WAY Early 2009 Fantasy Football Rankings Running Backs
Featured by: Russ Bliss

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1) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: Just a complete RB. Peterson averaged 110 rushing yards per game and while he only scored 10 TD’s in 2008, you just know he has the ability to put up 15+ TD’s for years to come. An underrated receiver, all he needs is for the Vikings to get a QB who can put the fear of a passing game into an opponent and start throwing the ball to Peterson more often than once or twice per game.

2) Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons: In his first season as a starter, this 2008 fantasy football sleeper proved to be durable carrying the ball an NFL high 376 times and showed a nose for the end zone scoring 17 TD’s. With Matt Ryan likely to be even better in 2009, Turner should find his way near the top of fantasy football rankings in 2009. His only downfall is that he doesn’t catch many passes and that hurts him in PPR formats.

3) Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Despite playing hurt most of the season and missing 4 entire games, Jackson averaged nearly 90 rushing yards per game and caught 40 passes. He ended the season on a tear rushing for 360 yards and scoring 3 TD’s in the last 3 games of 2008. When healthy he’s a beast.

4) Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants: With Derrick Ward likely gone when the NFL free agency period begins, Jacobs is likely to get a bigger load in 2009. Jacobs missed 3 games with injury and played hurt most of the year, but still managed to gain over 1,000 yards and score 15 TD’s.

5) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: The perception is that MJD had a disappointing 2008 but when you consider he accumulated 1,389 combined yards and 14 total TD’s, despite having to share time most of the year with Fred Taylor, you can see expectations were very high for MJD’s fantasy football projections in 2008. Taylor is likely gone in 2009 and unless Jacksonville has another rash of injuries on their offensive line, the outlook for MJD is very good.

6) DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers: Opinions are going to vary wildly on Williams after his unforeseen stellar 2008 season. Williams led all RB’s with 20 total TD’s and finished 3rd in rushing yards with 1,515. Williams still has 2 years remaining on his rookie contract and after his performance this season. This situation is one that will impact fantasy football rankings as Williams could force his way out of Carolina and the Panthers may decide to turn to last year’s first round pick, Jonathan Stewart. But one thing is for sure, Williams has finally lived up to his first round draft status from 2006 and many fantasy trophies were won because of his production the second half of 2008.

7) Steve Slaton, Houston Texans: Even though Chris Johnson and Matt Forte got more recognition as rookies in 2008, Slaton was the one who seemed to get stronger as the year came to a close. 4 of his 5 100+ rushing yard games came in the last 7 games of the year. He scored 4 of his 10 total TD’s in that stretch, and showed strong receiving skills all season long finishing with 50 receptions. Slaton may not have the size you normally look for in a feature RB, but he showed he can handle 20 carries regularly and unless the Texans bring in a serious threat for more than token or short yardage carries, Slaton will have the starting job locked up from day one.

8) Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: Johnson brought some big lightning to the Titans running game in 2008 but seemed to wear down some as the season came to a close. He only topped 20 carries once during the season and while he put up some great yardage numbers despite that you get the feeling he needs to be part of a committee and not relied on as a true feature style RB. Like I wrote in my 2008 NFL Draft rookie RB review, “blink, and he’s gone” as Johnson has rare speed. He also showed surprising toughness running between the tackles better than expected and elusiveness in the open field. Johnson is a big play threat every time he’s on the field, but he isn’t built to be an effective short yardage RB and that is why fellow Titans RB LenDale White vultured 15 TD’s.

9) Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys: Barber played in 15 games, but essentially was playing very injured in 3 of those so we can throw out the limited production he got in those 3 games and concentrate on what Barber did in the 12 in which he was his usual workhorse. In those 12 games, Barber ran for 870 yards, caught 47 passes, and scored 9 total TD’s. Barber started the season very hot scoring 5 TD’s in the first 3 games, but the Cowboys started getting Felix Jones more involved in their offense soon after that and it affected Barber’s stats some. Barber will likely see a slight reduction in is workload with a healthy Jones in 2009, along with the emergence of Tashard Choice, but Barber will be the top RB for Dallas in 2009.

10) LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers: 1,110 rushing yards, 52 receptions for 426 yards, and a combined 12 TD’s is great production from most RB’s, but when it comes from a guy who has set the bar so high in prior seasons and was probably the first pick in most every fantasy football draft last year, it was considered a disappointing season. LT battled thru injuries most of the season and still managed to post these numbers. If he is able to stay healthy, there’s little reason to not expect a return to bigger numbers from him in 2009. But LT turns 30 in June and there is always concern about RBs when they hit that age. It also needs to be noted that he has carried the ball a whopping 2,657 times in his 8 year career. That’s an average of 332 rushing attempts per season and that type of load can lead to even the greatest RB’s wearing down.

