Can he do it again? Johnson led fantasy owners to titles galore with his 2,000-yard, 14-touchdown campaign (11 straight 100-yard games to finish the season).
Oh, he also added 503 receiving yards and two touchdowns. That’s just an absurd number, and while we anticipate a regression in the rushing total, we can’t predict a precipitous decline (he did have nearly 1,500 total yards as a rookie while splitting time with LenDale White).
I don’t see Johnson logging 358 carries again this season, but he’ll get more help from the passing game and the Tennessee defense than he received one year ago. Even with a moderate regression, he’s still the leader of the pack in 2010. – Mike Harmon
Larry Johnson, Washington
It’s time to watch Mike Shanahan work his wizardry in Washington while tormenting fantasy owners nationwide. A workload split is most definitely in the offing here, but how will touches between Johnson, Clinton Portis and Willie Parker get doled out?
I would argue that you should let someone else in your league get sucked into the vortex. It could turn into one of the more maddening committee situations in the league. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Shanahan decides to shelf his former pupil and give Johnson the lion’s share of the carries. Isn’t this fun? – Mike Harmon
Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay
Ward produced a phenomenal final season in New York during the 2008 season and parlayed his 1,000-yard campaign into a sizable contract from the Buccaneers.
Unfortunately, he then amassed only 134 touches with three total touchdowns while sharing the workload with Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. The health of Williams will be a key determining factor of Ward’s value this season. He’ll likely be more active in the passing game, but his workload on the ground will vary. – Mike Harmon
Leon Washington, Seattle
Washington is recovering from a fractured right leg, but he’s expected to be recovered by training camp.
If healthy, he’ll supply the "lightning" speed option to LenDale White’s power, with Justin Forsett sliding into the mix for occasional touches. Washington was on pace to double his previous workload before getting injured at midseason. – Mike Harmon
Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo
Lynch will be an intriguing player to watch this summer. The Bills contend that they’ll retain the two-time, 1,000-yard back, but his role is undefined following Fred Jackson’s breakout season and the selection of C.J. Spiller in the NFL Draft.
There are still teams in search of depth at the position, and Lynch’s on-field past has to at least set some phones ringing. However, his off-field issues may make things more difficult in Roger Goodell’s world. – Mike Harmon
Michael Bush, Oakland
Justin Fargas is no longer in Oakland, thereby allowing Bush to slide into a two-man backfield with former first-round pick Darren McFadden. He logged two 100-yard games last season as part of a three-man backfield and showed some ability as a pass receiver.
We can reasonably expect a higher number of long, protracted drives with Jason Campbell under center. Remember, the Raiders ranked 10th in rushing offense two years ago. – Mike Harmon
Donald Brown, Indianapolis
Brown appeared in only 11 games as a rookie and amassed just 89 touches. In fact, 43 of those touches came in the season’s first four games. Barring another injury, I would expect to see Brown force an equitable split of the workload with Joseph Addai this season.
Addai’s own injury history is something to be considered on draft day. Brown is most definitely a valued "handcuff" this season. – Mike Harmon
Tim Hightower, Arizona
Hightower and his tag-team partner, Chris "Beanie" Wells, will be intriguing options for fantasy owners this season with Kurt Warner in retirement and Matt Leinart under center.
The running game figures to be featured more prominently in this revamped offense, and Leinart will most definitely make use of his valuable check-down option. Hightower’s a goal-line beast and will continue to pile up big numbers. – Mike Harmon
Montario Hardesty, Cleveland
The Browns were still able to draft their quarterback in Colt McCoy while finding Jerome Harrison a tag-team partner for the backfield. Hardesty figures to assume a share of the workload immediately, and he has the physicality to make a bid for the goal-line job. – Mike Harmon
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo
Spiller’s role is, as of yet, undefined. However, his first-round selection ensures him of at least a share of the workload with 2009 breakthrough performer, Fred Jackson.
Spiller has the speed to break a long run on every touch, and we can reasonably expect him to be active in both the receiving and return games. – Mike Harmon
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
The Giants eschewed the selection of another running back during the draft, thereby leaving the dynamic duo of Brandon Jacobs and Bradshaw intact for another year.
