Backfields in motion
Keeping close tabs on running backs will pay off in the long run
Posted: Thursday August 12, 2004 7:12PM; Updated: Thursday August 12, 2004 7:34PM
By James Quintong, SI.com
As you've seen in our mock draft, and in many fantasy rankings, running backs are absolutely huge. Many owners will try to draft running backs with their first two, three or even four picks because of their potential to put up huge points on a weekly basis. But when the starters are gone, their backups often go quickly, usually as insurance in case of injury. Despite that, there are always some running backs who emerge out of nowhere and cause a feeding frenzy on the waiver wire. Still, it never hurts to be prepared with backups just in case.
Here's a team-by-team list of the backups you'll need to have your eye on, as well as committee systems, which are the bane of many fantasy owners.
Buffalo: Willis McGahee: More than a year removed from major knee surgery, the former Miami star feels he can supplant incumbent Travis Henry. It will be a fierce battle in camp, so it wouldn't hurt to get McGahee in later rounds if you do draft Henry.
Miami: Travis Minor/Sammy Morris/Fred Russell/Rob Konrad (FB): Ricky Williams' stunning retirement has forced the Dolphins to reshuffle the deck with backup Minor moving to the starting role for now, with ex-Bill Morris possibly competing for a job. Miami probably will shop for a running back. Konrad has some value as a fullback, and it could be increased with Williams gone.
New England: Kevin Faulk/Cedric Cobbs: At times, Faulk was the primary back for the Patriots, although he's better suited as a third-down and receiving back. He'll still have that role, although Corey Dillon should get the bulk of the carries. It wouldn't hurt to have Faulk as a fourth or fifth back on your bench, though. Watch out for rookie Cedric Cobbs, who could see some action along the way.
New York Jets: Lamont Jordan: Jordan is anxious to get more playing time after backing up Curtis Martin for three years, and he's still waiting. Martin isn't getting any younger and he is slowing down a bit, but he's still the man, although Jordan could snag a couple of scores at the goal line like he did last year.
Baltimore: Chester Taylor/Musa Smith: Jamal Lewis' legal issues are still up in the air, so it wouldn't hurt to have his backup just in case. Which one will it be? Taylor and Smith both have shown some talent in limited action.
Cleveland: Lee Suggs/William Green: Speaking of legal issues, Green's troubles affected his play and sidelined him at the end of the year. That was just in time for Suggs to recover from shoulder problems and rush for 284 yards in the final three games, including a 186-yard performance in the season finale. Suggs probably enters the season as the starter, but don't count out Green, who's had occasional flashes of brilliance.
Cincinnati: Chris Perry: While Rudi Johnson was one of the breakout stars of 2003, you've got to wonder how confident the Bengals are for a repeat performance when they drafted the Michigan star in the first round. Perry should see occasional action, especially if Johnson is a bust.
Pittsburgh: Jerome Bettis: Duce Staley will be handed the starting job, but the Bus will still keep rolling, even if it's just as a goal-line back. That should mean a bunch of TDs, which still makes him marginally valuable.
Houston: Tony Hollings: While last year's initial starter Stacey Mack is gone, the "sleeper" backup in Hollings still remains, this time playing behind surprise star Domanick Davis. He's still a sleeper, especially since he has a little bit more size than Davis, who did prove durable enough as an every-down back.
Indianapolis: Dominic Rhodes/Ricky Williams/James Mungro: Edgerrin James is not as durable as he used to be, and a plethora of backs have filled in nicely for the Edge in recent years. Rhodes, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards in relief of James in 2001 is still the primary backup, but Williams and Mungro have also had their moments.
Jacksonville: Greg Jones/LaBrandon Toefield: While Toefield is the primary backup for the suddenly durable Fred Taylor, the back to watch is rookie Greg Jones, who could be used as a goal-line back and grab a bunch of TDs.
Tennessee: Chris Brown/Antowain Smith: The Titans are committed to giving the starting to job to Brown, who showed some promise at the end of last season and in the playoffs, and is a similar back to the now-departed Eddie George. However, it's not bad to have the veteran Smith on board, who was the primary back in New England the past couple of years.
