I look at backs ranked between 26-50 and I see a whole lot of value and a whole bunch of workhorses. And what this list does is give me cause to wait on drafting for running back depth and loading up on wide receivers in rounds 3-6, because with names like Brandon Minor, C.J. Spiller, Vai Taua, Alex Allen, Anthony Dixon and many others I'll horde elsewhere and feel very good about coming back to the runners a little later on.
Sure backs are ranked lower for a reason, be it greater concern over an offensive line, split-carry paranoia or injury fears. However I've never heard "drafting top-ten fantasy backs" included in the same sentence as death and taxes. In fact I'll make this guarantee: at least one of the backs listed between spots 26-50 will end the season in the top ten. (And this has nothing to do with the fact that I am protecting three backs in this group for my own fantasy league.)
Regarding my earlier proclamation from two sentences ago: I am now upping this guarantee to include three backs.
#26 Brandon Minor | RB3 | Sr | Michigan
One of the lone offensive bright spots for Michigan in 2008, running back Brandon Minor enters 2009 as the likely starter at tailback. It took a while for Rich Rodriguez to realize what he had in Minor, but then he finally saw a quick, tough back who hit the hole hard. Minor's three best games: at Penn State (23-117-2), at Purdue(24-155-3) and at Ohio State (14-67-1) came in Michigan losses, so be sure to pick against the Wolverines when you play the Michigan back. The Wolverines have to be better in 2009, and if Minor can avoid the nagging injuries that slowed him in 2009, he should be a solid mid-round pick.
2008 Stats: 103 rushes for 533 yards and 9 TDs / 5 receptions for 59 yards and 2 TDs / 124 fant pts
2009 Projs: 206 rushes for 1066 yards and 13 TDs / 10 receptions for 118 yards and 1 TDs / 202.4 fant pts
#27 Victor Anderson | RB3 | So | Louisville
Victor Anderson was a nice little surprise for a team that found itself short on good news in 2008. He returns as the starting back, and another season of around 1100 and nine seems reasonable. Coach Kragthorpe recently expressed a desire to get this guy the ball more...a good idea.
2008 Stats: 183 rushes for 1047 yards and 8 TDs / 18 receptions for 101 yards and 1 TDs / 168 fant pts
2009 Projs: 245 rushes for 1274 yards and 11 TDs / 14 receptions for 80 yards and 0 TDs / 201.4 fant pts
#28 Roy Helu Jr. | RB3 | Jr | Nebraska
Big, fast and great out of the backfield, Helu has the look of one of the best backs in the Big XII. Of course he'll have to fend off Quentin Castille, who blew up in the Gator Bowl. Helu Jr. is a very good pass catcher, and he should enter fall camp as the #1 guy. A solid RB3.
2008 Stats: 125 rushes for 803 yards and 7 TDs / 25 receptions for 266 yards and 0 TDs / 148 fant pts
2009 Projs: 196 rushes for 981 yards and 11 TDs / 34 receptions for 344 yards and 2 TDs / 210.5 fant pts
#29 C.J. Spiller | RB3 | Sr | Clemson
James Davis is gone, and this is good news for Spiller's owners. He'll be the focal point of the offense, and the versatile star is 921 yards shy of setting the all-purpose yardage record in the ACC. He's one of the fastest backs in college football, so matching his 12 touchdowns of a season ago seems a good possibility. This guy is betting that Spiller surpasses this 2008 total.
2008 Stats: 116 rushes for 629 yards and 7 TDs / 34 receptions for 436 yards and 3 TDs / 171 fant pts
2009 Projs: 163 rushes for 913 yards and 7 TDs / 35 receptions for 427 yards and 3 TDs / 200.5 fant pts
#30 Ryan Mathews | RB3 | Jr | Fresno St.
Mathews, who burst onto the scene as a freshman, saw his sophomore season cut way short due to a rather mysterious leg/knee injury. He'll make the Fresno offense go, and if he can stay healthy (a big if) we could see some huge games from Ryan Mathews. Nab him as a third or fourth back once you have already acquired some sure things at tailback and pray to the Fantasy Gods that he stays healthy.
