No matter whether you're burnt out from the 2011 fantasy football season, or sad that there's no more last minute changes to make on Sunday, you've probably thought about who your keeper running back(s) will be. Unfortunately, it's never easy when it comes to deciding who's going to pick up where they left off, and who will leave you wishing that you didn't keep anybody. In any case, let's look at who your keepers should be as we inch closer towards next season.
1. Arian Foster - While there are plenty of running backs worthy of being the number one keeper, Arian Foster stands out above the rest because he not only led the league in rushing with 1,616 yards, but he also came on as a receiver with 604 yards; the 18 total TD's he scored didn't hurt his cause either. What's great is that 2010 was Foster's only heavy workload year, so he should be good for at least two more years...if not more.
2. Jamaal Charles - Charles was another breakout player last year as he rushed for 1,467 yards and caught 45 passes for 468 yards; he also led the league with an astounding 6.4 yards per carry. But the one thing hurting Charles was that he had to share carries with Thomas Jones quite a bit; however, the good thing about this is that Charles will be one of the freshest players in 2011 since he only carried the ball 230 times. And don't count on him having to share nearly as many carries in 2011. If Charles can get in the end zone more next year (just 8 total TD's in 2010), he has a chance of becoming the NFL's top running back.
3. Chris Johnson - Going into 2010, Johnson was ranked as the top back by many publications. And while his 2010 numbers weren't too shabby (1,364 rushing yards, 12 total TD's), it wasn't the 2,000+-yard season he had predicted. Of course, injuries were Johnson's biggest undoing, and if he can have the kind of season he had in 2010 while hurt, Johnson could easily be back at the top in '11.
4. Adrian Peterson - Some might argue that Peterson should be higher on the keepers list, but there are some issues that led to the number 5 ranking. For one thing, Peterson's injury issues from college resurfaced towards the end of last year as the Vikings were mired in a miserable season. Another problem is that last year's numbers (1,283 rushing yards, 13 total TD's) are even further removed from his magical season in 2008. The key thing for Peterson is remaining healthy; if he can do this, he'll compete for the league rushing title. For this reason alone, he's still a top 5 keeper.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew - Jones-Drew didn't exactly have a dream ending to last year as he spent the last two games on the injured list. However, the positives to take away from 2010 for Jones-Drew was that he had the best stretch out of any running back as he rushed for 814 yards and 4 TD's during a 6-game period; over this span, he didn't dip under 100 yards in a single game. Keep Jones-Drew and hope for this kind of production throughout next season.
Michael Turner -Turner was definitely worthy of consideration for a top spot after he rushed for 1,371 yards and 12 TD's. For this fact alone, he's a definite keeper if you don't have one of the aforementioned top 5 players. However, Turner also led the league in carries (334) and averaged less yards per carry (4.1) than any of the top 5 keepers. Of course, this isn't enough to consider not keeping him.
Darren McFadden - Despite injuries and a couple of bad games, McFadden managed to rush for 1,157 yards, score 10 total TD's, and average 5.2 yards per carry - second best among running backs. McFadden has a lot of upside going into 2011, and hopefully he can maintain his progress with the new coaching regime.
Rashard Mendenhall - While Mendenhall's yardage count is good (1,273 rushing yards), his biggest asset is that you know he's going to get in the end zone (13 rushing TD's). Much like Turner though, he had a lot of carries (324), and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.
LeGarrette Blount - There's no telling if Blount will keep up with the torrid pace he set in the second half of last season (1,007 rushing yards - 977 in the last 11 games). But if you're forced to reach for a keeper, Blount isn't a bad reach.
James Starks - Every year there's a guy who did little during the regular season, then excels in the post season and sparks all kinds of fantasy upside talk for next year. James Starks is that guy going into 2011 as he's had an amazing post season, and is ranked first in playoff rushing yardage with 263 yards (before the Super Bowl). Will this translate into a big year in '11? If the Packers decide to trade Ryan Grant it could. In any case, keep an eye on Starks as well as on the trade headlines if you're desperate for a keeper.