There comes a time in every man’s life when he is forced to ask himself one simple question: If an NFL player were a 1980’s sitcom, which sitcom might that be. When such questions arise, there can be no rest until they are answered. Plus, since fantasy football drafts are just a few short weeks away, I figured this was as good a way as any to help the uninformed organize their draft boards, and since running backs are the backbone to any good fantasy team, let’s start with them. On to the sitcoms:
This was the granddaddy of all 80’s sitcoms. No other show could match its longevity or hilarity. From the classic theme song to unforgettable characters, this show forever changed the way sitcoms were made. The players in this category are simply the best at what they do. They’re so good, you may be tempted to start them during their bye weeks. And while not every one of them will go in the first round, don’t expect them to last long because everybody knows their names.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego: If LT has lost a step over the last season or two, it still leaves him two steps ahead of almost every other back in the league. With Michael Turner gone, and unproven rookie Jacob Hester as his main backup, LT will be relied upon to carry even more of the offensive load.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota: All-Day Adrian put up fantastic numbers last season as a rookie, but he has three things working against him this year. One is splitting time with Chester Taylor, and the other two are Tavaris Jackson. In spite of these, if Peterson can stay healthy, he should get most of the carries, and more big numbers will follow.
Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia: One way or another, Westbrook will get you yards. Last year he proved he could handle the work of an every down back and became the centerpiece of the Eagles’ offense. Look for Andy Reid to find more ways to get the ball into his hands. As an added bonus, many owners still haven’t forgiven him for the whole falling down on the one yard line thing in Dallas so he may fall an extra spot or two.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis: There are three reasons why Steven Jackson will rebound from last year’s poor numbers. 1. He’s fully healthy, 2. He has no capable backup, and 3. He’s in the final year of his contract. Think 2005 Shaun Alexander, only not so easy to tackle.
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis: I put Addai in this category reluctantly, not because he lacks the skills to be an elite back, but because the Colts have so many weapons, he may find it difficult to match last years touchdown total. Dominick Rhodes’ return may also cut into his playing time.
By the time the 1980’s rolled around, MASH had lost a little steam. While it was still a force to be reckoned with in the television world, the times were changing and it became clear that it was time to pull the plug on MASH. These players have seen their best years come and go and may not be all they once were. But MASH did draw a record 70 share for its final episode - do these players have one more year of greatness left in them?
Larry Johnson, Kansas City: No QB, no O-line, over 1,000 career rushes (not counting college), and coming off an injury make LJ suddenly looking older than his age (28). Don’t expect him to regain his 2006 form. Let someone else draft this season’s Ahman Green.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh: Fast Willie saw a big drop in touchdowns last year and that trend should continue into 2008. Coming off a broken leg, he now has to share carries with Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh’s first round pick out of Illinois. Someone will draft him way to high - make sure it isn’t you.
Jamal Lewis, Cleveland: Lewis had a renaissance of sorts last year in Cleveland, but there were enough red flags to make me worry about having him on a fantasy roster. He had a string of seven games (he played in six) in which he gained only 260 yards. You hope for steady production from a running back, but that was the wrong kind of steady. Also, of his nine rushing touchdowns, four came in one game. While he won you a game that week, he didn’t help much in other weeks. Add to that 2,000 career carries and multiple knee operations, and I would be wary of this back unless you can get him in the middle rounds.
Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: Taylor is coming off of one of his best years as a pro. He has managed to stay healthy the last two years, and is the perfect blend of size and speed. But the Jags have started to limit his carries (only 223 last year) and with Jones-Drew on the roster, they may be more inclined to save the 1-2 punch for the playoffs and give the 32 year old a little more rest. If Taylor can average almost five and a half yards per carry like he did last year, you would be wise to draft him, but I think Father Time will start to catch up with Taylor this season.
