Tuesday, July 05, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S 3 STAR RUNNING BACKS

Breaking down fantasy football's running backs is no easy task... and a number of variables need to be considered before ranking the athletes. A quality NFL'er doesn't always translate into a quality fantasy football player... and vice versa, for that matter. Need a couple "for instances?" Ok, Jaguar Fred Taylor and Falcon T.J Duckett. "Fast Freddy" Taylor totaled a VERY respectable 1,224 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry last season, but for all his yardage... finished the '04 season with a mere 3 TDs (including 1 receiving). Duckett, on the other hand, racked up a far less impressive 509 rushing yards... but his 8 TDs offset that weak yardage total. That being said, Taylor's totes would've titillated those owners belonging to "yardage" fantasy leagues. So, aside from the all-important "scoring leagues" vs. "yardage leagues" consideration, keep the following in mind when constructing your own Running Back cheat-sheet.

1. Has the team's offensive system or philosophy changed at all? Jacksonville, Chicago, and Miami have all either installed entirely new systems, or the existing systems will undergo significant change.

2. Has your athlete's team undergone change along the O-line? And, DOES that line excel at run blocking, pass blocking, or both? Note, Green Bay lost stalwarts Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera this past off-season, and how that will impact the run game and Ahman Green remains to be seen. ***Note: Packer coaches are confident, however, that the return of Center Mike Flanagan will offset the loss of the standout guards, and that line play will be as good, or even superior, to that of last season."

3. Did your athlete's team import appreciable new skill position talent? I.E, Cleveland will line up a blue chip rookie receiver in Braylon Edwards, Oakland will line Randy Moss up opposite Jerry Porter, the Giants will trot out new wideout Plaxico Burress, and Miami welcomes brilliant coordinator Scott Linehan (late of Minnesota) and a rookie running back who is slated to be the team's feature 'back, Ronnie Brown.

Cleveland's unimpressive QB Trent Dilfer limits Edwards' ability to contribute, thus RB Lee Suggs' value takes a hit (Suggs' fantasy value is further diminished by the presence of veteran Brown RB/"nut job" William Green, and newcomer Reuben Droughns. The former Bronco standout, in particular, may steal all-important goal line carries.); Randy Moss' ability means that Jerry Porter will see few double-teams, therefore new RB LaMont Jordan should have ample room to roam because both wideouts' playmaking ability must be respected; Plaxico Burress will be a viable playmaking partner to veteran pass catcher Amani Toomer, and RB Tiki Barber will be an equally grateful beneficiary; and lastly, Linehan will surely devise ways to capitalize upon WR Chris Chambers' height and leaping ability, and rookie runner Ron Brown's athleticism.

4. And last but not least, keep in mind your player's accumulated wear, tear, and offensive miles. I.E, Kansas City Chief Priest Holmes has certainly endured his share of injuries, and has missed huge chunks of the past 2 seasons because of them; Titan 'back Chris Brown is young, but seems to be injury-prone; and lastly, just how much tread IS left on veteran Jerome Bettis' wheels? ***Note: "The Bus" might be more like "The Jitney" this season, as his trips will be short ones with RB Duce Staley listed as the Steeler starter. Bettis may receive a steady diet of goal line totes, but even that is unclear at this point.

All of the above considerations should be factored into your draft day strategy...and even still, there are many more variables to consider. Just use your best judgment when drafting skill position players... and remember, there's something to be learned from each of your mistakes. Don't forget the time-proven adage; those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it!
And with that "fortune-cookie-esque" wisdom... onto

3 1/2 - 3 STAR RUNNING BACKS:

