It’s probably too early to start ranking players, but is it ever too early to rank players? Did I just blow your mind? I hope so.
In the table below you’ll find my initial (a.k.a. way too early) RB rankings for the 2011 season, assuming we have one. For each player, I’ll list their strength of schedule (SOS), their 2010 points per game output adjusted for the 2011 SOS (i.e. if their 2010 performance was translated to their 2011 SOS) and their straight two-year average (schedule bias not removed). Keep in mind these aren’t actual projections, just additional info and the order that I’d draft these players given what we know now. Things will change as some of these free agents (hopefully) find homes for the season.
– As far as the studs are concerned, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson all project to have easier schedules in 2011. QB play is a giant concern for both Johnson and Peterson, so we’ll keep an eye on that this summer. Christian Ponder may be the starter in Minnesota, while the Titans may bring in a veteran to hold down the fort while Jake Locker develops. Both players need a capable QB to keep defenses honest.
– LeSean McCoy is not just a force in PPR leagues. He finished RB5 in adjusted PPG in standard leagues, and I think he has a good shot at finishing in the Top 5 again in 2011. Jamaal Charles is arguably the better RB, but his schedule projects to be almost 11% tougher this season. I still think he’s a great RB1, but I favor McCoy a bit more at this point.
– While I like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, they have the toughest schedules of any of the top 15 RBs. Rice’s SOS is about 5% worse while MJD’s is almost 8% tougher. They’ll still be workhorses for their respective teams and solid RB1s for fantasy owners, but if my initial SOS bears out, they may find the going difficult most weeks.
– As usual, it looks like fantasy owners picking near the end of the first round will be able to snag a couple of solid if unspectacular RBs. Darren McFadden is the most explosive RB available at the end of the first round, but his injury history will keep him from being a Top 6 selection on draft day. Still, if he plays 15-16 games, he has a great shot to finish in the Top 5. Matt Forte, Rashard “The Truther” Mendenhall, Michael Turner, Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis and Steven Jackson should all be solid picks late in the first two rounds. Regarding Hillis, Montario Hardesty will eat into his touches, but Hillis is the better overall back right now and should be dangerous as a pass-catcher in Cleveland’s West Coast Offense. His workload will be lightened, but he should be able to be more productive with the touches he does get.
– Jonathan Stewart’s current ranking reflects the possibility that DeAngelo Williams is still in Carolina (booooo!) when the free agency dust finally settles. If Stewart is the RB1 for the Panthers, I’d probably have him at RB15 or RB16; if he’s still playing second-fiddle, then his value would fall in to the 30′s. Fantasy owners everywhere are hoping that Williams lands somewhere where he’s needed. Free the Daily Show already!
– Just when you think you can pinpoint the value of a Patriot RB, the backfield is once again a mess thanks to New England’s selection of Shane Vereen in the draft. He’s a smallish back, but can run between the tackles, which threatens Danny Woodhead as much as BenJarvus Green-Ellis. We’re going to have to wait for the Patriot beat reporters to dig into the team’s plans for this group, but it smells like a classic New England RBBC and that’s not good for Woody or the Law Firm.
– I expect Ryan Williams will start for the Cardinals, but he’s no sure thing. He’ll need to get his pass protections down if he’s going to fend Tim Hightower off for third-down back duty. Then there’s the matter of Beanie Wells, who has obviously lost the confidence of the coaching staff but is still dangerous.
– The Redskins, Packers, Cowboys and Bills all have muddy RB situations that will hopefully clear up as we get into training camp. One great side effect of the explosion in fantasy football is that beat writers know that people across the country want to know who’s going to be the feature back, so they (hopefully) ask that question over and over until they get a satisfactory answer. Certain coaches (like Bill Belichick) never tip their hands, but most do offer some kernel of information for fantasy owners to go on.