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2003 Player Rankings: Running Backs
Updated: September 2, 2003
 
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THE REST OF THE RB RANKINGS >>

TIER 1 - The Studs  NFL   Bye   Upside   Risk     Ht     Wt   Age   Exp     Auction % 
  1 Tomlinson, LaDainian    SD 6     5-10 221 23 2   35
  In his second season, Tomlinson increased his total yards from 1603 to 2172 and his touchdowns from 10 to 15. He is only 23 years old. The prototypical size for a runner, LT is in a system that will maximize his talents and unlike so many other teams, the Chargers do not make him share. The next best rusher on their team was Terrell Fletcher with 26 carries for the year. With this young stud the focus of his offense, both powerful and fast and with a great track record of durability, it does not get any lower risk and maybe not higher reward than Tomlinson. Of the top three backs, Tomlinson is the one without any question marks at all.
  2 Portis, Clinton DEN 10     5-11 205 21 1   35
  At this time last season, the debate was Gary, Anderson or Portis. Case closed. Portis went on a tear starting week five that included nine games with 100 total yards, four games that exceeded 150 yards and twice he topped 200 yards in a game. In his final five weeks, he averaged 165 yards and two touchdowns a game. Portis is a bit lighter than many runningbacks but those fewer pounds made him lightning fast when he found a running lane. When Portis clears the safety, opponents can get ready for the kickoff. He had eight 100 yard rushing games in total and averaged six yards per carry over the final seven weeks. With a favorable rushing schedule and very fresh legs, consider Portis as 1B to Tomlinson.
  3 Williams, Ricky MIA 4     5-10 228 24 4   35
  It may have taken four years, three coaches and two teams, but Williams finally met all expectations by leading the NFL last season with 1853 rushing yards and gained 17 touchdowns in the process. In an era where multiple backs are being used in offenses, Williams is a wonderful return to the grind it out bruisers and somewhat surprisingly, Williams showed a new burst and speed in Miami that had been missing. Williams also finally had a season without any missed games or nagging injuries and turned in ten 100 yard rushing games including two 200 yard games. While his schedule will be tougher than Tomlinson or Portis, there is no question that Williams will get a heavy load and respond well since he actually got better as the last season progressed.
  4 Holmes, Priest KC 9 5-9 213 29 6   32
  In case there were any doubters about Holmes' 2001 season of 2169 total yards and 10 TD's, Priest suddenly became the next Faulk (just in time too) by burning the NFL for 2287 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Oh yes, he did that in 14 games. Holmes would be the unquestioned #1 this season had it not been for a hip injury that required offseason surgery in March. Holmes' accomplishments last season read like a fantasy football wish list and his health will be of paramount interest this summer. He is expected to be ready in time for training camp and has been described as recovering well (in the way that no one believes until it is seen). Holmes turns 30 this year but has much less miles on the odometer than other backs. He just needs to heal like a young man, not someone in his thirties. Time will tell. Raised 5th to 4th (07/28/03) - Holmes has looked good in training camp so far and with encouraging signs, he warrants the move up one spot.
  5 Faulk, Marshall STL 5 5-10 211 30 9   32
  As the first pick in the draft last season, Faulk was a major disappointment. He ended with 1490 yards and 10 scores but you expect and deserve far better from a first pick. Consider too that Faulk had 535 yards and 6 of the touchdowns in a three game span mid-season. Faulk was unable to prevent the spanking that St. Louis received last season due to line problems and quarterback injuries. He represents the biggest risk/reward player in the draft along with Priest Holmes. At the age of 30 and with 16,359 total yards, 120 touchdowns and almost 3000 touches in his career, perhaps he is feeling the effects of time in an offense that no longer can produce 45 points every game. He has missed at least two games a season the past three years and played at less than 100% in many others. Then again, even Marshall Faulk alone is not enough to be successful in the NFL and line injuries coupled with QB problems have a big impact. If you take Faulk you are bottling up two roster spots since you must get Gordon. And hope those two games he misses in 2003 are not weeks 15 and 16.
  6 Alexander, Shaun SEA 4     5-11 229 25 3   32
  The season started mighty slow for Alexander in 2002 and with an average of 70 yards and only one score in the first three games, it seemed Alexander was a bust. In week 4, he fixed his average by gaining 231 yards and four touchdowns against the Vikings. The holdout by Walter Jones with other OL injuries finally resolved themselves and when the dust settled, Alexander had gained 1635 total yards with 18 touchdowns. He effectively mirrored 2001, he just used the last 13 games to do it. The good part of Alexander is that he turns in monster games. He had four Sundays of over 150 yards and six times he scored two or more touchdowns. The problem is that he is not as consistent. He also had eight games without a score or 100 yards. He only did that in three starts in 2001. Alexander has all the pedigree of any of the top backs and will not have the same line problems this season. He has been durable and the Seahawks have a more favorable rushing schedule. Look for Alexander to continue to still provide the occasional monster game and to make the games in between better this season as well. Dropped 4th to 6th (07/28/03) - The Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones has again been slapped with the franchise tag and last year when it happened, he held out the first three games which contributed to Alexander's slow start. Looks like more of the same may be happening since Jones did not report to camp on time again.
