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FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT GUIDE

2007 Player Rankings: Running Backs
Updated: September 3, 2007
Top 10's:        
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Tier 1
LaDainian Tomlinson - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 40%
Auction 12: 36%
2004 SDC 15 1776 18 339 1335 3.9 17 53 441 1
2005 SDC 16 1834 20 340 1464 4.3 18 51 370 2
2006 SDC 16 2323 31 349 1815 5.2 28 56 508 3
Avg   16 1978 23 343 1538 4.5 21 53 440 2
Proj FA   2050 23   1550   20 55 500 3

What’s left to say about a player that rushed for 28 touchdowns, caught three scores and even threw for two more. All this while being the #1 rusher in the NFL with 1815 yards and catching 56 passes for 508 yards. This was not the “guy of the year" to draft, he had the best season of all time in fantasy terms. And he only turns 28 this summer so he has several seasons of high production remaining. He’s an obvious first pick in every fantasy draft and anyone who skips him must be in collusion with the team drafting second. Even prior to his record season, Tomlinson had been rushing for 17 or 18 scores the previous two years with at least 1800 total yards.

Steven Jackson - ATL YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 38%
Auction 12: 34%
2004 STL 14 841 4 134 673 5.0 4 18 168  
2005 STL 15 1366 10 254 1046 4.1 8 43 320 2
2006 STL 16 2334 16 346 1528 4.4 13 90 806 3
Avg   15 1514 10 245 1082 4.5 8 50 431 2
Proj ATL   1990 17   1450   15 56 540 2

Weird things happen when a team shifts their offensive focus from pass happy to a balanced attack. Both the rushing and passing evidently improve. Jackson had a solid 2005 campaign with 254 carries for 1046 yards and eight touchdowns with an added 43 catches for 320 yards and two more scores. That was merely a precursor of what was to come since Jackson was allowed to be a full-time, heavy use back last year and responded with 346 carries for 1528 yards (5th best in the NFL), ran for 13 touchdowns (tied for 4th) and also caught 90 passes (#1 among RB’s) for 806 yards (also #1) and three more scores. By the time everything is rung up, Jackson had 2334 total yards (also #1) and scored 16 touchdowns (#3). And that was in the first season of the new Linehan-inspired offense.

Oh yes, and he only turns 24 this summer. Hard to believe 23 teams in 2004 had someone else in mind for their first round draft pick. The scary part here is that once the offense was coming together later in the 2006 season, Jackson got even better. In the final three weeks, he gained a total of 419 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and had 126 receiving yards with two more scores. He was the only way to beat the Tomlinson guy last year and it all came at precisely the right time. St. Louis will have a slightly tougher rushing schedule this year but Jackson’s role in the passing game merely shifts how he hurts opponents. The Rams did draft Brian Leonard who may play fullback and be a back-up for Jackson, but he’s actually about the exact same size as Jackson so there’s no need to make him a complementary back. There’s no reason to ever let Jackson slide past the third pick in any fantasy draft this summer and if the league gets reception points, it’ll be pretty hard to let him get past second.

Larry Johnson - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 32%
Auction 12: 28%
2004 KCC 8 859 11 120 581 4.8 9 22 278 2
2005 KCC 16 2093 21 336 1750 5.2 20 33 343 1
2006 KCC 16 2199 19 416 1789 4.3 17 41 410 2
Avg   13 1717 17 291 1373 4.8 15 32 344 2
Proj FA   1910 17   1600   16 34 310 1

Johnson entered 2006 with some question marks because of a shifting offensive line and a new offense ushered in by HC Herman Edwards. By the time 2006 was over, the Chiefs had lost their starting quarterback for most of the year and had their new back-up Michael Bennett also miss considerable time with hamstring and ankle injuries. That meant the offense turned even more to Johnson who carried the ball for an NFL record 416 times. No one had ever had more than 410. Johnson gained 1789 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He ranked #1 in carries, #2 in rushing yardage, #3 in total yardage for a running back (2199) and was #2 in total touchdowns (19). Were it not for LaDainian Tomlinson’s monster year, Johnson would be all the talk for 2007.

The Chiefs lost G Will Shields and that makes two Pro Bowlers gone now but the Chiefs remain optimistic that their line will not suffer. They added LT Damion McIntosh on the first day of free agency while John Welbourne will shift from RT to RG to take Shields place. The line will be different but the strong rushing game should not take too much of a hit.

That made it two straight seasons over 1700 rushing yards for Johnson and 40 touchdowns scored in that time. Johnson added 41 receptions for 410 yards in 2006 and Herman Edward’s way of limiting Johnson to keep him healthy is to evidently throw him the ball more instead of hand it off. The Chiefs want to use their tailbacks more in the passing game and with Damon Huard or potentially Brodie Croyle under center, it is an excellent idea that should prove productive.

