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2008 Player Rankings: Running Backs
Updated: September 2, 2008
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Tier 1
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 40%
Auction 12: 36%
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
2007 SDC 16 1949 18 315 1474 4.7 15 60 475 3
Avg   16 2035 23 335 1584 4.7 20 56 451 3
Proj SDC   2000 21   1500   18 70 500 3

Tomlinson was limited in minicamps but should be 100% healthy for training camp after slightly tearing his MCL last year. He did not require surgery and will take it easy this summer just to make sure “the franchise” doesn’t enter the 2008 season with any health problems. This was the first significant injury of his seven year career and yet he still did not miss a regular season game.

The new RB-friendly offense brought in by HC Norv Turner and OC Clarence Selmon certainly wasn’t a problem for Tomlinson who ranked #1 in the NFL with both 1474 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores. As if that wasn’t enough, he caught 60 passes for 475 yards and three scores – second only to Brian Westbrook. It was just another banner year for the NFL’s premier running back and the 5th time he has exceeded 1400 rushing yards. As he has been doing for a few seasons, Tomlinson had a slow start to the season when he never rushed for more than 62 yards in his first three games and scored only one rushing touchdown. Obviously he made that up with six games over 100 yards and 12 games with a touchdown. Tomlinson would have considered playing more in the preseason to be more “warmed-up” by week one but his knee situation precludes that from happening this year.

The only question to be asked is if Tomlinson is the automatic first pick in every fantasy draft or if his knee should be factored in. At the age of 29, Tomlinson is no spring chicken but also still has plenty of tread left on the tires. He has also been the lowest risk, highest reward running back over the last six years. The Chargers rushing schedule is good this year and weeks 14 and 15 come at home against OAK and at KC which should be bountiful. Week 17 in Tampa Bay could be an issue though. No matter – Tomlinson remains the premier back in the NFL with an offense designed around him. If Gates has any continuing problems from his foot, figure on Tomlinson cashing in on more catches.

Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 38%
Auction 12: 35%
2007 MIN 14 1609 13 238 1341 5.6 12 19 268 1
Avg   14 1609 13 238 1341 5.6 12 19 268 1
Proj MIN   2080 16   1720   14 29 360 2

Yeah. Nice draft pick. The Vikings already had Chester Taylor but could not resist taking Peterson with the 1.07 pick last year. All he did was to end as the #2 rusher in the NFL (1341 yards), #2 in rushing scores (12) and be #1 among all running backs with a 5.6 yard per carry average. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Oh yes, and his 296 rushing yards against the Chargers in week nine was merely the greatest rushing performance in the history of the NFL. It wasn’t even his only 200+ yard rushing game. Gosh, just one more thing. He only had 238 carries since there was only twice that he had more than 20 carries. Peterson redefines “promising”.

In case you were not feeling good about picking Peterson, put down the crack pipe and realize he will get more carries this year and though he only had 19 receptions in 2007, they plan using him more as a receiver. Uh-oh, one more thing. Come the fantasy playoff weeks, Peterson faces @DET, @ARI and ATL. The only reason that Peterson shouldn’t be the first running back drafted this summer is because Tomlinson has done it for much longer. But that is no guarantee Peterson doesn’t end up #1 anyway.

Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 36%
Auction 12: 32%
2006 IND 16 1406 8 226 1081 4.8 7 40 325 1
2007 IND 15 1436 15 261 1072 4.1 12 41 364 3
Avg   16 1421 12 244 1077 4.5 10 41 345 2
Proj IND   1770 16   1280   14 45 490 2

When Dominic Rhodes left last year, Addai took over as the primary back with no apparent (or actual) back that would split the carries. Kenton Keith had nice games when he replaced Addai for either part or all of a game but he usually only contributed three or four carries in most games. But the oddity was that Addai ended up with almost the same production. He gained 1072 yards last year but had 1081 yards in 2007. He had 41 catches for 364 yards last year but had 40 catches for 325 yards in 2007. Addai did miss one game and played injured in a few others, but the only difference between the two seasons was that he fell from 4.8 yards per carry to only 4.1 in 2007. But – he rushed in 12 touchdowns to rank #2 in the league and had 15 total scores to again trail only LaDainian Tomlinson.

Addai topped 100 total yards seven times but only once in the final seven games. He only scored in two of the final eight games as well. But Addai suffered a bruised chest and later had a sprained neck which impacted his performance. He did not suffer the same decline in 2006 when he was healthy.

The Colts have a tougher rushing schedule this year; one of the toughest in the NFL. But the Colts have historically had tough schedules and still produced the points so Addai should be okay especially with his role as a receiver included. He is a scoring machine in an offense that produces plenty of opportunities. It is unlikely that Addai has a significantly better season in 2008 than he did last year but at worse he remains a very viable fantasy starter thanks to all those touchdowns.

Tier 2
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 34%
Auction 12: 30%
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
2007 STL 12 1273 6 237 1002 4.2 5 38 271 1
Avg   14 1658 11 279 1192 4.2 9 57 466 2
Proj STL   1980 12   1380   11 60 600 1

Jackson will be a hot property this year even though he only rushed for 1002 yards on 237 carries and ran in five touchdowns last year. He did add one more score during his 38 receptions for 271 yards but Jackson suffered a torn groin muscle and had a bulging disc in his back. He missed four games and played injured in many. He also lost virtually his entire offensive line during the season. It was a horrific season for the Rams and almost every significant player had at least some injury. But Jackson had gained 1528 yards on 346 carries and scored 13 times in 2006 and even had 90 catches for 806 yards and three more scores as a sign of what he can do. 2007 was just a lost season.

This year brings a new offensive coordinator in Al Saunders who spent 2001 to 2005 directing the offense in Kansas City where Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson were running wild over the rest of the league. One of Saunders first statements was that he wanted to make Jackson the centerpiece of the offense. As if that isn’t enough to make fantasy fans salivate, Jackson is in the final year of his contract and has a very big paycheck to play for.

The Rams have a slightly easier schedule than they did last year and the team is healthy again including both offensive tackles Orlando Pace and Alex Baron. The offense will revolve around Jackson who will return to being a heavily used receiver again. And the icing on the cake is the fantasy playoff weeks when Jackson faces @ARI, SEA and SF. Forget about 2007, Jackson could challenge for the #1 fantasy RB by the end of the year.

08-11-08 Update: Jackson drops just one spot but his continued holdout is fast becoming an issue that will affect his 2008 season. Regardless of fines and bad will, he is not there learning the new offense or getting into playing shape. His prospects in this offense are great but he has to be there to realize them.

08-21-08 Update: Jackson is signing and getting into camp. He is a bit behind now but should catch up and enjoy a very nice rushing schedule.

Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 26%
Auction 12: 26%
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
2007 PHI 15 2104 12 278 1333 4.8 7 90 771 5
Avg   14 1751 10 225 1056 4.6 6 76 695 4
Proj PHI   1800 10   1100   6 80 700 4

Same old, same old. Westbrook comes off a career best 1333 rushing yards and 278 carries for a 4.8 yard per carry average. He ran in seven scores. He was the #1 running back in the NFL for passes thrown to him (120), catches (90), receiving yards (771) and receiving touchdowns (5). The “little guy” was nothing short of brilliant. He missed his standard one game of the season which was rumored to be a knee condition that could shut him down. Not exactly correct. For the second season in a row, McNabb struggled and was injured and Westbrook tried to carry the entire team on his shoulders.

The same thing happened in 2006 when Westbrook rushed for 1217 yards, caught 77 passes for 699 yards and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. Westbrook turns 29 this year and certainly shows no signs of slowing down. As always, OC Marty Morinwheg says that the team leaned too heavily on Westbrook and that they want to reduce his touches. They said the same thing last year.

The Eagles have a tougher rushing schedule this year but Westbrook is multi-threat anyway and the showcase of this offense. The addition of Lorenzo Booker gives the Eagles a similar style player to Westbrook and a chance to offer some relief to Westbrook but the Eagles have spent the last two seasons defaulting to Westbrook, especially when McNabb struggles or is injured. While his sliding down at the one-yard line instead of scoring in week 16 may have angered fantasy owners last year, it endeared him to every other NFL fan and showed what being a team player was all about. Westbrook is a no-brainer in a league with reception points and still a solid choice in any redraft league.

Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2007 BUF 13 1299 7 280 1115 4.0 7 18 184  
Avg   13 1299 7 280 1115 4.0 7 18 184 0
Proj BUF   1720 11   1390   10 35 330 1

(+Upside) The rookie had a decent year when he ran for 1115 yards and seven scores but the stud from CAL had been a great receiver in college as well but only caught 18 passes for 184 yards in the thirteen games that he played. He only averaged right at four yards per carry so it would be easily to underestimate him this season. But the Bills are installing a new offense that OC Turk Schonert has already said is dedicated to getting him 20 to 25 carries per game. Realize too that Lynch suffered a high ankle sprain that dogged him in several games and forced him to miss three weeks. He still ended with seven of 13 games with a touchdown and topped 100 rushing yards three times in his final six games played.

