The NFL Rank ‘Em Up: #24-17 RBs

July 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , , , )

This statement is just to give you an idea of how critical youth is at the running back position; only one out of the eight backs in this article have been in the league for more than three seasons.

First up, at #24, is Mark Ingram.  But, “wait”, I can already hear the more condescending of my readers say.  “I thought you said that New England had the best RBBC system in the league.  So, why is Mark Ingram, the lead back in New Orleans’ RBBC system, higher than BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the lead back in New England’s RBBC system”.  To which I respond, just because the lead back in New Orleans is better doesn’t mean the entire committee is better.  Now that I’ve cleared up that borderline hypocrisy, Ingram will probably be far-and-away the best back in a RBBC system.  He’ll still get a long of carries taken away, and he still has to prove himself in the pros, but as lot as he keeps up his college production, he’ll be just fine.  I mean, it’s not like the Saints have picked up another highly touted, Heisman Trophy & National Championship winning running back in the last decade, right?

My 23rd running back is Mikel LeShoure.  For the first time since Barry Sanders disappointed the hell out of EA Sports for retiring in the height of his career, and snuffed the Madden 2000 cover, the Detroit Lions have a damn good running game (GASP!).  But, even though LeShoure will be the #2 back on Detroit’s depth chart, LeShoure is this high on the list because the Detroit coaching staff has made it clear that Jahvid Best and LeShoure will probably evenly split carries.  Plus, Best wasn’t the best in staying healthy last season, and while he had some flashes in the first few games, he spent a lot of time hurt, so LeShoure might see even more time.  I think that LeShoure will probably be the best #2 back in the league this season.

Rounding out my rookie trifecta in this article is Daniel Thomas out of Miami.  He might have ended up in the best situation of any rookie in the league.  Miami’s not going to immediately go from a prominently run-based offense, and start throwing everywhere, especially with Chad Henne quarterbacking.  And with both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams (probably) leaving, Thomas could be get 90% of the carries in Miami.  (The other ten percent would go to Lex Hilliard and fullback Lousaka Polite.)  That’s one of the best ratios in the league.  Now, what Thomas will do with those carries has yet to be decided, but he’ll certainly have opportunities.

Well, Mr. Schwartz. I'd say these were pretty good decisions, huh?

In 21st, we have Jahvid Best.  Before we get started, I already did the obligatory pun on Best’s name a couple of paragraphs ago.  Anyway, after his Week 2 explosion versus Philadelphia (26 touches, 232 total yards, 3 touchdowns), I was a fan.  He’s not a 25-carry workhorse, but he can cut like none other, find holes, and speed through them with blinding acceleration.  And as the Philly game proved, he’s a beast in the passing game.  His turf toe should be healed up, and I don’t think it will bother him this season, so you could see more Philly games this season.

At the 20th spot is DeAngelo Williams, the best player in this year’s free agency pool.  Which, if the last two seasons are any indication, means he’ll be a Bear.  All joking aside, Williams is still someone to fear.  Whatever team picks him up will get a treat.  He can still be an every down back that can break the big one, every so often.  If I were you, I’d wait until the end of the lockout before passing judgment on Williams, since he still may stay with the Panthers.  But, you should still pay attention to Williams, he can still play.

Has LT put on weight? He looks different, wait a minute.

Next is Shonn Greene.  I’m still not sold on Greene, but the Jets coaching staff have said that Greene will be the focal point of the offense, so he at least he has Rex Ryan’s endorsement, for whatever that’s worth.  This will be his third season, aka time for him to have his breakout season.  If he doesn’t, the Jets might look to the draft.  Or they might give LT one more shot in what may be his last season.  Or maybe they’ll give Joe McKnight a shot at starting.  Whatever the case, Greene could get a ton of carries, especially at the start of the season, but he’s on an extremely short leash.

Next up is Ryan Mathews.  I read articles last year, saying that Mathews could end up as a top-10 running back after his first season.  That, obviously, didn’t happen.  But, I wouldn’t put the bust label on him just yet, remember he’s not the first player to fail to live up to rookie expectations.  And with lower expectations, there won’t be as much pressure on him.  But with all the pressure that was on him last season, he might play with something to prove.  And on top of that, Mathews has Mike Tolbert and fifth-rounder Jordan Todman chomping at the bit for playing time.  Mathews isn’t in make-or-break mode yet, but he’s getting there.

