Josh Vitale

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Top 10 Running Backs for 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

There's little doubt about it; when it comes to fake football, running backs are fantasy gold. Year after year, we see the NFL's top rushers flying off draft boards early, and the strategy is no different in the college game.

There may not be an Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson on this list, but with the NFL still facing uncertainty, it's time to start thinking about names like LaMichael James and Trent Richardson rather than the currently locked-out NFL stars. When your college fantasy football season begins in September, you're going to want to have one of these guys on your team.

Here are the top 10 fantasy running backs for 2011:

1. LaMichael James – Oregon
James missed the Ducks' opener last year, but still finished the season as the nation's leading rusher with 1,731 yards and second in touchdowns with 21. Imagine what his numbers would have been if he had played in a 72-0 blowout of New Mexico to start the season. Oregon figures to be a top team again in 2011, and with the spectacular numbers he accumulated last year, you can expect that James will continue to be an integral part of the Ducks' high-powered attack.

2011 Projection: 1,650 yards, 20 touchdowns

2. Bobby Rainey – Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers won just two games last season, yet their feature back comes in at No. 2 in the preseason rankings. Why? Because Rainey is Western Kentucky's only consistent source of offense. He led the nation in rushing attempts last season, totaling 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Hilltoppers may struggle again in the 2011 season, but you can be sure that Rainey will continue to be a consistent force on the field.

2011 Projection: 1,700 yards, 17 touchdowns

3. Trent Richardson – Alabama
Richardson finished just 108th in rushing yards last season, but he figures to be a top fantasy contributor now that Mark Ingram is a member of the New Orleans Saints. The two backs combined for 1,575 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Tide last season, and with Ingram gone, Richardson is poised to get a lion's share of the carries. Couple that with the graduation of quarterback Greg McElroy, and we should see an increased workload and elite numbers from Richardson.

2011 Projection: 1,550 yards, 18 touchdowns

4. Marcus Lattimore – South Carolina
Lattimore is another guy who finished 2010 with less-than-impressive numbers, but he's primed for a breakout in his sophomore season. He finished his freshman campaign with 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns, and with Gamecocks' quarterback Stephen Garcia still suspended indefinitely, Lattimore could see those numbers increased in 2011. With the type of talent he possesses, expect him to be a top-10 fantasy producer this season.

2011 Projection: 1,400 yards, 18 touchdowns

5. Knile Davis – Arkansas
A slow starter last year, Davis didn't reach the 100-yard threshold in a game until the seventh week of the season. But over his final five games, Davis rushed for 110, 182, 187, 152 and 139 yards respectively, vaulting him all the way to 16th in the nation in rush yards. With last year's Razorback starting quarterback Ryan Mallet now with the New England Patriots, Davis will look to continue his stellar end-of-season success with an increased workload in 2011.

2011 Projection: 1,500 yards, 16 touchdowns

6. Lance Dunbar – North Texas
Dunbar struggled with some inconsistencies last season, rushing for over 200 yards in three games while totaling less than 80 yards in three others. But even through his ups and downs, Dunbar still managed to finish the year ranked eighth in rushing yards with 13 touchdowns. If the Mean Green feature back can show more consistency in his senior season, Dunbar could prove to be an even more valuable fantasy commodity in 2011.

2011 Projection: 1,450 yards, 15 touchdowns

7. Ronnie Hillman – San Diego State
The best way to describe Hillman's 2010 production would be flashes of brilliance. Hillman finished his freshman season ranked 10th in rushing yards, but only topped the 100-yard mark in six of the Aztecs' 13 games. The inconsistencies make him a risky fantasy asset, but if he can find a higher level of stability in his game, Hillman's numbers could skyrocket.

2011 Projection: 1,600 yards, 14 touchdowns

8. Montee Ball – Wisconsin
The Badger rushing attack was a three-headed monster last year, with Ball, James White and John Clay combining for 3,060 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns. Ball finished the season as the hottest back of the trio, however, totaling 777 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final five games. The timeshare with White hurts his value, but with an impressive end to 2010 and Clay moving onto the NFL, Ball should be a dynamic fantasy asset in 2011.

2011 Projection: 1,200 yards, 20 touchdowns

9. Rodney Stewart – Colorado
Once near the top of the college football world, the Buffaloes have fallen into obscurity in the past few years, mired in mediocrity. But with new head coach Jon Embree beginning his tenure in Colorado, there's reason for optimism, and that starts with Stewart. An unheralded recruit from Ohio, the junior posted a career-best 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. If the Buffs intend on climbing back to relevance in the new Pac-12 conference, Stewart will be a key to their success.

2011 Projection: 1,350 yards, 13 touchdowns

10. D.J. Shoemate – Connecticut
How is it that there were 58 1,000 yard rushers last season, and the 10th-ranked 2011 running back is a guy that rushed for just 115 yards in 2010? That's because the young Huskie program has shown fantasy greatness in its time. They've had top-five rushers in two of the past three seasons—Donald Brown in 2008 and Jordan Todman in 2010—and with both now in the NFL and special-teams maven and heir-apparent RB Robbie Frey leaving the program, expect USC-transfer Shoemate to step up.

2011 Projection: 1,450 yards, 11 touchdowns

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