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Quarterback – Running Back – Wide Receiver – Tight End
Defense/Special Teams
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Wasn’t long ago when everyone in your league would head into the draft thinking about going RB-RB with their first two picks. Not anymore. A major component of the evolution of the NFL is the dreaded running back by committee (RBBC). RBBC’s have evened the positional playing field in fantasy football. Now, there are only a handful of feature backs that deliver workhorse production. That means you have to be smarter about the running backs you put your faith in. Consider this RB 101…

Chris Johnson got paid, so you won't see him sitting around when the season starts.

Tier 1 – Runner runners

1. Adrian Peterson, MIN – I owned “All Day” last season and most days, I had no complaints. The good news is that Chester Taylor is no longer in Minnesota, leaving an inexperienced Toby Gerhart as the AP handcuff. The bad news is that Peterson coughed the ball up quite a bit last season, netting a lot of -2s in leagues that penalize for turnovers. Still, the guy’s arguably the best player in fantasy football.

2. Chris Johnson, TEN – The only problem with Johnson is that he doesn’t have a cool nickname. Because the guy is simply electric, I propose, “Ele-Chris-ity.” Because he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball and no one’s stealing his touches, “Ele-Chris-ity” is being considered #1 in this group, and #1 overall.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX – Outside of the whole “taking a knee at the goal line” incident, MJD owners had to be ecstatic about his 2009 campaign. There should be more prosperity ahead for the bowling-ball-like Mo-Jo, who’s a big fan of fantasy sports himself. A knee injury in camp has caused concern, but Jones-Drew should be fine in Week 1.

4. Ray Rice, BAL – Every season, there’s one guy who comes out of nowhere to rocket up the rankings the following year. Rice racks up huge yardage totals by being a tough runner and great receiver out of the backfield. Only problem is that “Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout” Willis McGahee could bogart his goal line TDs once again in ’10.

5. Michael Turner, ATL – “The Burner” missed 6 games last season and had but one carry in a seventh. So he was extremely productive when he was on the field, recording 10 TDs. The high-ankle sprain that limited him last season should be a distant memory, so don’t hesitate to grab Falcons’ main bird.

6. Frank Gore, SF – Streakiness and an early injury wreaked havoc for Gore owners last season. But the feature back in the bay area came on strong with 4 TDs and over 450 yards in his final 4 games. The 49ers paid lots of attention to their offensive line in the draft, so that should only help Gore build on that momentum.

Tier 2 – Gotta hand it to them

Will S-Jax stay healthy enough to lug around tackler and the entire Rams offense?

7. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT – With “Not-So-Fast” Willie Parker out of the picture in Pittsburgh, the ‘Shard Show will air every Sunday. Mendenhall had a nice breakout season in ’09, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. With Big Ben out of the lineup for at least a month, the Steelers won’t open up the offense, which should benefit Mendenhall.

8. Stephen Jackson, STL – S-Jax is a beast. I’d be totally comfortable drafting him in the top 10…if he was on any team other than the Rams. I can’t help but worry about the lack of offensive threats around Jackson. His proclivity for missing at least a couple games a season doesn’t help either. Proceed with caution.

9. Shonn Greene, NYJ – Extra “e,” extra “n.” Does this guy think he’s special? Actually, he very well could be. He was eased into the RB committee last season and when the Jets get sick of LaDanian Tomlinson’s 2.5 ypc average, Greene will be money for fantasy owners. No one runs the ball more than the Jets, so look for a breakout season.

10. Ryan Grant, GB – Not a guy people get super-excited about, but he’s steady. Quietly put together a very nice ’10 season with 1,250+ yards and 11 scores. The Packers offense will be prolific once again, so expect Grant to be great.

11. Cedric Benson, CIN – The Rodney Dangerfield of running backs, no one wanted to give Ced any respect last season, even after he got off to a fast start. A bar fight in the offseason may leave Benson suspended, so watch that situation closely. I’d still grab him in the early second round, since there’s a whole lotta committee going on after this.