Buffalo Bills: Willis McGahee: 3 1/2 STARS: - 1,128 yards, 13 TDs: Even with a Pro Bowl runner in Travis Henry on the roster, the Bill front office decided to take a 1st (23rd pick) round gamble on the former Miami Hurricane. And my oh my, did that gamble pay off handsomely! The move to draft the then-injured ‘back was widely panned, and called everything from “arrogant,” to “foolhardy,” to my personal favorite, “country dumb.” Yet, in hindsight, McGahee’s acquisition was a stroke of genius.
While McGahee recovered from his knee injury, the Bills received a yeoman’s effort from Travis Henry, who played through the pain of his own serious leg injury. Henry ground out tough yards, served as solid red-zone weapon, and provided his team with a true, blue-collar running game. Henry’s toughness and grit are worthy of our admiration and applause… but, McGahee affords the Bills with a stellar running attack, is an exemplary red-zone weapon, and is a true star in the making.
Let’s throw out the week 2 game against Oakland, where McGahee totaled -3 yards on 2 carries, and Buffalo’s week 3 Bye. Those weeks thrown aside, the Buffalo ‘back reeled off 90+ rushing yards in 8 of 14 games, and notched 10 TDs in the final 6 games of the season. Looking at the numbers for the entire season, it really seems as if the light came on for the young runner during the week 8 tilt against Arizona, where Willis rumbled for 102 yards and 2 scores. From that point forward, McGahee notched 13 TDs in 10 games, including a tremendous 4 TD effort against Seattle.

EXTRA POINTS: A young, 2nd year signal caller will impact upon McGahee’s value. Just how much… well, that’s unclear at this point. QB J.P Losman has received great praise from coaches and teammates alike, they talk of his strong arm, tremendous athleticism, and impressive leadership skills. The team was going nowhere with veteran Drew Bledsoe at the helm, so the change to Losman was made.

Both Losman and McGahee will benefit from a VERY strong pass catching duo of Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, and the early reports on rookie WR Roscoe Parrish have been overwhelmingly positive. The young receiver is catching everything in sight and has displayed impressive toughness. Working out of the slot (replacing the disappointing Josh Reed in the process), Parrish might be a difference maker straight from the gate. Keep an eye on his pre-season stats... he just might rate a late round flyer if you belong to a deeper league. Such a savvy and swift contingent, so long as the team receives credible play from Losman, will make it difficult for opponents to stack the box to stop McGahee. Thus, owners can look for an even better year from the runner as he will have benefited from a FULL training camp, and will be able to place thorough trust in his reconstructed knee.

New Orleans Saints: Deuce McAllister: 3 1/2 STARS: - 1,074 yards, 9 TDs, 228 Rec. yards: Again, slotting runners at this point can be difficult, especially an athlete such as Deuce. Hobbled by a severe ankle sprain last season, McAllister was missing his trademark burst. That lack of burst will explain why the 5th year runner’s plays of 20+ yards dropped from 18 in ’03, to just 6 last season. Despite his injury, Deuce still managed to shake loose for a fistful (5) of 100 yard rushing games. An off-season of rest should allow McAllister to rebound this season. A banger who can tote the rock between the tackles or bounce it outside, a healthy McAllister has the speed to go the distance from almost anywhere on the field. Towards that end, his week 16 and 17 performances last season should go a long way to convincing owners that he is again healthy, and ready to reclaim his place amongst the game’s elite runners. Against tough Atlanta and Carolina Ds, McAllister recorded rushing totals of 128 and 140 yards respectively, and totaled 57 carries. Look for McAllister, who will play a MUCH more prominent offensive role this year, to return to top 5 fantasy 'back status.

EXTRA POINTS: Although Saint QB Aaron Brooks may never be confused with Colt legend Johnny Unitas, he is capable of making some spectacular plays. In ever consistent WRs Joe Horn, and emerging (finally) Donte’ Stallworth, Brooks has a very capable 1-2 punch. Over this past off-season, WR Az-Zahir Hakim backed out of a supposed deal with Kansas City to ink a 1 year deal with New Orleans. Owner of an impressive 17.2 YPC average last season, Hakim, 2nd year man Devery Henderson, and TEs Ernie Conwell and Boo Williams, round out the Saint receiving corps.

As good pass catchers do for every team, the Saint squad is capable of punishing the defense that elects to overlook it. Horn, in particular, is as reliable and dangerous a pass catcher as exists anywhere in the league, and rumors of his demise are premature. Look for the Saint wide receiving corps to afford RB Deuce McAllister (a capable receiver himself) room to run.