What brings more excitement to Lynch is the prospect that he could get more passes this year in the spread offense that the Bills are installing and the new coaching staff is intent on using him as a full-time back. One more thing – the Bills have the easiest rushing schedule in the entire NFL by a significant margin. Thanks to the demise of the AFC East and catching divisional match-ups against the NFC West and AFC West, Lynch gets to face what is clearly the easiest set of opponents based on last year. Of course defenses change but consider his final four games of the fantasy season face SF, MIA, NYJ and DEN. The only two games where he faces a top ten defense from last year is JAC and NE and the second meeting against the Patriots comes in week 17.

Combine that rushing schedule with a new offense that intends on showcasing him as an actual full-time back and the prospects for Lynch rise this season. He should end up as a steal in most leagues this summer.

Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
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
2007 SFO 15 1538 6 260 1102 4.2 5 53 436 1
Avg   15 1487 6 234 1137 4.8 5 43 351 1
Proj SFO   1880 8   1320   6 66 560 2

Gore had a disappointing third season thanks to a high ankle sprain that made him miss one game and plagued in many others. He ran for 1102 yards on 260 carries but only rushed in five scored. He caught 53 passes for 436 yards and one more score but that paled to the 2180 yards and nine scores he turned in during 2006 while still under Norv Turner. Now Mike Martz brings his offensive scheme to the 49ers this year and has vowed to make Gore the centerpiece of this offense (a genius move since he is the only weapon on the team).

If there is only one sure thing, and there may be only one, it is that the 49ers are going to heavily feature Gore to the point it may jeopardize his health. Not only will his rushing be the featured item in this offense, but he should end up with a career high in receptions as well. The Martz offense is complicated to install and run and the passing game is not shaping up to be much better than the last many years. That means Gore gets heavy use and the only question is if his surgically repaired knees can take the pounding. Martz has never been a run first coach but on this team, he will have to use what works best and that is clearly Gore. Both as a runner and a receiver.

There is going to be some risk with Gore because of the new offense and the past history of Martz not using the rushing game as much, but he is healthy again after being plagued with a high ankle sprain. And the 49ers have an easier rushing schedule than they did in 2007. If he lasts, his fantasy playoff schedule faces NYJ, @MIA and @STL. That could be a nice payoff when you need it most.

Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2005 WAS 16 1732 11 352 1516 4.3 11 30 216  
2006 WAS 8 693 7 127 523 4.1 7 17 170  
2007 WAS 16 1651 11 325 1262 3.9 11 47 389  
Avg   13 1359 10 268 1100 4.1 10 31 258 0
Proj WAS   1730 9   1290   9 45 440  

After six seasons, it is hard to believe Portis is only 27 at the start of the season and still has several good seasons ahead. He ended 2007 as the #1 busiest rusher with 325 carries but only gained 3.9 yards per carry for a total of 1262 yards and 11 touchdowns. He added 47 catches for 389 yards as well. It was actually his worst season statistically in his career other than the injury-shortened 2006 and still landed him as the #4 RB in standard fantasy scoring. Portis has been money each year in the NFL as long as he remains healthy.

But after six seasons, Portis has only played all 16 games in a season twice. He typically misses just a game or two but plays injured and always performs when on the field. His drop in yards per carry is troublesome and in four seasons in Washington, he has never had more than 4.3 YPC. In Denver, he had two seasons of 5.5 YPC. The Skins are determined to build a balanced offense this year which could result in less carries and yet more yardage. The passing game has never inspired fear nor much concern by the opposing defenses while Portis has played and he typically lines up against eight-man fronts who know he is the biggest weapon to stop.

The Redskins have a tougher rushing schedule this year but at least new HC Jim Zorn has indicated that he will use a run-first approach to start the season at least until the passing game starts to take shape. And even better news – Zorn has raved about Portis as a receiver. Portis can turn in at least average fantasy numbers this year and has the chance for very good stats if they increase his role as a receiver. The schedule is not kind but almost everything else positive. Zorn wants Portis to be a workhorse.

08-29-08 Update: The Redskins have looked horrible installing the new offense this summer so while Portis will get plenty of work, he drops a few notches since it is questionable how much help he is going to get.

Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 13
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 22%
2005 BAL 15 1097 4 269 906 3.4 3 32 191 1
2006 BAL 16 1247 9 314 1132 3.6 9 18 115  
2007 CLE 15 1552 11 298 1304 4.4 9 30 248 2
Avg   15 1299 8 294 1114 3.8 7 27 185 1
Proj CLE   1550 11   1300   10 26 250 1

The 29-year old Lewis had a somewhat improbable turn-around in his career when he left the Ravens after seven seasons and went to the historically low-rent rushing game of the Browns. But magic happened (AKA an offensive line that came together and remained healthy) and Lewis had a rebirth to his career with 298 carries for 1304 yards and nine touchdowns with 248 yards on 30 receptions and two more scores. It was his best season since 2003 when he had his 2066 yard season and more importantly, a return to a healthy 4.4 yards per carry average after several seasons south of the four yard mark. He evidently wasn’t done yet, he was just waiting for a top notch line and another chance.

The biggest oddity about Lewis’ big season was that it pretty much all happened at home – not on the road. Playing in Cleveland, Lewis rushed for 777 yards and eight touchdowns. On the road, he only had 527 yards and three rushing scores. He topped 100 yards only once in an away game(@NYJ) and yet had four efforts exceed 120 rushing yards at home including 216 yards against the Bengals. To his credit he was better as the season progressed though and rushed for at least 92 yards in five of his last six games. He was definitely better at home but do not undervalue that he was better as the season started to draw to a close.

Lewis was playing with a one-year contract and the Browns re-signed him to a three year, $17 million contract in the offseason that had over $6 million in guarantees. His schedule should also prove tougher this year going against the AFC South and NFC East but the Browns are committed to him and he should still have at least a year or so left on his tread. And certainly not the least, the Browns are carrying over the same line two years in a row. Finally.

Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 20%
2007 GBP 15 1101 8 188 956 5.1 8 30 145  
Avg   15 1101 8 188 956 5.1 8 30 145 0
Proj GBP   1580 10   1200   10 38 380  

The Packers have offered Grant an exclusive right free agent contract worth $370,000 but he has no intention of signing it. He doesn’t plan on holding out but is hoping to sign a free agent deal since his production over the final ten games of 2008 was eye-popping. He rushed for 956 yards and eight touchdowns as the biggest running back surprise of the year. He also added 30 catches for 145 yards as well. In the course of those ten starts, Grant turned in five 100+ rushing yards efforts and scored in seven different games. Had he maintained that pace for the entire season, he would have ended as the #1 running back in rushing yards. Oh yeah, he’d be happy with $370,000… not...

Obviously Grant spawns much optimism this year but there are three considerations that cannot be ignored. First, he has only managed that level for ten games. A big first year is not a guarantee of a repeat as defenses plan against him with plenty of game film to go by. Secondly, Brett Favre has retired and that has a monumental effect on the rushing game unless Aaron Rodgers can exceed expectations as the new starting quarterback. Defenses tend to play back when facing the most productive quarterback of all time. Less so with a three-year guy who has not started a game since CAL lost to Texas Tech in December of 2004. Third, the Packers have a tougher schedule this year and also ends with the fantasy playoff weeks of HOU, @JAC and @CHI.

Grant’s 2008 season is a much bigger question mark than it might seem thanks to the departure of Favre and while it is reasonable to expect the Packers to focus more on the rushing game while getting Rodgers into the swing of being a starter, the defenses will certainly load up on Grant more this year. As a RB2, Grant should not disappoint and has upside but as a RB1 for your team, there is more risk than his fine performance last year may suggest.

Tier 3
Huddle Rank: 11
Keeper: 11
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 18%
2005 DAL 12 653 5 138 538 3.9 5 18 115  
2006 DAL 16 850 16 136 654 4.8 14 23 196 2
2007 DAL 16 1257 12 204 975 4.8 10 44 282 2
Avg   15 920 11 159 722 4.5 10 28 198 1
Proj DAL   1210 16   1000   14 26 210 2

Barber’s role in the new offense grew last year and after the first month, he was consistently getting more carries than Julius Jones though he only hit 20 carries in one game. What also expanded was his role as a receiver with a career high 44 catches for 282 yards and two scores. Barber rushed for 975 yards on 204 carries for a 4.6 YPC. He scored a healthy 10 rushing touchdowns thought that trailed 2006 by four scores. Barber secured his place in the backfield and sent Julius Jones off the field and eventually off the team.

In fantasy terms, the problem with Barber is that he is not a true full-time back and while he had eight games with scores and seven with over 100 total yards, he also had five games of 60 yards or less. Half of his games featured less than 50 rushing yards. His value coming off 2006 was high because he scored 16 touchdowns and seemed destined to take a heavier load. He did run more (135 vs. 204) and he did catch more (23 vs. 44) but 16 catches came in just two games and over half his games only had two catches or less. That is bound to decrease with the addition of Felix Jones and the carries could as well.