The Chiefs have a softer rushing schedule this year and the new offense is in its second year. Johnson’s 416 carries will scare off some who remember that Jamal Anderson ran 410 times and imploded the next year with a blown knee and eventually a career but James Wilder had 407 carries for 1544 yards in 1984 and came back with 365 for 1300 the next year. Eric Dickerson averaged 366 carries for his first four years and that was with two games missed. But – he did miss seven games the next year. Johnson has only had two years of notable carries in his career and is only 27 years old. The offense will revolve around him and he has been durable so far. Add in the proposed increase in receptions for 2007 and there’s no reason to let him slide past the #3 pick in the draft.

07-27-20 Update: Johnson drops two spots out of tier one because of his continuing contract situation. He has already not shown up for camp and somehow Priest Holmes has been cleared to play and could be in the mix here. This is the worst of all situations - a potential #1 fantasy football player that may not even play this year. There are rumors of potential trades. Johnson is adamant that he is worthy of Tomlinson money and the Chiefs are adamant that he is not. This could get worse before it gets better. Johnson's potential if great, obviously, but his risk now makes him very hard to draft and yet hard to pass by. Expect him to move more in the rankings.

08-20-07 Update: The holdout continues and the closer all the fantasy drafts get, the more risky is it to take Johnson too early. He could sign at any time before the first game and be good to go this year - and a nice value for the drafter. But there is no guarantee to it and spending a first round pick should not make you cross your fingers.

08-21-07 Update: And he signs his six-year deal and is safe - finally - to draft.

Tier 2
Frank Gore - SFO YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 32%
Auction 12: 32%
2004                      
2005 SFO 14 744 3 128 613 4.8 3 15 131  
2006 SFO 16 2180 9 313 1695 5.4 8 61 485 1
Avg   15 1462 6 221 1154 5.1 6 38 308 1
Proj SFO   2050 12   1600   10 52 450 2

In his rookie season, Gore shared with Kevan Barlow and though he only had 128 carries, he gained 613 yards for a healthy 4.8 yard rushing average. That showing made the 49ers comfortable dumping Barlow and going with Gore as the starting back when the new offense from Norv Turner was installed in 2006. Gore richly rewarded the move, running 313 times for 1695 yards (3rd best in the NFL) and scoring eight times. All this for a team that did not have a feared passing game to prevent constant eight man fronts. Gore finished 2006 with a 5.4 yard rushing average – 4th best in the NFL and the best considering only 300+ carries backs. Last year Gore was the 49ers offense and yet few could stop him.

Gore turned in nine games over 100 rushing yards and three of those went for more than 150 yards. He also added 61 catches (4th best again) for 485 yards and one more score. That’s 2180 total yards for a team that had no other running back or receiver with more than 733 yards of offense. Considering total yardage, Gore only had six games that failed to reach at least 100 total yards and he topped the 150 yard mark eight times with receiving added in. With the passing offense almost certain to improve, Gore’s 2007 is shaping up to be another strong year except for two possible factors.

The 49ers will be playing a tougher schedule this year though Gore still had big games against CHI (120 yards) and DEN (185 yards) – that may not matter much. The more intriguing aspect is that HC Mike Nolan has said that he wants to limit Gore’s carries this year to help preserve him. Gore had major surgery done on both shoulders and knees in his past and after giving him a four year extension worth $28 million over the next five seasons, the 49ers reasonably want to protect their investment. They gave him a guarantee for $14 million. As scary a notion as that may be to Gore owners, take into account that he has dropped five pounds and will play lighter after LaDainian Tomlinson shared with him that it will help his durability and help keep him fresh. Also consider that almost every coach with a big-time stud running back says the same and when the games are decided by how well the back plays, they pretty much always end up with just as big of a season. Gore wants a 2000 yards season –perhaps optimistic – but even with Nolan’s idea of limiting Gore, there is no one else to turn to anywhere near his ability. Limiting carries is a great notion looking at a season but calling plays each game is all about what will help them win. One caveat here - Gore opens the season with games @PIT and BAL in the first five weeks - that will likely cause a slower start.

Joseph Addai - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 32%
Auction 12: 30%
2004                      
2005                      
2006 IND 16 1406 8 226 1081 4.8 7 40 325 1
Avg   16 1406 8 226 1081 4.8 7 40 325 1
Proj FA   1800 13   1240   11 61 560 2

(-Risk) (+Upside) The rookie Addai turned in a great first season with 226 carries for 1081 yards and seven touchdowns. That was a record itself since Addai broke the 1000 yard threshold and yet never technically started a single game. Dominic Rhodes ran for 641 yards on 187 carries himself and he was always the first back in – despite Addai having more carries. And Addai played well as a receiver, recording 40 catches for 325 yards and one more score. As impressive as that performance was, it is notable that he gained 171 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a single game when the Eagles showed up in week 12. Otherwise, he only had one other 100 rushing game thanks to sharing with Rhodes so much.

