July 24, 2008

No position is more important in fantasy football than running back and landing a superstar RB is one of the safest ways to get to the winner's circle in your league. Teams that have been fortunate enough to land one of the top picks always seem to have an advantage because a player like LaDainian Tomlinson is almost impossible to duplicate. But the good news this year is that the RB position is very deep this year and talent can be found more easily in the fourth and fifth rounds than in years past.

Tomlinson was one of six RBs who had 10 or more rushing TDs in 2008 and he was one of 17 RBs who topped 1,000 yards rushing last season. He's the consensus No. 1 pick again in 2008 and in Point Per Reception leagues he has even more value as his 60 receptions ranked third among all RBs.

Below are the top 70 backs ranked in order of preference for Draft Day:

Tomlinson's production declined in 2007 after his MVP season of 2006 when he set a new NFL record with 28 rushing TDs and 31 total TDs. Still, LT2 led the NFL with 15 rushing TDs and 18 total TDs, while rushing for 1,474 yards and finishing with 1,949 total yards. His 60 receptions were also a career-best, but the wear and tear is starting to get the best of this seven-year pro. He's the consensus No. 1 pick, but he missed the playoffs with a knee injury, which is a concern. Project a season of 1,500 yards, 400 yards receiving, 18 TDs and pray you get the No. 1 pick out of the hat.

AP was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 as he took the NFL by storm, finishing with 1,341 yards rushing and 12 TDs, while setting a new single-game NFL rushing record with 296 yards. He missed two games with a knee injury and then finished with only 144 yards in his last four games, but he's still too good to be true. His lone faults are a time-share with Chester Taylor and the fact that he's not an option in the passing game (only 19 receptions last year). But he's too good to pass up with the No. 2 pick as he will finish with 1,400+ yards rushing and 15 total TDs.

Westbrook still scares owners because of his durability issues, but he's played 15 games in each of the last two seasons and is a monster in PPR leagues. He had his best season of his career in 2007, setting career highs in rushing yards (1,333), attempts (278), receptions (90), receiving yards (771) and TDs (12). He had six 100-yard rushing games and finished second among all RBs in scoring. Grab him third in the upcoming draft and project a season of 1,200+ rushing yards, 600+ receiving yards and 11 TDs.

Jackson suffered through an injury-riddled season in 2007 and missed four games with a back and a groin injury, but still managed to top 1,000 yards for the third straight season. Still, he finished with only five rushing TDs, only 38 receptions and just one receiving TD. The Rams were a mess last year, but the offensive line should be better this year, so project a much improved season for Jackson of 1,300+ rushing yards, 300+ receiving yards and 12 TDs.

Addai assumed the starting RB job last year for Indianapolis and topped 1,000 yards (1.072) for the second straight year while scoring 15 total TDs. He had at least one TD in 10 games, but struggled down the stretch, averaging just 42.3 yards rushing per game from Weeks 13-16. Still, he's a dynamite Top 5 back who will once again deliver a season of 1,100+ yards rushing, 350+ yards receiving and 15 TDs.

With the 49ers unable to mount a solid passing attack last year, defenses loaded up the line of scrimmage and took Gore out of the game. He also suffered a lingering ankle injury that limited him to 15 games, 1,102 yards rushing and 6 total TDs. He did add 53 receptions as he finished ninth among RBs in scoring. Now with Mike Martz on board as offensive coordinator, there's a chance that Gore will be part of a more vibrant offense and will finish with better overall numbers. He certainly has the talent to do it, so project a better season of 1,300+ yards, 50+ receptions and 8 TDs.

Portis is fast moving up the RB charts this off-season as he had a bustout season with Washington last year. After missing eight games to injury in 2006, Portis played all 16 games last year and finished with 1,262 yards, 11 TDs and 47 receptions. He had four 100-yard games and scored a TD in nine different games. The Redskins are expected to use Portis even more this year, so project a season of 1,200+ yards, 40 receptions and 10 TDs.

Barber finished seventh in RB scoring last year despite sharing time with Julius Jones. Now with Jones in Seattle, Barber will maintain the No. 1 role, while Felix Jones takes over the backup job. Barber has an aggressive running style that may not hold up for a full season, but last year he was stellar as he finished with 975 yards, 12 total TDs and 44 receptions. If he can stay healthy, he will finish with 1,000+ yards, 40 receptions and 12 TDs.

