Sunday, August 10, 2008
RB Ranks Pt. 1
Training camps are in full swing and the preseason started this weekend, meaning that football season is finally here, and I don’t seem so weird for checking Cowboys blogs obsessively everyday. This means that it’s also time for fantasy and drafts and amazingness of that sort to begin as well. Hopefully, everyone read my QB rankings a few weeks ago, and now it’s time for the running backs. The annoying thing about RB’s is that typically 5 of the RB’s finishing in the top 10 of one fantasy season won’t repeat the feat the next year, which means that we can probably expect (due to injury, age, or circumstance) 5 of the following top ten players from 07 to drop out this coming year: LT, Westbrook, Addai, AP, Portis, Lewis, Barber, McGahee, James, and Gore. Sounds crazy right? Well, when you compare that list to 06‘s top ten (LT, LJ, S Jax, Gore, Parker, Westbrook, MJD, Rudi, Deuce, and Addai) it doesn’t seem so far fetched, as 6 of those players did not repeat their top 10 performances in 07. I’m too big of a puss to knock 5 07ers out of my top ten for 08, but I did give 3 the boot. Follow the jump to check out the rankings and find out which ones.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson: If health were not an issue concerning A-Pete, he’d be my top back, due to soon to be discussed issues. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, they are, and that’s why I think LT is the safer pick here, combined with his proven ridiculous consistency (7 straight seasons of AT LEAST 1600+ total yds and 10+ tds). The risk with LT is minimal but does include his return from an injured MCL from last season (which from all reports is fine), the injury to C Nick Hardwick (who’s currently probable for week 1, but who knows), and the loss of the best battering ram FB in the league, Lorenzo Neal (they drafted FB Jacob Hester out of LSU in Rd 3 though, so that’s probably no big deal either). Injury is a concern for all RB’s because of the pounding they take, especially for older ones, but the Chargers have always been careful not to overuse him, and he’s only missed one regular season game in his 7 years as a pro. Compare that to Peterson already missing two last year and being injury prone in college, and you have the reason that I’d take LT first at the RB position.
2. Adrian Peterson: Minnesota has a very good o-line, their top 3 rushers all finished with at least 5.4 ypc last season (Mewelde represent), which is reason enough to love AP. His injuries are a little worrisome though, as he missed time last year and had problems at Oklahoma, as well. His upside is higher than LT’s, as he showed last year (images of him breaking the single game rushing record against the CHARGERS come to mind here) in only his rookie season. Free agent/draft-wise they didn’t do much to improve their offense (Berrian could stretch the D a little), but AP showed last year that that doesn’t matter anyways.
3. Brian Westbrook: We have a love-hate relationship, Brian and I. While he plays for the hated Eagles, I also love how much he owned for me last year, leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,104! Westfaulk should probably go first in PPR leagues, as he had 90 last year on top of 12 TD’s. Philly’s offense could even be improved this year with a fully healthy McNabb (ha) and the addition of speedster DeSean Jackson from Cal. The fact that he’s remained fairly healthy the last two seasons, combined with his heavy workload, makes me think that he might be due for a set back. Westbrook’s health, however, has always been a concern, (he’s questionable every week it seems), but his proven full season productivity is more than enough to make him a candidate to finish first at RB by the end of the year.
4. Steven Jackson: Jackson‘s upside is just too hard to ignore here. His offense isn’t nearly as good as Addai’s or Barber’s, but it has to be better than last year and so should he. Most of their failure on offense last year was due to the fact that the o-line was never fully healthy, nor did it have a chance to develop any sort of cohesion. The fact that S Jax is holding out and has missed all of training camp, so far, is a bit worrisome, but he’ll play eventually (if he isn’t signed by late August, then don’t draft him here) and has the potential to reach 2000+ yards from scrimmage like in 06. Things really couldn’t have gotten any worse last year for him, and he still finished with respectable numbers with nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage in only 12 games.
5. Joseph Addai: Addai comes with more risk than one might think, as he averaged only 45.7 ypg and 3.3 ypc in his last 10 games (eww), including the playoffs. Despite all of this he had 1,400+ yards from scrimmage and 15 total td‘s, a statistic which serves to highlight Addai‘s greatest attribute, the fact that he plays for the offensive juggernaut Colts. He will score TD’s for you without a doubt, and if he can figure out how to maintain consistency throughout the year, he will be a stud muffin.
