In this addition of fantasy football forecast I’m going to look at the top ten HB’s in fantasy football this year. I’ll also give you five surefire sleepers in the later rounds and the top ten combinations of halfbacks for leagues with two halfbacks or the HB/WR position. I’ll also in depth in the Oakland Raiders backfield and tell you what I think of their opportunity to put up some good numbers this year.
The top two halfbacks in the league are interchangeable for certain. You can’t really go wrong with either guy (unless you believe in the 2K curse).
- 1. Chris Johnson (TEN) – This guy broke off huge gainers all year last year, averaged 5.6 yards per carry, caught 50 passes and hit the endzone 16 times. He also ended the season with a streak of 11 straight 100 yard games despite the fact that teams were trying (unsuccessfully) to key on him. Johnson is young, so he’ll be good for a while with his speed and quickness.
- 2. Adrian Peterson (MIN) – These guys are likely to go one and two in almost every draft, so if you don’t have one of those picks, we’ll get to you in a second. Peterson is the model of consistency from 2007-2009 as the only runner in the top five in fantasy points all three seasons, but his highest total touchdown mark and most receptions in a season both came in 2009. Toby Gerhart will take more of a load off his shoulders than Chester Taylor, which will ultimately help his already high ypc average.
- 3. Ray Rice (BAL)– Yeah, Hue Jackson left, but he was not the OC in Baltimore, that job belongs to Cam Cameron, the same guy that made L.T. one of the most dominant backs in the league in his prime. Now Cam has a new toy, and this one might be an improved version of the old one so be glad he is not in the AFC West this time. I expect Rice to lead the league in rushing this year, but Willis McGahee stole 12 TD’s from him last year and he is back in 2010.
- 4. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) – You would think he’s old since it seems like he’s been around so long, but he’s only 25. Last year was the first time he ever carried the ball more than 200 times in a season, and he responded with 1,383 yards and 15 rushing TD’s (second only to A.P.). He’s only the size on a big pee-wee player, but tremendous skill and heart will keep him in the top five for halfbacks this year, even though it might be a crummy offense around him.
- 5. Michael Turner (ATL) – 370-plus carries in 2008 gave him a high ankle sprain early in 2009, but this guy is talented and it was not a knee injury. Light duty in 2009 will allow him to become a beast again in 2010. Even in 2009, he was still a beast in short yardage scoring 10 rushing touchdowns in just nine games played. He’s not much of a third down back or a receiver, but you cannot deny his first and second down prowess. He might never get back to 2008 form, but I expect him to play a full season this year…barring injury.
- 6. Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) – I liked him even when he was in college at Illinois and last year he began to show the league what he is made of. With Big Ben out early in the year, there will be plenty of pressure applied to the Pittsburgh running game. I expect them to capture the moment as this is historically one of the best rushing teams in the league. Mendenhall is their kind of back too at 5’10” 225 pounds he fits their criteria to be successful in that system.
- 7. Steven Jackson (STL) – I know, the Rams are sad and pathetic since Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz left, but Steven Jackson is their ray of hope, even when it looks really bad he still puts up the second highest rushing yards in the league with his 1,416. His biggest weakness is he doesn’t find the endzone all that often with only 6, 8, and 4 total touchdowns over the last three years. He sure does have good hands though.
- 8. Shonn Greene (NYJ) – Many are expecting a breakout season for this second year back and I am not going to argue. Behind a line with four first round picks and three Pro Bowlers where he is about to be the main man, how could I? If you miss out on the top five of this list, this may be your best bet in the second round. Last year the Jets ran over 600 times and ended up in the AFC Championship game. If he can avoid the injury bug, this guy will keep L.T. on the sidelines until third-and-long situations.
- 9. Frank Gore (SF) – You’ve got to like the way Frank Gore has put the 49ers on his back during their time of trying to find the right QB. With three straight 1,000 yard seasons and 13 TD’s in 2009, I like Gore and I think he may actually have help this year from the 2006 first overall pick, Alex Smith. Having Michael Crabtree and a productive Vernon Davis won’t hurt very much either. However, Gore hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2006, so buyer-beware.
- 10. Cedric Benson (CIN) – Yeah I know he got arrested and he’ll probably miss a couple of games, but talk about revitalizing your career. Too bad for you if you thought he struck out. Carson Palmer controls the passing game in Cincinnati; perhaps that is what was missing from Chicago. Through the first 8 games of 2009, Benson was over 100 yards per game with six TD’s. Then he hurt his hip and never scored again. But Cincy has helped their offensive line get better this offseason, so I’d expect Benson to climb the ladder to a repeat playoff performance with his new ORANGE team again this year.
So those are the top ten individual backs, but this is the day of the tandem tailbacks. Teams with two and sometimes more halfbacks are becoming the thing of the modern NFL. Some would say you need two backs in this league if you want your running game to stay on stable ground and try to avoid the injury rigors of having a lone back with 370-plus carries, a la Michael Turner in 2008. So who are the top-ten rushing combo’s in the NFL? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you.
- 1. Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams (CAR) – No matter what the Panthers record looks like at the end of the year, one thing is for certain, their two tailbacks will have a ton of carries, yards, and touchdowns between them. Combined, the tandem outrushed Chris Johnson by 244 yards and topped his rushing touchdowns by three. Expect more of the same from them this year as Johnson likely faces a drop off.