  7 McAllister, Deuce NO 10 6-1 221 24 2   30
  Even with Ricky Wiliiams shining in the Florida sun, the Saints could not have been happier with their decision to go with Deuce. With 1740 yards and 16 touchdowns, McAllister was an integral part of the offense and 11 times exceeded 100 total yards in a game. His numbers took a dip down during the final three weeks along with the rest of the team but he still managed to be a worthy fantasy starter except for his 26 yard meltdown in CIN in week 16 when the Saints forgot to show up and Brooks was playing injured. McAllister will perform as a top three back in many weeks but his risk is that he has a history of injuries. Nothing major, but he missed a game last season due to an ankle injury and then slapped the fantasy owners who sat him in week 10 when he magically went from questionable to stud immediately after the kickoff. In college he had a history of ankle and shoulder problems and playing on the hard carpet is no help. McAllister will also be facing a tough schedule this season though it starts out lightly and then later gets tough. Still, his solid performances in so many games makes him a definite Tier 1 player and a definite step up from the second tier of runners.
  8 James, Edgerrin IND 7 6-0 214 24 4   24
  James, like Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis, is a big name from the recent past and unlike them he is only turning 25 this year. After starting out with two seasons of 2000+ yards and 17+ touchdowns, James was the man in the summer of 2001. Through the first six games that season, he had averaged 142 yards per game and scored three times. And then he blew out his knee. Since then fantasy owners have delighted themselves with Dominic Rhodes (2001) and then James Mungro (2002). On the heels of reconstructive surgery, James was drafted as the consensus #6 RB last season by fantasy owners hopeful that all the news that he was nearing 100% was true. It wasn't. More than that he suffered from rib, hamstring and high ankle sprains last season. James is almost two years removed from his initial knee injury and is reported to be recovered from his many maladies. He has a very tough schedule to face but was more than enough to beat good defenses his first two seasons when healthy. In the words of your high school sweetheart - "you say the right things, but how many times do you expect me to take you back?" Anyone with the production that he had two years ago is a worthwhile gamble, the quesion is how high is his risk/reward compared to other runningbacks selected around him.? If he continues to look good in the summer, he will move up but regardless be aware that although youth favors him, statistical probablilty does not.  Raised (08/04/03) - James has been looking very much like his old self again in trainingcamp - that's the old self that was a RB monster in 2000. The knee appears healthy again and all the nagging injuries of 2002 have healed. He bumps up one spot but his injury history prevents him from rising further. James has been making a great risk play towards the end of the first round in most drafts that could pay off handsomely, or could just again be frustrating.  Raised (08/06/03) - The Colts are now practicing with James sometimes split out as a receiver and are expanding his role in the passing game. All favorable signs that Edgerrin is back to form.
TIER 2 - Best Bets NFL Bye Upside Risk Ht Wt Age Exp   Auction %
  9 Green, William CLE 9   6-0 221 23 1   24
  The numbers from his 2002 rookie campaign are not impressive - exactly 1000 total yards and six touchdowns. Green muddled through the first nine weeks with only 166 yards, one touchdown and a 2.3 yards per carry average. Instead of taking Cleveland by storm, he was quickly swirling down the drain. The first RB taken in the 2001 draft, he was considered to be too tentative, thinking too much or an outright bust. Something clicked in week 11 after the bye week. 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.
10 Green, Ahman GB 8   6-0 217 26 5   20
  With 1637 yards and nine touchdowns over 14 games, Green had roughly the same per game averages as 2001. Last season he was a consensus #2 or #3 RB in the drafts, so why the drop here? Green's projections are lowered not only because of the injuries he was gaining last season (bruised kneecap, strained quadricep), but also because the Packers intend on making greater use of Najeh Davenport to keep Green healthy and reduce his load. His durability and lessened workload drops him, but a nice schedule and solid performance when healthy still makes him a solid pick at RB. Falls 8th to 11th (7/28/03) - Green was already subjected to the decision to use Najeh Davenport more to spell him and keep him healthy and in training camp so far, Davenport has looked very impressive. Given the risk of losing potential short scores to the burly Davenport who is looking better, Green falls because you do not want to squander an early pick on a RB that seems destined to be used less in games than last season.
  11 Barber, Tiki NYG 4   5-10 200 28 6   20
  In 2002, Barber turned in his career best season by gaining 1984 total yards with 11 touchdowns. He benefited greatly when Jim Fassell took over the play calling and Barber produced five games with over 150 yards. His yardage totals were aided by the 276 yard effort in the last week of the season and it is unusual for a RB to have 64 catches without a touchdown receiving. Barber is coming off a career year and his first, more or less, as a true primary back. At only 200 pounds, there has always been a concern that he is not big enough for an every down role and while he did just that last season with good results, the knock on him in 2001 was that he slowed down in the second half of the season. With his receiving yards and rushing ability, Barber will turn in points each week. The risk is that he will not meet the career best numbers of last season and that he may wear down during the season if he continues what was a heavier load than his five prior seasons in the NFL.
  12 Dillon, Corey CIN 6     6-1 225 28 6   16
  Dillon deserves to head up this tier. After six seasons, Dillon has never gone below around 1400 yards a season, never gets above around 1700 yards a season and is good for around seven TD's a year with a high of 13 in 2001. It may not be championship caliber, but he is consistently an "upper middle class" pick. He will always get you something every week and about four or six times a season he will have a really big game. Consistency from your #2 RB spot is a good thing. With Marvin Lewis as the new head coach, the Bengals should be running no less and Dillon has not missed a game since 1998. Safe, solid and at least twice a season you get to say "did you check out what Dillon did on Sunday?"
