Offseason Low Down
Top 40 Running Backs
This is the third start to this column. I could write about the remaining free agents available, but most readers don't care nearly as much about Bobby Engram, Marques Tuiasosopo, and Kawika Mitchell as I do. It's taken four years to come to this understanding.
Judging by emails, readers want rankings - especially running back rankings. Rankings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rotoworld.com could consist entirely of news and rankings, and I doubt anyone would care. Just don't tell my bosses.
After a wild two weeks of activity at running back, lets take a crack at a ridiculously early look at my top 40 ballcarriers. This is a rough draft. There are still a lot of moving parts out there like Chris Brown, Corey Dillon, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, and all the rookies. A lot will change between now and August, but here's how Rotoworld sees the fantasy football breadwinners
Top 40 2007 Running Backs
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers- Each year, our magazine assigns a column about who the number one pick should be. This year, the column will about who the number two pick should be.
2. Steven Jackson, Rams – My gut says Frank Gore should be second because he's the closest thing to LaDainian Tomlinson. All things being equal, his talent would give him the spot. Life rarely makes things equal though. Gore plays for the 49ers, Jackson plays for the Rams. Jackson is the safer bet to hit 15 scores.
3. Frank Gore, 49ers- - The inconvenient truth for the three teams that drafted a running back in the top-five of the 2005 Draft (Miami, Chicago, Tampa Bay) is that the total package lasted until pick 65. Imagine how Carolina and Arizona feel about selecting Eric Shelton and J.J. Arrington in round two. Gore can be the NFL MVP one day, but the offense around him may not allow it yet.
4. Larry Johnson, Chiefs - The biggest question of the 2007 draft season is where to draft LJ. The probability of a physical breakdown after 416 carries is just too great to ignore. This ranking could get me in trouble, but history doesn't lie.
5. Brian Westbrook, Eagles - Westbrook takes a hit in leagues that don't award points-per-receptions, but he's simply one of the best players in football per-touch. Now that he can handle 300 of them, he's a solid first-round pick.
6. Willie Parker, Steelers - Still improving. Parker owners dodged a bullet when the Steelers' salary cap woes prevented them from upgrading Najeh Davenport.
7. Joseph Addai, Colts - If Indianapolis doesn't add true competition for Addai, he'll be among the safest picks in fantasy football. A quality committee partner would knock him down a round.
8. Rudi Johnson, Bengals - I'm running out of reasons to rank Rudi outside the top ten. His 3.8 yards-per-carry average is a concern, but Johnson should enjoy another big year before his decline hits.
9. Reggie Bush, Saints - Reggie in the second half of 2006: 1,013 total yards, 10 touchdowns, 52 catches. If he just keeps that pace, he's ranked too low here. He's a top-five pick in PPR leagues.
10. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins - Now is where the rankings get really hard. I truly believe this is the most closely bunched group of running backs in five years. After the top ten, there will be a lot of disagreement.
After watching tape of the 2006 season, I'm not giving up on Brown. Mike Mularkey and the Miami line ruined his season. The presence of Cam Cameron, Tomlinson's old coordinator, should help. If Ricky Williams returns, I won't be as optimistic.
11. Clinton Portis, Redskins - The shoulder injury could leave him fresh for the 2007 season, which is a plus. If Ladell Betts is traded, he'll move up half a round.
12. Laurence Maroney, Patriots – Get them while they are young. New England's propensity to spread the ball around at the goal-line could be the only thing holding him back.
13. Chester Taylor, Vikings - Like the entire Vikings organization, Taylor tastes vanilla. Unlike the rest of the Vikings offense, he's consistently productive.
14. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks - His breakdown last season may only be the beginning. Alexander will rack up fantasy points if he can stay healthy, but he'll probably disappoint Seahawks fans and get drafted too early.
15. Travis Henry, Broncos - Another guy who got a better job than he deserves. It wouldn't surprise me to see Denver draft a first-day pick, which would hurt Henry's ranking.
16. Willis McGahee, Ravens - I'm not convinced Baltimore made a good trade by acquiring McGahee, but he's going to pile up touches. Lack of backfield competition will be hard to find in 2007.
