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History puts a scare into top choice for running back
By John Dietz | Daily Herald Staff

With a 2,000-yard rushing season and the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history, Chris Johnson ran away with The Associated Press 2009 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

 

Associated Press

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

 

Associated Press

Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson

 

Associated Press

Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson

 

Associated Press

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre hands the ball off to running back Adrian Peterson.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 8/27/2010 10:37 AM

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Halloween is still more than two months away, but I'm going to scare the pants off any fantasy football owners sitting on the top pick in their upcoming drafts.

The almost unanimous consensus among fantasy experts is to take Tennessee's Chris Johnson No. 1. And how could it not, seeing as he's coming off a 2,509-yard (rushing and receiving), 16-TD season?

Well, there's no doubt it would be tough to pass on Johnson and take the Vikings' Adrian Peterson instead. But some interesting numbers about past 2,000-yard rushers may make you at least consider it.

Of the five other backs to reach the milestone, how many amassed 1,500 rushing yards the next season?

Answer: Zero.

And how many scored double-digit touchdowns?

Answer: One.

In fact, even if you take out Terrell Davis' 211-yard disaster in 1999, the other four backs averaged just 1,214 yards and fewer than 7 TDs the next season.

Boo!

Scared yet?

Probably not because conventional thinking goes like this: Johnson did it before, he'll do it again. After all, he's only in his third year and has plenty of tread left on the tires. (Although Eric Dickerson also did it in his second season and ran for just 1,234 yards the next year).

While I admit it would be extremely difficult to take Peterson over Johnson, it is also not smart to ignore history. The fact is it's tough to grind out two seasons in a row of such amazing productivity.

And it's not as if Peterson is a slouch. The guy averaged 1,852 yards from scrimmage the past two seasons and scored 18 times in 2009. Finally, chew on this nugget: with Minnesota's receiving corps suddenly much thinner after Sidney Rice's injury AND with stud third-down back Chester Taylor gone, you can take it to the bank that Brad Childress will lay the load squarely on Peterson's shoulders.

So don't feel bad if your gut tells you to take All Day. At your draft, it may be the smartest move you make "all day."

What to do?

After that killer 1-2 punch, I still really like the next 10 backs on my list. After that, things get hazy in a big way. There are no sure things and a boatload of questions.

Here are the four guys I think can really give you a big season if their coaches commit to them ... and they stay healthy.

• The Dolphins' Ronnie Brown. He's being ranked in the low-20s by other sites, and that's understandable considering the sixth-year back has played in just 32 of 48 games the last three years. But c'mon - this guy was absolutely on fire last year when he ran for 648 yards and scored eight times in just nine games. Brown says he's completely healed from the Lisfranc surgery he had last season, and if that's the case he's a steal on draft day.

• The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles. OK, it stinks that Kansas City acquired Thomas Jones in the off-season. Who needs a 32-year-old gumming up the chances of a star being born? So while there is risk here (and where isn't there at this point?), passing on a guy who ran for 968 yards and scored seven times in the last eight games of 2009 seems ludicrous.

• The Texans' Arian Foster. I admit it - I was a big Steve Slaton fan. Thought he could have been Houston's centerpiece RB for 6-8 years. But when you can't hold onto the football, NFL coaches lose patience in a hurry. Foster is now the guy and he showed he can get the job done with 97- and 119-yard performances in Weeks 16 and 17. Don't let him fall far because this won't be a platoon situation as long as Foster doesn't develop fumblitis.

• Cleveland's Jerome Harrison. Five-hundred and sixty-one yards. In three games. That's how Harrison finished out the 2009 campaign. People want to call it a fluke - and maybe it was - but how do you not take a chance by taking this guy and seeing if he is in fact the real deal?

Fantasy platoon

There is an option I think some of us should consider if we find ourselves without a solid second running back.

And that's to use two backs from the same NFL team. That would be considered heresy just five years ago, but now it may pay big dividends.

What if you could start both Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (1,117-7) and Jonathan Stewart (1,133-11)? Not bad, huh?

That's obviously the best example, but there are other possibilities this year, including:

• Miami's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

• The Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

• Dallas' Marion Barber and Felix Jones.

• New Orleans' Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.

• Oakland's Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

Just some food for thought. Good luck to everyone this year, and please feel free to e-mail me with your starting lineup, trade or rules questions all season.