Bradshaw averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season with seven touchdowns while amassing nearly 1,000 total yards. The biggest question concerning this duo is just how long they can stay healthy. – Mike Harmon
Ricky Williams, Miami
Williams was one of the top comeback stories in 2009, as he produced his first 1,000-yard season since 2003. He excelled in Ronnie Brown’s absence and demonstrated the power and speed combination that we hadn’t seen since his self-imposed exile.
With a true No. 1 wide receiver added to the mix in Brandon Marshall, think of the running room that will be afforded Brown and Williams. – Mike Harmon
Steve Slaton, Houston
My fantasy man-crush of 2008 struggled mightily last year before a nerve injury ended his sophomore campaign. He averaged a miserable 3.3 yards per carry, but did catch 44 passes in 11 games.
Slaton stands to split the workload with rookie Ben Tate (No. 34) while serving as a tremendous check-down option for Matt Schaub. I don’t expect a return to his rookie heights, but don’t write him off altogether. – Mike Harmon
Laurence Maroney, New England
Maroney rebounded nicely from an injury-shortened 2008 season and scored a career-best nine touchdowns.
While he may be the lead, the Patriots still employ a handful of running backs, each of whom will take on a portion of the workload (Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk). As such, it’s hard to push Maroney too far up the ranks. – Mike Harmon
Chester Taylor, Chicago
After three years as the understudy to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Taylor figures to assume a prominent role alongside Matt Forte in Mike Martz’s offense. He excels in the passing game and owns a career 4.3-yard per carry average. – Mike Harmon
Reggie Bush, New Orleans
Mike Bell is now in Philadelphia, leaving the Saints with a two-pronged backfield (to start). Bush appeared in 14 games last season, amassing 117 touches, 725 total yards and eight touchdowns.
We know about his shiftiness and ability to operate in space. Bush is working to round out his game by adding some physicality in-between the tackles. He’s a solid RB2 in PPR leagues, but his workload doesn’t merit more than an RB3 slot in traditional leagues. – Mike Harmon
Fred Jackson, Buffalo
Jackson showed us flashes of his talent in 2008 when replacing Marshawn Lynch in the lineup. He built on that strong foundation to post more than 1,400 total yards on 283 touches for the uninspiring Buffalo offense.
Jackson will cede carries to C.J. Spiller (and possibly Marshawn Lynch), so we can reasonably expect a drop-off in his production. Still, his abilities as a runner and receiver can’t be dismissed. Jackson will be a valuable RB3. – Mike Harmon
Ben Tate, Houston
It wasn’t a question of whether the Texans would draft a running back this season. It was just a matter of when. Although a quick glimpse of the Houston roster at the end of the first week of May displays 10 running backs. That’s right. There are now 10 running backs in town.
Tate figures to split the workload with 2008 hero Steve Slaton. At 5-11 and 220 pounds, Tate is a physical runner between the tackles who will immediately inherit the coveted goal-line work. With Matt Schaub flinging the ball all over the field, Tate should have opportunities. – Mike Harmon
Darren McFadden, Oakland
Is the third year the charm for McFadden? The Raiders are entering the AJ (after-JaMarcus) era with Jason Campbell under center, a change that should prove fruitful for all involved.
McFadden still has Michae Bush in the backfield competing for carries and needs to shed the injury woes that have plagued his first two NFL seasons. – Mike Harmon
LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets
It just won’t be right to see Tomlinson suited up in a uniform that isn’t emblazoned with the lightning bolt. I’ll just have to get used to it. I’ll see it for myself come training camp.
I’m very intrigued to see how Tomlinson is used in tandem with Shonn Greene this fall, as I’m not quite sure that LT is done. He’s still effective in and around the goal line and will be running behind a better offensive line. I’m not envisioning a return to his past heights, but the change of venue could inject some life into his rushing average with frequent goal-line plunges. – Mike Harmon
Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay
Williams shook off his two injury-riddled seasons and posted a solid campaign for the Buccaneers in 2009. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry and appeared in 16 games for the first time in his career.
Williams wasn’t dominant, but he did limit the impact of offseason acquisition Derrick Ward. I expect to see a more equitable split this season, but the offense to take a step forward as a whole. – Mike Harmon
Clinton Portis, Washington
Portis appeared in only eight games for the second time in four years. He averaged four yards per carry with a single touchdown.