2008 Stats: 113 rushes for 606 yards and 6 TDs / 8 receptions for 146 yards and 2 TDs / 122 fant pts
2009 Projs: 186 rushes for 1096 yards and 11 TDs / 7 receptions for 112 yards and 2 TDs / 206.0 fant pts
#31 Vai Taua | RB3 | Jr | Nevada
Nearly 1800 yards and 18 scores in 2008 and Vai Taua is not a top-ten back? We'll call this the Luke Lippincott factor. We expect Lippincott to steal carries, and this is enough to bump Taua down a little bit. Still, Taua is the starting running back. And he'll push 1300 and 12 in 2009.
2008 Stats: 236 rushes for 1521 yards and 15 TDs / 30 receptions for 243 yards and 3 TDs / 284 fant pts
2009 Projs: 174 rushes for 1082 yards and 10 TDs / 18 receptions for 199 yards and 2 TDs / 200.1 fant pts
#32 Jewel Hampton | RB3 | So | Iowa
Hampton is the clear favorite to emerge as Iowa's number one back, though he doesn't have the frame to withstand the Shonn Greene type pounding. Two factors work in Hampton's favor: he runs the ball for Iowa, which is akin to catching it for Texas Tech. And he's coming off a season where he ran for 478 yards and seven scores. Assuming his knee injury is not serious, he may emerge as a top three Big Ten back.
2008 Stats: 91 rushes for 463 yards and 7 TDs / 0 receptions for 0 yards and 0 TDs / 88 fant pts
2009 Projs: 223 rushes for 1139 yards and 13 TDs / 7 receptions for 45 yards and 0 TDs / 196.4 fant pts
#33 Curtis Steele | RB3 | Sr | Memphis
Steady back who dealt with a hamstring issue a season ago. 1000-10 seems a very fair estimate for this workhorse back.
2008 Stats: 218 rushes for 1223 yards and 7 TDs / 8 receptions for 187 yards and 0 TDs / 182 fant pts
2009 Projs: 209 rushes for 1127 yards and 9 TDs / 11 receptions for 173 yards and 1 TDs / 189.9 fant pts
#34 Jonathan Dwyer | RB3 | Jr | Georgia Tech
Dwyer was pretty consistent considering the way the Jackets shared the running duties in 2008. Over 1600 yards from scrimmage and at least one touchdown in nine games likely made most fantasy owners very happy. We have our doubts that he can match these numbers this fall; there is even more running back talent and depth at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009. And they may even wing it a little bit more in 2009.
2008 Stats: 200 rushes for 1395 yards and 12 TDs / 8 receptions for 209 yards and 1 TDs / 237 fant pts
2009 Projs: 162 rushes for 1133 yards and 10 TDs / 7 receptions for 164 yards and 1 TDs / 195.7 fant pts
#35 Mikell Simpson | sleep | Sr | Virginia
Simpson is expected to be the starting back in Charlottesville, and with four offensive linemen returning this could be a very good thing. Spring reports had Simpson looking like the back from 2007. And his pass-catching prowess makes Simpson a sleeper in PPR leagues.
2008 Stats: 87 rushes for 262 yards and 3 TDs / 15 receptions for 66 yards and 0 TDs / 50 fant pts
2009 Projs: 174 rushes for 870 yards and 9 TDs / 42 receptions for 378 yards and 2 TDs / 190.8 fant pts
#36 Damion Fletcher | RB3 | Sr | Southern Miss.
Forced to sit out spring ball after firing a gun in the air, Damion Fletcher still appears a pretty safe fantasy bet. Coming off a 219-1313-10 junior season he's one of the top returning backs in the country. As long as his wild west impersonations are in the rearview mirror then all should be good.
2008 Stats: 219 rushes for 1313 yards and 10 TDs / 33 receptions for 246 yards and 1 TDs / 221 fant pts
2009 Projs: 182 rushes for 1002 yards and 9 TDs / 33 receptions for 204 yards and 2 TDs / 186.6 fant pts
#37 Alex Allen | RB3 | Sr | Akron
After missing most of 2008 Alex Allen returns with the goal of replacing Dennis Kennedy. Allen will battle Dale Martin and DeVoe Torrence for the starting job, and we like Allen to emerge. If he can stay healthy we may have a solid fantasy prospect (21-103-2 against Syracuse last year) in what is expected to be an improved Zips' attack.
