Cincinnati Reds

Capital Punishment in D.C.

Ryan BoniniContributor IMarch 13, 2010

Capital punishment in D.C.

Capital punishment will have a new meaning in D.C. this year, and fantasy football players won’t be happy with the results. Then again, it isn’t often many people are happy with what happens in D.C.

For years, fantasy football players always – and often without just cause in more recent years – looked at Mike Shanahan coached backfields and keyed on his running backs for fantasy success. The Shanahan-led Denver Broncos seemed to produce 1,000-yard running backs year after year. 

I, for one, was curious to see what the Washington Redskins would do with their running game after Shanahan took over the reigns.

Top running backs under Shanahan by year

YearTop RusherRun Yards
2008Peyton Hillis 343
2007Selvin Young 729
2006Tatum Bell 1,025
2005Mike Anderson 1,014
2004Reuben Droughns 1,240
2003Clinton Portis 1,591
2002Clinton Portis 1,508
2001Terrell Davis 701
2000Mike Anderson 1,487
1999Olandis Gary 1,159
1998Terrell Davis 2,008
1997Terrell Davis 1,750
1996Terrell Davis 1,538
1995Terrell Davis 1,117

Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis were special backs in the Denver system. Their one-cut and go ability led to dominating seasons behind Denver’s dynamite blocking schemes; but they were also in their prime.

From 2004-2008, while the Broncos saw some spot production from a handful of backs (sometimes fullbacks), none of the backs were dominating options. The running games in 2007 and 2008 were simply atrocious.

Fast forwarding to 2010…

Now, as the head coach of the Redskins, many fantasy football players may rely on perception surrounding Shanahan’s past and not on what he has to work with.

Can the Redskins revive LJ's career?

The Redskins signed running back Larry Johnson, 30, Friday, giving him a three-year deal that could be worth as much as $12 million per reports.

Washington also held onto Portis, 28, who is reunited with Shanahan, but was active for just eight games last season. Portis is also coming off his worst season as a pro by rushing for just 494 yards and one score.

Typically one looks at the 30-year-mark as the age running backs are on their way out, but you also have to factor in mileage their careers.

Portis will turn 29 when the season begins, while LJ will turn 31 in November. The two backs have combined for 3,597 attempts, 15,896 rushing yards and 128 rushing touchdowns. That’s amazing production, but it’s in the past.

Portis has been cleared of post concussion problems, but he never looked like the same back when he was on the field last year. He dealt with various leg ailments early in the year before succumbing to the concussion problems during the second-half of the season.

On top of that, Portis has carried the ball at least 273 times in six of his eight NFL seasons; the other two years he didn’t make it more than eight games due to injury problems.

I have a hard time believing he would be with the Redskins in 2010 if most of his $7.2 million base salary wasn’t guaranteed.

Washington running backs coach Bobby Turner seems to think differently, though. He still feels Portis has something left. ”I’ve looked at a bunch of his games, pretty close to every one…and he definitely has something left,” Turner said, according to Redskins.com. Portis did rush for 1,487 yards and nine scores just two years ago.

Then there is the newly added Johnson, who was cast aside by the Kansas City Chiefs last year and finished out the season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

LJ hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since 2006, which is when he posted 1,789 yards on 416 rushing attempts. The closest he has come to it since is his 874-yard campaign in 2008. He did, however, show some signs of life last year in Cincinnati, rushing for 204 yards and averaging 4.4 yards-per-attempt. I’m not even going to talk about his previous off-the-field problems.

“Obviously I’ve watched him from afar for years,” Shanahan said. “I coached Larry in the Pro Bowl. I like Larry. I’m a big fan of his.” 

Has anyone told Shanahan what year it is? Does he know how long ago Johnson was a Pro Bowl-caliber running back?

I’m an LJ fan, too, but I hate this signing. If I’m Washington, I would have looked at the NFL Draft or tried to pry one of the talented restricted free-agents away from another team. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t rather a much younger LenDale White, of the Tennessee Titans, working as the bulldozer for Washington instead of Johnson. Sure it would cost you a draft pick, but why throw away money?

The Redskins, who also have a poor offensive line, are going to be working in yet another new offensive system, have questions at quarterback and an offensive line nobody is going to brag about. This team is in rebuilding mode offensively, and trying to do it with two running backs that are clearly past their prime.

It is very early in the NFL offseason, and many things can change between now and the start of the NFL season. However, right now there is no reason to believe either of these two backs will be able to help power your fantasy football squad as anything more than a situational No. 4 running back.

Not only is the entire situation volatile, running back by committee may be a must for Washington. And, who wouldn’t be surprised to see the Redskins dip into the NFL Draft to take a young running back Shanahan eventually falls in love with. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that happen, would it?

***

Please follow me - @rblaptop - and KFFL – @kffl – on Twitter… I always have random things to say, and I always like hearing from our KFFLians around the globe.

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