17. Brandon Jacobs, Giants - Not yet a complete player, but Reuben Droughns shouldn't provide much competition. The total yards could be lacking, but Jacobs is a good bet to score 12 or more times.
18. Carnell Williams, Bucs - Still young, talented, and has the job to himself. Could be a great RB2 value in the third round because he'll be ranked lower in most places.
19. Cedric Benson, Bears- Very difficult player to project. Great on paper, but the questions about his toughness and versatility still concern me. There's no way I'll own him if he stays ranked this low.
20. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars - A top-five pick if Fred Taylor had left. MoJo will have his day in the sun, but he's still a backup and Greg Jones may steal a few touchdowns.
21. LenDale White, Titans - Don't call him a sleeper. White could move up this list if the Titans fail to acquire significant more talent. He could move down if they draft a first-day running back.
22. Thomas Jones, Bears - The Jets run a perfect offense to take advantage of Jones' complete skills. He should be a solid value once again.
23. LaMont Jordan, Raiders- Great candidate for a bounceback year after Oakland's lost season. If he's close to his 2005 level, he'll dominate carries over Dominic Rhodes.
24. Edgerrin James, Cardinals - James is unlikely to reverse his decline, but he still runs hard and gets the touches. He'll slide down the list if Arizona adds another back on day one of the draft. The hire of Ken Whisenhunt is a major plus.
25. Deuce McAllister, Saints- Deuce showed up very well during tape review, and is another year removed from ACL surgery. His role can't increase, though, so 2006 was a best-case scenario.
26. Fred Taylor, Jaguars- I liked him better last year coming off a down campaign. It's possible he could start and get less touches than MoJo.
27. Marion Barber III, Cowboys - I admittedly have no clue what the Cowboys will do at running back. I suspect that will be the case in Week 3, which makes either player tough to start in fantasy leagues. For now, I'm putting off thinking hard though about where to rank them.
28. Julius Jones, Cowboys- He's reportedly on the trading block once again. A committee seems likely if he stays in Dallas.
29. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers - Coming off a strange, wildly uneven rookie season. Williams isn't likely to get the goal-line touches, but he's a better player than DeShaun Foster. If John Fox agrees, this ranking is too low.
30. Ahman Green, Texans - Last of the unquestioned starters, but Green's steep decline in the second-half last season was a red flag.
31. DeShaun Foster, Panthers - Hasn't finished higher than 24th at running back in four seasons. DeAngelo Williams could start sooner than later.
32. Kevin Jones, Lions- His foot injury is a mystery, and Detroit signed Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett. That doesn't bode well. Even if he's healthy enough to play in September, Jones will probably split carries in 2007.
33. Jamal Lewis, Browns - Value depends largely on whether Cleveland drafts Adrian Peterson. Lewis seems likely to split carries with a rookie regardless, it just might be a second-rounder.
34. Jerious Norwood, Falcons - Warrick Dunn's role is decreasing, but Atlanta's starter may not be on the roster yet. If the Falcons draft a bruiser, knock Norwood down the list.
35. Ladell Betts, Redskins - Rumors persist that the Broncos are still after him. If he stays in Washington, he's the best true backup in the league. Joe Gibbs doesn't seem likely to split the carries.
36. Warrick Dunn, Falcons - A scheme change is rough news for Dunn, already coming off January shoulder surgery. Don't bail a year too late. A high rookie pick in Atlanta will knock him off this list.
37. Vernand Morency, Packers - Dynasty leaguers may want to think about selling high on Morency now while he's the nominal starter in Green Bay. Best player available be damned, the Packers simply have to draft a running back high.
38. Leon Washington, Jets - Too bad Thomas Jones is so durable.
39. Michael Turner, Chargers - I'd rather draft Turner for the chance of Tomlinson getting hurt than accepting mediocrity by drafting Reuben Droughns and Dominic Rhodes.
40. Reuben Droughns - Droughns will compete for a larger role, but he'll probably wind up as a change-of-pace to Brandon Jacobs.
Just Missed: Tatum Bell, Dominic Rhodes, Anthony Thomas, Mike Bell, Ricky Williams, Corey Dillon
Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James are ranked shockingly low, imo. I think Tatum Bell should be ranked a lot higher too.