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2004 Huddle Sleepers & Busts - Running Backs
August 23, 2004
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Scott Boyter

Lee Suggs, CLE - Odds are he’ll be named The Man in Cleveland, and my gut tells me Suggs will be worth a spot as a No. 3 or 4 fantasy back. He ran for 289 yards on only 56 attempts (5.2 yards a carry) in 2003. He’s explosive, he’s powerful, and he’ll make a great addition to your fantasy squad.

Michael Bennett, MIN - Hopefully you saw the tidbit where Onterrio Smith is going to miss the first four games after getting caught sparking up a J. This should immediately vault Bennett up 10 to 15 spots on your running back lists. The absence of Smith also means no dreaded running back by committee. He’ll still lose goal line carries to Moe Freaking Williams, but Bennett is an emerging stud who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Nab him as your No. 3 runner.

Willis McGahee, BUF - He’s talking trash about wanting out of Buffalo, but Travis Henry banged up his ribs against Tennessee over the weekend. This is the kind of injury that can be an extended problem, and the Bills won’t hesitate to put McGahee in if Henry isn’t completely healthy. Nab McGahee as your No. 4 runner if you get the chance.

Brent Clement

Lee Suggs, CLE - In college at Virginia Tech, this kid was considered special, but multiple injuries opened the door for a younger back named Kevin Jones to make a name for himself and eventually steal the headlines.  Make no mistake Cleveland has a gem on their hands with Suggs, who will beat out William Green, and put up some nice fantasy stats this year.

Chris Brown, TEN - Brown is making those in Tennessee forget all about Eddie George already.  7.7 yards a carry in his first preseason contest and 6.1 YPC in his second are amazing stats. Brown has yet to find the end zone in either contest, as McNair has plenty of other weapons to get the ball into the end zone, but Brown could put up 1200 yards very easily in this offense this season.

Thomas Jones, CHI - The bears want to use Jones the same way KC uses Holmes. I use this analogy over the Faulk one, because Faulk has rare speed and explosiveness I don't believe the other two possess, but as Holmes has shown he is every bit as equal to any RB in the league when it comes to putting up huge fantasy stats. 

Mike Courter

T.J. Duckett, ATL - Entering his third year with the Falcons, Duckett has made a steady progression culminating with last season’s 779 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Impressive numbers when you consider how Atlanta’s fortunes crumbled right along with Michael Vicks’ leg and the team had to abandon the running game in the second half of most of their games during their 5-11 campaign in 2003. This off-season, the Falcons bolstered both their defense with free agents and draft picks and their offensive line hiring legendary Denver offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs. While Warrick Dunn struggles to keep healthy as he approaches 30 years of age, Duckett cruises into his prime in the midst of a Falcons rebirth.

Chris Brown, TEN - Brown’s emergence at the end of last season, especially in the playoffs, greased the skids for Eddie George’s cap-induced release this off season paving the way for a breakout year in 2004 for the 6’3” 220 pound slasher. He has yet to fumble in his 56 NFL carries and has consistently shown the burst through the hole that hasn’t been seen in the Titans ground attack for years. With Steve McNair providing air cover, look for Brown, barring injury, to approach 300 plus carries and be a vital part of the Tennessee offense.

Thomas Jones, CHI - Shades of Priest Holmes arrival in Kansas City in 2001 after four up and down years in Baltimore, Jones, a talented back who toiled in mediocrity for two seasons in Arizona before finally showing signs of life in Tampa last year, seems to have arrived in the right place at the right time with the Chicago Bears under new coach Lovie Smith. Smith has pushed aside incumbent Anthony Thomas and made it clear that he wants Jones to be his “Priest” in the Bears version of Kansas City’s high-flying offense. Look for Chicago to hand Jones the mother load of carries as well as utilize his talents as a receiver out of the backfield making him an exciting addition to your fantasy squad that can probably be stolen in the mid to late rounds.

Bob Cunningham

Ron Dayne, NYG - Incumbent back Tiki Barber is more versatile, but he's aging and his propensity to cough up the ball in key spots won't sit well with new coach Tom Coughlin, who's more inclined to pound the ball. At the very least, Dayne should get more goal line shots that he had with former coach Jim Fassel.

Tatum Bell, DEN - I always like Broncos running backs, because coach Mike Shanhan's system has proven over and over to get the job done running the ball. Veteran Garrison Hearst is too old, and Quentin Griffin is too small. Along about Week 6 or 7 is when I expect Bell to, uh, ring in with a breakout performance and go on from there.

David Dorey

Thomas Jones, CHI - After a failed stay in the desert, Jones had some success late season in Tampa Bay before becoming a free agent this spring. He was immediately picked up by the Bears who are installing a version of the Kansas City offense. It is the same offense that took a career back-up runner named Priest Holmes and made him the all-time touchdown scorer for running backs. There are those that say Jones biggest problem was that he was not mature enough to handle the NFL when he came out as a highly touted rookie. The conditions are right and Jones has been encouraging in camp. The offense will take time to get on track and while Jones will not be scoring 26 rushing touchdowns this year, he has a great opportunity to exceed the expectations of where he is being drafted.

