It’s Fantasy Football time! I can smell it in the air, and I can practically taste it. As always, we’re going to start off with the money player – the Runningback (RB). For those of you that are familiar with my time here at BR and how I conduct my picks, feel free to head on down to the rankings. As for the rest of you, I suggest you read the next few bullet points before jumping to any conclusions:
#1. I’m not going to mimic what all the magazines say. I write this piece every year because it represents what I think – not because it represents what everyone else thinks. That said, if you don’t like what you see here, you’re welcome to read something else.
#2. Don’t forget to handcuff! For every Brian Westbrook on your team, you NEED to have a Correll Buckhalter. Don’t put yourself into a bad waiver spot late in the season when a late pick can give you enough depth for the rough times.
#3. For all RB rankings, I am assuming that the following point system is in place:
20 yds rushing = 1 pt
20 yds receiving = 1 pt
1 Reception = .5 pts
Rushing touchdown = 6 pts
Receiving touchdown = 6 pts
Fumbles = -3
#4. I place high emphasis on PPR (Points Per Reception) RB choices. These are the guys that are going to give you consistent production every week. For those of you that think receptions for a RB mean less than a touchdown, consider this: 6 receptions for 60 yards is the equivalent of a touchdown. Certain players (Reggie Bush, LaDainian Tomlinson) can accumulate these numbers any given week, making trips to the end zone icing on the cake. Don’t underestimate the power of the reception.
That said, on to the rankings. The top 30 relevant RB for 2008 are…
#1. LaDainian Tomlinson: This is a gimme. LT Is rock-solid every year, produces more passing touchdowns than most Bears quarterbacks, stays healthy, and destroys opposing defenses by air or ground. Better still, Michael Turner is in Atlanta, meaning that the garbage time may go to Tomlinson anyways (and San Diego’s defense and quarterback ensure that there won’t be many passing shootouts). Needless to say, he is the quintessential #1 pick.
#2. Joseph Addai: What? Not Adrian Peterson? Consider this: Addai shares time with no one, plays on one of the best offenses in football, and doesn’t need speed to prove his value. He is, essentially, consistent brute force. He will get all red-zone carries (and there are plenty to go around, as Addai got a league-leading 20 goal-line carries), has no real competition (Kenton Keith fought the law…and the law won), and will be getting Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez back this year to take men out of the box. He scored more than Peterson last year, had twice as many receptions, and was banged up the whole time. Just imagine what a healthy season can do…
#3. Adrian Peterson: OK, now we can go on about Peterson. Adrian is what I like to call the “ruiner.” Basically, his performance can make or break your fantasy team, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. He has unbelievable breakaway speed, good instincts, and no ceiling in sight. However, his problems are numerous: he gets hurt a lot (has missed time every year since 2005), he has Chester Taylor eating carries (especially on those important 3rd downs), and his quarterback is awful. That said, expect Peterson to provide you with many “explosive” games, but no promises when you’ll need him the most. Watch out for the injury bug here, too, as anything that detracts from his speed kills his value.
#4. Brian Westbrook: Brian Westbrook IS the Eagles offense. He runs every down, catches every pass, and ultimately doubles his value as a player – even if his team is too shoddy to get into the red-zone. I have a soft spot for Westbrook – the man has unreal agility, field vision, and hands. Unfortunately, Brian Westbrook has a soft spot…or 10. Westbrook played his closest-to-healthy season in 2007 than I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t say that he’ll be that lucky again, but with last year’s 90 receptions for 771 yards and 5 TD’s, you essentially got a free Bobby Engram along with any rushing stats he racked up.
#5. Stephen Jackson: Jackson possesses pure talent. He can do everything Brian Westbrook does, but he has the power to match it. Why is he ranked lower? In addition to Jackson getting hit hard by the injury bug last year, the rest of his team is also prone. The loss of Isaac Bruce means that Torry Holt and his messed-up knee are the entire passing attack. Bulger and Orlando Pace can’t seem to stay healthy either, allowing defenses to pack everyone into the box and make Jackson’s life a living hell. If all the Rams stay healthy, look for Jackson to bounce up a few slots.
#6. Frank Gore: Gore is in a great spot right now. His team has improved tremendously (which, for San Francisco, doesn’t mean much), and he has a great coach in Martz who will look to get him the ball more as a receiver. Gore carried the offense himself last year at great personal expense (read: injury), and looks to benefit from Martz in the 80-90-reception range. Toss in his versatility once he has the ball, and you might be looking at a great steal at pick #6.
#7. Ryan Grant: I find Ryan Grant terrifying as a guy with the 7th pick in his fantasy draft. On one hand, Grant was an absolute monster last season, besting all RB’s in terms of production, explosiveness, and clutch ability. With a more conservative QB on an already strong offense, he should be getting even more attempts. On the flip side, who knows if Grant can reproduce last year’s results? His stats scream Sophomore Slump, and losing Favre might affect how he is used in the game plan. Then again, how can you refuse the potential at this slot?
