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Running Back Watch - Week 1
Mike Courter
September 6, 2005

Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own




LaDainian Tomlinson

With the nagging groin issue of ’04 behind him, Tomlinson is poised to elevate the Chargers to an even deeper trek into the postseason this year. LT looked explosive in his preseason appearances and following week one’s home game against Dallas where he won’t have to worry about Antonio Gates (suspension) stealing goal line chances, he faces questionable defensive front sevens @ Denver and hosting the Giants in week three setting up a fruitful start to the 2005 campaign.



Shaun Alexander

Alexander has been the picture of fantasy football consistency, registering minimums of 14 touchdowns and 1,175 yards over the last four seasons. In addition to a career best 1,696 rushing yards in 2004, his 20 total touchdowns were the most of any non-quarterback in the NFL last season. The only advantage LT has over him is in the passing game. Expect another consistent, productive year from Alexander.



Domanick Davis

Aside from his obvious physical gifts, Davis’s surging fantasy value can mainly be attributed to the high amount of touches he gets in a season. The 25 year old participated in 385 plays (both rushes and receptions) last season, which ranked eighth in the NFL amongst 2004 backs- only 33 plays behind LT and Davis missed a game last year. In fact, his career is very similar to Tomlinson’s in the early years. Since David Carr has not progressed as quickly as the Texans would have liked, Davis will continue to be the heartbeat of the offense.



Tiki Barber

Tiki had a career-best performance in 2004 (Barber was a top five back in yardage- rushing and receiving, touchdowns, attempts and yards per carry). With the marked improvement of the offensive line, through free agent acquisition RT Kareem McKenzie and the return of workmanlike guard Rich Seubert, along with an upgrade of the other skill position talent, the ingredients are there for another stellar year from the 30 year old stalwwart. Big rookie back Brandon Jacobs will not materialize as the threat to Barber’s scoring potential that a lot of pundits have made him out to be.



Priest Holmes

Holmes ended the 2004 season as the third best scoring back in the NFL in exactly half a season’s work. He’ll be hard pressed to repeat such a feat this year as the 32 year old will undoubtedly miss more time due to injury, as is his increasing pattern. Also factor in the improvements the Chiefs made to their defense in the off season and more importantly, the emergence of Larry Johnson in the last half of 2004 which has compelled Dick Vermeil to find more ways to get his explosive young back out of diapers and onto the field, further narrowing Holmes chances at fantasy stardom of season’s past.



Edgerrin James

When healthy, James remains one of the more productive backs in the league and he is playing for a contract yet again as he had to settle for another one year deal with the Colts. His yardage numbers, both rushing and receiving, can stack up against the best of them, the one knock against him would be touchdowns. No doubt James owners were pulling their hair out all last season watching Peyton Manning throw countless one and two yard touchdowns to a variety of targets after “the Edge” did all the work on the prior six plays to get them into scoring position.. His nine total touchdowns in 2004 is well below what an elite running back should produce and unfortunately for James owners, that paradigm in the Colts offense doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.



Corey Dillon

Everything came up roses for Dillon last year, rushing for 1,635 yards (third best in the NFL) and only four runners had more scores than Dillon’s 13 total touchdowns, all while garnering his long-coveted Super Bowl ring. His consistency was Shaun Alexander-like with nine 100 yard games and nine games with touchdowns. He could be even better this year as the Patriots will try to compensate for significant losses on the defensive side of the ball (Romeo Crennell, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law and Ted Johnson) by running the ball more and increasing their scoring output.



Willis McGahee

McGahee has been perched high on most pre-draft lists and after 13 touchdowns in the final 10 games of 2004 to go along with 1,128 yards rushing, deservedly so. Injury history and being saddled with a rookie quarterback, J.P. Losman, are the only hinderances to another great year. The QB situation is insured somewhat by functional backup veteran Kelly Holcomb.



Deuce McAlister

After a career best effort in 2003, McAlister stumbled in ’04 due to a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of three games entirely and bothered him all year after that. This season should prove greener pastures for Deuce as the Saints got a lot bigger and more physical along the offensive line with the drafting of Outland Trophy winner, RT Jammal Brown and the signing free agent guard Jermane Mayberry. Coach Jim Haslett has also placed a renewed emphasis on the run as a way to protect his suspect defense and reduce the amount of mistakes committed by erratic QB Aaron Brooks, all positive developments for McAlister’s fantasy prospects.



