Ultimate Fantasy Football Strategy – Top 10 RBs Based on Historical Trends



Predicting the Top 10 Running Backs Based on Historical Trends

We decided to look at past seasons to try and predict which players will finish in the top ten and where the top ten in pre-season rankings will end up at the end of season. As mentioned in the first article on quarterbacks, this is more of a fun article that will likely make us look foolish at the end of the season and we do not recommend drafting based on this but it offers a different perspective and hopefully will make everyone understand that there are no sure things in the NFL. In the second article of this series of three we will look at the running back position.

Where does the pre-season top 10 end up?

Pre-season ranking (ADP) End of season ranking
1 to 5 6 to 10 11 to 15 16 to 20 21 to 30 31 and up
1 to 5 2.2 1.0 0.4 0.8 0 0.6
6 to 10 0.8 1.0 0.8 1.0 0.4 1.0

2008 top 5 pre-season running backs:
LaDainian Tomlinson
Adrian Peterson
Brian Westbrook
Joseph Addai
Steven Jackson

Will remain in the top five:
Our Prediction: LaDainian Tomlinson and Joseph Addai

This may seem like a very hard choice but the hard decision was only between two guys. It is impossible to go against LaDainian Tomlinson who has been a top five running back for six consecutive seasons and although there is never anything certain, you cannot go against Tomlinson. The choice between Westbrook and Addai is a difficult one but we went with Addai simply because he is a safer option to be a top five back. Westbrook has more upside but he is also more of an injury concern and if you told us right now that only one of those two will be a top five back in 2008 then my money would be on Addai.

Will finish in the 6 to 10 range:
Our Prediction: Brian Westbrook

As good as Adrian Peterson was last season, there are too many question marks about him and we would not be surprised at all if he finished outside the top ten. Westbrook may miss some games with injuries but in five NFL seasons he has always played between 12 and 15 NFL games and even if he plays only 12, Westbrook will be a top ten running back at the end of the season

Will finish outside the top 10:
Our Prediction: Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson

In the past four seasons, eight running backs who were ranked in the top five before the season started finished outside the top ten and one in each of the last three seasons finished outside the top thirty. Although Adrian Peterson was very impressive last season, there are a ton of expectations for him and we feel he will not be able to live up to them. We saw late last season he had some very difficult games, he had injury problems in college and last season as well and the Vikings will also have to deal with the loss of Tony Richardson and the possible suspension of McKinnie. Steven Jackson is also a very talented back but the Rams offense struggled last season and it is very rare that running backs can bounce back after such difficult years. The Rams offense is very dependent on the health of Orlando Pace and he has only played nine games in the past two years.

2008 pre-season 6 to 10 running backs:
Marion Barber
Frank Gore
Larry Johnson
Ryan Grant
Clinton Portis

Will move into the top 5:
Our Prediction: Ryan Grant
As much as we love Clinton Portis this year and have him ranked at number five in our rankings, he is not the most likely to finish in the top five. He is a very good selection because he is a very safe pick to finish in the top ten but does not have as much upside as some of these other players. It was a tough decision between Marion Barber and Ryan Grant but we went with Grant because he showed last season in the last eight games of the season that he could be a top five back. Barber is extremely talented but Felix Jones will also get some carries and it is hard to predict that a back that only had 204 carries last season will finish in the top five.

Will remain in the 6 to 10 range:
Our Prediction: Clinton Portis
Portis is the obvious choice here since he has been a top ten back in five of his six NFL seasons and he is still only 27 years of age. He is a safe pick and managed to put up very impressive numbers last season with an injury-filled offensive line.

Will finish in the 11 to 15 range:
Our Prediction: Marion Barber
Barber had 242 fantasy points in a point per reception league last season while carrying the ball only 204 times. His carries will increase and although we feel he could easily finish in the top ten, the last time three running backs ranked in the six to ten range finished the year in the top ten was 2004. No one knows how Barber will be able to handle the role of starting running back and he is also not a safe bet to have 280 to 300 carries like Grant and Portis are because the Cowboys drafted Felix Jones.

Will finish outside the top 15:
Our Prediction: Frank Gore and Larry Johnson
As we mention many times in some of our other articles, running backs between six and ten are very risky picks and in the past three seasons especially, where 10 of the 15 running backs finished outside the top 15 including 5 that finished outside the top 30. The 2003 and 2004 seasons were a little better but they still remain very high risk picks and the two highest risk guys in this group this year are Larry Johnson and Frank Gore. Both of these have bad offensive lines in run blocking, had disappointing seasons last year and the San Francisco offense will be lead by Martz whose running backs have typically carried the ball 60 to 70 times less than before he arrived and after he left. We have these two players ranked much lower than most sites and they are the most likely to finish outside the top 15.


Where was the top 10 drafted?

End of season ranking Pre-season ranking (ADP)
1 to 5 6 to 10 11 to 15 16 to 20 21 to 30 31 and up
1 to 5 2.2 0.8 0.8 0.6 0.6 0
6 to 10 1.0 1.0 1.2 0.6 0.4 0.8

Will finish in the top five:
Three of them as we mentioned previously should come from the pre-season top ten and we believe those will be Tomlinson, Addai and Grant which leaves one from the 11 to 15 range and one from outside the top 15. The choices in the 11 to 15 range are Lynch, McGahee, Maroney, Jacobs and Lewis. We ruled out Maroney and Jacobs because both are ranked much lower on our list and were not very involved in their team’s passing game last season which makes them unlikely to be top five candidates in point per reception leagues. Jamal Lewis did finish sixth last season but in most years his points total would have been barely enough to make him a top ten running backs and we do not think he can improve much over last year. It was a tough decision between Lynch and McGahee but we chose McGahee because of the x-factor that Cam Cameron brings. The Ravens line is slightly better than it was last season in run blocking and we all know how much of an impact Cameron had on Ronnie Brown last season so we believe he could make McGahee a top five fantasy running back. The other back is likely to come from the 16 to 30 range like six backs have in the past four seasons. Amongst our favorites are Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush and Earnest Graham. We have Jones-Drew ranked higher than the other two in our rankings but with Taylor in the mix he does not have that much upside. Reggie Bush may have to share carries with McAllister but Bush showed in the second half of the 2006 season that he could be a top running back even when sharing carries and he is a big receiving threat so could very well be a top five back in PPR leagues.
Our Prediction: L. Tomlinson, J. Addai, R. Grant, W. McGahee, R. Bush

Will finish in the 6 to 10 range:
Two of them as we mentioned previously could come from the pre-season top ten and we believe those would be Westbrook and Portis. Our favorite from the 11 to 15 range, for the reasons mentioned above, is Marshawn Lynch. In the 16 to 30 range the decision is very difficult between Maurice Jones-Drew and Earnest Graham. Graham certainly has a better chance of being in the top five than Jones-Drew because the Buccaneers will not hesitate to give him the ball 25 times a game which is not the case for Jones-Drew. However, Jones-Drew has shown over the past two seasons that he can be a solid fantasy running back with limited carries and he will likely see the ball more times this year with Fred Taylor being now 32 years old. From outside the top 30, it is very difficult to predict which running back can move into the top ten because often it is because of injuries that a player will be a surprise. For now, our favorite is by far Selvin Young whose current average draft position is 31. He is being drafted so low because it is always a puzzle to figure out who will be the starting running back in Denver but Young is very talented and will have a very good offensive line if Nalen and Hamilton are healthy.
Our Prediction: B. Westbrook, C. Portis, M. Lynch, M. Jones-Drew, S. Young