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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Running Backs
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

Welcome to the third annual Top 10 series, a two-part prognostication wherein we attempt to identify those players who will fall from the ranks of the elite this coming season and (in about two weeks) those who will fill the resultant vacuum at the top. I say “attempt” as if the first two years of predictions demanded some measure of humility. To the contrary, I’ve now correctly identified 25 of the 36 Top 10 dropouts/risers these past two seasons, a pretty spiffy 70% clip.

OK, so you should probably hold the applause. How hard can it be, after all, to predict a few Top 10 dropouts per position when more than half the RBs and WRs fail to repeat every year? The only thing more difficult than reaching the NFL stratosphere, it would seem, is actually staying there. Make that danged near impossible if your name isn’t Brees, Peterson, or Megatron.

You won’t find any of those fine fellows on the following list, but after two years of heavy turnover at the top, I’m dubious of almost everyone else. You should be too since they most likely top your cheatsheets as we head toward draft day.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

  Top 10 Running Backs- 2011
Rank Player
1 Ray Rice
2 LeSean McCoy
3 Maurice Jones-Drew
4 Arian Foster
5 Marshawn Lynch
6 Michael Turner
7 Ryan Mathews
8 Adrian Peterson
9 Michael Bush
10 Darren Sproles
  Top 10 Running Backs- 2012
Rank Player
1 Adrian Peterson
2 Arian Foster
3 Doug Martin
4 Marshawn Lynch
5 Alfred Morris
6 Ray Rice
7 C.J. Spiller
8 Jamaal Charles
9 Trent Richardson
10 Stevan Ridley

Missed the Cut in 2012 (6 of 10): LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Ryan Mathews, Michael Bush, Darren Sproles

He wasn’t describing the life of an NFL running back when he described the natural state of mankind (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”), but Thomas Hobbes very well could have been…minus that part about being poor. Running backs are at least well-compensated for the drubbings they endure. Good thing, too, because the more punishment they absorb, the more likely they are to be injured, which in turn makes them less productive and, in the cruelest twist of all, ultimately less valuable. Heck, maybe Hobbes was talking about NFL rock-toters when he penned that famous description.

Of the six backs to drop out of the Top 10 in 2012, only Michael Turner survived the full 16-game schedule intact, though it could be argued that years of overuse (300+ carries in three of the previous four years) may have contributed to his lackluster production. The other five dropouts combined to miss a total of 24 ballgames. Maurice Jones-Drew missed the most significant chunk of time, the final 10 games, with the exotic-sounding Lisfranc injury. (It means mid-foot, essentially, and Iíve absolutely added it to my list of prospective band names if I ever learn to play an instrument.) LeSean McCoy and Ryan Mathews missed four games apiece with, respectively, a concussion and broken clavicles (yes, both of them; no, not at the same time). Finally, Darren Sproles and Michael Bush also missed three games, the former due to a fractured hand and the latter due to bad ribs.

In case you’re scoring at home, that’s one balky Lisfranc, one fuzzy brain, two broken collarbones, a broken hand, and some jacked-up ribs. It’s times like these I’m glad I merely write about professional football.

The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top Ten This Year:

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch could see fewer touches in 2013.

Marshawn Lynch, SEA: If I ever get seriously jammed up, Iím calling Lynchís attorney. Beast Mode was busted for DUI last July and almost a year later, a trial date still hasnít been set. What that means for our purposes is that heís unlikely to face league discipline in 2013. Potential fantasy crisis averted! Thatís not to say the specter of an NFL suspension doesnít theoretically affect the way Seattle will use Lynch this coming season. If I were Pete Carroll, Iíd deem it prudent to at least prepare for the eventuality of a suspensionósay, by giving guys like Christine Michael and Robert Turbin a few more repsóknowing full well my championship window is wide open but wonít stay open forever. Yeah, Iím speculating, but NFL coaches donít get paid the big bucks to be caught off guard and miss legitimate shots at NFL titles.