  13 Lewis, Jamal BAL 5   5-11 231 23 3   16
  After blowing his knee during the preseason of 2001, Lewis recuperated and when he returned he claimed to be back to form. Evidently he was telling the truth, since comparing 2002 to his 2000 rookie season he only had one less carry, 37 less yards rushing, the same six touchdowns and 148 more receiving yards. Now there's consistency. Lewis, like Dillon, is a very nice #2 RB for your team but likely no better. He managed to gain 90 yards or more in 12 of his 16 weeks last season but he only scored in four games. Oddly enough, three of those were two touchdown days. Until the Ravens become settled at the quarterback position and produce more offense, Lewis will have limited upside. They just do not get close enough for many short touchdowns and Lewis has never been accused of being durable anyway. With either Redman or the rookie Boller due to start this season, look about for the same from Lewis. He should be even healthier than last year but that may just as well mean he is due for another injury.
  14 Davis, Stephen CAR 3   6-0 230 29 7   16
  Starting fresh in Carolina, Davis is a very good fit for what HC John Fox and OC Dan Henning are looking for in a power back. Davis should see over 300 carries and not be pulled at the goal line. The main reason Davis is not ranked higher is that his upside will come from rushing the ball and not receptions. Davis has never caught more than 33 passes in a season and he may not get that in Carolina. Back in the age when runningbacks only ran, he would be much higher than this ranking. There is also some concern regarding his durability since in seven seasons he has only 2001 when he played all 16 games. If the line appears solid and Davis looks to figure into the passing scheme as well, he will undoubtedly move higher. Update (08/11/03) - Davis looked in top form on Saturday as he stuck it to his former employer of the Redskins. He ran for 74 yards on only seven carries and looked exactly the way that the Panthers wanted him to look - powerful and tackled well beyond the line of scrimmage.
  15 Henry, Travis BUF 9   5-9 220 24 2   16
  After a mediocre rookie campaign in 2001 of 899 total yards and four touchdowns, Henry pumped up his rushing average a full yard to 4.4 and gained 1747 total yards with 14 touchdowns in a breakout season. The Bills drafted Willis McGahee this season and will not let their first round pick waste away in future seasons but most likely McGahee will be placed on the PUP list this summer and not be available until after week 14 of the season. You know - when your fantasy playoffs likely start. But that alone is not enough reason to drop Henry to this ranking since McGahee may never play this season or any season. The Bills have stated that they want to run the ball more this season and that might make Henry seem even more valuable. It might. But there is concern that Henry was a beneficiary of what the trio of Bledsoe, Price and Moulds did to defenses. The Bills already witnessed their passing game slowing down the second half of 2002 and that was with Price still there. Returning to a more easily defensible offense with Moulds as the clear weapon to guard and with an offense that had already cooled, Henry must face one of the more daunting rushing schedules in the league. He may rise in the rankings but there is more risk involved than a glance at last season's stats suggest. Henry is a solid #2 fantasy back but expecting #1 RB numbers from him is optimistic. Henry further hurts himself with a tendency to fumble.
TIER 3 - Safe or Worthy Risk NFL Bye Upside Risk Ht Wt Age Exp   Auction %
  16 Taylor, Fred JAX 7 6-1 232 27 5   16
  After finally playing a full 16 game season for the first time in his five year career, Taylor is poised for absolute greatness. Or is it another flop year? You can never be sure until it is too late. Though Taylor lasted all sixteen games (he nursed a sprained ankle the final two weeks) with 1722 total yards and eight touchdowns, he still was not to his level of 2000 (1630/14) or his rookie year of 1998 (1644/17) in terms of touchdowns. And in those years he still missed three and two games respectively. The problem was that Stacey Mack siphoned off 9 touchdowns last season and had Taylor kept those he would have been right at his rookie year's performance. The problem is that Taylor did make it all 16 games and the fact that Mack had 98 carries when it counted the most was a contributor to that. Mack is gone to Houston now but rookie LaBrandon Toefield is almost the same size as Mack. Elvis Joseph also lurks. There has been no official word that HC Jack Del Rio is plotting against fantasy owners of Taylor, but he has not come out and said he will not use a short yardage player. There are indications that the Jaguars will be using new FB Marc Edwards will be much more involved in Del Rio's offense than Jacksonville has historically done with a fullback. Taylor's ranking may change depending on better info on how the backfield will be used but until then Taylor continues to be a roll of the dice and thus far he has only performed well in even-numbered years. Add in a possible QB problem between Brunell and Leftwich, the continued absence of a suitable #2 receiver and expecting much more from Taylor is unreasonable for now.  Lowered 15th to 16th - Taylor has now missed two weeks with a bruised kneecap and would be an injury concern even if he had been healthy. His risk goes a little higher with this latest malady and he looks very much like he will be following his every other year syndrome - this being an off year.
  17 Garner, Charlie OAK 8   5-10 190 31 9   16
  Garner is another runner coming off a career year and at the age of 31, he needs to get those on the shelf while he still can. Garner ended with 1903 yards of offense, almost perfectly split 962 rushing and 941 yards receiving. In the first four weeks while the NFL marveled at the volume of passes from Gannon, Garner rang up 596 yards and six touchdowns. He slowed his pace thereafter, but still managed to score in five of the remaining 12 games while topping 100 total yards seven times. Garner comes off a career year and is a definite risk to not repeat it. Not only is he 31, but he plays with offensive stars that are even older. Like Barber, Garner's passing yardage allows him to offer almost no bad games even if there are less stellar rushing weekends. His solid 2002 showing makes him worthy of this ranking but other considerations keep him from rising.