Portis now faces competition from Larry Johnson and Willie Parker for touches and, well, Mike Shanahan isn’t always a one-back coach (note the sarcasm). He’s a potential slider on this list by the time we get to training camp. – Mike Harmon
Thomas Jones, Kansas City
Jones joins the Kansas City offense following two monstrous seasons at the end of his tenure with the Jets. He amassed 2,724 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in the past two years.
Although Jamaal Charles is the top option in this offense, Jones won’t be shuffled to the sidelines altogether. I envision an equitable split of carries between Charles and Jones, with Dexter McCluster factoring into the mix as a pass-catching option. – Mike Harmon
LenDale White, Seattle
White stood idly by in 2009 as Chris Johnson ran wild. He received a new lease on life with the draft-day deal that shipped him to Seattle and reunited him with his college coach.
White is the all-time touchdown leader at USC and was a red zone beast in 2008 (15 touchdowns). The lean and mean version of White will get an opportunity to run in Seattle, and a renaissance could be in the offing. – Mike Harmon
Felix Jones, Dallas
The Cowboys have reportedly moved Jones to the top of the depth chat ahead of Marion Barber. I love Jones’ breakaway speed as much as anyone, but questions remains about his durability and just how much of a workload the team will commit to him.
Jones did up his workload at the end of the season, but never carried the ball more than 15 times in a game. In fact, he only logged double-digit touches in six games.
I do believe that there’s definitely upside for the third-year back, and he’s obviously a home run threat with every touch. With that said, I still have Barber ranked a couple of notches ahead of him (he’s No. 25), as I presume that we see an equitable split, and that Barber wins out because of goal-line touches. – Mike Harmon
Jerome Harrison, Cleveland
Harrison was one of the great stories during the fantasy playoffs last season. He racked up 561 yards and five touchdowns during the final three weeks of the season.
Harrison was rewarded with the selection of Montario Hardesty in the second round. He may keep the bulk of the workload, but Hardesty likely factors into the goal-line mix. – Mike Harmon
Marion Barber, Dallas
I understand that Felix Jones is currently slotted at No. 1 on the depth. He’s slotted just behind Barber at No. 27 on my initial list. Barber gets a slight nod up because I believe that he’s set to get back to basics. That is to say, he’ll touch the ball 12-15 times per game and garner the love at the goal line.
In 2007, Barber averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns as the No. 2 back in a split with Julius Jones. If Dez Bryant can become the No. 2 opposite Miles Austin that was missing in 2009, Barber could reach those heights again. – Mike Harmon
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis
Addai stayed healthy and logged his second double-digit touchdown campaign in the past three years. His rushing average leaves something to be desired, but he remained the go-to back in and around the goal line and caught a career-best 51 passes.
I have no doubt that Donald Brown will eat into his workload this season. However, there are more than enough opportunities to spread around in the ultra-efficient Indianapolis offense. Brown’s presence is certainly troubling, but it’s Addai’s injury history that knocks him down the list. – Mike Harmon
Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants
The Giants didn’t sign a back this offseason nor did they draft one in April. As such, the same multi-pronged system will be in effect behind Eli Manning. Jacobs seeks to rebound from a difficult 2009 season in which his rushing average dropped by 1.3 yards per carry and his touchdown total dipped from 15 to five.
All of the running backs on the roster have injury troubles, and Jacobs’ upright running style certainly lends itself to more dings throughout a season.
I’m most intrigued about the New York defense that struggled mightily in 2009. An infusion of talent should slow down games and give the offense an opportunity to get back to more smash-mouth, clock-killing mode (although Jacobs did carry the ball a career-high 224 times last year). – Mike Harmon
Jahvid Best, Detroit
The Lions sought to upgrade the running back position following Kevin Smith’s injury and traded up into the end of Round 1 to tab Best. The speedy tailback has breakaway speed and improved as a receiver while at California.
Best appears to be the lead man in the backfield as we look toward training camp, although Smith has gotten back on the field in recent team activities. – Mike Harmon
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina
I felt like I was playing a "Price is Right" range game with Stewart as I set out to complete this list. There’s just so much to like about the two-headed Carolina backfield and Stewart’s nose for the end zone (back-to-back double-digit touchdown seasons).
