Chris Johnson, Titans - It hasn’t taken the rookie from East Carolina long to fulfill the hype created with his game-breaking potential, registering his first 100-yard rushing game in only his second regular season game as a professional. Last Sunday, Johnson slashed and cut for 109 yards on 19 carries in the Titans 24-7 win over Cincinnati, decisively relegating last year’s starter, Lendale White, to the complimentary power back role. With reliable game-manager Kerry Collins entrenched as the Titans quarterback for the foreseeable future as Vince Young mends both physically and mentally, Johnson’s role in the offense will continue to grow in importance and it shouldn’t be long before the long distance scoring plays start to appear for the first-year back.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers - Seems like an uncommonly good year for rookie backs and Stewart jumped into the conversation in Carolina’s week two 20-17 win over the Bears with a game-saving 77 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, including a 24-yard highlight-reel that displayed both power and grace (a sweet spin-o-rama pirouette). Carolina made him a first round pick for this reason and as the potential power runner that John Fox has long waited for, the team will continue to give him every chance to takeover the top RB spot, despite DeAngelo Williams improved play this year.
Darren McFadden, Raiders - We were all waiting to see Run DMC blow up on the field and after week one’s limited carries (nine) and stinger injury against Denver, doubts began to emerge and dampen the high expectations for the star rookie (I’m guilty of sitting him in two leagues this past weekend). With Lane Kiffin’s job rumored to be riding on the outcome of the game, fate intervenes and the “miracle of the Justin Fargas groin injury” occurs in the 2nd Quarter, lighting the fuse and allowing the explosive rookie the opportunity to get the consistent carries he needed to establish his flow. It didn’t hurt that he had the underwhelming Chiefs defense providing the resistance either.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings - Since in most fantasy drafts, Peterson was selected No.2 to Ladainian Tomlinson’s No.1, there is still room for the wonder back to rise, and rise he shall. If the next few games continue like the first two have, there will be much regret from those who automatically selected Tomlinson No.1 over Peterson, who’s showing every week (160 yards on 29 carries last week against the Colts) that the future is now.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants - Don’t forget about Bradshaw, despite the logjam of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward in front of him, he has an exclusive combination speed, quickness and surprising power. If you’ve got the space, find a way to stash him on your roster. Both Jacobs and Ward have a long and varied history of injury, making Bradshaw a point-scoring time-bomb waiting to go off for shrewd fantasy owner’s choosing to claim him.
Kevin Smith, Lions - One of the first rookie backs to be named the unquestioned starter of his team, many fantasy owners were selecting him before many promising backs were taken, including Chris Johnson from Tennessee, and Smith has been not been able to break free from the production-restricting collar known as the Detroit Lions. Perhaps his being named the starter in the preseason is more of an indictment of the Lions existing depth chart at running back than his ability to perform at a high level, regardless, a 3.4 yards per carry average is not going to cut it for fantasy lineups.
Larry Johnson, Chiefs - After Week One’s pedestrian effort (22 carries, 74 yards), I gave LJ another week to redeem himself out off respect for his FFL deity status from just a few short seasons ago. Twelve carries for 22 yards against a so-so Raiders run defense gobbled up whatever FFL street cred he had left from his elite campaigns of the past. After two games he’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry with no scores. Fantasy owner’s that felt like they had a “must take a starting RB” gun to their head in the second round of their draft are now experiencing sharp pangs of buyer’s remorse after ingesting what appears to be a season-long case of LJ indigestion, with little chance of being able to dump him off on another team through a trade.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers - After two weeks, it feels like when the season wraps up in late December, Tomlinson will have fully abdicated his Fantasy RB King throne to Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. He ended last season with a variety of ailments that eventually benched him against the Patriots in the playoffs last year. Now it’s a jammed toe, which, on a sharp-cutting back like LT, will linger for what seems like an eternity. After two weeks, he’s not even close to being an impact player in his own team’s games. And guess what? The Chargers offense has started to move on without him. Philip Rivers has a full suite of weapons at his disposal now, and Darren Sproles can more than hold his own as the stand-in. The true test will be the expected return of massive LT Marcus McNeill to the starting OL unit. If this doesn’t spur a noticeable increase in Tomlinson’s production, all those team’s who followed the party line and drafted him number one overall in fantasy drafts will be in for fourteen more weeks of angst and disappointment.
Rickey Williams, Dolphins - After starting the season with great promise, outplaying Ronnie Brown in the preseason to take the starting job, Williams on-field production has mirrored his business management performance, most recently highlighted by his public admission to negotiating a contract extension via the classic, old-school handshake agreement with Bill Parcells. He’s got Leigh Steinberg as his agent and decides to do a backroom deal with Bill on the down low. You would think he would have learned his lesson after his disasterous, incentive-laden rookie contract architected by rap mogul Master P. I digress, right now it’s more about the Dolphins being a long ways away from being a competitive football team than William’s ability. The offensive line is weak, the passing attack scares no one and the defense is a work in progress, an unfortunate equation for both Williams and Ronnie Brown.