Green Bay Packers: Ahman Green: 3 STARS: - 1,163 yards, 7 TDs, 275 Rec yards: Although the 6’, 220 Lb Packer ‘back may be slowing down a bit, it’d be irresponsible to slot him any lower. Is reliability your yardstick? If so, Green has tallied at least 1,150 rushing yards for 5 consecutive seasons. Is scoring your unit of measure? Ok, then Green has notched an eye-popping 61 TOTAL TDs over the same 5 year span. How’s about durability… you go for durability? Should THAT be the case, Ahman has strapped on the pads for all but 7 games over the 5 year period we’ve been chatting about.
For all the reasons we just discussed… Green demands to be slotted here. And yet, I just can’t escape a nagging thought; Ahman Green is slowing down. Look at the final 6 games of ’04, when Green notched but 1- 90+ yard rushing game, 1- 75+ yard rushing game, and rushing totals of 15 yards (Houston), 37 yards (Philadelphia) and 13 yards (Chicago). I would be cautious when considering drafting the veteran ‘back. Keep an eye on Green Bay’s training camp reports… and if you belong to a league that drafts during the pre-season, take a look at the reports from Packer camp. Should Ahman Green struggle, Mike Sherman might give brutish Najeh Davenport a considerable workload.

EXTRA POINTS: Not helping Greens’ value; the loss of linemen Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. Not only will QB Brett Favre probably find himself running for his very life, but Green will most likely struggle to find daylight as well. ***Note: In addition to C Mike Flanagan's return from injury, coaches say that QB Brett Favre is noticeably leaner and came to camp in fantastic physical condition. Could be that the "doom and gloom" outlook for Green Bay's line will be proven false." Further, WR Javon Walker’s contract squabbles and promised training camp hold-out shake the morale of a usually tight locker room.
AND… then there’s the not-so-small issue of ball security. Last year, the Green Bay ‘back put the ball on the ground as many times as he scored; 7. Although the team recovered 4 of those fumbles, that doesn’t do diddly for Green’s fantasy value.

Bottom line? Although I don’t think the final 6 games of last season are representative of Green’s skills… they could be. Ahman Green will probably be drafted higher than he should be, and with talented youngsters to be had in later rounds such as Kevin Jones, and Julius Jones to name but two- I’d be inclined to leave Ahman Green for another owner to draft, and agonize over.

Baltimore Ravens: Jamal Lewis: 3 STARS: - 1,006 yards, 7 TDs: Last year was a bitter pill for Jamal Lewis’s owners to swallow. Coming off a simply awesome 2,066 yard, 14 TD ’03 campaign, owners understandably expected a huge encore performance. Yet, Lewis delivered less than half of ‘03’s yardage and exactly half the number of scores. What was up? My guess, the federal drug charges and potential prison time, which in retrospect turned into very real prison time, hanging over Lewis’s head proved to be a mite distracting. Savvy owners who took Lewis’s legal troubles into consideration and avoided drafting the then-troubled runner were right on the money. Now, those same owners can rest easy and gravitate back to Balty’s bulky ‘back. Time to think… ‘cause I’d imagine staring at the ceiling of a 5’ X 5’ cell provides one with quality “me time,” should have honed Lewis’s competitive sprit to a razor’s edge. With that emotional axe to grind, look for the ravin’ Raven to find his way back into the game’s elite.

EXTRA POINTS: Coaches can’t seem to say enough good things about the progress QB Kyle Boller has made. In addition, new #1 pass catcher Derrick Mason (from Tennessee), polished rookie wideout Mark Clayton, and all-world TE Todd Heap (a new $30 Mill’ contract extension, the richest in league history for a TE, gives Heap quite a heap o’ dough) will allow the Baltimore O to click like a Swiss watch.

