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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fantasy football: Top keepers for 2011, RBs

We apologize for the delay in posts between the top quarterback keepers and this breakdown of the running backs.

I'd like to place all the blame on the NFL's owners and players' union, who, the more they speak, the more they make us believe we could be looking at a nine-week fantasy season in 2011. (That should be a fun scheduling dilemma for league commissioners everywhere.)

Without further delay, here is our list of the top 10 running backs for keeper leagues. The top 10 quarterbacks can be found here (and we like the Aaron Rodgers pick even more three weeks later).

1. Arian Foster, Texans (age 24): He seemingly came out of nowhere to rush for 1,616 yards, catch 66 passes for 604 yards and score 18 touchdowns in 2010. He's a risky pick over the two players who follow, but I'd put my faith in a back who doesn't have a lot of mileage.

2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (turns 26 on March 21): He rushed for a career-low 1,298 yards, but his "down" season included 13 total TDs and 36 receptions for 341 yards. He's an "old" 25 by running-back standards (1,198 carries and 119 receptions in four seasons), but I wouldn't worry yet.

3. Chris Johnson, Titans (25): He said his goal was a 2,500-yard season, and he fell, oh, 1,137 yards short. Johnson still had a productive season (1,364 yards rushing, 44 receptions, 12 total TDs), but his total yards dropped from 2,509 in 2009 to 1,609 last season, and his supporting cast is almost as bad as Antawn Jamison's.

4. Ray Rice, Ravens (24): If only he scored more touchdowns. Rice rushed for 1,220 yards and caught 63 passes for 556 yards last season, but his TD total slipped from eight to six. He's a yardage and point-per-catch machine, but he needs to reach double digits in TDs on a consistent basis to crack the top three.

5. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (24):
He proved his monstrous second half in 2009 was no fluke. Charles, despite sharing carries with Thomas Jones, ran for 1,467 yards, averaged 6.4 yards per carry, caught 45 passes for 468 yards and scored eight TDs. If he ever gets near 20 touches per game, look out.

6. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (22): In PPR leagues, he's excellent. McCoy rushed for 1,080 yards (5.2 per carry), caught 78 passes for 592 yards and reached the end zone nine times in 2010.

7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (25): A knee injury cost him the final two games of the 2010 season, and dropped him a couple places on this list. Jones-Drew rushed for 1,324 yards and caught 34 passes for 317 yards, but his TDs dropped from 16 in 2009 to seven, and he caught 19 fewer passes.

8. Matt Forte, Bears (25): He was a bust in 2009, but produced in 2010 as if he was a stud rookie. The only difference was Forte had 12 TDs in 2008, his first NFL season, and nine in 2010. He rushed for 1,069 yards and had 51 receptions for 547 yards, easing our fears about offensive coordinator Mike Martz giving Forte enough chances.

9. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (23):
Aside from a crucial fumble in the Super Bowl, Mendenhall had a very productive third season (1,273 yards, 13 TDs, 23 catches). He can't compete with the top eight players on this list in PPR leagues, but in yardage- and TD-heavy leagues, he's among the best.

10. Darren McFadden, Raiders (23):
In Year 3, he lived up to the hype. In Year 4, he could let us all down again. I believe in McFadden, however, after he racked up 1,157 rushing yards, 47 catches, 507 receiving yards and 10 TDs in 13 games. A concern: He's played in 13, 12 and 13 games in his three NFL seasons.

Honorable mention

11. Frank Gore, 49ers (27):
He was limited to 11 games by a hip injury, ending his streak of 1,000-yard rushing seasons at four. Gore had 1,120 yards on the ground, caught 52 passes for 406 yards and tallied 13 TDs in 2009.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (24):
He recently had ankle surgery, but it's not expected to impact his 2011 season. Bradshaw emerged from Brandon Jacobs' large shadow to run for 1,235 yards, score eight times and total 47 receptions for 314 yards last season.

13. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (23): Some of us expected too much, and we got almost nothing until Mathews' last two games, a span in which he had four TDs. His second season should be much more productive than his first.

14. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (24):
He wasn't drafted, but had a much better rookie campaign than the first-round selection one spot above on this list. Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and six TDs, but doesn't appear as if he'll be much of an asset in the passing game (five catches for 14 yards).

15. Peyton Hillis, Browns (25): He had 331 touches in 16 games, breaking down some at the end, but was very good for the majority of 2010. Hillis ran for 1,177 yards, scored 13 TDs and had 61 receptions for 477 yards. Those numbers should drop, and maybe significantly, in Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense, which is expected to be bolstered by a return to health of Montario Hardesty. The latter could share carries with Hillis.

Others we considered: Shonn Greene, Jets; C.J. Spiller, Bills; Knowshon Moreno, Broncos; Jonathan Stewart, Panthers; Beanie Wells, Cardinals.

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