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2003 Sleepers & Busts From The Huddle Staff - Running Backs
August 13, 2003
 
Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends IDP

SLEEPERS

Bob Cunningham

William Green, Cleveland -- He fits the mold of a guy who will enjoy a major breakthrough season. He's the man unequivocably, and he knows it. Complemented by a passing game that should be decent, Green could go for 1,300 yards and double-figure TDs.

Adrian Peterson, Chicago -- The reports are that he's been dazzling in camp, and incumbent Anthony Thomas, coming off a disappointing season, has had a physical setback. Peterson sports better all-around skills, and if he gets the chance to display them, he'll be good for decent second fantasy RB-type numbers.

Onterrio Smith, Minnesota -- Can you picture Doug Chapman as the Vikings' featured ballcarrier? Me, neither. There's no applicable reason why Smith can't have a solid season in this offense, which will never go up against more than seven in the box as long as WR Randy Moss is around. Yeah, veteran Moe Williams and QB Daunte Culpepper will get the bulk of the short TDs, but in yardage leagues, Smith should be serviceable at worst.

David Dorey

William Green, Cleveland -- The first rookie runner drafted last year, Green only totaled 1000 total yards and six touchdowns. But understand that in the first nine weeks he only had 166 yards, one touchdown and a 2.3 yards per carry average. After the week 11 bye week, Green stopped being too tentative and thinking too much and just relied on his running skills. From then on he averaged 120 yards a game and scored five times. He failed to get 100 yards or a touchdown only once in Baltimore in that time. With his stumbling start behind him and solid performances in his past seven games, Green is ready to meet expectations against one of the lighter schedules for runningbacks while the appearance of his total numbers last year leaves him undervalued for 2002.

Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia -- As a rookie, Buckhalter gained 4.5 yards per carry and set the rookie rushing record for Philadelphia. Buckhalter blew his knee in the spring of 2002 and missed all of last season. But so far in camp, he appears completely recovered from the injury that will be about 18 months old by the time the season starts. The fact that Staley is holding out has only served to give Buckhalter more attention and work in camp and even if Staley returns, the intention is to use Buckhalter for all goal line runs and short yardage. With McNabb returning from injury himself, it would be no shock to see him yield some of those goal line plunges to Buckhalter anyway. While Correll will not likely challenge the rushing yardage lead in the NFL, he will post solid numbers on an offense that can put up nice points. If Staley returns, Correll will still be gold. If Staley stays out or gets traded, Correll could go platinum.

Kevin Faulk, New England -- While many still consider Antowain Smith as the primary back in New England, the coaching staff is not getting the memo. Faulk can be picked up cheaply in most leagues and will be sharing the load with Smith this season at worst. At best – he may replace Smith all together and provide the best rushing available on the Patriots team. Faulk is a great, upside pick likely available after the middle of your draft.

Dave Foral

James Stewart, Detroit -- While the defense is still light years away from being competitive, the offense of the Detroit Lions has made great strides this off-season. With the additions of rookie standout WR Charlie Rogers and new head coach Steve Mariucci, arguably one of the best offensive minds in the league, a young but improving offensive line, and 2nd year, former first-rounder QB Joey Harrington, I expect James Stewart to enjoy his most productive year since joining the league in 1995. Stewart very quietly eclipsed 1000 yards in 2002, and he did so in only 14 games. He is also an above-average receiver out of the backfield, which is something Mooch will take advantage of this year. While injuries are of concern with Stewart, aren’t they for every RB in the league? Do not pass up Stewart if he falls to you in the 3rd round.

