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Running Back Rankings: James Propels the Ducks

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Ishmael Butler, James Harrison and David Bowie.


2011 RUNNING BACK RANKINGS



1. LaMichael James, Jr., Oregon

The consensus top college fantasy running back, James plays in what might be the nation's most prolific offense and he's the primary reason why that offense is so good. He's scored 38 touchdowns the last two years, and his 135.2 yards per game and 21 rushing touchdowns last season are both tops among returning running backs this year. He remains the engine that drives the Ducks offense.

2. Knile Davis, Jr. Arkansas

After somehow getting overlooked by Arkansas coaches all of 2009 and roughly the first month of 2010, Davis was finally given the ball mid-season last year, and he was an absolute terror. He totaled 1,028 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in the last seven games of the year, and even chipped in 89 yards and a touchdown through the air. Davis' combination of size, speed and power might be unmatched nationwide, and if he keeps producing like he did last year, no one will overlook him at the next level.

3. Lance Dunbar, Sr., North Texas

Dunbar might be the nation's most well-rounded back. He's a home-run threat, but he's tough and can catch passes, too. He totaled 3,563 yards and 35 touchdowns from scrimmage the last two years and is a sheer nightmare for his Sun Belt opponents. He might be slowed Week 3 at Alabama, but every other opponent is probably in for a beating.

4. Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama

Despite injury concerns after missing two games with a knee issue last year, the bruising Richardson looks like a safe bet for a huge season in 2011. Mark Ingram is out of the way, and while Eddie Lacy is good enough to steal carries, Richardson should have most of the running game to himself in 2011. That means big numbers for Richardson, who is skilled both as a runner and receiver.

5. David Wilson, Jr., Virginia Tech

Wilson is likely to be one of the nation's most electric players in 2011. Ryan Williams deservedly got a lot of hype at Virginia Tech, but Wilson might be just as good. Even with Williams and Darren Evans around last year, Wilson still totaled 853 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage, not to mention two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Few running backs are more frightening in the open field.

6. Marcus Lattimore, So., South Carolina

Lattimore isn't just good he's so good that, at multiple points last year, Steve Spurrier became generally uninterested in passing the ball. Against SEC foes Georgia and Florida, Spurrier called 77 running plays for Lattimore. Those are huge numbers regardless of who's calling the plays, but Spurrier especially doesn't have a history of such running. After finishing his true freshman season with 1,609 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns, Lattimore would be ranked higher if he hadn't suffered knee and ankle injuries last year.

7. Robert Turbin, Jr., Utah State

The Turbinator had his 2010 season wiped out by a spring knee injury, but he should be his usual dominant self since in 2011 he's had nearly 18 months to recover. He was one of the nation's absolute best players in 2009, running for 1,296 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 418 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver in 12 games. He probably won't be quite that good in 2011, but he still figures to be one of the best.

8. Marcus Coker, So., Iowa

With quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson gone, Coker suddenly finds himself as the foundation of the Iowa offense. And as Shonn Greene showed us in 2008, this could mean very big things. Coker was highly impressive as a true freshman last year, totalling 438 yards and two touchdowns in his three starts, though he doesn't show much as a receiver.

9. Adonis Thomas, Sr., Toledo

Thomas didn't get the ball much in his first two years at Toledo, but he finally got some work last year and made the most of it. He finished the year with 1,470 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage, including 993 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in the last six weeks alone. If Toledo keeps giving him the ball, there's no reason to think Thomas won't continue in a similar fashion this season.

10. Stepfan Taylor, Jr., Stanford

Taylor emerged from a crowded Stanford backfield to lead the team with 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in his true sophomore season last year. He also proved to be a skilled receiver, taking 28 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown. He's not Toby Gerhart, but Taylor figures to improve last year's impressive numbers this season as Stanford's feature back.

11. Doug Martin, Sr., Boise State

Martin was excellent last season, totaling 1,598 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage in 13 games. It's possible he'll get the ball a bit more in 2011, as the loss of receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis figures to leave the Boise State passing game weakened. If that happens, this ranking will prove to low.

12. Ronnie Hillman, So., San Diego State

Hillman was one of the nation's best running backs as a freshman last year, burning defenses for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground in 13 games. He averaged more than 20 carries per game, and he might get even more work in 2011 now that star wideouts Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson are no longer around. Hillman is a bit of an injury risk given that he might weight less than his listed weight of 175, but he held up fine last year, and there's no doubt at this point that he's a big-time playmaker.

