2009 NFL Preview: Sophomore Running Backs

General PeppersCorrespondent IJuly 6, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  Darren McFadden poses for a photo after being selected fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders during the 2008 NFL Draft on April 26, 2008 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(This and all subsequent articles will now be available on InsidetheGridiron.com, a new website created by BleacherReport's own "The Rant")


The year 2008 was a precocious one for professional(and fantasy) football to say the least. 

LaDanian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook found themselves hitting the mythical age of 30; the kryptonite for NFL running backs. 

Sean Alexander found himself old.

Ronnie Brown found himself teamed up with King Willie from Predator II.

Adrian Peterson turned into Tracy McGrady.

Mike Shanahan had made it his personal objective to ruin the fantasy football running back; preaching running back by committee over the 300 yard monster.

Worst of all was that it was working and catching on—both Super Bowl teams used a team of running backs over the standard one.

Looking back, the 2008 NFL Draft was the mother of all "slump busters"; the world's sexiest fat chick so to speak.

While Darren McFadden was regarded as the headliner of a mediocre crew of running backs, ironically, he ended up as the least productive of the group. 

Today, I will be analyzing each rookie running back from the 2008 Draft who made an impact, and search for chances of a sophomore slump.

(Alright, as of now, I will think of another word for sophomore slump. It has become over-used and I'm officially sick of it. If anyone has any ideas for a new name let me know and I promise you will receive credit every time I use it.)

Tim Hightower

2008 Stats


143 399 2.8 10 118.5


2009 Schedule

San Fransisco





@New York




@St. Louis



@San Fransisco


St. Louis

Green Bay


Out: Edgerrin James

In: Beanie Wells; Larod Stephens-Howling


The first time you watched Old School I'm going to guess you or someone you were with said, "Oh man, the cowbell guy is funny. He should get his own movie."

Don't feel bad, we all thought this. 

Then Will Ferrell, the cowbell guy, got his own movies and they were good. . .

At first. 

Then the next 1,500 movies sucked because everyone had gotten used to his schtick, and we realized he was better used sparingly at certain spots.

That's Tim Hightower in a nutshell. He is the NFL's Will Ferrell.

Throughout the first 7-8 games of the NFL season, we saw Hightower snatch touchdown after touchdown and wished he would just get the start.

Then he finally did and we realized he was only good at the goal line.

Thankfully, the Cardinals coaches did as well and placed Edgerrin James back in the starting lineup.

Good news: Edgerrin James is now gone.

Bad News: The Cardinals spent first and seventh round picks on running backs.

Worse News: The Cardinals schedule. Look at the killer run defenses lined up:

Minnesota Vikings: Rank No. 1, 76.9 rushing yards allowed per game

Chicago Bears: Rank No. 5, 93.5 rushing yards allowed per game

Tennessee Titans: Rank No. 6, 93.9 rushing yards allowed per game

New York Giants: Rank No. 9, 95.8 rushing yards allowed per game

San Fransisco 49ers: Rank No. 13, 106.8 rushing yards allowed per game

Jacksonville Jaguars:Rank No. 13, 106.8 rushing yards allowed per game


If you're keeping count that's six teams in the top 13 of run defense, four in the top 10, two in the top five, and the number one overall run defense. 

Toss in the simple fact that no team drafts a running back in the first round if they feel comfortable with the one they've got, and you have a bad situation for Mr. Hightower this season. 

Kevin Smith

2008 Stats


238 976 8 39 286


2009 Schedule 

@New Orleans





@Green Bay

St. Louis




Green Bay




@San Fransisco



Out: Rudi Johnson

In: Maurice Morris


For those of you who just got done seeing Transformers II, the nickname for the 2009 Lions: Decepticons, go. 

Calvin Johnson is Megatron—an apt nickname for the physical monstrosity.

This would make Matthew Stafford The Fallen, the leader we just learned about.

Last, but certainly not least, would be the second in command, Starscream, or as he is more commonly known, Kevin Smith. 

Behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league Kevin Smith put together a surprisingly efficient campaign. 

Good News: With Rudi Johnson gone and Maurice Morris in Kevin Smith should see a lot more carries. 

Bad News: The Lions are in the NFC North and forced to play Chicago and Minnesota, two of the league's top 10 run defenses, twice a year.

Worse News: The NFC North's AFC counterpart is the AFC North, featuring the Steelers and the Ravens, the two best run defenses not named the Vikings.

The Lions will be playing four games against the league's top three run defenses.

Add in games against San Francisco and an early matchup with the Redskins, and the outlook for the Lions run game is quite bleak. 

Chris Johnson

2008 Stats

  Att    Yds     TD     Rec.   Rec.Yds.    Rec TD

 251   1,228    9      43      260           1


2009 Schedule



@N.Y Jets



@New England


@San Francisco





St. Louis


San Diego



Out: Lendale White's eating habits. News out of Tennessee is that he is slimming down.

