This is much overdue after I pumped out the other lists. But that’s because this is a make or break position. If you don’t get it right, you’ll be screwed. Guaranteed.
I remember selecting Shaun Alexander fourth overall in 2007. His worst year ever. Add to the fact he was on the “can’t cut list” in Yahoo! and I was stuck with a dud. Don’t let that happen to you. Read this post, and pick one of these backs and you won’t have that worry. (OK, maybe a little.)
- Adrian Peterson — Out of the gates, I’m going with a guy who could very well be on his down year. That meaning, the year in which he gets injured gruesomely in some freak accident. But I’m at the point where I hate the what-if scenario, and without that to opine on, Peterson is the legitimate No. 1 going in 2009. He’s dethroning LaDainian Tomlinson who has sat on this spot for four years. A very worthy honor. Last season: 10 touchdowns, 1,760 rushing yards, 10 100-yard games.
- Michael Turner — At 27, we’re looking for the second most astounding season from a the former San Diego benchwarmer. This guy literally shook off the cob webs and starting sprinting to the end zone. Definitely a surprise on the fantasy landscape last year with the production he put out. And with the development of Matt Ryan, he should continue to get the carries necessary to break the 1,500-yard mark and at least 10 touchdowns. Don’t make the same mistake twice, pick him asap. Last season: 17 touchdowns, 1,699 rushing yards, two 200-yard games, six 100-yard games.
- DeAngelo Williams — Expect him to continue to be the boss of the Carolina offense as Jonathan Stewart has been injured twice already this offseason. That’s as simple as it gets. Just look at the numbers. Last season: 20 touchdowns, 1,515 rushing yards, eight 100-yard games.
- Brandon Jacobs — I like Jacobs because he’s a bruiser. And looking at the New York Giants offense, he’s going to be the premiere piece of the team with few receiving options available. Expect his rushing numbers to increase, but his touchdowns will likely stay the same. Last season: 15 touchdowns, 1,059 rushing yards, four 100-yard games.
- Matt Forte — If he’s going to have a breakout year, this has got to be it. He’s already impressed with his consistency and now the team has a viable quarterback in Jay Cutler to take off the pressure. That doesn’t take away the fact that Chicago still has no receivers to throw to. Chicago’s strategy: Run the ball first, throw second. Last season: 12 touchdowns, 1,239 rushing yards, three 100-yard games.
- Maurice Jones-Drew — The most dominant of the hybrid backs in the NFL today, Jones-Drew will likely draw upon his receiving skills as much as his footwork. He caught 62 passes for 565 yards last year. This year, he’s the featured back in the offense with Fred Taylor nowhere in sight (now a Patriot). All positives for the former UCLA Bruin. Last season: 14 touchdowns, 824 rushing yards, three 100-yard games (one receiving).
- Steve Slaton — Slaton was my savior last season, coming up big when I had nothing in the bank but a bunch of busts. This year, he’s expected to continue his progression as a power slasher. Last year’s sleeper is this year’s keeper. Last season: 10 touchdowns, 1,282 yards rushing, five 100-yard games.
- Chris Johnson — So he shares carries with LenDale White, so what? He still averages 20 touches a game. And if he’s working as hard as White is (apparently gave up the tequila), we don’t expect anything to change. Last season: 10 touchdowns, 1,228 yards rushing, four 100-yard games.
- Clinton Portis — Don’t ever doubt the fact that he’s going to get the ball. In four healthy seasons with the Redskins, he’s averaged 340.5 carries. He’s the first option in the offense and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Last season: Nine touchdowns, 1,487 rushing yards, six 100-yard games.
- LaDainian Tomlinson — Formerly my No. 1 overall for the last three seasons, Tomlinson’s last season with Chargers was his most disappointing. Only 1,110 yards on the ground put a loss for words. I’m not sure if he can rebound to pre-2008 form with the emergence of Darren Sproles. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. It just means he’s gonna have to share the rock. Last season: 11 touchdowns, 1,110 rushing yards, two 100-yard games.
