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The Big 5 Rookie Running Backs
David Dorey
August 3, 2006

Now that training camp is underway and those desirable rookie running backs are all signed, it's time to cast a bit more critical eye on them. The pads are going on and preseason games are coming up so we can start to see what NFL teams really got when they spent that high draft pick on the best of breed college running backs. As each is considered, remember that past performances are no guarantee of future results.

While you should consider the level of competition that these backs racked up their stats against, by the same token realize that they could only play against the teams on their schedule. A great back should be great no matter where he plays because while his opponents may be less talented it is almost certain that the team around him is as well. You can only do what you can do. Most interesting are those games against the best opponents and the ones that are easily seen as "big games". Realize too that there has never been any rookie running back that did not come into the league without some perceived weakness of some sort. The other side of hype is exaggerating weaknesses.

Reggie Bush Rushing Receiving Total
Statistics Att Yds Avg TD Cat Yds Avg TD Yds TD
2005 200 1740 8.7 16 37 478 12.9 2 2218 18
2004 143 908 6.3 6 43 509 11.8 7 1417 13
2003 90 521 5.8 3 15 314 20.9 4 835 7
Career 433 3169 7.3 25 95 1301 13.7 13 4470 38
2005 Per Game Att Yds Avg TD No Yds Avg TD YD TD
at Hawaii 12 86 7.2 2 4 58 14.5 0 144 2
Arkansas 8 125 15.6 1 3 70 23.3 1 195 2
at Oregon 20 122 6.1 1 3 43 14.3 1 165 2
at Arizona State 17 158 9.3 2 1 4 4 0 162 2
Arizona 14 110 7.9 0 2 16 8 0 126 0
at Notre Dame 15 160 10.7 3 4 35 8.8 0 195 3
at Washington 8 51 6.4 1 2 18 9 0 69 1
Wash. St. 17 97 5.7 0 4 40 10 0 137 0
Stanford 12 113 9.4 1 4 27 6.8 0 140 1
at California 17 82 4.8 0 1 4 4 0 86 0
Fresno State 23 294 12.8 2 3 68 22.7 0 362 2
UCLA 24 260 10.8 2 0 0 0 0 260 2
Texas 13 82 6.3 1 6 95 15.8 0 177 1

REGGIE BUSH
#1.02 New Orleans Saints

Height: 5' 11-1/2" Weight: 203

The much hyped Bush came out after his Junior season at USC and he's readily described as a rare talent not unlike Barry Sanders was. At only 203 pounds, Bush doesn't make a great inside runner but his speed (4.4/40) and moves allowed him to make awe-inspiring runs at USC. Coupled with LenDale White for the short yardage needs, Bush ran his way to a decisive Heisman Trophy win.

Notice in his numbers from last year - Bush was deadly in almost every game. The worst he ever did was gain 4.8 yards per carry as a marked man which is as good as the top runners in the NFL. In other games he was ridiculously productive with long runs. Of all the top runners, Bush not only had the highest yards per carry, he was the tops for receiving as well. In 2003, Drew Brees connected with LaDainian Tomlinson for 100 catches. And now he'll play with Reggie Bush.

He has signed now for an incredible $62 million dollars and has already been viewed as the "Savior of the Saints" which may be a bit much for anyone to live up to, let alone a smaller rookie runner on a bad team that is starting to rebuild.

Complicating matters is the presence of Deuce McAllister who is returning from a bad knee injury early last season. The Saints could not afford to let McAllister go even if they wanted to since he signed a monster contract in the summer of 2005. But this just reprises the same style of offense that Bush came from at USC where he coupled with LenDale White to create perhaps the greatest offense in the entire NCAA. Bush is hardly a 30 carry a game sort of tailback and he rarely every had more than 17 carries at USC. But he was pure magic when he did run and he added three or four catches per game as well. His receiving yardage and catches will be significant in the NFL as well as his rushing. The early returns from training camp is that Bush really is that good.

