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Running Back Watch - 2004
Mike Courter
August 23, 2004
Top Ten Fantasy RB ’s to Own Comment
1 KC Priest Holmes Averaging 27 touchdowns the last two seasons, Holmes remains the High Priest of fantasy running backs
2 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Only 25, injury-free, nearly 2400 total yards, 17 TDs and 100 catches in downtrodden San Diego last year- what’s not to like?
3 GB Ahman Green Explosive back, coming off a career year, in a great offense with a favorable schedule
4 SEA Shaun Alexander Consistently productive and entering his contract year
5 NO Deuce McAllister Should see a noticeable bump in his touchdown total with an easier schedule in ‘04
6 BAL Jamal Lewis Appears likely to miss some games due to pending trial this Fall
7 WAS Clinton Portis The loss of RT Jon Jansen is a definite setback for this dynamic young runner
8 IND Edgerrin James The Edge came on strong at the end of last year and appears poised to capitalize this season, the final year of his current contract
9 STL Marshall Faulk The addition of Stephen Jackson and a blocking back will boost the 31 year old this season
10 JAX Fred Taylor Fragile no more, Freddie will be the centerpiece to a young, improving team on the rise

(Note – this listing considers the rankings of RB’s if a draft was held today)

Climbing Up The Ladder

Domanick Davis (HOU) – Last season, Davis burst onto fantasy owners’ radar with his week seven 27 carry, 129 yard rushing performance against the Jets and proved he wasn’t a flash in the pan by finishing the year with 1,382 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. With the expected improvement from David Carr and Andre’ Johnson rounding out Houston’s emerging “triplets” and the strengthening of an already improving offensive line with the signing of RT Todd Wade from Miami, the future looks bright for Davis as a number one fantasy back in deeper leagues and a great second back on your squad.

Rudi Johnson (CIN) – Johnson’s steady production in 2003 allowed the Bengals to move long-time problem child Corey Dillon in the offseason and now the 233 pound pinball will be the motor in Cincinnati’s offense this season. Make no mistake, the drafting of Michigan RB Chris Perry will have very little impact on Johnson’s numbers this year and is seen as more of a Bengals bargaining chip next off-season when they will most likely negotiate a long term deal with Johnson. Increased depth on the offensive line, bolstered by the arrival of RG Bobbie Williams and fourth round pick T Stacy Andrews, as well as a feature role providing 25 plus carries a game will have Johnson owners chanting “Rudi, Rudi” on Sundays.

Corey Dillon (NE) – Dillon’s arrival in New England is viewed by many as the rich getting richer, bolstering the Patriots chances of repeating their Super Bowl winning performance of 2003 by adding a Pro-Bowl running back to their already effective ball control passing game. The Pats are looking to capitalize on Dillon’s considerable gifts now that he has gotten his most ardent wish, to play for a winner. Dillon has proven, when in a positive emotional state, he can be a dominant runner and that should bear out this season making him a solid number two back with an upside on fantasy teams in 2004.

Thomas Jones (CHI) -- Having resurrected his disappointing career in Tampa Bay last year, Jones heads to Chicago to play the Priest Holmes role in Lovie Smith’s new attack-style offense. Word out of Bears camp is that Jones has exceeded expectations and in their first preseason contest against the Rams starting defense he rushed for 53 yards on seven carries. The offensive line has been improved significantly with the additions of Kansas City free agent tackle John Tait and Pro Bowler Rueben Brown from Buffalo, making Thomas Jones a true running back on the rise for 2004.

T.J. Duckett (ATL) – During the Falcons fall from grace last year that saw Michael Vick go down in the preseason and Warrick Dunn a few weeks later, Duckett’s consistent scoring provided one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal campaign. He scored at least once in eight of his last nine games in ’03, building a full head of steam for the 6’0” 254 pound hammer going into this season. Duckett is admittedly excited about Atlanta’s hiring of legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, who will employ his notorious cut and chop techniques to create multiple lanes for Atlanta’s running backs to choose from. With Dunn turning 30 soon and unable to stay healthy, the opportunity for a breakthrough season looms large for Duckett.

