In fantasy football, the stud running back is your ticket to glory. Plug him in, kick back and let the good times roll.
The trick is finding the right one – better yet two – to build your team around. This requires a lot of preparation, a little guesswork and a healthy dose of blind luck. Think of it like hunting, only without a weapon. Or camouflage. Or animals. On second thought, don't think of it like hunting at all.
A year ago, maybe you passed on LaDanian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes, thinking you had a steal in Ahman Green. Then in the second round, you were happy to grab Travis Henry.
OK, maybe that was me. And maybe I finished near the bottom of the league. But it wasn't totally my fault – both of those players were top-15 backs heading into the 2004 season. Again, guesswork and luck.
Thankfully, the 2005 season brings with it a clean slate and a deep class of talented tailbacks. There are the big guns (Tomlinson, Alexander, Holmes, Edgerrin James), some super sophomores (Willis McGahee, Julius Jones, Kevin Jones, Steven Jackson), bounce-back candidates (Green, Jamal Lewis, Clinton Portis), a quartet of promising rookies (Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Cedric Benson, J.J. Arrington) and a handful of injury risks (Fred Taylor, Michael Bennett, Chris Brown) who just might be worth the risk if they can stay healthy.
Below you'll find a list of the top 25 running backs to help you prepare for your fantasy draft. Get two of the top 15 and there could be a championship in your future. Wait too long and your fantasy season becomes a nightmare. Up to you.
1. LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – Don't think too hard about who to take with the No. 1 overall pick. You want the game's best all-purpose back, a workhorse who has 50 total TDs over the past three seasons. He won't disappoint. I hesitate to say can't miss, but LT's as close as you're going to get.
2. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks – Dominant and dependable. What more could you ask for? Alexander set the standard for RBs last season, leading the pack in fantasy scoring, and he's averaged 18 TDs over a three-year span.
3. Priest Holmes, Chiefs – The consensus No. 1 pick of 2004 could be better than LT or Seattle Shaun if he's fully recovered from a knee injury that cut his season in half. Don't forget, he scored 14 TDs in eight games before blowing out his knee in Week 9 last year.
4. Edgerrin James, Colts – The only thing keeping Edge out of the top three are a few TDs. James led all RBs in total yards last season (2,031) but got in the end zone just nine times. He's averaged 8 TDs over the past three seasons. Blame Peyton Manning.
5. Willis McGahee, Bills – A fashionable sleeper pick in '04, McGahee makes the leap to elite status in '05. He scored with the big boys last season with 13 TDs in his final 10 games. If QB J.P. Losman can keep defenses honest, Willis could be the truth.
6. Domanick Davis, Texans – Another newcomer to the top 10, and with good reason. Davis scored in all but one of the Texans' final nine games in 2004, and as the key piece of an improving offense he stands to surpass his 13 TDs of a year ago.
7. Deuce McAllister, Saints – A sprained ankle derailed Deuce early in 2004, but don't let that discourage you. He's two years removed from a 1,600-yard season and only 26. Plus, the Saints aren't paying him the big bucks to pass protect.
8. Clinton Portis, Redskins – His puzzlingly poor 2004 will scare some away, but the 'Skins run-oriented offense and the return of big Jon Jansen at tackle make Portis a potential running back bargain in 2005.
9. Jamal Lewis, Ravens – Would love to rank him higher, but injury and conditioning concerns knock him down a notch for now. But the guy's got something to prove. Lewis had the second-highest rushing total in NFL history in 2003, only to miss four games in 2004, then spend four months in jail during the offseason. Could pay huge dividends with a late first- or early second-round pick.
10. Corey Dillon, Bengals – Dillon got a fresh start – and a Super Bowl ring – in New England, where he ran for 1,635 yards and 12 TDs. Those numbers will be tough to match, but I wouldn't bet against this guy. Plus, he's got Tom Brady. I've heard that, quite frankly, that's all you need.
11. Julius Jones, Cowboys
12. Ahman Green, Packers
13. Kevin Jones, Lions
14. Tiki Barber, Giants
15. Rudi Johnson, Bengals
16. Curtis Martin, Jets
17. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
18. LaMont Jordan, Raiders
19. Steven Jackson, Rams
20. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
21. Warrick Dunn, Falcons
22. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
23. Chris Brown, Titans
24. Fred Taylor, Jaguars
25. J.J. Arrington, Cardinals
Next up – quarterbacks. Stay tuned.