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Looking Back - Running Backs
by David M. Dorey
July 16, 2003
 
Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kicker Defense

Runningbacks are always the hottest commodity in the draft, but how well did we all do on average last season?
Actual Drafted Running Back NFL PPG
1 5 Holmes,Priest KC 26.1
2 4 Williams,Ricky MIA 19.8
3 9 Tomlinson,Ladainian SD 18.7
4 25 Portis,Clinton DEN 17.6
5 12 McAllister,Deuce NO 17.5
6 3 Alexander,Shaun SEA 16.7
7 23 Barber,Tiki NYG 16.1
8 22 Henry,Travis BUF 15.7
9 27 Garner,Charlie OAK 15.6
10 2 Green,Ahman GB 15.1
11 1 Faulk,Marshall STL 14.6
12 10 George,Eddie TEN 13.9
13 14 Taylor,Fred JAX 13.4
14 19 Lewis,Jamal BAL 13.2
15 21 Staley,Duce PHI 12.4
16 8 Dillon,Corey CIN 12.3
17 18 Bennett,Michael MIN 12.0
18 30 Stewart,James DET 11.9
19 29 Dunn,Warrick ATL 11.8
20 NA Shipp,Marcel ARI 11.7
21 13 Davis,Stephen WAS 11.7
22 37 Smith,Lamar CAR 11.6
23 7 Martin,Curtis NYJ 11.5
24 17 Hearst,Garrison SF 11.2
25 6 James,Edgerrin IND 10.6
26 15 Smith,Antowain NE 10.3
27 11 Thomas,Anthony CHI 9.9
28 NA Mungro,James IND 9.7
29 16 Bettis,Jerome PIT 9.3
30 28 Smith,Emmitt DAL 8.1
31 24 Green,William CLE 8.1
32 45 Zereoue,Amos PIT 7.9
33 NA Williams,Moe MIN 7.9
34 26 Jones,Thomas ARI 7.9
35 32 Barlow,Kevan SF 7.6
36 20 Pittman,Michael TB 7.4
37 50 White,Jamel CLE 7.4
38 33 Alstott,Mike TB 7.1
39 39 Mack,Stacey JAX 6.2
40 31 Duckett,T.J. ATL 6.2
Drafted Actual Running Back NFL PPG
1 11 Faulk,Marshall STL 14.6
2 10 Green,Ahman GB 15.1
3 6 Alexander,Shaun SEA 16.7
4 2 Williams,Ricky MIA 19.8
5 1 Holmes,Priest KC 26.1
6 25 James,Edgerrin IND 10.6
7 23 Martin,Curtis NYJ 11.5
8 16 Dillon,Corey CIN 12.3
9 3 Tomlinson,Ladainian SD 18.7
10 12 George,Eddie TEN 13.9
11 27 Thomas,Anthony CHI 9.9
12 5 McAllister,Deuce NO 17.5
13 21 Davis,Stephen WAS 11.7
14 13 Taylor,Fred JAX 13.4
15 26 Smith,Antowain NE 10.3
16 29 Bettis,Jerome PIT 9.3
17 24 Hearst,Garrison SF 11.2
18 17 Bennett,Michael MIN 12.0
19 14 Lewis,Jamal BAL 13.2
20 37 Pittman,Michael TB 7.4
21 15 Staley,Duce PHI 12.4
22 8 Henry,Travis BUF 15.7
23 7 Barber,Tiki NYG 16.1
24 32 Green,William CLE 8.1
25 4 Portis,Clinton DEN 17.6
26 35 Jones,Thomas ARI 7.9
27 9 Garner,Charlie OAK 15.6
28 31 Smith,Emmitt DAL 8.1
29 19 Dunn,Warrick ATL 11.8
30 18 Stewart,James DET 11.9
31 41 Duckett,T.J. ATL 6.2
32 36 Barlow,Kevan SF 7.6
33 39 Alstott,Mike TB 7.1
34 NA Foster,De'shaun CAR ---
35 65 Gary,Olandis DEN 2.9
36 HA Davis,Terrell FA ---
37 22 Smith,Lamar CAR 11.6
38 NA Canidate,Trung STL ---
39 40 Mack,Stacey JAX 6.2
40 45 Allen,James HOU 5.1

What happened? Marshall Faulk was the first player taken in most drafts and likely yours. He still ended up as the eleventh best runner but that does little to mask the disappointment of squandering a precious first pick in the draft. Problem was that after a monster week nine, Faulk failed to produce as well as Jonathan Wells, for instance. His injury was a death knell to teams that had hoped the two prior years would repeat and Faulk alone would be nearly enough to win the league. It almost was, except his name turned into Priest Holmes and then even he pulled the rug out from under every owner with his week 16 disappearance.

Ahman Green did play well, but he too suffered injuries that made him miss two games. Shaun Alexander ended very strongly but he shocked the fantasy world by starting out with three terrible games. Those who did not freak out and kept him were rewarded with a five touchdown day against the Vikings in week four.

Edgerrin James was nowhere near as healthy as was promoted and Curtis Martin joined him by eventually hurting both ankles badly but still playing. Even Corey Dillon, normally good though inconsistent, failed to deliver well enough to reward his draft slot.

