Chances are a running back will be the first player to come off the board in your fantasy league unless one of your fellow owners has a serious crush on Michael Vick or is the father/mother/sibling/spouse of a current NFL player. Running backs no longer the first dozen players off the board in fantasy football -- and honestly, that makes things much more interesting -- but an elite back is still the way to go if you're picking first overall.
So who should you take with the first pick? Arian Foster? Chris Johnson? Adrian Peterson? Jamaal Charles?
I’ve seen varying opinions on which player is the top back in fantasy football, and you can’t really go wrong with any of these guys. But for me, it’s an easy decision. I’m taking Peterson all day, just like his nickname.
There’s nothing worse than drafting a fantasy bust first overall, so I like to go for a sure thing, and that’s Peterson, who has been at least a top-five fantasy running back in each of the past three seasons. You can’t say that about any other player as the NFL -- and fantasy football, too -- goes all pass-happy on us.
So we know that if another back supplants him as the top fantasy back like Chris Johnson did in 2009 or when Arian Foster came out of nowhere last season, Peterson, barring injury, will be right behind him -- with your squad on his back.
On to the running back rankings…
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Facing eight men in the box is a concern, but he’s shown he can still produce.
2. Arian Foster, Texans: A drop-off is possible, but it’s unlikely because this is an ideal situation for him.
3. Chris Johnson, Titans: If he is still holding out two weeks from now, start sliding him down this list.
4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: He’ll get plenty of touches, but will Le’Ron McClain vulture some inside the five?
5. Ray Rice, Ravens: I was high on him last year, too. Now it seems they are serious about running the rock.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Not sure why everyone is worried about MJD. He’ll get his this season.
7. Michael Turner, Falcons: It’s OK to worry about his past workload. Hopefully they take it easy on him.
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: If you’re going to bite the bullet and draft a Steeler, he’s a good option.
9. LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Note that he is much more effective when Michael Vick is under center.
10. Steven Jackson, Rams: He will have his best season in a while if Sam Bradford continues to develop.
11. Darren McFadden, Raiders: Last season was great and all, but he can’t duplicate it in street clothes.
12. Shonn Greene, Jets: He was a bust last season, but I’m bullish on Greene because their line is excellent.
13. Peyton Hillis, Browns: Will he be a one-hit wonder? I wish I had an answer for you. I guess we’ll see.
14. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants: The presence of Brandon Jacobs keeps him out of the top 10 or 12.
15. Matt Forte, Bears: He’s a great fit for Mike Martz’s offense and the line should at least be a little better.
16. Frank Gore, 49ers: I love Frank Gore as a runner, but you just can’t trust him to play 16 games.
17. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers: How will he respond to being a full-time starter in his second year?
18. Mark Ingram, Saints: It’s a crowded backfield, but I have a feeling he’ll rise to the top spot quickly.
19. Jahvid Best, Lions: He’s a Jamaal Charles-type talent with Frank Gore-like injury concerns.
20. Ryan Mathews, Chargers: Last year’s rookie darling took a backseat to Mike Tolbert in 2010.
21. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: He’s only 25 years old and he can reach his potential in Seattle.
22. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: The Panthers have a three-headed monster. You have been warned.
23. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos: John Fox wants to run the ball in Denver, but Moreno’s on a short leash.
24. Ryan Grant, Packers: Formerly a top-10 fantasy back, Grant rejoins one of the NFL’s best offenses.
25. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins: The Dolphins gave their running attack a makeover, starting with this rookie.
26. Ryan Williams, Cardinals: Tim Hightower is gone and Beanie Wells is no good. He’ll get a chance to start.
27. Willis McGahee, Broncos: Take a late-round flyer on Willis, who will get a larger workload in Denver.
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots: He was a nice surprise in 2010, but as a rule, I avoid all Patriots backs.
29. Fred Jackson, Bills: C.J. Spiller is a situational player right now, making Jackson a solid starting option.
30. Cedric Benson, Bengals: He’ll get you around 1,000 yards and a few scores at 3.5 yards per pop.
If you really want to draft a rookie…
Make it Mark Ingram, the former Heisman Trophy winner who landed in a great spot with the Saints.
Three running backs with sleeper potential…
1. Shonn Greene: Mark Sanchez is overrated and LaDainian Tomlinson is old, so give Greene the rock, Rex.
2. Ryan Grant: He has had nearly a full year to rehab his ankle, and he’s better than James Starks right now.
3. Willis McGahee: Like I said, I really like McGahee’s situation in Denver. He could become the starter.
Three running backs I would draft with caution…
1. Jonathan Stewart: I’m done with “The Daily Show,” who squandered his chance to start last season.
2. Joseph Addai: He’s a good pass blocker, so that will keep him on the field until a youngster forces him off.
3. Felix Jones and C.J. Spiller: Neither of these speedsters has proved they can carry the load in the NFL.
(For my fantasy football quarterback rankings, released on Monday, click this link right here.)
Matt Vensel is a blogger and community coordinator for The Baltimore Sun. Send your fantasy questions and comments to Matt.Vensel@baltsun.com, @mattvensel on Twitter or leave them in the comments section below.
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