- 2. Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams (MIA) – Yeah, okay, I know Ricky Williams is getting up there in age and Brown is coming off an un-intreguing foot injury, but the wildcat has found its home in the NFL and it resides in Miami. Including CJ2K, only six runners have eclipsed 2,000 yards in a season in the history of the league. But including Ricky Williams in 2009, only four have broke the 1,000 yard mark after the age of 32. Williams walloped it with 1,121 and added 13 total touchdowns with the absence of Brown in 2009. Granted most tailbacks don’t do well with foot problems, but I think Brown is a special athlete and I don’t think he is done quite yet.
- 3. Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush (NO) – Reggie Bush showed his raw heart and passion to the world in the Saints playoff run to the Super Bowl. Thomas averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year, and both backs are about to hit the prime of their careers. The passing offense is dangerous and the running backs are getting better with experience. Watch out NFL, the Saints might just repeat. This tandem combined for 16 total touchdowns last year and I expect that number to increase this year.
- 4. Thomas Jones/Jamaal Charles (KC) – I know, Raiders site, but I have to be unbiased. I can’t be feeding people wrong information. Look, their line isn’t anything to write home about, but Charles was outstanding running behind it in the last eight games last year, racking up 968 yards and seven touchdowns. It appears the Jets cut ties with Jones too early, because his numbers keep going up and up and up. The two combined for 22 touchdowns last year, but Jones is no longer behind the best line in the NFL, so expect those numbers to take a hit. Still, they should be a good tandem especially since they play the Raiders twice…Ouch!
- 5. Felix Jones/Marion Barber/Tashard Choice (DAL) – If you can only take two, take the first two, as Choice saw only a handful of touches in 2009. But Jones and Barber combined for 1,957 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009. Expect Jones and Barber to split carries in 2010, and Barber will likely be the goal line go-to-guy. But you better keep Choice on the call waiting in case of injury.
- 6. Darren McFadden/Michael Bush (OAK) – Finally. The arrivals of new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, and new/improved quarterback, Jason Campbell, should help this dynamic duo get in gear in 2010. This could go two different ways A) the guy who gets the most money gets the most carries, or B) The Raiders realize that Bush is as good as Raider Nation thinks he is and he gets the majority of the first and second down touches. In Bush’s two seasons in Oakland he has rushed his way to 4.6 yards per carry average. And in the five games he has had more than 15 touches he has averaged 134.8 yards from scrimmage. If Hue and Tom Cable are smart (I think they are) and they want to win (I think they do) then they will do what is best for the team (I think they will) regardless of who has the nicer car in their garage. But McFadden will be a very complimentary compliment to Bush. I think it is safe (mildly low) to assume the duo will combine for 1,500 yards on the ground, add ten touchdowns, and McFadden will be a good receiving threat inside the 20’s.
- 7. Chris “Beanie” Wells/Tim Hightower (ARI) – Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt would like to keep assaulting his opponents via their air game, but minus Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, this task is easier said than done. Wells scored six times in the final eight games of 2009 en route to a decent 793 yards as a rookie. Hightower had the same amount of carries in back-to-back years but manage to out-do himself by 199 yards the second time around. In the last two years Hightower has hit the endzone 18 times on the ground. With Matt Leinart going through growing pains, the Cardinals will rely on the ground game and I expect this combo to deliver.
- 8. Fred Jackson/Marshawn Lynch/C.J. Spiller (BUF) – Lynch was a monster in his first two years as the primary option for Buffalo. He looked untackleable (yes I made that up) at times. But last year he found himself facing an early three game suspension and had to take a back seat to Fred Jackson. This year the Bills added C.J. Spiller, the blazer from Clemson. I don’t know what they plan on doing with all of these guys, but they sure do look dangerous on paper.
- 9. Brandon Jacobs/Ahmed Bradshaw (NYG) – The Giants have a good O-Line that was banged up last year, but they are expected to be back for 2010. Eli Manning did a good job of developing his young wide receivers in the absence of Plaxico Burress and the Giants are one of those teams with the historically good ground game. The trouble for this team is going to be trying to decide which back is going to be featured and which one will be his compliment. Jacobs is getting up there in age and he has had injury issues. Bradshaw wound up with stress fractures in both feet and bone spurs in his ankle. This is a risk/reward combo.
- 10. Kevin Smith/Jhavid Best (DET) – Not since the retirement of Barry Sanders has the Lions backfield held so much promise. Best is a burner who should be very good inside on the turf at Ford Field and could get some extra time (and touchdowns) in the return game. Kevin Smith is a real good number two option in single back leagues if he hadn’t tore his ACL in week 14 of the 2009 season. The two backs should do well together if they can avoid injuries, even if the Lions Line is not all that.
I’ll keep the end short and sweet. There is already a lot of info in this piece. As promised, here are the top five sure-fire sleepers for the 2010 season:
- 1. Matt Forte (CHI) – How do you go from being a top five HB to a sleeper—easy—Injure a hammy and sprain your MCL early in the year. He should be back this year with Chester Taylor as a viable helper.
- 2. Jerome Harrison/Montario Hardesty (CLE) – Here is a good sleeper combo. Harrison quietly registered a decent season last year. Hardesty is a rookie with upside on a team that quietly became a sleeper for a playoff spot in 2010 late last year.
- 3. Donald Brown (IND) – Is it just me or does it seem like Joseph Addai isn’t the back that he was all cracked up to be? Brown has potential, but he has to prove he can pass block. If he is there in the tenth round, grab him.
- 4. Justin Forsett (SEA) – In the four games he got double digit carries in 2009, Forsett averaged at least five ypc. LenDale White took an early exit this year and I think Forsett was part of that decision.
- 5. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (TB) – The Bucs might be on to something with the Josh Freeman show. The team is going to a power blocking scheme and last year Caddy actually played the whole season as a starter. He averaged nearly four ypc, a number that will increase if the passing game stabilizes.
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