The 17th back on this list is Jonathan Stewart.  How good of a situation is Stewart in?  He’s the feature back on a team that will almost certainly be a run-first, run-second, and maybe-pass-third-if-they’re-feeling-lucky team.  If he can stay healthy this season, he could have top-ten potential.  And he’ll be running behind a line that really doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  Ironically, though, the team’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness.  Everyone will be expecting the run against Carolina, so Stewart will constantly be playing against eight in the box, but Stewart has shown that he can pick up yards, even against rush defenses.

In the next article, we’ll discuss a few high-end busts that you need to keep an eye on.

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The NFL Rank ‘Em Up: #32-25 RBs

July 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Now, we’re starting to get into the range of RB3s and borderline RB2s.  If you have any of these guys as your RB3 or later, you’re in good shape.

Starting this article at #32 is Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller.  Spiller could be an interesting sleeper this season, provided he can develop during the offseason.  Last season, he was a dud, and he’s stuck behind the perfectly serviceable Fred Jackson.  But, he has the big-play ablity in him; we saw it in his punt returns.  If he can bring that explosiveness to his running, he could complement Jackson in an improving Bills offense.

Knowshon Moreno can break multiple tackles, but that might be due to the power of the banana split jerseys.

Knowshon Moreno is another person who probably should be higher on this list, when you regard him just by his talent.  But with Tim Tebow starting for Denver this season, Moreno will almost never get into the end zone himself.  And plus, he’s only had two 100-yard rushing games in his entire pro career.  He’ll probably be a PPR starter, but without the reception points, Moreno’s value loses a lot of its luster.  Depending on how many red zone carries Tebow vultures away from Moreno, he could be of value, but not as much value as people are claiming.

Inside my top 30 is Felix Jones.  Like I said in my last article, running back by committee is a fantasy killer.  And Jones will be competing with Tashard Choice, DeMarco Murray, and probably Marion Barber III.  He’ll have to settle on 10-15 carries a game.  But, Jones can probably make a lot out of those 10-15 carries, so Jones is still viable.   Just don’t expect tons of 100-yard games from him.

Back in 2007, Joseph Addai had just completed his second straight 1,400 total yard season, and he just got 15 total touchdowns.  But since then, he’s only had one 1,000 total yard season, and he’s been mired with injuries, that culminated in him missing eight games last season.  I think #29 (on the field and on the list) will stay healthy, thanks to an improved offensive line, and a pass-happy offense that will keep him rested.  He’s a good PPR running back, and a borderline RB2 in deeper, non-PPR leagues.

You want to see Marshawn Lynch's season highlights, here you go. This is it.

One play, a season does not make, even if it was the best play of the season.  Marshawn Lynch made the Saints defense look like a bunch of Pop Warner kindergarteners… once.  Other than that one run, he was a thoroughly unimpressive back who averaged less than 50 rushing yards per game.  However, he is the undisputed mainstay in Seattle’s rushing attack, and the New Orleans run proved that he can break off a run of epic proportions when the conditions are right, and in the NFC Worst, er I mean, the NFC West, the conditions will be right often.

I’m not sure why Cedric Benson is admonished by the fantasy community the way that he is.  He ran for over 1,100 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons in a pass-happy offense.  Yes, he doesn’t pick up a lot of yards per carry, but Cincinnati is one of the few teams that still primarily employ a one running back system.  So he’s not getting these yards because of his own talent.  He’s getting those yards because apparently Head Coach Marvin Lewis (who is still somehow employable after going 18-29-1 over the last three seasons) has Benson on his personal fantasy keeper league.  I guess my biggest fear about Benson, and the reason he’s only #27 on the list, is that they’re going to overload him, especially while the Bengals are trying to transition Andy Dalton into the quarterback position.  Ironically, I think Dalton was #27 on the quarterback list.

Fred Jackson is a back that really doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  He’s one of those backs that puts in his time, and goes largely unnoticed because of the team he plays for.  He should easily rack up 1,000 total yards, maybe eight touchdowns, and hardly anyone will notice.  Jackson might actually be a sleeper due to the fact that the Bills offense seems to be improving.  If you can find Jackson in the ninth or tenth round, you’ll get an excellent deal on him.

