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2009 Player Rankings: Running Backs
Updated: September 10, 2009
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Tier 1
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 36%
Auction 12: 40%
2007 MIN 14 1609 13 238 1341 5.6 12 19 268 1
2008 MIN 16 1885 10 363 1760 4.8 10 21 125  
Avg   15 1747 12 301 1551 5.2 11 20 197 1
Proj MIN   2030 18   1790   16 22 240 2

Let’s get the fumbling thing out of the way first. Yes, Peterson’s four lost fumbles ranked first among running backs; it was also exactly one more than Marion Barber, Frank Gore, Ryan Grant, Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis, and Anquan Boldin—none of whom are seeing their fantasy value tweaked by concerns about butterfingers. There were no offseason reports of Peterson visiting Tiki Barber to talk about the cure for fumblitis, but rest assured that with Brad Childress coaching for his job this year he isn’t about to put his best player on the sidelines for anything more than the occasional gulp of oxygen or Gatorade.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about AP’s 1,760 rushing yards and 1,885 yards from scrimmage—both tops in the NFL. While Peterson was stuffed more often (40 times) than any other back, he also ranked second (behind Michael Turner) in runs of 10 yards or more. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry over his first 10 carries each game… and 4.6 ypc on carries 21 and above. He reached triple-digit yardage 10 times, scored an equal number of touchdowns, and failed to do either in just four of 16 games. And while he’s still a bit player in the passing game, the Minnesota offense still runs through him as he touches the ball almost 25 times a game. Peterson talked of bulking up to as much as 230 pounds to better absorb the pounding he takes, but as of minicamp he was still in the 217 range—though, if it’s possible, an even more muscular 217.

While the Vikings’ offseason seems dedicated to upgrading the passing game, the ulterior motive is more running room for Peterson. An improved threat at quarterback (Sage Rosenfels or Brett Favre) prevents defenses from loading up against the run, while the downfield playmaking of Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin force opponents to direct attention their way instead of moving safeties into the box. And if Phil Loadholt is half the road grader at right tackle he was on the left side with Oklahoma the Vikings will be able to balance a running game that went left (behind Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie) twice as frequently as they went right. Despite the lack of receptions (and subsequent perceived value drop in PPR scoring systems), Peterson should account for more than enough yardage and touchdowns to live up to his current status as then consensus first overall fantasy selection.

Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 32%
Auction 12: 36%
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  
2008 JAC 16 1389 14 197 824 4.2 12 62 565 2
Avg   16 1314 13 177 844 4.8 11 49 469 1
Proj OAK   1960 14   1370   13 60 590 1

Jones-Drew goes into 2009 armed with a new four-year deal worth $32.8 million with $17.5 million guaranteed. He also no longer has Fred Taylor there to drain away carries and apparently will actually become a full-time back. The Jaguars made no motions towards replacing Taylor other than drafting Rashad Jennings who was the final running back taken in the NFL draft with the 7.41 pick (not exactly a commitment to finding a replacement waiting for 19 other runners to be taken). Expect to take Jones-Drew very early if you want him – he’s sparked tremendous fantasy interest this year with Taylor gone even though he could have the “I got mine!” contract hangover.

Last year showed that Jones-Drew was more than ready for the workload since his 259 touches resulted in 1389 total yards and 14 touchdowns. He led all running backs with 565 receiving yards and was #2 with 62 catches. The Jaguars have roughly the same schedule strength as last year when he gained 4.2 yards per carry. And the Jags only added Torry “probably not the same” Holt so Garrard could continue to throw to Jones-Drew. He’ll need some help since even in a very limited year for Fred Taylor, he still had 159 touches and throwing that on top of Jones-Drew’s 259 yields 418 touches. That’s unlikely to happen. The duo shared 439 touches in 2007. This is an offense that loves to use the running backs and Jones-Drew should really benefit.

A minor consideration is that he’ll have week 16 in New England when most fantasy championships are held but the two weeks prior are home games against the Dolphins and Colts which could help get you there. Jones-Drew has been durable and should absorb an expanded workload without any problems. He’s now sure to be the #1 concern of every defense but he’s a dual threat as a receiver. This should be as good as it gets for Jones-Drew and what could be a rare, true full-time back who shares only minimally.

Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 35%
Auction 12: 38%
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
2008 SDC 16 1536 12 292 1110 3.8 11 52 426 1
Avg   16 1936 20 319 1466 4.6 18 56 470 2
Proj FA   1780 16   1380   14 50 400 2

Tomlinson was hampered by toe and groin injuries almost all of 2008 and his stats did not justify him being the #1 pick in almost every fantasy draft last summer. That all said, his “demise” still included 1110 rushing yards and 426 receiving yards with a total of 12 touchdowns. That was the lowest rushing total of his illustrious career though and while he ran for only 3.9 yards per carry, he did the same in 2004 when he was also banged up much of the year. 2008 was the first sub-300 carry season of his career (292). In his place Darren Sproles came on strongly in the final games of the year and begged the natural question – Is Tomlinson in irreversible decline and how much will Sproles cut into his action this year?

First about Sproles. He was impressive but only in two home games (DEN, IND) and only ended the year with 330 yards on 61 carries with one rushing score. Tomlinson banged up had 1110 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Sproles best effort was in Denver when he ran for 115 yards on 14 carries and scored once. Tomlinson had 14 runs for 96 yards and three touchdowns in that game. The only other game where Sproles had any fantasy value rushing was in the wildcard game where Tomlinson ran for 25 yards on five carries and then left the game with a groin injury. Sproles racked up 105 yards and two scores in the home win. Sproles did have a career best 324 yards on 29 catches with five touchdowns but thanks to the two late season games, the prevailing wisdom is that Sproles was much better than he really was. And that Tomlinson was worse than reality.

HC Norv Turner has already said that Tomlinson looks as healthy as ever and wants to give him 320 carries this year much as he has gotten every year. The notion that the Chargers backfield will be a committee this year isn’t supported by the coaching staff who are all that matter. The biggest concern for Tomlinson is his own health rather than the 5-6, 180 pound Sproles supplanting him in any measure. And so far – Tomlinson looks like he should have at least one more good season left in the tank. He didn’t blow an ACL last year, just had toe and groin injuries that are now healed.

Tier 2
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 30%
Auction 12: 32%
2008 CHI 16 1715 12 316 1238 3.9 8 63 477 4
Avg   16 1715 12 316 1238 3.9 8 63 477 4
Proj CHI   1820 12   1320   10 52 500 2

It could be argued that Forte was the biggest rookie surprise last year when he went to the talent-starved backfield of the Bears and produced 1715 total yards that included 477 pass yards (both marks #3 among all RB’s). No running back had more than Forte’s 63 catches last year. It was those receptions that helped Forte’s stats and made him a big bonus in points-per-reception leagues. He’s going very early in drafts and why not? He ranked #2 in most PPR leagues and #4 in those without reception points. What’s not to like?

There are a few things at least worthy of note here. Forte had 379 touches last year that included 316 carries. He ranked #4 in touches and carries. But he only gained 3.9 yards per carry on average and only topped 100 rushing yards three times though he had 11 games with over 100 total yards thanks to the receptions. Rushing for 1238 yards and eight touchdowns with a 3.9 YPC is decent but his high value stemmed from the 63 catches for 477 yards and four more scores. Will he get that many passes this year? OC Ron Turner has already said that Forte will not be involved in 84% of the Bears plays this year and that Kevin Jones is slated to do more work relieving Forte. No other running back in the NFL had such a high percentage of his team’s offensive plays. That will simply not continue.

The addition of Jay Cutler will have a large effect as well. Will he be able to help a wide receiver crew that ranked in the bottom five for catches, yards and touchdowns last year? Did Kyle Orton turn to Forte more than Cutler will? Forte was the leading receiver for the Bears last year with 63 catches while tight end Greg Olsen ranked second with just 54. Forte remains the starter and has roughly as good of a schedule as last year so the only question is how much less will he play and gain stats? 2008 saw the Bears rank #12 in passes to the running backs (82) and yet Cutler in Denver only ranked 31st with just 31 passes to all running backs. Different scheme but different quarterback. Safer bet is that Forte will lose at least some catches and carries and likely will be drafted too early by someone expecting a repeat of 2008.

08-02-09 Update: Just a drop of one spot that comes from continued statements about how good Kevin Jones looks and how Forte will have a reduced workload and that his role as a receiver will be decreased to let him focus more on being a runner. He's still a solid pick, just with less upside.