Barber is a hard-nosed runner who is relied on for all short-yardage and goal line carries and he is a good runner between the 20’s as well. But the addition of Jones will have at least a minor impact on the amount of touches that Barber sees in 2008. But – it could also result in more touchdowns for him as well.

Huddle Rank: 12
Keeper: 7
Auction 10: 20%
Auction 12: 18%
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
2007 KCC 8 745 4 158 559 3.5 3 30 186 1
Avg   13 1679 15 303 1366 4.3 13 35 313 1
Proj KCC   1650 8   1200   7 45 450 1

(-Risk) The first season under HC Herman Edwards went well enough for Johnson who rushed for a career high 1789 yards and 17 touchdowns and then added 41 caches for 410 more yards and two additional touchdowns. But his average rush declined from 5.2 to 4.3 yards per rush. In 2007 with more offensive line problems and no longer having Trent Green, Johnson only played for exactly eight games with 158 carries for 559 yards and three touchdowns and an anemic 3.5 yards per carry. He already had 30 catches for 186 yards but his average gain declined sharply there as well (10.0 down to 6.2). Had he continued his season on that pace, he would have only had 1100 rushing yards and six scores. Not exactly a first round value. His value would have been propped up with receptions in leagues awarding them points. But Johnson injured what was initially described as a broken bone in his foot. He missed the entire second half of the season with what was later disclosed as a cracked bone in his fourth toe that caused significant swelling. Johnson says he is 100% healed and ready for 2008.

The Chiefs have hired ex-Cowboys and Georgia Tech headcoach Chan Gailey to direct the offense this year and “establish Larry Johnson as the centerpiece of their offense”. That is a prudent move given the problems with the passing game. The Chiefs will install a “Denver-style” rushing game which will favor Johnson’s style but the offensive line that once rated as tops in the league has fallen from being top five in almost every category to being bottom five last year. As a team, the Chiefs only gained 3.4 yards per carry which came in 31st in the league. The lack of a cohesive and productive quarterback situation has a dramatic effect on the rushing game and it does not appear to be upgraded for 2008.

Johnson will be the focal point of this offense but even his diminished results from last year did not include what happened once the team switched from Damon Huard to Brodie Croyle. It only became even worse for the offense. And Huard appears to be out of the plans for 2008 so this offense could suffer an even worse fate than last year. While they have added a few relative unknowns for the offensive line, OG John Welbourn and C Casey Wiegman are gone. The situation in Kansas City just doesn’t appear favorable though the rushing schedule is lighter than most teams. Johnson will get drafted too early in most leagues based on what happened two years ago on a different offense with different players.

Huddle Rank: 13
Keeper: 12
Auction 10: 18%
Auction 12: 18%
2006 JAC 16 1377 15 166 941 5.7 13 46 436 2
2007 JAC 15 1175 9 167 768 4.6 9 40 407  
Avg   16 1276 12 167 855 5.2 11 43 422 1
Proj JAC   1300 13   900   11 38 400 2

After a monster rookie season of 1377 total yards and 15 touchdowns, Jones-Drew settled down to only 768 rushing yards and 40 catches for 407 yards with nine touchdowns. He dropped from 5.7 to 4.6 YPC. Still a solid year but more of a sophomore slump than progress. He sprained his knee in week seven but continued to play which contributed a few lower production games. When healthy, Jones-Drew typically had 12 carries and three catches per game and more if it was going well.

After his big rookie season, Jones-Drew went too early in most drafts but he still had good fantasy value. Until Fred Taylor retires or gets injured – and he seems intent on not experiencing either – Jones-Drew remains the higher scoring half of a true tandem backfield. His catches and carries were almost identical for his two seasons, so his role is not likely to change. Solid player but not used enough to reach spectacular.

Huddle Rank: 14
Keeper: 16
Auction 10: 18%
Auction 12: 18%
2005 NYG 13 99 7 38 99 2.6 7      
2006 NYG 15 572 9 96 423 4.4 9 11 149  
2007 NYG 11 1183 6 202 1009 5.0 4 23 174 2
Avg   13 618 7 112 510 4.0 7 11 108 1
Proj NYG   1340 12   1150   11 22 190 1

(-Risk) (+Upside) The burly Jacobs finally was given his chance to start last year once Tiki Barber left in one of the most ill-timed retirements in the history of the league. Jacobs posted a lofty 5.2 yards per carry average but only gained 1009 yards on 202 carries thanks to suffering a sprained knee and later a hamstring strain that limited him to just 11 games. He only rushed in two scores but added two more via receptions during his 23 catches for 177 yards. Overall, it was a very successful season when he was healthy. He topped 100 rushing yards in half of his games and turned in a monster effort in week 16 of 149 yards and three scores right when most leagues were having their playoffs. He also scored once in each of the first three playoff games.

Jacobs required surgery to his wrist in the offseason but it wasn’t considered serious and won’t impact this season. Jacobs is in the final year of his rookie deal and is only due $927,000 which is very low for a starting running back – like about a quarter what most are making. Assumedly the two sides will make an agreement and Jacobs has not threatened a holdout.

The Giants have a tougher rushing schedule this year which could depress Jacob’s numbers and the Giants had great results in mixing in Bradshaw with him during the playoffs – that will stick with the coaches. And Jacobs struggled with injuries when used as a fulltime back. He was a touchdown machine in most games though and will offer consistent fantasy value each week as long as he remains healthy. Using Bradshaw more will help ensure that happens.

Huddle Rank: 15
Keeper: 20
Auction 10: 18%
Auction 12: 18%
2005 TBB 4 83   28 83 3.0        
2006 TBB 5 63   11 59 5.4   1 4  
2007 TBB 15 1222 10 222 898 4.0 10 49 324  
Avg   8 456 3 87 347 4.1 3 17 109 0
Proj TBB   1390 9   1080   9 34 310  

(-Risk) (+Upside) After three seasons of almost no playing time, Earnest Graham finally got the call last season when Carnell Williams was injured in week three. He went on to have the annual “NFL no-name back that looks suddenly great”. Graham rushed 222 times for 898 yards (4.0 YPC) and ten touchdowns. He added 324 yards on 49 receptions as well. Graham rushed for an average of 68 yards per game which included three 100 yard efforts and three games with fewer than 30 rushing yards. He did score in seven of his last eight games to reward those fantasy teams that cruised the waiver wire early in the year.

Graham is the de facto starting running back this year with Carnell Williams still on the mend but there are two significant factors to consider. First, he has been holding out for a new contract since he is being vastly underpaid as a starting running back. Of course he is asking for far more money than a 28-year old back with one good season (and just a 4.0 YPC) should command. Assumedly that is resolved before the season starts. The other consideration is that the team has acquired Warrick Dunn to use at least as a third down back and more if Graham ends up too adamant about his contract.

Graham is all but guaranteed to play this year but until he signs a new contract he will be a risk. And when he did play, he was solid but not spectacular. He was very good at scoring which should not be undervalued. The Buccaneers rushing schedule is slightly easier than 2007 which is in his favor. But he will share to at least a small extent with Dunn – at it could be more than merely small this year. That brings more risk to Graham than his situation last year as a starter. Provided he signs and contract and is happy, he makes a decent RB2 if you have used one of your first two picks on a stud QB or WR. His situation and past history says he is not worth being your RB1.

Huddle Rank: 16
Keeper: 21
Auction 10: 14%
Auction 12: 12%
2005 CHI 15 1478 9 314 1335 4.3 9 26 143  
2006 CHI 16 1363 6 297 1209 4.1 6 36 154  
2007 NYJ 16 1336 2 310 1119 3.6 1 28 217 1
Avg   16 1392 6 307 1221 4.0 5 30 171 0
Proj NYJ   1480 7   1290   6 20 190 1

Jones left the Bears after having to share with Cedric Benson for two years and went to being the full-time primary back with the Jets. It seemed like a great situation since the Jets had used a smattering of low grade backs to rush for 1472 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2006. Sure it would be better with Jones… not so much. Jones was hampered by an offensive line that had major problems but his 310 carries only resulted in 1119 yards and just one rushing score. He added 217 yards on 28 receptions and added one more touchdown via a catch. But 338 touches only resulted in two touchdowns. He rushed for a paltry 3.6 yard average. He certainly had the opportunity to turn in a big year and couldn’t get it done. The good news – he gets another chance this year though with a much shorter leash.