Kyle Boller is a legit' "Sleeper" pick. With such talent around him, if Boller has indeed improved his game he'll be a fine #2 fantasy signal caller and spot starter. Mason will again be a solid #1 fantasy pass catcher, Mark Clayton may well make the same noise “last-namesake” Michael Clayton made as a rookie receiver for Tampa Bay in ‘04, and as usual, expect Ray Lewis and company to make life utterly miserable for opposing QBs and ball carriers. This year, though, the Ravens have installed the "46 Defense." Cover the women's eyes and hide the children, 'cause I shudder to think of the carnage a human wrecking ball like Lewis will wreak while playing out of such an aggressive scheme.

Washington Redskins: Clinton Portis: 3 STARS: - 1,315 yards, 7 TDs (2 rec.), 235 Rec yards: Portis never really found a comfort zone in Joe Gibbs’ offense last season which is understandable, because it seemed as if Joe Gibbs himself never really found a comfort level with his offense. In his 2 seasons in Denver, Portis ran for a pair of 1,500+ yard seasons. With 3,099 total rushing yards already on Portis' Football cards, Washington fans... and fantasy fans, quite understandably anticipated big things from the flashy Redskin runner. But Clinton Portis couldn’t deliver on his considerable talent because really, his running style just never meshed with Gibbs’ schemes. The legendary Redskin coach builds his running game around counters and traps, and Portis was forever running up the backs of his lineman. After averaging 15 plays of 20+ yards per season as a Bronc’, Portis notched all of 5 as a ‘Skin. Worse still, particularly from a fantasy perspective… for that’s all that really matters here… Portis rang up a mere 5 100+ yard rushing days. In addition, Ports went 7 games without a score last year, and coming off of 29 TDs in 2 seasons in Denver… Gibbs and owner Dan Snider were looking for a multiple of his 5 TDs in a Redskin Uni’ .
After a full season and 2 off-seasons to acclimate to each other’s styles, look for ’05 to be a better, more productive year for Clinton Portis. But, the unsettled nature of the Redskin QB position, coupled with the team’s lack of playmakers, will put a big ol’ bulls eye on Portis’ chest. To expect a season of 15 TDs would be unrealistic.

EXTRA POINTS: Although Portis projects for a better season, he might not be much more than a solid #2 runner this year, due to the team’s iffy QBs and pedestrian pass catchers. Keep an eye on rookie signal caller Jason Campbell, however. Gibbs likes him, and is NOT high on incumbent Patrick Ramsey. Though raw, the early reports on Campbell have been excellent… and those belonging to “Keeper/Dynasty” leagues might take a late… LATE, round flyer on the youngster.

Detroit Lions: Kevin Jones: 3 STARS: - 1,133 yards, 6 TDs (1 Rec): Jones, a waiver wire pickup for most last season, has seen his stock appreciate almost as rapidly as eBay's. The offensive cast around him, namely WRs Mike and Roy Williams and Charles Rogers, are second to none. Incidentally, Lion observers were thunderstruck by the mini-camp play of Charles Rogers, and stated that he was most impressive of the Detroit receivers. Given Roy Williams' performance last year, and the hype surrounding Mike Williams this season, that is high praise indeed. Should Joey Harrington FINALLY live up to his high draft status… and potential, Jones will be an excellent #1 fantasy ‘back. Last year, the young Lion came on strong towards season’s end, rolling up 5 99+ yard rushing days in 7 games, including inspired 196 yard and 156 yard efforts against Arizona and Green Bay respectively. In addition, the TDs started to come, with Jones racking up 4 in his final 5 games. With a relatively gaudy 4.7 YPC average, and a long run of 74 yards, Jones is obviously the most dangerous ‘back the team has fielded since Barry hung ‘em up. With a bright, bright future ahead of him, those owners in “Keeper/Dynasty” leagues might wish to answer their “running back Jones” before another owner does!

EXTRA POINTS: Team GM Matt Millen will NOT give QB Joey Harrington much longer to make the team his. Further, head coach Steve Mariucci may well be eager to see has his own guy, 3 time Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia at the helm. Although the team owning Ford family has been extremely patient, with playoff caliber talent at the skill positions and a solid D, they’d have to be complete boobs to allow this much talent to underachieve again.

2 1/2 STAR AND 2 STAR 'BACKS COMING SOON!!

1 Comments:

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ahman green is he better than julius jones

 

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