  18 George, Eddie TEN 9   6-3 236 29 7   12
  After managing only 1218 total yards and five scores in 2001, George rewarded fantasy owners last season with a refreshing 1420 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Does this mean Eddie has turned back the clock and 2001 was not the start of a trend but an aberration? Probably not. George battled through foot problems and ligament strains but played all 16 games as he always does. He has not missed a start since his rookie year in 1996. Though he played all season, George only topped 100 total yards five times and rushed for 100 only three times. He did score in nine games and five of them were two touchdown games. But he only averaged over four yards a carry four times and exceeded 4.3 yards a carry only once. His volume of touchdowns was a fantasy boon but was directly related to the back and rib injuries of Steve McNair. Eddie will likely be drafted earlier than this and you can be sure that even if injured he will probably play. But advancing age and declining yards per carry will translate into closer to the 2001 Eddie than last season's version.
  19 Martin, Curtis NYJ 5   5-11 205 30 8   12
  Martin was a nice surprise in 2001 when he turned in a career best 1833 total yards and 10 touchdowns but last season he played much of the time with excruciating pain from high ankle sprains. He ended with about 1400 yards and seven touchdowns and Lamont Jordan was used as the short yardage back. Martin is a warrior but he is now 30 years old, less durable and has a good backup in Jordan who comes in to steal the short yardage scores and rest Curtis. Add on the increased reliance on the passing game with Pennington and Martin is a risk this season and likely all future ones. Martin is another "trip pick" - Lamont Jordan and a bye week filler must be drafted. Update (08/24/03) - With Pennington out for an unknown amount of time, the offense is less likely to get leads that Martin would be used to protect. He will still be relied on and maybe even heavier now, but his production will suffer slightly overall.
  20 Hambrick, Troy DAL 3 6-1 233 26 3   12
  In a season with surprisingly few unknowns at starting runningback, Hambrick is the one player that not enough is known. In three seasons with the Cowboys he has had only 198 carries but averaged 4.7 yards. That could be from him being a true sleeper or that could be from the defenses shifting focus because Emmitt was gone from the game when Hambrick played. Troy was given the starting job by default since Emmitt left and the Cowboys spent money and draft picks in other need areas. Parcells is focusing on defensive matters most the first season and will use 2002 to determine if in fact he has a decent quarterback or runningback. It could very well be RBBC in Dallas between Hambrick, Aveion Cason, Michael Wiley and even Richie Anderson who Parcells indicated would reprise the role he played in New York as a ball handling fullback. The biggest thing going for Hambrick, other than his belly, is that he is one of the few unknowns this year and Parcells prefers to run when he can. The only thing to be certain of is that Bill Parcells will use what works. If Hambrick can take advantage of his opportunity, he could be a great sleeper this year. If he fails to impress, then Parcells will have zero problem trying something else. Update (08/04/03) - Hambrick has lost the weight but is not wowing anyone so far in camp. Unless his play improves in the eyes of HC Bill Parcells, he is more likely to fall soon than to rise. (08/11/03) - Hambrick was unimpressive in the mauling that the Cowboys allowed in Arizona. Hambrick's rank is not changing yet, but the offense in Dallas is looking very weak which will affect Hambrick regardless of how good he may actually be. Instead of a movement yet, consider this a warning. He will definitely fall in the rankings without a better offensive display by Dallas in the next week.
TIER 4 - Aging or In Question NFL Bye Upside Risk Ht Wt Age Exp   Auction %
  21 Dunn, Warrick ATL 8 5-9 180 28 6   12
  The Falcons acquired Dunn last year and then drafted T.J. Duckett. One of those two moves paid off. Dunn gained 927 yards rushing and 377 yards receiving in 2002 with nine touchdowns to help propel the Falcons back into the playoffs. The original plan was the old Thunder and Lightning duo - an interesting combination considering that Dunn (180) is one of the lightest runningbacks in the entire league and Duckett (254) is one of the heaviest. The problem was that Duckett kept getting banged up - a jammed heel and then a knee sprain with fluid on the knee. When Duckett was healthy, he had about 2:1 carries over Dunn. When he was not, or when Atlanta fell behind and went to a one back set using Dunn, then Warrick took the lead. Dunn responded well and in the second half of the season had four games with over 100 total yards gained and on six occasions carried 20 or more times in a game. That is heavy duty for a player that weighs less than many high school RB's. Just as important, Dunn provided Michael Vick with a good option for a pass and had 50 catches on the season. This year the plan is to feature more of Duckett running and more of Dunn receiving. Dunn makes a good pick here because not only will he be always involved in the offense every week, but that if Duckett again is injured and Warrick needs to carry the load for a bit, he has proven to be up to the task. Update (08/18/03) - Dunn falls one spot because Hambrick looked better this weekend and gave more confidence in him as a #1 RB in Dallas while Dunn lost Michael Vick for at least the first four games. There is no big drop in Dunn's numbers - he will still be relied on the same but without Vick's running to inspire terror in the secondary, those short passes to Dunn may likely yield a little less for the first quarter of the season.
  22 Zereoue, Amos PIT 7 5-8 207 26 4   10
  While many fantasy fans consider Zereoue their hot sleeper this season, Amos is no lock for significant additional play this year. As indicated in the Bettis write-up, the news about his death has been very premature. Zereoue was the first non-Bettis rushing leader for the Steelers since 1996. He gained 1103 rushing yards and tacked on 341 more receiving. But Zereoue had only four touchdowns last season and they came in only two games. His best four games, easily, were when Bettis was out and while he topped 100 total yards in three of them, he also had 29, 34 or 39 touches to do that. At 5' 8", 207 pounds, it is unlikely that Amos could handle a season-long load like that even if he had the opportunity which, at this time, he does not have. Zereoue is a valuable part of the Steelers offense as a pass catching third down back and has proven that he can, at least for a stretch of games, take the full load and deliver. Until indications are positive that his role is expanding, he is worth being one of the first backs taken after the starters are gone.Update (08/20/03) - HC Bill Cowher named Zereoue as the starting tailback for the Steelers today. While this brings Amos up sharply in the rankings, he could rise higher depending on how Bettis is used. He does not go higher for now with a legitimate concern that Bettis still figures into to short yardage and valuable goal line plunges but in a league that gives reception points, Zereoue goes even higher.
