Running backs are very likely to litter the first and second rounds of fantasy drafts, but the position isn't as valuable as it's been in the past. In a time when backfield committees are more prominent than ever around the league, it's become more difficult to gauge who will see carries on a week-to-week basis. As a result, it's more important than ever to know which backs are slated to start, whose value has risen or fallen, and who will serve fantasy owners best as potential handcuffs. Here's our look at the backfield situations for all 32 teams.
The Cardinals are expected to run the ball more often in the wake of Kurt Warner's retirement, so Beanie Wells is a great sleeper candidate. He showed flashes of potential late in his rookie season and should see an even greater role in the offense. In fact, Wells has high-end No. 2 fantasy back upside. Tim Hightower is also in the mix, but he'll have more value in leagues that reward points for receptions. Of course, his value would increase if he opened the season still atop the team's depth chart.
The dreaded "Curse of 370" victimized Michael Turner last season, as he missed five games and fell far short of his impressive 2008 totals. Now 100 percent, the Burner should re-claim his status as one of the better running backs in fantasy football. He has a favorable slate of games and should be fresh off seeing just 178 carries in 2009, so consider him a first-round lock in most fantasy drafts. Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling will battle for the right to be second on the depth chart in training camp.
A preseason sleeper on NFL.com, Ray Rice exceeded expectations and finished fourth in fantasy points at his position in 2009. The versatile runner out of Rutgers is now a viable top-five pick with added value in leagues that reward points for catches. The presence of Willis McGahee as the team's goal-line back does hurt Rice's value a bit, but it's hard to look past his overall numbers. As for McGahee, he's a tremendous handcuff for owners who draft Rice and should be seen as a low middle-round pick on draft day.
The Bills could have the most frustrating backfield committee in the entire league in 2010. C.J. Spiller will no doubt see plenty of touches and could even open as the team's starter with Fred Jackson (hand) possibly out for Week 1. With former 1,000-yard rusher Marshawn Lynch also in the mix, this potential three-headed monster could be a constant headache for fantasy owners. Spiller has the most draft value and will be hard to keep off the field, though, so he's the runner to target in all leagues.
The Panthers field the most attractive backfield committee in the league, at least from a fantasy perspective. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both rushed for over 1,100 yards last season, and each back has the tools to be a fantasy star. Williams is still the more valuable of the two runners and should see slightly more carries than his younger counterpart, but Stewart's tools and nose for the end zone make him an attractive option as well. In what will be a run-based offense, both players should productive.
Matt Forte might have been the biggest disappointment in fantasy football last season, and his prospects for 2010 took a major hit when the Bears added Chester Taylor. A backfield committee now seems imminent, so neither back should be leaned on for consistent production. The fact that Mike Martz will be calling the shots will increase their value in PPR formats, but neither Forte nor Taylor will post consistent totals on a weekly basis. Kahlil Bell will be third on the depth chart, but he has no draft value.
Despite the fact that he missed three games, Cedric Benson still posted a career-best 1,251 rushing yards last season. One of the true featured backs left in the league, he should post even better numbers in 2010 as the Bengals continue to lean on the run. In fact, Benson could contend for a rushing title if he avoids injuries. He's a low-end No. 1 fantasy option across the board. Bernard Scott, who showed flashes of potential as a rookie, will be worth a late-round handcuff pick for owners who land Benson in drafts.
Jerome Harrison was a hero for countless fantasy leaguers last season, but it's hard to envision a scenario where he'll continue to put up big numbers in 2010. Not only does he have one of the toughest schedules among running backs, but Harrison is also destined to lose carries to Peyton Hillis. His stock did improve when the Browns lost rookie Montario Hardesty, however, so Harrison does have middle-round value. Overall, fantasy leagues should expect some sort of backfield committee.
Marion Barber appears to be the favorite to start, but Felix Jones has a ton of sleeper value in 2010. However, he's had injury woes in the past and won't be a true featured back with Barber and Tashard Choice also in the mix. Barber, once a fantasy star, still has middle-round value as the favorite to see goal-line work in the rotation. He could be undervalued in drafts. If you do target a Cowboys back, though, Jones is the one to grab.
Knowshon Moreno will enter the 2010 season as a potential breakout candidate. With one season of NFL experience under his belt and a very favorable schedule ahead of him, the Georgia product will be worth as much as a second-round pick. He won't be a true featured back, as coach Josh McDaniels still plans on using Correll Buckhalter out of the backfield. But Moreno has far more upside and should see more touches as the season wears on. Buckhalter will be his clear-cut fantasy handcuff. Lance Ball is third on the depth chart.