#8. Marshawn Lynch: Marshawn Lynch is turning into everything Willis McGahee was supposed to be in Buffalo: a bruising no-holds-barred punisher who pushes the ball downfield. Lynch was a model of consistency last year, pulling 70 yards and/or a score like clockwork. He led the NFL in carries last year (21.5 per game), fumbled only once, and if Trent Edwards can force opposing defenses to concentrate on Lee Evans, he’s going to make you a happy camper. If Buffalo’s passing game isn’t working, or if Lynch has nagging problems from last year’s injury, then you might want to plan accordingly.
#9. Marion Barber: I really REALLY don’t like Marion Barber as an RB1, but his placement on the team dictates that he needs to be a top-10 pick. If Deion Sanders was “Prime Time,” Barber is “Garbage Time.” Julius Jones ran down the opposing team for the first half of the game, and then Barber would come in with the lead (and fresh legs) to pound on a weary defense. The results? Lots and lots of big scores in garbage time. Barber’s running style of “I’m-going-to-go-out-of-my-way-to-hit-you” screams “INJURY RISK,” and I worry that the younger Felix Jones may by the one getting those garbage time scores instead of Barber. Even so, if the Cowboys offense leans on him in the red-zone, he can produce with flying colors. Buyer Beware.
#10. Clinton Portis: Portis is healthier, stronger, and more focused than ever this year…which may not do him a lick of good if he can’t fit into coach Zorn’s new offense. Portis will be relying more on his hands (he did a fine job with 47 receptions in 2007), and more on QB Jason Campbell, who may or may not be up for the challenge. Because Ladell Betts always waits in the wings, taking Portis results in drafting Betts in the 6th round or so. If you’re prepared to part with that pick, then vote Clinton in ’08 (cheesy pun…sue me).
#11. Larry Johnson: Has it been so long that Johnson was once a top three pick? Doesn’t anyone else remember when Johnson was a 3rd-round handcuff to Priest Holmes? Johnson is an absolute monster, pure and simple. His workload is obscene, and he handles it as best he can. The real issue for Johnson is the offensive line. If the Chiefs can muster some sort of protection on the line (or a legitimate passing attack), look for Johnson to be the best value sleeper this year.
#12. Willis McGahee: Every fantasy magazine in the country hates McGahee this year, and I don’t know why. McGahee carried a pitiful Ravens offense last year with 4.1 yards per carry, and 43 receptions. Keep in mind, that was done with the mess of McNair (retired) and Kyle Boller (likely behind Flacco on the depth chart) at the helm, meaning that the Ravens rarely had the ball long enough to run it. McGahee has no competition (Ray Rice? Please), will benefit from better defense (more time with the lead to run the ball), and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should make him into a star.
#13. Lauerence Maroney: Sleeper Alert! Maroney was a bust last year, but it wasn’t his fault. When you have the perfect gameplan of “air it out to Randy Moss,” you really have no reason to try and run the ball. Likewise, when you love running up the score, running the ball takes away precious humiliation time. All of these factors spelled limited time for Maroney (along with that brief injury that allows Morris to get in the game), and killed his value. This year, the Pats will be passing less, and as a result, Maroney will be able to get enough carries to make his 4.5 ypc from 2007 mean something. Can you say sleeper?
#14. Brandon Jacobs: Jacobs’ running style is very similar to Marion Barber’s and that makes him an injury-risk in a less than ideal situation. The Giants like to run the ball, sure, but what about Jacobs’ competition? Ahmad Bradhsaw and Derrick Ward look to cut into Jacobs’ playing time, and handcuffing both of them will cost you in the draft. Let someone else take the risk on him.
#15. Maurice Jones-Drew: I don’t see what everyone’s obsession is with “The Little Bowling Ball That Could.” Is he good? Sure. Is he explosive? Absolutely. Is he still behind Fred Taylor on the depth chart? You betcha. In 2007, weeks 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 17 were nightmarish for Jones-Drew owners. MJD was limited to less than 15 carries in every week but one, and only topped 100 yards twice on the year. As long as Fragile Fred Taylor remains healthy, MJD has bust written all over him.
#16. Jamal Lewis: Personally, I didn’t think Lewis had much left in the tank last year. Amazing what a change of scenery can do, as Lewis averaged 4.4 ypc in 2007. Granted, Lewis also benefited from Derek Anderson, Kellen Winslow, and Braylon Edwards tearing opponents apart. While I don’t think the Browns offense will surprise nearly as many people this year, Lewis still has a chance to get some easy yardage…even if he can’t catch the ball.
#17. Reggie Bush: Sleeper Alert! Reggie Bush is the Adrian Peterson of 2007 – he had all the right pieces in place for a bustout season, and did nothing (other than increase the value of Pierre Thomas). This season will likely be different, as Bush has rededicated himself and adopted a conditioning plan that has nothing to do with Kim Kardashian. Bush caught 70+ passes in what was a “down” year, so imagine what he could do on a good day.