6. Marion Barber: Much like Addai, the fact that Barber plays on a sick offense helps his draft stock. He’s had 28 TD’s the past two season without even starting, while averaging 4.8 ypc. He only had 204 carries last season yet still finished with 975 yards in essentially 15 games as Julius Worthless‘s back up. This year he will receive an increased work load for sure with the blessed departure of JJ. 50-100 more carries means anywhere from 200-450 more rushing yards on top of around 300 receiving yards and 12+ TD’s. One of the risks is that the addition of 1st round pick Felix Jones (who has looked stellar in camp) will steal too many carries from Barber, keeping him closer to 200. I think that Felix’s presence, however, will simply help keep MB3 fresh and make him more consistent throughout the year, as Wade Phillips has already said that Barber will see an increased role (they didn’t pay him $45 million over 7 years for nothing). Can Barber handle the full load while maintaining his 4.8 ypc? It might drop a few points, but I believe that it’s a less risky proposition than those concerning the rest of the backs below him on this list.
7. Frank Gore: I’m not a huge proponent of the argument that a top RB should be passed up because of the poor offense that surrounds him (just look at Adrian Peterson). The idea that opposing defenses merely have to key in one player to stop the offense is usually off base (people try this argument on Ryan Grant and the Favre-less Packers); however, this argument, as it relates to Gore, I believe is spot on. The Niners offense last year was LAUGHABLY bad (dead last in yards per game, yards per play, points per game, total points, sacks allowed, 3rd down conversion %, 1st downs per game, and pretty much anything else you can think of). Why should they be better this year? Martz? Yeah he’ll utilize Gore as best he can, but how well can his system work on a team that already allowed the most sacks in the league last year? Not to mention they have two jokes competing for the starting QB job, two okay receivers (Bryant Johnson and the over-the-hill Isaac Bruce), and the worst or second worst (Chiefs might win this prize) o-line in football. I can’t see NFL defenses doing anything BUT game plan solely to stop Gore, who on top of all that has had more surgeries than Madonna.
8. Marshawn Lynch: The upside with Lynch is that he’s the unquestionable feature back in a offense that showers him with carries, piling up 280 last year in 13 games. That statistic, however, also highlights his downside, as he only played in 13 games. This is pretty understandable for a rookie, playing in the more physical and lengthier NFL, and getting a heavy workload, but next year will tell whether or not missing 3 games is a trend or an anomaly for him. With only a paltry 18 receptions last season, Lynch still averaged over 10 ypr, meaning that they need to get him the ball more as a receiver. Fortunately, new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, who is a QB specialist, intends to do just that. He also wants to get Lee Evans more looks, and one of the ways he plans on doing both of these things is by motioning Lynch out wide and drawing a safety off of Evans, creating single coverage for both of them. This has been effective in camp so far, as Lynch has be catching even deep balls for the weapons-thin Buffalo offense, something that owners can’t wait to see starting in September.
9. Ryan Grant: People who are underrating Grant this year simply did not see him play in 2007. There can be no other explanation because this kid is sick and the real deal. I picked him up after his Monday night performance against Denver in October last year and will forever be thankful. He averaged 5.1 ypc, as the Packers featured back from that point on, racking up nearly 1,000 yards in 7 games and scoring 8 TD’s. And from watching most of those games, I can tell you that he could’ve had more TD’s had Favre not been trying to break the all-time record by throwing 2 yarders constantly. Another statistic that should be getting your mouth water is that fact that he also had 30 receptions in only 7 games; basically, he put up a seasons worth of production in 7 games, and I cant wait to see what he does with a full one. Detractors (idiot owners/writers) are worried that opposing defenses will stack 8 in the box to stop Grant now that Favre is gone. These people simply know nothing about football and should be ridiculed accordingly now and when your team rapes them, while they wonder why Rudi Johnson isn’t better. The fact of the matter is that Green Bay’s offense will not change fundamentally because of the departure of Favre. Green Bay isn’t expecting Brian Brohm to come in, learn a simplified version of the offense, and be productive. Aaron Rodgers has had three and a half years to learn this offense and knows it forwards and backwards, learning from Favre along the way. Plus, he still inherits veteran Donald Driver, rising star Greg Jennings, and the admirable James Jones, in other words, one of the best receiving corps for a spread offense in the NFL. Opposing D’s simply cannot stack 8 in the box against that spread offense, and they will not. Steal Grant at any point in round 2 and you’ll essentially have been given two first rounders.