My #25 running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is the #1 back in the best RB by committee in the league and even he barely gets a top 25 spot.  That should tell you how destructive RBBC’s are.  BJGE (my god, I’m acronyming it up) will still lead the charge for the Pats’ running game, but he’s competing with Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley.  But, it’s not like there’s going to eight or nine in the box with Tom Brady flinging the ball for New England, so he’ll have plenty of room to run.

In the next article, we’ll talk about a few high profile rookies, sophomores, and third-years who are in good situations.

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The NFL Rank ‘Em Up: #40-33 RBs

July 15, 2011 at 5:17 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Any fantasy football player worth his salt knows that a running back by committee system murders any running backs value about 95% of the time.  Sometimes, it works, but they only legitimately work when every running back perfectly compliment each other or Bill Belichick is involved.

My 40th RB on this list is Ronnie Brown.  Ronnie’s glory days are over.  Miami chose not to resign him, and once the league restarts, Brown (along with his teammate Ricky Williams) will probably be on the free agent market.  If he does sign with another team, he’ll be at least a PPR threat.  But, he doesn’t have his elusiveness anymore, so don’t waste a pick on him unless your league is particularly deep.

Everybody seems to be high on Washington rookie Roy Helu, but I’m not buying it.  Yeah, there aren’t a ton of people ahead of him on the depth chart, but do you really trust any running back in a Mike Shanahan system?   This is a man who loves to play around and swap out his backs.  Remember, back in ’08, seven different Broncos led the team in rushing yards in different games.  And in Washington, Helu will have to compete with Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, Evan Royster, Mike Sellers, and James Davis.  And you can bet that all five of them will steal carries, yards, and touchdowns from Helu.  He’ll still probably lead the Skins in rushing yards, but people who are saying that Helu will win ROY are a little bit optimistic.

Mike Tolbert is only two inches taller than me, but double my weight. Yep, he's a round fellow.

Mike Tolbert was a pleasant surprise last season.  I’ve heard the comparison to Natrone Means a lot, but he actually reminds me of an early Jerome Bettis.  If he can sure up his hands, he can be a bowling ball of a back, able to break multiple tackles, and score touchdowns in bunches.  The only problem (other than the fumbles) is a big one though, Ryan Mathews.  When Mathews is healthy, he’s demonstrated some excellent balance and burst, but he’s also been known to be fumbly and injury-prone.  So if anything, Tolbert is probably the most dependable handcuff in the NFL.  At the very least, he’ll be San Diego’s red zone threat, so a second straight double-digit touchdown season isn’t crazy talk.

James Starks was last season’s playoff MVP, at #37.  He didn’t play a down in the pros until Week 13, but he came to life in the playoffs where he demonstrated an uncanny ability to keep his legs moving and almost never lose yards.  He still has to pass Ryan Grant on the depth chart and it’s more than likely that Green Bay will probably have about a 45-35-15-5 split in carries between Grant, Starks, third-round rookie out of Hawaii, Alex Green, and fullback John Kuhn.  He has some serious potential, but he’ll have to prove that he can work with another running back.

The NFL finally decided to let Pierre Thomas, but only if he promised to stop flying.

Next up at #36, we have Pierre Thomas.  Thomas would be a lot more attractive right now, with Reggie Bush heading out and Chris Ivory coming off foot surgery.  But, there’s also the drafting of Mark Ingram.  Now, Thomas can still work, especially since he’s in the “give-everyone-their-chance” offense in New Orleans.  Plus, Ingram hasn’t exactly proven himself as the sturdiest pipe wrench in the tool shed.  So, Thomas will have opportunities, but he missed ten games last season, so durability is a problem with Thomas as well, like most backs in this range.

You’d think that Michael Bush would be higher on the REU than 35th, since he was part of last season’s best running game, but Bush only rushed for 3.8 yards per carry last season, so he’s been drummed up a lot.  The only reason he’s in my top 35 at all is because I’m not sold on Darren McFadden yet.  If Run DMC was a proven runner, Bush’s value would take a nose dive on this list.  But, if McFadden can’t back up last season’s breakout, Bush could reap the benefits.  And, since Bush will probably go undrafted in most drafts, you can keep an eye on him from a distance.

