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Here are my top-15 ranked running backs. Numbers 15-30 will be up soon.


1. Larry Johnson, Chiefs

Good news: He compiled over 2,000 yards last year to go along with 21 touchdowns. Did I mention he only started nine games? L.J. put together nine straight 100-yard games to finish last season and went for over 200 yards twice. Expect him to be even more involved in the passing game this season, and look for Johnson to be an elite fantasy player for years to come.

Bad news: Head coach Dick Vermeil and offensive coordinator Al Saunders are gone, along with offensive lineman Willie Roaf and fullback Tony Richardson. Historically, L.J. is at his best when he has a chip on his shoulder. How will he react this year when everyone is touting him as one of the league's best backs?

2. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks

Good News: He produces touchdowns like Shawn Kemp produces children. Alexander ran for 1,880 yards and had an NFL-record 28 touchdowns last season (Sidenote: Remember when he got a concussion in the playoffs and was jumping around on the sidelines like a toddler seeing Mickey Mouse for the first time? High comedy). Alexander hasn't missed a game in six seasons and has totaled at least 16 TDs every year since 2001.

Bad News: Guard Steve Hutchinson is in Minnesota, but Seattle's offensive line still remains very good. That's all I can think of. Alexander is consistent, durable and a touchdown machine. He is a safer pick at No. 1 than Johnson. Maybe I should reverse them? Nah, I'll stick with my gut.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers

Good news: For non-fantasy geeks, he is the league's best overall running back. Tomlinson has totaled 35 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons and has caught at least 50 balls five straight years. In college, we tried renaming my buddy (Jordan) Jordainian Tomlinson, but it never really caught on.

Bad news: Tomlinson was slowed by injuries towards the end of last season.  He failed to post a 100-yard rushing game over the final five weeks and found the end zone just once during that stretch. Some would point to Philip Rivers as a negative, but I don't see it that way. Drew Brees was an average quarterback in 2003, but Tomlinson posted the best numbers of his career that season and caught 100 balls.

4. Clinton Portis, Redskins

Good news: This is where it gets tough. Everybody and their father (thought I'd switch it up) has Johnson, Alexander and Tomlinson listed as the top-three running backs. I have Portis heading the second tier, and here's why. He set a franchise record with 1,516 yards last season and posted nine 100-yard games. After rushing for just five touchdowns in 2004, Portis found the end zone 11 times last year, and I expect that number to go up once again. Meanwhile, Al Saunders, the guy who previously was present as Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk and Larry Johnson all turned into elite fantasy backs, joins Washington's coaching staff.

Bad news: There's not much here. Portis is only 24-years-old (at least that's the age of his main personality), but he has tallied 695 carries during the past two seasons. He hasn't been much of a factor in Washington's passing game, catching 30 balls for 216 yards last season.

5. Tiki Barber, Giants

Good news: I guess it's true what they say about 30-year-old running backs. They total 2,390 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Barber ran for over 200 yards three times last season and ran for at least 100 in six of his last seven games. It might be unfair to expect a repeat performance, but there's no question that Barber will once again be a top fantasy producer.


Bad news: So will this be the year his age catches up with him? After all, 30-year-old running backs can perform, but they have to start struggling at 31 right? Don't count on it. While he is older than the other elite backs, Barber tallied more than 300 carries just once in a season before 2004. Last year proved that he is very much in his prime. And don't be scared by Brandon Jacobs. He had seven touchdowns last season, and Barber still was a fantasy monster.

6. Edgerrin James, Cardinals

Good news: Arizona converted just 38 percent of its red zone chances into touchdowns over the last three seasons, the worst percentage of any team in the league. Enter Edgerrin James. All of his 14 touchdowns last season were in the red zone. Expect him to tally at least 15 TDs this season, and if he can come close to reaching 1,500 yards like he's done the past two seasons, fantasy owners will be very happy.

Bad news: Anything affiliated with the Arizona Cardinals has been bad news for quite some time now. The offensive line is suspect, and the entire team only managed 1,138 rushing yards in 2005. If the team gets into shootouts, it could mean more pass protection and less carries for James.

7. Rudi Johnson, Bengals

Good news: He has run for over 1,450 yards and tallied 12 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, causing fantasy owners to break out in random chants of "Ru-di, Ru-di." Johnson finished strong last year, posting nine touchdowns in the final seven weeks. He has a primary role for one of the league's best offenses, which usually means production for any fantasy player.

Bad news: There were eight games last year where Johnson failed to either get in the end zone or post 100 yards. Also separating him from elite back status is the fact that he only plays two downs (Johnson has posted less than 100 yards receiving on the season in each of the last two years). Concerns about a tough schedule this year are overrated. Johnson put up big numbers the past two years facing the Ravens and Steelers twice.

8. LaMont Jordan, Raiders

Good news: Unlike Johnson, Jordan catches the ball at an alarming rate. Last year, he totaled 70 catches for 563 yards. If you're in a league that rewards bonuses for 100 all-purpose yards, Jordan becomes an even more attractive pick. He totaled 100 rushing and receiving yards in 8 of the 14 games he played last season. With an improving offensive line, many expect him to be a fantasy star in 2006.

Bad news: Jordan didn't exactly finish strong in his first season as a full-time back. He found the end zone just twice after week 8 and gained 100 yards rushing just once after week 7. Jordan ranked 15th in the league with 1,025 yards on the ground so if he fails to gain points through the air, he becomes an average fantasy back.

9. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins


Good news: I thought about putting him as high as No. 7, but couldn't rank him ahead of proven guys like James and Johnson. Brown has become the trendy pick to have a breakout season. The Dolphins won all three games last season where he had at least 20 carries, and he eclipsed 100 yards in two of those games. I'm on board with the idea that Ricky Williams' absence means this could be an enormous year for Brown.

Bad news: He hasn't done it yet. After having played with Cadillac Williams at Auburn, it's been quite some time since Brown was the only guy in the backfield. Also, EVERYONE is predicting him to go off this season. Normally that wouldn't matter, but for some reason, in fantasy, it always does. Domanick Davis was one of those trendy picks last season, and we all know how that turned out.

10. Steven Jackson, Rams

Good news: He's got dreads. Running backs with dreads are productive fantasy players (see Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams). It's like how actors with dreads are Oscar winners (see Doug E. Doug ). If you're not sold yet, Mike Martz is gone, meaning the Rams simply have to run the ball more. In the three games last year where Jackson had at least 20 carries, he averaged 129 yards on the ground.

Bad news: Like Brown, Jackson too is unproven. He put up some real clunkers last year, managing 50 yards or less in five of the 15 games he played in. In four games, he averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry. Numbers like that can kill your fantasy team on any given week. Jackson managed just two touchdowns after week seven and reached 100 yards rushing twice all season. Injuries slowed him last year, but the potential is there.

11. Carnell Williams, Buccaneers

Good news: He had six 100-yard games in 2005. Not bad for a rookie, huh? If Cadillac is healthy, he is getting the ball. He had 20 carries or more eight times last season, and the notion that he slowed down towards the end of the season isn't really true. Williams had 80 yards or more in six of his last seven games and reached the 100-yard mark three times after week 10.

Bad news: Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott combined for more than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns last season. That meant just six trips to the end zone for Cadillac. He likely won't put up big touchdown numbers again in 2006. However, he could easily pass the guys ranked ahead of him if he gets more involved in the passing game. Williams caught just 20 balls for 81 yards last season. Move him up in the rankings in yardage-heavy leagues and down in the rankings in scoring-based leagues.

12. Willis McGahee, Bills

Good news: Now is when things get much more confusing, and the question marks occur more frequently. He was a trendy pick last year and simply didn't pan out (Don't you love fantasy football? Where else could a guy who racks up over 1,400 all-purpose yards be labeled a bust?). McGahee remains one of the league's best options in the red zone (that's where all five of his TDs came last year) and he is just two years removed from a 13-touchdown season. He could be a guy who becomes a bargain on draft day because all anyone remembers is last year.

Bad news: The problem is not much has changed to suggest that this year will be different for McGahee. The offensive line is still one of the league's worst, and the quarterback situation is an enormous question mark. Are any teams afraid to stack the box and force J.P. Losman to beat them? I didn't think so. Though McGahee did have five 100-yard games last year, he also had 50 yards or less on the ground five times. He should be able to fill the role of your second running back, but expecting much more is a huge risk.

13. Brian Westbrook, Eagles

Good news: Despite missing the season's final four weeks, he led all running backs in receiving with 616 yards. Westbrook is a major threat in the passing game, having totaled 134 receptions in the past two years. When was his most productive year scoring? 2003. The year before T.O. arrived. With Owens gone, Westbrook becomes one of the Eagles' few weapons on offense. He will get his touches and reach double-digit touchdowns. To me, Westbook is a great option for your second running back because a bad game for him will be something like 40 yards rushing and 50 receiving. Not too shabby.

Bad news: The injury risk is there, but I think it's somewhat overblown. Prior to last year, Westbrook missed four games in two years. That's not exactly Mark Prior territory. My bad. Wrong sport. Anyway, fantasy owners may shy away from him because of Andy Reid's pass happy offense, but don't be fooled. Touches matter. Carries don't.

14. Domanick Davis, Texans

Good news: Houston running back Reggie Bush…I mean Domanick Davis, has some of the same question marks as Westbrook. He can help your team by catching the ball (four touchdowns receiving last season and 69 catches in 2004), but fantasy owners are scared by his health (Davis missed five games last season). He's only in his fourth year, but Davis has already earned the first name "When he's healthy…" In the last two games he played last season, Davis went off for 155 and 139 yards rushing. In fact, he had at least 100 all-purpose yards in eight of 11 games. Add in the fact that the offensive line cannot possibly be any worse and the Texans had enough faith in Davis not to pick Bush, and he could be poised for a tremendous season.

Bad news: Two rushing touchdowns last year after 13 in 2004 did not leave a good taste in the mouths of fantasy owners. While I don't usually predict that a guy will get injured, Davis is already suffering knee problems in training camp, and it's questionable how much action he will get before the season starts.

15. Reggie Bush, Saints

Good news: He's been one of the most talked about fantasy players out there as teams prepare for their drafts. First off, if you missed it, I wrote a little more in-depth about Bush a couple weeks ago. He remains one of the best college players I've ever seen. However, USC had several pros on the offensive side of the ball. And the Saints? Well, it's up for debate. If Bush ends up having a huge year, it will be largely because of his receiving numbers.

Bad news: The Saints have a questionable offensive line, and Deuce McAllister will take carries away from Bush. Last year's Heisman winner has never carried the load of a full-time running back and will face immense pressure in his first year in the league. Taking Bush earlier than he's ranked because of his explosiveness is not worth it. Let someone else take the risk.