  23 Canidate, Trung WAS 8 5-11 205 26 3   10
  Acquired by the Redskins, this former first round pick (though at the end of the round) has his first real opportunity to become a true starting runningback. Does such a thing exist in Washington is the next question. Canidate is a good match for the spread offense employed by Spurrier. The Redskins threw 78 passes to runningbacks last season and this alone makes Canidate an intriguing pick. Expecting Canidate to become the exact replacement of Stephen Davis is optimistic at this point. There has been no solid indication that Canidate will take the majority of carries and both Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson showed the ability to receive the ball. During his final five seasons in Florida, Spurrier never settled on one runningback and in some seasons spread the wealth across three runners. Hmmm... Canidate, Watson and Betts who was drafted in the second round last season. One.. two.. three! Canidate could surprise but there is real risk that the Redskins do not settle on a true primary back and both Betts and Watson have a better size to do that anyway. This will hopefully become clearer in August but at this point Canidate is the better bet to turn in the biggest numbers, if only in a third down role which is normally how the Skins offense operates anyway. Lowered (08/04/03) - Canidate still has yet to separate himself from either Ladell Betts or Kenny Watson and HC Steve Spurrier has reiterated that he will likely be using all the running backs this season since there is little discrepancy between each running back.
  24 Hearst, Garrison SF 10   5-11 215 32 10   10
  While Hearst has seen his yardage decline the past three years and at 32 is one of the oldest runners in the league, he still turned in nine touchdowns and 1289 total yards last season. He had 48 receptions while Barlow was very little used in the passing game. His age, declining effectiveness and a new offense under Erickson spell risk but San Francisco has not officially deemed him any less of the offense especially considering his receiving ability. Hopefully this situation in San Francisco becomes clearer but it may well not until the season begins. Hearst can be had as your third fantasy back in most leagues and he is a safe bet to at least offer a moderate game. Raised (08/11/03) - Hearst looked strong in limited play against the Chiefs and also blocked well. It continues to look like the same as last season but Barlow's presence prevents Hearst from rising any farther.
  25 Mack, Stacey HOU 5     6-1 238 27 4   8
  Mack joins James Allen and Jonathan Wells in Houston and is already anointed as the short yardage back. How many of those opportunities will there be in Houston this season? Mack is a capable back who has rushed for nine touchdowns in both the last two years. HC Dom Capers has stated that they may well use RBBC with Wells and Allen but Mack has easily the best chance to get significant play. Mack turned down much more money elsewhere for a chance to become a starting runningback and whatever good rushing games Houston can produce, it is a safe bet that Mack will be the major contributor. In their second season, the Texans want more points. Raised (08/11/03) - Mack makes the leap up two spots from a nice effort in the first preseason game - 14 carries for 49 yards in less than one half. He ran strong and will be a lock for all short yardage plays if not significantly more since he was breaking tackles on Saturday. This jump up is also related to the slight weakening of Kevan Barlow and Anthony Thomas.
  26 Thomas, Anthony CHI 3 6-2 228 25 2   8
  For a team that once had Neal Anderson and Walter Payton, the Bears have stumbled through Rashaan Salaam, Raymont Harris, Edgar Bennett, Curtis Enis, James Allen and Thomas trying to find the next Bears legend. Thomas looked the part for one season when he gained 1183 yards and seven scores as a rookie starting only ten games. Problem is that in Chicago, a year makes a big difference to RBs. In 2002, Thomas started 12 games and when he ended his season with a fractured finger, he had only one game of 100 yards and eight times had a YPC of less than 3.5 in a game. He was already being swapped around for Leon Johnson. The good news here is that Thomas has taken the news that the RB slot is open competition this summer and has been privately working out in the offseason to add muscle and more speed without giving up overall weight. The bad news here is that the RB slot is not considered closed and Adrian Peterson averaged over five yards a carry in limited play last season compared to Thomas' 3.4 yards per carry. Thomas is the starter entering camp but is no lock to remain so when camp closes.
  27 Buckhalter, C. PHI 3 6-0 222 24 2   8
  After averaging 4.5 yards per carry in 2001, Buckhalter was planned to take a greater rushing load from Staley last season but was derailed with the NFL's first major injury of 2002. He blew a knee and spent last season recuperating. Buckhalter is back in camp and by reports looking recovered from what happened in spring of 2002. The Eagles will give him opportunities if he is up to the task but it will not be until August that we can know better if he is truly back to form. Raised (08/04/03) - With Staley holding out and Buckhalter showing that he is fully recovered from his ACL injury, Buckhalter's role appears to be increasing as is his fantasy value. Raised (08/15/03) - Based on his impressive camp work and preseason game, coupled with the hold out of Staley and the injury to Westbrook and Buckhalter is about the only sure thing in Philly besides McNabb. Update (08/20/03) - With every day that Staley holds out, Buckhalter gets a little more valuable in an offense that is productive and can make great use of a runner like Buckhalter. Since Staley might not even be with the Eagles in a week or two, Buckhalter is a great pickup here and could rise even higher once Staley is resolved. Update (08/24/03) - Staley has now reported to camp and it appears unlikely that he will be traded. Buckhalter will be sharing with him but is still the safer bet right now to gain bigger numbers.