09-04-09 Update: Forte was overworked last year and as a result he had big numbers. This year the plan is to involve him less and focus more on him as a runner. Problem is that Kevin Jones just sprained his ankle badly so at least to start the season we're back to Forte all day, every day.

09-04-09 Update: Torn ligament in Jones' left ankle means injured reserve. Forte once again falls into a situation where they will be using him heavily.

Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 30%
Auction 12: 32%
2006 SDC 13 549 2 80 502 6.3 2 3 47  
2007 ATL 16 332 1 71 316 4.5 1 4 16  
2008 ATL 16 1740 17 376 1699 4.5 17 6 41  
Avg   15 874 7 176 839 5.1 7 4 35 0
Proj FA   1530 15   1480   15 8 50  

When Michael Turner left the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson, no one expected that he would outshine him in the first year. For that matter, Turner ranked #2 in the NFL with 1740 total yards, 17 rushing touchdowns and 1699 rushing yards. After five years as the backup in San Diego, Turner exploded when given his chance to be the starter in Atlanta by rushing for 220 yards in week one. He ended with eight games rushing over the century mark and twice eclipsed 200 yards. He had almost no role as a receiver but with 376 carries, he had plenty of work anyway.

It was an amazing year on a team that was only in the first year of a total rebuild. The Falcons were fortunate to have had an easier schedule last season but 2009 appears roughly the same – perhaps a bit tougher. Turner also tended to pick up his yards in chunks and balance out big games with mediocre efforts. Six of his games only featured 60 rushing yards or less and his lack of receptions cannot balance that out. To his credit he did score in 11 games and really only had three truly bad games from a fantasy perspective and they all came in the first half of the season. It was a major success no matter how you look at it.

Turner may have more up and down games this year since the Falcons are playing the NFC West (good thing) and the NFC East (bad thing). But the offense will be in its second season and the addition of Tony Gonzalez could serve to make Turner’s rushing lanes more open. He’s a low risk pick but drops in leagues using reception points. He only had six catches last season.

Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 28%
Auction 12: 30%
2008 TEN 15 1488 10 251 1228 4.9 9 43 260 1
Avg   15 1488 10 251 1228 4.9 9 43 260 1
Proj NYJ   1680 12   1300   10 60 380 2

Johnson was perhaps the most pleasant surprise among rookie running backs when he gained 1228 yards on 251 carries and ran in nine touchdowns. That’s basically the same rushing yardage as Matt Forte had only with 65 less carries because Johnson averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He had nine games with at least one score and seven of over 100 total yards. His performance would have been even more impressive if he did not have to play the Steelers and Ravens last year. HC Jeff Fisher has said that Johnson is in line for more work this year than his 294 touches as a rookie and that he wants to get him the ball more “out in space” as a receiver or running around end where his speed and moves are deadly.

There is a chance that the Titans passing game will be better this year with Nate Washington and Kenny Britt and that can only help Johnson who was the sole focus of defenses last year. Any success by Collins passing means more stats for Johnson when he runs. The Titans were already ranked top five for running back carries, rushing yards and touchdowns. This year, you have to love how the Titans get a quirk of scheduling that benefits the fantasy world. All three games during the fantasy weeks are at home – ATL, MIA and SD. Johnson already had 43 receptions last year and should have even more in 2009. He’s a dynamic fantasy stud no matter what the scoring rules.

Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 28%
Auction 12: 28%
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
2008 STL 12 1421 8 253 1042 4.1 7 40 379 1
Avg   13 1676 10 279 1191 4.2 8 56 485 2
Proj ATL   1750 9   1150   7 50 600 2

(-Risk) Jackson is likely the only Rams player with significant fantasy value this year. It should be a very good one at that since Jackson is a very accomplished receiver and now will play in the same offensive scheme that Brian Westbrook does. New OC Pat Shurmur envisions Jackson as the central focus of the offense as both a runner and a receiver. Jackson has already rushed for over 1000 yards in each of the last four years despite missing four games in both 2007 and 2008. Jackson can handle all the passes that Shumur wants thrown to him since he led all running backs in 2006 with 90 catches.

Jackson will enjoy his rushing schedule – he goes from having one of the worst rushing schedules in 2008 to one of the easiest in 2009. And the Rams have tried to upgrade the offensive line but his problems will be twofold this year. He must stay healthy which has been a challenge in recent years and he will be perhaps the sole focus of every defense that they face. Between Jackson, Keenan Burton and Donnie Avery, the defense may just stick all eleven guys on Jackson and take their chances with the others. Jackson has never played in an offense that has no receivers of note.

You have to consider Jackson as a top back this year since he won’t be sharing much and could have a monster year from both rushing and receiving. But there is plenty of risk as noted so Jackson is the biggest “roll the dice” player this season.

08-22-09 Update: Jackson falls a spot because the Rams are looking so bad - and with an injury bug already starting - that Jackson is a higher risk because defenses may have nothing else to think about but him.

Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 7
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 26%
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
2008 SFO 14 1409 8 240 1036 4.3 6 43 373 2
Avg   15 1709 8 271 1278 4.6 6 52 431 1
Proj SFO   1680 9   1230   8 55 450 1

Gore didn’t fare quite so well with Mike Martz last year though he still managed to rush for 1036 yards and had 43 catches for 373 yards and eight total touchdowns. Gore missed two late season games because of his ankle which has since healed. New OC Jimmy Raye will be installing an offense that should favor Gore both as a runner and a receiver. There has been conflicting word as to a committee backfield forming or that Gore remains the single back, full-time runner which is much more likely. The 49ers drafted Glen Coffee to help out but at least initially – and probably for this year - Gore will take a heavy load and be spelled only when he needs it. The 49ers have a decent rushing schedule this year and even more notable – Gore plays against ARI, @PHI and DET in the fantasy playoff weeks.

Consider Gore in the same light as when Norv Turner was there. This should be a favorable offense for him and the offensive line has been upgraded.

Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 11
Auction 10: 20%
Auction 12: 22%
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
2008 CAR 16 1636 20 273 1515 5.5 18 22 121 2
Avg   15 1114 9 179 911 4.9 8 26 203 1
Proj CAR   1470 12   1250   11 23 220 1

(-Risk) The third year was the charm for Williams who stepped out from DeShaun Foster’s shadow last year and proved what we all wondered – why in the world did they ever stick with Foster? Williams turned in a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns and ranked 3rd best with 1515 rushing yards. He produced eight games with more than 100 rushing yards and ended as the #1 fantasy running back in many leagues. Williams was nearly unstoppable in 2008 and carried more than a few fantasy teams to their championship.

Normally the #1 running back would naturally be the top ranked runner the next season but Williams has not been accorded that sort of respect in most leagues. He still manages to go in the first round but typically more in the middle or latter half. There are a few reasons why this is appropriate. First, he doesn’t catch that much and only had 22 receptions for 121 yards last year. That devalues him in point-per-reception leagues. Secondly and more importantly, he will literally be going from the best rushing schedule in the NFL to the worst. Major change in the quality of defenses this year and that will be telling for a player that just runs and doesn’t offer much of a dual threat.

Not to be dismissed as well is the second season of Jonathan Stewart who was getting roughly 40% of the carries last year. Williams had a monster season thanks to rolling up five games with more than 120 rushing yards. He only had more than 20 carries in four games and never more than 25. It is a safe bet that Williams will remain with more carries but his career best season will not repeat in 2009. He doesn’t catch much, he has a horrible schedule and Stewart is there to take 40% of the workload. Also consider that the fantasy playoff games feature the Panthers playing @NE, MIN and @NYG which should be no treat.

08-25-09 Update: That bad rushing schedule hasn't improved but then again neither has Jonathan Stewart. Williams gets a small bump up from looking so sharp in preseason games.

Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 20%
Auction 12: 24%
2006 WAS 8 693 7 127 523 4.1 7 17 170  
2007 WAS 16 1651 11 325 1262 3.9 11 47 389  
2008 WAS 16 1705 9 342 1487 4.3 9 28 218  
Avg   13 1350 9 265 1091 4.1 9 31 259 0
Proj FA   1540 9   1400   9 22 140  

Portis enters his eight NFL season despite only being 28 years old. He’s been money every year other than 2006 when he missed over half of the season because of injury. Otherwise, he’s been a lock to rush for at least 1300 yards and about ten touchdowns almost every season. Portis has been dinged in the past for not being durable but he has not missed a game in the last two seasons.