Ronnie Brown, Miami: Brown was poised for a big season until an injury cut his 2007 season short. Brown appears to be fully recovered and in an even better position to put up big numbers for the Dolphins. With a new grind-it-out offensive philosophy, Brown should get plenty of touches. The offense won’t score much, but when it does, Brown should get more than his fair share.
While this show may never be ranked among the all time greats, it carved out its own little niche in television history. It lasted a surprisingly long time even though it went through bailiffs like Spinal Tap went through drummers. While these players won’t wow you with their weekly performances, when you look back on the season, you’ll be happy with their steady, if unspectacular production.
Clinton Portis, Washington: Only two things keep Portis from being an elite back: the tough NFC East, and Ladell Betts. I don’t think the Redskins offense will be dynamic enough to get Portis many monster games, but 1,000 and 10 seems very doable.
Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo: Lynch is a talented back who is going to be counted on even more heavily in Buffalo this season. Expect his receiving numbers to increase dramatically. However, a shaky quarterback, a conservative offense (mostly because of the shaky QB), and the whole hit and run incident casting a shadow over the early part of the season may keep Lynch from improving much on his rookie numbers.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: Frank Gore has lost some value since DeShaun Foster became a 49er. I’m not buying it. Gore has continually proved doubters wrong since he entered the NFL, and now that a career underachiever joins the team (3.5 per attempt and 5 lost fumbles last year alone) we’re all supposed to assume Frank is no longer the Tank? Like I said, I’m not buying it.
Who’s the Boss
Outside of Alyssa Milano, I’m not quite sure what the draw of this show was. Year after year we had to watch Tony overact in every scene, the skeleton that played Angela, and Mona, the uncomfortably horny grandmother, and still this show would not die. This show was overrated and so are these players. Each of them will go one or two rounds ahead of where they should. Draft with caution.
LenDale White, Tennessee:Also known as the boy who couldn’t stop eating. Even after gaining 1,000 yards last season, I’m still not convinced LenDale gets it. Clearly Tennessee doesn’t either, seeing they drafted running backs in the early rounds in the last two years. A power back that only has 7 touchdowns doesn’t merit a first round pick. Late second/early third seems about right for this guy.
Willis McGahee, Baltimore: Since the Bills were suckered into drafting an injured McGahee in the first round, Willis has brought loads of potential but lacked the production. He doesn’t score like the elite backs nor is he a great receiver. Baltimore is also faced with the prospect of starting a rookie QB this season, making the running all the more difficult for the Raven back. Slide this guy down about half a round on your draft board. (Quick side note: I considered adding a “Different Strokes” category only so I could write “what you talkin’ ‘bout Willis).
Selvin Young, Denver: Ever since the days of Terrell Davis, Denver Bronco running backs have been a hot commodity among fantasy owners. Yes, Young averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year, and yes, he has more experience in Denver’s system than his two backups. But one touchdown in 140 carries last year? That’s only one more than I got, and I had 140 less carries than he did. Look for the dreaded “running back by committee in Denver this season and rather pedestrian numbers out of Young.
Reggie Bush, New Orleans: Reggie can endorse all the sandwiches and date all the reality stars he wants, but if you draft him, all you’ll get is a famous name. With the Duece dropping back into the starting lineup and doing all of the heavy lifting, Bush is relegated to a situational player who will get the ball between the 20’s, but not when it matters.
Darren McFadden, Oakland: Did you ever have all your friends tell you to go see a movie because it’s sooooo good and it will change your life and it’s so funny you’ll pee yourself, and you go to this movie, and there’s no way it can possibly live up to all the hype, so even though it turned out to be a decent movie, you still went home disappointed? That’s Darren McFadden. After all the Peterson hype last year, many are expecting McFadden to immediately step in and be an elite back. Won’t happen. He’ll be good, maybe even very good, but will probably go way too soon - no one wants to miss out on the next great thing.