12. DeAngelo Williams, CAR – I see a distinct drop-off here. Williams has the talent to be a first rounder, but his situation is clouded by a backfield partner, Jonathan Stewart, who may be as good as (if not better) than he is. Carolina pounds the ball on the ground, so DeAngelo should put up numbers if he can stay healthy… something he had trouble with last year.

Tier 3 – Splitsville

13. Jamaal Charles, KC – Now why did KC have to go and sign 31-year-old Thomas Jones? Ah, so what? I still believe Charles will be in charge of the Chiefs offense. He was absolutely sick in Weeks 14-17, leading many owners to titles. Jones may steal some goal line carries, but JC could deliver as a poor man’s Chris Johnson.

14. Ryan Mathews, SD – …And we have our first rookie. There’s no such thing as a safe rookie, so that makes Mathews a target for risk-takers. With LT out of SD, Mathews should be the lead ball toter. Darren Sproles will maintain his role as third-down back. My feeling is that Mathews will be better than Tomlinson was last season, which would give you solid value here.

15. Chris Wells, ARI – Seems like fantasy leaguers are ready to hand the starting job over to Beanie. But is Arizona? Tim Hightower is still in the picture, but faded a bit as Wells had a solid finish to the season. This is the definition of a high-risk, high-reward guy. I have no problem drafting those.

16. Pierre Thomas, NO – He’s not going to get a ton of touches, but he makes the most of what he gets. Reggie Bush will steal some of the spotlight in the high-scoring Saints offense. At least, Mike Bell will no longer be in the Pierre’s way.

17. Arian Foster, HOU – The Texans were all like “Arian who?” when they spent a second rounder on Ben Tate. But Tate’s ankle is busted and Steve Slaton is back to his fumbling ways. So it’s Foster who has the most value in the Houston backfield. He’s rocketing up draft lists, so if you want him, you’ll have to pull the trigger early.

18. Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Is Correll Buckhalter really going to halt Moreno’s progress? The Geek thinks not. Knowshon had plenty of 80-to-90-yard games last season. This year, those will turn into 100s.

19. LeSean McCoy, PHI – The heir to Brian Westbrook, lots of experts have McCoy pegged as a breakout. I think that could still be a season away. He had a decent rookie year, but the presence of Mike Bell and Leonard Weaver may leave LeSean LeShort on TDs.

20. Ronnie Brown, MIA – Two season-ending surgeries in the past three seasons will scare off a lot of owners. I think Brown’s a good value here. He should be recovered from the Lisfranc injury that cost him a chunk of ’09. Carry-stealing Ricky Williams is the bigger concern.

21. Matt Forte, CHI – Not to boast, but I saw last year’s letdown coming. I owned Forte as a rookie and just had the feeling he wouldn’t repeat his fantastic ’08. In his defense, the Bears were a mess and Forte messed up his hamstring and knee. Now, a pass-happy offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, comes to the Windy City, with Chester Taylor in tow. Not very promising for Forte. Despite all the negatives, I’m looking for the third-year back to be a slight surprise.

Tier 4 – Boom or Bust

22. Jonathan Stewart, CAR – “The Daily Show” put the pedal to the metal when DeAngelo Williams went down with an injury. It looks to be close to a 50-50 timeshare between the two in Carolina. Not to say that both can’t be effective. They have the talent and Carolina runs it more than any team not named the Jets.

23. Joseph Addai, IND – Last season, people wanted to write off Addai and anoint Donald Brown the starter in Indy. Didn’t happen. Addai landed in the end zone 10 times, yet didn’t exactly run wild between the 20s. It could creep toward a 50-50 split, now that Brown has a year under his belt, but Addai is just 27 years old and in his prime.

24. Jahvid Best, DET – This is probably a bit high for Best. We’ll need to re-rank the rookie when we see how he does in the preseason. Word out of the Motor City is that the Lions will use Best like the Saints use Reggie Bush. I initially heard he’d have a larger role than that.

25. Felix Jones, DAL – I have a hunch that this is the year Felix becomes the man in the Dallas backfield. A tall task considering that Marion Barber is the incumbent starter. This is just speculation, but I could see Jones getting a bulk of the carries and Barber handling short yardage and goal line duties. Felix won’t average 5.9 yards a pop, but he’s in line for a breakout season.

26. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG – Bradshaw had a few huge weeks and managed 4.8 ypc, despite getting screws inserted into his “screwed up” ankle. He had surgery to fix all that and could be a nice sleeper as the lightning to Brandon Jacobs’ thunder.

27. Marion Barber, DAL – Barber wasn’t great last season, but he was consistent. He had 9 games with 40-65 rushing yards. A stretch of 6 games without a score drove owners crazy. Don’t expect more than 15 carries a game—at most.

28. Jerome Harrison, CLE – Got be honest with you here. Sammy and I averaged our personal rankings to generate’s composite football rankings. I had Harrison a lot higher than Sammy did. I’m big on guys who perform their best down the stretch in the previous season. Harrison went for 650+ yards and 5 TDs in his last 3. Now that rookie Montario Hardesty is toast for 2010, only Peyton Hillis stands in the way of a big season for Jerome.

29. Clinton Portis, WAS – I’m sticking to our combined rankings right now, but Portis should maybe be flopped with Best. Reports out of the nation’s Capitol are that Portis will be the starter and that he’s rededicated himself to be in great shape for his age 29 season. Donovan McNabb’s presence can only help the former stud.

30. Brandon Jacobs, NYG – Another guy who’s hard to feel good about drafting. That doesn’t mean he can’t bounce back and give you all those TDs you’d expect from a 265-pound back. If he stays healthy and gets back to being the 5.0-ypc RB has was before, look out.

31. CJ Spiller, BUF – We don’t really know what to expect out of Spiller. Here’s what we do know. The guy displayed sick moves at Clemson. Marshawn Lynch is third string, and may still be traded. And the Bills offensive line and QB will still be a work in progress. CJ is completely boom or bust, with more likelihood of the latter.

32. Cadillac Williams, TB – The Caddy finally had a season where he wasn’t in the shop a bulk of the time. With 823 rushing yards and 4 TDs, Williams proved he still has game. And he should receive most of the carries in Tampa, which is worth, well…not a whole heck of a lot, but we’re at #27 here, folks.

Tier 5 – Battling for carries

33. Darren McFadden, OAK – There are whispers around Oakland that Michael Bush would fare better as the featured back. Seems like McFadden hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine. Now that “JokeMarkus” Russell isn’t around to pull every one down into his sinkhole of ineptitude, the Raiders offense may finally yield some fantasy production. And McFadden could very well lead the charge.

34. Fred Jackson, BUF – I think “Fre-Jack” (remember that movie, Free Jack, from the early 90s, starring Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger?) is a nice value here. I might even grab him before Spiller…even with a broken hand. He doesn’t give you all the bells and whistles. Just a solid effort week in and week out.

35. Reggie Bush, NO – Maybe Reggie will be more focused this season without the Kardashian drama and NCAA violations to distract him. Truth is, Pierre Thomas is just a better back. But if you’re in a PPR league, Bush still has some value. He’s a nice target for Drew Brees out of the backfield. Look for his numbers to improve a bit.

36. Ricky Williams, MIA – Ricky’s career came full circle last season. He started out a stud in New Orleans, then went all circus clown on us, then re-emerged as a valuable RB2 when Ronnie Brown went down last season. He’s still got a little gas left in the tank, and with Brown’s injury history, you never know when Ricky will get the call as Miami’s main man.

37. Laurence Maroney, NE – This is the player absolutely no one is happy to draft. You just get the feeling Bill Belichick doesn’t really trust Maroney. He remains the best bet for carries in New England’s pass-happy offense though. That counts for something.

38. Thomas Jones, KC – I’m pro-Charles, so I don’t want this vet to interfere much. But he’s being labeled as the starter, so he warrants some attention. Jones could get 12-15 carries per contest and provide a bit of value as an RB3.

39. Michael Bush, OAK – Bush had a few nice games against the weaker NFL defenses last season. Tough to tell who’s going to emerge between he and McFadden. Since Bush is out for a month with a busted hand,  McFadden will get the nod early on.

