1. Adrian Peterson (MIN) – Bye 9 – Pros: He is the most physically gifted and talented running back in the NFL. Peterson is the very definition of poetry in motion. He led the NFL in 2008 in both rushing yards (1,760) and total yards (1,885). Peterson also exceeded the magical 100 yard rushing mark in 10 games last season and had 20 carries that went for 20 yards or more, both NFL bests.
Cons: Prone to nagging injuries, but typically plays through them. Peterson needs to produce better goal line results and cut down on fumbles. To this point, he has provided limited production as a receiver out of the backfield.
Misc.: We believe he has only scratched the surface on his potential and his best football is yet to come. That said, Peterson is best suited for TD and yard heavy fantasy leagues. In PPR leagues, Forte or Jones-Drew might be better options for you with the first pick in your fantasy draft, but Peterson is still your best bet for consistent fantasy production week in and week out.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) – Bye 7 – Pros: He is probably the NFL’s most versatile running back; Jones-Drew can do it all. He has the ability to produce big numbers in both the running and passing game, and with Fred Taylor now out of the picture, Jones-Drew should see a drastic increase in touches as Jacksonville’s feature back.
Cons: While the Jaguars offensive line should be improved this season over last, we are still a bit skeptical about their ability to consistently open holes for Jones-Drew in the running game, especially against better run defenses. We are also somewhat concerned about Jones-Drew’s ability to maintain a full workload as a feature back given his small stature.
Misc.: He ranked 2nd in the NFL last season with 62 receptions, making him a priority for Points Per Reception fantasy leagues. If Jones-Drew can develop into a more consistent week to week performer in the ground game, you may not lose a game with him on your fantasy roster. Unfortunately, he has yet to prove himself in that regard.
3. Matt Forte (CHI) – Bye 5 - Pros: He led all NFL RB’s in 2008 with 63 receptions, making him ideal for PPR fantasy leagues, and ranked 3rd in the NFL in total yards with 1,715. Forte displays great hands and only had 1 fumble in ’08. He should once again be the centerpiece of the Bears offense and the addition of Jay Cutler will likely bolster his production. He is fairly durable considering his hefty workload and willing to play through injuries. Forte should benefit greatly from a very soft schedule in 2009.
Cons: Forte only rushed for 100 yards or more in 3 games last season (although he had 100 plus total yards in 11 games) and he needs to improve on a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry average. Chicago made a few changes in the offensive line for this season which could help in the running game, but the jury is still out. He is also expected to give up a few more carries this season to back up Kevin Jones.
Misc.: While Forte was no slouch in his rookie season, we think he can take it to the next level in 2009. Opposing defenses will certainly key in on him, but a healthier Bears passing game with Jay Cutler should alleviate some of the pressure. Forte should be great for any fantasy scoring system, but he will excel in PPR leagues.
4. Michael Turner (ATL) – Bye 4 – Pros: He possesses a nice blend of power and speed with a nose for the end zone. Turner led all NFL RB’s last season with 376 carries and rushed for an NFL best 17 TD’s. He’s very durable and rarely fumbles.
Cons: Turner is virtually non existent in the passing game, hauling in only 6 passes in 2008, but he more than makes up for it on the ground. Regardless, his value is slightly diminished in PPR fantasy leagues. In addition, Atlanta has a very difficult 2009 schedule and Turner was not quite as effective against the better run defenses he faced last season.
Misc.: While Turner should continue to get a ton of carries as the centerpiece of the Falcons offense, we doubt he will match last season’s totals. A more polished Matt Ryan at QB and the addition of Tony Gonzalez lead us to believe that Atlanta will open up the passing game a little more in 2009. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a beefed up passing attack should actually benefit Turner by opening up more running lanes and reducing wear and tear on his body down the stretch.
5. Steven Jackson (STL) – Bye 9 – Pros: When fully healthy, a very effective mix of size, speed, and great hands make Jackson virtually unstoppable against even the best defenses the NFL has to offer. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his last 4 seasons in spite of playing a full 16 game schedule only once during that span. Jackson has also proven to be a great receiving option out of the backfield, a role he will probably be needed in more than ever given the Rams limited options in the passing game.
Cons: As the centerpiece of the Rams offense, opposing defenses will almost certainly stack the box and focus much of their attention on Jackson in 2009. He has also proven to be a health risk, as he has started no more than 12 games in each of the last 2 seasons.
Misc.: Even with the odds stacked against him, Jackson has proven time and time again to be one of the better fantasy backs in the NFL. We have no doubt that Jackson can put up huge numbers even with a lackluster supporting cast, we do, however, question his durability to make it through a full season given his recent track record.
6. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) – Bye 4 – Pros: He was without question the best fantasy football RB in the league down the stretch in 2008. Williams ranked among the NFL’s elite in almost every statistical category including an NFL best 20 total TD’s. Home run speed and a top notch offensive line make him a strong candidate for big fantasy production yet again in 2009.
