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Fantasy football: Foster, Peterson top of the running back class

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  • Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden should take it to the next level behind a superb run-blocking line.

      Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden should take it to the next level behind a superb run-blocking line.
    Associated Press

  • Houston Texans running back Arian Foster ran for an NFL-best 1,616 yards and added 604 more on 66 receptions last season.

      Houston Texans running back Arian Foster ran for an NFL-best 1,616 yards and added 604 more on 66 receptions last season.
    Associated Press

  • Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) waves to fans after the Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions 24-10 in an NFL football game last season in Minneapolis. Peterson rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries, including a career-long 80-yard touchdown run.

      Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) waves to fans after the Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions 24-10 in an NFL football game last season in Minneapolis. Peterson rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries, including a career-long 80-yard touchdown run.
    Associated Press

 
 

I swore I wouldn't do it.

Promised myself I WOULD NOT put anybody above Adrian Peterson in my yearly fantasy football RB rankings.

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I would LEARN, by God, from last year's mistake of putting the Titans' Chris Johnson ahead of the Vikings' wrecking ball.

Well, after crunching the numbers, somehow the Texans' Arian Foster found his way above Peterson.

In all honesty, you can't go wrong with either guy, but to me Foster gets the edge for two big reasons:

• The Texans' offense is vastly superior to Minnesota's. With a quarterback like Matt Schaub and a freak of a receiver like Andre Johnson, defenses can't key on the run the way they will be able to with Donovan McNabb throwing to Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin.

• Foster's one-cut running style combined with Houston's top-8 offensive line is a match made in fantasy heaven. He's also a natural receiver out of the backfield and figures to haul in 60-70 passes. It is true that the loss of lead blocker Vonta Leach won't help, but it's not enough for me to downgrade Foster.

Rounding out the top three is the disgruntled Chris Johnson, still seeking a massive contract extension. Many experts believe a deal will get done and there should be no worries about taking the human lightning bolt.

But the longer this goes on, the scarier it becomes.

(Sidenote: This is the good example of why fantasy leagues should hold drafts as late as possible. Mine are Sept. 2 and 10).

My gut says drafting Johnson is OK (especially if you own the Nos. 5-8 picks this weekend), but if he doesn't sign, your fantasy team is in deep, deep trouble.

Say what?

This next section is dedicated to seven tailbacks who I have rated much differently than three other main sites. In some cases, I'm probably off my rocker, but that's what makes this fun …

Darren McFadden (Me: 4; Them: 7-8-12). This is where experts either crash and burn, or beat their chests by Week 8 saying, "TOLD YOU!" I've always loved McFadden. Drafted him twice in my unit league at 40 and 21 units and proceeded to watch the injury-riddled fool rot on my bench. So last year, the jerk goes for 3 units to somebody else and proceeds to destroy the league. The deal here is that McFadden is obviously brittle but had two games last season where he won his fantasy owners games all by himself. I say he takes it to the next level behind a superb run-blocking line. It wouldn't even surprise me if he ends up as the No. 1-scoring back in the league. So even if you doubt me, if he's sitting there anywhere after the ninth pick, I'd pounce.

LeGarrette Blount (Me: 12; Them: 17-18-19). Tampa Bay's 250-pound bowling ball piled up 977 yards in the last 11 games of 2010. This ranking is based largely on the belief that Blount will be a double-digit TD guy because he won't catch more than 15 passes. But Tampa has a top-10 offensive line and Blount could easily score 12 or more times.

Mark Ingram (Me: 20; Them: 24-29-42). Yes, a timeshare with Pierre Thomas looms in New Orleans. But Ingram has already shown he'll be a force on the goal line and while coach Sean Payton does love timeshares, I believe that by Week 4 Payton will see just what a talent he has.

Joseph Addai (Me: 22; Them: 31-33-35). Yes, this is a boring pick. But Addai is on a high-scoring team and was on pace for 990 rushing yards and 8 TDs before getting hurt last season. With no decent competition around him, Addai is a decent bet for 10 scores -- and good luck finding that with anybody else at this point.

Reggie Bush (Me: 32; Them: 36-41-45). The Dolphins say they're going to give Bush every chance to be the primary back. I'm going to take them at their word. So here's the plan: Take Bush if he falls far enough, hope he has a great first 3-5 weeks, then trade him because he'll never keep it up for the entire season.

DeAngelo Williams (Me: 23; Them 15-18-19) and Jonathan Stewart (Me: 30; Them: 18-25-32). Bad team. Poor offensive line. New coach and system. Rookie QB. I just can't see either of these guys posting decent numbers.

Tough calls

The toughest part of the draft comes after Matt Forte and Ahmad Bradshaw go off the board. Now you are staring at about four guys who could all go bonkers, or will make you bonk your head into a sharp object.

Do you take Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who had a torrid stretch from Weeks 9-13 last year (average of 136 yards from scrimmage with 4 TDs)?

Or how about Dallas' Felix Jones, who has reportedly looked fantastic and has some of the best open-field speed in the league?

Or maybe San Diego's Ryan Mathews, who thrashed Denver in Week 17 last year with 120 rushing yards and 3 TDs?

Or perhaps Detroit's Jahvid Best, who was never healthy last year but has the potential to be a top-10 back?

I will say this: If you can somehow land two of these guys, I almost guarantee one of them will take you a long way.

Run away!

There are some guys I wouldn't touch unless they are completely forgotton or you are in a 14-16-team league.

That list includes Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Cincinnati's Cedric Benson and Washington's Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain. Both Buffalo RBs scare me too, although I'd be willing to take a flier on C.J. Spiller for keeper-league purposes.

Grant's tomb?

In my original rankings, I put Green Bay's Ryan Grant in the top 15, predicting over 1,100 yards and double-digit TDs. But now a report out of Milwaukee says that the veteran isn't a lock to make the team and that James Starks should be considered the starter. More can be gleamed after the team's third preseason Friday, but if you draft this weekend and you take Grant, you must take Starks and vice versa.

McFadden 2011?

In the beginning of this column, I wrote about how Oakland's Darren McFadden pleased so many fantasy owners who took a chance on him after he'd killed teams for two straight seasons. Who could erupt this year as that player?

I have two candidates: The Jets' Shonn Greene and the Chargers' Ryan Mathews.

Greene is running behind one of the best lines in the league and figures to get more work because LaDainian Tomlinson is nearly cashing Social Security checks.

Mathews is a flat-out stud. I spent a boat load of units to draft him last year and, just like McFadden, he rotted on my bench. Yes, Mike Tolbert is there, but the Chargers figure to score 400-450 points this season. Mathews has the ability to rack up 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage and might explode in 2-3 weeks where he almost wins your game by himself.

If you do take Mathews, though, also get Tolbert.

Coming Friday: QBs

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