John Dietz ranks the running backs

Player, team Projected Projected Comment

yards TDs

Cream of the crop

1. Chris Johnson, Titans 1,400-1,650* 12-16 How will the encore sound?

2. A. Peterson, Vikings 1,450-1,700* 12-17 Neck-and-neck with Johnson

Still rock solid

3. Ray Rice, Ravens 1,250-1,400** 9-12 Led all backs with 78 catches

4. M. Jones-Drew, Jags 1,275-1,450* 11-14 30 total TDs last two seasons

5. Frank Gore, Niners 1,200-1,350* 10-14 Career-high 13 TDs in 2009

6. Michael Turner, Falcons 1,300-1,500 12-16 Averaging 1 TD per game in Atlanta

7. Steven Jackson, Rams 1,300-1,450* 6-10 Career-low 4 TDs last season

8. D. Williams, Panthers 1,250-1,425 8-12 Amazing 5.4 ypc last 2 years

9. Ryan Matthews, Chargers 1,200-1,375 8-12 Rookie is the real deal

10. Ryan Grant, Packers 1,175-1,275 8-10 2,456 rush yards in 2008-09

11. R. Mendenhall, Steelers 1,100-1,275 8-10 Could struggle early, but he'll be fine

12. Cedric Benson, Bengals 1,150-1,250 7-9 Can he do it again?

Still solid

13. R. Brown, Dolphins 875-1,150 8-12 8 TDs, 648 yards in just 9 games

14. Shonn Greene, Jets 1,000-1,200 6-9 Great O-line; don't worry about LT

15. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs 900-1,275* 5-8 Let's hope KC realizes what it has

16. Arian Foster, Texans 975-1,275 6-9 No competition on high-scoring 'O'

17. Joseph Addai, Colts 800-925 7-10 Addai will get the goal-line work

18. Jon. Stewart, Panthers 875-1,000 7-9 Has back-to-back 10-TD seasons

19. Matt Forte, BEARS 950-1,075* 6-9 O-line a serious concern

20. Beanie Wells, Cards 975-1,175 7-10 6 TDs last 8 games of 2009

21. Know. Moreno, Broncos 1,000-1,175 6-9 10 gms of 80-plus yds from scrimm.

Questions beginning

22. Jerome Harrison, Browns 1,050-1,200 5-8 Being way undervalued

23. Javid Best, Lions 875-1,075 5-8 Rookie should get chance to shine

24. LeSean McCoy, Eagles 900-1,100* 4-6 Other Philly RBs will vulture TDs

25. Marion Barber, Cowboys 825-975 8-11 No 1,000-yd seasons for 6th-yr. back

26. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants 775-975 6-8 Not a safe pick, but worth the risk

27. Pierre Thomas, Saints 700-900 5-7 Safe pick, but ceiling not that high

28. Ricky Williams, Dolphins 700-850 5-8 7 games of 80-plus yards in 2009

Now you're reaching

29. Clinton Portis, Redskins 750-975 3-6 Great value if he can surprise

30. C.J. Spiller, Bills 800-1,000 2-6 Bills will behind and throwing a lot!

31. Felix Jones, Cowboys 700-825 4-8 Explosive, but not the goal-line guy

32. Brandon Jacobs, Giants 800-975 5-10 Big question: Can he stay healthy?

33. Michael Bush, Raiders 650-850 4-8 Hey, Oakland: THIS GUY IS GOOD!

34. D. McFadden, Raiders 600-1,000 2-7 Has yet to prove he's got the goods

35. L. Washington, Seahawks 575-875 3-7 Seahawks seem to like him

36. Reggie Bush, Saints 550-700* 3-7 Fine for a flex/bye-week fill-in

37. Thomas Jones, Chiefs 450-800 3-9 One of best handcuffs around

38. Donald Brown, Colts 600-800 3-6 If Addai goes down, look out

39. Bernard Scott, Bengals 400-700 3-7 This guy is ultra explosive

40. Justin Forsett, Seahawks 350-750* 2-5 Want to rank him higher but can't

The next 14: Carnell Williams, Bucs; Darren Sproles, Chargers; Tim Hightower, Cardinals; Fred Jackson, Bills; LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets; Willis McGahee, Ravens; Fred Taylor, Patriots; Steve Slaton, Texans; Chester Taylor, BEARS; Mike Bell, Eagles; Jason Snelling, Falcons; Montario Hardesty, Browns; Sammy Morris, Patriots; Laurence Maroney, Patriots

* Good chance at 400-500 receiving yards; ** Good chance at 500-700 rec. yards

Y2K plus 1

Here's how the five RBs who rushed for 2,000 yards in a season did the next year:

Player Rush yds. TDs

O.J. Simpson 1,125 4

Eric Dickerson 1,234 12

Barry Sanders 1,491 4

Terrell Davis 211 2

Jamal Lewis 1,006 7