Justin Fargas, Oakland: Technically Fargas is listed as the starting running back in Oakland, and technically Marissa Tomei won an Acadamy Award. That doesn’t mean Fargas will get more than 100 carries this year and it doesn’t mean Tomei can act. It’s the old “we don’t want the rookie to get too full of himself, so we’ll make him second string for the first two weeks of camp, only you and I both know that both his legs would have to fall off before we open the season with him on the bench” move. Don’t fall for it, Fargas is dead weight.
Julius Jones, Seattle: If you look back at the Dallas Cowboy message boards around the time Jones signed with Seattle, you would be hard pressed to find anyone sad to see him leave. Soft, can’t break tackles, Shaun Alexander with less effort, were words and phrases that kept coming up. That he has talent I do not doubt, but if he had half the desire of his brother Thomas, he’d be twice the back he is now. Duckett takes away any chance of goal line scores and Morris is a proven third down back. Jones can play on 1st and ten and maybe 2nd and 5. Stay away.
Felix Jones, Dallas: Jones is your classic college running back who will have a hard time transitioning to the pros. His speed enabled him to bounce just about everything to the outside as a Razorback, and since most defenses were exhausted from chasing McFadden all over the field, Jones had some nice looking stats. In the NFL, he’s not beating linebackers to the corner, and at 200 pounds, he’s not pounding the ball up the middle. Don’t be fooled by the first round draft pick; he’s a third down back and nothing more.
Chester Taylor, Minnesota: Taylor isn’t your classic handcuff back. He carried the ball over 150 times last year, scored 7 rushing touchdowns, and is paid like a starter. That being said, barring a Peterson injury, there’s no way he matches those numbers in 2008. Brad Childress needs to put a winner on the field, and despite the Vikings strong finish in 2007, if they miss the playoffs yet again, Childress’s only job may be renting out his moustache to Jeremy Giambi. He’ll ride the Peterson train as long as it holds up. If you were lucky enough to get Peterson, grab Taylor later on just in case, otherwise, pass.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina: When is a starting running back not a starting running back? When the team drafted another running back in the first round. There is very little learning curve for running backs in the NFL, so it won’t take Jonathan Stewart long to pick up Carolina’s offense. Williams may be officially listed as the starter, but when the game is over, expect Stewart to have all the stats.
Charles in Charge
If you turned on this show in the 80’s you needed to keep the remote close at hand. It could be an early episode where Charles looked after the weird kid who pretended to be an alien (unwatchable), or it could be a later episode starring the smoking hot Nicole Eggert (unbelievable). One of the original syndicated shows, you never knew what you would get. It’s all or nothing with these players. You may look back on your draft as the day you picked a future star of Baywatch or you may regretfully see it as the day you chose a kid wearing a rubber mask on his head.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville: This used to be an easy one: Draft the second back in Jacksonville, wait for Fred Taylor to blow out his hamstring, lather, rinse, repeat. But for two years now, Taylor has remained relatively healthy, even getting his first Pro Bowl selection last year. Jones-Drew can be expected to have a few monster games this year, but you can also expect a few clunkers as well, as Jacksonville tends to go with the hot back during any given game.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay: Ryan Grant had as good a half a season as you could hope for from a first year starter. Based on last year’s numbers, you could expect 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns out of Grant. Of course, Packer fans don’t have to look any farther than Samkon Gado to know that half a season doesn’t mean much in the NFL. This could be a classic boom or bust pick. Since the Packers have former second round pick Brandon Jackson right behind him, don’t be surprised if a slow start means a lot less carries for Grant.
Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay: Graham was one of the feel good fantasy stories of 2007. Is 2008 the next chapter in that story? Probably not. With two capable replacements in Williams and Dunn, Graham will probably not see the touches he did last season. In those smash mouth, grind it out kind of games, you may see big numbers from him, but there will be more than a couple disappointing games as well.