  28 Barlow, Kevan SF 10 6-1 238 24 2   8
  Barlow played RBBC with Garrison Hearst last season and together they notched exactly 2100 yards in total offense and 14 touchdowns. That would be great for one player but the 49er's have preferred to share the load in recent years and still have had good results. The less favorable aspect is that Barlow was on the short end, gaining 811 yards and only five of the scores last season. He also has not yet gained over 100 total yards in any single game. What is in his favor is that Hearst is 32 years old and seems to blow a knee every few years anyway. The 49er offense has been one of the top rushing teams (all players combined) in the NFL for the past several years going back to Garner and Hearst. Barlow went into last season having worked his body into great shape and yet still ended up with a knee that forced him from two games and limited him in two others. With Dennis Erickson has the new headcoach, Barlow has been mentioned as taking a heavier rushing load which makes sense considering Hearst's age but when RBBC works, there is little reason to change it. This ranking may rise or fall depending on training camp news. Lowered (08/04/03) - HC Dennis Erickson has repeated that Garrison Hearst is the starter for now at least, and that using both backs again will be used with Hearst getting the most touches. While all fantasy fans are wanting Barlow to move into the #1 RB slot in SF, evidently no one is reading the memo we sent to the Niner braintrust.
  29 Smith, Emmitt ARZ 7   5-9 212 34 13   6
  Emmitt incredibly trades his star for a bird head this season and with that his last shot to bury the all-time rushing record. Mostly, Arizona hopes that he can sell a few extra tickets since the only sellouts were normally when they played the Cowboys. Smith is old in NFL terms and old in RB terms. His yardage has declined each season since 1999 and he has missed only seven games due to injury in the past 13 years. Emmitt actually could see one last hurrah in yardage but that would only mean he goes back above 1000 for the season. On a team that has only one player that performed well last season (and Emmitt is replacing him), the opportunities for scores will be even less. Big salutes to one of the great ones, but if you rely on him for more than a bye week filler (and make that an early season bye week), you are asking for too much.
TIER 5 - Sliders & Fighters NFL Bye Upside Risk Ht Wt Age Exp   Auction %
  30 Smith, Antowain NE 10     6-2 232 31 6   6
  Coming off a 1349 yard, 13 touchdown season in 2001 in his first season with the Patriots, Smith spent most of 2002 reminding people that on his best days he ohnly rises to average. Smith played all 16 games last year but only once had over 100 total yards. He ended with 1225 yards and eight scores but 142 yards and three touchdowns came in one game. Otherwise he averaged around 70 yards a game and scored once every three games. Smith is already 31 years old and he has almost no upside. In his favor the Patriots may have had the fourth worse rushing team in the league last season, but they have done nothing to change that. With Redmond and Faulk and Edwards around, look for more RBBC with Smith the leader of a weak rushing team. Lowered (08/04/03) -Latest reports are that Kevin Faulk is being considered for expanded duty at the expense of Smith, as yet more teams rely on using multiple running backs in the offense.
  31 Pittman, Michael TB 4   6-0 218 28 5   6
  Pittman is added to the rankings since he is clearly the best runner in Tampa Bay but he still has two felony assault charges and a hearing on his probation violation pending. He could be suspended or even jailed instead of playing football this fall. He is a very big risk pick to make in the draft but one that someone will make. Pittman has a tough rushing schedule if he does play but will be the best runner in Tampa Bay if he escapes or delays his legal problems this season. That is still unknown.
  32 Staley, Duce PHI 3   5-11 220 28 6   6
  Staley is apparently on a three year plan since his two best - and only full 16 game - season came in 1999 and 2002 during his third and sixth years. He only managed 29 starts during his other four years in the NFL. Staying healthy for the entire season was an accomplishment and he produced 1570 yards and eight touchdowns but five of those were after McNabb was injured in week 10. The original plan in 2002 was to have Buckhalter run and Staley catch and a smattering of other runningbacks picking up the crumbs. Buckhalter made that moot when he lost all last season recovering from a knee injury. Staley was his inconsistent self last season, totaling over 100 yards in seven games but failing to reach 75 yards in eight games. Staley is a smart, all-purpose RB that figures prominently into the passing game and can sometimes turn in a big rushing effort against even quality opponents. But he is hurt with the diversity of the Eagle's attack and their propensity to use McNabb or even possibly Buckhalter to score short touchdowns. Look for Staley to slide back this year as others take more of the rushing load and hope that his medical file gets no bigger this season.  Lowered (08/04/03) - Staley continues to be a holdout in the Eagles camp which is mostly serving to make HC Andy Reid mad and damage Staley's standing on the team. Reid has already said that Staley will lose the starting job if he is not in camp and there is conjecture that Staley will not be with the team next year after his current contract expires. Lowered (08/15/03) - Still holding out and making Andy Reid even more mad, Staley is coming to a point of no return... literally. His bargaining position may be lifted a little with the injury to Westbrook, but by this point it will be hard to uncross Reid's arms and get back into good graces. Update (08/24/03) - Staley has now ended his holdout and reported back to the Eagles. It remains to be seen how much his role will be changed this season, but it was already planned to use Buckhalter more and Staley still does not seem slated for any future with Philadelphia.