The offensive line has been improved with pricey OG Alan Faneca from the Steelers and blocking fullback Tony Richardson has been added as well. But the team also added Jesse Chatman who will serve as a back-up and could see time if Jones struggles. The rushing schedule will be tougher this year and the first five games are @MIA, NE, @SD, ARI and the bye week meaning relying on Jones even in the best case will give your fantasy team a slow start. The Jets need to start winning now and the coaching staff will not be shy about trying Chatman or Washington more if Jones does not respond better this season. The passing game also may not be that improved from 2006 unless they can stick with Pennington and he remains healthy. It is all more risk than you want in a starting running back which is what Jones will likely cost in a fantasy draft. Let someone else play the price and take the chances.

08-07-08 Update: Have to like the addition of Favre to the offense. With his gunslinging ways, the defense will finally have more to worry about than just smashing Jones. This is definitely a favorable move by the Jets.

Huddle Rank: 17
Keeper: 14
Auction 10: 14%
Auction 12: 12%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj OAK   1440 7   1000   5 40 440 2

(+Upside) The fourth player taken in the 2008 NFL draft brings his electric ability to a team that really could use the spark. McFadden was the consensus best rookie back this year and one of those rewards for having a crappy previous season. The Arkansas running back is tremendously talented and considered to have all the skills and intangibles to excel in the NFL and most expect him to be a featured performer – not just part of a tandem backfield. He has shown vision, balance, shiftiness and power. Not the least, McFadden is not only 6’2” and 210 pounds, but he ran a 4.33/40 at the NFL combine and had a great showing there despite the general rule that top players do not work out.

McFadden has been used extensively as a receiver in offseason drills and received rave reviews from the coaches. He is compared often to Reggie Bush for his ability to take it to the endzone every play but he is a more powerful runner than Bush. In fact, he comes across as a cross between Bush and Adrian Peterson. His only downside according to just a few is his thin legs and how they may fare with inside running in the NFL but he is a determined runner and willing blocker. He has the biggest upside of any running back this year because he cannot be considered a top fantasy pick yet from the natural risk that all rookies present and going to Oakland where he will have Michael Bush and Justin Fargas also vying for playing time.

McFadden is a fun pick in the draft because of the optimism he will spawn but he will have to share the ball at least initially with either Fargas or Bush if not both. If he can deliver on expectations, he can do to them what Peterson did to Chester Taylor in Minnesota. The Raiders offensive line has been improving and as a team ranked 2nd in rushing attempts last year (448) and 6th in total rushing yards (1887). Dramatic increases in the first year for HC Lane Kiffen. And now he has a premier rookie runner instead of a set of cast-offs and has-beens.

Huddle Rank: 18
Keeper: 17
Auction 10: 14%
Auction 12: 12%
2006 NOS 16 1306 8 154 558 3.6 6 89 748 2
2007 NOS 12 998 6 157 581 3.7 4 73 417 2
Avg   14 1152 7 156 570 3.7 5 81 583 2
Proj NOS   1340 7   620   4 90 720 3

Bush only played 12 games last season but still ended up catching 73 passes to trail only Brian Westbrook among all NFL running backs. Bush was on a pace to catch 97 passes and had 88 as a rookie. But he tore his PCL and missed the last month of the season. As a runner, he has averaged around 3.7 yards per carry both seasons and his knee injury showed why he is not ever going to be a 300 carry player in the NFL. After McAllister left, Bush was running 15 to 20 times per game and only lasted nine weeks.

Bush will always be the receiving back and excels in that capacity. He consistently gets around six catches per game and has been as high as 12. His stock rises greatly in a point per reception league but without that added benefit, he’s only reliable for around 1000 to 1200 total yards per season with about six scores. He is expected to be at full health this year and with McAllister intending on playing with two surgically repaired knees, the Saints will get everything they can out of Bush this year. Just hope it isn’t too much and he breaks down again.

Huddle Rank: 19
Keeper: 23
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 10%
2005 DAL 13 1211 5 257 993 3.9 5 35 218  
2006 DAL 16 1226 4 267 1084 4.1 4 9 142  
2007 SEA 16 791 2 164 588 3.6 2 23 203  
Avg   15 1076 4 229 888 3.9 4 22 188 0
Proj SEA   1260 7   910   6 38 350 1

In the year of 2004, when we were singing “Hey Ya” by OutKast and watching the second Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Julius Jones played in Seattle and had a career best game of 30 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns. That game must have really stuck with Mike Holmgren. Jones also rushed for 112 yards during the infamous botched snap playoff game in 2006 in Seattle. He has not rushed for more than 66 yards in any game since but Holmgren decided to sign the ex-Cowboy to a four year, $12 million contract. It is front loaded so that Jones receives $5 million this year and is written so that the Seahawks can part ways with him next year with little impact. It is Jones’ big second chance.

Jones will be part of a committee backfield which will include Maurice Morris and T.J. Duckett in some measure. Jones will be the primary and Seattle has never used a sharing ratio while Alexander was in his prime. Jones has speed but not much power and has only scored six times over the last two seasons. He should lose short yardage and goal line carries to Duckett and then share at least some work with Morris. While some fantasy team owners will envision Jones as a productive, nearly full-time back ALA the old Alexander, that is very optimistic. Also consider that Jones has never had more than 267 carries in any season and his first two seasons were marked by constant injuries which forced him to miss 11 of those 32 games. Jones breaks down if used too much.

Huddle Rank: 20
Keeper: 15
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 10%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj CAR   1290 6   1090   6 22 200  

(+Upside) Stewart had surgery on his toe in early March but his injury did not prevent him from participating at the NFL Combine where he ran a 4.46/40 while weighing 235 pounds – about five pounds heavier than his playing weight. Stewart should be ready for training camp and will bring a punishing running style to the Panthers. Stewart was considered the most complete rookie running back who has the pure power that the Panthers rushing game craves and yet the speed to take it to the house. Just as important, Stewart is an accomplished receiver and is very capable in pass protection. In short, he is everything that DeAngelo Williams wishes he wasn’t.

Until (or unless) Stewart can overshadow Williams and take a bigger share, the stated intent is an even share of carries with Stewart remaining on the field on passing downs where he not only can be a receiver, he can also block defenders which has always been a downfall of Williams. The Panthers see Stewart as the superior replacement for Stephen Davis - which has taken years – and the return of the power rushing game. There is no doubt that if Stewart can meet all expectations that he will become a full-time back that keeps Williams on the bench more than Foster could. The bottom line on Stewart was answered when the Panthers made him their #1 priority in the NFL draft and the second running back selected.

Expect Stewart to at least split work with Williams but considering his potential in all facets of the game, a more likely outcome is the 3:1 sharing that the Panthers have been using for years. Any rookie is a risk and one coming off toe surgery may seem like a bit more, but Stewart has already been given the clean bill of health by his surgeon and the Panthers are sinking millions into the 13th overall pick in the draft for a reason. In dynasty leagues, Stewart should be no less than the second pick and a case could be made to be the first. One caveat about Stewart – he will likely start slowly thanks to learning the game and facing SD and MIN in the first three weeks.

Huddle Rank: 21
Keeper: 19
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 10%
2005 SDC 12 335 3 57 335 5.9 3      
2006 SDC 13 549 2 80 502 6.3 2 3 47  
2007 ATL 16 332 1 71 316 4.5 1 4 16  
Avg   14 405 2 69 384 5.6 2 2 21 0
Proj ATL   1230 7   980   6 22 250 1

(+Upside) After four years of saying, “nice run, LT”, Turner gets his shot at being the starting running back for the Falcons. Turner has consistently turned in among the highest yards per carry each year in the league and yet he has never had more than 80 carries in any season. It is not at all unusual for a back-up running back behind some stud to look really great in relief since the defense always relaxes. The question here is if Turner will be more like Priest Holmes or Troy Hambrick? Turner does not inherit the all-pro offensive line that Holmes was given but he certainly seems better than Emmitt Smith’s ex-caddy.

The Falcons under OC Mike Mularkey will install a power rushing game and brought in the 237 pound Turner to be the day one starter. Jerious Norwood doesn’t fit that mold and Mularkey hasn’t been one for much RBBC in his past so whatever there is to gain should mostly belong to Turner. The Falcons schedule is likely just a bit less than average but the good news is that Turner will have no cold weather games this year. For the fantasy playoff weeks, he plays @NO, TB and @ MIN so they are all dome games just when the weather will turn for other teams. But this will be a new offense being installed and features an offensive line that needs work. The Falcons only ranked 28th in rushing attempts for 2007.

It will take some optimism to expect Turner to become a top ten back considering that the Falcons are trying to rebuild this year but he has what should be a kinder schedule to end the year when hopefully the rookie Matt Ryan will be starting to get a feel for the NFL game. Turner makes a risky second starting running back for your team but he has undeniable upside and the Falcons will try to run as much as they can if only to protect Matt Ryan. Turner had minor shoulder surgery in December but is expected to be fine for training camp

Huddle Rank: 22
Keeper: 22
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 8%
2005 BUF 16 1425 5 325 1247 3.8 5 28 178  
2006 BUF 14 1146 6 259 990 3.8 6 18 156  
2007 BAL 15 1438 8 294 1207 4.1 7 43 231 1
Avg   15 1336 6 293 1148 3.9 6 30 188 0
Proj BAL   1230 7   970   6 18 260 1

Anytime a new coaching staff takes over after a bad year there is natural concern on who stays and who goes but the Ravens exercised McGahee’s 2009 option bonus a year early – he remains the man in Baltimore. Last season, McGahee gained 1207 yards on 294 carries for an average of 4.1 yards per carry and he scored a respectable seven times. He added 43 catches for 231 yards and another touchdown as well. It was his best YPC of his career and nearly matched his 2005 season in Buffalo.