Now Rhodes has left for Oakland and the Colts have not acquired a new runner to replace him. The primary back-up is DeDe Dorsey who does not have a carry in his two NFL seasons. James Mungro may be back after losing last year thanks to a torn knee ligament. This is all pertinent because while HC Tony Dungy continues to talk about a committee backfield, the reality is that he has very little to use outside of Addai unless someone is added. And even then – how much would a new player figure in? Addai is the clear starter and the question to be answered by the end of training camp is if he will remain part of a committee with some yet unnamed other back or if he is allowed an "Edgerrin James" role where he takes the full load with very little left over for other players. Addai played well as a rookie but his success came with rarely carrying more than 15 times per game and trading off with Rhodes often. The opportunity is there for a great season but Addai still has yet to prove he can be a heavy-duty back. And the coaching staff repeated their desire for a committee approach again – they just have not determined who the other guy could be.

Shaun Alexander - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 28%
Auction 12: 26%
2004 SEA 16 1858 20 353 1688 4.8 16 23 170 4
2005 SEA 16 1958 28 370 1880 5.1 27 15 78 1
2006 SEA 10 944 7 252 896 3.6 7 12 48  
Avg   14 1587 18 325 1488 4.5 17 17 99 2
Proj FA   1640 15   1400   14 31 240 1

(-Risk) After leading the league with 1880 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2005, Alexander lost a couple of linemen and then suffered a nondisplaced fracture in the fourth metatarsal (cracked foot bone) and missed time from week four through ten until returning. He was less than effective in those first three games, gaining only 187 yards on 65 carries (2.9 YPC) and had another minimal game his first week back with only 37 yards on 17 carries. But then he ran 40 times for 200 yards against the Packers and never fell below 73 yards per effort the rest of the season. He ended with his worst season since becoming a starter in 2001.

Alexander’s foot is still an issue but he claims to feel no pain or experience any problems. He worked out with the team in minicamps despite the crack not being completely healed. Adding that into a still fluid situation on the offensive line drops Alexander’s upside this year but the Seahawks are happy with their left side of Pro Bowler Walter Jones and Rob Sims. The right side is where the training camp battles will be to determine the starters. Even ignoring his monster week 12 games, Alexander still averaged 94 yards per game for the last five weeks and scored four times. His 3.6 yards per carry was a huge drop from the 5.0 of 2005 though and Alexander may be even more needed with Darrell Jackson now with the 49ers and the passing game less stocked than before.

The loss of Steve Hutchinson is now old news and the Seahawks have been working to get the offensive line back up to form. Alexander’s foot still is not healed, but so far it does not appear to be a problem for him. More information should come out through training camp about his foot but Alexander is dropping in drafts thanks to his down year of 2006 and fears about his foot and offensive line. Hutchinson may be gone, but Alexander had 14 and 16 touchdowns in the two years before the guard became a Pro Bowl player. He still has little role in the passing game compared to other heavy use backs, but his penchant for double digit touchdowns is undeniable. He is one of the few backs out there with no questions about sharing the load or potentially losing his job to another player.

Willie Parker - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2004 PIT 6 202   32 186 5.8   3 16  
2005 PIT 15 1420 5 255 1202 4.7 4 18 218 1
2006 PIT 16 1716 16 337 1494 4.4 13 31 222 3
Avg   12 1113 7 208 961 5.0 6 17 152 1
Proj FA   1580 13   1380   12 24 200 1

With Jerome Bettis gone last year, Parker quickly dispelled the notion that he was just a yardage back and not capable of the tougher goal line runs. He ended 2006 with 1494 rushing yards (6th best in the NFL) and 13 rushing touchdowns (tied for 4th best). He even added three more scores via receptions despite only catching 31 passes for 222 yards. Parker was the complete back with the ability to break the long gainers at any time.

The offense will be changing at least a bit this year with WR-coach Bruce Arians promoted up to offensive coordinator but that should not have a huge impact on Parker. Arians was the OC in Cleveland for three years and never had a running back gain more than 887 yards or score more than half a dozen times but he never had the offensive line of the Steelers or Willie Parker. One oddity to consider with Parker is the difference between his play at home or on the road. When he was at home, he turned in five games over 100 yards and averaged around 120 yards per game. On the road, he only averaged 68 rushing yards and that was with two 130 yard games in Carolina and Cincinnati. He had four road efforts with less than 50 rushing yards but only had that happen once at home (against BAL).

Parker’s role won’t change with the new coaches if only because he is clearly the most successful weapon that the Steelers have. The Steelers rushing schedule isn’t the best but then again it is really no different than last year. Parker moves down a notch or so in reception point leagues but remember that his fine 2006 season came when he was given the full-time starting role for the first time. Now that he has a year of experience, he may just smooth out that road rushing problem and be even better.