The Packers were expected to sign Grant to a long-term contract soon after he went from obscurity to stardom last year. Grant took over the starting job in Week 6 and never looked back, collecting five 100-yard games in 10 starts and finishing with 956 yards. He finished with eight TDs as he scored at least one TD in seven different games. This offense will be a work in progress under Aaron Rodgers, but Grant will still come through with 1,200+ yards, 40+ receptions and 12 total TDs.

Lynch was the second best offensive rookie last year as he led Buffalo with 1,115 yards rushing and seven TDs despite missing three games with an ankle injury. He had three 100-yard performances, but doesn't factor into the passing game much as he was limited to 18 receptions last year. That's one detriment to drafting Lynch, but this physical back is tough to stop and he will finish with 1,300+ yards and nine TDs in 2008.

After back-to-back stellar seasons, LJ was a bust last year. He failed to score a TD in his first five games and then topped 110 yards rushing in each of the next three games before finally suffering a cracked bone in his foot in Week 9, which ended his season. He finished with only 559 yards and three TDs and now is a question mark for 2008 because K.C.'s QB situation is so bad. Still, he's become a great bargain at the end of the first round or early in the second round and will bounce back with a season of 1,300+ yards, 40+ catches and 12 TDs.

McGahee's first season in Baltimore was a big success as he rushed for 1,207 yards and seven TDs, while adding 43 receptions and one TD. He had five 100-yard games and had at least three catches in seven different games. He's a solid RB1 who can be found in the second round, making the back end of drafts very profitable this year. Project a season of 1,200+ yards, 40+ receptions and 10 TDs and hope for more.

Bush was a fantasy bust last year as his sophomore season was limited to 12 games because of a knee injury. He finished 24th among all RBs in scoring with just 581 yards rushing and four TDs, although his value in PPR leagues was improved thanks to 73 receptions, 417 yards and two more TDs. Even with Deuce McAllister sidelined, Bush rushed for fewer than 65 yards in a game nine times and was held without a TD in eight games. He has major talent, but draft him as your RB2 and hope for a season of 700+ yards rushing, 700+ yards receiving, 80+ receptions and nine total TDs.

Maroney missed three games last year with a foot injury and was a non-factor for much of the year as the Brady and Moss show took the NFL by storm. He was a fantasy dud for most of the year as he finished with only 835 yards rushing and six TDs after being a Top 10 pick in 2007. He did post back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 15 and 16 and could be a bargain this year as an RB2 if he can top 1,100 yards and nine TDs.

Jones-Drew wasn't able to top his stellar rookie season in 2007, but he still finished 13th among all RBs in scoring nonetheless. After a slow start, he finished strong, scoring five TDs in his final seven games en route to a season of 768 yards rushing, 9 TDs, 40 receptions and 407 yards. He remains in a platoon role with Fred Taylor, but don't be surprised if Jones-Drew gets an increased role and produces a season of 800+ yards rushing, 40+ receptions, 400+ yards receiving and 10 total TDs.

Lewis was one of the best fantasy bargains of 2007 as he posted his highest rushing (1,304) and touchdown (11) outputs since 2003, finishing sixth among all RBs in scoring. He had a 216-yard performance in Week 2 and then finished with four 100-yard games in the last six weeks. His 11 total TDs were nice too as he even added 30 receptions. He looks like an old war horse, but Lewis will stay healthy enough again to top 1,200 yards with nine TDs.

Other than Grant, no back emerged more than Graham last year. He started the season as the No. 3 back, but injuries to Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman opened the door for Graham to be the starter and he never looked back. He finished with 898 yards and 10 TDs, while adding 49 receptions for 324 yards. He seems to be an unappreciated asset in off-season drafts thus far, but if he falls into the third round don't hesitate to grab his featured back in Tampa.

Brown was off to a solid start last year before his season came to an end in Week 8 when he tore the ACL in his right knee. His rehab has been on schedule and he's expected to be ready for the season opener, but his continued injury woes and the Dolphins' suspect offense makes him a risky pick in 2007. Last year in seven games, Brown rushed for 602 yards and four TDs and even had a career-best 39 receptions. Let's hope he can hold up for at least 14 games and if he does he will produce 1,000 yards, 40+ receptions and seven TDs.