Troy Hambrick, Dallas -- I place a lot of positive emphasis on coaching, and it is hard to imagine having more respect and regard for a head coach than the Big Tuna, Bill Parcells. There is no doubt that the Dallas Cowboys are a far cry, talent-wise, on offense from teams that Parcells has coached in the past. There is uncertainty at QB, which is likely to remain the entire season. The offensive line is in shambles. Wide receivers Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant are talented, but need someone dependable to get the ball to them. What is a coach to do? Odds are that Parcells will anchor his offense around Troy Hambrick, a big back of the prototype he covets. Hambrick averaged almost 3.5 yards per carry last year, and is a reliable receiver out of the backfield. While most defenses will key against the Cowboy run game, dedication to the run game should remain a constant, and Hambrick should be the primary benefactor (25-30 carries). If Parcells can squeeze anything out of his quarterbacks, expect a 1000+ yard year from Troy Hambrick.

Todd Kleinheinz

Kevan Barlow, San Francisco -- Barlow has demonstrated the running and catching ability necessary in the complicated west coast offense, it has been his lack of knowledge as to blitz pick-ups, and blocking schemes that have held him back from becoming the top guy in SF. This year, his 3rd, may be the year he takes control. Barlow has impressed new Head Coach Dennis Erickson, and if given the chance to start, he may not give it back. Look for Barlow this summer to over take Garrison Hearst on the depth chart and become a top line fantasy back.

Joe Levit

Edgerrin James, Indianapolis -- Two years ago, James was duking it out with Marshall Faulk for the top fantasy spot. Last year he stayed on the field despite a myriad of minor maladies, after returning from his major knee injury. He is cutting with authority again this preseason, and should be a major steal in the second or third rounds of a draft. He is going to be involved in the passing game too.

Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia -- Correll was taking over Duce Staley’s job once before, but busted up his knee. The knee is new, and Buckhalter is at it again. Staley holding out has to be one of the most confusing decisions in recent contract-squabble history. Because he is out, Buckhalter is running with the first team. Because Correll is more than capable, he’ll be the back toting the ball for the Eagles this year. The top back on a strong squad is a valuable player.

Troy Hambrick, Dallas -- Hambrick has run well for the Cowboys so far in the preseason. The discipline Parcells subjects him to is a good thing for Troy, who needs the motivation. Now is his chance to shine, with Emmitt Smith out West. Hambrick is a bruiser who will carry after carry if Dallas can get the lead in any games this year. He has the power and opportunity to be a top-ten fantasy back, but is someone you can find in the mid-rounds of most drafts.

Paul Sandy

Moe Williams, Minnesota -- When Michael Bennett went under the knife, all eyes turned to Doug Chapman. Then rookie Onterrio Smith signed a contract and he became the darling of fantasy owners everywhere. For a brief stint, Larry Ned even appeared to be in the hunt for the starting job. All the while, Moe Williams has been lurking in the shadows. Despite the fact that Williams has been living outside the limelight, I expect him to assume a significant amount of carries and score the majority of fantasy points. He seems to have an edge over all the other players. First he stays healthy, something which Chapman can never seem to do. Next, he understands the offense and is a solid pass blocker, a typical weakness of rookie running backs like Smith.

Garrison Hearst, San Francisco -- Fantasy owners continue to wait for San Francisco to shift the focus in their running game from Garrison Hearst to Kevan Barlow. Well, the wait continues. All indications from the 49ers’ camp suggest Hearst will once again be the starter. This means Hearst is a relative bargain in the mid-rounds of any fantasy draft. While he may have the occasional weak performance, Hearst amassed nearly 1,300 yards of total offense and 9 touchdowns in 2002 – despite battling a nagging hamstring injury. If Hearst can manage to keep himself on the field and improve on these stats even a little, he will be a steal.

Fritz Schottman

Stephen Davis, Carolina -- With bigger names going off the draft board early, it’s hard to get value at runningback in the third round or later. Davis may be one of those few value picks at the runningback position.

Davis has a number of things going for him. First, Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder didn’t want him. Given what Snyder knows about football, that’s a plus. Second, he goes to a football team that wants to pound the ball and play defense. The Panthers should be among the league’s best on defense and Davis is the kind of big back that can grind up defenses. Third, Panthers Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning has already set the bar at 500 rushing attempts. If Davis can stay healthy and gets 80% of those carries and averages just 3.0 yards per attempt you’re looking at 1,200 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Not bad for a number two fantasy runningback.