Thomas Jones, New York Jets: Adding a proven 1,000 yard back to a ten-win team was supposed to make the Jets a Super Bowl contender. Things don’t always work out like we think they will. If you drafted Jones last year, you were probably mildly disappointed with his work (and by mildly I mean extremely, and by disappointed I mean suicidal). Yet I wouldn’t count out Jones just yet. The Jets’ two young linemen, Ferguson and Mangold are a year older and hopefully a year better. Add Alan Faneca to the mix and suddenly the Jets have a decent line to run behind. Jones won’t be as bad as last year, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how far that line will take him.
Kevin Jones, Chicago: Signed to a one year deal, this is a make or break season for Jones. Health issues in ‘06 and ‘07 have made GM’s question his durability (and with good reason). Yet there’s nothing quite like a guy playing in a contract year. Couple that with a guy who had to swallow his pride and take a deal that was far below what he thought he was worth, and you’ll be sure to get maximum effort out of Jones - as long as that effort’s not put forth in the trainer’s room.
It’s Your Move
After being let go from Silver Spoons, Jason Bateman was given the chance to star in his own sitcom. It was funny, clever, and well-written, and yet somehow, the show only lasted 18 episodes. It’s a show that left you wondering, “What if?” Players in this category can be summed up in two words: unrealized potential. Every indication was that these guys should be great, but for whatever reason, they never quite got their chance. Will this be the year they finally put it all together?
Marion Barber, Dallas: This guy’s owners think the same thing every year: what kind of numbers would Barber put up if he was the man in Dallas? Now Barber has that opportunity and the sky’s the limit. Felix Jones will be a third down specialist at best, and certainly wouldn’t be used around the goal line. At worst, he should put up numbers similar to the last two years, and at best he’s pushing for a spot among the NFL’s elite.
Laurence Maroney, New England: What if Maroney was the Man in New England? What if Belichick ran up his fantasy numbers like Moss and Brady? Despite averaging 4.5 yards a carry last year, Maroney only had 2 twenty carry games in 2007. If he gets the carries and if he stays healthy, look out. If Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk get as much playing time as last year, well . . .
Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants: There are many mysteries in the universe. Why do the swallows return to Capestrano? Who put those statues on Easter Island? How in the world did Brandon Jacobs only score four rushing touchdowns last year? Jacobs had an otherwise fantastic fantasy year in 2007, but the low td number came as a shock to almost everyone. Don’t expect that trend to continue. The Giants have figured out their offense, and if Eli has learned anything from Peyton, he’s learned a touchdown is a touchdown even if it’s not pretty. Expect double digits from Jacobs this year.
Michael Turner, Atlanta: The super-sub finally gets his chance. After years of being one of the most highly drafted handcuffs in fantasy football, we finally get to see if Turner is the real deal or if he was just riding LT’s coattails the last three seasons. While Turner’s high yards per carry and fresh legs may be appealing, there are some red flags on this one.
The Falcons’ running game took a hit without Michael Vick, and with an unproven quarterback, teams may have eight in the box most of the year. His career high in carries is 80 - and most of those came after LT wore down the defense - being the man in the backfield is a whole different world. Finally, with all the hype he’s gotten over the last few seasons, he will probably go half a round to a round higher than he should.
Archie Bunker’s Place
Gloria, Meathead, and the Jeffersons? Gone, gone, and gone. It’s a new cast, a new location, but the same old Archie Bunker (sort of). While never as popular as All in the Family, this show gave a fresh start to one of television’s most popular characters. These players all have new homes and a fresh start. Will it breathe new life into their careers or will we be looking at another Joanie Loves Chachi?
T.J. Duckett, Seattle: T.J. is a classic short yardage back. In Atlanta, he averaged nearly eight touchdowns a year. After a wasted year in Washington, he spent last season in Detroit, stuck in an offense that didn’t really suit him. While Mike Holmgren’s west coast offense isn’t a perfect fit for Duckett, they have no one else on the roster that can move a pile (in a good way) like he can. He could very easily get back to scoring 8+ touchdowns this season and be a steal in the later rounds.
