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Faceoff: The Top RB

June 20th

Clayton Gray: Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, and Adrian Peterson appear to be 1a, 1b, and 1c in the rankings this year. Who is your No. 1 back? Why?

Matt Waldman: Peterson. Despite the presence of an ailing Brett Favre and a green Joe Webb, Peterson actually improved as a player. His fantasy stats might not have reflected it, but he improved his ball security and became a better receiver. For me, Peterson is a lot like Ladainian Tomlinson from 5-7 years ago, he's great enough to be mentioned in the conversation as the top back but there's always a new flavor threatening that spot and often bumping him out. I'm not concerned about the quarterback play. The Vikings have a good line, Peterson trains hard, and he knows what it takes to be a great runner for the long haul. I can't say the same about Foster as much as I love what I saw from him last year. I also can't say the same about the Titans' line after last year. We're splitting hairs, because I wouldn't be disappointed with any of these three backs. I'm not trying to hit a dead center bull's eye with the No.1 overall pick, I want a player who is going to get me in the yellow consistently. Peterson is the safest.

Jeff Pasquino: Chris Johnson will have to work behind a new quarterback (unless Kerry Collins comes back, but even then Jake Locker will see the field at some point). Defenses will key on him, but rookie Jamie Harper will get some opportunities to spell Johnson in the backfield. Johnson is still the clear lead back for the Titans, but Tennessee will work on balancing out the offense more with TE Jared Cook and WR Kenny Britt getting more involved in a passing attack. Johnson is still in Tier 1, but I think Harper and a more balanced offense will lower his touches slightly, but not to the degree of the drop for the other two backs on this short list.

Adrian Peterson slides in as RB2 here for me. Despite another rookie QB about to take over with Christian Ponder, Peterson has performed admirably behind guys like Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb. Peterson can carry an offense, and his offensive coordinator (Bill Musgrave) recently stated that he will go with a conservative offense that runs through his feature back. Peterson had under 300 carries last year but did miss some time, so barring injury I would still take Peterson as a lock for a Top 3 finish - consistent with his last four seasons. I see no reason to worry if you have the second pick and have to take him if Johnson is not available.

Arian Foster is certainly not the RB1 choice in my mind. The return of Ben Tate into the picture will lower his heavy workload, and Owen Daniels is now ready for a full season at the TE spot. Daniels led all receivers for Houston over the last four weeks to close 2010, racking up 36 targets and 22 receptions along with x yards and two touchdowns. Foster's workload as a receiver appeared to be just as high over those four weeks as the rest of 2010, but he was actually the fifth target on offense when Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels were both healthy (Foster was behind both of them along with Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones over those two weeks). Matt Schaub's passing totals over those two games (Week 14 vs. Baltimore and Week 15 vs. Tennessee) were ridiculous, thanks to 62 and 54 attempts in those two contests. I expect Foster's carries to go down a little while his receptions should fall down into the normal running back range of 40-45 for 2011.

Jason Wood: At the risk of copping out, I think you really, REALLY want to have one of the top 4 picks this year, particularly in PPR leagues where I think Jamaal Charles deserves to be grouped alongside Foster, Johnson and Peterson. But since you're asking me to choose, I'll note that I current have Foster ranked #1 of the trio, but Adrian Peterson is just a few fantasy points shy of the top spot. Foster was a revelation last year and the idea that someone of his talent and productivity would give up touches to the likes of Ben Tate mystifies me. He's a true all purpose back and is a great fit in that system, with precious few miles on his body. Unlike either Peterson or Johnson, we know Foster has a QB/WR tandem that will keep opposing defenses honest, to boot. I don't want to sound dogmatic here though, this is literally splitting hairs. If anything I almost hope to end up with the 3rd pick in most leagues so I can take whoever falls but have the earlier pick in the 2nd round.

Jeff Pasquino: Actually I think it extends to six, with Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy right there in PPR leagues.

Jeff Haseley: I believe Jamaal Charles will be the top back this year. He is entering his fourth year, which is the prime of his career. He has yet to have a full blown top-back type season yet, but this year I believe he puts it all together with a big season. Despite being in a tandem last year with Thomas Jones, Charles finished 4th among RBs. If he gets the lion's share of the Chiefs carries, which I believe he will, we could see a monster season from him. I'm on board naming Charles my top RB pick this year. I like the Chiefs schedule - there's not a lot of tough run defenses that will slow Charles down on any given week. He is almost a lock for 1,350 to 1,400 yards rushing and 45-50 receptions. Call me hopeful, but I think this is his year.

My Top 5 RBs are Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster.

Mark Wimer: I have Adrian Peterson at #1 in redraft leagues (non-PPR) due to the fact that the team is likely to start rookie QB Christian Ponder from day one this season. With a rookie under center I expect the team to lean heavily on Peterson and to feed him the ball week in and week out, more than we've seen in the past few seasons.

In PPR leagues, I lean towards Jamaal Charles at #1. He will reportedly shoulder an even bigger slice of the Kansas City carries this year, and he has seen the Chiefs' WR squad upgraded through the draft (Jonathan Baldwin should provide a legit WR #2 across from Dwayne Bowe) - the improved personnel at WR and the return of a healthy Dexter McCluster should pop open some additional seams in opposing defenses this year. Charles is a guy who can go to the house through a small seam, and he catches a ton of footballs (40 during 2009 and 45 during 2010).