Jacobs had a solid first season as the Giants' starter, finishing 20th in RB scoring as he topped 1,000 yards for the first time. Still, he missed five games with an ankle injury and lost some of his goal-line carries to Reuben Droughns. He's definitely a beast at 264 pounds when healthy, but he's no longer a guarantee at the goal-line and he was limited to 23 catches last year. That makes him an RB2 at best and an iffy RB2 in PPR leagues.

Turner was the backup to Tomlinson in San Diego the last three seasons, but he became a free agent over the off-season and settled in Atlanta after signing a six-year deal worth $34.5 million. He was featured heavily in the playoffs after LT2 went down and rushed for 136 yards on 34 carries against the Colts and Patriots. He has Top 10 potential, but on a young offense he could be limited to 1,110+ yards, 20 receptions and eight TDs.

James had a solid second season with Arizona last year as he finished 10th among all RBs in scoring. He finished with 1,222 yards and seven TDs, although his receptions fell once again to just 24. He finished the season with three 100-yard games, but at age 30 the best is behind him. He's a serviceable RB2 for fantasy teams, but keep the projections modest and in the range of 1,100 yards, 20 receptions and six TDs.

The Raiders grabbed McFadden with the fifth pick in this year's draft and will start him over 1,000-yard rusher Justin Fargas. McFadden rushed for 1,000+ yards in all three seasons at Arkansas and was a two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back. He has Peterson-type explosiveness and he will liven up this offense. Look for him to get 1,100+ yards, 30+ receptions and eight TDs.

White surprised some folks last year by keeping his weight enough in check to rush for 1,110 yards and seven TDs with the Titans. That was 15th best among all RBs as he stayed healthy all year. He's not a factor in the passing game (20 receptions), but he's solid near the goal-line and should be good for another season of 1,000 yards and nine TDs.

Parker topped 1,200 yards rushing for the third straight season, but his TDs dropped from 16 in 2006 to just two last year. He also suffered a broken leg in the playoffs and his fantasy stock quickly fell when the Steelers grabbed RB Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. He should be completely healed in time for training camp, but his reduced role could limit him to 1,000 yards, 20 receptions and six TDs in 2008.

Head coach John Fox continues to look for that bruising back who can carry the load often and he may have found his man in Stewart, who was selected in the first round after a stellar career at Oregon. He broke through for 1,722 yards rushing last year with 13 TDs and at 5-11, 235 pounds is going to be a force inside. He could share carries with DeAngelo Williams, but in the end Stewart will be the best play here.

Jones was a major disappointment during his first season with the Jets as he finished with just one rushing TD and one receiving TD. Sure, he rushed for 1,119 yards, but the lack of TDs and his reduced role in the passing game (28 receptions) hurts his value in fantasy football. He's still the starter, but this offense is a mess and Jones may not be able to top last year's totals in 2008.

Forte will battle Kevin Jones for the starting job in Chicago now that Cedric Benson has been released, but he has enough upside to become an RB3 in fantasy football. Last year at Tulane, Forte rushed for 2,127 yards and 23 TDs. He has 4.6 40 speed and will be a force for the Bears in some way. Even with the Jones signing, look for Forte to finish with 800+ yards, 6 TDs this year.

Despite showing little in Dallas last year, Jones was rewarded with a four-year, $12 million deal to replace Shaun Alexander in Seattle. Jones has limited skills and finished with only 588 yards and two TDs in Dallas last year, but Mike Holmgren believes he can develop into a top back in the Seahawks' offense. He will get every chance to excel, so project a season of 1,000 yards and five TDs.

Johnson became one of the biggest busts last year in fantasy football as he finally broke down and missed five games with a hamstring injury. He finished with only 497 yards and three TDs in 2007 after two straight 12-TD seasons. The Bengals still believe he can be a dominant back even at age 30 and are willing to give him 250+ carries, which will lead to 1,000+ yards and seven TDs.

The 32-year-old Taylor had another solid season in 2007 as he rushed for 1,202 yards and five TDs. He ranked 18th among all RBs in scoring as he topped 100 yards rushing in each of his last five games, while scoring four TDs. He will still share carries with MJD, but he's a solid RB3 who will finish with 1,000+ yards and five TDs this season.

Who is the flavor of the day in Denver's backfield right now? Well, it appears to be Young, the second-year back from Texas who seems to be too brittle for the job. He did rush for 729 yards and a TD in limited action last year with the Broncos, but he always seemed to get nicked up. Still, the starting RB in this offense can be gold, so don't be afraid to take a chance on Selvin this draft day.