Of the top twelve runners, only Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Deuce McAllister exceeded expectations.

What is most interesting is that after the 30th back was taken, none of the next 10 taken amounted to much of anything. However, those backs taken at the 20th to 30th slot normally exceeded expectations, including four of them which ended up as top ten runningbacks for the season.

 

 

When we look at what really happened, an interesting pattern emerges. Conventional wisdom was most wrong about Clinton Portis, Tiki Barber, Travis Henry and Charlie Garner. All were taken likely as a #3 runningback for a fantasy team but ended up as solid top ten picks.

Those picks for #2 fantasy rushers from #13 to #21 taken almost all disappointed and never amounted to a difference maker for your team.

What was most notable was that last season did not really see any huge sleeper come from nowhere to make a difference. Marcel Shipp was the closest to a big surprise and he only managed to end up 20th in points per game.

This all illustrates the importance of getting your runningback picks correct. Last season produced nice results for those that grabbed an early runningback, then perhaps another position or two and later coming back to still draft a runner that included Garner, Portis, Barber or Henry. Those players were still available in the third rounds in almost all leagues and in some cases stretched out to the fifth rounds or more.

On the good side, other than early drafters who got stuck with DeShaun Foster, there were few runners who did not deliver at least something for their owners.

As always, about half of those top ten picks panned out well enough to stay in the top ten. Last season was not kind to landing a big runner from the waiver wire and consider that a lesson learned. This is not and never will be the position that you can wait on filling. Let's take a look at the last three years:

Draft Actual 2000 PPG Draft Actual 2001 PPG Draft Actual 2002 PPG
1 2 James,Edgerrin 1 1 Faulk,Marshall 1 11 Faulk,Marshall
2 1 Faulk,Marshall 2 2 James,Edgerrin 2 10 Green,Ahman
3 3 George,Eddie 3 26 George,Eddie 3 6 Alexander,Shaun
4 12 Davis,Stephen 4 Dud Taylor,Fred 4 2 Williams,Ricky
5 Dud Davis,Terrell 5 15 Davis,Stephen 5 1 Holmes,Priest
6 6 Taylor,Fred 6 9 Williams,Ricky 6 25 James,Edgerrin
7 21 Smith,Emmitt 7 6 Martin,Curtis 7 23 Martin,Curtis
8 10 Martin,Curtis 8 7 Dillon,Corey 8 16 Dillon,Corey
9 18 Williams,Ricky 9 4 Green,Ahman 9 3 Tomlinson,L.
10 Dud Staley,Duce 10 19 Smith,Lamar 10 12 George,Eddie
11 Dud Levens,Dorsey 11 25 Stewart,James 11 27 Thomas,Anthony
12 14 Stewart,James 12 17 Staley,Duce 12 5 McAllister,Deuce
13 Dud Anderson,Jamal 13 Dud Anderson,Jamal 13 21 Davis,Stephen
14 29 Dayne,Ron 14 23 Watters,Ricky 14 13 Taylor,Fred
15 37 Alstott,Mike 15 18 Dunn,Warrick 15 26 Smith,Antowain
16 7 Smith,Robert 16 31 Bennett,Michael 16 29 Bettis,Jerome
17 16 Lewis,Jamal 17 28 Davis,Terrell 17 24 Hearst,Garrison
18 17 Dillon,Corey 18 8 Tomlinson,L 18 17 Bennett,Michael
19 Dud Enis,Curtis 19 11 Bettis,Jerome 19 14 Lewis,Jamal
20 20 Wheatley,Tyrone 20 27 Smith,Emmitt 20 37 Pittman,Michael
21 8 Watters,Ricky 21 14 Barber,Tiki 21 15 Staley,Duce
22 9 Garner,Charlie 22 Dud Lewis,Jamal 22 8 Henry,Travis
23 42 Jones,Thomas 23 44 Anderson,Mike 23 7 Barber,Tiki
24 27 Biakabutuka,T 24 22 Garner,Charlie 24 32 Green,William
25 19 Bettis,Jerome 25 3 Holmes,Priest 25 4 Portis,Clinton
26 45 Smith,Antowain 26 46 Wheatley,Tyrone 26 35 Jones,Thomas
27 15 Dunn,Warrick 27 16 Hearst,Garrison 27 9 Garner,Charlie
28 53 Alexander,Shaun 28 33 Biakabutuka,Tim 28 31 Smith,Emmitt
29 Dud Rhett,Errict 29 30 Henry,Travis 29 19 Dunn,Warrick
30 Dud Johnson,J.j. 30 36 Dayne,Ron 30 18 Stewart,James
31 47 Fazande,J. 31 29 Pittman,Michael 31 41 Duckett,T.J.
32 50 Huntley,Richard 32 50 Jones,Thomas 32 36 Barlow,Kevan
33 Dud Gary,Olandis 33 54 Allen,James 33 39 Alstott,Mike
34 Dud Harris,Raymont 34 39 Jackson,James 34 Dud Foster,De'shaun
35 40 Redmond,J.R. 35 38 Barlow,Kevan 35 65 Gary,Olandis
36 Dud Cloud,Mike 36 32 Allen,Terry 36 HA Davis,Terrell
37 43 Kaufman,N. 37 21 Alstott,Mike 37 22 Smith,Lamar
38 11 Smith,Lamar 38 5 Alexander,Shaun 38 Dud Canidate,Trung
39 26 Faulk,Kevin 39 65 Gary,Olandis 39 40 Mack,Stacey
40 34 Holmes,Priest 40 Dud McAllister,D. 40 45 Allen,James
41 23 Pittman,Michael 41 Dud Redmond,J.R. 41 55 Dayne,Ron
42 28 Prentice,Travis 42 Dud Levens,Dorsey 42 53 Wheatley,Tyrone
43 Dud Mack,Stacey 43 43 Richardson,T. 43 52 Wells,Jonathan
44 13 Barber,Tiki 44 35 Brookins,Jason 44 Dud Rhodes,Dominic
45 33 Bryson,Shawn 45 10 Smith,Antowain 45 33 Zereoue,Amos
46 Dud Keaton,Curtis 46 37 Huntley,Richard 46 57 Levens,Dorsey
47 5 Green,Ahman 47 Dud Morris,Sammy 47 69 Hambrick,Troy
48 Dud Kirby,Terry 48 12 Thomas,Anthony 48 47 Anderson,Mike

