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.
William Green, Cleveland -- The first rookie runner
drafted last year, Green only totaled 1000 total yards
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
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
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.
James Stewart, Detroit -- While the defense
is still light years away from being competitive, the offense
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
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
to remain the entire season. The offensive line is in
shambles. Wide receivers Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant
but need someone dependable to get the ball to them.
What is a coach to do? Odds are that Parcells will anchor
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.
Kevan Barlow, San Francisco -- Barlow has demonstrated
the running and catching ability necessary in the complicated
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.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis -- Two years ago, James was
duking it out with Marshall Faulk for the top fantasy spot.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Curtis Martin, New York Jets -- Although bumped and battered
much of the year, Martin still was able to string together
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
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.
Warrick Dunn, Atlanta -- Dunn, though more durable than
anyone gives him credit for at his size, has never helped
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
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
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.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis -- You either think he’s
due to return to greatness or you think he’s an overpaid
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.
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