2008 Stats: 32 rushes for 152 yards and 3 TDs / 2 receptions for 22 yards and 0 TDs / 35 fant pts
2009 Projs: 219 rushes for 1083 yards and 12 TDs / 16 receptions for 201 yards and 1 TDs / 206.4 fant pts
#38 Darren Evans | RB3 | So | Virginia Tech
We're expecting big things from Evans, though there is certainly the possibility that Ryan Williams and true freshman David Wilson make enough of an impact to put a serious dent in the sophomore's production. Still Evans has the look of a 1,200 and 12 back for as long as he's in Blacksburg. The Hokies will pound the rock and Evans should see the bulk of those carries.
2008 Stats: 287 rushes for 1265 yards and 11 TDs / 17 receptions for 117 yards and 0 TDs / 203 fant pts
2009 Projs: 200 rushes for 1035 yards and 11 TDs / 14 receptions for 106 yards and 1 TDs / 186.1 fant pts
#39 Noel Devine | RB3 | Jr | West Virginia
It's hard to believe that Devine gained nearly 1500 yards from scrimmage in 2008. His four touchdowns killed fantasy seasons, but there's no doubting the talent. Best case scenario: Devine works his tail off in the offseason, runs like a madman for his draft status, and he takes a bunch of those breathtaking runs to the house. Worst case scenario: None of that happens. He'll remain a high-risk/high-reward. I would have no issues rolling the dice with Noel Devine as my 3rd or 4th RB provided I had traditionally healthy backs ahead of him. Devine is that 1965 Mustang that we all have in our garage. As long as you have the truck to get you through the winter there's nothing wrong with taking him out when the opportunity presents itself. Just don't plan on using him with regularity or in snowstorms...you ever seen Misery?
2008 Stats: 206 rushes for 1289 yards and 4 TDs / 35 receptions for 185 yards and 0 TDs / 170 fant pts
2009 Projs: 205 rushes for 1154 yards and 6 TDs / 32 receptions for 208 yards and 2 TDs / 184.2 fant pts
#40 Jamad Williams | RB3 | Jr | Tulsa
Williams is a top double-secret fantasy sleeper. He had a very nice spring, he performs in the high-powered Tulsa attack, and he has seen relatively steady carries during each of his first two seasons. It's true we favor Charles Clay, but Williams could prove us wrong and is worth a shot on draft day.
2008 Stats: 86 rushes for 523 yards and 3 TDs / 4 receptions for 32 yards and 0 TDs / 73 fant pts
2009 Projs: 148 rushes for 860 yards and 8 TDs / 10 receptions for 134 yards and 1 TDs / 153.4 fant pts
#41 Anthony Dixon | RB3 | Sr | Mississippi St.
Dixon lost 20 lbs. during the off-season, providing more hope that he can perform in the new fast-paced offense. He'll have to run against some of the toughest defenses around, but this senior back could surpass 800-9 once again. Dixon struggled a bit last year, but we fully expect a rebound year. Though his recent DUI arrest and likely suspension should raise a whole bunch of red flags.
2008 Stats: 197 rushes for 869 yards and 7 TDs / 20 receptions for 117 yards and 2 TDs / 151 fant pts
2009 Projs: 234 rushes for 1055 yards and 10 TDs / 21 receptions for 123 yards and 1 TDs / 183.8 fant pts
#42 Brandon West | RB3 | Sr | Western Mich.
Brandon West is the most overlooked back in the Mid-American Conference. While he operates in an offense that features the pass, it creates holes for West to operate. A solid late round steal.
2008 Stats: 204 rushes for 1026 yards and 8 TDs / 38 receptions for 280 yards and 3 TDs / 196 fant pts
2009 Projs: 198 rushes for 994 yards and 7 TDs / 32 receptions for 233 yards and 3 TDs / 182.7 fant pts
#43 Darius Marshall | RB3 | Jr | Marshall
Provided he completes his penance for a misdemeanor drug possession charge this spring we expect that Marshall will start and he'll have an impact. He earned his yards in 2008, but he struggled to score. Give him 224 carries in 2009 and we're looking at much more than five touchdowns.
2008 Stats: 224 rushes for 1099 yards and 5 TDs / 16 receptions for 98 yards and 0 TDs / 148 fant pts
2009 Projs: 234 rushes for 1127 yards and 9 TDs / 21 receptions for 174 yards and 2 TDs / 196.1 fant pts
#44 Luke Lippincott | RB3 | Sr | Nevada
He's been granted a medical redshirt to return in 2009, but those looking for Lippincott of 2007 will likely be disappointed. Vai Taua has taken over the starting running back duties, and Luke will have a hard time producing like he has in the past.