What should be most exciting for McGahee owners is Cameron’s preference to pass to the running back. He spent four seasons as the Offensive Coordinator for LaDainian Tomlinson and even last year influenced how much Ronnie Brown was thrown passes until he was injured. McGahee was little used as a receiver in Buffalo with never more than 28 catches per season but he rose to 43 last year in Baltimore. That should see an increase this year and should help him maintain his fantasy value in the face of a schedule in spots this year. The initial weeks should be very good in a new offense against CIN, HOU and CLE but then toughens up and then ends with weeks 15 and 16 versus PIT and at DAL. That should prove very tough for McGahee right when you need him most.

Willis is also a bit risky since the rookie QB Joe Flacco will almost certainly take over at some point though it may not prove any worse than Kyle Boller and could be even better. But it is a new offense in a rebuilding year, so the Ravens should have times this year when they struggle. No one will feel that more than McGahee.

07-21-08 Update: McGahee drops slightly in the rankings because Ray Rice has been so impressive and McGahee continues to show less committment to the team than what the coaches would like to see. McGahee is still the primary back, but Rice is making some inroads into playing time.

08-21-08 Update: McGahee still is recovering from knee surgery and while he may be ready for week one, he is missing the entire preseason while Ray Rice just looks terrific in his place.

Huddle Rank: 23
Keeper: 24
Auction 10: 10%
Auction 12: 8%
2006 NEP 14 939 7 175 745 4.3 6 22 194 1
2007 NEP 13 951 6 185 835 4.5 6 4 116  
Avg   14 945 7 180 790 4.4 6 13 155 1
Proj NEP   1030 10   940   10 10 90  

(-Risk) There is no doubt that Maroney is an effective back – when healthy. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his 185 totes for 835 yards last year and rushed in six scores. He added four receptions for 116 yards as well. It actually ended up as a similar season to 2006 when his numbers were very similar but he was the secondary back to Corey Dillon instead of being the featured back as he was last year. The problem with Maroney isn’t that he cannot run, it is that he can never remain healthy and he is a Patriot so there will never be credible information about his playing status. This is an offense that has scored an average of 17 rushing touchdowns by running backs each year along with around 1700 rushing yards but how big a share that Maroney will have will always be a guessing game that too often comes up wrong. Maroney could easily be a top ten back if healthy and used as a primary back. But you cannot rely on him so best to leave him for another team that gets to complain all year long.

Huddle Rank: 24
Keeper: 32
Auction 10: 10%
Auction 12: 8%
2005 IND 15 1843 14 360 1506 4.2 13 44 337 1
2006 ARI 16 1376 6 337 1159 3.4 6 38 217  
2007 ARI 16 1426 7 324 1222 3.8 7 24 204  
Avg   16 1548 9 340 1296 3.8 9 35 253 0
Proj ARI   1290 5   1100   5 22 190  

On the plus side, only Clinton Portis had more carries than James’ 324 last year and that came after rushing 337 times in 2006. James also ranked higher than any other NFL RB when he had 89% of all rushing attempts for his team. Then again, the Cardinals only ranked 24th in total carries last year and remained one of the worst teams for rushing yards, the Cardinals ending only 29th best with a total of 1344 yards. Whatever is there, James gets. It just isn’t all that much.

Also on the plus side was that the 30-year old runner wasn’t considered old enough to warrant the Cards getting an immediate replacement in the NFL draft. For the last five years, James has been turning in around 330 carries per season and has missed only one game. But he hasn’t topped 3.8 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Cardinals and it’s unlikely he is going to get any better when he crests the 30 year-old mark in August. He’s also not been much for touchdowns with only 13 over the last two seasons and he hasn’t managed over 217 yards per year as a receiver. But he is there, every week, and typically has around 80 to 90 total yards per week. Solid and thoroughly unspectacular here in the waning years of his career.

The Cardinals have elected to stand pat with James this year despite the lackluster yards per carry but his ceiling has already been established. The problem at this time of his career is that his risk for injury grows each year.

Huddle Rank: 25
Keeper: 25
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj DET   1110 6   960   6 17 150  

The fantasy world was waiting to see which running back the Lions would draft this year since it was already apparent that he would have the best chance to start of any rookie rusher. Unfortunately, we had to wait until the 3.01 pick when UCF’s Kevin Smith became the 8th running back drafted this year. The Lions opted to use their first two picks on an offensive tackle (good idea) and a linebacker. No matter – with only Tatum Bell to beat out for the starting job, Smith is all but assured his role as the primary runner in a new offense that wants to return to a balanced offense.

Smith was a workhorse at Central Florida and a Conference USA Player of the Year for 2007. At 6’1” and 215 pounds, he has the size and power for the straight line runs that have been his bread and butter but runs a 4.5/40 and can show some speed as well. He also goes to a similar offense in Detroit since the UCF offensive coordinator Tim Salem actually worked under OC Tim Colleto at Purdue. In 2007, he ran for 2567 rushing yard on 450 carries with 30 touchdowns. Now that is a workload. Maybe too big of a workload could be argued.

The door is open for Smith to claim the primary running back spot and he’d almost have to look really bad before he would not get it. The Lions placed themselves in a potential bind this year by releasing Kevin Jones but Smith should step right in and fill the void with a heavy use back that has been durable (which will be new in Detroit). The rushing schedule for the Lions will be pretty daunting though the easier stretch opens the season. He should lay claim and look decent enough in the early weeks. Fantasy playoff time goes against MIN and @IND which will be very tough but then week 17 hosts the Saints which historically means you win the league Super Bowl. Not the best in any category but Smith is the only tailback that can step into a starting job.

Tier 4
Huddle Rank: 26
Keeper: 29
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 6%
2006 TEN 13 304   61 244 4.0   14 60  
2007 TEN 16 1224 7 303 1110 3.7 7 20 114  
Avg   15 764 4 182 677 3.9 4 17 87 0
Proj TEN   980 8   880   8 14 100  

After a disappointing rookie season, White became the primary rusher in 2007 and rushed 303 times for 1110 yards and seven touchdowns. That was only a 3.7 yard rushing average and his role as a receiver was limited to around one catch per game. White held off the rookie Chris Henry and sent Chris Brown off packing this year finally. At 6’1” and 235 pounds (or more depending when you ask), White has the power to get the tough yards but limited the Titans rushing attack to a slow progression down the field. White’s longest run of the year was only 28 yards and that likely sent him to the bench for oxygen.

White was bothered with torn meniscus much of the year but continued to play. In February, he had arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem but is expected to be fine for training camp and the season. With Chris Brown gone and Chris Henry not stepping up, White was again safely the starter until the NFL draft. Surprisingly, the Titans did not make a play for a “complete” running back; instead they used their first round pick on the perfect complement to White. Chris Johnson is a bit under-sized but is blazingly fast. He’s the complete opposite to White and in this era of committee backfields, the Titans opted for two extremes in theirs.

White will continue to be the primary runner at least unless Chris Johnson surprises and plays bigger than he than he is. White is safely the choice for all short yardage and goal line carries but will share with Johnson on other plays. Johnson is a very good receiver which means White probably just lost third down work. Expect White to turn in almost as good of stats as he did last year since Johnson will take time to integrate into the offense and in worse case, he’ll still be used for scoring. That makes White a decent fantasy back-up but there is too much risk involved to consider him a starter for your team until Johnson’s role is cemented in training camp.

Huddle Rank: 27
Keeper: 33
Auction 10: 6%
Auction 12: 6%
2007 DEN 15 960 1 140 729 5.2 1 35 231  
Avg   15 960 1 140 729 5.2 1 35 231 0
Proj DEN   1200 4   900   4 32 300  

As the Broncos so love to do, they took the undrafted Young and not only had him deliver nice fantasy value, but they had him do it in an entirely inconsistent and unreliable manner. In week ten he started for Travis Henry and rushed for 109 yards and a score against KC. Three weeks later, he gained 156 yards when KC visited. He sandwiched those games with several sub-50 yard games. But going into 2008, Young is still in the picture. HC Mike Shanahan said that he loved Young’s big play potential but that he didn’t feel that Young could hold up with more than 10-15 carries in a game. And Young injured his knee during the season which required some minor surgery during the offseason.

