The top running back, and No. 1 overall pick, in fantasy football drafts this year is clear, with Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings coming off a season where he nearly set the league’s single-season rushing record. But after that a case can be made for a handful of running backs that should be ranked second on cheat sheets, with some consideration surely given to your league’s scoring format.
In the latest edition of my fantasy football “Face-Off” series, I am going a little further down the pre-draft rankings to take a look at two running backs who are surely recognizable names for fantasy owners. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans had a 2,000-yard season in 2009 but has struggled to reach that level since, and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (1,606 yards) but is coming off an injury-plagued season in 2012. Is one a better fantasy option than the other this year?
The Case For Chris Johnson
Johnson got off to an incredibly slow start in 2012, with just 45 yards on 33 carries over the first three games, but he turned things around quickly with at least 80 rushing yards in seven of the next eight games. Overall he had five 100-yard rushing games last season, all with at least 120 yards on the ground, but also had five games with less than 30 yards.
The Titans made an effort to upgrade their offensive line during the offseason by signing guard Andy Levitre in free agency and using their first-round pick in April on guard Chance Warmack. So it should be easier for Johnson to find room to run and put his speed on display, and his durability should be noted as he has not missed a game since 2008.
The Case For Maurice Jones-Drew
Jones-Drew’s 2012 campaign got off on the wrong foot with a prolonged holdout, then a left foot injury that eventually required surgery caused him to miss the final 10 games of the season.
The Jaguars do not have a ton of offensive talent, and they will be without wide receiver Justin Blackmon for the first four games while he serves a suspension. So Jones-Drew should be the clear centerpiece of their offense once again, he has the extra motivation of being in a contract year and attempting to re-establish himself as one of the top running backs in the league.
2013 is the age-28 season for both Jones-Drew and Johnson, and their career workloads are similiar (1,570 career carries for Jones-Drew, 1,463 for Johnson). I think it’s incredibly risky for any fantasy owner to have either as their No. 1 running back, and both have a chance to be overdrafted based on name recognition, but those that seek a RB2 can do worse.
Johnson has just 10 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons, so it was not surprising to see the Titans sign Shonn Greene to take short yardage and goal line work away from him. Greene’s overall impact on Johnson’s workload remains to be seen, but any potential to lose touches is bad news.
Jones-Drew faces no significant competition for carries with Week 1 on the horizon, and all indications are he is 100 percent healthy. Justin Forsett has missed the entire preseason with a toe injury, and if he is not ready for the start of the season Jordan Todman would likely become Jones-Drew’s primary backup.
Johnson and Jones-Drew are both in line for 250-300 carries this year along with being a primary part of their team’s passing game, but my choice here is Jones-Drew. His upside is not as great as Johnson’s overall, but I’ll take better week-to-week consistency every time.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.