The running game will be front and center once again as the Panthers attempt to solve their quarterbacking dilemma this summer. Part of me wants to bump him up the list, but the top is awfully crowded. – Mike Harmon
Ronnie Brown, Miami
Brown’s availability for the Dolphins’ team activities is still in question, but coach Sparano advises that the sixth-year tailback is making good progress. That leaves me optimistic that he’ll definitely be ready to resume his role as the lead back for the season opener.
The addition of Brandon Marshall changes the complexion of this offense and makes calling a defense against the Wildcat with an improved downfield game a terrorizing prospect. – Mike Harmon
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans
Thomas has led the Saints in rushing in back-to-back seasons while averaging 5.1 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns (70 receptions and five more touchdowns to boot).
He’ll continue to cede touches to Reggie Bush, but his integration within the passing game is a recipe for long-term fantasy success. I’m moderately concerned about Bush’s improved short-yardage efforts in 2009, but Thomas remains the top option in that area when healthy. – Mike Harmon
Matt Forte, Chicago
Forte’s sophomore season was roundly criticized as a failure, as he scored eight fewer touchdowns than he did as a rookie. Jay Cutler’s red zone inefficiency and poor offensive line play certainly didn’t help his cause, nor did the fact that he averaged four fewer touches per game. – Mike Harmon
Ryan Mathews, San Diego
Norv Turner has already started his play scripting to find nearly 300 touches for Mathews in his rookie season (250 carries and 40 catches, by his estimation). That’s music to the ears of fantasy owners in the post-LT world.
He’s a speedy option who can also run between the tackles, something that was sorely lacking following Tomlinson’s departure. Darren Sproles remains a third-down, change-of-pace option, but will not see an up-tick in his workload. The torch has been passed to Mathews. – Mike Harmon
Chris Wells, Arizona
The retirement of Kurt Warner changes the focus of the Arizona offense. That isn’t to say that Matt Leinart won’t chuck 15 balls per game in the direction of Larry Fitzgerald. It just means that a more balanced attack is in the offing.
Wells figures to be the primary beneficiary on the ground after making a strong leap forward in his blocking during the second half of last year. He averaged 4.5 yards per game and scored seven touchdowns.
Sure, Tim Hightower will force an equitable split of the workload and pilfer goal-line touches. Even with that factored in, Wells stands to improve markedly on his rookie numbers. The addition of Alan Faneca in a reunion with Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt helps seal the deal. – Mike Harmon
Knowshon Moreno, Denver
Moreno very quietly fell short of the 1,000-yard barrier by 53 yards as a rookie. He produced seven games with at least 75 rushing yards while splitting time with Correll Buckhalter.
It’s his show in 2010, although who will be handing him the ball will remain a question through training camp (I still believe it’ll be Kyle Orton). I’m eager to see him become more involved in the passing game, as there are now 100 receptions to be spread out following Brandon Marshall’s departure. – Mike Harmon
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
Charles was tabbed as a “sleeper” last season and certainly helped catapult more than a few owners into the championship following his breakthrough in Week 10. Charles averaged 121 rushing yards per contest over the season’s final eight weeks, including five 100-yard games (259 in the seldom-used Week 17). He also caught 40 passes.
Charles’ draft slot for 2010 is going to be the subject of great debate this summer. I see the addition of Thomas Jones and the selection of Dexter McCluster as potentially problematic for him. Hence, he starts the long draft season at No. 14 here with the possibility of a slight nudge up in Charlie Weis’ offense.
Jones has a nose for the end zone and could take away goal-line carries. McCluster’s game-changing speed may affect Charles’ reception total. Still, Charles posted absurd numbers for one-half of a season in what was a pathetic offense overall. – Mike Harmon
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
It’s a new-look Philadelphia team coming into the 2010 campaign. Longtime heroes Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb are gone, putting McCoy and Kevin Kolb into the top spots.
McCoy has been impressive in mini-camps and came to camp a bit lighter and more explosive. Perhaps knowing that he was the top option helped fuel things, but either way, he’s a versatile back who fits the Andy Reid model. – Mike Harmon
Ryan Grant, Green Bay
Grant was the scourge of the fantasy world after scoring five total touchdowns in 2008 despite rushing for 1,200 yards. He matched his yardage output last season, but his 11 rushing touchdowns made him a value play.