The two players he is most likened to are Sanders and Marshall Faulk. Not bad company. His outlook this season is probably higher with McAllister there than if Bush was thrown into being the sole running back. If he can deliver up to his perceived potential, Bush will almost certainly be drafted long after his actual worth this year. The Saints are betting $62 million on it.


Laurence Maroney Rushing Receiving Total
Statistics Att Yds Avg TD Cat Yds Avg TD Yds TD
2005 281 1464 5.2 10 17 170 10 1 1634 11
2004 217 1348 6.2 12 3 16 5.3 0 1364 12
2003 162 1121 6.9 10 1 11 11 0 1132 10
Career 660 3933 6 32 21 197 9.4 1 4130 33
2005 Per Game Att Yds Avg TD No Yds Avg TD YD TD
at Tulsa 21 203 9.7 2 0 0 0 0 203 2
Colorado State 26 133 5.1 2 1 14 14 0 147 2
Florida Atlantic 20 145 7.3 2 3 55 18.3 1 200 3
Purdue 46 217 4.7 0 5 59 11.8 0 276 0
at Penn State 16 48 3 0 2 3 1.5 0 51 0
at Michigan 36 129 3.6 1 0 0 0 0 129 1
Wisconsin 43 262 6.1 1 0 0 0 0 262 1
Ohio State 25 127 5.1 1 3 19 6.3 0 146 1
at Indiana 15 85 5.7 1 1 8 8 0 93 1
Michigan State - - - - - - - - - -
at Iowa 7 10 1.4 0 0 0 0 0 10 0
at Virginia 26 109 4.2 0 2 12 6 0 121 0

LAURENCE MARONEY
#1.21 New England Patriots

Height: 5' 11" Weight: 220

Maroney is another junior who declared early after three seasons at Minnesota. For the first two years, Maroney shared the ball with Marion Barber but last year had a career high 281 carries for 1464 yards. Maroney is the prototypical back in size and he runs a respectable 4.5/40.

His numbers were lower toward the end of the season due to a sprained ankle but he rang up major yardage against most opponents, slowing down only when facing Penn State. Maroney only had a total of 21 catches during his three years as a Gopher but most of that came last year. He'll need to work on his receiving skills since even during Dillon's injury shortened 2005, he still had 22 catches last year - more than Maroney had the last three seasons combined.

There are some detractors of Maroney who purport that he was not the most talented back in the backfield with he shared time with Marion Barber. But he is a solid runner with very good size and has the ability to plow through a defender. As the second back taken, Maroney has obviously caught the eyes of the Patriots and this year he is slated to share duties with Corey Dillon who surprisingly has not had a problem with a split of work. Dillon turns 32 years old in October and hasn't played a full 16 game schedule since 2002 so Maroney has a definite shot at playing by himself for at least a few games this year. But the Patriots employ a very complicated scheme and Maroney only had three years in college. Dillon is also adamant to prove that he is not yet diminished in skills as well and will play motivated this year.

The best bet here is that Maroney will play this year, primarily as a runner if not exclusively at times and will likely get at least a brief stretch of time when Dillon is out. But there is no intention to bench Dillon and let Maroney loose by choice. And the use of Maroney could help keep Dillon healthy enough to stay in the game more this year and thereby water down what either of them would have done alone. Maroney is a classic runner that will need to learn the Pats offense, increase his receiving skills and hope that Dillon gets injured.