Willis McGahee, BUF - After sitting out last season, McGahee is already showing good form in camp and in preseason games and the Bills did not squander a first round pick on a player they did not intend to use. Neither Henry or McGahee wants to share the ball and both have asked to be traded if they are not the starter. It is an unhappy situation for both since it is not likely Buffalo will let one of them leave. But in that offense, the best runner will get the lion’s share of work and considering where McGahee is being drafted, he could turn into a great value since he is a better runner than Henry when completely healthy. The Bills backfield is a bit muddled right now with Henry’s bruised ribs but McGahee is a great value where he is available in the drafts.

Tatum Bell, DEN - There has not been much to see with Bell so far thanks to breaking his finger this summer. The Broncos already have Quentin Griffin as the starter, Garrison Hearst and Mike Anderson on board and only then Bell. The interesting fact about Bell is that he’s about the closest thing to a Portis clone in this draft. Same size and Bell might even be a little faster. The Broncos not only drafted Bell higher than any running back in the last decade, they ironically use the very same pick they received in the Portis/Bailey trade. Bell has been shoved back in developing thanks to the finger and even Portis did not start in the first five games his rookie season but no runner on the Denver roster has his ability as a pure runner or his speed. Bell cannot be a starter for a fantasy team in week one, but there is a good chance he will be in the final week of the season.

Todd Gray

Quentin Griffin, DEN - A Denver running back is going to make a fantasy impact, and the odds-on favorite to do just that is Griffin. The second-year RB filled in nicely last season for Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson when each went down with their respective injuries, and Griffin enters this season as the Broncos’ No. 1 RB. He’ll no doubt have to share some of the spoils with Mike Anderson, Garrison Hearst and Tatum Bell as head coach Mike Shanahan employs his running back by committee approach, but history shows that one Denver RB almost always produces enough to at least become a solid No. 2 fantasy back.

Lee Suggs, CLE - One way or another, Suggs will most likely be handed the opportunity to become the Browns unquestioned No. 1 RB this season. This will probably happen when William Green gets injured or pulls some type of season-ending mishap from his bag of tricks. Few have questioned Suggs’ talent, and coaches love his work ethic and attitude. Upgrades at QB and OL, in addition to a maturing receiving corps, should keep defenses relatively honest and give Suggs a fair chance to make an impact in the fantasy world.

Chris Brown, TEN - There’s a good reason Titans management let go of long-time No. 1 RB Eddie George, and that reason is not recently-signed RB Antowain Smith. Brown goes into the season as the man in Tennessee’s running game. Smith could steal a few TDs near the goal line, but Brown should pile up respectable yardage and TD totals if he stays away from the injury bug that bit him early last year.

Joe Levit

Chris Brown, TEN - What is not to like about Brown? Except for his aching legs, there is nothing holding him in place. Because the passing game is so good right now with McNair tossing to a trio of good receivers and some talented tight ends, Brown can make some real noise in the running game. He is not going to be pulled for Antowain Smith unless he proves completely inept, so he is a sure starter who is going after guys like Duce Staley, Lee Suggs and others who are entrenched in position battles.

Kevin Jones, DET - With the opportunity he is going to get, and behind a very solid if unspectacular line, Jones is being underrated in fantasy leagues, or at least in fantasy rankings. He will finish as a top-20 back, possibly top 15, because I think he can top the likes of Tiki Barber, Domanick Davis, Kevan Barlow and Stephen Davis.

Marshall Faulk, STL - Hard to rank this big name as a sleeper, but where he is being selected in drafts makes him so. Sure, he has huge injury potential, and it is vital to lock up Steven Jackson as a handcuff, but Faulk did well last year down the stretch when he was healthy, and is more explosive even now than almost every back in the league. He is a receiving threat as well as a runner, so you can get your points a lot of ways from him. He is a great choice late in the first round or early in the second, if you can combine him with another high back on the turn, say Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon, or Travis Henry.

Fritz Schlottman

Domanick Davis, HOU - How many running backs can you get later in the draft that average nearly 100 yards rushing per game, 30 yards receiving per contest, and had eight touchdowns in 11 starts? He could put up monster numbers in that offense if everyone stays healthy, Think 1,600 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 12-14 touchdowns. Not bad for guy you can get later in the draft.

Kevin Jones, DET - Well, somebody has to get the ball in that offense. The Lions have loaded up at wide receiver the past several drafts and Jones isn’t likely to see eight in the box very often. Detroit has a history of finding running backs in the draft (Quarterback is another issue entirely) and Jones looks like their kind of guy. The Lions seem to prefer a speedy back with open-field running ability. If he can learn his blocking assignments early and become a reliable receiver, Jones can be the every down back the Lions haven’t had in years.