In: Javon Ringer


Good News: Chris Johnson has stated that he is ready to break loose and do this running back thing solo. 

Bad News: Lendale White is still a Titan and they got a steal with Javon Ringer in the fifth round.

Worse News: Five of the first eight games are on the road and those first eight games are loaded with solid run defenses.

This schedule is similar to what the Titans faced last year and we saw how little of a problem that was. 

From a fantasy standpoint, Lendale White and Javon Ringer will be snatching touchdowns near the goalline. This isn't good.

On the bright side, if you are in a points per reception league, Chris Johnson will make up for his points by being the only RB on the team with reliable hands.

Matt Forte

2008 Stats

Att      Yds       TD     Rec.   Rec.Yds.    Rec TD

316   1,238      8        63      477           4


2009 Schedule

@ Green Bay


@ Seattle






@San Francisco



St. Louis

Green Bay





Out: Kyle Orton

In: Jay Cutler


Matt Forte was the steal of the 2008 NFL Draft. He would've been the steal of every fantasy football draft if not for the guy coming up next. 

He can do a little bit of everything: run hard, break long runs, catch the pass, and block.

Good News: Jay Cutler means less guys in the box.

Bad News: Four of the first six games are on the road. Thankfully, the news isn't devastating. The four road games are against porous run defenses.

Worse News: Like the rest of the NFC North, the Bears are forced into games against the Ravens and the Steelers. Unlike the Lions and Packers, the Bears don't have to play themselves. 


What makes Forte such a great player in both the NFL and fantasy football is his ability to be the best receiver on the field. In points per reception leagues, Matt Forte is an absolute monster and will make up for lost points in the rushing game with receiving touchdowns.

The Bears are still waiting for Hester to become their star receiver and in the mean time have yet to draft a WR in the first round.

Meaning Forte is still the best receiver on the team.

And you don't bring Jay Cutler in to throw less.

Steve Slaton

2008 Stats

 Att      Yds       TD     Rec.   Rec.Yds.    Rec TD

 268    1.282     9        50       377           1


2009 Schedule

New York Jets

@ Tennessee 



@ Arizona

@ Cincinnati

San Francisco

@ Buffalo

@ Indianapolis



@ Jacksonville


@ St. Louis

@ Miami

New England

Out: Ahman Green

In: Experience for Slaton


If you haven't seen the Real World: Cancun then you need to. 

I had a strong feeling it was going to work out based on the sum of its parts; a mix of temperamental hot chicks with boyfriends they couldn't wait to cheat on, standard All-American hot guy, pretentious guitar player, the standard gay guy, and Cancun on Spring Break.

Unsurprisingly, it all worked out.

In 2008, Steve Slaton was the Real World: Cancun.

All the parts were there; a top notch offense missing its essential RB, the two running backs ahead of him being the always injured Ahman Green and Chris Brown, and a speedy college back who fit the Texans blocking scheme to perfection.

Good News: Ahman Green is gone, meaning no more vultured touchdowns. They also play the oft porous Indianapolis defense twice a year.

Bad News: The Titans and Jaguars are on the schedule twice. 

Uh. . . More Good News: Slaton played some of his best games against the league's top defenses. 

In his two games against Jacksonville, Slaton averaged 70 yards receiving, 80 yards rushing, and a touchdown.

Against the Titans, Slaton averaged a whooping 108 yards rushing against one of the league's top defenses. 

Slaton was the consensus RB steal of every fantasy draft. The savvy leagues saw him go in the late 13th to 14th rounds.

Most leagues saw him go un-drafted.

With an easy schedule, no decent backup in sight, and an explosive offense ahead of him, Slaton is lined up for another spectacular season.

Just know he is going in the first round of every draft.

The Others

Darren McFadden. Oakland still has Vargas leading the way. McFadden will have an improved season but nothing to write home about.

Jonathan Stewart. Deangelo Williams will still be getting most of the carries as we saw Stewart fade towards season's end.

Felix Jones. Valued as a return man and thirrd down back. Not worth drafting in fantasy leagues due to the emergence of Tashard Choice

Rashard Mendenhall. Injured most of last season, Mendenhall should make an impact for the champion Steelers, but Willie Parker is still the man.

Ray Rice. The Baltimore backfield is too crowded for Rice to make a fantasy impact. He will still make the Ravens a better team though.

Tashard Choice. With his spectacular performance against the Steelers, Choice has moved himself into the backup behind the Barbarian. That means he's a solid handcuff but won't be seeing many touchdowns.

Ryan Torian/Peyton Hillis. The Broncos drafted Knowshon for a reason.

The rookie running backs of 2008 brought the NFL new life. 

They kick started several teams on the way down and elevated a few teams into playoff contention. 

The spotlight is now on the Running Back class of 2008 and after analyzing each contender, I'm throwing my hat on Steve Slaton to shine the brightest.