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Running Backs Movin' Up - Week 14
Tim Van Prooyen
December 8, 2009
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Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Movin’ Up

Breakdown: The regular season of fantasy football is coming to an end in many leagues.  With that in mind we realize that, minus the opportunity that may arise due to injury, the players with something to bring to the table this fantasy season are pretty much well known to all.  Therefore our perspective must change a bit, leading us to look beyond just this season but to next season as well.  Whether for keeper league purposes, trade purposes, or whatever other purposes may be pertinent, we’ll be taking a weekly look at players and situations that fantasy owners should be aware of in order to be on top of their game moving forward.

Shonn Greene (NYJ) – Shonn Greene is a bit of an interesting study from a fantasy football standpoint.  Most of the intrigue here comes from the fact that the Jets entered the season with a very solid, yet very curious setup.  The ‘starter’ coming in was Thomas Jones, this was pretty much assured from the get go, but Jones was 31 when the season started, so there were of course worries of how much more he had left.  Behind him, and expected to take a much bigger share of the carries this year, was Leon Washington.  Washington was the guy who had been biding his time and, it was generally thought, deserved his shot at the top.  However, then there was Greene, who the team had traded up to grab in the third round of this year’s draft, meaning the team thought an awful lot about his future potential for the team.

Fast forward to today, the season is winding its way down and the situation is still curious.  Jones has had another great year, at 31, and doesn’t seem close to slowing down in spite of those who keep predicting his demise.  Washington was put on the IR earlier in the year, will be 28 at the start of next season, and will be a free agent at the end of this year.  Jones has one year left on his contract and likely will be a headache in the off season for the team, as he was last off season.  All in all the signs point to Greene getting a chance to be at least a bigger component of the running game next season.  He’ll likely see a role similar to that which Washington was playing prior to his injury, which would make him a solid number three back in most scoring systems.  When you factor in the age of Jones and the fact that extremely few running backs are effective beyond age 30, much less 32, there is a whole lot to like about Greene going forward.  The Jets are, and likely will remain, a run first team.  Their basic philosophy is fairly set, so whoever ends up as the primary ball-carrier is a very good fantasy option.  That person looks to be Greene in the relatively not-too-distant future.

Cadillac Williams (TBB) – I buy and hold on to a number of fantasy football and NFL pre-season magazines each summer for a few reasons, one of which is to look back and see just how much was predicted right and wrong.  In looking back at a couple of them now on the Tampa Bay team sections it is very intriguing to see what was expected vs. what has come to be.  The team acquired Derrick Ward in the off season from the Giants hoping that he’d join with Earnest Graham to form quite a dynamic duo in the backfield.  Graham, 29, is signed through 2012, and Ward, also 29, is signed through 2013.  It would seem like a case closed situation.

But it isn’t.  Not even close.

Williams, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Buccaneers, is truly an amazing story.  The simple fact is, he shouldn’t really be playing at all.  He has torn the patellar tendons in both legs; the right in 2007, the left last year.  There was a lot of speculation that his career was over, but he not only came back, he came back in time to play in the first game of the 2009 season.  The Bucs have struggled offensively all season, so no back on the team is setting the world on fire, but consider this.  Ward is on pace to carry the ball 115 times for about 400 yards on the season with one touchdown.  Graham’s pace is pathetic, he’ll likely end the year with less than twenty carries for less than 100 yards.  Williams, the guy who should have been done playing football, is on pace for 127 carries for close to 500 yards on the season, to go with about three touchdowns. 
However, while it would seem like a logical assumption to think that the team will make Williams their main guy in 2010, there is a catch.  While Ward and Graham have a few years left on their current contracts, Williams will be a free agent at the end of this season.  While his numbers haven’t been the stuff of legend, he’s done very well all things considered.  With the premium on running backs that can perform well in the NFL, he’ll be in relatively high demand around the league, and the Bucs will have some tough decisions to make.

So what does this mean for fantasy owners?  Assuming he’s able to stay healthy, which he’s done relatively well so far this year, Williams looks to have a starting job somewhere next year.  It could very well be in Tampa Bay, where he’d likely see more carries on the season than he did this year, but it could very well be somewhere else.  The great thing about it is that regardless of where he goes, he’s likely to be the primary ball carrier.  This, even on bad teams, has a certain amount of inherent value.  For fantasy owners, he’s someone that was probably drafted pretty late in most drafts, thereby commanding only a late round pick for those in keeper leagues.  The nice thing about it is, he’s a great grab for a likely low price, with a high reward possibility and relatively low risk.  Those two things don’t come together in running backs too often, and should be seized when they do.

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