DeAngelo Williams Rushing Receiving Total
Statistics Att Yds Avg TD Cat Yds Avg TD Yds TD
2005 310 1964 6.3 18 12 78 6.5 1 2042 19
2004 313 1948 6.2 22 18 210 11.7 1 2158 23
2003 243 1430 5.9 10 35 384 11 3 1814 13
2002 103 684 6.6 5 5 51 10.2 0 735 5
Career 969 6026 6.2 55 70 723 10.3 5 6749 60
2005 Per Game Att Yds Avg TD No Yds Avg TD YD TD
Ole Miss 24 85 3.5 0 2 14 7 0 99 0
Chattanooga 20 205 10.3 3 1 3 3 0 208 3
at Tulsa 30 223 7.4 3 1 1 1 0 224 3
Texas-El Paso 35 236 6.7 2 3 3 1 0 239 2
at UCF 14 136 9.7 0 2 16 8 0 152 0
at Houston 33 198 6 2 0 0 0 0 198 2
East Carolina 39 226 5.8 2 1 14 14 0 240 2
UAB 21 167 8 0 0 0 0 0 167 0
at Tennessee - - - - - - - -    
at Southern Miss. 36 123 3.4 1 1 29 29 1 152 2
Marshall 27 127 4.7 2 0 0 0 0 127 2
at Akron - - - - - - - -    

DEANGELO WILLIAMS
#1.27 Carolina Panthers

Height: 5' 9" Weight: 217

With the departure of Stephen Davis, the Panthers needed at least a complement to DeShaun Foster and realistically - someone to fill in when Foster is injured. After only playing in 18 games during his first three years in the NFL, Foster only missed one regular season game last year but then broke his ankle during the playoffs. That was likely the final straw for Carolina to beef up their running back depth in the draft.

Williams was a four year starter for the Memphis Tigers that was a Heisman candidate and led the nation in 2004 with 22 rushing touchdowns. He ended his collegiate career ranked as the 4th best runner in NCAA history with 6026 rushing yards. Only Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne ran for more yards in college.

Williams is a little shorter than ideal but he carries a nice height/weight ratio that combines well with his quickness and ability to make defenders miss. He's been more elusive than a tackle-breaker which could come into play more in the NFL since everyone is fast and good at tackling. His level of competition was obviously lower playing for Memphis but a runner can only play against the teams on his schedule and Williams ripped almost every one of them apart. Though he did little with receiving last year, he has been more involved in the passing game in the past and is considered as a very good receiver out of the backfield.

The Panthers are working him out as a kick and/or punt returner in addition to a role in the running game. The Panthers like to run the ball and have a very good offensive line. The biggest question is how long will DeShaun Foster last? Since Foster signed a three-year deal in March for $14.5 million dollars that included a $4.5 million signing bonus, there is no doubt that the Panthers want him to carry the rock and for Williams to provide depth, relief and potentially some work in the return game. But Foster has never played a full season without being injured. And consider too how effective Nick Goings has been rushing in the past despite never being drafted and usually playing fullback. Compare that to the 4th most productive runner in NCAA history who was in Heisman contention.

Williams is already a well rounded back that has been wildly productive in college albeit against less than top shelf competition in every game. He gets dinged for not having quite as much height as desired (a few inches short of standard) and for not having great top end speed (though all agree he has good initial burst). His value this year will rely on Foster getting injured which historically has been a profitable bet to make. He's a great fit for the Panthers system but figure on him having limited fantasy value in the early weeks at the very least.

 


Joseph Addai Rushing Receiving Total
Statistics Att Yds Avg TD Cat Yds Avg TD Yds TD
2005 187 911 4.9 9 20 180 9 1 1091 10
2004 101 680 6.7 3 26 294 11.3 4 974 7
2003 114 520 4.6 2 14 86 6.1 1 606 3
2002 80 438 5.5 4 6 81 13.5 0 519 4
Career 482 2549 5.3 18 66 641 9.7 6 3190 24
2005 Per Game Att Yds Avg TD No Yds Avg TD YD TD
Arizona State 16 109 6.8 2 3 34 11.3 0 143 2
Tennessee 16 84 5.3 1 1 7 7 0 91 1
at Miss. State 17 86 5.1 1 2 1 0.5 0 87 1
at Vanderbilt 24 102 4.3 1 1 9 9 0 111 1
Florida 32 156 4.9 1 3 37 12.3 0 193 1
Auburn 24 105 4.4 0 4 31 7.8 0 136 0
North Texas 3 7 2.3 1 0 0 0 0 7 1
Appalachian St. 3 15 5 0 0 0 0 0 15 0
at Alabama 2 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 4 0
at Ole Miss 14 70 5.0 1 2 10 5.0 0 80 1
Arkansas 10 36 3.6 0 2 46 23 0 82 0
Georgia 2 7 3.5 0 0 0 0 0 7 0
Miami-FL 24 130 5.4 1 2 5 2.5 1 135 2

