Where do fantasy owners go from here? Miami Dolphins star Ricky Williams has retired at age 27. According to Dan LeBetard of the Miami Herald, “He wants to study, learn, search, travel, question, write, meditate, read, wander, find himself, climb mountains, take pictures of waterfalls and be Dad without being interrupted by another 8 a.m. meeting to dissect film. His heart isn’t in it anymore, in other words.” Williams has always been off on his own planet, so the news might not come as a total shocker. Still, its timing couldn’t be worse as it comes in the heart of fantasy football drafting season.
Williams, the top pick in many drafts last season, had a letdown campaign a year ago and had slipped to the low first round this summer. Now, backs like Kevan Barlow, Rudi Johnson, Fred Taylor and Dom Davis become possible low first round options instead of being cemented as round two choices. For those who took Williams already, our hearts are with you. You won’t be able to replace a first round talent like Williams easily, leaving your team in an immediate if not permanent hole. The best bet is to guess right on breakout backs (Chris Brown?) and/or hope for comeback seasons from someone like Duce Staley. Still, it will be a steep hill to climb.
The Dolphins’ top back is currently Travis Minor. The 25-year-old Minor carried the ball 41 times last season for 193 yards and a touchdown. In his career, he has racked up 654 yards on 191 carries with five TDs. He’s a solid backup player, but that’s all he is. Miami signed former Buffalo backup Sammy Morris in the offseason as well.
The Dolphins probably can’t go into the season with Minor, Morris and a couple other inexperienced backs. James Stewart is the top back left on the free agent market. Stewart, 32, was cut by the Lions following the 2003 season. He has over 5,000 yards in his career with a 4.0 average and 48 rushing touchdowns. He had 1,000-yard seasons as recently as 2000 and 2002, but has always been fragile, starting all 16 games just once. He missed all of last year with a shoulder injury, though seems healthy once again. Trung Candidate, 27, also remains unsigned. He entered last season as the starter in Washington; however, he was a major flop. He ran 142 times for 600 yards and a touchdown. Candidate was always one of Marshall Faulk’s top backups in St. Louis, and is probably better suited for that role than that of a full time starter. Stacey Mack is a third experienced back yet to find a new home. At 6′1″, 241 lbs, the 29-year-old Mack is a bruiser. He was the starter for the Houston Texans last season before Dom Davis emerged, and previously was a goal line hawk in Jacksonville. He’s amassed 1,751 yards in his career while scoring 23 rushing touchdowns. Mack’s best season was 2001, when he started ten games and gained 877 yards.
All three backs are worth drafting in the later rounds, because they seem like obvious players to be brought in as the Dolphins scramble for a running game. With no feature back out there, expect a running back by committee approach with Minor, Morris and a free agent, perhaps Stewart, Candidate or Mack.
Ryan Fay has been writing about fantasy sports since 2000, and contributes to both the Football and Baseball Cafes.
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