Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
According to the NFL Players Association, the average career length for a running back is just 2.57 years. Which means any wasted or injured seasons are catastrophic for keeper league fantasy owners as well as single-year leagues. Just ask any owner of Ryan Grant, Frank Gore, Pierre Thomas or DeAngelo Williams.
But there were plenty of good performances as well, both expected and surprising. Let's examine the top fantasy running backs of 2010.
Arian Foster, Houston - Heading into summer camp, Foster was expected to battle with Steve Slaton and rookie Ben Tate for carries. But Tate suffered a season-ending ankle injury in August and Foster seized the opportunity with a 231-yard, three-touchdown Opening Day performance worth 43 fantasy points. Over the next 16 weeks, he was the best running back with just three "off" days. He led all fantasy scoring with 356 points, 60 more than Michael Vick. Considering his ADP of 104 (ninth-round selection), he easily earned the TSN MVP Award for running backs.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota - It was a crazy year in Minnesota, but the one steadying point for the Vikings was Peterson. Despite missing a game and playing injured in a couple others, "All Day" ran for 1,298 yards (his lowest total in four seasons) and 12 touchdowns to finish second overall at the position with 263 points. Hopefully the 2011 Minnesota offense will find a quarterback to force teams to honor the passing game and give Peterson more room to run.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee - Thank goodness Tennessee running back Chris Johnson will beat the NFL average life span for running backs because it would be a shame to end it on such a "low" note. It was still a solid year with 1,609 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, but following on the footsteps of a 2,509-yard, 16-touchdown 2009 season and a No.1 overall selection in 2010, it felt like a disappointment. Assuming the team straightens out its quarterback situation, Johnson should get back to greatness in 2011.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia - With all the attention on Vick and wideout DeSean Jackson, McCoy frequently gets overlooked by the media, but he's a very good fantasy value, particularly in PPR leagues. He led all running backs with 78 receptions. McCoy posted a solid 1,672 from scrimmage, but was held back by scoring only nine touchdowns. As long as Vick is the starting quarterback, that number will likely stay low and McCoy won't be able to move up any further.
Darren McFadden, Oakland - He played just 13 games again this season, his third consecutive year with less than 16, but finally came into his own. Two "monster" games of 51 fantasy points each in Week 7 and Week 14 carried him into a top-five running back spot on the leaderboard. For "Run DMC" its all about his health and if he ever plays a full slate, he could be a top-three back.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland - Heading into training camp, Hillis figured to be primarily a blocking back...when he got on the field at all. In front of him on the depth chart was Jerome Harrison and rookie Montario Hardesty. When Hardesty went down with a season-ending ACL injury, Hillis' value rose, but only to the level of a goal-line option. But when Harrison stumbled, Hillis got a chance to play and just like he did in Denver when called upon, he didn't disappoint. Hillis was pretty much the Browns' entire offense, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and catching 61 balls for another 477 yards. He may finally have won over the coaches and won't have to struggle for "PT" in 2011. Given that he was a 22nd-round selection, or possibly a free-agent pickup in your league, Hillis is the easy winner of the "TSN Best Bargain Award" for running backs.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City - Considering how few touches Charles got in 2010, it's amazing that he finished in the top-10 of fantasy running backs. It took a 6.4 ypc average to post 1,467 yards on just 230 carries. Like McCoy, Charles will need to get more touchdowns to move up the ladder. He scored just five times on the ground and three via the air. Fellow Chiefs running back Thomas Jones faded at the end of the season, showing all of his 32 years of age, and Charles may get the number of opportunities next year to move up the leaderboard.
Matt Forte, Chicago - Forte is a solid, but unspectacular back rushing the ball, but it is his receiving skills that make him a top-10 fantasy running back. He's averaged 57 receptions over his first three seasons and as long as OC Mike Martz is around, those numbers should continue.
Michael Turner, Atlanta - Turner bounced back from an injury-filled 2009 season with a solid 1,371-yard, 12-touchdown rushing effort. He was a late first-rounder last year (ADP 9), but his inability to catch the ball out of the backfield limits his top end and he shouldn't be a first-round selection in 2011.
Ray Rice, Baltimore - Rice was expected to "take the next step" in 2010, but it didn't happen. Rice ran for fewer yards on more carries, caught fewer passes and scored less touchdowns than the previous season. Hopefully he can return to form, but it's unlikely he'll be the No.4 overall selection in 2011.
Like Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew (ADP 2) was a top-five selection in almost every league after a "monster" 2009 in which he combined for 1,765 yards and 16 touchdowns. But fantasy owners, myself included, didn't realize the extend of the his knee injury. He still played 14 games in 2010, but it was obvious that he was hurting and it showed in his production. His statistics in the first seven weeks of the season (510 yards rushing, one touchdown) likely knocked many of his fantasy owners out of contention so that when he did post 100+ yard games for six consecutive weeks it wasn't enough. For that he unfortunately receives the "TSN Most Disappointing Award" for running backs.