Shaun Alexander (current free agent): He should have a team by the end of training camp, but it will most likely be in a backup role. Worth a late pick, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on the situation.
The Golden Girls
Old ladies living in Florida just waiting to die. Anyone who can give a more in depth review of this 20 year old show is most likely dead. There’s nothing golden about these players. Avoid these old timers like you owe them money.
Edgerrin James, Arizona: Edge left a high-powered offense in Indy for the money of Arizona and his numbers have suffered ever since. With over 3,000 touches in his career, and a Cardinal offense full of quality receivers, James will be hard pushed to reach 1,000 yards this season. Stick a fork in him, he’s done.
Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati: The numbers say Rudi should still have something left in the tank. Only 28 years old, and less than 1,500 carries. The numbers, however, clearly did not watch him play last year. He looked injured, old, and slow last year. Some of that may be attributed to the less than stellar Bengal offense of a year ago, but something tells me if Rudi gets off to a slow start this year, Marvin Lewis will be quick with the hook.
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans: While the Duece is only 29, his knees are aging in dog years. After 2 unspectacular games in ‘07, McAllister went down with a knee injury in game three. With Reggie Bush, he’s sharing the backfield in a pass happy offense. Don’t expect this guy to make much of an impact on your fantasy roster.
Ahman Green, Houston: It’s always temping to grab an aging back with the idea that he’s got one more year left in the tank, and if his health holds up, and if his line blocks well, and if his team can stay committed to the run, he just might be the steal of the draft. If you have these thoughts about Ahman Green, stop it! Stop it now! Green hasn’t played a full season since 2003. He has almost 2,000 career carries, and he plays in one of the toughest divisions in football. If you really want Green on your roster, pick up a copy of Madden ‘05 and go nuts.
Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay: Dunn was always a better player in real life than in fantasy leagues, but he’s reached the point in his career where he’s not great in either. He’s more of an insurance policy than anything else for the Bucs. But even if Graham gets hurt and Williams isn’t all the way back from his injury, Dunn may not be able to hold up for an entire season anymore anyway.
Ricky Williams, Miami: Insert marijuana joke here.
A show that many consider the greatest sitcom of all time, The Seinfeld Chronicles debuted just as the 80’s were drawing to a close. A summer fill-in, it went on the air with little or no promotion from NBC. Who could have known that this “show about nothing” would turn into a top ratings getter for the next decade. Ah, the sleepers. Any idiot knows Adrian Peterson is good, but to find the guy that was ignored for 12 rounds and then spend the next 16 weeks reminding everyone that only you had the foresight to see his true potential - that may be the most satisfying moment in fantasy football.
Kevin Smith, Detroit: The stars are all aligning for Kevin Smith to have a big year. Mike Martz and his pass happy offense have moved to San Francisco, the only proven running back on the roster (Kevin Jones) was cut, and there are no real threats to take the starting job away from him. With all the big name first round running backs, Smith may outperform them all.
Matt Forte, Chicago: I liked Forte a lot better before the Bears signed Kevin Jones. While he could still get the starting job, it now seems like a running back by committee is forming in Chicago. Keep an eye on things in training camp and if Jones struggles, don’t hesitate to grab Forte.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina: If Stewart had to go to a team that already had an established back, Carolina was the place to go. DeAngelo Williams has not exactly proven himself to be a workhorse, and he isn’t a powerful back around the goalline. At worst, Stewart should be a short yardage back who could get 8-10 touchdowns. At best he takes over for Williams and gains 1,000 yards. Either is a realistic possibility.
Ryan Torain, Denver: Torain seems like a good fit for the Broncos one-cut run philosophy, and I’m not totally sold on Selvin Young. Take a late round flyer on this guy. I see some real potential in him.
Best of the Rest
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: A nice change of pace back from Jacobs, he proved in the playoffs he can produce when he has to.
Jerious Norwood, Atlanta: Always a homerun threat, Norwood is a good handcuff for Turner. He should be a wise late round pick.