Portis is also one of those rare (and getting rarer) running backs who routinely get over 320 carries each year and don’t share the ball much at all. The new offense did not feature him much as a receiver in 2008 with only 28 catches for 218 yards but all combined he’s deserved to be a first round draft pick in all seven of his previous seasons. Not only is he consistent, he also faces a much softer schedule this year. Portis may never seem like an exciting pick but he’s as solid a choice as any for running back.

07-07-09 Update: Portis drops a little because of his continuing differences with the coaching staff. It's probably nothing but it adds a little risk.

08-22-09 Update: Portis falls slightly from repeated news that the Redskins want to incorporate LadDell Betts more on third downs. Betts is now a mandatory handcuff for Portis owners.

Tier 3
Huddle Rank: 11
Keeper: 12
Auction 10: 20%
Auction 12: 22%
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
2008 DAL 15 1302 9 238 885 3.7 7 52 417 2
Avg   16 1136 12 193 838 4.4 10 40 298 2
Proj FA   1340 12   950   10 40 390 2

Barber’s numbers dipped a bit last year thanks in part to a dislocated pinkie finger that saw him miss one game and he was also hampered by a toe injury as well. He fell to 885 rushing yards on 238 carries for a surprisingly anemic 3.7 yards per carry. He did prop his fantasy value with a career high 52 catches for 417 yards and two scores to add to his seven rushing touchdowns. Barber started the season strongly but really faded late thanks to injury. He was full strength for12 games so his numbers really only related to playing 75% of the time.

The addition of Felix Jones only lasted for five games before he was lost for the year but Jones really did not detract from what Barber accomplished with six scores in those first five games and solid yardage. Barber also has developed more into a receiver while Jones only had two inconsequential catches as a rookie. The loss of Terrell Owens means that Barber should at least maintain the same workload as a receiver. The Cowboys intend to run more this year using both Barber and Jones. Even Tashard Choice proved himself as a viable option last year. The Cowboys want to run the ball and that benefits Barber first. Plus he should continue to be a receiver and he has the bulk to always remain as the short yardage/goal line back. He has fallen in most drafts this year which reflects his lower stats last year. Jones will be involved but the Cowboys want to run more – Barber could be getting a career high workload even with Jones there.

Huddle Rank: 12
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 20%
Auction 12: 22%
2008 HOU 16 1659 10 268 1282 4.8 9 50 377 1
Avg   16 1659 10 268 1282 4.8 9 50 377 1
Proj FA   1700 6   1300   6 59 400  

Slaton was one of the rookie surprises last year and when the Texans gave him the opportunity – he took advantage of it. Despite playing at only 5-9, 201 pounds, the ex-West Virginia back not only ended with 268 carries for 1282 yards and nine rushing scores, he had a 4.8 yard per carry average and added 50 catches for 377 more yards and a score. Oh yes, and he was getting better as the season progressed. He exceeded 100 rushing yards in four of the final seven games and topped 100 total yards in all but one. Slaton was a dual threat who was given a heavier workload in the latter half of the season.

This year Slaton has added nine pounds so that he will have more power and the expectation was that the Texans would acquire a power back to pair with Slaton this year but so far – still just Steve. The Texans were 30th in redzone total scoring last year and ranked only 26th in scoring redzone touchdowns. Training camp should indicate if any other player is going to step up to deserve a role but going into training camp it appears the season is set with Slaton as the primary runner and Chris Brown can offer short-yardage and goal line duties. Which of course means it may be just Slaton all over again.

Houston's rushing schedule strength is roughly the same as last year so Slaton’s outlook is more related to how much he may (or may not) have to share the workload with Brown or another player. The Texans did not make any obvious moves to reduce his workload so barring a surprising training camp from an undrafted free agent, look for another fine season from Slaton.

08-17-09 Update: The Texans are officially set on using Chris Brown to relieve Slaton. That has to help Slaton late season when Brown is out. Again.

09-04-09 Update: Slaton drops a little with the insistence of HC Gary Kubiak that he will use Chris Brown as the short yardage and goalline back. That will cut into Slaton's scoring.

Huddle Rank: 13
Keeper: 14
Auction 10: 18%
Auction 12: 20%
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
2008 NYG 13 1125 15 219 1089 5.0 15 6 36  
Avg   13 960 10 172 840 4.8 9 13 120 1
Proj FA   1320 12   1150   11 19 170 1

(-Risk) Jacobs cashed in when he signed a four-yea r, $25 million contract last February with just over half being guaranteed. He wisely turned in a career best season in 2008 when he ran for 1089 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and scored 15 rushing touchdowns to rank #3 in the NFL. He’s always been a productive runner but has never had more than the 219 carries last year. The Giants always employ a committee backfield but there is no confusion who is the top dog. Jacobs may get more carries since Derrick Ward has left and taken his 182 carries from last year. Unless Andre Brown surprises in training camp, it is certain that Jacobs will see increased use. What is concerning is that Jacobs has never been healthy for all 16 games in a season despite the lower number of carries than most primary backs. Add in that Jacobs just got paid and the team just lost all their receivers and this could be a challenging year for Jacobs. The Giants need him to step up but the defenses have little else to scheme against.

Huddle Rank: 14
Keeper: 15
Auction 10: 18%
Auction 12: 18%
2007 GBP 15 1101 8 188 956 5.1 8 30 145  
2008 GBP 16 1319 5 312 1203 3.9 4 18 116 1
Avg   16 1210 7 250 1080 4.5 6 24 131 1
Proj FA   1470 9   1300   8 25 170 1

Grant’s preseason holdout did him no favors in 2008; though he broke strong from the gate with 92 yards (at 7.7 yards a pop) against the vaunted Vikings run defense, a lingering hamstring injury contributed to an inconsistent season in which he disappointed despite finishing fifth in the league in carries and ninth in yardage. Specifically, the six weeks without a touchdown sabotaged his fantasy season, as no back with more than 220 carries finished with fewer TDs than Grant’s four rushing scores. Moreover, he consistently followed up his four 100-yard games with a pair of yardage duds. Even Grant himself noted that he should have done more with the opportunities he was provided.

That was then; this is now. Grant should get a full training camp for the first time in his Packers career (Grant didn’t join Green Bay until after the 2007 preseason and he held out last year), and while there is talk the Pack would like to give Brandon Jackson more touches Grant has demonstrated he’s capable of shouldering a full workload. Better still, rookie fullback Quinn Johnson was generally regarded as the best blocking back coming out of college this year, which should help Grant improve that meager touchdown total. Moreover, while Jackson (or DeShawn Wynn) might see passing game duties, Grant caught three balls in each of the Packers final three games and had 30 receptions as a rookie in 2007 so he doesn’t need to leave the field on third downs. Assuming the Packers address their offensive line concerns prior to the start of the season—and there are enough athletic blockers on their roster that filling a spot in their zone-blocking scheme shouldn’t be an issue—the news regarding Grant all points towards at minimum matching last year’s productivity.

Huddle Rank: 15
Keeper: 13
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 14%
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
2008 MIA 16 1170 10 214 916 4.3 10 33 254  
Avg   12 1147 7 192 841 4.5 6 35 306 0
Proj HOU   1360 10   1060   9 33 300 1

Brown enters the final season of his rookie contract and he should be in top form since he’ll be a year and a half removed from tearing his ACL in 2007. In the first year with HC Tony Sparano, Brown rushed for 916 yards on 214 carries for a 4.3 yards per carry average. He also added 33 catches for 254 yards while in a time share with Ricky Williams. In most games they had a 2:1 ratio favoring Brown but the hot hand could get more work. Brown’s ten rushing touchdowns were helped by his four touchdown effort in week three and his final 12 games only had three games with a rushing score and just one game with more than 70 rushing yards. Overall the Dolphins offense ranked around 10th best in all rushing categories but the sharing ratio left Brown as only a mediocre choice for fantasy starter.

Brown is being valued more highly this year by many drafters since he should be healthier and in his final contract year with something to prove. But his rushing schedule is one of the worst in the league this year, Ricky Williams remains and he too is in a final contract year and this offense is predicated on a multi- running back scheme that will prevent Brown from the volume of work to meet most expectations.

Huddle Rank: 16
Keeper: 17
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 12%
2008 DET 16 1262 8 238 976 4.1 8 39 286  
Avg   16 1262 8 238 976 4.1 8 39 286 0
Proj FA   1290 10   1020   9 37 270 1

Smith capped a strong rookie campaign with four straight games of 90 or more yards from scrimmage, though he fell 24 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards for the season. After scoring in the season opener, Smith lost carries to Rudi Johnson and didn’t best the 16 totes he saw in Week 1 until the Lions’ ninth game; from that point on he averaged 21 carries and 83 yards per game as Detroit’s feature back.

