Running back battles to watch (AFC)

23 05 2009

In recent years more teams have gravitated toward using multiple running backs, instead of relying on one back to do the bulk of the work.

Marion Barber III quickly became more valuable than Cowboys starter and teammate Julius Jones since he vultured lots of TDs. Other running back by committee approaches were used in Jacksonville (MJD-Fred Taylor), New York (Brandon Jacobs-Derrick Ward) and Denver (too many to list). Even the league’s best back — Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson — has a solid backup in Chester Taylor.

With that in mind, fantasy football owners are wise to watch how these running back tandems take shape during training camp and the pre-season. Here are the five top battles to watch in the AFC (NFC teams will be evaluated in a few days):

addai1. Indianapolis Colts: Last year’s unimpressive season by Joseph Addai forced the Colts to use their first round pick in in the NFL Draft, to take Donald Brown of Connecticut. After successful seasons in 2006-07 (23 TDS, more than 1,000 yards rushing in each), Addai was a major disappointment to fantasy owners last year. He scored only seven times and only had 544 yards on the ground — 6 more than backfield mate Dominic Rhodes, who is now with Buffalo. Expect Addai to be the starter but watch Brown’s workload; he may be in for a time-share much like Rhodes was last year.

2. Denver Broncos: While nothing is guaranteed, the Broncos will probably not have an entire fleet or running backs land on injured reserve like last season. Most of last year’s walking wounded are gone (sans Peyton Hillis). The Broncos loaded up on running backs during the off-season with No. 12 overall draft selection Knowshon Moreno, Eagles castoff Correll Buckhalter, former Cardinal J.J. Arrington and former Raider/Jet LaMont Jordan. Figure Moreno and Buckhalter to emerge 1-2 as the primary backfield weapons. Moreno will likely have the most fantasy value, especially in keeper leagues.

3. Baltimore Ravens: While the Broncos completely reloaded their RB position, the Ravens kept three backs who contributed last season and added a late-round draft pick (Cedric Peerman of Virginia). Here is how the three returning RBs (Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice) compared last season:

Player        G   Carries Yards   Avg.   TD     Rec Yards   Avg.   TD

McGahee     13     170         671     3.9       7         24     173      7.2      0
McClain       16     232         902     3.9      10       19      123      7.7      1
Rice              13     107        454     4.2        0        33      273      8.3      0

At first glance, you might say that McClain would be the way to go since he had the most yards and TDs last season. He may be the one who emerges as the best fantasy option this year. But I would not be surprised if Rice turns out to be a strong sleeper pick, taking away key carries and scoring opportunities from the other backs. Stay tuned.

4. Buffalo Bills: The Colts’ loss could be the Bills’ gain: Dominic Rhodes. The starter in Buffalo is Marshawn Lynch, but he will unavailable due to a three-game suspension. Lynch is a top-flight back — recording more than 1,000 yards rushing in each of his two seasons in Buffalo and scoring 16 times overall. Rhodes scored nine TDs last season and 30 overall in eight seasons with Indy and Oakland. While Lynch is suspended, Fred Jackson will likely be the starter but watch Rhodes. He is an excellent No. 2 back and could repeat a nine-TD season in what should be a very improved Bills offense. As I blogged about earlier, if Lynch’s three-game suspension holds up he will miss about a third of your regular season in the playoffs. He should still bring in solid numbers overall, but just remember he’ll miss some early games.

5. San Diego Chargers: Trivia question: Which San Diego player has the third-highest total yard performance in a playoff game? Nope, not LaDainian Tomlinson. Last year’s gutsy performance by Darren Sproles against the Colts was truly amazing. Let’s be clear here for fantasy value, LT is still the way to go early. He’s slipped a bit since his consensus No. 1 rating a few seasons ago but if he’s healthy he can be a real asset to your team. He still had a 12-TD season last year, well short of his 28 scores a few years back but still worthwhile. Sproles’ value, on the other hand, is largely dependent on LT. If LT returns to his Hall of Fame form, Sproles won’t be much use. If the Chargers split time and touches between the two, Sproles could turn out to be a mid-round steal.

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4 06 2009
Running back battles to watch (NFC) « 1st and 5

[…] Running back battles to watch (NFC) 4 06 2009 This is the follow up post on running back tandems to watch in the NFC. You can find the top 5 AFC tandems to pay close attention to here. […]

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