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Expect to see more Knile Davis in 2011.
Although quarterbacks and wide receivers are important to any college fantasy owner, running backs are where leagues are won and lost. With the emergence of more committee approaches at this position, finding the 250 or more carry backs are key to hoisting the league title. Although it’s not impossible, relying on backs in a committee approach to win is a risky route to take.
Despite missing a game due to a suspension, Oregon’s LaMichael James finished as the No. 1 fantasy running back for 2010. James scored over 30 fantasy points five times and was held out of the endzone only once. The Ducks have a couple of players to replace on the offensive line, but James should remain the top fantasy back in all formats.
The Sun Belt duo of Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey and North Texas’ Lance Dunbar finished in the top five of fantasy running backs in 2010 and will remain elite options once again in 2011. Rainey led all FBS running backs with 340 carries and has three starters returning on the offensive line next season. Dunbar finished with 1,553 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, but returns only two starters along the offensive line next season. Dunbar and Rainey are the early favorites to go right after James is off the board in preseason drafts.
Mark Ingram is off to the NFL, opening the door for junior Trent Richardson to assume the starting role. Although Alabama will likely get another back involved with the offense, Richardson should be able to approach 250 carries and finish 2011 as one of the top-five fantasy running backs. Joining Richardson from the SEC as elite fantasy options will be South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Arkansas’ Knile Davis. Lattimore’s emergence helped South Carolina reach its first SEC title game and could bump his rushing yards closer to the 1,300-yard mark next season. Although Tyler Wilson has flashed potential in limited action at quarterback, Arkansas will likely build their offense around Davis next season. Expect Davis to easily surpass 200 carries next season.
Kansas State – Daniel Thomas was the heart and soul of the Kansas State offense the past two seasons, and the Wildcats have no clear replacement on the roster. Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown and Demarcus Robinson figure to get the first shot at replacing Thomas, and don’t be surprised if the winner has significant fantasy value.
Nevada – Not only must the Wolf Pack replace quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but running back Vai Taua is gone. Taua finished 2010 as the No. 3 overall fantasy running back, but the offense should be in good shape with Mike Ball ready to emerge. Ball has two 100-yard games in his career and an impressive average (7.9) on 61 attempts.
Oklahoma – DeMarco Murray managed to stay healthy for the entire 2010 campaign, posting 321.1 fantasy points to finish just behind LaMichael James of Oregon. Murray has expired his eligibility, leaving a handful of backs in Norman to compete for the starting job. Sophomore Roy Finch figures to have the upper hand, after rushing for 398 yards in 2010. However, don’t count out Brennan Clay, Jermie Calhoun, Brandon Williams and Jonathan Miller from earning time next season. This battle is far from over and one to watch when spring practice kicks off.
Oklahoma State – After battling injuries and missing most of the 2009 campaign, Kendall Hunter bounced back to finish among the top-15 fantasy running backs in 2010. Hunter rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 scores, thriving in coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack. Holgorsen is gone to West Virginia, but the Cowboys return plenty of talent at running back, including Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith. Randle rushed for 452 yards last season, while Smith totaled 262 yards and seven scores. Although Randle had more carries last season, expect both to play a significant role in the offense in 2011.
Oregon State – Jacquizz Rodgers bolted early to the NFL, leaving a large void in the Oregon State backfield next season. Junior Jordan Jenkins, senior Ryan McCants and sophomore Jovan Stevenson will compete for the starting job, but there’s no clear frontrunner entering spring practice. Quarterback Ryan Katz should improve in 2011, but expect a fantasy option to emerge from this trio early next season.
Athlon's Pre-Preseason Top 80 Fantasy Running Backs for 2011
Expect many changes throughout the offseason, but here's an early look at the 2011 big board for running backs.
|Rank||Player||Team||Year||2010 Fantasy Points|
|2||Lance Dunbar||North Texas||SR||295.4|
|3||Bobby Rainey||Western Kentucky||SR||296.1|
|4||Marcus Lattimore||South Carolina||SO||283.2|
|7||Ronnie Hillman||San Diego State||SO||221.1|
|8||Doug Martin||Boise State||SR||234.3|
|9||David Wilson||Virginia Tech||JR||149.2|
|12||Cyrus Gray||Texas A&M||SR||222.3|
|13||Montel Harris||Boston College||SR||195.4|
|16||Brandon Bolden||Ole Miss||SR||250.3|
|21||Edwin Baker||Michigan State||JR||198.4|
|23||Joseph Randle||Oklahoma State||SO||120.5|
|26||Lennon Creer||Louisiana Tech||SR||206.1|
|29||Vick Ballard||Mississippi State||SR||203.7|
|31||Daniel Herron||Ohio State||SR||223.8|
|32||Robbie Rouse||Fresno State||JR||188.5|
|36||Kendrick Hardy||Southern Miss||SO||131.8|
|37||Eric Stephens||Texas Tech||JR||119.5|
|43||Robert Turbin||Utah State||JR||0|
|45||Cierre Wood||Notre Dame||JR||101.8|
|52||JJ Di Luigi||BYU||SR||192.5|
|53||Silas Redd||Penn State||SO||57.2|
|57||Shawne Alston||West Virginia||JR||24.2|
|58||Asher Clark||Air Force||SR||130.9|
|59||Tevin Drake||Western Michigan||SO||70.4|
|60||Lamar Miller||Miami, Fla.||SO||117.7|
|66||LaDarius Perkins||Mississippi State||SO||106.9|
|68||Cameron Marshall||Arizona State||JR||171.9|
|69||Orwin Smith||Georgia Tech||JR||93.1|
|72||Jovan Stevenson||Oregon State||SO||0|
|76||Jasmin Hopkins||Northern Illinois||SR||52.3|
|77||Demetris Murray||South Florida||JR||96.5|
|79||Ryan Houston||North Carolina||SR||0|
|80||Bryce Brown||Kansas State||SO||0|
Scoring system rankings based upon -
Passing TD = 4 points
Rushing/Receiving/Special Teams TD = 4 points
25 passing yards = 1 point
10 rushing/receiving yards = 1 point
Reception = 0.5 points
Interceptions = -1 point
Fumbles lost = -1 point
2 point conversions = 2 points