Evaluating Young would be easier if the Broncos would release Travis Henry but that doesn’t appear to happening this year. Plus they drafted Ryan Torain and no one loves using a “who?” guy more than Shanahan. The early plan is to use Henry as the power back complement to Young but as we should all know, you cannot rely on that happening. Denver will produce some nice rushing yards this year and there will be at least a few very nice individual games but who and when will always be a risk. It is the Denver way.

06-02-08 Update: The departure of Travis Henry only ensures that Young will begin the season as the primary back but the move probably only helps Ryan Torain as the more powerful replacement for Henry.

Huddle Rank: 28
Keeper: 34
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 6%
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
2007 PIT 15 1480 2 321 1316 4.1 2 23 164  
Avg   15 1539 8 304 1337 4.4 6 24 201 1
Proj PIT   1190 3   950   2 20 240 1

Parker’s numbers suffered in the new offense last year and he fell from 1494 rushing yards in 2006 to only 1316 yards though he missed the final two games. More significant was that his touchdowns decreased from 13 down to only two and his rushing average was a career low 4.1 yards. He added 23 catches for 164 yards which were also down from 2007 (31 for 222). In week 15, he fractured his fibula against the Rams and was lost for the final game.

Parker has participated in offseason practice and was already close to 100%. He is expected to be back to full strength by training camp but it is a different camp this year. He comes off a season where he had nice yardage but did not display his trademark speedy runs as evidenced by his decreased YPC. He only scored twice all season and led the Steelers to instead rely on passing scores. And more important than all, the Steelers were the fortunate recipients of Rashard Mendenhall in the draft and by all accounts, he is actually more the everydown, complete back than>
The plan is to use both Parker and Mendenhall in a tandem backfield (sigh) and the rookie should be getting the short yardage and goal line duty. And since Mendenhall is both a good receiver and pass blocker, there should be a decrease to Parkers catches which already happened last year. This drops Parker in the rankings obviously and all he can be relied on for is the yardage now and even that could be reduced significantly. Training camp and preseason games should help indicate the ratio of carries and the success of Mendenhall but he comes out of college tagged as being the most complete back and one that is well suited to a one-back offense. This could end up as a Taylor/Peterson situation if Mendenhall can deliver on his potential. Problem is that the Steelers do not have an all-pro offensive line anymore and Parker will not go quietly. This bears watching in August but the intent is yet another tandem backfield.

Huddle Rank: 29
Keeper: 28
Auction 10: 6%
Auction 12: 6%
2005 JAC 11 870 3 194 787 4.1 3 13 83  
2006 JAC 15 1388 6 231 1146 5.0 5 23 242 1
2007 JAC 15 1260 5 223 1202 5.4 5 9 58  
Avg   14 1173 5 216 1045 4.8 4 15 128 0
Proj JAC   1120 4   1020   4 10 100  

For a 32 year old back with a lengthy injury history, someone forgot to tell Fred Taylor to go quietly into that good night. He comes off two seasons of over 1100 rushing yards with five touchdowns in each. His 5.4 yards per carry was second best among all running backs and comes on the heels of rushing for 5.0 in 2006. His role as a receiver has been almost erased but he runs better instead of worse. He has missed at least one game per season for the last four years but the last two seasons only had that one game missing. He topped 100 rushing yards five times last season and four in 2006. No changes this year other than a slightly better rushing schedule. Taylor wants to play long enough to surpass Jim Brown’s rushing totals (12,312 yards). That means Taylor needs 1598 rushing yards and would make him the #8 all-time leading rusher. He currently ranks #18 and just one more 1100 yard season advances him to #13 or #14 depending on Tomlinson.

Hard to believe that a 32 year old back with a lengthy injury history could rush for 1100 yards this year. Same as it was in 2006. And 2007. If he can remain healthy, Taylor is a decent #2 RB but will continue to be a risky play. He’s still better off as your #3 RB to fill in as needed.

Huddle Rank: 30
Keeper: 26
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 5%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj CHI   1010 5   890   5 16 120  

(+Upside) Cedric Benson was already a huge disappointment last year and then he broke his ankle. There is speculation that he may “lose a step” from his surgery and based on 2007, he doesn’t have a step he can afford to lose. To no surprise, the Bears opted for Forte out of Tulane with their 2.13 pick in the draft after shoring up their offensive line in the first round. Forte was targeted by the Bears and had already visited the team in the offseason. His addition brings immediate challenge to Benson for at least sharing of carries if not assuming the primary role.

Forte brings a power runner to the team that had tremendous success at Tulane despite being the obvious best if not only true weapon that the Green Wave had. At 6’1” and 224 pounds, he can and does run inside and break tackles and has 4.44/40 speed to get the job done. He isn’t that flashy but he is the workhorse back that the offense always hoped Benson would develop into. Forte can also catch passes as well and is, in the words of HC Lovie Smith, “a three down back”.

The Bears have soured on Benson and there is a chance that he will be even worse this season from the effects of his ankle surgery. The door is open for Forte to make an impact and Benson’s job is definitely in danger. Unless training camp changes the roles, expect that Forte shares carries with Benson and there’s plenty of reasons to expect Forte to become the primary back sooner than later. As an additional stake in Benson’s career, Forte is noted as being a very good blocker and there may be very few reasons to take him off the field. Benson remains with the team but Forte has a great chance to take over and send Benson packing next year.

06-09-08 Update: With the release of Benson the path has been cleared for the talented rookie to become the feature back for the Bears this season. This will likely shake out with him splitting the workload with likely backup Peterson, but odds are good that Forte will end up with the lion's share.

Huddle Rank: 31
Keeper: 31
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 5%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj TEN   1010 5   590   4 42 420 1

(+Upside) The Titans opted to address their backfield with their 2.18 pick in the draft and took the freakishly fast Johnson out of East Carolina. On the downside, Johnson is 5’11 but only weighs 199 pounds. He had power in college but that size will have trouble breaking tackles in the NFL. On the plus side, Johnson ran a 4.24/40 at the combine. No typo there – a 4.24/40. This is not a player that defenses can afford to give a crease or allow out in open space. He also goes to a team that already had the opposite of him in LenDale White. The tandem will be playing together this year and offer a true “thunder and lightning” approach with the slow but powerful White balanced by the fast and shifty Johnson.

As is that is not enough, Johnson is already an accomplished receiver in college. His senior season, he caught 37 passes for 528 yards and six touchdowns to add to his 1423 yards and 17 scores as a runner. And not just a short swing or screen pass. His speed means he can split out wide and get downfield. That should help the Titans who ranked dead last in the NFL last year in passes thrown to the running backs (73). He also returns kicks. In short, he is everything that LenDale White is not. But he is not big enough to warrant being an every down back or using for goal line plunges.

Johnson was an interesting pick by the Titans that could really work out well in the short pass, run-first scheme. He’ll definitely cut into what White would have done alone but may not get enough touches to offer consistent fantasy points every week. There is no doubt that he should have at least a few big games from breaking a long run or turning a pass into a long score. If he can prove able to run inside better than his size suggests, then White would see even less work. The Titans only ranked 26th in the NFL last year by averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Johnson is an immediate way to up that number. He cannot be drafted as a fantasy starter obviously, but he should be a great fantasy back-up to own just to see what happens.

08-11-08 Update: Johnson couldn't have asked for a better debut in TEN. He ran five times for 11 yards and one other run for 66 yards a touchdown. He was there, then he was way down there. Johnson also added one catch for 13 yards. Granted it came against the Rams in a preseason game, but Johnson looked every bit as explosive and dangerous as hoped.

Huddle Rank: 32
Keeper: 37
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 4%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj BAL   940 6   650   6 30 290  

(+Upside) The Ravens used their 2.24 pick to secure Ray Rice as the heir apparent to being Willis McGahee’s primary back-up. With Mike Anderson and Musa Smith gone, the Ravens had to ensure the backfield would still function should McGahee become injured. Rice is only 5’9” and 205 pounds (which may be generous) but he spent his time at Rutgers plowing between the tackles. This is not a situational, third down type back. Rice can be relied on to step into a full-time role if needed and should be considered a required handcuff for McGahee owners.

Rice will just offer relief to McGahee when needed but he is a very capable receiver as well which further fits into the new offense. He’s not worth a steal in a draft since his fantasy value will rely entirely on McGahee’s health but he is a must have for the McGahee owner looking for some insurance.

07-21-08 Update: Small adjustment upwards for Rice in the rankings to reflect all the good news coming out of Baltimore about the rookie's prospects. Rice is gaining playing time with impressive work in the offseason.

08-21-08 Update: Rice has continued to impress and work with the first team. McGahee is still atop the depth chart but the savvy drafter would bypass him and grab Rice much later for much less.

Huddle Rank: 33
Keeper: 30
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 4%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj DAL   1120 3   640   2 48 480 1

(+Upside) The Cowboys bypassed Rashard Mendenhall when they made their 1.22 pick and instead opted for Jones – the other side of the Arkansas tandem with Darren McFadden. That move only cements the intended roles in the Dallas backfield to not change. Marion Barber remains the primary runner but by no means the only runner. The two-back system worked well for the Cowboys and Jones is the perfect complement to Barber. Taking Mendenhall would only cause a logjam of two talented backs with similar qualities and Mendenhall is much more of a complete back. The Cowboys just wanted the complement to what they already had.

