Last Updated: Jan 24, 2011 3:07 PM
The CFG off-season machine rolls on with a look at the 2011 running backs in our latest installment of CFG's "Way Too Early" 2011 college fantasy football player rankings.
Please understand there's a reason we're calling them "Way Too Early" rankings. It's just a first glance at the 2011 prospects. A gut feel. We haven't fully analyzed returning o-lineman for each school. We haven't yet plugged in the incoming stud recruits (signing day is February 2nd). We didn't account for all of the new coaching changes. And we haven't taken a peek at the upcoming fall schedules. All of that will come with due time.
We'll release one article per position per day, then eventually transfer all of the data over to our Big Board. Here's the schedule:
Friday, January 21 - Quarterbacks
Monday, January 24 - Running Backs
Tuesday, January 25 - Wide Receivers
Wednesday, January 26 - Tight Ends & Kickers
We're going to pass on defensive rankings until later this spring. So, without further ado, let's dive into the running backs!
"Way Too Early" 2011 Running Back Rankings
The running back position took a significant hit this January with 11 high profile names heading early into the NFL draft. That's a surprising large number jumping ship especially considering there may not be a full NFL season next fall.
But the returning college RB cupboard isn't bare.
LaMichael James headlines the returnees, and rightly so. The Oregon Duck posted 1,731 rushing yards and scored 24 total TDs last fall. Let's hope he can keep his nose clean this off-season.
North Texas' Lance Dunbar should be in line for another big year. With former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney now at the helm, expect Dunbar to get the rock often. Dunbar was simply unstoppable in Sun Belt play and finished the year with three 200+ yard rushing performances in his final five games.
Speaking of hot running backs, Arkansas' Knile Davis was a monster down the stretch. His 6.5 yards per carry was tops in the nation for running backs with over 200 carries.
Bobby Rainey returns for Western Kentucky. He led the country in carries in 2010 with 340. As long as he doesn't break down from overuse, he should be a force again in the Sun Belt.
Some RB questions to chew on:
* What will the carry distribution look like in Madison next fall? There should be enough to share between James White and Montee Ball, but who is 1A and 1B?
* Boise State loses both starting wideouts Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Does this mean the Broncos offense will center more around the running game? If so, this could be good news for Doug Martin owners.
* Boston College's Montel Harris had a rough first half to the season. He went through a five game stretch where he didn't reach the endzone. Harris turned things around in the second half of the year before suffering a season-ending injury. This opened the door for freshman Andre Williams to show his stuff. Williams logged 108, 185 and 73 yard performances in BC's final three games. Should Harris owners be worried about Williams in 2011?
* Virginia Tech loses both Darren Evans and Ryan Williams to the NFL. Should we assume David Wilson will get the lion's share of carries this fall (a la Ryan Williams, who posted 293-1655-21 in 2009)?
* Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle will look to fill the shoes of the departed Kendall Hunter. With offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen gone, will Randle be utilized the same way as Hunter was? Does Jeremy Smith pose a threat to Randle's playing time?
* Can Sooner running back Roy Finch live up to the hype? With Demarco Murray off to play on Sundays, there's been lots of chatter from Norman that the Sooners will not miss a beat with Finch in there.
* Who will take over for Vai Taua at Nevada? Is Mike Ball ready to be a lead back? Will Lampford Mark be recovered from a late season injury to battle for time?
* Will BYU senior-to-be J.J. DiLuigi get the chance to build upon his impressive 2010 campaign? Or will Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada steal just enough touches away to keep DiLuigi from being a borderline elite fantasy RB?
* If Charles Sims returns to the squad as expected, how will Houston share their backfield workload? Sims, Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes give the coaching staff plenty of options.
* Will new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke roll with Stephen Hopkins as his workhorse? Hoke did wonders for MiQuale Lewis while at Ball State, and turned Ronnie Hillman into a fantasy star while at San Diego State.
* Can Utah State running back Robert Turbin return to his pre-injury form? He missed 2010 with a torn ACL.
* After losing the 2010 to a knee injury, will Brynn Harvey return to the UCF backfield? If so, how does that effect up-and-comer Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver? Until we see how Harvey looks in spring ball, it's tough to rank Murray too high.
* Will Texas ever produce another fantasy-worthy running back? Could incoming freshman Malcolm Brown be the answer?
* Former UConn head coach Randy Edsall loves leaning on a workhorse running back. Now that he's at Maryland, does he have someone on the roster that fills that RB1 role? Davin Meggett, perhaps?
* With Texas Tech RB Baron Batch out of the way, will Eric Stephens step in and take the bull by the horns? Or will we be burned (again) by trusting the Red Raider running game?
* TCU's Ed Wesley ended the year with a whimper. With everyone around him gone -- except for the other running backs vying for his job (Matthew Tucker and Wayman James) -- what should the expectations be for Wesley this fall?
Spring ball will hopefully give us a few answer to these lingering questions. For now, here's how we rank the running backs...
CollegeFootballGeek.com's "Way Too Early" 2011 Running Back Rankings
Agree with our rankings? Think we're completely off-base? Give us your feedback in the CFG Forums.