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.