Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Running Back Power Rankings: 1-15

A note to my readers: My predictions have far too many 1,200 yard rushers. Before I post the rest of my list, I am going to revise my methods for predicting statistics and rewrite this list. The first 6 won't change. The revised list is here.

Running Back Power Ratings: Ranks 1 through 15
Compare to my opinion one month ago.
Feel free to post your own list below.
Over the last 4 seasons there have been about 15 running backs per season who broke the 1,000 yard mark (the true number ranged from 14 to 17 depending on the season). That being said, I can think of at least 5 running backs who absolutely would have gotten to 1,000 yards; Forte (997 yards), Peterson (970), Jackson (934), McFadden (614 yards in 7 games), and Charles (he averaged 6.9 yards per carry before getting injured). Thus, my predictions will have approximately 20 runners breaking the 1,000 yard mark, keeping in mind that 25% of those will probably fail to reach that mark due to injury.

1. Arian Foster: (1410 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, 600 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 2 turnovers) 17.94 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.

I have honestly tried my hardest to find a reason to downgrade Arian Foster from the #1 spot, but I can't think of any. Coming off a hamstring injury, he had the lowest YPC of his career at 4.4, but his career average is 4.7 so I could hardly downgrade him for that. I tried to convince myself that Ben Tate will take carries away from Foster, but Tate had 175 carries last season with Foster still carrying the ball 278 times. Arian Foster is the better blocker than Tate, so he should keep his 3rd down duty. He could easily have more than 1400 yards and more than 2 receiving touchdowns, so draft him first overall. He will outscore most of the starting quarterbacks you will face this season. 

2. LeSean McCoy: (1,320 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 320 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 1 turnover) 16.13 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
"Shady" McCoy gave Foster a run for his money, but he just doesn't have the receiving tendencies that are necessary to be such a high pick. It definitely didn't help that coach Andy Reid said that McCoy was overworked last season. In my prediction, I kept Shady's carries constant at 275, instead of bumping him up to 300 like I wanted to. He could easily surpass Foster if he gets those extra carries, and there isn't really anyone to take carries away from him, if we remove Vick from the equation. McCoy and Foster are neck-and-neck in my book, but Foster's production has been consistently phenomenal for the past two seasons. Don't believe the shit about McCoy's touchdowns, either. Plenty of great backs have scored over 15 TDs in consecutive seasons. If McCoy is as great as he seems, he can definitely do it.

3. Ray Rice: (1,350 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 680 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, 2 turnovers) 16.56 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
If it weren't for his contract situation, I probably would have put Ray Rice ahead of Arian Foster. Rice does everything for the Ravens, and this is one of the few times that I am siding with the player in a contract dispute. The franchise tag is disrespectful to the only player on the Ravens' offense that truly makes a difference. If he holds out into training camp, and I think he will, you can expect his numbers to drop a little from these predictions. His holdout shouldn't have as much of an impact on his game as Chris Johnson's did last season because Ray Rice is more mature and disciplined than CJ2k seems to be. If he holds out into the season, the Ravens wouldn't make the playoffs.

4. Ryan Mathews: (1,380 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 500 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns, and 4 turnovers) 15.00 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Mathews (there is only one 't') should have a monster season with Tolbert out of the way. Norv Turner is on record saying that he expects Mathews to be the workhorse this season, and that is music to every fantasy owner's ears. Mathews will be given the opportunity to get 300 carries if his body can handle the workload, and his injury rating (87.5%) is not especially bad amongst running backs. It would not surprise me if Mathews lead the league in points from a running back this season, but he really needs to prove himself. Mathews had a 4.9 ypc average last season, but I dropped him down to 4.6 for my prediction. He could rush for 1,600 yards if he can attain that 4.9 ypc again this season. He and Aaron Rodgers are of even value for me.

5. Chris Johnson: (1,342 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 350 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, and 2 turnovers) 14.08 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
The difference in value between Johnson and Mathews is much smaller than these numbers indicate. Chris Johnson has not missed a game in his career, and Johnson's numbers are better than Mathews' when I fact in my injury rating. I prefer Mathews because of his huge potential, but I could justify taking Johnson ahead of Mathews for injury reasons. I think Johnson can bounce back, and there are reasons to believe that he will out-perform that 350-receiving-yards value. Johnson gains value if Locker starts. Draft Mathews, Johnson, or Rodgers based on your personal risk vs reward philosophy.

 6. Maurice Jones-Drew: (1,364 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 350 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 2 turnovers) 14.21 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.

Pocket Hercules is a fighter, but the Jaguars refuse to budge on their refusal to renegotiate his contract. There have been reports from numerous sources that MJD showed reduced ability towards the end of the 2011 season,and that is no surprise with his 343 carries last season. After being on the injury report all last season, basically, I really think Father Time is catching up to MJD, which is why he goes just below Johnson on this list. The Jaguars, who have absolutely nothing else going for them, are willing to risk MJD sitting out for the season (or at least training camp). That should tell you something.

7. Matt Forte: (1,150 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 500 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 2 turnovers) 13.06 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Forte, like so many other top running backs, is currently struggling with the Bears' front office. The Bears have mistreated Forte for the last two seasons, and he must be furious about the lack of commitment at this point. Forte has great value, even with the addition of Michael Bush, because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Forte has never had enough carries to make a huge impact in rushing yards or touchdowns, and that is unlikely to change with Michael Bush in town. Drop Forte a few spots if he holds out until training camp, but I believe he will be an RB1 in most leagues. 