The Kevin Smith era appears to be over, as the Lions selected Jahvid Best in the first round of the NFL Draft. The rookie has a ton of playmaking skills and could be an explosive option for coach Jim Schwartz and fantasy owners alike. Look for Best to come off the board in the earlier rounds as a No. 2 fantasy back. Smith, who is coming off ACL surgery, will see carries upon his return but is far less attractive in drafts. Maurice Morris could see more work if Smith is limited or out entering the season.
Ryan Grant is coming off his best statistical season, rushing for career bests in yards (1,253) and touchdowns (11). One of the few featured backs left in the league, Grant has added value in fantasy leagues because he's not in danger of losing carries to Brandon Jackson or rookie James Starks. In an offense that should be one of the NFL's most explosive units, Grant should be considered a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy back in drafts. Expect Starks to push Jackson for the second spot on the depth chart in camp.
The loss of Ben Tate (ankle) for the season makes Arian Foster a major sleeper in fantasy circles. He's now the unquestioned starter for coach Gary Kubiak and will be worth a high middle-round draft pick. He could be as much as a No. 2 fantasy back this season. Steve Slaton will also see time in the backfield rotation, but he's more of a No. 4 fantasy runner in most leagues. However, the versatile Slaton does have flex-starter value in leagues that reward points for receptions.
Despite the presence of Donald Brown, Joseph Addai was still able to retain his starting role and thrived for fantasy owners. Though he failed to rush for 1,000 yards, the veteran back did finish ninth in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. He should retain the top spot on the depth chart in 2010, though Brown should have a chance to see more work in his sophomore season. Look for Addai to be a No. 2 fantasy back, with Brown coming off the board in the low middle-round as a handcuff with some upside.
The Jaguars appear set to give Maurice Jones-Drew another heavy workload, so the man nicknamed "Pocket Hercules" will remain a top-five pick in most drafts. He thrived in a featured role last season, posting impressive numbers across the board including career bests in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Jones-Drew could be at risk to break down, but it's hard to look past his statistical success and a rare featured role. Rashard Jennings and rookie Deji Karim will battle for the second spot on the depth chart during camp.
A 2009 preseason super sleeper on NFL.com, Jamaal Charles exceeded expectations and produced some of the best fantasy numbers at his position down the stretch. Now the No. 1 back for coach Todd Haley, Charles is worth a first- or second-round pick in drafts. His statistical ceiling was lowered with the offseason addition of Thomas Jones, but Charles should still see more backfield touches overall. The fact that he has a very favorable schedule just makes the versatile runner that much more attractive in drafts.
Ronnie Brown was on his way to having a solid 2009 season, but an injured foot cost him the final seven games. Ricky Williams was a fantasy beast in his absence, however, rushing for a total of 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barring a setback in his recovery, Brown should re-claim the top spot on the depth chart but will lose his share of carries to Williams. The fact that he has suffered major injuries in two of the last years makes Brown a risk-reward No. 2 fantasy back in the low middle rounds.
The offseason loss of Taylor opens the door for Adrian Peterson to have even more value from a fantasy perspective. The superstar runner should now see more work on third downs, which means more opportunities to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. As a result, Peterson could push 50 catches and post a career best in scrimmage yards in 2010. He'll remain a top-three pick in most drafts. Rookie Toby Gerhart will see some work, but he's still little more than a late-round handcuff for Peterson owners.
The Patriots backfield will be one of the most difficult to decipher in fantasy football this season. Laurence Maroney remains the most valuable runner, but his proneness to fumbles last season is cause for concern. Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor are also in the mix for carries, and the team re-signed Kevin Faulk to resume his third-down role. Morris could be the best draft value of the four backs, but he's not getting any younger and has lacked durability. Owners shouldn't expect to lean on any of these players.
The Saints backfield will be a two-headed committee monster in 2010. Pierre Thomas will remain the early-down back, and he's now the favorite to see goal-line work with Lynell Hamilton out for the season. However, Reggie Bush will also see time in that role at times, to go along with his passing-down duties. Thomas is the most attractive choice in drafts and is worth as much as a third-round pick, with Bush having more value in PPR formats. Chris Ivory won't have draft appeal.
Brandon Jacobs was a massive disappointment for fantasy leaguers last season, failing to rush for 1,000-plus yards for the first time since 2006. It did come out that he played with a bum knee for most of the year, however, so Jacobs should be better in the 2010 campaign. Still, his proneness to injuries and the emergence of Ahmad Bradshaw makes him a risk-reward No. 2 fantasy back at best. Bradshaw, a far more versatile player, has flex-starter value and will be worth a low middle-round look on draft day.