Jason Wright, Cleveland: Really didn’t show much when he filled in for Lewis last year, but if Lewis goes down, Cleveland doesn’t have much else. A win by default is still a win, right?
Chris Brown, Houston: With Ahman Green’s inability to stay healthy, Brown has added value. The fact that he’s a former 1,000 yard gainer make him even more attractive in the later rounds.
Ladell Betts, Washington: A fluke year in 2006 valued him higher than he probably deserves. As long as Portis stays healthy, there aren’t many carries left for Betts.
Ray Rice, Baltimore: With the departure of Musa Smith, Baltimore has an opening at the backup halfback spot. Rice will fill the role nicely, but as a rookie, don’t expect too much from him.
Tatum Bell, Detroit: Bell’s only real value comes from the fact that with a rookie ahead of him, he may see a few more snaps. Even the Vikings took it easy on Peterson in the first half of last year, right?
Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia: The good news is that the Eagles are very comfortable using Buckhalter if Westbrook gets hurt. The bad news is Westbrook has remained surprisingly durable over the last couple years. A good handcuff if you own Westbrook but not much else.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh: In a keeper league, I would be very high on this guy, but this will be a learning year for Rashard. He’ll take some of Parker’s carries, but only enough to hurt Parker’s value. Watch for Mendenhall next year.
Leon Washington, New York Jets: Should see improved numbers over last year for the same reasons as Thomas Jones. Has extra value as a backup because of his return ability (if your league counts return stats).
Kenny Watson, Cincinnati: Watson had a couple of really nice games after Rudi went down last year. It may lead to an expanded role in this year’s Bengal offense. Either way, have him ready if Rudi stumbles.
Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis: A return to Indy can only mean good things for Rhodes. Manning and the offensive unit already have confidence in his abilities, and his knowledge of the offense should mean a big role for Rhodes this year.
Chris Henry, Tennessee: I would be incredibly apprehensive if I had to start Henry in either fantasy football or real life. Then again, I would be incredibly apprehensive if I had to start LenDale White too. A good handcuff, not much else.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo: Jackson had a pretty strong second half last season. If Lynch goes down, he would be a capable backup.
DeShaun Foster, San Francisco: A career underachiever who fumbles too much, Foster should be a perfect fit for San Francisco. However, if/when Gore’s knees give out, someone has to carry the ball - might as well be Foster.
Sammy Morris, New England: Only because, for some reason, Maroney is horribly misused in New England.
Jacob Hester, San Diego: LT showed signs that he’s human last year. If he goes down this season, Hester would be nice to have.
Brandon Jackson, Green Bay: The Packers have been impressed with Jackson this off-season. If not for Grant’s phenomenal second half of 2007, Jackson would have gone into this year’s training camp as the starter. Look for a bigger role from Jackson this year.
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Tampa Bay: Too much uncertainly about his knee to recommend taking him with anything but your last pick, but he certainly has the talent to contribute when healthy.
Travis Henry (current free agent): No team, probable suspension, and more kids than Dick Van Patton make Henry an ultra-high-super-duper risky pick. If some team happens to sign him and if he doesn’t get suspended, you may want to consider the possibility of maybe thinking about drafting him.
Rest of the Rest
You may have a need for still more backs if you play in larger leagues. I wouldn’t count on these guys, but some may have limited value.
Adrian Peterson, Chicago
Kevin Faulk, New England
Michael Pittman, Denver
Aaron Stecker, New Orleans
Steve Slaton, Houston
Darren Sproles, San Diego
Derrick Ward, New York Giants
Kolby Smith, Kansas City
Jesse Chatman, New York Jets
Brian Leonard, St. Louis
Maurice Morris, Seattle
Chris Johnson, Tennessee
Marcel Shipp, Arizona
Next week, Dan will be breaking down this year’s crop of quarterbacks. So, same bat time, same bat channel, and don’t miss it!