- Brian Westrbook — Premiere runner, receiver, returner for the Eagles is a staple of Andy Reid’s offense. I expect the Eagles to do well this year, but only because I expect them to spread the ball around more to folks like DeSean Jackson, rookie Jeremy Maclin and new quarterback Michael Vick. But when it’s all said and done, Westbrook is what makes the offense tick. Knock on some wood and hope he doesn’t get injured. Last season: 14 touchdowns, 936 yards rushing, three 100-yard games.
- Marion Barber — No T.O., no problem. They’ve got Roy Williams at receiver. But is that enough for Tony Romo and the Big D? (Don’t forget that amazing tight end Jason Witten.) I doubt it. I think the ‘Boys will get back to the run as the mainstay of the offense and I think Barber can handle the job just fine. Last season: Nine touchdowns, 885 yards rushing, four 100-yard games.
- Ryan Grant — Grant had almost twice as many carries as his breakout rookie season in 2008 but had half the touchdowns (four). It hurt that he was injured in the early part of the season. This year should be the Ryan Grant we all knew at the end of 2007 — again. Last season: Five touchdowns, 1,203 yards rushing, four 100-yard games.
- Thomas Jones — He’s defying the age bug by being such a dominant back. I had him on one of my teams and was so pleased he never came out of the lineup. Can he do it again at 31? We’ll see. He’s going to have the rookie behind center (Mark Sanchez) so a lot is going to fall on his shoulders. Last season: 15 touchdowns, 1,312 yards rushing, five 100-yard games.
- Frank Gore — He’s healthy, his offensive line is healthy and there is still a quarterback competition going on in SF. All signs point to a dominant Gore season, where he’ll probably cross the 1,300-yard mark and score at least eight touchdowns again. Last season: Eight touchdowns, 1,036 yards rushing, three 100-yard games.
- Marshawn Lynch — Is he a basehead or what? All the stupid off the field trouble by Lynch is discouraging, but he’s a strong talent that I don’t want to give up on. I believe his numbers from last year are low because of Buffalo’s weak offensive line. They picked up two lineman in the draft and Terrell Owens in the offseason. I’d say those are upgrades. Now only if they had a legitimate quarterback, they might be a team worth watching. Well, that’s where Lynch benefits — after week 4 due to suspension. If he just stays out of trouble, he can still crack 1,000 yards. Last season: Nine touchdowns, 1,036 yards rushing, three 100-yard games.
- Ronnie Brown — He started the wildcat trend and then he disappeared down the stretch, scoring once in his final seven games. He’s still dynamic, he just needs more touches. Last season: 10 touchdowns, 916 yards rushing, three 100-yard games.
- Reggie Bush — Honestly, I’m over the Reggie Bush hype. He’s not done anything amazing enough for me to put him on this list, but the talent cannot be denied. He’s likely to do something amazing for the Sportscenter highlights. He just might not do anything for the fantasy bottom line. But as a hybrid, you can plug him in the running back / receiver role or third running back slot (however your league is set up) and never have to think of it again. Last season: Six touchdowns, 404 yards rushing, one 100-yard receiving game.
- Willie Parker — His yards per carry have dropped for four straight years. No lie. But he’s still the No. 1 Steelers option, and that’s good enough for consideration in fantasy as a No. 1 or 2 option. Also considering he caught the injury bug last year, his numbers will more than likely increase. Last season: Five touchdowns, 791 yards rushing, four 100-yard games.
- Darren McFadden — Taking a huge risk here, but McFadden may be worth it if the Raiders become some semblance of themselves, pre-2004. McFadden, along with Just Fargas and Michael Bush, will be the focus of the Raiders’ offense because JaMarcus Russell is still a project quarterback. I don’t expect him to be the starter long, but in the mean time, that gives backs like McFadden plenty of time to utilize the 20+ touches he’ll see each game. Last season: Four touchdowns, 499 yards rushing, one 100-yard game.
Editor’s note: Check out all of the other lists here.