Rudi Johnson - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2004 CIN 16 1541 12 362 1457 4.0 12 15 84  
2005 CIN 16 1548 12 337 1458 4.3 12 23 90  
2006 CIN 16 1432 12 341 1308 3.8 12 23 124  
Avg   16 1507 12 347 1408 4.0 12 20 99 0
Proj FA   1540 13   1350   12 26 190 1

Three seasons as the starter, three seasons with exactly 12 touchdowns. For three seasons, he’s always had between 360 and 376 touches and 1433 to 1538 total yards. Now that’s consistency. Johnson turned in a career low 3.8 yards per rush in 2006 but that’s mostly to blame on two bad games against the Steelers and Ravens – which he faces twice every season. But Johnson just turns out very good seasons every year and there’s nothing this year that should impact that other than the addition of the rookie running back Kenny Irons. That move was mainly for depth and more a statement against Chris Perry than anything to worry about for Johnson. Even in Perry’s best season, he only had 61 carries for 279 yards and no rushing scores so Irons will only be battling Perry for the back-up spot and the chance to get a little relief play. Expect Johnson to turn in another solid year – so far he has never varied from being a good fantasy draft pick. He’ll never be the top rusher in the league and he may not win you a championship, but with his productive consistency, he’s about as reliable pick as you can make that will never hurt you.

08-24-07 Update: Moves up a nudge to respect his consistency and lack of risk each season. Johnson has looked sharp in camp and without rookie Kenny Irons around he is even safer.

Travis Henry - FA* YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 11
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 22%
2004 BUF 9 371   94 326 3.5   10 45  
2005 TEN 9 452   88 335 3.8   13 117  
2006 TEN 14 1289 7 270 1211 4.5 7 18 78  
Avg   11 704 2 151 624 3.9 2 14 80 0
Proj FA*   1570 12   1380   12 22 190  

(+Upside) Travis Henry signed a five-year contract with Denver that included $12 million in guaranteed money. Does that sort of coin suggest that RBBC in Denver is over? It should. Henry comes off a 270 carry, 1211 yard season with the Titans where he gained 4.5 yards per carry on a team with no running game otherwise. That was the third time in Henry’s career than he exceeded 1200 rushing yards in a season. In the three years that he was the clear starter all year, he averaged 10 rushing scores as well. Henry has always ran well enough on the Bills and Titans but now ends up with the Broncos who feature the best offense yet and more importantly – the best offensive line he will have ever ran behind.

The Denver backfield has routinely turned out 1900 rushing yards or more from the running backs the last several years and that was using backs like Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell, etc.. Henry has a far more accomplished resume than those players and now has been paid the big dollars by a team that has shown commitment to him. He turns 29 this year but has only played three full seasons as the primary ball carrier – he has plenty of tread left on the tires. In many drafts Henry will likely fall more than warranted by so many fantasy drafters burned in the past by Denver backs but the stars are aligned in this situation for Henry to have a good year. More importantly – the dollars are aligned as well. Henry also rotates out of the NFL’s substance abuse program in week three of this season as long as he remains clean, so he wouldn’t be exposed to a year suspension with his next violation.

Brian Westbrook - FA YEAR TM GMS TYD TTD CAR RYD YPC RTD CAT CYD CTD
Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 22%
2004 PHI 13 1511 9 178 808 4.5 3 73 703 6
2005 PHI 12 1233 7 156 617 4.0 3 61 616 4
2006 PHI 15 1916 11 240 1217 5.1 7 77 699 4
Avg   13 1553 9 191 881 4.5 4 70 673 5
Proj FA   1580 11   780   6 76 800 5

Nothing like those injury reports. Westbrook sprained his foot in training camp and missed time until the season started. Then he had an inflamed knee that had him ride the injury report for a couple of weeks as questionable but he still played. He was held out week four and rumors were that he had a chronic problem and the season looked bleak to Westbrook owners. But magic happens evidently. Westbrook not only played the rest of the season but when McNabb went down injured, Westbrook suddenly became much more heavily used, running for an average of 20 carries per game over the final seven weeks of the season (excluding the meaningless final game). He had five games over 97 yards rushing. Adding in his receiving yards, he topped 100 total yards in all but three games last year. He set career marks in carries (240), rushing yards (1217) and catches (77). Prior to 2006, his best was only 177 carries for 812 yards.

The Eagles have a more challenging rushing schedule this year but that doesn’t impact Westbrook much since he is the premier pass-catching back over the last several years. He’ll always carry an injury risk since he’s never played a full 16 game season but he’s such an instrumental part of the Eagles attack that he’s always productive when playing – one way or another. The drafting of Tony Hunt could cut into his touchdown total but that’ll only keep him healthier for all those catches.

   
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