The Lions brought in a new coaching staff in the offseason, but all the news is good as far as Smith is concerned. New coordinator Scott Linehan, while indicating he wants to be more of a power running team, will keep at least some elements of the zone blocking scheme Smith excelled in over the second half of last season. Either way, Linehan has already professed his admiration for Smith’s skills and plans to use him in whatever scheme the Lions use. Moreover, there is little in Linehan’s track record to suggest that newly acquired Maurice Morris will be anything more than a backup. The closest a Linehan offense came to a committee was Ronnie Brown (207 carries) and Ricky Williams (168) in Miami, though there were injuries involved for both backs. More telling are Linehan’s first season with the Vikings, when Michael Bennett saw 75% of the feature back carries, and his first year as head coach of the Rams, when Steven Jackson not only handled almost 90% of the feature back carries but also caught 90 passes.

Smith may cede passing-game touches to Morris or rookie Aaron Brown, but there’s little question he’ll be the primary ball-carrier for a coach who cut his teeth under Jeff Fisher with a Titans team that ran more than it threw each of the previous three seasons.

Huddle Rank: 17
Keeper: 23
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 12%
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
2008 PHI 14 1338 14 233 936 4.0 9 54 402 5
Avg   15 1786 12 250 1162 4.6 8 74 624 5
Proj FA   1280 10   760   6 55 520 4

(-Risk) Westbrook's arthroscopic surgery on his knee in mid-March was to help alleviate the soreness in his knee during the season. Then he underwent a procedure in early June to clean out bone spurs in his right ankle and the timetable for him to return was unknown - he may not be ready by training camp and based on his age (30) and injury history, the Eagles may hold him out of all action this summer and hope that he will be ready for week one. It is not like Westbrook needs a tremendous amount of practice after seven seasons in Philly.

Westbrook only missed two games last year but had his worst showing in many seasons when he rushed for only 936 yards and nine scores and then added only 54 catches for 402 yards and five more touchdowns. When healthy, Westbrook has always led the league in half back receptions and his average run fell to 4.0 to tie for his worst season yet. Even as a down year, Westbrook still posted 1338 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2008. He’s always been an injury risk and always misses one game or more. This year looks even riskier with two offseason surgeries and coming off a year that ended with Westbrook less effective due to lingering injuries. He is a risk this year but that may just mean you pay less for a back who has always delivered. If Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson can deliver on their promise, that could also mean less passes for Westbrook who had two career best years in a row when the Eagles had no other weapon than him. Make sure you pickup LeSean McCoy if you draft Westbrook.

Huddle Rank: 18
Keeper: 18
Auction 10: 12%
Auction 12: 12%
2007 NOS 12 403 2 52 252 4.8 1 17 151 1
2008 NOS 15 909 12 129 625 4.8 9 31 284 3
Avg   14 656 7 91 439 4.8 5 24 218 2
Proj NOS   1250 10   1100   9 18 150 1

(+Upside) There is no sleeper status for Thomas – he’s been a hot commodity in drafts this season already despite just having 129 carries for 625 yards last season in relief of Deuce McAllister. He also added 31 receptions for 284 yards and three more scores in relief of Reggie Bush. Not only did he total 909 yards and 12 touchdowns, he did most of that starting from week ten. The release of Deuce McAllister without any replacement anointed Thomas as the primary back since by now it is obvious that Reggie Bush can only be a complementary back (when healthy).

Thomas has added ten more pounds for this season and at 220 he will be even better at the goal line. HC Sean Payton has settled on Thomas being a big part of the offense and should Bush be injured again – Thomas becomes a fantasy stud. He already had 12 total touchdowns last year and gained 4.8 yards per carry. One factor to consider though is his schedule. Last season he had one of the easiest in the league and this year he faces one of the toughest rushing schedules. His biggest games came against DEN, KC, GB, CHI and DET last season but instead of going against the AFC West and NFC North, the Saints face the NFC East and AFC East. That should serve to make Thomas look less awe-inspiring than last season.

09-06-09 Update: Thomas enters the season with an MCL sprain and is questionable to play in week one. I slightly lowered his season total.

Huddle Rank: 19
Keeper: 20
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj FA   1130 11   990   11 19 140  

(-Risk) (+Upside) Wells starts out at a disadvantage since he cannot practice until the Buckeyes have their graduations on June 13th. That puts Tim Hightower in the early driver’s seat but Wells is a shoo-in to take the job during the preseason. The release of Edgerrin James signals as much.

Wells is the total package. He’s big, strong, fast, and a natural runner who has been compared to everyone from Jim Brown to Adrian Peterson, and no less an authority than two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin called him the best running back in Ohio State history. While his Combine 40 may seem on the slow side, when healthy Wells had no trouble running away from defenders in the open field. He’s also a punishing inside runner who moves piles yet has the quick feet to slip through small openings at the line.

Wells’ final campaign at Ohio State was marred by injury, but he still managed 207 carries for 1,242 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns; he also caught eight passes for 47 yards. In his abbreviated Buckeye career, Wells totaled 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns on 585 carries (6.0 yards per carry), along with 15 catches for 84 yards.

Wells was the third back drafted this year with the Cards 1.31 pick. But Wells was the #1 back on many draft boards and the bruiser from Ohio State could have been a very early pick had he not been tagged as injury-prone. The reality there is that he was often banged up while at OSU but he only missed three games in three years since he is tough and willing to play while injured. At 6-1, 235 pounds, he makes for a very powerful back in the mold of Brandon Jacobs and yet Wells ran a 4.5/40 in the past so he has some jets as well.

There won’t be much to go on until training camp but Wells may have landed in the most opportune place of all. The Cardinals have such a high-powered passing attack that no defense will focus on the run much against them. Russ Grimm has brought up the quality of the offensive line and the Cards have a very, very nice schedule that includes weeks 14 to 16 of @SF, @DET and STL. Wells will have to win the starting job but that should happen by the end of training camp.

08-30-09 Update: It was more than a little encouraging to see Chris Wells on the field running for 46 yards and two touchdowns while claiming he was still not 100% over his sprained right ankle. Wells has a golden opportunity and a wonderful schedule. If he can somehow remain healthy, he could be a real surprise.

Tier 4
Huddle Rank: 20
Keeper: 21
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
2008 DAL 6 276 3 30 266 8.9 3 2 10  
Avg   6 276 3 30 266 8.9 3 2 10 0
Proj FA   1110 10   900   8 15 210 2

(+Upside) The jury is still out whether the Cowboys should have taken Jones or Rashard Mendenhall since players were injured last year. But the coaching staff remains surprisingly giddy about what Jones brings to the offense and though he only played in five games before his turf toe forced him out for the year, Jones had a big impact. He had touchdown runs of 60 and 33 yards and ran 30 times for 266 and a 8.9 YPC. He truly brought a new dimension to the Cowboys offense and almost exclusively as a runner. That may well change as he learns the offense and becomes a bigger factor but his rookie season of five games only had two catches – Barber did all the catching and later Tashard Choice.

Jones is completely over his toe injury and looking sharp already in minicamps. He’s added a little bulk but hasn’t sacrificed any of his speed and explosiveness. Jones could end up as a steal in drafts this year since he lasts longer than a fantasy starter normally does. He’s a risk, sure. But he has tremendous upside in an offense that wants to revert to a run-heavy mix.

Huddle Rank: 21
Keeper: 24
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
2008 BAL 13 727   107 454 4.2   33 273  
Avg   13 727 0 107 454 4.2 0 33 273 0
Proj BAL   1270 7   950   7 40 320  

(+Upside) Last year the rookie Rice was rumored to become "the next Maurice Jones-Drew” and his bullish style at times may have resembled the Jaguars star but it was more because Rice is so small. He’s only 5’8” and 205 while MJD stands just 5’7” at the same weight. But unlike MJD, the ex-Rutgers star had a far less auspicious start. He only had 107 carries for 454 yards for a 4.2 yard average and still has yet to score an NFL touchdown. He had only one game of any note when he rushed for 154 yards on 21 carries in Cleveland. There were only three games all season where he had more than eight carries and missed the end of the regular season with an ankle injury.

Rice did take first-team reps in minicamp since Willis McGahee was rehabbing his ankle and Le’Ron McClain has been moved to fullback. The Ravens were #1 in the NFL for rushing attempts last year and that could easily happen again. Of the trio of backs, Rice has the optimistic crowd interested since he has yet to really get a full-time load and both McClain and McGahee have their own issues. There is an excellent chance that the Ravens do not produce any single back with “fulltime” carries on a regular basis and may resort to the committee backfield. As cheaply as Rice and McGahee are in drafts and auctions, it is worth taking both to see what happens since the Ravens will always be a run first team. But the jury is out on whether owning the primary back will amount to any fantasy advantage anyway.