13. Bobby Rainey, Sr., Western Kentucky

This might seem low for a player who ran for more than 1,600 yards and scored 15 touchdowns last season, but it's tough to see Rainey duplicating those numbers this season. Not only did Rainey set the bar extremely high, but listed (very) generously at 5-8, 205, it Rainey likely won't survive another season with 30.7 touches from scrimmage per game. If his touches don't decrease, the odds are that his production or durability (or both) will suffer.

14. Orleans Darkwa, So., Tulane

Darkwa was excellent as a true freshman last year, posting 824 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage in his last six games. He even threw two touchdown passes. Tulane is historically a great place to find fantasy backs, as Mewelde Moore, Matt Forte and Andre Anderson all put up big numbers in the role that Darkwa now owns.

15. Tauren Poole, Sr., Tennessee

Poole is the feature back for what might be an underrated Tennessee offense. He finished last season with 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage and he might be even better this year. Tyler Bray has the Volunteers passing game in high gear, so Poole should routinely see seven-man fronts and make a number trips into the red zone. If he hadn't missed time with a thigh injury last year, he'd be ranked a bit higher.

16. Jason Ford, Sr., Illinois

Ford enters the season under the radar thanks to the now-departed Mikel Leshoure hogging the spotlight in Illinois, but Ford should put up quality numbers as well. He's not the talent Leshoure is, but like Leshoure, Ford is a big bruiser who should have no trouble shouldering a feature back role. Even with Leshoure around, Ford still ran for 480 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

17. Lennon Creer, Sr., Louisiana Tech

For some reason, Louisiana Tech coaches didn't give the Tennessee transfer the ball consistently until about midseason last year, and Creer immediately made them look silly for waiting so long. After getting just 54 carries the first five weeks, Creer erupted for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in his final seven games. If the Louisiana Tech coaches can be trusted to give him the ball consistently this season, Creer might be worth ranking higher.

18. Montee Ball, Jr., Wisconsin

James White is still around and is a more talented runner, but Ball is significantly bigger and likely will get a bigger workload as a result. Ball is also a better receiver. Either way, with John Clay out of town there's enough room in the Wisconsin offense for both Ball and White to approach 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Just expect Ball to get the first crack at it.

19. Ray Graham, Jr., Pittsburgh

Graham would rank as high as perhaps the top 5 if Pittsburgh ran the same pro-style offense it did in past years, but the arrival of coach Todd Graham means the team will install a Tulsa-style spread offense. Ray Graham (no relation to coach Todd) is an elusive playmaker who can easily fit into the new scheme the issue is fewer carries. But even if Graham doesn't get a big workload as a runner, expect him to still make plays as a receiver.

20. Vick Ballard, Sr., Mississippi State

Ballard doesn't get a chance to contribute much as a receiver, but he'll likely be at least a solid RB2 in all-120 leagues after running for 20 touchdowns in 12 games last year. His workload increased as the year progressed, which is a good sign that he might get more carries in 2011 than he did last year. Expect last year's 981 yards to improve, even if he can't get back to the lofty 20-touchdown mark.

21. Lamar Miller, So., Miami (FL)

Miller's fantasy value should see a gigantic increase in 2011, as Damien Berry is no longer around, and the team's new coach, Al Golden, oversaw offenses that provided big numbers to Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown at Temple. Mike James could steal carries from Miller, but Miller is one of the more talented runners in the country and should make a big impact regardless of James' presence.

22. Rex Burkhead, Jr., Nebraska

Burkhead doesn't figure to have a monopoly on the Nebraska running game, but his workload is still in for a big increase now that Roy Helu is in the NFL. Burkhead ran for 951 yards and seven touchdowns last year, while Helu totaled 1,245 yards and 11 touchdowns. With that production up for grabs, Burkhead should be able to match Helu's 2010 numbers.

23. Andre Ellington, Jr., Clemson

Ellington is one of the nation's most electric runners, but he missed most of the second half last year with a turf toe injury. If he stays healthy in 2011, he'll prove a good draft-day. Extra carries are available with Jamie Harper gone, but it's not clear how much of that workload Ellington will get. But he ran for 684 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first eight games of last year, so Ellington's upside is big.

