who is suspended for the first three games after pleading guilty to having a concealed firearm in a vehicle, is to pass on drafting him and take Fred Jackson late instead. Jackson will start those first three games and if he plays well, he could provide decent trade value in mid-Spetember.

Willie Parker, Steelers: Can't see making him more than a No. 3 running back. In fact, a late-round flier on Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall might be the wiser move.

Reggie Bush, Saints: If missing 10 games the last two seasons isn't enough to make you pass on drafting Bush, then his career average of 3.7 yards per carry should be. If you want a Saint, take Pierre Thomas as a No. 3.

The draft board: the top 50

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings 9

2. Matt Forte, Bears 5

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars 7

4. Michael Turner, Falcons 4

5. Steve Slaton, Texans 10

6. Steven Jackson, Rams 9

7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers 4

8. Chris Johnson, Titans 7

9. Frank Gore, 49ers 6

10. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers 5

11. Marion Barber, Cowboys 6

12. Larry Johnson, Chiefs 8

13. Brian Westbrook, Eagles 4

14. Brandon Jacobs, Giants 10

15. Kevin Smith, Lions 7

16. Pierre Thomas, Saints 5

17. Ray Rice, Ravens 7

18. Darren McFadden, Raiders 9

19. Julius Jones, Seahawks 7

20. Cedric Benson, Bengals 8

21. Joseph Addai, Colts 6

22. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 7

23. Ryan Grant, Packers 5

24. Clinton Portis, Redskins 8

25. Thomas Jones, Jets 9

26. Marshawn Lynch, Bills 9

27. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers 4

28. Felix Jones, Cowboys 6

29. Willie Parker, Steelers 8

30. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins 6

31. Darren Sproles, Chargers 5

32. Jerious Norwood, Falcons 4

33. Laurence Maroney, Patriots 8

34. Reggie Bush, Saints 5

35. LeSean McCoy, Eagles 4

36. Beanie Wells, Cardinals 4

37. LenDale White, Titans 7

38. Chester Taylor, Vikings 9

39. Donald Brown, Colts 6

40. Fred Jackson, Bills 9

41. Ladell Betts, Redskins 8

42. Leon Washington, Jets 9

43. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers 8

44. Jamal Lewis, Browns 9

45. Tim Hightower, Cardinals 4

46. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants 10

47. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers 8

48. Justin Fargas, Raiders 9

49. T.J. Duckett, Seahawks 7

50. Glen Coffee, 49ers 6

Quick hitters

*On the way down: Clinton Portis, Redskins

* Riskiest pick: Steven Jackson, Rams

* Sleeper: Julius Jones, Seahawks

* Please avoid: Clinton Portis, Redskins

* Top rookie: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos

* On the way up: Matt Forte, Bears

Note: Bye week is at the end of each line

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