Let's see how the busts and undervalued players fell out the last three years.

2000 Busts (Drafted/Actual) considering Points Per Game

Terrell Davis (5th/Dud) - Injury falls even the tallest tree.
Emmitt Smith (7th/21st) - Old age catches the others.
Duce Staley (10th/Dud) - And back to the injuries.
Dorsey Levens (11th/Dud) - Old age with injuries coming off career year.
Jamal Anderson (13th/Dud) - Injured. This was a bad year for RBs.
Ron Dayne (14th/29th) - Slow, fat rookies cannot live on their resume'
Mike Alstott (15th/37th) - Followed his career year with injuries.

2001 Busts

Eddie George (3rd/26th) - Injury to an older player
Fred Taylor (4th/Dud) - Injury without sense of shock
Stephen Davis (5th/15th) - Optimism about new coach unfounded
Lamar Smith (10th/19th) - Still not terrible. Yet.
James Stewart (11th/25th) - Injury slowed him.
Jamal Anderson (13th/Dud) - Stud returning from injury is injured.
Jamal Lewis (22nd/Dud) - It was an anti-Jamal year. Actually drafted higher.

2002 Busts

Marshall Faulk (1st/11th) - Besieged by line problems and injuries.
Edgerrin James (6th/25th) - Stud returning from injury is injured.
Curtis Martin (7th/23rd) - Injury and played hurt - age a factor?
Anthony Thomas (11th/27th) - Was injured but bad before that.

The main reason for a bust was injury, either a new one or the failure to return well from a prior one. It is almost scary how few RB injuries happened last year compared to prior seasons.

2000 Undervalued

Robert Smith (16th/7th) - Last hurrah helped with new QB and WR.
Ricky Watters (21st/8th) - Last hurrah before age caught him.
Charlie Garner (22nd/9th) - Speed back stops sharing so much in SF
Lamar Smith (38th/11th) - Backup inherits great line and ineffective rookies
Tiki Barber (44th/13th) - The speed back runs circles around big Dayne
Ahman Green (47th/5th) - Fumbling afterthought shines when Levens doesn't.

2001 Undervalued

LaDainian Tomlinson (18th/8th) - Hot rookie comes through
Tiki Barber (21st/14th) - Too few believed in 2000
Priest Holmes (25th/3rd) - New coach and system does not use Richardson
Shaun Alexander (38th/5th) - Hot rookie gets his shot a year later
Anthony Thomas (48th/12th) - Hot rookie fights through depth chart

2002 Undervalued

LaDainian Tomlinson (9th/3rd) - The good gets even better with a new coach.
Deuce McAllister (12th/5th) - Hot rookie gets his shot a year later
Travis Henry (22nd/8th) - Fulltime status while Bledsoe scared defenses
Tiki Barber (23rd/7th) - This is a one person trend now
Clinton Portis (25th/4th) - Hot rookie fights through depth chart
Charlie Garner (27th/9th) - Speed back stops sharing so much in OAK

The main reason for an highly undervalued RB is that either they had their final big career year before heading off into the sunset, or they were a hot rookie either that season or had waited a year for a chance, or they were Tiki Barber or Charlie Garner and broke the mold of what an everydown RB is supposed to look like.

With an apparent lack of hot incoming rookies and the general shift in offenses away from power backs to spread offenses, the speed backs and their ability to catch the ball is mixing up the previous view of what sort of back will be most productive.

This season looks very deep in runningbacks even though they are being quickly drained in drafts this summer. But you can be sure that at least four or five of the top ten will not turn in a good year, likely due to injury and the league is overdue for another big RB injury season. Above all, forget the notion that your fantasy back must be a Bettis-like bruiser and make use of those speedy, pass-catching backs available deeper in your drafts.

Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Kicker Defense