40. LaDanian Tomlinson, NYJ – You won’t find this guy on any of my teams. But the Jets runs so damn much, Tomlinson could be an end zone threat. Still, some weeks, he’ll probably give you bupkis. For what it’s worth, LDT has looked to regain some of his burst in the preseason (I don’t call him “LT”…that’s reserved for a certain former linebacker.)

41. Leon Washington, SEA – The little big-play guy is back from a season-ending injury and looking to secure more than third-down opportunities in Seattle. He seems to be a favorite of new coach Pete Carroll, so there may be more value than expected here.

42. Peyton Hillis, CLE – When Hardesty went down, Hillis’ stock went up. The 250-pounder has the upside to split carries with Harrison and could steal the ever-valuable goal line carries..

43. Justin Forsett, SEAPete Carroll actually tweeted that the RB competition was wide open in Seattle. He loves newly acquired Leon Washington, and Julius Jones is still alive and kicking. Fantasy owners across the nation, however, hope that Forsett becomes the main man. He was great in bursts last season, but be careful, because there’s no guarantee of a heavy workload.

Tier 6 – Wild Cards

44. Tim Hightower, ARI – This just in. Hightower’s simply not that good. Don’t expect him to get in Beanie’s way too much this season.

45. Darren Sproles, SD – Well, he’s got a third-down role locked up. The mighty mite is a terrific change-of-pace back too. It’ll be interesting to see what happens should Ryan Mathews struggle. The Bolts don’t have a wide array of options to line up behind Phil Rivers.

46. Donald Brown, IND – I’m still laughing at that playoff sound byte in which Peyton Manning rips Brown a new one during a play. Classic. Brown’s value is chiefly as an Addai handcuff.

47. Willis McGahee, BAL – McGahee was sneaky good for much of last season. Much to everyone’s surprise. He very well may return to his role as goal line back. But it’s still the Ray Rice show in Bal’more.

Tier 7 – Strictly Handcuffs

48. Chester Taylor, CHI – He’s behind Forte on the depth chart heading into the season. That could quickly change if Forte stays in sophomore mode instead recapturing the magic of his rookie season. Ol’ Chet is still a nice back, so he’s one of the better back-ups to grab.

49. Bernard Scott, CIN – A nice, young back. Could be worth something if Benson gets into any more bar fights.

50. Larry Johnson, WAS – LJ flashed signs of life in Ced Benson’s absence for the striped cats. Now, he’s playing second fiddle to Portis, who isn’t exactly a model of health.

51. Kareem Huggins, TB – The Bucs have parted ways with Derrick Ward and has there even been an Ernest Graham sighting this year? So the back-up job goes to this rookie, who is a highly likely Cadillac injury away from serious action.

52. Steve Slaton, HOU – Slaton is over the neck injury, which may have been responsible for some of those fumbles last season. Slaton now must show he can hang onto the football as he battles Arian Foster for carries. I was high on Slaton before training camp. I’ve tempered my enthusiasm since.

53. Marshawn Lynch, BUF – Keep your ear to the ground for trade rumors surrounding Lynch. One training camp injury could be all it takes for the still-effective third-stringer to get traded to another team and be reborn as a fantasy starter.

54. Anthony Dixon, SF Glenn Coffee called it quits. Brian Westbrook should have. So if Frank Gore goes down, Dixon will most likely get the bulk of the carries in San Fran.

55. Julius Jones, SEA – The Seahags could opt to go with the safe choice at running back and hand the job to Jones. I doubt it.

56. Tashard Choice, DAL – The third “Choice” in Dallas. Good talent, wrong situation.

57. Correll Buckhalter, DEN – Now that Knowshon’s no rookie, the Buckhalter stops here.

58. Ladell Betts, WAS Lynell Hamilton‘s loss is Ladell Betts’ gain. He’ll be the beefy back-up to Pierre Thomas.

59. Mike Bell, PHI – There’s some buzz around Bell, since the Eagles seemed to give the ball to everyone but LeSean McCoy last season. He could surprise with a handful of TDs in Philly.

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