11) Thomas Jones, New York Jets: Jones finally got the recognition he deserves as a solid starting fantasy RB in 2008. He put up a career high with 15 total TD’s and rushed for 1,312 yards. In the last 4 seasons, Jones has averaged 1,244 rushing yards, 180 receiving yards, and 8 TD’s per season. Jones will be 31 when the season starts and that is a concern, but he has 700 fewer rushing attempts in his career than LaDainian Tomlinson and should still have plenty of gas in his tank for another season or two.

12) Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins: Injuries have started piling up for Portis the last couple of seasons but he keeps playing thru them. He’ll only be 28 in September but has logged 2,052 rushing attempts in his 7 year career. Portis is a determined RB who gives top effort. Despite missing 8 games in 2006, Portis has scored 38 TD’s in the last 4 seasons and rushed for 4,265 yards. Portis may be approaching the end of his career and may have to share some time in the backfield in 2009, but he will still be the primary RB and a good fantasy football starter.

13) Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles: By know you should know the book on Westbrook. An explosive RB with great receiving skills and big play ability, the big knock on him is that he lives on the injury report every season. Westbrook has yet to play an entire 16 games in any season of his 7 year career and he is always a concern for fantasy owners because of his long list of injuries. But when he plays, he’s a great fantasy starter. Westbrook scored a career high 14 TD’s in 2008, but his yardage and receptions came down considerably compared to the prior 2 seasons. Not big enough to be a 20+ carry guy, Westbrook would benefit from being in a situation where he got about 15 carries and caught 5-6 passes per game instead of being forced into a role of being a between the tackles runner. It’s likely the Eagles draft a bigger RB to help take some of the burden of those carries off of Westbrook.

14) Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers: Grant started 2008 as a big fantasy disappointment because of injury, but still finished 9th in rushing yards last year with 1,203. It was his lack of TD production that confounded fantasy owners as Grant only scored a total of 5 times in 2008. Fantasy owners will be wary of Grant in 2009 fantasy football drafts, but he has a great chance to bounce back with better yards and a lot more TD’s this year. Grant will be a great value pick if he lasts into round 3.

15) Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions: One of two lone bright spots on the 0-16 Lions in 2008. The team finally stopped fiddling around with a RBBC in week 10 and made Smith the feature RB and he responded with 671 rushing yards and 4 TD’s in the last 8 games. For the season, Smith ran for 976 yards, caught 39 passes for another 286 yards, and scored 8 TD’s. His surprisingly good hands means he could be a solid fantasy RB in PPR formats in 2009 and with the team not being able to be any worse Smith represents a very high upside for 1,400+ combined yards and around 10 TD’s for the 2009 season.

16) Frank Gore: Gore was on his way to a great 2008 season thru 7 games. Then the 49ers fired their head coach and lifted Mike Singletary to head coach and Singletary tweaked the offense to be more power running. Gore missed 2 games due to injury late in the year, but when we compare Gore’s stats in the first 7 games (118 rushes, 535 yards, 25 receptions, 246 yards and 5 total TD’s) to his last 7 games (122 carries, 501 yards, 18 receptions, 127 yards, and 3 total TD’s) you can see the carries didn’t change much but the production came down a little. Whether the new offense in 2009 will allow Gore, a great pass catching RB, to excel or not is one of the bigger questions at the RB position in 2009 and one which will likely mean Gore’s 2009 ranking on fantasy football cheat sheets will fluctuate more than many other RB’s.

17) Matt Forte: Proved to be a true workhorse in his rookie season. Forte ran the ball 316 times, caught 63 passes, totaled 1,715 combined yards, and scored 12 TD’s. He also showed surprising speed to make big runs. With production like that it’s hard to have him this far down the list, but I want to see whether he suffers a sophomore slump. The Bears don’t have a team around him that can take any of the burden off him.

18) Willie Parker: Injuries robbed Parker of a lot of potential production in 2008. But when healthy, Parker has proven he can be a fantasy producer. Not a big back, Parker has scored only 7 TD’s the last two seasons combined and with Rashard Mendenhall possibly ready for training camp Parker may never reach his 2005 totals of 1,716 combined yards and 16 TD’s again.

19) Joseph Addai: One of the biggest 1st round busts of fantasy football drafts last year, Addai spent much of 2008 injured, missing 4 games, and being severely limited in 3 others. Addai is hard to peg for fantasy football rankings in 2009 as he needs to prove he can stay healthy if called upon to be a feature RB. It could be that Addai is heading to more of a primary role as lead RB while sharing time with another RB in Indianapolis.

20) Ronnie Brown: Brown possesses everything you want in a feature RB: size, speed, excellent receiver out of the backfield. And while he managed to play all 16 games in 2008 for the first time in his career, he got 20 carries or more only twice all season as the Dolphins went with a committee between him and Ricky Williams. Brown proved he is clearly the better RB than Williams, but will Miami utilize Brown more in 2009? That’s one of the bigger questions surrounding him.

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