10. Clinton Portis: The fact that he’s one year away from playing sparingly in only 8 games along with a new pass-first, Jim Zorn offense in Washington pushes Portis this far down my list. Throw in the fact that he only rushed for 3.9 ypc, and there is even more cause for concern. He did, however, have 1,600+ yards from scrimmage with 11 TD’s last season, and he’ll only have just turned 27 by the time the season starts. Portis has only played a full 16 games in three of six season, so are you willing to flip a coin, as to whether or not he’ll be healthy all season in 08? I don’t think I am, plus I like guys like Grant, who are typically drafted after Portis, more. So unless Portis takes a steep tumble and falls to me in third or something, which he won’t, then I won’t be taking a chance on him this year.
11. Willis McGahee: The Ravens had a bevy of early picks in this years draft and did what they could to address their pathetic offense in 07, drafting a QB (Joe Flacco) in round 1, a RB (Ray Rice) in round 2, and a OG (Oniel Cousins) in round 3, as well as an OT and WR in the 4th. The only really important name you need to know concerning Willis is Ray Rice (5-8, 200 lbs), who a lot of people are comparing to MJD. This kid could be as good or better than MJD, and has been so spectacular in camp that people are thinking that he and Willis might come closer to splitting carries than merely having Rice as a back up. If you draft McGahee, make sure you get Rice to handcuff him because he could explode if Willis gets injured and might be startable even if he doesn‘t. On the other hand, Willis is a pretty dependable back and did well in his first season with Baltimore with 1,400+ yards from scrimmage and 8 TD’s but consider that his ceiling, especially with the undoubted emergence of Mini Ray.
12. Larry Johnson: If all of these other randalls have been drafted, LJ is still there, and you still need a RB, then you almost have to take him. Anybody with a cursory interest in fantasy football knows that 400+ carry seasons (like LJ had in 06) are the kiss of death for RB’s, which is why I steered completely clear of LJ in any drafts last year. People mistakenly believe that it was his shoddy o-line that made LJ a bust last year, but it was actually his 416 carries in 06 (although his o-line didn’t help). He returns this year with an improved o-line (thank you top 15 pick Branden Albert) and with a foot that is supposedly healed, but who knows what minor play could cause him to miss significant time. From reports out of camp, it looks like he’s back, but his health risk is still substantial and a lot of owners are refusing to draft him in the first round, but IF IF IF he can stay healthy….you just got LJ in round 2 AND his little friend: 1,700 total yards.
13. Darren McFadden: Everyone wants this year’s AP, and maybe he’s out there and maybe he’s not, but DMac certainly has the skills to be just as good and without the injury risk. He has been unreal in camp so far and has apparently been picking things up quickly even for a rookie, especially since they’re throwing a lot at him, having him line up in multiple formations and out wide (he’s been billed since college as a stronger Reggie Bush and a better route runner). People who are worried about Fargas taking a lot of carries can take some solace in the fact that Chester Taylor is much better than Justin Fargas, and he was sent to the pine when it was seen how ridic AP was. Some concerns are that Oakland’s o-line really isn’t very good (especially compared to Minnesota‘s), one of the worst in league in pass blocking, and that they are an injury away from being an absolute mock. But they still managed to finish 6th in rushing last year and should be fine as long as they can at least keep Jamarcus upright. Javon Walker might not do much this year to help their offense but between him, Drew Carter, and Ronald Curry the Raiders at least have some decent wide out targets for Jamarcus and Co. to move the chains for DMac.
14. Jamal Lewis: Cleveland essentially punted this years draft for free agents and Brady Quinn, which history tells us isn’t the smartest thing to do (Redskins) but whatever (it works in Madden), and it’s Cleveland (Tim Couch LOL…okay okay recent drafting has been better). Jamal Lewis has the cushy privilege of other people extending a career that should already be over. Those other people include his sick o-line, which is the second best in the league in my opinion, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Derek Anderson (and maybe even Donte Stalworth). Any running back could prosper in this heavenly system and a better one could be amazing but, alas, no. This would have been the perfect draft to get Jamal’s replacement too, but apparently they think they can squeeze a little more out him this year, and I believe them because the job could hardly be easier. The reason to be worried with him is that he’s entering the 8th year of his career with over 2,000 carries and this is around the time that RB’s become worthless, but I think he has a over 1000 left.
15. Edgerrin James: Sure James hasn’t approached his Colts days numbers, which is why he’s not closer to the top of this list, but what he’s been doing in Arizona (1,400 and 7 in 07) is more than fine for where he’s going in drafts. This dude is the model of consistency, and while, like Jamal, he’s coming dangerously close the age and number of carries where most runners slow down, he’s still the only serious contender for carries on the Cardinals. He should get around 300 carries again in 08 (he had 324 in 07) behind an o-line that is pretty solid and for an offense that will be good enough to move the chains and put him into positions to score.