Even if you disregard the crackpot theory I just laid out, you should probably consider that the rookie Michael turned some heads in mini-camp and isnít just some late-round flier. Seattle spent a second round selection on him, a significant investment in a league where draft picks are treated like gold (outside of Oakland and Washington, D.C.). Itís also worth noting that Lynchís competition for carries wonít always come from his fellow running backs. Once Carroll and Co. turned prized rook Russell Wilson loose last season, the young field general found his sea legs and really started to come into his own as a read-option administrator. He averaged fewer than 19 rushing yards per game through the first 10 weeks, but nearly 50 per in his final seven tilts. Seattle wonít quash the former Badgersí natural instincts, I donít think, and that could mean fewer overall touches for Lynch in 2013.

Ray Rice, BAL: Wanna know how fast things change in this crazy league? Two years ago, in the companion piece to this column, I pegged Rice as the potential No. 1 option in PPR leagues at the running back position despite his not being a Top 10 back the year prior. Turns out I was only half right: He ended up leading all leagues, not just PPR leagues (dang, Iím good!). Yet, here we are only two years later and Iím predicting the exact opposite outcome for the former Rutgers star. Explain yourself, Shot Caller?

For one thing, Rice has company. Bernard Pierce was an unexpected force as his backup in 2012, earning a startling 108 carries over the course of the regular season and 11 more targets in the passing game. Thatísí way more than anyone expected the rookie to receive, and now thereís talk of more since he parlayed those reps into a 4.9 yards-per-touch average. The Ravens would also be wise to start lightening Riceís workloadówhich Pierce gives them the luxury to doósince heís averaged about 347 total touches the past four years. For comparisonís sake, thatís slightly more touches than Michael Turner averaged in 2008, 2010, and 2011 when people were questioning how much abuse he could handle.

The last reason Iím guessing we may see a dip in Riceís totals has more to do with his teamís recent success than anything heís done. Call it the Super Bowl hangover effect. He has now, like the rest of his Ravens teammates, reached the top of the mountain and itís exceedingly difficult to be as driven the year after a title. Itís why so few teams repeat as champions unless they have overwhelming talent. Ray Rice might, but his Baltimore team really doesnít. Expect a medium-sized drop-off for both him and the Ravens this coming season.

Stevan Ridley, NE: Iíve already put his HOF-bound quarterback on watch and now the Patsí meal ticket gets the business? Youíd think Iím pretty bearish on their offense, but thatís not at all true. I just think New England will beÖdifferent, shall we say. I already showed some love for the LSU product this preseason, actually, in one of our Writers Roundtable quick hitters, championing him over DeMarco Murray as the more valuable RB commodity this year. I still believe heís the safer option; nevertheless, I donít think heíll outscore the 10 guys Iíve identified as the likely league leaders this year.

The primary reason Ridley will end up in the teens come January is that he, like Rice, has plenty of company in the Patriots backfield, a fact I alluded to when discussing Brady earlier. Thereís LeGarrette Blount, a super-sized potential poacher of goal-line totes. Thereís Brandon Bolden, a surprise success in spot duty last season. Thereís Shane Vereen, a talented but under-utilized (to date) Danny Woodhead replacement. Finally, thereís Leon Washington, the explosive special teams ace who could also see plenty of looks in third-down situations. The Pats probably donít have room for all five guys on the roster, granted, but I think you get the picture.

The other reason to be leery of Ridley has more to do with his specific abilities, or the lack thereof. To wit, heís almost a non-threat in the passing game. A diversified skill set, as weíve already learned, is one of the surest ways to remain viable in the big leagues. Ridley caught precisely six passes in 2012, the only back in the top 30 to post a single-digit reception total. If you still consider him a Top 10 talent at RB, just remember youíre relying almost exclusively on what he can get done on the ground. Thatís all he brings to the table.

Next: Wide Receivers