The NFC North features the best running back in the NFL today. The others are quality, but 2nd tier.
1. Adrian Peterson
The NFL hasn’t seen a back with Peterson’s overall talent in sometime. While Tomlinson is clearly the best back of the past decade, Peterson is now entering his third year and if the first two are any indication of what is to come, watch out.
This guy is a 2,000 yard candidate every single year. And with an improving offense in 2009, plus other weapons to take some attention away from him, look for Peterson to hit 1,800 yards with double digit TDs. The only area of concern is his fumbles, but an off season of film should help him get past this.
2. Ryan Grant
Grant took a big step back in 2008 and wasn’t the sensation he was over the last eight games over the 2007 season. The offense should once again be strong and with an improved defense, the Pack could have more opportunities to feature the run and play with a lead. Look for Grant to post a 1,000 yard season with seven to nine TDs.
3. Matt Forte
Forte was a nice surprise for the Bears in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and quickly became the full-time starter from day one. With the addition of Jay Cutler to the mix in 2009, the Bears will utilize the passing game to a greater degree than in years’ past, but they’ll still need a strong running game to equalize the inclement weather of Soldier Field after October. Look for Forte to hit the thousand yard mark and put in six to nine TDs.
4. Kevin Smith
Smith had a pretty decent ending to the Lions miserable 0-16 season and showed flashes with 291 yards and three TDs over the last three games. The situation is still far from pretty, and if the Lions decide to plug in Stafford from day one, it will hamper the team’s offensive success, but the team should improve to the point where Smith can duplicate, or better his rookie numbers. Look for him to come close to the 1,000 yard mark and score six times.
5. Chester Taylor
Taylor is still plugging away in Minnesota and still a very effective back when he gets the opportunity to come off the bench. With Peterson the obvious No. one, Taylor only gets about five to eight carries per game, but in the event Peterson goes down with an injury, as he did in his rookie season, Taylor is a good late round pick that can fill in admirably when given then carries.
There’s not much to differentiate Grant, Forte and Smith except the overall success of their teams. The Packers and Bears should be much better than the Lions and because of that, playing with the lead more often. Since backs get a majority of their yards and TDs in the second half of games, consider taking Grant and Forte earlier than Smith in your fantasy drafts, even though Smith could be the better overall running back.