Ever since man could talk, it has been an understood fact that drafting running backs early and often is the only way of succeeding in the art of fantasy football, and all other suggestions are destined to fail. I’m pretty sure Jerome Bettis even confirmed it as a man law a few commercials back. Of course there are other ways to build a fantasy champion, but stocking up on feature backs sure can’t hurt. Let’s take a look at the top ten backs, top five sleepers, and five that will plunge to the ground.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson- San Diego Chargers
My grandmother could tell you this guy is the best back in the business, and she’s dead. Unless you have been living under a rock, or in Rhode Island, you saw Tomlinson’s record breaking year in 2006. I’m not saying he will repeat his numbers from last year, because that is almost impossible, but Tomlinson will still have a quality season. Even with the departure of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Tomlinson’s consistency, durability, and sheer talent will drive him to success.
2. Steven Jackson- St. Louis Rams
Most people have this man among boys listed three on their draft board, behind Tomlinson and Larry Johnson, but this guy will achieve fantasy greatness in ’07. Expect at least 15 touchdowns and 1,500 total yards. He is a yardage monster who controls the game, and can also be a versatile receiver out of the backfield. Plus, he has dreds, you can’t go against that.
3. Larry Johnson- Kansas City Chiefs
The biggest workhouse in the league, Johnson broke the record in carries in a season last year with 416. Herman Edwards is going to keep handing the ball to LJ in 2007, and he will not disappoint. The powerful, yet fast running back certainly has a nose for the end zone and could possibly reach 20 total touchdowns this season if he stays healthy.
4. Frank Gore- San Francisco 49ers
Standing behind a much improved offensive line, a confident quarterback, and a proven fullback, Gore should flourish this season. With a 5.4 yard average last year, Gore’s hard running style and big play ability makes him a threat for opposing defenses everywhere. Last season, Gore showed he can stay healthy, and if he can again, the future looks bright.
5. Shaun Alexander- Seattle Seahawks
Don’t worry folks; he’s not on the Madden cover this year. After a disappointing season last year, look for Alexander to make an impressive comeback. Prior to last year, he was the most consistent running back in the NFL. He may not have many top notch years left, but don’t overlook him for this year. This guy may slip to the end of the first round, but will perform like the Alexander of old.
6. Joseph Addai- Indianapolis Colts
As a rookie, Addai was a productive back sharing carries with Dominic Rhodes for the Super Bowl champs. Now he is the feature back and he is ready to shine. Playing for an offense that scores often, having the best quarterback in the game, and receivers that demand double coverage, Addai will see daylight all season. He is also a quick back who is a strong receiver and can do damage in the open field.
7. Rudi Johnson- Cincinnati Bengals
Although Rudi doesn’t have the popularity of fellow teammate, Chad Johnson, he is one of the most reliable backs in the league. And although Rudi doesn’t have a fascination for getting fined, rockin’ mohawks, and racing horses like the other Johnson, he is a sturdy and safe back. His numbers don’t lie, having at least 12 rushing touchdowns every year since 2004. He doesn’t have the big play ability, but Rudi Johnson gets the job done, and will continue doing so.
8. Willie Parker- Pittsburgh Steelers
With a new Steelers coaching staff, Parker is clearly the main man in Pittsburgh. He is an every down back and can run forever. He has a great blend of power and speed, and should definitely be a number one back for your fantasy team. Expect just about 300 carries and 1,400 yards.
9. Laurence Maroney- New England Patriots
This guy is ranked 12-15 in nearly every website, magazine, and strategy guide that I have seen. But this sophomore is due for a big year. With the 2nd best quarterback in the game, Tom Brady, and a new core of receivers that will need extra attention, Maroney could go wild. His quickness, vision, and breakaway speed were a few qualities shown by him as a rookie. Now as the feature back, with Dillon departing, the Pats will spread the field and hand Maroney the ball. Maroney seems to have everything going for this year, especially his hair style. (See Stephen Jackson)
10. Brian Westbrook- Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles relied on Westbrook heavily last year, and he responded. Having almost 2,000 all purpose yards, Westbrook led the Eagles to the playoffs even with McNabb out of action. Most doubters didn’t think he could take the bigger workload, but they were wrong. Andy Reid is going to keep feeding him the ball, and feeding himself.
These are some of the guys that might get overlooked, but could be a steal when you grab them. Here are the top five sleepers.
