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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Reload
Joe Levit
November 14, 2007

For years fantasy owners looked to rookie running backs to re-stock their fantasy rosters. Running backs are quick studies in the pros since their skills are extremely transferable. If they can pick up blitzers with average ability they can play right away. Picking a top rookie was as good as gold, and they always went quickly in drafts.

But in recent years this practice has been far from a sound strategy. Very few running backs picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft from 2002-2005 helped fantasy owners. In 2006 things began to turn around, and this year a rookie leads the league in rushing while a second ranks fifth in the league. This may signal a shift, back to the time when drafting a rookie runner high is a smart move. It’s something to keep in mind for next season, with so many good runners ready to come into the league. Let’s look at the facts:

High Returns

2006

Player

Rushing Yards

Touchdowns

Reggie Bush

565

7

Laurence Maroney

745

7

DeAngelo Williams

501

2

Joseph Addai

1081

8

Maurice Jones-Drew

941

15

Bush got going only in the second half of the season, giving a slow start to owners who selected him with extremely high hopes. His 88 receptions for 742 yards were impressive though, and added to his value. Addai performed well, even as a platoon player. Jones-Drew was a true surprise, and he is on a much slower pace this season.

2005

Player

Rushing Yards

Touchdowns

Ronnie Brown

907

5

Cedric Benson

272

0

Cadillac Williams

1,178

6

J.J. Arrington

370

2

Eric Shelton

Injured

Injured

 Williams started the year on fire, breaking the record for most yards to start a rookie season before getting hurt and being quite average the rest of the way. Benson didn’t do a thing, and Ronnie Brown was okay but did not help fantasy owners very much, even as a second back.

2004

Player

Rushing Yards

Touchdowns

Steven Jackson

673

4

Chris Perry

1

0

Kevin Jones

1,133

6

Tatum Bell

396

3

Julius Jones

819

7

Greg Jones

162

3

Jackson is a stud now, but in his rookie year he just did not play very much. Kevin Jones, like Bush before, came on in the season’s second half. He was a good play for fantasy owners.

 2003

Player

Rushing Yards

Touchdowns

Willis McGahee

Injured

Injured

Larry Johnson

85

1

Johnson was behind Priest Holmes and McGahee was still healing from that nasty knee injury.

2002

Player

Rushing Yards

Touchdowns

William Green

887

6

DeShaun Foster

Injured

Injured

T.J. Duckett

507

4

Clinton Portis

1,508

17

Maurice Morris

153

0

Ladell Betts

307

1

Portis had a huge season for the Broncos in their patented cutback system. No one else was of any consequence.

Here is a snapshot of the two rookies this season. The degree to which these guys are dominating is special. They currently rank first and fifth in the league in rushing. While you read this, think about how many running backs you had ranked ahead of these guys before the season started.

The Vikings took Adrian Peterson without reservations with the seventh pick in the NFL Draft this year, and it has paid off big-time. Even after a week which saw him leave early with a tear to his posterior collateral ligament, Peterson leads the league with 1,081 yards rushing, a full 208 yards ahead of the next player (Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and over 300 yards ahead of numbers three (Clinton Portis) and four (Joseph Addai). He has added nine touchdowns, many in spectacular fashion.

Marshawn Lynch has been no slouch himself. He already has 751 yards rushing, and has added six scores. That means he will likely end up with 1,200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns.

There are bound to be a number of pro teams looking for help at the running back position next year. Here are some of them, and the reasons why:

Aging Players

Jets - Thomas Jones - 29
Browns - Jamal Lewis - 28
Texans - Ahman Green - 30
Falcons - Warrick Dunn - 32
Cardinals - Edgerrin James - 29
Seahawks - Shaun Alexander - 30

Unproven Players

Patriots - Laurence Maroney 
Raiders - Justin Fargas
Packers - Ryan Grant

Ineffective Players

Bears - Cedric Benson
Panthers - DeAngelo Williams

And which players can provide this type of spark? Well, a few guys are good bets to be those men next season. Players like Darren McFadden from Arkansas and Jonathan Stewart of Oregon, Mike Hart of Michigan and Steve Slaton from West Virginia, Ray Rice of Rutgers and Kevin Smith of Central Florida.

Keep track of these guys, and others leading up to the NFL Draft in 2008. That could be another year of the rookie running back, and mean big things for fantasy owners shrewd enough to take risks on them early in fantasy drafts.

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