24. Brandon Bolden, Sr., Mississippi

Bolden was outstanding in 2010, rushing for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns and adding 344 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver. He'd be ranked higher if his workload was safe, but Mississippi has a weird allegiance to bust recruit Enrique Davis, who stole roughly 10 carries per game last year despite averaging nearly two yards less per carry than Bolden. Jeff Scott is another threat to steal carries, as well. Bolden will put up numbers if he gets the ball. The question is how often he'll get it.

25. Zach Line, Jr., Southern Methodist

Although he's a big back, Line has proved a good fit in Southern Methodist's spread offense. He ranked 11th in the nation last year with 1,494 rushing yards, with 10 of his carries going for touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per rush. He doesn't offer much as a pass-catcher, as he totaled only 163 receiving yards last year, but it'd be an upset if he didn't breeze past 1,100 yards and approach double-digit touchdowns on the ground.

26. Pat Shed, Sr., Alabama-Birmingham

Shed only ran for three touchdowns last year so he isn't much of a scoring threat, but he's one of the nation's best pass-catching running backs and does a good job of piling up yardage. He finished last season with 1,318 yards from scrimmage, and he's in a good position to improve in 2011. His workload increased as last year progressed, so expect more touches this season.

27. Chris Polk, Jr., Washington

Polk finished last season in a brilliant fashion, running for 685 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. But things might get tougher in 2011, as the loss of quarterback Jake Locker means defenses will sell out against the run. Polk's value is further limited by his lack of touchdowns 14 rushing touchdowns in his last 25 games is decent, but it doesn't stand out.

28. Mike Ball, Jr., Nevada

Ball is one of the biggest wild cards this season. Nevada's offense is in for big changes now that Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua are gone, but it should at least remain a strong rushing attack. And although Ball has only been a situational player to this point for Nevada, he's been a gigantic big-play threat all the while, totaling 479 yards and nine touchdowns on just 61 carries last season. That's 7.85 yards per carry, and a touchdown roughly every seven carries. Ball has big upside, but carries some risk as well in a revamped offense.

29. Darriet Perry, Sr., Florida International

Florida International has a fairly crowded backfield, but Perry pulled away from the pack as last season progressed, finishing the year with 603 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last six games. The one thing limiting his value is that Darrian Mallary and Kedrick Rhodes both impressed last year, so his carries might be limited.

30. James White, So., Wisconsin

White was a steal of a recruit for Wisconsin last year, as he showed some of the best balance and elusiveness among the nation's running backs. He'd be ranked much higher if it wasn't for the presence of Montee Ball, but it looks like Ball is the player most likely to earn a feature back role with Wisconsin. Still, look for White to make a big impact, even if he doesn't get as many touches. He ran for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.74 yards per carry last year, so he can do damage even if he doesn't get a huge workload.

31. Cyrus Gray, Sr., Texas A&M

Gray was incredible as a starter last season, totaling 834 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage in the final five games. He benefited when fellow former top recruit Christine Michael fractured his tibia, gobbling up Michael's carries. But with Michael back in 2011, Gray's value falls from clear RB1 status to likely no more than an RB2 in all-120 leagues as the two should again split carries.

32. Jasmin Hopkins, Sr., Northern Illinois

It's not entirely clear whether Hopkins will be the main running back for Northern Illinois this season, but he's likely the top candidate. Hopkins didn't get much work behind Chad Spann last year, but he was extremely efficient when he did get the ball. He ran for 366 yards and two touchdowns on just 38 carries, averaging 9.6 yards per carry. If he's starting, his big-play ability gives him big upside.

33. Victor Anderson, Sr., Louisville

Anderson is competing with Jeremy Wright to earn the starting tailback spot at Louisville, and whoever wins the job figures to be a strong fantasy asset. Bilal Powell put up big numbers in the role last year, and Anderson is the favorite to seize the spot heading into fall. Anderson ran for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2008.

34. Robbie Rouse, Jr., Fresno State

Rouse is the top running back for a run-heavy, pro-style offense in Fresno, but he was a bit inconsistent and had injury troubles last season. He still managed 1,260 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage last year, so he should finish the season with quality stats even if he misses a game or two. He might have it a bit rougher than a year ago, however, as Fresno will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback.

35. Rodney Stewart, Sr., Colorado

Despite playing in an offense with an inefficient passing game, Stewart ran for 1,316 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The tiny back is also a skilled receiver, finishing 2010 with 290 yards on 29 receptions. He's not in a great offensive situation this year, but the same was true the last seasons, too, and it didn't stop him from producing.

