Never too early to preview the upcoming fantasy football season.
Coming off a record-breaking season--in just his second season in the league--Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson seems to be the premier back in a majority of leagues, taking the reins from former No. 1 fantasy player Adrian Peterson.
Obviously this is a matter of opinion, but in my eyes Johnson's 2,000-yard campaign is enough to gain him the title.
Johnson was well in the running for Rookie of the Year back in 2008 after racking up 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Before the 2009 season many networks/magazines projected Johnson as a first-round fantasy pick. His 2,000 yards and 14 TDs may put him over top of AP, who struggled early on (only ran for 100+ yards three times during season) and finished with 1,383 rushing yards.
Peterson still has the TD numbers--led league with 18 in 2009--to keep him in the top two or three picks. But Peterson has also hurt his stock with fumbles in key moments, which may not sound like it affects him fantasy-wise too much (unless your league loses points for fumbles), but it does take away yards and TDs.
Tennessee and Minnesota's current situations play a big impact in this discussion as well. Obviously who knows what will happen with Favre in Minnesota, but my gut says he returns. Favre took carries away from Peterson last year and, if he returns, will take more away from him this year.
In his 10 starts last season, the Titans were 7-1 when Young attempted 30 or less passes. He threw 40+ passes twice, going 1-1 in those two games. As you can see, Vince Young is more affective when he has less control over the offense.
Johnson, 24, has opened the gates for many other young speedsters and, with his open-field ability, is a huge boost in the passing game as well (10.1 Y/R on 50 receptions).
Luckily for fantasy owners, the RB class past Johnson and Peterson is nothing to shake a stick at.
Just this past season we witnessed 15 runners break 1,000 yards on the ground and 12 runners post double-digit touchdown totals.
One back by the name of Ray Rice had a huge breakout season with the Baltimore Ravens, making plays in both the ground game and pass game.
Rice was the ninth-leading rusher with 1,339 yards (5.3 YCP) while leading all running backs with 78 receptions (ninth-best among all skill players) and 702 receiving yards. This type of versatility is a major blessing for fantasy owners.
Rice will no doubt be a first round pick in all leagues this season, but may see his receiving numbers take a hit considering Flacco now has new targets in Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. But on the flip-side, Rice should see his 254 carries go up a little bit.
Best of the Rest:
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Much like Rice, MJD (another little guy) is a huge threat in both offensive aspects, the ground and air. His play-making ability and toughness has easily gotten him double-digit TD totals in three of his four NFL seasons. Expect another 1,200-1,400 yard, 15-16 TD season from this guy.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
St. Louis' leading rusher (and leader in receptions), has the ability to put up double-digit TD totals despite his four touchdown performance last year. With rookie Sam Bradford under center, no doubt Jackson will see the ball enough to break 1,400 yards as long as he's healthy.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Gore finally broke double-digit TDs last season with 10, and completed his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season. With a quarterback controversy continuing to linger in San Fran, Gore will continue to get his carries. This will also means quite a few red zone touches, possibly bringing in even more TDs for him this season. Consistency has been the 27-year old's biggest upside
On the Rise:
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
If you don't know my reasons by now then you obviously haven't been reading the article very closely...see above.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
He's approaching 30, but Benson's somewhat questionable career took a major turn for the good when he rolled in to Cincinnati in 2008. Breaking 300 carries for the first time in his career, Benson ran for a career-high 1,251 yards and six TDs last season. Benson has taken the pressure off the offense, especially since quarterback Carson Palmer hasn't always been 100% healthy.
Look for a second 1,000 yard season and possibly double-digit TD figures this season.
On the Decline:
Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Because of this off-season acquisition, Kansas City has one of the top backfield tandems with Jones and Jamaal Charles. But this doesn't take away the fact that Jones' production will never be quite the same because of his combination of age and downgrade in offensive support, going from New York to Kansas City. I would expect him to be a solid addition and a third down back but nothing more.
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts
With Donald Brown's presence, I expect Indy to look towards the second-year back a little bit more than his 78 attempts last season. This just puts more pressure on Addai to perform (3.8 YPC last season), who has really only been a force in the red zone (10 TD runs).
Best Backfield tandems:
Carolina, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
Both backs averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry last season (1,100+ rushing yards each), and Stewart put up 10 TDs..Williams totaled seven on the ground. Possibly by far the best tandem in the league and the only reason why Carolina was somewhat of a contender.
Miami, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams
Slick Rick rejuvenated his career with his first 1,000 yard season since 2003. He stepped up and ran for 1,121 yards and 11 TDs in just seven starts, stepping his game up when Ronnie Brown battled with injury. Despite missing time, Brown did add in 8 TD runs and played a prominent role in the team's wildcat formation.
Kansas City, Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles
In just his second season, Charles ran for a team-high 1,120 yards and became the only player in league history to rush for 1,100 yards in 200 carries or less (league-high 5.9 YPC in his 10 starts). Jones' 1,400 yards on the ground with the New York Jets is a huge addition and will give Kansas City a solid third down back.
In the NFL, anything can happen. So who knows, maybe we will witness another 2,000 yard rushing season. Or maybe guys like Matt Forte and Steve Slaton will return to their 2008 form. Time will only tell.
Next Edition: quarterbacks