2009 Fantasy Football Running Back Forecast: AFC North

Michael WhooleySenior Writer IApril 30, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Running back Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Steelers won 27-23. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the 2009 NFL Draft having come and gone it is now time to start focusing more on the most important draft of all in football, YOUR Fantasy Football draft. And the Bruno Boys can't think of a better way to get in the mood than to start focusing some attention on the running back position. Now, we are not saying that the running back position is make or break, because we firmly believe that the best way to ensure success is to not only have an extremely well rounded team, but a deep team as well.

But as Bruno Boys Nation already knows, part of my (Bruno Boys Ziza) responsibilities at the Bruno Boys is critiquing the running back position on a weekly basis throughout the season. So, today I am bringing you a rundown of what is happening in the NFL that way you are not left scratching your head when August rolls around and you are wondering why Edgerrin James is not a Arizona Cardinal anymore.


During the weeks leading up to the season myself and Bruno Boys Greg will be bringing you periodic updates that will guarantee that you stay one, no... thirty two steps ahead of your competition. Today we will be focusing on the teams in the AFC North. Keep on checking back with the Bruno Boys for other divisional running back updates that will help you stomp your way into your leagues Fantasy Football playoffs.


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BALTIMORE RAVENS


Bruno Boys Ziza's Take:
The Ravens have a trio of fantasy quality backs in Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain. Of the three, if McGahee is still on the roster come training camp, he will be the expected lead back for the Baltimore organization. All three have proven to be worthwhile additions, particularly in deeper leagues, but as was proven in 2008 the players' values were best when they were the featured back that week. Unfortunately, there were way too many weeks in which you did not know who was going to be the one running the rock and with McGahee expected to be healthier this year, predictability will come even scarcer this year.

But...


If McGahee is traded or released then you will probably see more of a 50/50 work load for Rice and McClain, with their defensive opponent determining the type of game plan that the Ravens will use. McClain did prove that he has skills in getting the pigskin into the end zone, so he gets the slight edge at this moment from me between the two of them. This is a running back situation that you definitely want to keep an eye on though as all three have the talent to be a solid fantasy RB2 if any of them win the job outright.


Bruno Boys Greg's Take:
Baltimore selected one running back in this year's draft, but it wasn’t until the 6th round, Cedric Peerman of Virginia. It will be tough for Peerman to crack into the Ravens backfield though, with Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and Le’Ron McClain all sitting there. All 3 guys split time pretty evenly last year, with Rice getting the least amount of the work. Expect that trend to continue. The Ravens will run the ball a lot, which makes the committee approach frustrating to fantasy owners because they can never tell who may have a big game. Consider McGahee and McClain RB3s and Rice an RB4.


FANTASY DEPTH CHART:
Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain, Ray Rice


2009 SCHEDULE:
KC (1) , @ SD (2) , CLE (3), @ NE (4), CIN (5), @ MIN (6), BYE (7), DEN (8), @ CIN (9), @ CLE (10), IND (11), PIT (12), @ GB (13), DET (14), CHI (15), @ PIT (16), @ OAK (17)


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CINCINNATI BENGALS


Bruno Boys Ziza's Take:
In what is looking as one of the weaker running back groups in the NFL, the Bengals will be relying on Chicago Bears cast-off Cedric Benson to be their go-to guy. He will be backed up by long-time Bengal Kenny Watson. And let's be brutally honest here, Benson is really the only back that the Bengals have on their roster who deserves any type of fantasy roster spot at this point. But don't despair, there is some hope to grasp onto.


The Bengals used their first round pick, sixth overall, on offensive tackle Andre Smith out of Alabama. Once projected as a possibility to be the #1 overall player chosen in the 2009 NFL Draft, he came to the combine over weight and out of shape. To make matters worse he had a horrible workout during his Pro Day as well. But one thing is clear, he does possess the skills and talent that can help him become a very dominant player in the NFL. If and when he does take his job serious and plays up to his potential, he will add a force to the Bengals' offensive line that will bring their running game to a whole new level. The question is will that come in 2009? My instincts tell me that if you do grab Benson, do it only as a RB3 and no higher. That is probably all that you can expect from this set of backs for the up and coming fantasy football season.