36. Montel Harris, Sr., Boston College

Harris has had an eyebrow-raising 801 touches from scrimmage in three years at Boston College, but he's shoulder the huge workload to this point without slowing down. He finished 2010 with 1,242 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground with 112 yards and another touchdown through the air. He seems like a lock for 1,000 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, but he might not get quite as many touches as in recent years because backup Andre Williams emerged as an effective runner toward the end of last year.

37. James Sims, So., Kansas

Sims did very well as a true freshman in 2010, finishing the season with 876 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage despite playing in just 11 games. He figures to get a more consistent workload in his sophomore season, and it would be disappointing if the big back didn't approach 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns. No other Kansas running back averaged better than 3.87 yards per carry last year, so Sims easily looks like the top talent available for the Jayhawks.

38. Antwon Bailey, Sr., Syracuse

With Delone Carter out of the picture, Bailey should have easy access to a fairly big workload at Syracuse this year. Serving as primarily the third-down back last season, Bailey totaled an impressive 860 yards and five touchdowns. While he doesn't look like a big scoring threat, Bailey has a chance to put up big yardage totals with Carter out of the way.

39. Cierre Wood, Jr., Notre Dame

Wood emerged as Notre Dame's top running back last year, and he should be in for a quality season with Armando Allen graduated. The former totaled 650 yards and five touchdowns in last season's final seven games modest but still efficient numbers. His upside is limited by the pass-happy nature of Notre Dame's offense, but Wood is talented enough to produce well as long as he's getting the ball.

40. Bryce Brown, So., Kansas State

It's not certain who will start at running back for Kansas State, but Brown, a Tennessee transfer, is the favorite to emerge with the role. Considered by many to be the top running back recruit of 2009, Brown could inherit the offense that allowed Daniel Thomas to run for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. If it's announced that Brown is the clear starter for the Wildcats, he's worth ranking higher.

41. Ed Wesley, Jr., Texas Christian

Despite formidable talents like Matthew Tucker and Waymon James playing in the same backfield, Wesley has been good enough to emerge as the clear leader among Texas Christian's running backs. He ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry last year, and he might get more work this season since the team might run more often to cope with the loss of quarterback Andy Dalton. The crowded backfield limits his upside, however.

42. Shawn Southward, Jr., Troy

Despite splitting carries with DuJuan Harris the last two years, Southward has still been able to establish himself as one of college football's more effective runners. He totaled 813 yards and nine touchdowns last season after finishing 2009 with 725 and 12. The departures of Harris and Jerrel Jernigan, however, leaves a void of 142 carries in the Troy offense, so Southward should have his best season yet.

43. Edwin Baker, Jr., Michigan State

Baker is a talented running back, but his upside is limited by his lack of receiving skills and Michigan State's crowded backfield. Le'Veon Bell ran for 605 yards and eight touchdowns last year, so while Baker's 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns impressed, his production will be stymied as long as Bell and Larry Caper are around. He should be close to a lock for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, however, so his floor is relatively high.

44. Keola Antolin, Sr., Arizona

Antolin has held a steady presence in the Arizona offense the last three years, but he always had to share the spotlight with Nic Grigsby. Grigsby is gone now, so Antolin should get his biggest workload yet. Despite Grigsby running for 533 yards and eight touchdowns last season, Antolin still led the team with 668 yards and seven touchdowns, in addition to 204 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver.

45. Jeremy Deering, So., Rutgers

Deering was an impact true freshman last year at receiver, but he was moved to running back this offseason. He's not guaranteed to start for Rutgers, but if he does, he's worth a close look. Rutgers figures to run an offense similar to the one Pittsburgh has had in recent years, which resulted in Dion Lewis putting up big numbers. Deering has upside, but make sure he has the job first.

46. Bryce Beall, Sr., Houston
47. Michael Dyer, So., Auburn
48. Jared Hassin, Jr., Army
49. J.J. Di Luigi, Sr., Brigham Young
50. Perry Jones, Jr., Virginia
51. Joseph Randle, So., Oklahoma State
52. Jeremy Eddington, So., Rice
53. Isi Sofele, Jr., California
54. Lampford Mark, Sr., Nevada
55. D.J. Shoemate, Sr., Connecticut
56. Silas Redd, So., Penn State
57. Johnathan Franklin, Jr., UCLA
58. Roy Finch, So., Oklahoma
59. Isaiah Pead, Sr., Cincinnati
60. Sam McGuffie, Jr., Rice