JOSEPH ADDAI
#1.30 Indianapolis Colts

Height: 5'11" Weight: 215

When the Colts lost Edgerrin James to free agency, the fantasy football world held their collective breaths to see who would succeed him in the high powered offense headed by Peyton Manning. Many expected Laurence Maroney and some figured on DeAngelo Williams. Very few expected Joseph Addai who had been tagged more as a third down back by most scouts prior to the draft.

Addai will compete with the veteran Dominic Rhodes for playing time and the interesting fact is that Addai has never carried a full load while in college at LSU. He was not even the primary back until last year when he had a career high 187 carries against the 121 by Justin Vincent. Addai's work load in college was roughly half that of James every season. Addai's workload was prompted by an injury to Vincent during the 2005 preseason.

Addai has had a history of injuries as well including the knee. He was also considered to be wearing down towards the end of last season even though it was only 12 games long. Addai is a good receiver that can certainly fit into that aspect of the Colt's offense and he is considered a well rounded runner who is good at most everything and yet not great at anything. Getting picked up by the Colts is like hitting the lottery for a rookie running back but the presence of Dominic Rhodes is going to be a factor here even though Rhodes is smaller than Addai. the draft pick just seemed curious considering the lack of full-time duty that Addai had in college. The Colts are adamant that Addai was always their man and in that offense, almost any runner would see some success. But compared to the workload of Maroney and Williams, Addai appears much less like a sturdy every down back.

He is versatile and can contribute in many ways, but he goes to a team that will want to naturally compare him to Edgerrin James and that just doesn't appear to be a fair comparison. James was the consummate workhorse. Addai has yet to play that way and has given signs that he will likely start slow with Rhodes there and could even finish with lower numbers from being unfamiliar with playing a 16 game season or even carrying a heavy load. The Colts offense is obviously a great place to be and that cannot be dismissed. But neither should Addai's background to date. His past says that the RBBC scheme that the Colts have suggested will occur really is the most likely outcome. Rhodes taking the primary rushing role and Addai working in as change of pace and even a third down back. Addai could take over the starting role and fantasy fans desperately want to believe that he will, but closer inspection says it's probably less likely that we want to happen.


LenDale White Rushing Receiving Total
Statistics Att Yds Avg TD Cat Yds Avg TD Yds TD
2005 197 1302 6.6 24 14 219 15.6 2 1521 26
2004 203 1103 5.4 15 11 97 8.8 2 1200 17
2003 141 754 5.3 13 6 15 2.5 1 769 14
Career 541 3159 5.8 52 31 331 10.7 5 3490 57
2005 Per Game Att Yds Avg TD No Yds Avg TD YD TD
at Hawaii 13 69 5.3 0 0 0 0 0 69 0
Arkansas 10 60 6 2 2 30 15 0 90 2
at Oregon 15 111 7.4 2 0 0 0 0 111 2
at Arizona State 19 197 10.4 2 0 0 0 0 197 2
Arizona 24 179 7.5 4 1 14 14 0 193 4
at Notre Dame 10 26 2.6 1 0 0 0 0 26 1
at Washington 16 56 3.5 0 2 31 15.5 0 87 0
Wash. St. 20 155 7.8 2 1 18 18 0 173 2
Stanford 13 60 4.6 1 1 16 16 1 76 2
at California 16 90 5.6 3 3 61 20.3 0 151 3
Fresno State 7 21 3 2 2 14 7 0 35 2
UCLA 14 154 11 2 2 35 17.5 1 189 3
Texas 20 124 6.2 3 0 0 0 0 124 3

LENDALE WHITE
#2.13 Tennessee Titans

Height: 6'1" Weight: 237

The other half of the USC backfield went to the Titans who already had Chris Brown and Travis Henry but 2005 was already slated to be the "Extreme Makeover" season for the Titans who had drafted Vince Young with their first round pick. That gave the Titans three legitimate starting tailbacks, up from almost none last year when Chris Brown was injured late in the year and Travis Henry barely was able to fill in after an ankle sprain and a four game suspension by the NFL.