Quentin Griffin (DEN) – Griffin stands to become the next in a long line of thousand yard rushers being manufactured in the Rocky Mountains. His impressive 28 carries for 136 yards against the Colts late last season laid the foundation for the trade of Clinton Portis to Washington for Champ Bailey. His compact (5’7”) yet powerful frame allows him to scoot in and out of the lanes created by Denver’s vaunted offensive line to create a Portis-like yards per carry average. Though Mike Shanahan spent a second round pick on speedster Tatum Bell and brought in free agent Garrison Hearst, the job is Griffin’s to lose and his performance so far through the first preseason game has further cemented his position at the top.

Duce Staley (PIT) – Despite being forced into a part-time role last season by Eagles coach Andy Reid after threatening to holdout for a new contract, Staley was still highly productive averaging 6.4 yards per carry for Philadelphia. Now he heads to greener pastures in Pittsburgh where he will be the feature back who will occasionally be spelled by aging Jerome Bettis in short yardage situations. With the return of three starters to their offensive line allowing Pro Bowler Alan Faneca to return to guard, the Steelers are primed to restore pride in their once feared ground game and Staley will be a big piece to that puzzle.

Lee Suggs (CLE) – Suggs 224 yardson 46 carries over the last two games of the 2003 season helped put him atop the training camp depth chart for his preseason battle with the inconsistent William Green and his performance to date in ‘04 has done nothing but help solidify his role the starter. The return of dependable T Ross Verba and a somewhat favorable schedule against run defenses could make Suggs the running back selected late in fantasy drafts that puts a team over the top down the stretch.

Chris Brown (TEN) – In 2003, the rookie started to come into his own, averaging nearly four yards per carry and seeing meaningful time in the Titans playoff run as well. With the salary-cap induced departure of Eddie George to the Cowboys a few weeks ago, the window of opportunity has swung wide open for Brown and fantasy owners should take note. In his first starting assignment against Cleveland in Game One of the preseason, Brown carried the ball six times for 46 yards, an average of 7.7 yards per carry, garnering praise from teammates and coaches alike.

Sliding Back

Emmitt Smith (ARZ) – In a surprise move a few weeks ago, Dennis Green promoted Emmitt Smith to the starting job over the younger Marcel Shipp, prior to Shipp’s injury. In hindsight, it might not have been the best way to reward Smith for all his hard work after all. Since joining the first team offense, Smith has seen his most reliable blocker, center Pete Kendall, be released due to a rumored dispute with Dennis Green, and the team’s best receiver, Anquan Boldin, sustain a knee injury that will sideline him for close to 12 weeks. This does not bode well for the 35 year old vet who missed six games last year due to a broken shoulder and has seen his yards per carry plummet over the last few seasons, currently resting at 2.8 yards a pop.

Kevin Jones (DET) -- High hopes accompany the first round pick from Virginia Tech to inject life into a Detroit ground attack that hasn’t shown a pulse since Barry Sanders skipped town. However, persistent hamstring troubles have sidelined Jones and have set his development back. A slow start from a rookie running back won’t help your fantasy team, especially if you’ve drafted him as your second running back.

Tiki Barber (NYG) -- Barber should be poised to take advantage of a schedule filled with soft rushing defenses, however, the deck is stacked against him this season. In addition to a new quarterback, new coach and new offensive scheme, it appears Barber will have to fight for carries this year with Ron Dayne, who has undergone a rebirth under the watchful eye of Tom Coughlin. If Dayne rediscovers the power element to his game, and he’s off to a great start with 118 yards on 11 carries against the Chiefs last Friday including two touchdown runs of 67 and 29 yards, he will become Coughlin’s preference on first and second downs and Barber’s fantasy value will plummet.