The Lions traded up to take Smith with the 64th pick of this year's draft and he could earn the starting job ahead of Tatum Bell very soon. Smith rushed for an amazing 2,567 yards on 450 carries last season at Central Florida, but there are questions about his strength and speed. Still, he has good upside and should beat out Bell for the job early enough to earn 200+ carries and finish with 800+ yards.

Jones was a backup to McFadden at Arkansas the last three years and now he's more than ready to back up Barber in Dallas. He brings an explosiveness to this offense as he finished with 1,160 yards rushing and 11 TDs the last two years at Arkansas. He will be a solid third-down option who will finish with 35+ catches, 900+ total yards and four TDs.

After enjoying an injury-free season in 2006, McAllister had another season wiped out with a knee injury in 2007 as he was limited to just three games and 92 yards. He's had troubles with both knees and further surgery was required on his left knee this spring. It would be good to see him platoon with Bush this year, but expect more bumps in the road and limited production of only 600+ yards and four TDs.

Mendenhall exploded on the scene as a junior at Illinois last season, rushing for 1,681 yards with 19 TDs. The Steelers then grabbed him in the first round and will platoon him with Willie Parker this year in the backfield. He's obviously the future back in Pittsburgh, but expect a learning curve this year as he finishes with 550+ yards and five TDs.

Even with Peterson rushing for 1,300+ yards last year, Taylor still came through with a solid season as his backup, rushing for 844 yards and seven TDs. He's a solid backup who had two 100-yard games last year and finished with 29 receptions. Grab him as AP insurance, but also grab him as your RB4 if he's still there on Draft Day.

Someone has to start in Houston and right now Green is first in line. Not surprisingly, injuries limited him to six games last year as the many carries are starting to catch up to Green. He was limited to just 70 carries, 260 yards and two TDs, and now he has to battle Chris Brown for playing time. He's a risk all around, so keep those projections in the 500-yard range for 2008.

Williams will battle Jonathan Stewart for the starting job this year, but look for him to fill the same third-down role that he has over the last two seasons. Even with DeShaun Foster struggling last year, Williams was limited to just 717 yards and four TDs in 16 games. He has the chance for more production this year, but it would be a surprise if he gets it at Stewart's expense.

This fifth-round pick out of Arizona State has the potential to be the starting back in Denver, but he needs to stay healthy first to make that happen. During his first six games last year, he rushed for 553 yards and five TDs before being knocked out of the Sun Devils' final seven games by ankle, knee and foot injuries. He's not a guarantee for playing time this year, but the upside makes him a worthy middle round pickup.

Morris filled in for Alexander last year and rushed for a career-best 628 yards and four TDs. While it was a worthy performance, Seattle is convinced that his best role is as a backup. Expect him to take a back seat to Jones and be limited to 400 yards and two TDs in 2008.

Life isn't fair sometimes and even though Fargas emerged as a solid back last year when he rushed for 1,009 yards and four TDs, the Raiders still grabbed his replacement in this year's draft. Fargas missed the last two games of the season with a knee injury and will now enter 2008 as the backup to first round pick McFadden. That lowers his fantasy value back to where it was on Draft Day last year.

Bradshaw spent most of his rookie season on the sidelines, but he became an explosive option late in the season and in the playoffs. He rushed for 151 yards and a TD In Week 16 vs. the Bills and had at least 45 yards in three of the Giants' four post-season games. He has good upside and could have an increased role in this offense this season.

The Titans grabbed Johnson with the 24th pick in this year's draft and hope to make him the perfect change-of-pace back to complement LenDale White. The 5'11", 197-pounder isn't build to be an every down back, but he sure can make things happen when he's in the open field. Last year at East Carolina, he ruhed for 1,423 yards and 17 TDs, while catching 37 passes with six TDs. He's a solid backup who could surprise some folks in 2008.

Norwood has big play ability, but the Falcons continue to under-utilize him and things won't change this year with Michael Turner on board. Despite a 6.0 yards per carry average, Norwood had only one double-digit carry game in 2007 and finished with only one rushing TD despite 613 rushing yards. Don't look for anything to change this year as he will be a clear backup to Turner.

