We Don't Need No Stinkin' Free Agency: Early PPR RB Ranks

Similar to the quarterback rankings, the “early/preliminary/can we get some free agency?/let’s do some for the hell of it” running back rankings are broken up into 3 categories.  For lack of originality (though one could make the case that it’s completely original when applied to football), boxing terms fit the bill for describing how I feel about each of these classes of running backs.  Note that these rankings assume a full point per reception (PPR).



  1. Arian Foster, HOU
  2. LeSean McCoy, PHI
  3. Jamaal Charles, KC
  4. Adrian Peterson, MIN
  5. Chris Johnson, TEN
  6. Frank Gore, SF
  7. Ray Rice, BAL
  8. Darren McFadden, OAK
  9. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC
  10. Peyton Hillis, CLE
  11. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG
  12. Matt Forte, CHI
  13. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT
  14. Steven Jackson, STL

The common thing about most of the guys on this list is that they will push for 300 carries and most (with exception to Mendenhall) are very active in their team’s passing game.  Guys like Charles and McFadden probably won’t have more than 300 carries and receptions combined, but talent bumps them up as they are always capable of doing more with less.

Arian Foster finished as the top PPR back in 2010, beating the PPR runner-up, Hillis, by nearly 100 points.  Proving that he’s extremely capable in both the running and passing game, he’s the top option in a perennial high-powered Texans’ offense.  He’ll have the opportunity to match last season’s 2220 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns.

Perhaps a little questionable to some (though he did finish 3rd amongst PPR running backs last year), McCoy at #2 makes all the sense in the world.  A threat to catch 80 balls, he also accounts for a large number of Philadelphia’s carries and goal-line work.  While Andy Reid’s teams have never run the ball a ton, Reid has all the incentive in the world to get McCoy more involved in order to keep Vick upright for 16 games. 

After nearly breaking the Jim Brown’s single-season yards per carry mark, Jamaal Charles proved to the world that quantity isn’t everything in fantasy football.  Charles managed to finish 2nd in total rushing yards, all while having at least 46 fewer carries than anyone else in the top 10.  While it’s not extremely likely that his number of carries increases, he did start to see a large share of the goal-line carries towards the end of last season.  This should carry over to 2011 and bump him up to the #3 PPR running back.

It’s difficult to be this down on Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, but it’s more their respective offensive situations in 2011 that are likely to hinder their production. Both will shoulder a lot of their team’s workload, but it’s tough to see either offense creating a lot of touchdown opportunities with (most likely) rookie quarterbacks behind center.

A lot of people seem to be down on Gore, which is understandable after he’s struggled to stay healthy the last two seasons.  Nevertheless, he should be fully healthy by the start of the season.  He may lose some work to Anthony Dixon and rookie Kendall Hunter, but in all likelihood he’ll still have the 49ers offense continue to revolve around him, making him one of the few backs in the league with 300+ carry and 60+ reception upside.

Ray Rice will continue to be the man in the passing game and run game next year, but his 4.0 ypc mark in 2010 is a little disturbing.  Even if McGahee is gone, it’s very likely that the Ravens find a back to take his place and handle the goal-line duties, which knocks Rice down some.

Darren McFadden finally broke out of his shell in 2010 and flashed the potential the Raiders expected after taking him #4 overall in 2008.  While he still didn’t make it through a full season injury-free, he was one of only 3 backs in the league to average over 5 ypc (minimum 150 carries).

Maurice Jones-Drew and Peyton Hillis both received a huge workload in 2010, but don’t be surprised if both are scaled back some in 2011 as each showed signs of wear and tear at the end of the season.  Montario Hardesty and Rashad Jennings figure to take away a decent share of the carries in 2011.

Ahmad Bradshaw’s ranking could change some as he may be an impending free agent.  Most likely he is back in a Giants’ uniform and improving upon his impressive 2010 campaign in which he finished as the 9th overall PPR running back.

Matt Forte and Rashard Mendenhall aren’t the flashiest of running backs.  Mendenhall averaged a measly 3.9 ypc and doesn’t factor into the passing game much, but he still will find the endzone 10+ times.   Forte will always have a large enough role in the passing game to be a solid PPR asset.

No matter the season, Steven Jackson always manages to have lackluster touchdown numbers.  He’s not a dominant runner between the tackles, and there is a decent chance that he loses some touches this year as the Rams may look for a RB in free agency to spell him.  After 2 straight season of 320+ carries, you have to worry some about how well he will hold up in 2011.