Ryan Grant seems a lot better than 34th, and he’ll probably be gone in the first 100 picks, way before people ahead of him on this list like Ryan Williams, Marshawn Lynch, and maybe even DeAngelo Williams.  But, he’s a huge risk, and he doesn’t even have a huge reward tacked onto him.  His ankle will be a big question mark this season, and even if he does clock in a full season, James Starks and Alex Green have shown up since the last time Grant played a down; both of whom are sure to swipe carries from Grant.  His back-to-back 1,200 yard seasons seem like they happened so long ago.

The aforementioned Ryan Williams clocks in at the 33rd position.  After just two full seasons at VA Tech, Williams made the jump to the pros, and he’ll probably be at least the goal line threat in Arizona.  I think I’ve figured out the Cards running system for this season.  Williams will be the primary rusher and goal-line threat.  Beanie Wells will be the change-of-pace and project back.  And Tim Hightower will be the receiver/emergency back.  If that’s the case, Williams will be the Arizona back with the most upside, and plus he’s fairly obscure, so depending on whether or not Arizona can seal the deal on the Kevin Kolb acquisition, Williams could be the lead runner in a powerful offense that you can nab in the ninth round.  How’s that for upside?

In the next part, we’ll go into a few sleepers and a few busts.

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The NFL Rank ‘Em Up: #48-41 RBs

July 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , , , )

And now we move onto the running backs.  The most important position in fantasy football, just try to disagree with me.

Barely making the list is Montario Hardesty at #48.  Peyton Hillis was an absolute beast last season, but he slowed down at the end of the season.  The Browns have said that Hardesty will be a bigger part of the offense, and I think that at some point Hillis will slow down enough for Hardesty to be a viable starter.  Hardesty is this low on the list, however, because he’s unproven and is still coming back from last season’s season-ending injury.  Call him a deep sleeper, consider that the Browns offense is so weak.

At #47 is Rashad Jennings.  Jennings is just one Maurice Jones-Drew knee problem away from starting in one of the most run-happy offenses in the NFL.  However, he’s also in one of the most one-sided running games in the NFL, so unless MJD does go down, Jennings probably won’t get a ton of carries. Jennings is another candidate in the high risk/high reward category.  If he gets significant time this season, he’ll be a great pickup.

No words can describe this picture. Other than, FALCON KICK!!!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  LaDainian Tomlinson is #46 on this list.  Wasn’t it a few years ago, when he wouldn’t be caught dead outside the top 5.  Now, I have him barely outside the top 45.  But that’s what will happen when you get injured on a regular basis, stuck into a running back committee, and hit the 30 year old mark as a running back.  LT might have a good game or two, but his best days are far behind him.

I don’t like to copy-paste in this article, but Thomas Jones is kind of similar to LT’s.  So that means I have to come up with new content for Thomas.  Um…  Jones isn’t in an excellent running game?  No.  Jones isn’t behind some young future star at running back?  No, that’s not it.  Jones isn’t in his early 30’s and in the decline of his career?  That’s not it either.  OK, I got nothing.

Anybody see Danny Woodhead coming?  Put your hand down Danny.  The former Hard Knocks star got picked up by New England and he did pretty damn well for himself with a 5.6 yards per carry average, and he became a massive threat in the passing game.  He might get hurt slightly due to the drafting of both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, but Woodhead will still be the Pats’ #2 running back.

Number 43 on this list is Brandon Jacobs.  Last year, New York was switching running backs like Carolina was switching quarterbacks.  Every week, it seemed that Brandon did something bad, and then Ahmad Bradshaw would start next week, then vice versa.  But, then Bradshaw distanced himself from Jacobs, proving him expendable.  If Jacobs stays in New York, he will strictly the change-of-pace back.

Ryan Torain is #42 on this list, but he’s nowhere near the answer to Washington’s running game (or the universe).  He’s a good one cut running back, but he’s not even the most interesting runner on the team.  Roy Helu is going to take carries away in chunks.  Torain will get 15 carries a game, maximum.  He’s not going to the starter for Washington by season’s end.

Somehow, this doesn't make me feel like eating sandwiches.

My #41 running back is Beanie Wells.  He is a nonfactor in Arizona.  His explosiveness is gone.  His tackle breaking is gone, and now his job security is gone.  The Cards drafted Ryan Williams, and they always seem to rely on Tim Hightower at some point in the season.  Beanie could still have a third-year breakout, but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it.

In the next part, we talk about some backs in a running back committee situation.

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