We started this offseason with a feature on wide receivers but the cornerstone to success in fantasy football is a strong and healthy running back corps. Every year there are some surprises and unexpected twists in fantasy football but few positions are as unpredictable as running back. With the philosophy of running back by committee like the Patriots have employed and time share systems like Jacksonville had with Maurice Jones Drew and Fred Taylor, running back has become increasingly hard to predict. Last year Ladanian Tomlinson was the consensus number one pick, but injuries hampered his ability to live up to his promise. For several seasons, Steven Jackson has been highly regarded but the lack luster performance of the once daunting Rams offense and health problems have left Jackson in the perennial under achiever category. So, with all of this in mind, here are six questions to help you navigate the turbulent waters of running back selection this season.
Q) Many of the NFLâ€™s once premiere running backs have either changed teams (Fred Taylor) or are yet to find a new home (Edgerrin James, Deuce McCallister, Rudi Johnson). Who of this bunch is the most interesting this season?
A) Edgerrin James. James was in a tough situation last season. He was in a throw first offense and he had a big, young, short yardage machine sitting behind him in Tim Hightower. This did not leave him much opportunity to really show his worth, but when Arizona needed someone they could count on in the playoffs, James was the guy. There a number of teams who need a durable, experienced guy who they can count on to pick up blocks and catch balls out of the backfield on third down. There are also some teams who need guy to share the load with a young talent so that they can increase the longevity of the youngster. New Orleans could fit this situation, Reggie Bush has proven that he is an electrifying playmaker but he is not a traditional â€œpound the rockâ€ guy who can carry the ball 25 times if they need him to. Chicago is another team that has a talented young guy that would benefit from an Edgerrin James to spell him and help out on third down.
Q) There are always certain players that everyone is overly high on despite their inability to put of the numbers. Who is this seasonâ€™s most overrated Running Back?
A) Larry Johnson. This guy has been absent for 2 seasons and yet people still have him in the top 20. The new sheriff in Kansas City is bringing the Arizona offense to town; it will shock me if Johnson breaks 700 yards this season.
Q) On the flip side, there are also players who, no matter how well they produce, people are always looking for them to fall on their face. Who is the running back that gets the least respect from the pundits?
A) Frank Gore. He has been the first and only weapon on the putrid 49er offense for several seasons now. People are always bagging on his health but he keeps showing up and keeps putting up 1200 yard seasons.
Q) Every season has at least one rookie that starts their fantasy career with a bang. This happens without fail, look at Chris Johnson of the Titans, Matt Forte of the Bears and Marshawn Lynch of the Buffalo Bills 2 years ago. With a very light rookie class this season, who is the rookie running back most likely to emerge as a legitimate fantasy producer?
A) This year’s standout rookie running back is Knowshon Moreno. On a team that already had a bunch of backs in their stable they used their first round pick on a 3 down back. Obviously they did not yet have what they were looking for. Look for this team to lean on the running game as Kyle Orton and Chris Simms find out who is the best of the what’s left after Cutler’s departure and Moreno will see the bulk of those carries.
Q) Which running back, who is projected as the second option in a running back by committee situation, is the most likely to have true fantasy impact?
A) If Mike Shanahan was still in Denver, I would say whoever is projected as number 2 for them. Since he is not, I am going to go with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina. With all of the hype over DeAngelo Williams scoring five thousand touchdowns last season, everyone forgot that he started the season as the guy most likely to loose his job. If Williams comes back to earth, even a little bit, you will see Stewart start picking up more and more playing time. If Williams doesnâ€™t come back to earth, I change my pick to Rashard Mendenhall or Darren Sproeles (nothing like committing to a position)
Q) Each season there is a formerly premiere running back who inexplicably stops producing and becomes completely irrelevant. Last year it was Rudi Johnson, before that it was Shaun Alexander and Ahman Green. Who will be this yearâ€™s once dominant running back who disappears off the face of the earth?
A) I am going WAAAYYYY out on a limb here and saying Marion Barber. Barber runs like a man possessed. He always tries to get the extra yard, he always tries to run through people instead of going out of bounds and he always hits the line at absolute full speed. This is what makes him great and why coaches and fans love him, it is also why players who play like this rarely last more than a few seasons as hugely productive. Christian Okoye used to play like this, Ahman Green did as well. They both played at a very high level for a few years and then all that reckless abandon caught up with them at once. It is usually a combination of health and situation that leads to this. You break down faster because of the way you play and you canâ€™t play the way you once did because you are breaking down. In addition, Barber has a very talented Felix Jones waiting to take over when he falls apart. Donâ€™t be surprised if you see Barber turned back into a strictly short yardage specialist.