  33 Smith, Onterrio MIN 6 5-10 220 22 R   6
  Smith was a highly ranked RB that fell to the fourth round where the Vikings selected him with their 4.08 pick. Fast and shifty, Smith should see some special teams duty while Michael Bennett and Moe Williams take care of that whole running thing. Some in the Vikings organization think that if Smith can practice to form this summer, he may take some snaps away from Moe Bennett. Smith is a slashing, between-the-tackles runner than complements Bennett's home run ability. Rose 82nd to 48th (7/9/03) - With Michael Bennett potentially sidelined, the rookie running back from Oregon suddenly looks to have at least a limited chance to play. Could this be the hot rookie RB for the year? Smith is actually as good a runner as Bennett, with the exception of being slightly less fast (as almost all RBs would be). Training camp for the Vikings just got interesting.  Rose 48th to 32nd (7/27/03) - This is a risky move up since Smith still has not been annointed the starter but but of all Viking's RB's, Smith has the most upside and seems the best potential replacement for Bennett. If you make this play, you should probably back yourself up with getting Chapman as well. Going into training camp, Smith is the better bet but by no means a certainty. He just signed so now the work begins. Lowered 31st to 34th (08/04/03) - The running back picture in MIN continues to be muddled with Williams, Smith, Chapman and even Ned in the picture. For a homerun swing, Smith is still the best bet to replace Bennett and produce big numbers but there is obvious risk. Raised 34th to 32nd - Smith is back higher again with the news from MIN that he is looking sharper than the rest of the backs and that he appears to have a line on the starting RB job.
  34 Williams, Moe MIN 6   6-1 210 28 7   6
  In this era of specialists, Williams was not a starter in any game last season but typically had five or six carries a game. He ended the season with 414 yards on 84 carries with 11 touchdowns that he basically took away from Michael Bennett. Williams scored in nine different games and will continue to play the short yardage role. He is an excellent #4 RB to draft and a decent #3 RB since he scores so often. Rose 38th to 34nd (7/9/03) - Thanks to the questions now swirling around Michael Bennett, Moe Williams at the goal line looks even more attractive. Rose 34th to 31st (8/3/03) - According to the coaching staff, If the season started today - Williams would be the starter. But regardless, Williams is the only constant in the mess of running backs and the only guarantee to get carries.
  35 Alstott, Mike TB 4   6-1 248 29 7   4
  Don't expect to see a lot of Alstott in training camp. With a history of hamstring problems, Gruden allowed Alstott to take it lightly last summer and he did make it all 16 games last season. With the Michael Pittman legal problems, it would be nice to get a better glimpse of what the backfield will be this year but do not count on a clear picture by September. Tampa Bay won the Superbowl with minimal rushing all season and made no significant moves to bring in new players so far. By default, Alstott is clearly the most veteran RB on the roster and most likely to see an increase but the most bankable bump is likely with red zone carries. Alstott is continually about a 600/200 player with five or six scores each season. That is a nice, though minor, filler for a bye week.
  36 Bettis, Jerome PIT 7 5-11 256 31 10   4
  After 10 seasons, 2873 carries and 149 games, there are a lot of reasons to downgrade Bettis who has started only 11 games a season the past two years. While space is quickly filling on the Zereoue bandwagon, consider a few things before you pop big money for a window seat. Bettis scored nine touchdowns last year - his second best of his career. He has relatively no receptions to factor into the equation and he did have his second worst yardage output. But Bettis struggled with a knee injury most of the year, missing four games and playing limited in others. Don't write him off quite yet though. While rumors speculated he would be cut June 1st, he wasn't. In mini-camp he not only looked healthy and sharp, but in run drills actually led Zereoue. At 256 pounds, Bettis is the perfect goal line basher, but he also scored on 24 and 46 yard runs last season. While Cowher hinted at the end of last season Bettis could get cut, he now says Bettis is still in the mix and by not taking a rookie RB in the draft, the Steelers will again go with Bettis, Zereoue and Fuamatu-Ma'afala. If Bettis remains healthy, there is no reason why he will not perform much better than this ranking, especially considering the passing game that has developed in PIT. But his risk of injury from age and experience, and the very real risk of RBBC in PIT makes him worthy of rounding out the final starters in your league. Update (08/20/03) - With Zereoue as the named starting running back for the Steelers, Bettis obviously must fall but unlike other situations, it is safe to assume that Bettis does not spend the entire season on the bench. His role is still not as defined in terms of short yardage and goal line runs and he has been in great shape this summer. Cowher's decision was a good one - aiming more towards the future and finding a better fit for the new passing offense of the Steelers instead of the old grind-it-out style that Bettis employs.
  37 Duckett, T.J. ATL 8 6-0 254 22 1   4
  The first round pick by the Falcons came into the league as a bruiser with speed. Problem was that he did quickly was to get bruised himself. Duckett missed four games due to injury and was limited in a couple more last season. While the Falcons were interested in seeing what their big back could do last season, fantasy fans are still waiting for a true picture. Duckett gained only 507 yards rushing in 2002 and was virtually nonexistent in the passing game. He is worth a pick here from his opportunity and the expectations that he has yet to fulfill. Duckett is also expected to get more play in replacing the production of FB Bob Christian who retired in the offseason. An upgraded passing attack in Atlanta may help but consider Duckett a risk until he can prove to be able to give and not take a pounding of the NFL.
38 Gary, Olandis DET 6     5-11 218 28 4   4
  Gary has limited appeal backing up Travis Henry and knowing that McGahee gets some carries should be manage to be healthy enough by the late part of the season. Just a backup. Update (08/31/03) - Gary improves in the rankings with the trade to Detroit. Stewart will be out for a few more weeks most likely and Gary still has to learn the new offense, but it is a similar variant of the West Coast scheme he already knows. Add in a less than durable Stewart and Gary has a shot at some playing time. Update (09/02/03) - With Stewart gone, Gary will be mixed in with Shawn Bryson and to a lesser extent Avon Cobourne to determine who, if anyone, emerges as a primary back. Temper you expectations with Gary as he has proven to be injury prone and has not been nearly as effective since blowing out his knee a few years ago.