06-23-09 Update: Rice continues to be the subject of favor from the Ravens coaches. He's expected to share the load equally with McGahee and could well end up as the favored runner.

08-14-09 Update: Rice has to move up looking sharp in camp and now after he opened the first preseason game. Though this remains a committee with McGahee, Rice is buying himself a bigger share of what could be up to 500 carries by the Ravens this year.

Huddle Rank: 22
Keeper: 30
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
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
2008 IND 12 750 7 155 544 3.5 5 25 206 2
Avg   14 1197 10 214 899 4.1 8 35 298 2
Proj FA   1210 8   880   7 32 330 1

(-Risk) The outlook on Addai has certainly changed dramatically in the three years that he has played. A sure top ten pick the last couple of seasons, Addai is no longer viewed as a desired pick in fantasy drafts. After opening his career with back-to-back 1000 yards rushing years and 23 total touchdowns, he slipped down to only 544 yards on 194 carries and five rushing scores last year. He added 206 yards on 25 catches with two more scores but he missed four games and produced around half what most expected.

Addai suffered through a strained hamstring and a sprained shoulder which caused him to miss four games and play less than 100% in others. Even worse was his 3.5 yard rushing average after starting out 4.8 and 4.1 in his two previous seasons. The drop – and Dominic Rhodes did the same – was partially due to problems with the offensive line and was a consistent issue all year long. Addai would have dropped in rankings anyway but the drafting of Donald Brown with the Colts 1.27 pick has now prompted a “hands off” policy for Addai from many drafters. In some leagues, Brown has even been drafted first (optimistic).

HC Jim Caldwell has reiterated that Addai remains the #1 back so the natural question is how much will he have to share and will he be any more effective when he plays this year than he was in 2008? Normally these situations work out with the veteran playing much more and better than common expectations would hold. That could happen. But Addai’s injury history is an issue not to be dismissed - especially in light of his early-June knee surgery - and inevitably on every team – the hot hand carries the rock. Addai will have to hold off Brown to maintain even a majority of carries, let alone enough to merit serious fantasy attention. Both players were first round selections and Brown actually came two picks earlier in the first round than Addai did. Addai is expected to be ready in time for training camp from his knee score but regardless expect a committee situation that limits either players’ value.

09-05-09 Update: Brown signed his contract and is in training camp already. Addai has been limited so far because of his rehabbing knee. So far Addai is looking weaker than stronger.

Huddle Rank: 23
Keeper: 16
Auction 10: 6%
Auction 12: 8%
2008 OAK 13 784 4 113 499 4.4 4 29 285  
Avg   13 784 4 113 499 4.4 4 29 285 0
Proj OAK   1270 6   850   5 38 420 1

(+Upside) McFadden only managed 499 yards and four rushing scores last year thanks to a balky turf toe that plagued him for most of the season. He still averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had 29 catches for 285 yards but that was well below the expectations of a 1.04 pick rookie running back. McFadden is healthy again and has a steel toe in his shoe to avoid getting another turf toe. He has looked very impressive in minicamp and the hope is that he can erase a bad rookie year with living up to his potential this season. He could be a sleeper pick this year but if he shows up in one or more preseason games well, his stock will skyrocket.

McFadden faces an average rushing schedule but one that either has very tough matchups or pretty easy ones. Weeks 15 and 16 when you want him most will be on the road but against Denver and Cleveland. Those should be profitable for fantasy playoffs. McFadden could be a very nice surprise this year and it will start in training camp. Much of his success will ride on how well Russell plays. If Garcia starts at quarterback, it could be a very nice season for McFadden as a receiver and not having defenses solely concerned about him. McFadden has been particularly impressive as a receiver this spring and could make a great outlet for Russell.

Huddle Rank: 24
Keeper: 19
Auction 10: 8%
Auction 12: 8%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj MIA   1180 7   890   6 28 290 1

The Broncos spent the offseason collecting running backs but there is one who can be certain he has a starting job – Moreno. Denver used their 1.12 pick to make him the first back taken in the 2009 NFL draft and Moreno comes in considered as the most “NFL ready” rookie running back. He rushed for 1,463 yards (at 5.9 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns in his final year with the Georgia Bulldogs. He also caught 33 passes for 392 yards and two more touchdowns. For his Georgia career, Moreno carried 498 yards for 2,859 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 30 touchdowns, with 53 catches for 645 yards and two more touchdowns.

There are few quibbles with Moreno’s game. He’s a shade smaller than what most teams would like for their feature back, and the fact that he’s best between the tackles, is ultra-competitive, and refuses to go down on initial contact suggests he may take a pounding. However, he does a great job of delivering blows rather than absorbing them—he has a great stiff arm as well as a good spin move and the ability to leap over defenders who come in low—and offers defenders little to hit. Moreno has played through bumps and bruises, so there are no true durability red flags. Moreno is also a natural receiver, and his willingness and aggressiveness in pass protection should allow him to stay on the field all three downs right from the start.

There is no question that Moreno will be anything other than the #1 back in Denver, the only detail left to learn is how much the new Broncos will use him and if they will install a committee system like HC Josh Daniels had with the Patriots. The Broncos rushing schedule will be tougher this year and there are still questions about the offensive line. Moreno isn’t walking into the same situation that Terrell Davis did long ago, but he is the rookie with the best situation for racking up fantasy points this year. He also will play with Kyle Orton who made Matt Forte – another rookie – the #1 pass catching running back last year.

08-28-09 Update: Moreno is not expected to be 100% healthy by the start of the season and drops in the rankings. He's already misssed invaluable time in camp learning the offense.

Huddle Rank: 25
Keeper: 26
Auction 10: 6%
Auction 12: 8%
2007 BUF 13 1299 7 280 1115 4.0 7 18 184  
2008 BUF 15 1336 9 250 1036 4.1 8 47 300 1
Avg   14 1318 8 265 1076 4.1 8 33 242 1
Proj SEA   1150 7   910   7 29 240  

(-Risk) Lynch comes off a reasonably decent year with his second 1000 yard rushing season (1036) and nine total touchdowns. But that was still a big disappointment for a runner who was in a great situation for stepping up last year when he had one of the league’s easiest rushing schedules and the promise of more use as a receiver. Lynch did end with 47 receptions for 300 yards but most of that came earlier in the season and he only managed three games with more than 90 rushing yards. He ranked around 15th best in non-PPR leagues. He did not kill any team but he certainly did not provide much advantage, particularly late in the season.

Lynch will miss the first three games of the season while suspended because of a misdemeanor gun charge. That allows Fred Jackson to be the primary back to open the season and then resume the 1:3 ratio of carries between the two backs. Lynch totaled 250 (66%) runs last year while Jackson had 130 (34%). In the committee backfield world of the NFL, that means Lynch will only get about 2/3 what he could have if Jackson was helping out (and doing so at least as productively).

No doubt that Lynch will fall in every draft since he will miss 3 of the 13 chances to help you reach your playoffs. And when he does return, he will resume the sharing plan with Jackson. The addition of Terrell Owens could offer a minor spark here for Lynch from defense more concerned with the pass but Owens could also cut into the catches that Lynch has. If you get Lynch, you have to get Jackson. And your league will all be looking to steal him too since he’ll start the first three games at a minimum.

Huddle Rank: 26
Keeper: 28
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 8%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj SDC   1020 9   760   8 21 260 1

(+Upside) Brown has attracted a lot of fantasy attention as the next hot back in Indianapolis and there are some decent reasons to raise expectations while also dropping Addai in the rankings. The Colts had their worst rushing attack for almost two decades last year when the team total 1250 rushing yards only ranked 29th best in the NFL. Using that first round pick on Brown says at least that Addai needs a complementary back that can play a lot and could end up sending Addai to the background in future seasons. The Colts are already on board with the need for two quality backs and Brown could show up Addai.

The Colts GM Bill Polian said that Brown could be a player like Thurman Thomas and at 5-10 and 210 pounds; Brown has the right size for the job. Brown led the nation with 2,187 yards on 367 carries (6.0 yards per carry) as a junior, scoring 18 touchdowns and adding 125 receiving yards on 21 catches. For his abbreviated UConn career, Brown carried 698 times for 4,032 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and 33 touchdowns, with 48 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver. If there is any area of concern with Brown it is about his ability to get the tough short yardage and pass protection since he had limited experience as a blocker. That alone will keep Addai in the lead for this season but all bets are off for 2010.