Cons: We expect a healthier Jonathan Stewart to cut a little deeper into Williams’ workload this season. The Panthers brutal 2009 schedule against some of the best run defenses the NFL has to offer does not bode well either. In addition, Williams is underutilized in the Panthers passing game, limiting his PPR value.
Misc.: Williams has done more than enough to earn the trust of skeptical fantasy owners, and his ability is unquestioned at this point, but under the circumstances mentioned above; we would be surprised to see him consistently produce at the level we saw in 2008. He should be in the ballpark though and the occasional monster game is likely.
7. Chris Johnson (TEN) – Bye 7 – Pros: Johnson’s blazing breakaway speed and explosiveness between the tackles for a running back his size makes him arguably the most dangerous RB in the NFL. Every time he gets the ball in his hands, one gets the sense that he is going to take it the distance. He has also displayed plenty of promise as a receiver out of the backfield. While Johnson will continue to give up some carries to LenDale White, we expect to see an increased workload for him in 2009.
Cons: As mentioned above, we do expect his role in the Titans offense to increase this season, but LenDale White is still going to be the man near the goal line, which limits Johnson’s TD potential to a large degree.
Misc: Even without the goal line carries, we feel that Johnson has the potential to exceed his impressive rookie totals. He is probably best suited for PPR and yard heavy leagues, but should provide very solid production in any format. We don’t suggest taking him in the first 5 picks, as we have seen him taken in that range in several mock drafts, but he is certainly worthy of a mid to late first round pick in fantasy drafts.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson (SD) – Bye 5 – Pros: In spite of posting 1,536 total yards and 12 TD’s in 2008, Tomlinson’s was widely considered to be a bust amongst the fantasy football community in 2008. We agree that he failed to live up to expectations, but you have to keep in mind that he played the majority of the season with a painful turf toe injury; an injury that puts most RB’s on the shelf for the season. He should be 100% heading into 2009, he is still going to be the go to guy in the Chargers offensive game plan each week, and he remains one of the most versatile RB’s in the NFL.
Cons: At age 30, Tomlinson isn’t getting any younger and it is only natural that he is going to lose a step. Also with age, comes a higher risk of injury, something that finally caught up with him last season. Tomlinson may also lose a few more touches to Darren Sproles this season and a tough schedule that includes games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore could prove troublesome.
Misc.: If you are expecting to see the Tomlinson of old in 2009, you are likely going to be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have plenty of production left in the tank. While there is no doubt that he has lost the luster of a top pick in fantasy drafts, he is still worthy of a first round selection and if he falls lower than that in your draft, consider it a steal.
9. Steve Slaton (HOU) – Bye 10 – Pros: Slaton has great vision, cutting ability, soft hands and breakaway speed. In other words, he has all the tools to be a first rate fantasy back in 2009. A vastly underrated offensive line and an improved Texans passing game with QB Matt Schaub should also aid in Slaton’s ’09 fantasy campaign. In addition, Slaton has little to no competition for playing time in the Houston backfield and is surprisingly effective near the goal line for his size.
Cons: Slaton’s durability has come into question and he may not be able to shoulder the challenges that go along with being a full time feature RB in the NFL. UPDATE: Despite a significant weight gain by Slaton in the off-season in order to increase durability and goal line production, early indications this preseason are that Chris Brown is the favorite to receive the Texans goal line carries. This may or may not pan out once the regular season starts, but if this turns out to be the case, Slaton's fantasy value would suffer a bit.
Misc.: He certainly can’t be considered a sleeper at this point, but we think Slaton has the potential to be one of the top scoring fantasy RB’s in the NFL this season if his body can withstand the rigors of 16 weeks carrying the load. At the very least, he has a ton of upside and should be a solid performer most weeks.
10. Frank Gore (SF) – Bye 6 – Pros: He has great speed and cutting abilities, especially for a guy that has had major surgery on both knees. He’s an exceptional receiver out of the backfield and he has little competition for playing time. Gore has exceeded 1,000 rushing yards in each of his last 3 seasons with no less than 43 receptions during that span.
Cons: Gore has never rushed for more than 8 TD’s in a season in his career. He is also a slight injury risk as he has only completed one full season of football in his 4 year career (although he has never missed more than 2 games). Ball security is an issue as he consistently ranks near the top of the NFL in fumbles.
Misc.: He should benefit greatly from new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye’s run friendly scheme. Gore was handicapped under the former regime led by Mike Martz pass happy attack. The 49ers will have to be more competitive on defense and in the passing game (in other words, not have to abandon the run game playing from behind) for Gore to reach his full potential, but if this happens and he can remain healthy, look out!