Paul Sandy

T.J. Duckett, ATL - Last season Duckett managed to score eight touchdowns despite playing in an offense that was abysmal. Now with Michael Vick back in the saddle, he should really get a chance to shine. Duckett will still continue split carries with Warrick Dunn, but Dunn’s injuries seem to be catching up with him. I expect Duckett to be Atlanta’s workhorse finish with 1,100 yards this season and a boat-load of touchdowns.

Travis Henry, BUF - Is there anyone in the NFL who’s looking over his shoulder more than Travis Henry this preseason? Willis McGahee has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Why not, it’s a great story line. But according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen the Bills management believes McGahee will only be 95 percent by mid-October as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Buffalo will continue to pound the ball with Henry and give McGahee some limited action. As long as Henry can hold onto the ball (he actually only lost three fumbles last season) it’s his job. To let him drop into the third round is a mistake.

Fred Russell, MIA - If you’re looking for a deep sleeper in the waning rounds of your draft, pull the trigger on Russell. The Dolphins have had a bloody off-season and there’s no predicting how this year will unfold. Their entire roster of running backs is unproven. The situation seems right for an un-drafted, unknown rookie to earn some playing time at some point. The Dolphins are just that desperate. Admittedly, Russell is tiny by NFL standards, but that hasn’t stopped backs similar in stature, including Warrick Dunn, Tiki Barber and Napoleon Kaufman, from making big-time fantasy impacts for a season or two.


Scott Boyter

Stephen Davis, CAR - He averaged 124 yards during the first eight games of 2003 but only 75 after that, largely due to an injured ankle. But one look at DeShaun Foster during the playoffs told you all you needed to know about the direction Carolina wants to go in their running game. Davis will lose far too many carries to Foster to be worth a starting spot on your fantasy roster.

Brent Clement

Brian Westbrook, PHI - I've heard so many are high on this kid, and personally I don't see why.  The offense has looked outright terrible on the ground thus far in two preseason games. The loss of Buckhalter should help Westbrook's numbers but I don't think he is the answer at the position for the Eagles. I see either McNabb scrambling more or the team will pass more in 04 to compensate from the lack of running game from the RB position.

Mike Courter

Tiki Barber, NYG - Proceed with caution when thinking about making Barber the second running back on your fantasy team. His touchdown numbers have dropped like a lead balloon descending from a career high of 11 in 2002 to three last season. While his total yardage was still a respectable 1,676 last year, this was accomplished while his profuse fumbling was ignored by “good friend” and then Giants head coach, Jim Fassel. There’s a new sheriff in the swamp this year and Tom Coughlin has made it abundantly clear that he will not be playing favorites and will not tolerate mistakes that hurt the ball club. Coughlin has openly campaigned for Ron Dayne’s rebirth to give New York a long-needed power element in their running game and the big back from Wisconsin has responded by coming into camp in phenomenal shape and has turned heads in camp and in their first preseason game against the Chiefs, breaking two long touchdown runs. All of these events do not paint a pretty picture for Barber’s fantasy fortunes in ‘04.

Bob Cunningham

Jamal Lewis, BAL - Too many off-field distractions, and not enough of a passing game. Lewis is still valuable, but I'm expecting numbers far shy of what he piled up last season.

David Dorey

Marshall Faulk, STL - While he has definite value and will turn in some good games, Faulk will be a bust because of the high price he costs and the need to handcuff him with an earlier pick to get Steven Jackson (probably 5th round or so). That knocks you out of drafting a starter just to try to keep one RB spot alive. Faulk has a history of getting hurt and that not only will not end, it will likely once again be game time decisions and wondering which one of he and Jackson you should start this season. If you miss on Jackson, you just might see far too many games with Faulk on the bench considering he will go in the second round of most drafts.

Todd Gray

Eddie George, DAL - George has been a fantasy disappointment for a few years now, but many expect a rejuvenation under Dallas head coach Bill Parcells. After all, this is the coach who turned a once seemingly washed up O.J. Anderson into a Super Bowl MVP. Yes, George will have a shot at his share of 1- and 2-yard TD runs, but approximately 20 carries per game at 3.3 yards per tote is about the most for which one can ask. A handful of 40-yard, zero-TD performances will be sure to rear their ugly heads, as well. Simply put, there will almost always be better options in any given week.

Joe Levit

Ahman Green, GB - Green is going to do well this year, there is no doubt, but honestly I think he topped out in 2003. I know all the talk is about him shooting for 2000 yards, but I just don’t see it. First, unless the team trades Najeh Davenport, the Packers are going to be interested in giving the second back his share of carries, to keep Green fresh and healthy. Second, the passing game should be more of a factor this year with Donald Driver well and both Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson able to push defenses. This team is not run through Green. He is a complementary feature at best. Third, I think Green is ready for a minor injury which sets him back for a couple of weeks, putting him off a killer pace. He will excel, and I know this is a weak bust, but I just don’t think he should be among the top three back taken, if among the top five.

Paul Sandy

Marshall Faulk, STL - The Rams traded up to draft Steven Jackson for a reason. This will be the year we put the obligatory fork in Faulk’s career. A man can only have so many surgeries on his knees before they turn into to mush.