8. Darren McFadden: (1,300 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 400 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 3 turnovers) 14.00 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
 McFadden will be winning you games until he goes on IR. His 79% injury rating means that he would typically be good for only 12-13 games each season, and his history suggests the same thing. Last season was a bit of a unique situation, especially since he seemed to be close to returning for multiple weeks, before ultimately missing the last 9 games of the seasons. This latest injury was a foot injury, which makes it an issue for any football player, but I would be willing to give McFadden a chance, especially in the third round. Michael Bush is gone, so McFadden should have free reign for as long as his body can handle it. I actually believe that McFadden can perform for most, if not all, of the season. Steven Jackson showed similar tendencies at the beginning of his career, but he has played all but two games in the last 3 seasons. Players can change.

9. Donald Brown: (1,260 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 175 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns, and 0 turnovers) 12.72 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Joseph Addai is gone in Indianapolis. Delone Carter and Karim Deji each boasted sub-4.0 ypc averages last season, while Donald Brown had 4.8 yards per carry. He lead the Colts with 645 yards on 134 attempts. Say what you will about this prediction, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this situation won't unfold. My prediction suggests that Brown will get 280 carries at a 4.5 ypc, and this team should be in a running "mood" to help ease Andrew Luck into his first NFL season. Believe it or don't believe it, but you read it here first. There is no one else out there giving this guy a chance, but he only needs 17.5 carries per game to reach that 280 carries this season. Keep an eye on Donald Brown and be sure you are the guy who grabs him in the 11th or 12th round.

10. Michael Turner: (1,218 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 100 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns, and 2 turnovers) 12.49 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Turner the Burner is not so much of a burner anymore, but the man knows how to find the end zone. If he gets banged up early in the season, you can bring those numbers down towards 1,000 rushing yards. He never had too much injury trouble last season and was extremely consistent, so I would feel confident drafting him. He is a big guy who has goal line duty for a team with an emerging offense. As an owner, I hope he gets more involved in the passing game this season. There is very little to suggest long-term injury issues, which gives me confidence in drafting him.

11.  Steven Jackson: (1,200 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 350 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, and 1.5 turnovers) 12.13points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.

Steven Jackson's career is going to go one of two directions this season. Either the passing game is finally going to step up and help alleviate some of the pressure he has been facing for the last 8 seasons, or he is going to get pounded into oblivion again. Either way, I believe these numbers will stand. He has never been able to get into the end zone often, but that is most directly related to the fact the his team can't get the ball close enough to the goal line for him to run the ball in. After three relatively injury-free seasons, I am ready to endorse Steven Jackson.

12. Jahvid Best(1,102 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 450 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, and 1 turnover) 12.20 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.

Jahvid Best has some serious injury history, so many people are going to be afraid of drafting him. I know the Lions have some strong depth at running back, but  Mikel Leshoure is going to be suspended for the first two games of the season so Best will have an opportunity to get himself entrenched into the Lions backfield. Best really shines catching the ball, and we can expect the Lions to throw the ball a lot this season. They love to use the screen pass to reduce pressure and force the linebackers and safeties to cheat up. It is easy to take all of the traditional advice that you read, but sometimes you need to take a step back and think about things realistically. LeShoure is coming off of an entire season away from the game and is starting the year with a suspension. Look at all of the data and make your own decisions, even if they don't match up with my opinions. Best could easily have 300 fewer rushing yards if he isn't the primary back.

 13. Marshawn Lynch: (1,200 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 170 receiving yards, 0.5 receiving touchdowns, and 2 turnovers) 11.88 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Marshawn Lynch will have trouble getting back to the same state of mind that he was in for the end of 2011. I still think he is going to be a great fantasy back, but I don't think he will be quite as dominant as he was last season. He should be a featured running back (unlike Best), but his ypc and receiving yards will be lower. I think you can go either way in this place, using Best, Lynch, and Jackson interchangeably to fit the team you are building. Lynch should be used consistently, but might not have the same spark that Best has. They are so close, in my eyes, that you can go with your gut...although Best will have a much lower draft position.

14. Trent Richardson: (1,178 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 200 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns, and 3 turnovers) 11.61 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
Most people insist that Richardson will be a top-10 running back this season, but that doesn't really make sense. Most rookie runners post sub-4.0 ypc averages during their first year in the league because they aren't used to the strength and quickness of NFL level linebackers. The above prediction is based on 300 attempts at 3.9 ypc. I know Trent Richardson is a very good prospect, but I have a hard time believing any is as good as Adrian Peterson. I'm not saying you shouldn't draft  Richardson, but make sure that you recognize the risk. The Browns are a terrible team, and teams are going to be able to focus completely on Richardson. Remember that 4 of these players will probably be injured and not finish the season, so Richardson COULD en up in the top-10...but it would surprise me. Call me a pessimist, but I am betting on horses I've see run before.

15. DeMarco Murray: (1,215 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 240 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, and 1 turnover) 11.59 points per game in standard NFL scoring leagues.
I liked DeMarco Murray last season, but his injury concerns are serious. I wouldn't suggest drafting him without picking up a strong flex running back. He has huge potential, especially if the Cowboys can get their passing game going, but I don't think his body could carry this team. The worse the passing game is, the worse Murray will be this season. Be cautious when drafting him, and make sure they aren't going to create a Murray-Jones committee once the season starts. There will be more on Murray in the future, to be sure.

Final Thoughts:
There are a lot of great players who didn't make this list. Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson are two guys who I think will play extremely well next season, but am I ready to put all of my fantasy faith into those two runners? Suppose you were given two choices; Richardson and Murray or Peterson and Charles.Personally, I take Richardson and Murray because they aren't coming off ACL injuries. With training camps still multiple weeks away, this is a preliminary list. Injuries and updates will happen as the off-season progresses, and this list will be revised repeatedly. The running back list is probably the most likely to undergo serious renovation, since there are so many question marks at the position until after training camp. I will always admit when I am wrong, and if you can convince me I will give you credit. Post your own top 15 rankings below!

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