1. Cadillac Williams- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After having a promising rookie season, Cadillac declined last year and only found the end zone once. But don’t judge this guy by what he did last year. He was fighting injuries all season and rather than looking like a Cadillac, he reminded me more of my beat up Volvo that really needs to be “pimped”. Look for Cadillac to be a comeback candidate this season with a veteran QB in Jeff Garcia, and a coach in John Gruden, who just loves the ground attack.
2. Adrian Peterson- Minnesota Vikings
The only rook on the list, Peterson should be a key element for the Vikings and their running game that has been struggling ever since the departure of Robert Smith. He will have an instant impact on the team and the Oklahoma graduate should put up good numbers. Over 1,000 yards and 8 TD is not a stretch for this determined and powerful back. Especially grab this guy if you are in a keeper league.
3. Brandon Jacobs- New York Giants
Only used as a goal line back and to give Tiki a blow last season, some people question if Jacobs can take the full load. Well, let me assure you, yes he certainly can. He is a big, powerful back, who is a smart runner and will wear down defenses. He will still share carries with Droughns, but Jacobs will still be the main man in the Big Apple.
4. Edgerrin James- Arizona Cardinals
Although a big disappointment last season, especially for my fantasy team, Edge did show signs of his old self in the final five games of the year, including his only three 100 yard performances. James should continue his late season heroics from the previous season and blossom with numerous weapons around him on the offensive end. This means plenty of chances for Edge to redeem himself.
5. Michael Turner- San Diego Chargers
Playing behind the best of the best, Turner doesn’t get much recognition in San Diego. I fell in love with the guy two seasons ago when he scampered 83 yards against the Indianapolis Colts for a score while LT was nursing an injury on the sideline. Turner may not get many chances this year, but when he gets the ball, watch out. He only had 80 carries last year, and 7 of them were over 20 yards. He could have been a top 25 candidate if he was traded in the off season, but he is still a Charger, and a must have handcuff for LT owners. He is my super sleeper and a great late round pick.
This group is the running backs that should be avoided on draft day. Stay away from these guys unless you want to be crying in your room day after day praying to the fantasy football Gods to forgive you for making such terribly picks. Stay away from these duds unless you want to be the laughing stock of town and be forced to live a life of disguise just to hide from all the embarrassment. I think you get the idea.
1. Clinton Portis- Washington Redskins
Portis seems to have lost his big play ability ever since leaving Denver. Nagging injuries over the past few years and a tough division to play against have contributed to his lack of success recently. His backup, Ladell Betts, really made a name for himself after Portis went down with a broken hand at the tail end of last year. He will certainly take some carries away from the former top 5 fantasy back.
2. Ronnie Brown- Miami Dolphins
I wasn’t the only one high on Brown last year, but I wasn’t aware of how bad the Dolphins sucked. The Fins have made a few changes in the off season, but the outcome is the same, they still suck. Miami showed that they were unsatisfied with Ronnie Brown when they drafted Lorenzo Booker. Also, Ricky Williams is still in the mix, even though it is unlikely he will be a Dolphin when he finally returns. Brown’s offensive line ahead of him is sub par and won’t give Ronnie big holes to work with making him a back to stay away from.
3. Cedric Benson- Chicago Bears
Benson had been stuck behind Thomas Jones for the past two years, but now Jones is a Jet and Benson is the starter. Only one problem; the most valuable offensive player for the Bears is their kicker, Robbie Gould. In only two seasons, Benson has already had serious knee and shoulder injuries. Defenses will focus on the running game, mainly because Rex Grossman is the team’s quarterback for some reason. Benson won’t live up to the hype so avoid him on draft day.
4. Thomas Jones- New York Jets
After leaving a proven offensive line in Chicago, Jones now arrives in a city where the core of lineman just aren’t the same. His lack of breakaway speed will hurt him in the Jet’s offense, and Leon Washington, his backup, is hungry to take carries and the 3rd down role away from Jones.
5. Warrick Dunn- Atlanta Falcons
I have been a Warrick Dunn fan for years, but over the past two years, Dunn has combined for only 9 touchdowns. He used to be a big receiving threat, but he has dropped off in that category as well. Dunn is still a solid option in terms of yardage, but his backup Jerious Norwood, who average 6.4 per carry as a rookie, will be taking some of those yards.