Brown should be the third pick in every dynasty draft behind Knowshon Moreno and Chris Wells. For a redraft, he’ll be one of those optimistic picks that too often do not meet expectations as a fantasy starter in his rookie season.

09-05-09 Update: Already signed and into camp. Brown is doing the right things to make inroads on getting a bigger workload.

Huddle Rank: 27
Keeper: 27
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 8%
2006 CHI 15 701 6 157 647 4.1 6 8 54  
2007 CHI 11 797 4 196 674 3.4 4 17 123  
2008 CIN 12 932 2 214 747 3.5 2 20 185  
Avg   13 810 4 189 689 3.7 4 15 121 0
Proj FA   1160 6   970   6 25 190  

(-Risk) (+Upside) The Bengals made Benson their #1 priority to re-sign in the offseason and he agreed to a two-year, $7 million deal. In the NFL world, it’s marginal money for a starting running back. Benson bought some good will in Cincinnati when he came in during the season and ran for 747 yards on 240 carries but only scored twice and averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. Then again, the Bengals were in a free fall with Palmer out for the season and they faced what ended up to be the toughest rushing schedule in the entire NFL. The rushing schedule is not great for 2009 but it is much improved from 2008.

Benson has a chance to re-invent himself a bit by actually making the most of this opportunity but if he continues to produce just 3.5 yards per carry, he’ll be lucky to keep the fulltime workload. To his credit, he ended 2008 with over 130 total yards in the final three games. On the bad side, he struggled horribly against the Steelers and Ravens who he will meet twice every season he is in Cincinnati.

There is a vastly improved rushing schedule for the Bengals which will help Benson but there will always be the double-ups on BAL and PIT and both he and the Bengals offense has a lot to prove this year. Benson has upside from that schedule and his second season in Cincinnati but prudence says to wait to take him later. He will last long enough for almost mid-draft in some leagues and should come cheap enough to just be depth for your team. The Bengals always had double-digit rushing scores until last year but

Huddle Rank: 28
Keeper: 22
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 8%
2006 DAL 16 1226 4 267 1084 4.1 4 9 142  
2007 SEA 16 791 2 164 588 3.6 2 23 203  
2008 SEA 15 764 2 158 698 4.4 2 14 66  
Avg   16 927 3 196 790 4.0 3 15 137 0
Proj FA   1280 4   1100   3 20 180 1

(+Upside) Julius Jones somehow dodged a bullet when the Seahawks rebuilding year apparently did not include running back. Jones’ first season in Seattle was largely a mess with just 156 carries for 698 yards and two rushing scores along with only 14 catches for 66 yards. Jones started out well enough with over 120 rushing yards and a score in each of the first two home games (SF and STL – go figure). He was used infrequently after that and the final three games of the season only used Jones on six plays. Instead of just releasing Jones in the offseason which was expected by some, the Seahawks focused on other needs and left the running backs alone. By default, Jones is again the primary runner and without Maurice Morris around. T.J. Duckett will almost certainly show up for some short yardage work but the bulk of work belongs to Jones.

The Seahawks are converting to a one-cut system which should better suit Jones who has more quickness than raw power. Another consideration here that should not be discounted is that the Seahawks rushing schedule has gone from below average in 2008 to one of the best in the league this year. Jones is no better than his schedule, but in this case the schedule is very favorable. Jones will likely lose scores to Duckett (how many there are anyway) but he could be a mild surprise this year with a good situation and schedule. Don’t hesitate to grab Jones in your running back depth to see what happens. With opening games of STL and @SF, it will be immediately apparent what Jones will do in 2009.

Huddle Rank: 29
Keeper: 25
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 6%
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
2008 NOS 10 844 6 106 404 3.8 2 52 440 4
Avg   13 1049 7 139 514 3.7 4 71 535 3
Proj DET   1070 7   490   3 67 580 4

(-Risk) Bush suffered another knee injury last year and required microfracture surgery though he claimed that it was not “full-fledged” microfracture surgery and that it was more a procedure to clean up some cartilage. Bush has participated in the voluntary offseason program and is ahead of schedule in his recovery. In mid-May, Bush claimed to be 75% healthy and hopes to be nearly 100% by training camp. Problem is that the Saints will likely take it easy on Bush in August so getting a clear read on his healthy may be difficult.

No question that Bush has high value in a league using reception points since he has averaged around six catches per game over his three seasons but he’s also missed ten games over the last two years and may not be 100% in training camp. He’s always going to be an injury risk but is worth the gamble so long as you get reception points. Watch him in August to see if you can comfortably draft him but no matter what, he could go at any time. He’s too risky for a RB1 or RB2 but he probably won’t last to be a RB3.

Huddle Rank: 30
Keeper: 34
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 6%
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  
2008 PIT 11 804 5 210 791 3.8 5 3 13  
Avg   14 1333 8 289 1200 4.1 7 19 133 1
Proj FA   1240 4   1050   3 22 190 1

Willie Parker is in the final year of his contract and doesn’t plan on being a problem so that means he has every reason to have a good year. In Parker’s terms, that means a healthy year which he has done only once (2006). Last year he missed five games with a knee injury that he later re-injured and played while not 100%. He comes off his worst year since becoming a starter in 2005. Parker only gained 791 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. He had rushed for over 1200 yards in each of the three previous seasons. The fear in 2008 was that Rashard Mendenhall was going to heavily but into Parker’s numbers if not supplant him but he too had injury problems and went on IR because of a broken bone in his shoulder.

There is no question that the intent is to have Mendenhall assume a significant workload this year but Parker will remain the primary for however long he is healthy. There is one other factor to consider with Parker. He is going from having one of the worst rushing schedules in the league in 2008 to having one of the easiest in 2009. That should help became Parker was always a 4.1+ YPC running back until last season. Parker has a contract to work for and at the age of 29, this is when he needs to have a good season and get that last good contract. He has every reason to want to do well and Mendenhall will have to earn his playing time. That makes Parker an upside player this year considering how low he is being drafted in most leagues.

Huddle Rank: 31
Keeper: 31
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 6%
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
2008 KCC 12 948 5 193 874 4.5 5 12 74  
Avg   12 1297 9 256 1074 4.1 8 28 223 1
Proj FA   1170 5   1050   5 13 120  

(-Risk) The Chiefs ranked no better than 25th in any running back category last year and the fact that Johnson remains with the team is mostly related to the lack of a market for a back that turns 30 this year and has only played all 16 games in a season once in his career (2006). These last two seasons have seen Johnson miss12 games in all and his two glorious 1750+ rushing yard seasons have been followed by no more than 874 rushing yards and five scores in a year. Johnson demanded to be traded earlier in the offseason but there were no takers. Despite rumors that the Chiefs may just release him, they made no other plays for a starting running back and appear to be ready to have Johnson continue his role as starter.

New HC Todd Haley has spoken well of Johnson and it appears both sides are ready to use Johnson for the first year of the new offense. But Johnson has a tougher rushing schedule than he did in 2008 and his durability has taken a big downturn these last two years when the Chiefs once-fearsome offensive line has aged, fallen apart and still has yet to get back up. Chan Gailey has run offenses that are predicated on having a power runner which should favor Johnson but Gailey also likes a third down back. Bottom line here – forget the two big seasons that Johnson had. He’s gone through two injury-marred seasons, has a poor offensive line and now all new coaches and scheme.

Huddle Rank: 32
Keeper: 43
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 6%
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
2008 NYJ 16 1519 15 290 1312 4.5 13 36 207 2
Avg   16 1406 8 299 1213 4.1 7 33 193 1
Proj FA   1170 5   940   4 24 230 1

(-Risk) Thomas Jones wants more money (gasp) and yet the Jets have no intention of giving him more since they have already doled out $13 million for the last two seasons and has two more years left on his $20 million deal signed back in 2007. Jones also turns 31 in August and that’s hardly a bargaining chip. Jones was ineffective in his first season with the Jets when he had 1119 rushing yards and just one rushing touchdown but in 2009 with Brett Favre on board, Jones rushed for 1312 yards and 13 scores including a 4.5 yard per carry average which was his best since 2003.