Dunn's best days are well behind him as he's now the backup RB in Tampa. He will close out his career here, but it won't be productive for fantasy owners. Sitting behind Graham, Dunn will be limited to third-down duties and 600 total yards.

Washington was explosive on special teams last year as he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, but the Jets haven't figured out how to use him in the open field on offense. He received double-digit carries only twice and was limited to 71 carries, 353 yards and three TDs. He will back up Thomas Jones again and see limited action again.

Brown had some brief moments with Tennessee last year, but was released and signed by Houston to a two-year deal this off-season. He will battle Ahman Green for the starting job, but must be more consistent to have a chance here. Last year he rushed for 175 yards in Week 1 and then never rushed for more than 46 yards after that. If he can figure it all out, there is a starting job waiting for him in Houston.

Peterson is the perfect third down back in Chicago who remains No. 3 behind Forte and Jones. He started the last two games last year and rushed for 193 yards and added an 8-reception performance in Week 15. He's good in his role and will remain there for all of 2008.

Rhodes re-signed with the Colts this off-season and will back up Addai once again. He was a non-factor during his ill-fated one season in Oakland, but the Colts plan to give him 5-8 carries a game this year to take some of the load off Addai. He's a worthy RB5 who will go late in fantasy drafts.

After shining in place of the injured Portis in 2006, Betts barely saw the field last year and finished with only 93 carries for 335 yards and one TD. Nothing should change this year, as long as Portis remains healthy. Still, Betts is a worthy handcuff for Portis owners.

Williams returned from his drug suspension last year and suffered a season-ending chest injury during his first game back. He will be ready to back up Brown this year and has the potential to steal some carries if he can stay healthy. He has upside, but he also has enough skeletons in his closet to scare a ghost.

Bell will battle rookie Smith for the starting job there and has enough experience to hold onto this job for a bit. He spent all of the second half of last season on the inactive list and the Lions weren't happy that he showed up to mini-camp overweight. Smith will eventually win this job, making Bell an early season gamble at best.

Foster signed a two-year deal with San Francisco for $1.8 million this off-season after parting ways with Carolina. He's now Gore's backup and will get even less playing time here than he did in Carolina. He's a worthy handcuff, but his days of being a fantasy upside pick are long gone.

The Ravens grabbed Rice in the second round of this year's draft after a spectacular three-season career at Rutgers. He's not built for the rigors of starting at 5'9" and 205 pounds, but he will make a fine backup for McGahee this year. Grab him as a handcuff for McGahee just in case that injury bug returns.

Morris became a solid waiver wire pickup last year as he stole the goal-line carries from Maroney and finished with three TDs in six games. But he then suffered a season-ending sternum clavicle separation in Week 6. He returns as Maroney's backup again, but may not regain that goal-line role.

Jackson remains the backup to Lynch in Buffalo and he showed he could handle the role last year when he rushed for 197 yards in two starts when Lynch was out. He also caught 22 passes and is a worthy late round pick as a handcuff for Lynch.

Perry is getting more love this off-season as reports out of Cincinnati have him in the backup role ahead of Kenny Watson. If that's the case, Perry has some fantasy value if he can stay healthy because he is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Staying healthy, however, is never a given.

Thomas was a Week 17 star last year as he rushed for 105 yards and caught 12 passes for an additional 121 yards and a TD. He could be the backup to Reggie Bush if McAllister doesn't recover from his knee injury, but for now he's No. 3 on the depth chart.

As long as Lewis stays healthy, Wright won't be worth even a late draft pick. Last year, he was limited to just 60 carries for 277 yards and one TD, although he did catch 24 passes. More of the same is in store for 2008 if Lewis remains healthy again.

The Bears signed Jones in July and will give him every opportunity to challenge for the starting job with rookie Matt Forte. He's been unable to stay healthy throughout his career, however, and it will be tough for that to happen again this year.

61. Shaun Alexander, Free Agent:62. Kevin Faulk, New England63. T.J. Duckett, Seattle64. Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia65. Darren Sproles, San Diego66. Brandon Jackson, Green Bay67. Kenny Watson, Cincinnati68. Lorenzo Booker, Philadelphia69. Jacob Hester, San Diego70. Kolby Smith, Kansas City71. Brian Leonard, St. Louis72. Derrick Ward, NY Giants73. Michael Pittman, Denver74. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City75. Cedric Benson, Free Agent

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