11. Brandon Jacobs (NYG) – Bye 10 – Pros: He is a bruising back with deceptively good speed and agility for a player his size. Jacobs has a nose for the end zone indicative of his 15 rushing TD’s in 2008. He is also exceptional in the yards per carry department.
Cons: For someone his size, Jacobs is surprisingly fragile. He has not played in more than 13 games or posted more than 213 carries since taking over the starting role in 2007. He also appears reluctant to play through minor injuries. In addition, Jacobs is not going to do you any favors in PPR leagues, as he had all of 6 receptions in 2008.
Misc.: Ahmad Bradshaw will steal the occasional carry and come in during passing situations filling the role left behind by Derrick Ward, but Jacobs is still the man in New York. He is ideal for TD heavy leagues and should provide adequate support in the rushing yard category. If he could increase his workload and become more involved in the passing game, Jacobs would ascend to top flight fantasy status, but that is simply wishful thinking and unlikely for 2009.
12. Brian Westbrook (PHI) – Bye 4 – Pros: When healthy, there may not be another fantasy RB with more to offer than Westbrook. He is great in the ground game, has a nose for the end zone and is capable of putting up receiving totals equal to or better than most WR2’s.
Cons: Unfortunately, Westbrook is rarely 100% healthy. He will typically play through smaller injuries and play well, but it seems like this guy is always hurt. In fact, he has yet to complete a full season of football in his 7 year career and an off-season ankle surgery does not bode well for 2009 being his first. In addition, rumor has it that Westbrook will lose goal line carries this season to rookie back up LeSean McCoy and /or FB Leonard Weaver.
Misc.: He is definitely a high risk-high reward fantasy candidate. If Westbrook is still on your draft board very late in the first round or thereafter, then by all means, grab him. Otherwise, the risk is too high. Also, we aren’t typically big on handcuffing guys with back ups, but in Westbrook’s case, it is totally necessary. This means that you may have to go out of your way to draft LeSean McCoy earlier than you would like, in turn, costing you at another position.
13. Clinton Portis (WAS) – Bye 8 – Pros: The very definition of a feature back, Portis will pound the rock as often as you will give it to him. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield (not great) and he is money near the goal line. When fully healthy, Portis is a force to be reckoned with and will provide solid consistency week in and week out.
Cons: Portis is tough as nails and we applaud his willingness to play through injuries, but he often does so to the point of his and fantasy owners’ demise. While we are hopeful that 2008 didn’t take too much of a toll on him, Portis isn’t getting any younger and he would benefit from a lighter workload, which we think you will see in 2009. He could also benefit from a more productive passing game. The Redskins seem to struggle to find the red zone at times which is where Portis thrives.
Misc.: He came out guns blazin’ to kick off the 2008 season, rushing for 944 yards and 7 TD’s in the Redskins first 8 games, but a hefty workload and a laundry list of injuries ultimately led to a lackluster second half. Portis has plenty of fantasy potential, but we do question his ability to sustain that potential for a full season, especially if Skins second year head coach Jim Zorn did not learn his lesson from over working him in 2008.
14. Marion Barber (DAL) – Bye 6 – Pros: A well rounded back, Barber is probably best known for his ability to find pay dirt. He is a TD machine, and if not for a late season toe injury in 2008, Barber would have almost certainly produced a double digit TD total for a third consecutive season. He is also gifted as a receiver out of the backfield and we expect the Cowboys to utilize him more often in that role in 2009.
Cons: While he has hovered near the magic number in each of the last 2 seasons, you might be surprised to know that Barber has never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season to this point in his career. We would also like to see a little more consistency from him in the ground yard department. Barber can be very hit or miss in that respect. In addition, Barber will almost certainly lose more carries to Felix Jones and Teshard Choice in 2009. Jones and Choice both displayed too much potential to simply ride the pine behind Barber all season.
Misc.: We are fairly confident that Barber will see a decrease in his workload for 2009 to some extent which is the only reason he isn’t ranked higher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in his fantasy potential. He will still be the go to guy near the goal line and we think his PPR fantasy value has never been better. In fact, he may be one of the more undervalued prospects in your fantasy draft.
15. Pierre Thomas (NO) – Bye 5 – Pros: He isn’t overwhelmingly flashy, but he is solid in virtually every aspect necessary to break into the upper echelon of fantasy backs. Thomas is powerful enough to run effectively in between the tackles, quick enough to bounce it outside, he has excellent hands, and he can put it in the end zone in goal line situations (and he will be the goal line back). What else can you ask for?
Cons: He plays in a pass happy offense that may limit his fantasy potential from time to time. Thomas will also have to split time with Reggie Bush which will probably keep him under 20 carries most weeks.