#18. Selvin Young/Ryan Torian: As we all know, Shanahan loves to drive Fantasy Football planners to insanity. Odds are, he’s going to pick one of these guys to be the starting runningback this year, and whichever one it is, he’s going to get the job done. Young filled in impressively for Travis Henry, and Torian has all the tools he needs to get it done in Denver’s rushing attack. Frankly, I’m surprised that no one is paying them much attention. You may be able to get the starter on the cheap.
#19. Rudi Johnson: 2007 was a bad year for Johnson, but you’ve got to have faith he can return to form once healthy. 2007 excluded, Johnson was a lock for 12 TDs in any given season. That’s fantastic consistency and productivity. Johnson won’t bust huge runs or catch many balls, but if he can be the guy in the red-zone, that’s all you’ll need. Watch out for Chris Perry and Kenny Watson, though!
#20. Earnest Graham: Once the Cadillac (Williams) broke down, it was all Graham. Earnest quietly had a very solid fantasy year (including 10 TDs) on a team not known for its running game. Assuming Graham retains the job (e.g., no Cedric Benson or Shaun Alexander signing), you can expect similar production over a whole season. Also, don’t let the numbers fool you – although Graham had 49 receptions, 20 of them came in two games. Don’t expect even receiving numbers – especially if Garcia goes down.
#21. Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams: Brown was the best back in football until he was hit with a season-ending injury. Losing Cam Cameron takes him out of the offense a bit, gutting the team during the offseason hurts more, and splitting time with Ricky Williams is the kiss of death. This is probably going to turn into a timeshare, and neither one of them is healthy enough (or wise enough) to trust for a full season. If you can get Brown late (and I mean 4th or 5th round late), go for it. Otherwise, let someone else take a chance here.
#22. Fred Taylor: Long story short, Fragile Fred has been, well, healthy for the last few years. Something’s gotta give, otherwise we’ll have to start calling him “Ferocious Fred”, and I’m just not ready to do that. Taylor will probably get the bulk of the carries if healthy, but won’t be a factor in the red-zone. He’s really the handcuff to MJD – not the other way around.
#23. Darren McFadden: I can’t really justify ranking him any lower based on sheer ability, but let’s get a few things straight. First of all, McFadden is behind Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan on the depth chart (although Jordan is expected to be moved). Secondly, this is OAKLAND. You know, the team that “means well” but can’t muster a scoring drive? Unless McFadden emerges as the clear starter, look elsewhere.
#24. Michael Turner: Sleeper Alert! Turner lived in LaDainian’s shadow in San Diego, and finally gets a chance to run the offense…with Jerious Norwood. I fully expect Turner to take the job from Norwood (much like Warrick Dunn before him), but Norwood may sap carries. Likewise, the Falcons offense is hardly intimidating, so his time on the field may be limited. If the Falcons can get it in gear, look for a nice RB2.
#25. Jonathan Stewart: I don’t see what all the fuss is about here. Stewart will be behind DeAngelo Williams on the depth chart, and he’s coming off of some nagging injuries that limited his ability to cut. Yes, the Panthers O-Line gets better with Otah, but with a likely timeshare (and growing pains) for Stewart, I can’t see him going much higher than this. Expect MJD-type carries, at best.
#26. Julius Jones: Sleeper Alert! Jones has a lot of things going for him in Seattle. He gets rid of Marion Barber, he inherits an offense that is missing most of its receivers, and has a solid offensive line. Jones wasn’t particularly bad last year – it’s just that his numbers paled when compared to Barber’s. Look for Jones to get some serious work in Seattle with only Maurice Morris as competition.
#27. Thomas Jones: Sleeper Alert! Thomas Jones had a rough year last year, but don’t let that discourage you from looking into using him. Jones will be playing behind an improved offensive line (Faneca? Thank you!), and may be able to get some running room if the Jets can get a passing attack. If not, you can still probably get him late enough in the draft where it won’t hurt you.
#28. LenDale White: I don’t know why everyone is so sold on White being a solid RB2. White is slow, fat, and on an offensively inept team. While he has little or no competition (Chris Johnson may be a factor later on), he can’t catch a pass and just underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. You can do better than this, especially if you intend to start one of these players. Pass.
#29. Matt Forte: OK, so I’m a little Chicago biased, but I’d like to see what a non-Benson can do in the Bears offense. They’ll likely be very conservative, giving Forte plenty of chances. With Kevin Jones on the PUP list as well, Forte may even get so pass-catching in. All in all, I’m excited to see what he can do.
#30. Kevin Smith/Tatum Bell: Whoever wins here is going to be useful for receptions and goal-line efforts only. Detroit’s porous offensive line isn’t going to allow any big runs to happen, and their offense is so pass-happy that the winner of the job will be the better blocker, not the better runner. Look for Bell to start off in charge, and eventually give way to a timeshare with Smith.