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Fantasy Fix: The Top 20 RBs

The Great NFL Lockout of 2011 put the free agent market on hold for a while, so what we've seen in recent days is a frenzied, condensed version of what usually happens over many weeks or months.

That particularly has been the case at the running back position. The Bears were not the only team to shake up the backfield with the surprise addition of a free agent - in their case Marion Barber. The most recent surprise signing was Baltimore's pick-up of Ricky Williams, just days after cutting ties with Willis McGahee.

Veteran RBs getting signed to back-up roles can have an effect on fantasy expectations for starters. For example, I ranked the Bears' Matt Forte in my preseason overall top 20, but I'm already a bit concerned that if Forte sits out some preseason action over his contract issues, Barber could earn some important carries in the first few games of the regular season. Likewise, Baltimore's Ray Rice is a no-doubt Top 5 RB, but Williams could cut into his scoring and red zone carries.

Meanwhile, my preseason expectations also are being rocked by star Tennessee RB Chris Johnson's ongoing holdout. Most of the fantasy football universe expected Johnson to be in camp by now, but it sounds from many reports like he is not anywhere near ready to end his holdout. This is a guy many of us - or at least me - ranked second overall.

Assuming his holdout persists, I've got to rethink my top 20 RBs. Here goes:

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota: I'm still comfortable with Peterson at the top, probably even more than last week, considering how my list changes after No. 1.

2. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: I had Charles a No. 4 overall last week. At No. 2 overall, he becomes more of a gamble, but like Peterson and unlike the next two names, I don't see any real depth-chart threats (Charles' back-up is the graying Thomas Jones) or other concerns.

3. Arian Foster, Houston: I still have a lingering injury concern about him, but still think he could lead all RBs in TDs.

4. Chris Johnson, Tennessee: Even if he holds out through the preseason, he likely won't lose starts or carries once the games count, but Tennessee's offense is a work in progress, and I see him starting slowly. Plus, what if he holds out through the start of the regular season. I don't envy owners who have to pick fourth or fifth and find Johnson still on the board.

5. Ray Rice, Baltimore: Williams messes with my expectations, but his double-threat status as a great runner and receiver keeps him ahead of the rest. Maybe a few extra receptions will cancel out carries he loses to Williams.

6. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh: No change here. Still like him to finish second or third in running TDs this season.

7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia: Loaded with talent, the Eagles are being likened to the Miami Heat - a comparison I don't think holds because the Eagles, with a lot of yards and scores from McCoy, look like they can win it all.

8. Darren McFadden, Oakland: I talked last week about undervaluing him, so I nudged him up a spot this week. If he is motivated at all by disrespect, he may lead the league.

9. Michael Turner, Atlanta: The former NIU Huskie is slowing, but should still get most of Atlanta's carries and rushing scores.

10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville: By the end of preseason, he may move ahead of Turner if his post-surgery performances seem convincing.

11. Frank Gore, San Francisco: See last week's column, re: "poor Frank." Nothing has changed.

12. Matt Forte, Bears: Will his performance be more affected by the addition of Barber, the O-line loss of Olin Kreutz, or caution he appears to be taking given his contract status? The right answer may be all three, but I really think Forte re-discovered his form last year, and remains his offense's best weapon.

13. Ahmad Bradshaw, NY Giants: Ranking him here is a bet that his fumble problems are over.

14. Shonn Greene, NY Jets: Ranking him here is a bet that he plays a much bigger role in the offense.

15. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland: The monster back of 2010 who not many want to believe in for 2011, partly because he too will have a free-agent signing stealing carries - Brandon Jackson.

16. Jahvid Best, Detroit: He probably benefits from the misfortune of rookie and former Illini Mikal LeShoure, who is now lost for the season to injury.

17. LaGarrette Blount, Tampa: Ran for more than 1,000 yards and eight TDs as a rookie last year. Has potential if receptions increase and fumbles decrease.

18. Steven Jackson, St. Louis: Aging, but surprisingly consistent, Jackson's stock will rise or fall on how effective Sam Bradford is in his second year at QB.

19. Knowshon Moreno, Denver: A QB controversy means the RB may be able to shine, though if Tim Tebow takes over from Kyle Orton at some point, expect fewer touches for Moreno.

20. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo: this is a totally out-of-the-blue sleeper bet. Fast as hell and reportedly more muscled than last season, Buffalo management wanted to feature him last year, but he wasn't ready. This year, he could be the team's best offensive threat.

Expert Wire
* Yahoo! fantasy football experts deliver their preseason top 100, featuring a downgrade for holdout Chris Johnson.

* Bleacher Report has its top five fantasy football sleepers, including new Arizona QB Kevin Kolb.

* Fantasy Football Jungle sizes up where Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona, is being drafted. The rookie RB in Arizona, Ryan Williams, is getting a lot of hype, and Kolb's arrival may indicate a pass-happy offense.

* Fox Sports' Mike Harmon surprisingly ranks Jamaal Charles as the top RB and top pick overall. Maybe he's onto something, but I think Peterson is a one-man team.

Fantasy Baseball Trade Deadline Recap
Fantasy baseball league trading deadlines usually fall one or two weeks after the MLB deadline on July 31, so you can have a few games to size up whether or not outfielder Carlos Beltran getting traded to San Francisco increases or decreases his fantasy value.

In Beltran's case, his fantasy numbers went immediately south, while two other traded players - Hunter Pence, OF, Philadelphia, and Michael Bourn, OF, Atlanta, who were both traded out of Houston - have seen an immediate stat boost.

Pence, in particular, was someone I was looking to unload from a fantasy team prior to his move to the Phillies. He was hitting well and driving in a lot of runs, but home runs and stolen bases were down from last year. He now has two home runs in the last week since joining Philly, and I'm keeping him.

For more on the fantasy implications of deadline moves:

* Sporting News has this trade deadline analysis.

* Bleacher Report examines the value of Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Cleveland as he moves to the American League.


Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. He welcomes your comments. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at his Beachwood blog SwingsBothWays.

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