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Sizing Up the Running Backs
by David M. Dorey
July 23, 2003
 

2002 Top 20 Running Backs

Rank Team Player Ht Wt Age Exp Rank Team Player Ht Wt Age Exp
1 KC Holmes,Priest 5-9 213 30 6 11 JAC Taylor,Fred 6-1 232 27 5
2 MIA Williams,Ricky 5-10 228 26 4 12 GB Green,Ahman 6-0 217 26 5
3 SD Tomlinson,La. 5-10 221 24 2 13 BAL Lewis,Jamal 5-11 231 24 3
4 DEN Portis,Clinton 5-11 205 22 1 14 STL Faulk,Marshall 5-10 211 30 8
5 SEA Alexander,Shaun 5-11 229 26 3 15 PHI Staley,Duce 5-11 220 28 6
6 NO McAllister,Deuce 6-1 221 25 2 16 CIN Dillon,Corey 6-1 225 29 6
7 NYG Barber,Tiki 5-10 200 28 6 17 MIN Bennett,Michael 5-9 211 25 2
8 BUF Henry,Travis 5-9 220 25 2 18 NYJ Martin,Curtis 5-11 205 30 8
9 OAK Garner,Charlie 5-10 190 31 9 19 SF Hearst,Garrison 5-11 215 32 10
10 TEN George,Eddie 6-3 236 30 7 20 TB Dunn,Warrick 5-9 180 28 6

Those most critical top ten slots for runningbacks almost entirely went to players with six years of experience or less. Certainly top players are there because of superior talent, but finding the commonality in them can help yield trends and "things to look for" when searching for a sleeper runningback. It can help make the decision to keep or draft a certain player over another.
NFL Player Ht Wt Age Exp
ARZ Shipp, Marcel 5-11 226 24 2
ARZ Smith, Emmitt 5-9 212 34 13
ATL Duckett, T.J. 6-0 254 22 1
ATL Dunn, Warrick 5-9 180 28 6
BAL Lewis, Jamal 5-11 231 23 3
BUF Henry, Travis 5-9 220 24 2
CAR Davis, Stephen 6-0 230 29 7
CHI Peterson, Adrian 5-10 208 23 1
CHI Thomas, Anthony 6-2 228 25 2
CIN Dillon, Corey 6-1 225 28 6
CLE Green, William 6-0 221 23 1
CLE White, Jamel 5-9 208 25 3
DAL Hambrick, Troy 6-1 233 26 3
DEN Portis, Clinton 5-11 205 21 1
DET Stewart, James 6-1 224 31 8
GB Green, Ahman 6-0 217 26 5
HOU Mack, Stacey 6-1 238 27 4
IND James, Edgerrin 6-0 214 24 4
JAX Taylor, Fred 6-1 232 27 5
KC Holmes, Priest 5-9 213 29 6
KC Johnson, Larry 6-1 228 23 R
MIA Williams, Ricky 5-10 228 26 4
MIN Bennett, Michael 5-9 211 24 2
MIN Williams, Moe 6-1 210 28 7
NE Smith, Antowain 6-2 232 31 6
NO McAllister, Deuce 6-1 221 24 2
NYG Barber, Tiki 5-10 200 28 6
NYJ Jordan, LaMont 5-10 230 24 2
NYJ Martin, Curtis 5-11 205 30 8
OAK Garner, Charlie 5-10 190 31 9
PHI Buckhalter, Correll 6-0 222 24 2
PHI Staley, Duce 5-11 220 28 6
PIT Bettis, Jerome 5-11 256 31 10
PIT Zereoue, Amos 5-8 207 26 4
SD Tomlinson, LaDainian 5-10 221 23 2
SEA Alexander, Shaun 5-11 229 25 3
SF Barlow, Kevan 6-1 238 24 2
SF Hearst, Garrison 5-11 215 32 10
TB Alstott, Mike 6-1 248 29 7
TB Stecker, Aaron 5-10 205 27 3
TEN George, Eddie 6-3 236 29 7
WAS Betts, Ladell 5-10 221 23 1
WAS Canidate, Trung 5-11 205 26 3
WAS Watson, Kenny 5-11 214 25 1

What is interesting is that like quarterbacks, there are two groupings of players. Either they were older - Holmes, Barber, Garner, Faulk, Staley and Hearst - and caught passes to pump up their fantasy points or they were clear #1 RB's for their team and were less than five or six years into their careers.

In the past two seasons, there are several RB's that you do not see in the top 20 anymore. Guys like Lamar Smith, Antowain Smith, Rickey Watters, Dorsey Levens and so on that were older and yet not big pass catchers. The position obviously moves players in and out faster than any other fantasy position.

Last season, only Tiki Barber was able to end with a high rankings and yet not weight over 200 pounds. Warrick Dunn brought up the end of the Top 20, and this season Dunn is slated to allow T.J. Duckett to run more while Dunn increases his passing game presence. Barber carried a full load by the end of the season, but that was a lot of pounding for a 190 pounder.

Height for successful runningbacks is normally around 5-10 or 5-11, with Priest Holmes, Travis Henry, Michael Bennett and Warrick Dunn were the only runners under that mark and outside of Henry, they make their mark in the passing game and as speedsters. Deuce McAllister is the only runningback that is six feet tall or more who was successful last season and has less than five seasons of experience. College continues to feed the NFL with backs that are under six feet but very few are successful under 5-10. Those are apparently two very important inches in height.

The runningbacks are the most dynamic players in terms of big years and being gone. Whereas quarterbacks and receivers play for many years and need time to come into high performance, runningbacks grind it out and get used up fast. In the top 20 runners, only George, Faulk, Garner and Hearst had over six seasons of experience and each represent rare talents. Interesting is the high number of six year players - Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, Duce Staley, Corey Dillon and Warrick Dunn. Was the draft class of 1997 that good are those players quickly approaching the wall? Notice that the top eight players last season had six runners with four years or less of experience.

Height is not a great predictor for runningbacks other than those over six feet and those under 5-10 have not been as successful. It takes superior individual talent to compensate for a lack of height and normally those players are used more in a third down, pass catching role since they are usually faster and lighter. Age is the biggest criteria for a runningback and cannot be disregarded. The days of the bruising back also seem over as only three of the top 20 scoring backs last season were over 230 pounds are the exception, not the rule for players.