Denver: Garrison Hearst/Quentin Griffin/Tatum Bell/Mike Anderson: Right now, there's a gaggle of backs looking to replace Clinton Portis. Second-round pick Tatum Bell is probably the favorite because of his upside. Griffin had a couple of big games to close out 2003, trying to disprove he's too small to be an every-down back. There's also the veteran Hearst, who's trying to extend his career in a place where Georgia backs (Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary) have flourished. Anderson is used as a fullback these days, but he's also rushed for more than 1,400 yards in a season in Denver. No matter who gets the job, look for some big numbers.
Kansas City: Larry Johnson/Derrick Blaylock/Tony Richardson (FB): Priest Holmes stayed healthy all year, making the backup seemingly worthless. However, that primary backup turned out to be Blaylock instead of Heisman finalist Johnson, who fell out of favor early with coaches. There's still hope for Johnson, but he'll need to win over management if he's to have any favorable role in the offense. The veteran fullback Richardson is still around, but he's more valuable to the Chiefs than your fantasy team.
Oakland: Amos Zereoue/Troy Hambrick/Tyrone Wheatley/Justin Fargas/Zack Crockett: The crowded Raiders backfield is even more of a mess with the additions of last year's failed starters Zereoue (Pittsburgh) and Hambrick (Dallas), who are looking for a shot at redemption. The youngster Fargas might have the most upside but is dealing with knee problems. That leaves the veteran Wheatley as the early leader for the starting job, especially with Charlie Garner now in Tampa. And of course, there's still Crockett, who has 28 rushing TDs the past four years. Right now, the whole situation is a mess, so if you really want any of them, you're best served as having them as a fourth back at best.
San Diego: Jesse Chatman/Leon Johnson/Michael Turner: If LaDainian Tomlinson goes down, the Chargers and your fantasy team are toast. The veteran Johnson has experience as a backup, but isn't anything to write home about. Chatman had just 17 yards rushing last year. The rookie Turner, a star at Northern Illinois, could be the primary backup, but he's unproven.
Dallas: Eddie George/Julius Jones/Richie Anderson (FB): The Cowboys' running game looks a lot stronger with the additions of the George and second-round pick Jones, who had his moments at Notre Dame. George might get the nod early, but there's a reason Jones was drafted high. The veteran fullback Anderson, long a Bill Parcells favorite, might be the one player worth having, if just to catch passes out of the backfield.
New York Giants: Ron Dayne/Delvin Joyce/Dorsey Levens/Brian Mitchell/Antwoine Womack: The former Heisman winner Dayne was inactive for every game last year, which shows just how far he's fallen. However, no one else stood out as a quality backup for Tiki Barber. If Barber goes down, everyone is in trouble.
Philadelphia: Correll Buckhalter/Brian Westbrook: Staley may be gone, but the Eagles still have two solid running backs on the roster. Westbrook, however, emerged as the Eagles' most productive back last year, tallying 945 total yards and 11 TDs, not to mention two more scores as a punt returner. Buckhalter is a more bruising-type back and scored eight TDs last year, and he'll still get his chances, although it's unsure how much that will be.
Washington: Ladell Betts/Chad Morton/Rock Cartwright (FB): The Redskins' running game was a mess last year with Trung Canidate ending up a big bust. They've solved that with Clinton Portis. Portis is the man for sure, and Betts is likely the first option should Portis get hurt. The others don't have much value.
Chicago: Anthony Thomas/Adrian Peterson/Brock Forsey: The Bears will try to solve their rushing woes with Thomas Jones, who has had a spotty career. However, Thomas, who's had his share of problems as the starter, is still around, as well as Forsey, who had one huge start against Arizona last year, and Peterson, who has yet to establish himself. It's a bit of a mess, but it might be worth taking a flyer on the A-Train.
Detroit: Artose Pinner/Olandis Gary/Shawn Bryson: Kevin Jones appears to have the starting job in his pocket. But if Jones busts, there are many who think Pinner, who started two games last season, could be the man. However, he averaged just 2.4 yards per carry. The veterans Gary and Bryson, who didn't do much last year, are still around, but for how long?