In Jones they have a player who is undersized for a full-time role but who has the speed to pull away from defenders and turn in big plays. He offers a more shifty, slashing style to complement Barber’s “bull in a china shop” and also is an accomplished receiver who will play in pass formations. In short, the quick Jones is just the perfect sidekick for Barber. The Cowboys passed on Mendenhall who offered a very talented all-around back in order to use both Barber and Jones to hopefully create a rushing attack that will be much more than what one player can offer.

What remains to be seen is the playing time ratio that Barber and Jones will have. In 2006, Barber carried about 1:2 with Julius Jones. Last year in the new offense, the ratio became a bit less than 2:1 in favor of Barber. That seems likely to continue since it produced one of the best offenses to ever be beaten in the first round of the playoffs. That means around 150 or so carries for Jones to 250 for Barber. The new offense also used backs as receivers for 67 passes last year so expect Jones to take the bulk of those. He won’t be a goal line back by any means, but Jones should have enough yardage to have fantasy significance and in points per reception leagues, he could warrant being a second starter.

08-11-08 Update: Jones gets a minor bump after looking sharp in the preseason game against the Chargers. Jones ran for 32 yards on six carries and added 29 yards on two catches. No worries about him displacing Barber but he is definitely earning playing time.

Huddle Rank: 34
Keeper: 36
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 3%
2005 MIA 12 836 6 168 743 4.4 6 17 93  
2007 MIA 1 15   6 15 2.5        
Avg   7 426 3 87 379 3.5 3 9 47 0
Proj MIA   1000 5   830   5 16 170  

(-Risk) (+Upside) Williams may have only played in one game over the last two years, but he remains in the Dolphins’ plans this year. In 2005 when he returned from one of his suspensions, Williams shared running back duties with Ronnie Brown and that season is the closest example of what could happen this year. Williams rushed 168 times for 743 yards and six scores while Brown had 207 rushes. Williams plans on playing a couple more seasons but at the age of 31 could be even more susceptible to injury this year. He tore a pectoral muscle in his first game back last year.

But the Fins need Williams with Ronnie Brown returning from a torn ACL. Williams showed up to minicamps in great shape and HC Tony Sparano intends on having a committee backfield as he and Bill Parcells have always tended towards. Williams will be a big risk to rely on given his healthy injury, age and the presence of Brown. He could end up with a decent year and he could end up as the starting tailback with six or eight touchdowns. And he could end up injured on the first play again. Draft only as running back depth that you can afford to never use.

08-21-08 Update: Williams has been given the nod to be the primary back to open the season though he may not hold that all season long. Until drafters catch onto this and stop pretending Ronnie Brown is the same as last year, Williams is the better and cheaper pick.

Huddle Rank: 35
Keeper: 27
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 2%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj PIT   820 8   600   7 24 220 1

(+Upside) The Steelers had to very pleased with the Cowboys passed on Mendenhall and selected Felix Jones. Their 1.23 pick landed a tailback that is considered to be the most complete back in the draft. He can do it all – power rushing, blocking and receiving. He was the Big Ten player of the year and can break tackles. He’s a North-South runner who gets a lot more “North” with his aggressive and decisive rushing style. He can take the goal line carries and in short, he could be the everydown back. But the Steelers are not planning on that, at least not to start the season.

Willie Parker returns and is still very much in the picture. His fractured ankle is expected to be completely healed and he will no doubt be the starter on week one. But Parker was a holdover from the previous regime and did not fare well last year with only a 4.1 YPC and just two rushing touchdowns. The new era of Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians may have found a gold nugget in their pan with Mendenhall.

Like all rookies, Mendenhall needs to show up big in the preseason to merit more than situational use but the Steelers have every intention of making him a part of a tandem backfield with Parker. Of course that could end up anywhere between Benson/Jones and Peterson/Taylor in results but Mendenhall has all the qualities that the Steelers desire from their tailback. He’ll have to prove it during the season before you can consider him anything more than part of yet another tandem backfield but he has potential to be sure and an opportunity to show what he can do. He’ll likely be drafted too early in some leagues because of that potential and remember too that his final four games of the fantasy season include @NE, DAL, @BAL and @TEN. His value in a dynasty league is higher if only because of his potential to take over the Steelers backfield if only eventually.

Huddle Rank: 36
Keeper: 45
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 CAR 13 814 2 121 501 4.1 1 33 313 1
2007 CAR 16 892 5 144 717 5.0 4 23 175 1
Avg   15 853 4 133 609 4.6 3 28 244 1
Proj CAR   1060 4   780   4 25 280  

After two seasons filled with potential and fraught with disappointment, Williams watched Foster leave only to see the Panthers make running back the #1 priority in the draft. In his two seasons, Williams has even split the receiving duty with Foster and had roughly a 1:2 split on carries. The Panthers have said that he and the new rookie Jonathan Stewart will split carries but there is no reason to assume that it will be 1:1 since Foster was ineffective both years and yet still was more heavily used. Williams has never been viewed as the complete back that was hoped for and the NFL draft this year says that perception has not changed with the loss of Foster.

There is no doubt that Williams loses goal line carries to the bigger Stewart and since Williams has always been knocked on pass blocking which the rookie already does, it is a fair guess that he will lose out on receptions. What this is shaping up to be is more akin to the situation back in 2003 when the Panthers last had a solid power rushing game with Stephen Davis and it was Foster who was given the lesser share of carries. While there may still be some dynasty owners out there who will hope year three sees Williams take a step up, even the Panthers franchise has shown he is going to be stepping back. Williams is a reasonable back-up for Stewart but any fantasy owners snatching him and expecting much to happen will prove more wildly optimistic than those dynasty owners of the last two seasons.

Huddle Rank: 37
Keeper: 42
Auction 10: 3%
Auction 12: 2%
2005 CIN 14 607 2 61 279 4.6   51 328 2
2006 CIN 6 99   10 57 5.7   9 42  
Avg   10 353 1 36 168 5.2 0 30 185 1
Proj CIN   1090 3   800   3 34 290  

(-Risk) Perry hopes to resume where he left off in 2005 when he rushed 61 times for 279 yards and gained 328 yards on 51 catches with two scores. Otherwise, Perry’s three year career has been little more than trips to the doctor and trading stories in the trainer’s room. In 2006 he was lost for the season with a knee injury and in 2007 he was out due to ankle and shin problems. He’s hardly the most durable player.

The Bengals are excited to get him back because when paired with Rudi Johnson in 2005, the duo produced one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Johnson turned in a career best season that year and Perry’s 51 catches gave him some serviceable value in fantasy leagues with reception points. Perry was a first round pick and very successful at Michigan. He just cannot stay healthy in the NFL. The Bengals also have Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey but the preferred plan is to return to Johnson as the primary and Perry as the relief player/third down back. Perry may not serve as Johnson’s backup though since his injury history naturally causes a concern about making him a full time back even for a limited amount of time. Perry has no fantasy significance outside of reception point leagues and even then you’ll need to scan the injury report every week before considering rolling Perry out to replace your running back with a bye week.

Huddle Rank: 38
Keeper: 18
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2005 MIA 15 1139 5 207 907 4.4 4 32 232 1
2006 MIA 13 1281 5 242 1005 4.2 5 33 276  
2007 MIA 7 991 5 119 602 5.1 4 39 389 1
Avg   12 1137 5 189 838 4.6 4 35 299 1
Proj MIA   880 5   720   5 18 160  

(-Risk) The new offense last year had Cam Cameron opting to use Jesse Chatman in a tandem backfield with Ronnie Brown which goes down as the most questionable coaching decision of the season. Brown did little those first two weeks and then against the Jets, he went off for a total of 211 yards and three scores. The next three games he was golden rushing for over 100 yards in each, adding at least five catches and scoring in all. And then in week seven he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. He looked as good as any back in the NFL during those weeks though it helped he was playing against NYJ, OAK, HOU and CLE.

The team still expected Brown to be ready for training camp and be healthy to play this year (at whatever level a returnee from a torn ACL can do). Ricky Williams will join him in a tandem backfield according to OC Dan Henning. That is prudent given Brown’s return from injury and yet a perfectly healthy Williams only lasted for six carries last year. Brown is still the safer bet than Williams but his carries will be reduced from last year and there will be less passing to the tailbacks than there was with Cam Cameron.

If you draft Brown, you really need to spend a quick pick on Williams to insure that you have at least one of them at any given time (though even that didn’t work last year). The Dolphins are rebuilding their offensive line with OG Justin Smiley coming over from the 49ers and in particular the Fins grabbing OT Jake Long with the 1.04 pick in the draft. The Fins actually have one of the more favorable rushing schedules in the league this year and to top it off, during fantasy playoff weeks they will face @BUF, SF and @KC which could be profitable right when you need him most.