Grant returns as the feature back in one of the most explosive offenses in the game, a unit that improved on the offensive line with the selection of Brian Bulaga out of Iowa in the NFL Draft. He’s been a durable, efficient option in Green Bay and takes care of the football (one fumble in 307 touches last year). – Mike Harmon
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati
Benson dominated opposing defenses at the end of the 2008 season. We all wondered if he’d be able to produce as the full-time option in Cincinnati last year, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Benson averaged 96.2 rushing yards per game with six touchdowns.
With Carson Palmer another year removed from his injury and Antonio Bryant and Jermaine Gresham added to bolster the receiving corps, I’m excited to see Benson’s follow-up effort. – Mike Harmon
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina
Williams and Jonathan Stewart return as one of the most potent duos in the game. Each topped 1,100 rushing yards last season and will be called upon to carry an offense that still has questions under center.
Nobody anticipated that Williams would match his ridiculous close to the 2008 season. The loss of three games to injury certainly raises an eyebrow, but there’s no denying his breakaway capabilities. – Mike Harmon
Shonn Greene, New York Jets
Greene ran over the Raiders in his first start last year (144 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns). He’s now the unquestioned top option following the departure of Thomas Jones.
LaDainian Tomlinson may eat into his short-yardage efforts and rookie Joe McKnight’s role remains a question mark. Still, he has the power and speed combination to be a workhorse (Tomlinson and McKnight likely take on the receiving part of things) and averaged five yards per carry. – Mike Harmon
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh
Willie Parker’s departure solidifies Mendenhall’s role as the primary option in the Pittsburgh backfield.
Mendenhall had only six 20-carry games last season. We can reasonably expect that number to rise in the coming year, particularly in the early part of the campaign as the team deals with the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. – Mike Harmon
Steven Jackson, St. Louis
Jackson was a veritable one-man band last season in St. Louis. Despite a decided lack of support from the passing game, Jackson still amassed 1,738 total yards (1,416 rushing).
The arrival of Sam Bradford should help solidify the passing game, and the selection of Rodger Saffold definitely improves the offensive line. It won’t be an easy road for Jackson in 2010, but it’ll definitely be better than last year’s struggles for each and every yard. – Mike Harmon
Frank Gore, San Francisco
Gore amassed 1,400 total yards for the fourth consecutive season despite missing two games. He remains a focal point in the passing game (52 catches in 2009) and stands on the precipice of perhaps his best season since 2006.
The 49ers improved their offensive line during the draft. Michael Crabtree is completing a full offseason of workouts alongside Alex Smith and Vernon Davis. His injury history is a concern, but the potential is huge. – Mike Harmon
Michael Turner, Atlanta
Turner has reportedly lost 15 pounds, putting him back at the weight that made him a fantasy dynamo in 2008. That isn’t to say that he didn’t produce big number before his injury in 2009 (871 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games), but that early burst wasn’t necessarily there.
Matt Ryan continues his growth under center with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez pacing the passing game. Depending on the owners in your league, Turner may slip a few slots. – Mike Harmon
Ray Rice, Baltimore
Rice experienced a ridiculous breakthrough in his second season, logging more than 2,000 total yards and eight touchdowns. He posted these huge numbers despite the presence of Willis McGahee.
Rice will still cede carries to McGahee, but the arrival of Anquan Boldin and two new tight ends will open up the passing game. More downfield options yields more potential long-distance sprints for Rice. – Mike Harmon
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
Keeper league owners of Jones-Drew received a tremendous gift when C.J. Spiller was drafted by the Bills. The Jaguars wouldn’t necessarily have drafted him, but they didn’t have to sweat the countdown clock to find out.
Jones-Drew has amassed 54 total touchdowns in his four full NFL seasons. Add another double-digit total in 2010. – Mike Harmon
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Peterson established a new career mark with 18 rushing touchdowns last season behind Brett Favre. He amassed over 1,800 total yards and more than doubled his previous reception total.
We can reasonably assume that Favre returns at this juncture, thereby keeping opposing defenses guessing about the run-pass split. I am moderately concerned about the arrival of Toby Gerhart as a potential vulture at the goal line, but there’s no reason to believe that there’s a significant downturn in the offing. – Mike Harmon