Green Bay: Tony Fisher/Najeh Davenport: The Packers do make good use of their running backs, especially at the goal line, which can cheat Ahman Green out of a couple of TDs. Green has been nicked up at times during his career, so it's not a huge stretch to see Fisher or more likely Davenport to get considerable carries when necessary.
Minnesota: Onterrio Smith/Moe Williams/Mewelde Moore: When Michael Bennett went down last year, it was Williams, the usual third-down and goal-line back, who benefited the most, and he's still very valuable because of the potential for TDs. Smith was everyone's sleeper last year, but he didn't come around until the end of the season, with two 100-yard games, including a three-TD explosion against the Chiefs in Week 16. Moore, a fourth-round pick out of Tulane, appears to have the same sleeper potential as Smith, but he's down on the seemingly loaded depth chart.
Atlanta: T.J. Duckett/Warrick Dunn: Duckett is trying to make a push for the starting job, but he still has plenty of competition from the veteran Dunn, who is recovering from offseason foot surgery. It's not really a "Thunder and Lightning" setup, and the Falcons will have to figure out how to incorporate both in the lineup. Duckett appears to have the upside, while it can't hurt to draft Dunn as a third or fourth back.
Carolina: DeShaun Foster/Stephen Davis: After last year's playoffs, Foster is making a huge push for extra carries in the Panthers offense. He'll at least offer solid relief for Davis, who did miss a couple of games with injuries. Foster is one of those backup RBs who could be chosen ahead of established starters because of the potential in that offense.
New Orleans: Aaron Stecker/Lamar Smith: The Saints aren't in as dire straits as the Chargers should Deuce McAllister go down, but the backup options aren't all that enticing. They did pick up former Bucs backup Stecker, who can at least hold down the fort for brief periods of time. And they still have the veteran Smith, who's had his moments.
Tampa Bay: Jamel White/Michael Pittman/Mike Alstott: Charlie Garner probably has earned the starting job, now that he's reunited with Jon Gruden, but there are still plenty of other quality options in that backfield. Pittman will miss the first three games because of suspension, but he might be the best overall back on the roster, except for that pesky allergy to the end zone (just three TDs the past two seasons). Alstott is back from injury and could score those TDs Pittman and Garner might not. While White, a solid backup in Cleveland, will also fight for touches. Many may forget Pittman because of his legal troubles, but he could be a nice late-round steal..
Arizona: Emmitt Smith/Marcel Shipp/Josh Scobey/Damien Anderson: With Shipp out 8-12 weeks with an ankle injury, Emmitt Smith now has a firm grip on the starting job. However, with his age, you've got to look at other options just in case. Anderson has a couple of starts under his belt for the Cardinals, while Scobey has showed some flash as a kick returner.
Seattle: Maurice Morris: He hasn't needed to put up big numbers with Shaun Alexander staying healthy. However, he's been consistent enough, especially as a pass-catcher, to be a solid handcuff pick if you want to go that direction.
St. Louis: Steven Jackson/Lamar Gordon/Arlen Harris: Marshall Faulk can still be a dangerous fantasy threat, but his age and health make him a huge risk. That's part of the reason the Rams drafted Jackson in the first round this year. Jackson should see a decent amount of action while limiting Faulk's touches. That move would probably knock down Gordon's value, who had been playing off the fact that he was Faulk's backup. However, he couldn't get the job done last year, while undrafted free agent Harris had a couple of big games in Faulk's place. This year, Harris will see some action at fullback, but is way down the depth chart of Rams you'd want.
San Francisco: Fred Beasley (FB)/Jamal Robertson/Terry Jackson/Jason Wright: With Garrison Hearst gone, Kevan Barlow finally gets to be the primary back. However, there isn't much depth behind him. Robertson and Jackson are rather unimpressive, and undrafted free agent Wright could compete for the backup job. The best bet after Barlow is Pro Bowl fullback Beasley, who can steal a couple of goal-line TDs.