Jones had 76% of all running back carries last year and is slated to see that decline which would be prudent with a 31 year old back. Leon Washington is slated to see an increase in workload and that only serves to make Jones less productive. Realize too that the Jets are going from one of the easiest rushing schedules (along with Brett Favre at the helm) to one of the toughest schedules (with a rookie quarterback and no Laveranues Coles). Add in a bigger share with Washington and Jones is appropriately tumbling in drafts. The Jets also drafted Shonn Greene as the heir apparent so the 31 year old Jones mostly carries risk this year and virtually no upside. Jones is likely to wise up and his contract will be no issue. All the other factors above will be.

Huddle Rank: 33
Keeper: 33
Auction 10: 5%
Auction 12: 6%
2007 NYG 8 781 4 125 602 4.8 3 26 179 1
2008 NYG 16 1409 2 182 1025 5.6 2 41 384  
Avg   12 1095 3 154 814 5.2 3 34 282 1
Proj FA   1080 6   780   5 34 300 1

Ward is inspiring remarkable optimism in fantasy drafts this year for a 29 year old back who was drafted in the 7th round by the Jets. He comes off his one good season of 1025 yards on 182 carries with the Giants for a healthy 5.6 yard per carry average and only two touchdowns scored. He added 41 catches for 384 yards. He had only one other notable season in 2007 when he gained 602 yards on 125 carries and scored three times while adding 26 receptions for 179 yards. Otherwise – just another journeyman running back. Ward did sign a four-year, $17 million contract with $6 million guaranteed so he will get playing time if only this year.

Ward no doubt had the benefit of playing for a team that was #4 in carries (471) and #1 in rushing yards (2484) gained by running backs. This is the same offense that saw Ahmad Bradshaw gain 355 yards on 67 carries for a 5.3 yard average. It is a great rushing offense and one that believed it no longer needed Ward to backup Brandon Jacobs. The Buccaneers grabbed him after failing to get other free agents. Ward will be playing in a committee system along with Ernest Graham and the zone blocking scheme will be new for the entire team. It’s unlikely that Ward plays out his contract with the Buccaneers but he should see roughly the same playing time here as he did with the Giants. Graham remains the starter so long as he is healthy with Ward a complement just as he was in New York.

Also to consider, the Buccaneers went against what ended up to be one of the lightest rushing schedules in the league for 2008 but this year will face one of the toughest. Ward will have fantasy relevance this year but draft him knowing he is part of a committee backfield still and not even necessarily the primary back.

Huddle Rank: 34
Keeper: 35
Auction 10: 4%
Auction 12: 5%
2006 TEN 13 304   61 244 4.0   14 60  
2007 TEN 16 1224 7 303 1110 3.7 7 20 114  
2008 TEN 16 789 15 200 773 3.9 15 5 16  
Avg   15 772 7 188 709 3.9 7 13 63 0
Proj FA   630 13   620   13 2 10  

White may have bulked up last year but he still scored 15 rushing touchdowns to tie for third best in the league. The addition of Chris Johnson meant that White went from being the primary back with 334 carries for 1110 yards in 2007 to 200 runs for 773 yards, White is no burner and rarely has over 4.0 yards per carry but his goal line duty was profitable last year. Expect White to retain that role while losing out carries and catches to Chris Johnson this year. All three games for the Titans during the fantasy playoff weeks are at home – ATL, MIA and SD. That could be a very nice way to end the season and White’s value in a TD-only league is as high as any running back.

Huddle Rank: 35
Keeper: 41
Auction 10: 4%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 NYJ 15 920 4 151 650 4.3 4 25 270  
2007 NYJ 16 566 3 71 353 5.0 3 36 213  
2008 NYJ 16 803 8 76 448 5.9 6 47 355 2
Avg   16 763 5 99 484 5.1 4 36 279 1
Proj TEN   990 5   510   3 48 480 2

(+Upside) Leon Washington – like Thomas Jones – has threatened holding out to get a new contract and apparently wants something like Maurice Jones-Drew (Five year, $31 million). This is pretty much a sign that Washington needs to be tested for crack cocaine since Jones-Drew has 3941 yards and 34 scores in his three seasons while Washington has totaled only 2289 and 15 touchdowns as a part-timer. The Jets may give him more money, but not Jones-Drew money. Washington believes that he can be the primary carrier should Jones hold out or get injured though he has never had more than 11 carries in any game during the last two years. He has a high yards per carry as do most scatback runners who are not the primary back and get the benefit of the defense not preparing to stop him.

Washington will have fantasy value this year, the question is how much more – his workload will increase but his effectiveness may not with the offense using a rookie quarterback who has mediocre receivers. Washington is an accomplished receiver as well and in a PPR league should be considered strongly for at least depth and bye week replacement. He has upside as well but it is common knowledge and he’ll likely be drafted a bit too early in most leagues.

Huddle Rank: 36
Keeper: 38
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2007 BUF 8 490   58 300 5.2   22 190  
2008 BUF 16 888 3 130 571 4.4 3 37 317  
Avg   12 689 2 94 436 4.8 2 30 254 0
Proj BUF   950 5   630   4 40 320 1

The third-year player comes off a healthy year helping out Marshawn Lynch and Jackson ended 2008 with 571 yards on 130 carries – his 4.4 YPC being better than Lynch’s 4.1. Jackson also helped out as a receiver with 37 catches but his numbers likely make him look better than he was. Jackson rushed for 136 yards on 27 carries in the meaningless week 17 game against the Patriots and he only scored three times with two of those coming after Lynch had already scored as well. His body of work actually looked better in his rookie year when he averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Jackson signed a new deal worth $7.5 million over four years and that did include a $1.1 million signing bonus but it still is not more than what Dominic Rhodes signed for ($2.5M, two years) other than the signing bonus ensures Jackson stays on the team whereas Rhodes could be cut at any time for almost no cost. Jackson is getting paid enough to remain with the team and be a factor but at less than $2 million per year, it is hardly starter money. Jackson will remain the backup and reliever in this offense despite getting a three week chance to start thanks to Lynch’s suspension.

Jackson will likely go too high in drafts from the optimists that see more than is there. His main role is to dilute what Lynch could do alone and his new contract confirms his place on the team. He’s must have for Lynch owners but likely costs too much to steal since you only get the first three games with a chance at good numbers. The addition of Dominic Rhodes could impact those three games anyway.

Huddle Rank: 37
Keeper: 40
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
Avg   0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Proj PHI   850 6   510   4 35 340 2

The Eagles drafted McCoy with their 2.21 pick and while most scouts had him on the tier of backs under Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells, McCoy was considered best of the rest. He has good quickness to the hole and enough speed to get to the corner and run away from defenders in the open field. McCoy came down with the flu just before the Combine so he didn’t participate in any drills, but he’s been clocked in the 4.4s in the 40. He’s also shifty and elusive, with good balance, and his leg drive and competitiveness ensure he doesn’t go down on first contact.

Experienced as a receiver, McCoy struggles in pass protection; he leaves his feet too much and may be overpowered at the NFL level. McCoy played at around 210 pounds but was significantly lighter at the Combine, again due in part to the flu; he could certainly add pounds and strength to alleviate concerns about both his pass protection and durability. That makes him sound like a Westbrook clone.

McCoy is a must own by the team that drafts Westbrook. After two surgeries in the offseason, Westbrook may not be seen a lot in the preseason and that could give McCoy more opportunity than merely a relief player. He’ll need to clearly beat out Lorenzo Booker in training camp but McCoy should manage that by week one. With Westbrook already ailing, McCoy is worth stealing. He brings about the same resume as Westbrook did eight years ago.

09-06-09 Update: McCoy's role is made even better by the release of Lorenzo Booker. McCoy is not only the relief for Westbrook, he's the lock sure replacement for when he is injured.

Tier 5
Huddle Rank: 38
Keeper: 44
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
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
2008 CLE 16 1180 4 279 1002 3.6 4 23 178  
Avg   16 1326 8 297 1146 3.9 7 24 180 1
Proj FA   960 3   850   3 16 110  

(-Risk) Lewis turns 30 years old right before the season starts and if anyone will prove that 30 years is the dividing line between good and in serious decline – that would be Lewis. The reality is that last year was not a sign of decline so much as it was just like two of the past three seasons. Lewis seemed to have a rebirth when he went to Cleveland when he ran for 1304 yards and scored nine times in 2007 behind a new beefy line and with a very easy schedule. Last year had 1002 yards but only a 3.5 yard per carry average. Same as 2005 and 2006. Lewis only scored four touchdowns last year and the Browns ended ranked #31 with only five team rushing touchdowns.