White is yet another junior who declared himself eligible after leading the nation with 26 rushing touchdowns last season. In 13 games played, White scored two or more touchdowns 10 times last year. Despite being a short yardage and goal line runner at USC, White always averaged over five yards per carry in each of his three seasons.

Playing in the most wildly productive offense in the country no doubt helped White roll up his obscene touchdown total. Another interesting aspect to White is that he is a huge running back that can easily break tackles and move the pile and yet he has not had all that heavy use in college. He exceeded 20 carries in a game only once last year and he topped 17 carries only once in 2004. Oddly enough, his only season with two games (and only two) over 20 carries happened in his freshman season. Compare that to the workloads of Maroney and Williams. White topped out at just 203 carries in a season as a sophomore - about 17 per game.

Fantasy fans were happy to hear that Chris Brown asked for a trade which naturally suggested that the Titans were leaning towards starting White and that Brown did not think he could hold onto his job. The reality was that the Titans would not renegotiate Brown's contract that is in its final season and his agent asked for a trade as a standard response. Brown will play this year and will be the starter for however long he is healthy. After missing five games in each of his first two seasons, Brown made it 15 weeks in 2005 before a shoulder injury forced him out of the final game.

While it looked like a clear line of ascension for White when news hit the streets that Brown wanted a trade, the reality is nothing nearly so clean or encouraging as that. The Titans have Brown for his final contract year and he will be the starter. They also have Travis Henry who is finally healthy again and hopefully not slated for any more league suspensions in 2005. And then they have the rookie White who is a bruiser to be sure but one that has never carried much of a full load. There is also a world of difference between the Trojans offense of 2005 and the Titans of 2006. Last year the Titans only had a total of seven rushing touchdowns and as a team ran for only 1323 yards. Compare that to the 3380 rushing yards and 51 rushing scores by USC last year (no typo there either and that was in just 13 games).

White will get some playing time - make no mistake. Along with Vince Young, he likely is the future of the Titans. But like Vince Young, White will not be the week one starter and will play behind at least Chris Brown. Vince Young will get his playing time this year but he's already spent years being on the field for every offensive play. Consider that White has yet to carry more than 25 times in any game and rarely was called on for more than about 16 to 18 runs per week. White could develop into a goal line back which would be only natural but with his bruising running style and lack of heavy workload, using him too much would likely end up with him wearing out at the end of the year anyway.


And so there are the Big 5 rookie runners. As much as we all want to see each step in during week one and turn in 16 electrifying games, it appears highly unlikely for any other than Reggie Bush who has been a great player even with reduced carries from a sharing scenario at USC. Bush actually has the best situation of any of the rookie backs and the resume (and paycheck) that says he will be playing a lot.

Maroney and Williams will be a part of some sharing scenario that likely won't see them become big fantasy stars except for the weeks that Dillon or Foster are out injured. And yet the more they are used, the less likely Dillon or Foster will become injured.

Addai is the draft darling because he plays for the Colts, but his situation looks less attractive than any of the five runners considering his background.

Finally, White has been a touchdown machine in college playing for a team that went off weekly like a fireworks stand but now will play for the Titans and their mighty seven rushing scores and 1300 rushing yards of last year. A big step down for a back that has not been "the man" really at anytime in his college career.

Make no mistake - this is the NFL and anything can happen. With the right situation and opportunity, any of the Big 5 backs could shine. The question is how likely will they be in the right situation and what do they really bring to the table in NFL terms. That's what training camp is for and that is what the savvy fantasy fan will be tracking. All are worth watching and yet perhaps none of them are worth making too big of a reach to get.