Fantasy Football Sleepers: Running Backs

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IJuly 9, 2008

Running back is widely regarded as the most important position in fantasy football. They touch the ball more than receivers and score plenty of touchdowns. 

In some fantasy leagues, the scoring system favors running backs over quarterbacks, especially when it comes to touchdowns. Often, quarterback touchdowns count for four points while running backs receive six points.

Running backs often dominate the top of fantasy drafts. According to, the top-five fantasy running backs for 2008 are LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, and Joseph Addai.

In leagues with more than six or seven teams, expect all of these players to be drafted in the first round.

Just about every league requires that you start at least two running backs. It's generally considered a smart idea to have a couple on your bench as well.

One major problem for fantasy owners is a trend many NFL teams are following. Because of wear and tear (e.g. Shaun Alexander), coaches are beginning to feature two-back systems. 

This hurts fantasy owners because this is leading to teams having one running back with a lot of yards and few touchdowns and another running back with fewer yards but a lot of touchdowns.

A classic example of this is in Jacksonville. Here are the statistics for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew from 2006 and 2007:


2006                       Rushing Yards                    Rushing TDs

Taylor                        1,146                                       5

Jones-Drew                 941                                         13


2007                       Rushing Yards                    Rushing TDs

Taylor                        1,202                                      5

Jones-Drew                 768                                         9


Fred Taylor gets more touches and more of a chance to rack up points, but Maurice Jones-Drew has a little bit more big-play ability and gets a number of goal-line touches.

When you are looking for a solid RB2 or backup, here are some possibilities.


Jamal Lewis

After a sensational 2003 season in which Lewis rushed for over 2,000 yards, he has had a few sub-par seasons. After consecutive seasons of averaging less than four yards per carry, the Ravens considered him washed up and replaced him with Willis McGahee. 

In 2007, Lewis signed with Cleveland and seems to have resurrected his career.  He rushed for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns in his first year as a part of the Browns' explosive offense.


Earnest Graham

Graham has been part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for all of his four years in the NFL, but didn't get significant playing time until last year. In 2007, he rushed for just under 900 yards and scored 10 TDs.  Also, Graham fumbled the ball only once last season.

Fantasy owners should expect more production from Graham this season. Michael Pittman is gone to Denver, and Cadillac Williams suffered a devastating leg injury in Week Four against Carolina and may not return to full strength in 2008.


Kevin Smith

Even though Smith is a rookie, running back seems to be the easiest position in which a rookie can make an impact. Don't expect him to have an Adrian Peterson-like impact as a rookie, but his presence will be felt.

During the offseason, the Lions cut ties with Mike Martz so that they could return to a more balanced offensive attack. Expect Smith to be the featured running back amongst a group of otherwise unimpressive players. As a rookie, look for Kevin Smith to rush for 800-1,100 yards and seven to 10 TDs.