2008 Stats: 17 rushes for 104 yards and 1 TDs / 2 receptions for 33 yards and 0 TDs / 19 fant pts
2009 Projs: 147 rushes for 910 yards and 9 TDs / 21 receptions for 229 yards and 2 TDs / 179.9 fant pts
#45 Joseph Turner | RB3 | Sr | TCU
We have high hopes for the TCU defense, and Joseph Turner will take quite a bit of pressure off quaterback Andy Dalton. The Horned Frogs will need to score more, and this should be music to the ears of Turner's owners. If TCU gets away from running back by committee then Turner will be the beneficiary.
2008 Stats: 146 rushes for 577 yards and 11 TDs / 5 receptions for 42 yards and 0 TDs / 127 fant pts
2009 Projs: 182 rushes for 909 yards and 13 TDs / 11 receptions for 78 yards and 0 TDs / 176.7 fant pts
#46 Robert Turbin | RB3 | So | Utah St.
Now here is a young fella to watch. He's coming off a 10-score season where he only touched the ball 126 times from scrimmage. New coach Gary Anderson, in his attempts to take heat off QB Diondre Borel, emphasized the ground attack. And coach also raved about Robert Turbin. You won't get to see this back on television too often, but you'll be pleased while scrolling through the box scores.
2008 Stats: 106 rushes for 485 yards and 8 TDs / 20 receptions for 256 yards and 2 TDs / 133 fant pts
2009 Projs: 148 rushes for 757 yards and 9 TDs / 22 receptions for 282 yards and 3 TDs / 175.9 fant pts
#47 Frank Goodin | RB3 | Jr | La.-Monroe
A sleeper pick from a year ago that didn't live up to our lofty expectations, Goodin is still a very good Sun Belt back. And he's not a bad national option when in a bind. Goodin, like his leaguemates, won't be on television too much, but you'll be pleased when you check the boxscore.
2008 Stats: 182 rushes for 783 yards and 5 TDs / 25 receptions for 277 yards and 2 TDs / 147 fant pts
2009 Projs: 205 rushes for 905 yards and 8 TDs / 23 receptions for 249 yards and 2 TDs / 175.4 fant pts
#48 Cam Montgomery | RB3 | Sr |North Texas
Montgomery grew stronger as the season wore on, and Riley Dodge's continued development will only help his back's rushing totals. This is certainly a pass-first and pass-second offense, but with veteran offensive line and a whole new receiving corps we expect the Mean Green to lean heavily on Cam this fall. Keep him on your early waiver wire list.
2008 Stats: 168 rushes for 934 yards and 9 TDs / 18 receptions for 118 yards and 0 TDs / 158 fant pts
2009 Projs: 188 rushes for 1034 yards and 10 TDs / 18 receptions for 106 yards and 0 TDs / 174.0 fant pts
#49 Phillip Tanner | RB3 | Sr | Middle Tenn. St.
There might not be no bigger boom or bust pick than running back Phillip Tanner. With good size, speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, Tanner could turn into an NFL draft pick or fade into oblivion. 17 touchdowns (six against North Texas) in 2008 and now he welcomes Tony Franklin as his offensive coordinator. Tanner is a very intriguing back with a knack for the end zone...but also a knack for getting dinged up. It will be interesting to see how Franklin uses Tanner in 2009.
2008 Stats: 188 rushes for 714 yards and 15 TDs / 13 receptions for 135 yards and 1 TDs / 180 fant pts
2009 Projs: 178 rushes for 890 yards and 11 TDs / 12 receptions for 122 yards and 1 TDs / 173.2 fant pts
#50 Da'Rel Scott | RB3 | Jr | Maryland
A healthy Scott could emerge as one of the ACC's top workhorses...provided the offensive overhaul is smooth. Maryland loses three starters on the offensive line and their field-stretcher in Darius Heyward-Bey. Scott should be the man (though he may have to share with Morgan Green) while Devin Meggett will be the change-of-pace runner. All things considered 1000-9 seems to be the ceiling.
2008 Stats: 209 rushes for 1133 yards and 8 TDs / 21 receptions for 171 yards and 0 TDs / 184 fant pts
2009 Projs: 184 rushes for 981 yards and 8 TDs / 17 receptions for 142 yards and 1 TDs / 172.5 fant pt