William Green, Cleveland -- Given how weak the 2003 rookie crop of runningbacks is, I decided to focus on the sophomore class. After looking at this group, I decided Green has more going for him than the others.

The Browns are going to have to outscore their opponents if they’re going to win this season. Their linebacking situation is a mess and the defensive line and secondary are below average. Cleveland must score points and keep the opposition off the field. All that entails running the football effectively.

The Browns number one ball carrier is probably a bit undervalued at this point for a couple of reasons. First, the Browns offensive line is one of the league’s weaker units. Second, Green doesn’t catch the football. The upside is that the Cleveland can field one of the NFL’s fastest and most dangerous receiver corps. Aside from Kevin Johnson, these guys are burners and Johnson (having good speed, but not the fastest on this track team) is the team’s number one because he runs the best routes and he doesn’t drop the football. You put three and four of these guys on the field and you’re only looking at six defenders in the box. Green isn’t going to see the eight man fronts a lot of other backs will. If he can break through the line of scrimmage he should be able to overpower anyone in the secondary.

Whitney Walters

Marcel Shipp, Arizona -- Let's face it, sentimentality aside, the best back in a Cardinal uniform this season will not be Emmitt Smith. The organization may hope that No. 22 puts some people in the seats, but the coaches will have no choice but to get Shipp on the field if they hope to move the ball on a consistent basis. Shipp is bigger, faster and much younger. He produced 916 total yards in the final eight games last season and is a great receiver. Emmitt will start the season as the #1 back, but he will give way to Shipp by mid-season. The low fuel light is on and the needle is moving quickly to "E".

Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia -- Buckhalter looks fully back from last season's knee injury, and it's a good thing for the Eagles. With Staley a no-show at camp, the third year back out of Nebraska may be carrying the load this season. Side note -- can anyone tell me why Staley isn't in camp? I've seen several interviews with the man and read plenty of comments. I'm beginning to believe Staley himself doesn't even know why he's not in camp. Anyway... back to C-Buck. He's by far the best goal-line and short yardage runner they have, so even if the Staley hold-out madness ends Buckhalter will see most of the action around the end-zone, making him a solid mid-round pick that could pay off big if he ends up being the starter.

Jesse Chatman, San Diego -- This is a "sleeper" list right? Well here's a deep sleeper for you. Chatman walked into the Charger camp last year as a non-drafted free agent and worked his way into a roster spot and is now the back up to LaDainian Tomlinson. Chatman is a smaller back (5-8/215), but has great vision and runs with a very low center of gravity. He put up over 2000 yards rushing his final year at Eastern Washington and 24 touchdowns. He also had 38 catches for 425 yards and four more TDs. LT has been one of the NFL's most durable backs in his first two seasons and Chatman may never see the field. But if he is given the opportunity he can put up some serious numbers in the run-happy Chargers offense. If you are in a league that provides for deep rosters, tuck Chatman away for a rainy day.

BUSTS

Bob Cunningham

Garrison Hearst, San Francisco -- He's still got skills, but age and the coaching change at San Francisco are working against him. Young Kevan Barlow eagerly awaits his chance. Without the loyalty of former coach Steve Mariucci a factor, Hearst eases into retirement.

David Dorey

Fred Taylor, Jacksonville -- Taylor made it through the entire 2002 season without missing a game, though he was banged up at the end. Before you decide that is a sign he is over his problems, consider that he has played six seasons so far and of those, he had big years in 1998 (1223 yds, 14 TDs), 2000 (1399 yds, 12 TDs) and 2002 (1314 yds, 8 TDs). In the odd numbered years, he has always been hurt and disappointing – 1999 (732 yds, 6 TDs) and 2001 (116 yds, 0 TDs). This is an odd-numbered year and Taylor has already missed two weeks of camp with a bruised kneecap. Add in a messy situation with Mark “lame duck” Brunell and the aging Jimmy Smith still without a decent complement and it all points to another “gotcha” year for fantasy owners.