Misc.: You may be surprised to know that Thomas scored at least 1 TD in the last 6 games in which he played in 2008, totaling 12 TD’s for the season, in addition to exceeding 100 total yards in 5 of those last 6 games. Now that Deuce McAllister and Aaron Stecker are gone, Thomas will have only Reggie Bush to contend with for playing time, and knowing Bush’s track record, odds are that will be short lived. He isn’t exactly a sleeper, as Thomas is already on most fantasy radars, but we think he could surpass his already lofty expectations for 2009.
Rank. Player (TEAM)—Bye week—best suited league type
( S=sleeper pick)
16. Ryan Grant (GB) – Bye 5 – TD and yard heavy
17. Kevin Smith (DET) – Bye 7 – TD and yard heavy
18. Ronnie Brown (MIA) – Bye 6 – TD and yard heavy
S 19. Darren McFadden (OAK) - Bye 9 - PPR and yard heavy
20. Thomas Jones (NYJ) - Bye 9 - TD and yard heavy
21. Marshawn Lynch (BUF) – Bye 9 – PPR
22. Joseph Addai (IND) - Bye 6 - PPR
23. Ray Rice (BAL) - Bye 7 - All formats
24. Larry Johnson (KC) - Bye 8 - TD and yard heavy
S 25. Knowshon Moreno (DEN) - Bye 7 - PPR and Dynasty/keeper
26. Reggie Bush (NO ) - Bye 5 - PPR
27. LenDale White (TEN) - Bye 7 - TD heavy
28. Willie Parker (PIT) – Bye 8 – yard heavy
S 29. Cedric Benson (CIN) - Bye -8 TD and yard heavy
S 30. Jonathan Stewart (CAR) - Bye 4 - TD and yard heavy
31. Derrick Ward (TB) - Bye 8 - PPR
S 32. Donald Brown (IND) - Bye 6 - PPR and yard heavy
S 33. Felix Jones (DAL) - Bye 6 - TD and yard heavy
S 34. Chris "Beanie" Wells (ARI) - Bye 4 - TD and dynasty/keeper
S 35. Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) - Bye 10 - PPR
36. Earnest Graham (TB) - Bye 8 - TD
37. Jamal Lewis (CLE) – Bye 9 – TD and yard heavy
38. Darren Sproles (SD) - Bye 5 - PPR
S 39. LeSean McCoy (PHI) - Bye 4 - TD
40. Julius Jones (SEA) – Bye 7 – yard heavy
S 41. Fred Jackson (BUF) – Bye 9 – PPR
42. Tim Hightower (ARI) - Bye 4 - TD
43. Chester Taylor (MIN) - Bye 9 - TD
44. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (TB) - Bye 8 - all formats
45. Willis McGahee (BAL) - Bye 7 - yard heavy
46. Ladell Betts (WAS) - Bye 8 - PPR
47. Leon Washington (NYJ) - Bye 9 - PPR/return yards
48. Jerious Norwood (ATL) - Bye 4 - PPR/return yard
49. Reshard Mendenhall (PIT) – Bye 8 – TD
50. Ricky Williams (MIA) - Bye 6 - any format
51. Edgerrin James (SEA) - Bye 7 - TD
52. Laurence Maroney (NE) - Bye 8 - TD53. Correll Buckhalter (DEN) – Bye 7 – yard heavy
54. Jamaal Charles (KC) - Bye 8 - PPR
55. Chris Brown (HOU) - Bye 10 - TD only
56. Glen Coffee (SF) - Bye 6 - TD
57. Michael Bush (OAK) - Bye 9 - TD
58. Shonn Greene (NYJ) - Bye 9 - PPR/ TD
59. Fred Taylor (NE) - Bye 8 - TD
60. Maurice Morris (DET) - Bye 7 - TD
61. Kevin Faulk (NE) – Bye 8 – PPR only
62. Sammy Morris (NE) - Bye 8 - T
63. Justin Fargas (OAK) – Bye 9 – yard heavy
64. Le'Ron McClain (BAL) - Bye 7 - TD only
65. Jerome Harrison (CLE) - Bye 9 - PPR
66. Rashad Jennings (JAC) - Bye 7 - any
67. Kevin Jones (CHI) - Bye 5 - TD
68. Brian Leonard (CIN) - Bye 8 - TD
69. Peyton Hillis (DEN) - Bye 7 - PPR
70. Samkon Gado (STL) - Bye 9 - TD
71. James Davis (CLE) - Bye 9 - all formats
72. Mewelde Moore (PIT) - Bye 8 - TD
73. Brandon Jackson (GB) - Bye 5 - PPR
74. Dominic Rhodes (BUF) – Bye 9 – PPR
75. Tashard Choice (DAL) - Bye 6 - any
76. Danny Ware (NYG) - Bye 10 - PPR
77. Mike Bell (NO) - Bye 5 - TD
78. Kenneth Darby (STL) - Bye 9 - TD
79. Javon Ringer (TEN) - Bye 7 - TD
80. LaMont Jordan (DEN) - Bye 7 - TD