  1. Knowshon Moreno, DEN
  2. Michael Turner, ATL
  3. DeAngelo Williams, CAR
  4. Ryan Mathews, SDG
  5. Jahvid Best, DET
  6. Daniel Thomas, MIA
  7. Mark Ingram, NO
  8. Joseph Addai, IND
  9. LeGarrette Blount, TB
  10. Jonathan Stewart, CAR
  11. Felix Jones, DAL
  12. Fred Jackson, BUF
  13. Cedric Benson, CIN
  14. Shonn Greene, NYJ
  15. Marshawn Lynch, SEA
  16. Ryan Grant, GB
  17. Mikel Leshoure, DET
  18. LaDainian Tomlinson, NYJ
  19. Ryan Williams, ARI
  20. Brandon Jacobs, NYG
  21. Pierre Thomas, NO
  22. Mike Tolbert, SDG

If you listened to the latest podcast, so far Knowshon Moreno at #15 has been the most controversial ranking.  Provided Denver doesn’t add another back, you have to love his situation with a coach like John Fox who got so much out of his backs in Carolina.  2011 could be his breakout year.

Guys like Michael Turner and LeGarrette Blount are dominant inside runners that rely solely on fantasy points from rushing yards and touchdowns.  It still makes them decent RB2 options in PPR leagues that are worth grabbing if they slip into the 5th or 6th round.

DeAngelo Williams is ranked assuming he’s still on Carolina.  It’s tough to speculate where he’ll end up.  Provided he’s gone, Stewart will get a decent bump up the list.  It’s difficult to really love the Carolina run game given that the QB/WR situation is so dreary.  The passing game will have a hard time extending drives to allow the offense to put points on the board. 

Ryan Mathews didn’t live up to the hype last year, but the good news is that you don’t have to draft him early in the 2nd round this year to have him on your team.  He’s still capable of having the season that everyone thought he would have last year provided he’s healthy.  He definitely won’t have a lack of opportunities in the Chargers’ offense.

Despite sizzling after a hot start in 2010 and the addition of Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best is still a guy to love in PPR leagues.  Most running backs are ineffective with one turf toe injury, let alone having it on both feet, and that’s the only explanation you need to describe his falloff last year.  Best still has low-end RB1 upside in PPR, and he’ll probably climb up this list as the season gets closer.

Give Daniel Thomas a slight edge over Mark Ingram at this point, but that could all change if Miami adds another running back.  Talent-wise there is no question which is better.  It’s unfortunate that Ingram isn’t the one in a Dolphins’ uniform.

Felix Jones has all of the potential in the world, but just hasn’t flashed it.  After trying to bulk up in 2010 to shoulder more of the load, it pretty much backfired as he came into the season out of shape.  He’s at his best when he’s not getting a huge workload, making him a scary guy to target too high on draft day.  Look for a late 6th or early 7th round price tag.

Fred Jackson is a guy that typically goes into every season underrated.  The Samuel L. Jackson lookalike should still maintain the lead back role in Buffalo while Spiller continues as a more change-of-pace role.

Benson, Greene, Lynch, and Grant are all running backs with “meh” ability and fairly light roles in the passing game.  While Greene will probably see a larger share of the carries, it’s tough to be impressed as he failed to take the starting job and run with it last year…it was his to have.  While it still seems likely that Ryan Grant will have the largest role in the Packers’ backfield, it certainly won’t be anywhere near the 280+ carries he’s used to with the emergence of James Starks late last season.

Leshoure could easily find himself in a TD vulture role in a Detroit offense that everyone is raving about.  Fellow rookie Ryan Williams is the early favorite in the Arizona backfield—it’s just tough to love the Arizona backfield.

Pierre Thomas, believe it or not, should still be given a long thought.  It’s tough to imagine him completely dropping off the face of the earth within the Saints’ offense, making him a sneaky late round option in PPR leagues.



  1. Beanie Wells, ARI
  2. Mike Goodson, CAR
  3. Ronnie Brown, MIA
  4. C.J. Spiller, BUF
  5. Michael Bush, OAK
  6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, NE
  7. James Starks, GB
  8. Montario Hardesty, CLE
  9. Thomas Jones, KC
  10. Roy Helu, WAS
  11. Marion Barber, DAL
  12. Rashad Jennings
  13. Reggie Bush, NO
  14. Darren Sproles, SD
  15. Jason Snelling, ATL
  16. Ryan Torain, WAS
  17. Danny Woodhead, NE
  18. Ricky Williams, MIA

I’ll hold my thoughts on most of these guys until later, as most are either A.) likely to be on another team next year or B.) have an unclear situation on their current roster.  Helu certainly provides some upside in Washington, but he has to win that job first.  Jennings figures to have a larger role this year as discussed earlier which may make him more than just a handcuff.  Sproles is even a guy that could go elsewhere and find a better situation where he’s a little more involved in the run game. 

Closing thought: drafting a New England running back will probably just leave you banging your head against the wall all season.

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