Dave Foral

Antowain Smith, New England -- When asked who will represent the AFC in this season’s Super Bowl, many will offer up the New England Patriots as solid contenders. Who can argue when they bolstered their defense with Rosie Colvin and Rodney Harrison, and have football genius Bill Belichick as head coach. What could hold them back? The inconsistent and sluggish play at running back, and in particular, Antowain Smith. Smith’s performance and attitude have had him in Belichick’s doghouse for most of the last year and a half. So much so that rumors still circulate that the Pats may bring in FA veteran Jamal Anderson to beef up the position. Even now, the Boston Globe is reporting that scat-back Kevin Faulk is taking most of the snaps with the 1st string offense. Both history and present spell a cloudy future for Smith.

Todd Kleinheinz

Curtis Martin, New York Jets -- Although bumped and battered much of the year, Martin still was able to string together a fairly decent season. This year however may be the year he hits the wall. With a young, and talented QB in Chad Pennington, the running game will not be as influential has it has been in past years for the Jets. Reliable WR Wayne Chrebet is still in green, as is Santana Moss and newly added Curtis Conway, not to mention a young RB in LaMont Jordan just itching to get his shot at the starting job. Added all together and we may have seen the best of Curtis Martin.

Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh -- The tire tread is wearing thin on the Bus and this may be the year to shift gears in the Steel City. By the end of training camp the name being mentioned as the big Steeler RB may be Amos Zereoue. Zereoue has performed very well while filling in for Bettis while he was injured, and this just might be the year that Bettis has to turn the keys of the Steeler running game over.

Joe Levit

Warrick Dunn, Atlanta -- Dunn, though more durable than anyone gives him credit for at his size, has never helped a fantasy owner win the league title. He is going to lose more carries and goal-line opportunities to T.J. Duckett as the season wears on, reducing Dunn to a glorified (and well paid) third-down back. Don’t count on him as your second back.

Paul Sandy

Trung Canidate, Washington -- The Redskins traded a fourth-round draft pick to acquire Canidate from the Rams. While the team has high hopes that Canidate can assume Stephen Davis’ workload, this is shaping up to be a classc running back by committee situation. Both Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson have had solid training camps and will likely be used extensively this year. As a result, Canidate will fail to live up to the high expectations of owners who are reaching for him in the third or fourth rounds of their drafts.

Fritz Schottman

Edgerrin James, Indianapolis -- You either think he’s due to return to greatness or you think he’s an overpaid slacker-there’s no in between. The second year back from a torn ACL he should be 100%. But let’s look at the record

Last August, all you heard about was that the knee was 100% and Edge among the league’s leaders if not then a top ten fantasy pick. You heard his attitude was good, he came to camp in shape, and he was on his way to another great season, blaa, blaa, blaa... Edge quickly moved up the fantasy draft board despite the misgivings…and owners got burned. There was none of the old burst, he was a step slower, and he wasn’t in shape.

Now what do we hear? Edge is even more committed to training and the knee is 100%. I’m a little tired off all the smoke being blown up my bottom. The fact is that this guy does not have drive to be a number one back again, no matter how good the knee is. Maybe success came too easy, but I don’t see the kind of determination it takes to come back from that kind of injury and be more than a solid veteran.

Whitney Walters

Trung Canidate, Washington -- Maybe I'm missing something, but since when is a small, straight-line type running back that has a fumble problem and goes down if you breath on him hard enough, worth picking up as your starting back? In my book, that would be never. Canidate is not the answer for the Redskins. He's fast for sure, but brings little else to the table. This has RBBC written all over it. Both Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts are tougher, more versatile runners and better receivers than Canidate. Let some other owner in your league burn a high draft pick on Canidate (which is very likely to happen). He's not worth it.

Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends IDP