Brown is a major risk this year sharing time with Williams and returning from a torn ACL but he has a kind schedule and should improve as the season progresses. If you load up on other positions, he can fill in as an RB2 but make sure you have another option if you take that route. Ideally Brown is just a back-up for you and even then – still need to take Williams to feel at all comfortable.

08-21-08 Update: Brown has done almost nothing in preseason games while Ricky Williams has looked sharp. Now Williams will enter the season as the primary in this tandem backfield. Brown is a great pick in a dynasty league but in redraft leagues he has been taken far too early almost every time.

Huddle Rank: 39
Keeper: 38
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 SEA 11 336 1 71 288 4.1 1 5 48  
2006 SEA 16 650   161 604 3.8   11 46  
2007 SEA 14 841 5 140 628 4.5 4 23 213 1
Avg   14 609 2 124 507 4.1 2 13 102 0
Proj SEA   990 2   650   2 44 340  

With Alexander on a major slide, Morris started sharing carries during the last half of the 2007 season and filled in for the three games that Shaun missed. Morris gained 628 yards and scored four times on the season but in those three games he rushed 62 times for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He did average 4.0 per carry which was lower than his 4.5 YPC for the season. And it can with home games against SF, CHI and @STL. Most backs would have done more with 62 carries against those teams last year.

The Seahawks parted ways with Alexander and brought in Julius Jones (with a big payday) and T.J. Duckett (not so big). Morris has the tenure and knowledge of the offense to continue to matter in this offense but HC Mike Holmgren has already said that there will be running-back-by-committee this year in Seattle. Morris may be the first play of the year starter but he won’t get the majority of carries and may be sharing with both Jones and Duckett. The Seahawks aren’t paying Jones $5 million to just support Morris. Consider him to only have marginal fantasy value this year unless Jones is injured and there is a chance that he ends up #3 on the depth chart.

Huddle Rank: 40
Keeper: 40
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 ATL 16 1636 4 280 1416 5.1 3 29 220 1
2006 ATL 16 1310 5 286 1140 4.0 4 22 170 1
2007 TBB 16 958 4 227 720 3.2 4 37 238  
Avg   16 1301 4 264 1092 4.1 4 29 209 1
Proj TBB   930 3   450   2 44 480 1

The 33-year old Dunn comes full circle after spending the last six years with the Falcons and signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Buccaneers. His role is two-part in Tampa Bay. First, he is a replacement for Michael Pittman and will play third downs and in passing situations. Dunn was an accomplished receiver in his first five seasons with the Buccaneers and the Falcons never used him much in that capacity. In Atlanta, he only averaged 34 catches per season while in Tampa Bay he had around 55 receptions each year. The Bucs completed 130 passes to running backs last year though it was spread over nine different backs (no typo) and Graham’s 49 was the highest. Dunn could have some value this year in a point per reception league. The Buccaneers ranked 2nd only to the Saints in the number of passes thrown to running backs (185).

The other nicety of bringing Dunn back is that it gives the Buccaneers some leverage in dealing with Earnest Graham who wants a new contract. Dunn rushed for over 1100 yards for three straight years until 2007 when the Falcons running game went from top shelf into the toilet. Dunn can serve as a rusher as well. He’s not remotely worthy of being a fantasy starter unless Graham is not in the picture and that situation will undoubtedly be resolved. As such, consider Dunn only as a fantasy back-up for a bye week and bump him up in your rankings if you are getting reception points.

Huddle Rank: 41
Keeper: 69
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 GBP 5 402   77 255 3.3   19 147  
2006 GBP 14 1439 6 266 1059 4.0 5 47 380 1
2007 HOU 6 383 2 70 260 3.7 2 14 123  
Avg   8 741 3 138 525 3.7 2 27 217 0
Proj HOU   730 4   520   3 20 210 1

(-Risk) The 31-year old Green has missed 11 games per season twice in the last three years. He hasn’t lasted for 16 games for five years now. His first season in Houston ended with 70 carries for 260 yards and two touchdowns for a 3.7 yard rushing average. He added 14 catches for 123 yards. This is the same Green who signed a four-year deal worth $23 million last year. Not a lot of bang for the buck so far and expecting more in 2008 is reserved for only the wildest of optimists. Green will enter the season supposedly 100% healthy (whatever that means for him anymore) but still has the balky knees. He will be the starter for however long that lasts but will be available rather deeply in most drafts. If you add Green, might as well get the entire set of Houston backs and hope you can pick the right one in any given week. Green just has lost a step and is more injury prone now. To cover all bases, you would need to draft Chris Brown and Chris Taylor as well. That’s three picks to wrap up a rushing game that only ranked 24th in rushing yardage last year. Just to make matters even worse – the Texans have one of the worst rushing schedules in the league this year.

Huddle Rank: 42
Keeper: 62
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 NOS 5 452 3 93 335 3.6 3 17 117  
2006 NOS 15 1255 10 244 1057 4.3 10 30 198  
2007 NOS 3 107   24 92 3.8   4 15  
Avg   8 605 4 120 495 3.9 4 17 110 0
Proj NOS   660 5   600   5 8 60  

(-Risk) McAllister suffered his second knee injury in the last three years when he tore his ACL last September. To make matters worse, he also had microfracture surgery on his right knee. He is expected to be ready for training camp but it is all but a given that the procedures and his history will cause him to lose a step and impact his ability (and confidence) to make cuts. McAllister took a $2.2 million pay cut to remain with the team.

The plan is for McAllister to have limited duty in OTA’s and be judiciously used in training camp. He has run full-speed pass routes already in May and should be ready for playing but he will be a huge risk to any fantasy owner this year. He was a lock for 1000 yards and eight to ten touchdowns before his knees acted up but his expectations have to be lowered. Barring a miraculous recovery, he can only be viewed as fantasy depth now though he could continue to provide goal line carries since he is a good 20 pounds heavier than any other running back on the team. Buyer beware.

Huddle Rank: 43
Keeper: 39
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj HOU   740 3   320   2 38 420 1

The Texans used their 3.26 pick on the West Virginia star but it wasn’t to pick up a successor to Ahman Green. Slaton was a dynamic runner and scorer in college but he is only around 5’10” and 190 pounds. He just doesn’t have the size necessary to be a full-time back. What he does bring to the Texans is game-breaking speed and excellent open-field running. He’s an accomplished cut-back runner that fits into the “one cut and run” rushing scheme of HC Gary Kubiak. He comes in as a complementary back that can also act as a third down player. He’s a can score on any play that he gets out in space and should offer a nice change of pace to Green or Brown.

Being a situational back means his fantasy value has limits though in a reception point league he could figure in as a bye week filler. Kubiak is not shy about using multiple backs in a game and the drafting of Slaton addresses just that. He brings speed and homerun ability to the team even if only a handful of times each game.

Tier 5
Huddle Rank: 44
Keeper: 35
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2005 BAL 14 779 1 117 487 4.2   41 292 1
2006 MIN 15 1502 6 304 1214 4.0 6 42 288  
2007 MIN 14 1125 7 157 844 5.4 7 29 281  
Avg   14 1135 5 193 848 4.5 4 37 287 0
Proj MIN   800 2   500   2 40 300  

After waiting around for four years in Baltimore, Taylor was given his chance to be a starter in 2007 when he switched to the Vikings. He responded well to the challenge with 1216 rushing yards and six touchdowns and added 42 catches for 288 more yards. But then the first pick of the Vikings in 2007 doomed his career in Minnesota when the Vikes took Adrian Peterson. Taylor still ended with 1125 total yards and seven scores. He averaged a healthy 5.4 yards per carry. He actually caught the benefit of not being Peterson when the defenses thought they could finally relax.

While Taylor was the primary back to start the year, over the final month he was only averaging about seven carries per game along with three catches. That should be his role again as Peterson attempts to lay claim to the #1 NFL back this year. Even Taylor wouldn’t bet against that from happening.

Huddle Rank: 45
Keeper: 61
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2006 CIN 16 351 1 25 138 5.5 1 23 213  
2007 CIN 16 1137 7 178 763 4.3 7 52 374  
Avg   16 744 4 102 451 4.9 4 38 294 0
Proj CIN   730 3   650   3 12 80  

After six nondescript seasons in the NFL, injury to Rudi Johnson left the Bengals relying on Watson and he responded well. He carried 178 times for 763 yards and scores seven times. He caught 52 passes for 374 yards as well. Watson’s stats were heavily influenced by twin games of 130 rushing yards that produced four touchdowns thanks to the Jets and Browns. But those were two of the weaker rush defenses in the league and Watson is 30 years old and hardly a long-term solution. He will be the #3 this year behind the returning Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry. Not worth drafting but if injuries beset the backfield again this year, go grab Watson.

Go To Running Back Rankings 46 - END >>

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