Wednesday, July 19, 2006


First, allow me to preface. It is just impossible to review every teams' runners. The enormity of the task is daunting, the length of the article far too cumbersome. Ergo, I elected to "hit the highlights" and my pair of "Fantasy Football's Running Backs" articles reflect as much.

Now, should Brian Westbrook be ranked ahead of Warrick Dunn? Maybe. Are you in a yardage league or a scoring league? Do you belong to a "Keeper" league? Are there 8, 10 or 12 owners in your league? How, exactly, does your league tally points? Given both backs' history, taking the supporting casts into account, and considering the offenses both runners will be playing in, I ranked Dunn ahead of Westy'. That does NOT mean, however, that the Eag' won't soar higher than the Falcon. Likewise, after much deliberation, I ranked Cowboy Julius Jones and did NOT list Lion Kevin Jones. Does that mean "KJ" is lacking in value? No, far from it. Actually, Detroit coach Rod Marinelli has said "we're going to pound the rock, and that starts with Kevin Jones" ... or words to a similar effect. But, with Terrell Owens suiting-up for the 'Pokes? Opposing defenders will be more apt to play off the line, thus affording Julius a scoche' more room.
So you see, the possibilities are myriad. Take my rankings as suggestions, they're not gospel.

"On The Way Up!"

Larry Johnson: Two years ago, the unquestioned #1 pick was Charger LaDainian Tomlinson. Johnson, though, has taken over the featured back duties and looks to have put his off-field issues behind him. LJ reeled off 9 straight 105+ yard rushing games, 5 straight 130+ yard games, and notched 15 TDs over his last 7 games.
The only thing that could possibly hold Johnson back, short of injury, is if the Chiefs' aged line suddenly crumbles. Older than dirt, virtually every O-Lineman is a 30-something and both Willie Roaf and Will Shields are 35+.

Steven Jackson: In an offense that has historically been of the "pass 1st, run later" variety, Jackson could be eye-balling a real breakout season. The staff is determined to show opponents a far more balanced offensive look, and Jackson is fast, physical, and versatile. Look for 20+ touches per game... and I wouldn't hesitate to pull a 2nd round trigger on Jax', even a 1st rounder in 12-team leagues.

Ronnie Brown: There's a new sherriff in town and Nick Saban, brought aboard last season, didn't take long to put his stamp on the 'Phins. Now, with Ricky' able to smoke Canada's outstanding sticky, Ronnie Brown is the man. Bolstered by a pass and catch combo of QB Daunte Culpepper (who can't be expected to do too much on his surgically reconstructed knee), Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael, Brown should be demonstrably better in his 2nd year.
**NOTE: Should Brown suffer an injury, the 'Phins are fish out of water. Backup Travis Minor is nothing more than a 3rd down/"breather" back.

**Honorable Mention:

Kevin Jones: Those of you who swore to never again draft KJ... think again. New coach Rod Marinelli's stated goal is to ram the rock down opponets' throats, and Jones is certainly strong enough... and swift enough, to do just that. Boasting a new, stable Signal Caller in Jon Kitna, the forward pass is once again part of the Lions' offense.
**Note: Although Charles Rogers has been chatted-up by the team, he's been running with the 2nd and 3rd teamers. D-troit would be thrilled to find a taker. Look for Kitna and Roy Williams to develop a nifty chemistry, and Mike Williams will either carve a niche for himself as a #2 Wideout or get a long look as a Tight End. Veteran TE Marcus Pollard, a horror-show to cover in the red-zone, is worth a late, late draft pick for those of you who belong to scoring leagues.

Carnell Williams: After starting the season in ridiculous fashion, Caddy' suffered a foot injury during the Week 3 game... and didn't disclose its severity to the Tampa staff. Williams didn't fully recover from the injury until, roughly, Baseball season.
Fast-forward to the '06 campaign, and with emerging QB Chris Simms, TE Alex Smith, WR Michael Clayton, and a nurturant... if foul-tempered coach, Caddy' is ready to resume rolling over opposing defenders.
**NOTE: QB Chris Simms is a promising talent who has secured control of the huddle and his teammates' confidence. With a savvy veteran such as Joey Galloway and a gifted pass catching youngster such as TE Alex Smith, D-coordinators will have a tough time scheming for Tampa.

"On The Way Down"

Corey Dillon: Dill', 32, finally looked his age last season and watched as all of his diggies' continued to dive.
The club drafted promising Laurence Maroney out of Minnesota and will likely intergrate him into the system sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, and although Maroney's a big dude (6-0/225), Dillon should still receive a regular diet of short yardage and Goalline carries.

Curtis Martin: In the late twilight of his Hall of Fame career, Martin went from being the leagues' rushing leader to being a rushing bottom feeder over the span of just a single season. As I wrote in a previous article, instability at the Signal Calling position did little to help C-Mart', but at age 33 his days of being a 25+/game back are at an end. New coach Eric Mangini, eager to make an impression upon his new club, will probably see if Cedric Houston or Derrick Blaylock are capable of heavy duty. If not, Mangini will probably explore 1 of 2 possible options; pour over the pool of available free agent backs or give Martin 15-20 touches per game and draft a new lead back next season.

Ahman Green: Green caused fantasy hearts to flutter everywhere when he recorded his signature season of '03; 1,883/20 (5 rec. TDs). Unfortunately, the Pack' back followed it up with an 1,163/8 (1 rec. TD) encore and last year... last year was a lost year as Green tore a quadricep muscle.
After Sam Gado exploded on the fantasy scene, Green will have an uphill battle on his hands. An "old" 29 due to the exorbitant wear and tear Lambeau Field exacts upon a Runner, I have said it before (like... last season in my pre-season rankings and again, this year) and I say again, "LET AHMAN GREEN GIVE ANOTHER OWNER ULCERS!"

"Could Surprise"

Chester Taylor: Alongside OG Steve Hutchinson, Taylor was Minny's most significant off-season acquisition. The Ravens plugged Taylor into their Running Back breach when Jamal Lewis was out with injury or just needed a breather, and were suitably impressed by his skills.
With a real Full Back in Tony Richardson (another key pickup) now in the Viking fold, Chester Taylor could blow-UP and be a legit' 1,000 yard/8 weapon.

Tatum Bell: Pick a Bronc' back, any Bronc' back! Dating from Terrell Davis to Olandis Gary to Mike Andersen to Clinton Portis to... you get the point, the "Mike Shanahan System" works.
Bell averaged almost 5 1/2 yards per tote last season, but his durability and toughness have been called into question.
If Bell can beat out quasi-bust Ron Dayne, he could be a nice addition to a fantasy roster. I anticipate that the jibes Shanny' directed Bell's way are designed to motivate and not DE-flate, and that Bell should start the season as the "Big D" back.


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