Curtis Martin

Hard to believe the eleven year veteran had his career year at the ripe ol’ running back age of 31. Martin’s 1,697 rushing yards were tops in the league in ’04 (along with 14 total touchdowns-12 rush, 2 rec). The arrival of Mike Heimerdinger’s pass-heavy offensive game plan might have somewhat of a negative impact, but Martin is still in tip-top shape running behind a very good run-blocking front boasting All-Pro C Kevin Mawae and nasty road graders G Pete Kendall and T Jason Fabini.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Lamont Jordan (OAK) – All the elements are in place for the talented and powerful back to excel, having finally gotten out from under the large shadow cast by future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. Jordan arrives in an offense that will provide air cover courtesy of Kerry Collins to Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and a host of other tall, fast and big dudes. Not to mention that his coach, Norv Turner, is a huge proponent of the dominant back after riding Stephen Davis’ 1400 yards and 17 touchdowns to the playoffs in 1999 with the Redskins, as well as being the offensive coordinator calling the plays for the Cowboys Emmitt Smith, the Chargers LaDainian Tomlinson and the Dolphins Ricky Williams.

Steven Jackson (STL) – Marshall Faulk’s gracious step aside this season, enabling young upstart Steven Jackson to claim the starting role, allowed the veteran Rams star the opportunity to go out exhibiting a team-first class but as the end of last season and this year’s preseason has showed, this was a move that had to happen. Jackson is ready to burst on the scene this year with a complete package of physical skills running against a bevy of marginal defenses in the NFC West.

Kevin Jones (DET) -- Jones was slow out of the 2004 gate thanks mostly to a high ankle sprain but once that leg became healthy enough, the Lions started to include him increasingly more in the game plan and the rookie responded ending the year with a flurry of 1,133 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The Lions have invested heavily in their offensive line and their passing game which should help Jones be even more productive but unlike the much-ballyhooed Detroit receivers, Jones will not be as adversely effected if Harrington does not raise his overall level of play. In fact, the Lions may have to rely on him even more to take the pressure off of Harrington.

Julius Jones (DAL) -- Like Kevin Jones and Willis McGahee, Julius Jones rounds out the trifecta of young promising backs who have created a buzz for 2005 thanks in large part to their strong 2004 finishes. Julius has a wonderful blend of speed, power and quickness and he resides in a system where coach Parcells will consistently give him 25 plus carries per game after proving his toughness last year. The Cowboys improved their offensive line adding veteran pro bowler Marco Rivera and the passing attack should improve over last season as well with Drew Bledsoe throwing to Jason Witten, Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn and newly acquired WR Peerless Price.

Mike Anderson (DEN) – As early as just a few weeks ago,fantasyprognosticator’s had removed Anderson off most rotisserie radar screens choosing to prematurely anoint the younger, flashier Tatum Bell as the de facto starter in Denver after Anderson hobbled through an injury-plagued 2004 campaign. But August 27 th’s preseason game against Indianapolis revealed Mike Shanahan’s best kept secret as Anderson re-emerged in the driver’s seat of the vaunted Denver rushing attack with a 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 13 carries, including a 93 yard touchdown burst. Obviously, staying healthy is a concern but the same can be said for the mercurial Bell as well.

Sliding Back

DeShaun Foster (CAR) – For many months this summer, Foster was penciled in as the starter on most Carolina Panthers depth chart projections. At that point in time, Stephen Davis looked 50-50 with regard to resuming his NFL career. Davis has been able to return and he looked good in a brief appearance in the Panthers final exhibition game, increasing speculation that he will get his starting job back and further muddling Foster’s fantasy prospects. The best fantasy approach to the Carolina backfield would be to wait and see who emerges after a few weeks in because both Davis and Foster are major injury risks and it could be Nick Goings once again since rookie second round pick Eric Shelton broke his foot in the final preseason game and was placed on Injured Reserve.

Ahman Green (GB) – From the domestic abuse charge filed against Green by his wife, Heather, this off season to filing for divorce three days later, Green heads into the 2005 season with a lot of personal turmoil to deal with. Now factor in the negatives from the football side of the house, the loss of two solid offensive guards, Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, to free agency, a porous defense that should put Green Bay in the unenviable pass-heavy catch up mode and the continued rise of 250 pound backup Najeh Davenport, which prompted the coaching staff to comment on putting the ball in the fourth year veteran from Miami’s hands even more, equating to less opportunity for Green. Green should still be drafted in the early rounds based on a projection of 1200 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns but with the increasing amount of baggage that he’s carrying, I’d feel a lot better about taking him in the third round than the second.