39 Bryson, Shawn             DET 6   6-1 228 26 3   4
  Bryson was has always been an enigma. He was a fullback coming out of college and yet is always one of the fastest players on his team. As a rookie, he platooned with Sammy Morris and Antowain Smith and had better yardage than either. In limited play he still had 32 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns, and gained 591 yards on 161 carries. The next season he mixed with Travis Henry, later giving way to him even though Bryson had a 4.3 yard rushing average compared to Henry's 3.4 YPC. He fell to only 80 carries for 341 yards and only received nine passes in 2001. He did score a 68 yard touchdown because he has jets down the sidelines. In 2002, Henry completely took over, making him expendable this season. The Lions picked him up as a backup to Stewart this year along with draft pick Artose Pinner who was taken with their 4.02 selection. Bryson has not received a full load in his career and yet still has shown great speed, balance and power. He will be backing up the aging and oft-injured James Stewart which makes him an intriguing pick here.  Update (08/28/03) - Bryson has taken so long to return from injury that he is still a bigger unknown in the Detroit offense than the higher ranking warranted. While James Stewart is no model of durability, neither has been Bryson.  Update (08/29/03) - The ink was not even wet from dropping him last night and James Stewart separated his shoulder making him a factor again. Bryson is next in line though he is returning slowly from a knee injury last year. With only Avon Cobourne to battle with, Bryson as the veteran is the most likely option to replace Stewart though Detroit could look for a free agent or trade to cure their sudden hole. Update (09/02/03) - Bryson will compete with Gary for the starting nod and he too is coming back from a knee injury. As of now, Gary has the perceived edge though not a great one.
  40 Shipp, Marcel ARZ 7   5-11 226 24 2   2
  Before someone in the ARZ front office slapped their forehead and said "Hey - what about Emmitt?", fantasy fans were encouraged with the performance of Shipp last season when he exceeded 100 total yards seven times even though he officially started only six games. Shipp not only has good size, but has speed as well evidenced by his runs of 39, 40 and 56 yards. He was rewarded with a four year contract for $8 million before the 2002 season ended. And then came Emmitt. Shipp is a great pick in a keeper or dynasty league and still a worthwhile addition this year even if Emmitt goes all 16 games since Shipp will be a change of pace back with almost certain short yardage opportunities.
  41 Jordan, LaMont NYJ 5   5-10 230 24 2   2
  Last season Jordan's per yard rushing average fell from 7.5 as a rookie to 3.8, but much of that is a product of his use in short yardage situations. Jordan is a powerful back with decent speed who is basically twiddling his thumbs waiting for Curtis Martin to slow down or cost too much to keep. Martin is such a warrior that he played injured much of last season and Jordan's value is low to all except the Martin owner in your league.
  42 Peterson, Adrian CHI 3   5-10 208 23 1   2
  After gaining 101 yards on only 19 carries last season, Peterson enters training camp with an outside shot to unseat the underperforming Anthony Thomas this season. While it is worthless to evaluate a player based on 19 carries in a season, Peterson fell to the 6th round in last year's draft largely because he had no receiving experience at Georgia Southern and ran a 4.65 at the combine. But he was productive in college and is known as a hard runner with some quickness that can break tackles in spite of his lesser size. He is a scrapper who will give Thomas a run for the summer. Since Chicago was dead last in the league for rushing yards in 2002, that constant change at RB for the Bears may not yet be over. Bar trivia - his brother is LB Mike Peterson now with the Jaguars (was IND).
  43 Faulk, Kevin NE 10     5-8 202 27 4   2
  Faulk is mainly used to rest Antowain Smith and last season normally carried the ball about four times a game with decent results but only two touchdowns for the year. At only 5' 8" and 202 pounds, Faulk is too small to be a primary back and his value this season is mostly tied to a running game that will use him occasionally and may need more if Smith is injured. In four seasons he has not been able to carry a heavy load and it is not going to happen now. Raised (08/04/03) - Faulk gets this bump in light of the news that he will have his role expanded on the Patriots offense. Raised (08/15/03) - Faulk will definitely be in the mix more this season though he will still share with Antowain Smith. He now makes a decent backup RB for a fantasy team since he'll be gaining yards each week more consistently (though not to the level of a starter).
  44 White, Jamel CLE 9     5-9 208 25 3   2
  With the slow start of William Green, White was enjoying a great season through the first nine games as Butch Davis kept reducing Green's touches and using White more. And then White separated his shoulder and Green suddenly saw the light. The shoulder caused him to miss two games and limited him the rest of the year while Green kept improving. White is smaller than normal for an every down back and he injured his shoulder even though he never did exceed twenty touches a game. The Browns re-signed him to a four year extension last March and he will continue to provide relief for Green and some third down duty. In the event Green is injured or reverts to less effective ways, White can step in and carry the load for at least a nice stretch of games.
  45 Gordon, Lamar STL 5   6-1 214 23 1   2
  While Marshall Faulk was injured last season, Gordon was only moderately successful. Then again, the same was true for Faulk in that offense last year. With Trung Canidate now out of the picture, Lamar is almost assured two games a year when Faulk is dinged up. Gordon should be considered at least ten spots earlier for the Faulk owner in your league and if you hate the guy that has Faulk, bump him up eleven spots.

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