Shonn Greene made a major impact for the Jets during their postseason run, and he'll take over the starting role despite the addition of LaDainian Tomlinson. In what will remain a run-based offense, Greene should see 300 carries and is a definite breakout candidate in fantasy circles. As for Tomlinson, he's past his prime at the age of 31 and won't be more than a potential middle-round flex starter in most leagues. Rookie Joe McKnight is also in the mix, but he'll struggle to make much of an impact this season.
The offseason release of Justin Fargas opens the door for Michael Bush and Darren McFadden to see a more prominent role in the team's backfield. While he is talented, injuries and a porous offense have made McFadden a major disappointment in fantasy circles. The risk is evident, but the potential for a featured spot makes him worth a middle-round pick on draft day. Should McFadden falter once again, Bush could turn into one of the better bargains in fantasy circles. He's someone to target in the middle to late rounds.
Former fantasy star Brian Westbrook is out of the mix, and in his place is potential breakout candidate LeSean McCoy. Much a Westbrook clone from an overall skills standpoint, the second-year back should post 50-plus catches and 1,200-1,400 scrimmage yards in the pass-laden offense of coach Andy Reid. That alone makes him a viable No. 2 fantasy back with added value in PPR leagues. Bell left the Saints and will be McCoy's handcuff, though he'll have late-round value if he earns goal-line work during training camp.
Rashard Mendenhall has a ton of breakout potential in 2010. With Willie Parker now in Washington, Mendenhall is the clear-cut featured back in a Steelers offense that will run the ball more often. A viable first-round pick in larger leagues, this talented runner should be a star in fantasy circles. Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redman and rookie Jonathan Dwyer will be the favorites to back up Mendenhall, though his handcuff might not be known until Week 1. If Redman or Dwyer earns some goal-line work, they'll have late-round appeal in drafts.
The Rams depth chart at the running back position begins and ends with Steven Jackson. The talented runner has the tools to put up good numbers, and this season he'll have the advantage of a favorable schedule and what should be an improved offense with rookie Sam Bradford at the helm. There is some risk with Jackson, however, as he's coming off minor back surgery and isn't the most durable player in the world. Still, he'll be worth a first-round pick in drafts. Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby are behind him.
For the first time in what seems like forever, Tomlinson won't be atop the Chargers depth chart. In his place, rookie Ryan Mathews takes over as the featured back. Coach Norv Turner's offensive attacks have helped the likes of Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan and Frank Gore have huge fantasy seasons in the past, so Mathews is in a great place to succeed. He'll be worth as much as a second-round pick in seasonal drafts. Darren Sproles will continue to serve in a complementary role and has low middle-round appeal.
The 49ers added Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in the NFL Draft to strengthen the offensive line, which is great news for the value of Gore. The veteran also has a favorable schedule ahead and should post his best numbers since he played under Turner in 2006. He'll be a first-round lock in all drafts with added value in PPR leagues. Behind Gore, either Brian Westbrook or Anthony Dixon is likely to be second on the depth chart after the retirement of Glen Coffee.
The Seahawks backfield will have a new look this season. The release of LenDale White makes Justin Forsett the favorite to start and a nice sleeper in fantasy circles. He showed potential during the 2009 season and now has flex-starter value in most leagues. The team also has Leon Washington, who was added in a trade, to contribute out of the backfield. He has late-round appeal, barring a setbacks in his return from an injured leg. Julius Jones is also in the mix, but he's the least attractive option.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2009 fantasy season was the re-emergence of Cadillac Williams, who came off his second serious knee ailment and still led the team in rushing yards. He also finished 24th in fantasy points at his position on NFL.com, so his stock for 2010 drafts is on the rise. While injuries are still a cause for some concern, Williams does have flex-starter value. Rookie Kareem Huggins is second on the depth chart after the release of Derrick Ward. He has late-round appeal.
The Titans offense begins and ends with Chris Johnson, who led all players in fantasy points last season. The consensus No. 1 pick in 2010 drafts, C.J. is an explosive dual threat with the tools to put your fantasy team on his shoulders and lead it to a league championship. The depth chart behind Johnson includes Javon Ringer, who looks like the favorite handcuff after the trade of White. The team also signed undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount, but he has much to prove before warranting fantasy consideration.
The Redskins backfield is a virtual junkyard of broken-down, former fantasy superstars. Clinton Portis remains the favorite to start, but injuries have become a major issue for the overworked runner. He's a major risk, even as a flex starter. Behind Portis are Larry Johnson and Parker, who will also be competing for carries during camp. L.J. did show some flashes of his old self with the Bengals, but like Portis, he's past his prime. It's better to let someone else deal with this imminent fantasy headache.