Fantasy football owners love it when their running backs rush for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a single game. But the true test of a player's value exists not in one performance but in his level of consistent production.
With that in mind, we've examined which players were the most consistent last season, and whose final numbers were more deceptive. The parameters of our examination revolves around the final numbers of the position's top players based on a 12-team league that utilized NFL.com's standard scoring system. All the running backs listed played in at least 10 contests, but time missed due to injuries or being benched counts against his final percentage.
The foundation for consistent production was based on the average fantasy points of the sixth-rated (or middle runner of the top 12) on NFL.com. That back is Darren McFadden, who averaged 13.7 points per game. Those running backs that recorded 13 or more points in a single game were rewarded, but a week with fewer than 13 points was rated as less than consistent. Also remember that a consistent level of production is relative to the position's overall output, so 40-50 percent (half of the time or less) can be labeled as being consistent in some cases.
Arian Foster, Texans: The highest-scoring player in fantasy football, Foster was also the most consistent point producer of 2010. He hit our 13-point mark in 11 of his 16 games and averaged an amazing 20.3 fantasy points per game overall. Foster scored 20-plus points nine times, including a 41.80-point performance in Week 1 and three others with 30 or more points. Based on his immense statistical success, Foster will be a top-three pick in most 2011 drafts.
Chris Johnson, Titans: Johnson scored 114 fewer fantasy points last season compared to his ridiculously impressive 2010 totals, but he still scored 13-plus points 10 times -- that makes him one of the most consistent players at his position based on our parameters. However, when Johnson was bad, he was awful. In the six games where he failed to hit our mark, CJ2K averaged a dreadful 4.7 fantasy points. I expect his numbers to trend upwards next season, though.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: Quietly, Charles finished third in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. He was also extremely consistent, scoring 13-plus points on 10 different occassions. While he did have his share of poor stat lines earlier in the season, Charles averaged a stout 20.3 points in his final three contests. Not to be outdone, Rashard Mendenhall also hit our mark for consistent production 10 times. Both backs will be first rounders in 2011.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Peterson experienced a slight decrease in fantasy points compared to 2010, but he still finished second among running backs on NFL.com. He was also a reliable option for owners, scoring 13 or more points nine times. His overall totals would have been even better had he not missed a game as well. Here's another A.D. nugget -- he's the lone back to finish in the top five in fantasy points at his position in the last three years.
Darren McFadden, Raiders: McFadden averaged a very solid 16.9 fantasy points in the 13 games he played last season. Unfortunately, injuries caused him to miss three contests and hurt his overall level of consistent production. Overall, Run DMC scored 13 or more points eight times. In the games where he was active, he hit that mark 61.5 percent of the time. If he could just prove to be more durable, McFadden would easily be a top-five pick in drafts.
LeSean McCoy, Eagles: McCoy is quickly becoming a popular name in fantasy football, especially after posting 78 receptions, 1,672 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in 2010. In PPR leagues, he finished third in fantasy points among running back behind only Foster and Peyton Hillis. He also hit the 13-point mark eight times in his 15 games in standard leagues, making him one of the more reliable players at his position. He'll be a first rounder in 2011.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants: One of the better draft values of the 2010 fantasy season, Bradshaw finished in the top 15 in fantasy points among running backs while having an average draft position (ADP) of Round 10 on NFL.com. He actually scored 13 or more points eight times in his first 13 games before slumping over the final three weeks (5.4 PPG). He'll back with the Giants in 2011, so Bradshaw is worth a second- or third-round choice in drafts.
Michael Turner, Falcons: One of the most productive running backs over the last three seasons, Turner continued to make a positive impact for fantasy owners in 2010 with close to 1,400 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also consistent based on our parameters, hitting the 13-point mark eight times. When Turner was bad, however, he was extremely bad. In fact, he averaged an awful 6.3 fantasy points in the eight games where he failed to hit our mark.
Peyton Hillis, Browns: Hillis was on pace to be one of the most consistent fantasy backs, hitting the 13-point mark seven times in his first 11 games. Unfortunately, he failed to scored double-digit points in each of his last five contests. Like Hillis, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Knowshon Moreno and Frank Gore also scored 13-plus points seven times. MJD, Moreno and Gore would have been better if not for injuries, though.
Cedric Benson, Bengals: Benson posted a respectable season from a statistical perspective, rushing for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he failed to hit our 13-point mark in 62.5 percent of his games (10 total). In those contests, Benson averaged an awful 5.83 points. Benson, who has re-signed with the Bengals and will remain their top backfield option, should be seen as a No. 2 fantasy runner in the majority of drafts.
Ray Rice, Ravens: Rice, a top-five pick in most 2010 drafts, scored just 32.3 fewer fantasy points compared to his 2009 totals. However, he was still far less reliable on a week-to-week basis. The Rutgers product reached our 13-point just six times all year. What's more, almost 30 percent of all his fantasy points came in just two games! Rice will remain a prominent draft pick in 2011, though, especially with the Ravens cutting ties with Willis McGahee.
Steven Jackson, Rams: Jackson played in a full 16 games for the first time since 2006, but he still failed to make the top 10 in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. He also didn't find the end zone on a regular basis, scoring just six times all year. To his credit, Jackson did score 12.00-12.70 fantasy points 10 different times, but that was still short of our guidelines -- Jackson hit the 13-point mark in just 31 percent of his games.