Bruno Boys Greg's Take:
The Bengals selected 2 running backs over draft weekend, Bernard Scott of Abilene Christian and Taufui Vakapuna of BYU. Their hope is one will work out and be able to help out the running game. Cincinnati brings back the same runners from a year ago, Cedric Benson, Kenny Watson, and Chris Perry. Benson will again be the starter and he may have some upside. He finished the year strong last season with 462 total yards his last 3 games. The Bengals strengthened their offensive line and bring back Carson Palmer. Believe it or not, Benson should be targeted as a low end RB2 or RB3. He will get the touches and won’t be splitting too much time. Watson and Perry will only see the field to spell Benson or on 3rd downs. Both would be considered RB4s or RB5s as we head into 2009.


FANTASY DEPTH CHART:
Cedric Benson, Kenny Watson, Chris Perry


2009 SCHEDULE:
DEN (1), @ GB (2), PIT (3), @ CLE (4), @ BAL (5),HOU (6), CHI (7), BYE (8), BAL (9), @ PIT (10), @ OAK (11), CLE (12), DET (13), @ MIN (14), @ SD (15), KC (16), @ NYJ (17)


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CLEVELAND BROWNS


Bruno Boys Ziza's Take:
The 2009 NFL Draft did not add any significant players to the Browns running game except for the possibility of first round draft choice, center Alex Mack out of California. That is pretty much a nice way of saying that you can expect what you saw in 2008 without much significant improvement what-so-ever.


The Browns are led by running back Jamal Lewis. He had a somewhat successful season last year as he surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards mark, he had 1,002, but his touchdowns slipped to its lowest level since 2005 with four. He has had only one double-digit touchdown season in his career and other than his amazing 2003 campaign in which he acculated 2,066 yards, he has never been much of a yardage whore either. A lot of so-called fantasy football geeks like Lewis as a RB2, I just am not one of them. Draft him as no more than a low-end RB2 in deeper leagues, but remember he is coming off of ankle surgery. His backups are nothing special although Jerome Harrison did have solid yardage and two touchdowns in very limited duty last year.


Bruno Boys Greg's Take:
The running back situation for Cleveland is bleak, and they surprisingly waited until the 7th round to try to find a complement for Jamal Lewis, selecting James Davis out of Clemson, who may be able to nab the backup role considering the competition he is up against isn't so hot. Jamal Lewis is the only Brown running back worth owning in fantasy football and should be considered a RB2. The reason is he has no other competition and is running behind a good offensive line. If their quarterback, whether it be Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn can keep some of the pressure off the running game, look for Lewis to go over 1,000 yards rushing with roughly 8 touchdowns. He will have a good year and is worth starting on a weekly basis.


FANTASY DEPTH CHART:
Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison


2009 SCHEDULE:
MIN (1), @ DEN (2), @ BAL (3), CIN (4), @ BUF (5), @ PIT (6), GB (7), @ CHI (8), BYE (9), BAL (10), @ DET (11), @ CIN (12), SD (13), PIT (14), @ KC (15), OAK (16), JAC (17)


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PITTSBURGH STEELERS


Bruno Boys Ziza's Take:
Already possessing a very solid running game intact, it should come to no surprise to anyone that the Steelers did not draft anyone of significance to help out the running attack this year. They will be going into 2009 with speedster Willie Parker and second-year back Rashard Mendenhall who's rookie campaign was cut way too short due to injury.


Both are very talented, but don't expect Parker to be unseated anytime soon. Mendenhall should see more touches this year than last, but as long as Parker is healthy and producing it really is his gig to lose. Draft Parker with no reservations as your high-end RB2, but Mendenhall remains nothing more than a solid handcuff who's value will only be worthy of fantasy play if Parker gets hurt. Allow Mewelde Moore to ride the waiver wire pine.


Bruno Boys Greg's Take:
One thing you know about the Steelers is that they love to run the ball. Willie Parker has been a commodity on fantasy teams and should be once again this season. Although there is a lot of depth behind him (Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore), Parker will still be the starter and get a good amount of yards. Pittsburgh did draft Frank Summers of UNLV in this year's draft, a goal line type back who has a nose for the end zone. Mendenhall was drafted a year ago though to help in the red zone, therefore making Summers irrelevant. The guys to watch on this team are Parker and Mendenhall (who should take on a bigger role than he did in 2008), with Moore getting touches here and there or filling in for an injury. Consider Parker a low end RB2 because of his injury history and Mendenhall a low end RB3. Moore should be considered RB4 at best.


FANTASY DEPTH CHART:
Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore


2009 SCHEDULE:
TEN (1), @ CHI (2), @ CIN (3), SD (4), @ DET (5), CLE (6), MIN (7), BYE (8), @ DEN (9), CIN (10), @ KC (11), @ BAL (12), OAK (13), @ CLE (14), GB (15), BAL (16), @ MIA (17)


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