Cleveland did not add a runner in the NFL draft until their 6.22 pick of James Davis as the 14th back drafted this year. HC Eric Mangini has indicated that he likes Jerome Harrison so it is likely that the backfield will see more sharing this year and Lewis is dropping from being a fantasy starter since he needs a large volume of carries to ever hope of producing any significant stats. He comes cheaply in drafts and rightfully so. If you end up with Lewis, think about getting Harrison or even the rookie Davis because Lewis is now 30 and very likely to lose carries from injury or just plain ineffectiveness.

Huddle Rank: 39
Keeper: 29
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2008 CAR 16 883 10 184 836 4.5 10 8 47  
Avg   16 883 10 184 836 4.5 10 8 47 0
Proj CAR   700 7   640   7 10 60  

The Oregon rookie never took over as some expected last year but his 836 rushing yards and ten touchdowns was hardly a failed year. Stewart also averaged a healthy 4.5 yards per carry though DeAngelo Williams ended with a 5.5 YPC. This could be a much better year for Stewart though the Panthers have a horrible rushing schedule for 2009 and Williams is not going to just step aside. What remains to be seen is how the Panthers will use Stewart in away games. When at home, Stewart had 119 carries for 579 yards (4.9 YPC) in home games last year and typically those were big rushing efforts by Williams as well in games that the Panthers won. But away from Carolina, Stewart only had 65 carries for 257 yards (3.9 YPC). Stewart scored eight touchdowns at home but only once in the eight road games. Stewart also had some minor problems from his foot (that was injured in the offseason) and later a hamstring issue but he never missed a game.

Stewart is going surprisingly high in early drafts perhaps by the same people that expected much more from him last season. In 2008, you could have used either back with success but this year likely will not be so productive with a brutal schedule. Stewart is definitely worth owning and a very prudent pick by Williams owners. But he is going earlier than most #2 backs would so if you are high on Stewart, plan on picking him earlier than his value may indicate. The Panthers were a run heavy team last season but likely won’t have the same luxury with a bad schedule.

08-17-09 Update: He's missed much of camp with an Achilles Tendon injury and his risk is increasing. The notion is he getting more playing time this year is harder to accept.

Huddle Rank: 40
Keeper: 39
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
2006 TBB 5 63   11 59 5.4   1 4  
2007 TBB 15 1222 10 222 898 4.0 10 49 324  
2008 TBB 10 737 4 132 563 4.3 4 23 174  
Avg   10 674 5 122 507 4.6 5 24 167 0
Proj FA   870 4   690   4 25 180  

Graham suffered a late season high ankle sprain with ligament damage in 2008 but did not require surgery. He is expected to be completely healthy this year and already participated in some OTA’s. He fell off his 2007 pace when he gained 898 yards on 222 carries and scored ten times but still managed to rack up 563 yards and four scores in his injury shortened 2008. He also had a 4.3 yard average in games played. The change for this year is the addition of Derrick Ward to the backfield and the installation of a zone blocking scheme that should benefit Graham and Ward both.

Graham said he has no problem sharing the ball and that is all Ward has ever done. Different coaches and scheme, but Graham shared almost equally with Warrick Dunn last year already. Expect both Graham and Ward to combine for a decent rushing total and separately bleed away from each other what fantasy value could have been. Early money is on Graham reassuming a primary role but the ratio could be nearly even or favor Ward. It’s just yet another committee.

Huddle Rank: 41
Keeper: 45
Auction 10: 2%
Auction 12: 2%
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  
2008 NEP 3 93   28 93 3.3        
Avg   10 661 4 129 558 4.0 4 9 103 0
Proj FA   810 5   750   5 8 60  

Maroney finally revealed that he had a broken bone in his shoulder last season that somehow missed making the injury report. That might be disappointing for most running backs but it was just more of the same for the third-year running back who has a total of nine career starts and a mere 28 carries last season. Maroney has participated in OTA’s and says his shoulder is completely healed and he’s ready to show what he can do (Part IV). HC Bill Belichick insists that he still believes Maroney can be a factor but he’ll need to do the one thing that has so far eluded him – stay healthy. The Pats added Fred Taylor and still have Sammy Morris in an offensive scheme that always uses more than one running back. Taking any Patriot runner has always been risky and usually unrewarding. Maroney has been the worst of them all.

Huddle Rank: 42
Keeper: 65
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2006 PHI 16 601 3 83 345 4.2 2 24 256 1
2007 PHI 14 400 4 62 313 5.0 4 12 87  
2008 PHI 14 693 4 76 369 4.9 2 26 324 2
Avg   15 565 4 74 342 4.7 3 21 222 1
Proj FA   780 5   600   5 24 180  

The 30-year old Buckhalter comes to the Broncos as a very nice fit assuming that HC Josh Daniels wants to replicate the Patriots in Denver. That means Buckhalter has great veteran knowledge and in his eight seasons he was never much more than a support player. Only once has he rushed for more than four touchdowns on the season and his role in Philly has mostly been to drain away potential fantasy points from Brian Westbrook. He has never had more than 26 catches in a season and has just four career receiving touchdowns. He’s a great player for a complex offense that doesn’t demand too much from individual players.

Knowshon Moreno was drafted to be the starter so the question with C-Buck is how much playing time they give him over Moreno? This is shaping up to be a rushing offense but the offensive line is not nearly the dominating unit of their leg-whipping past. There is speculation that Buckhalter could become the Chester Taylor to Moreno’s “Adrian Peterson” but as much has been said in the past about Buckhalter and all he has done is disappoint or get injured. Now he is 30 years old – how much should the Broncos rely on him anyway?

Buckhalter could end up with some goal line role but even that is speculation. Figure on Buckhalter likely getting playing time every week and yet still never amounting to being worth a fantasy start. That may change should Moreno become injured, but even in that scenario it is no certainty that Buckhalter is worth owning. Chances are C-Buck’s workload decreases as the season progresses anyway.

Huddle Rank: 43
Keeper: 46
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2007 MIA 1 15   6 15 2.5        
2008 MIA 16 878 5 160 659 4.1 4 29 219 1
Avg   9 447 3 83 337 3.3 2 15 110 1
Proj FA   830 4   580   4 30 250  

Williams is 32 years old but thinks he can play a few more seasons. He did have considerable time off for various reasons so his body is not as worn as if he had remained a primary back. He is in the final year of his contract and ran 160 times for 659 yards and four touchdowns last season. He added 29 catches for 219 yards and another score as well. Williams is expected to play a lesser role since Ronnie Brown has completely healed from his ACL injury of 2007 but he’ll still figure in if only to reduce what Brown could have done alone. Look for Williams to have a slightly lesser role but still have fantasy significance.

Huddle Rank: 44
Keeper: 32
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2008 PIT 4 75   19 58 3.1   2 17  
Avg   4 75 0 19 58 3.1 0 2 17 0
Proj FA   760 5   620   5 18 140  

Time for a “do over”. Mendenhall’s rookie season quickly became a lost year when week four showed him why Ray Lewis has been an elite linebacker in the NFL for many years. Mendenhall broke his shoulder and went on injured reserve. He only had carries in two games and only managed 58 yards on 19 total runs for an anemic 3.1 yards per carry. There is no doubt that Mendenhall is the #2 back here but how much playing time he will get will depend on what he shows in training camp and how well Willie Parker plays in his contract year. Parker had major problems himself in 2008 but was more productive for the three previous seasons.

Mendenhall is completely recovered from the shoulder injury and is a definite watch during training camp. In many drafts he will be taken earlier than warranted based on Parker’s bad 2008 and Mendenhall’s potential. He’s a great pick for Parker owners but will be hard to reach thanks to other teams trying to steal him.

Huddle Rank: 45
Keeper: 50
Auction 10: 1%
Auction 12: 1%
2008 KCC 16 629 1 67 357 5.3   27 272 1
Avg   16 629 1 67 357 5.3 0 27 272 1
Proj KCC   830 3   390   2 42 440 1

(+Upside) Charles is undersized at only 199 pounds but he has the speed and open field ability to contribute. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry on his 67 runs last year and added 27 catches for 272 yards. Not bad for a third round rookie. More importantly, that will play into this year since Charles is being given the third down role. That makes him a handcuff for Larry Johnson that should offer at least moderate value in PPR leagues. The Chiefs offense is unlikely to be prolific this year but Charles could be worth stealing in a draft anyway with Johnson’s durability problems.

08-03-09 Update: The Chiefs still won't name a starting tailback and Charles is just buying himself more playing time by impressing the coaches. While Larry Johnson is still likely to win the starting role, Charles could become a bigger factor at the minimum.

Go To Running Back Rankings 46 - END >>

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