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MJD and the History of Stud Running Back Holdouts

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Welcome to another August edition of the Brew Crew Corner. During this time of year, there are two issues during training camp that hamper your draft preparation - players who are injured and players who are holding out. These two factors make it difficult for us to rank guys on our board.

In the case of an injury, we must rely on news of how that player is progressing. Chances are, if they are a superstar, they will see little-to-no action during preseason and it becomes a guessing game until they announce his status for Week 1. Here you’re left with rolling the dice in hopes that your guy will return healthy and play all season.

In the second scenario, a holdout can be very unpredictable. You may have a team that will sign a player before camp, which ends the player’s holdout and then he reports to camp. Sometimes the players suck up their pride and return so that they don’t lose out on money. This is good news for those drafting. Then there are situations where it drags out into camp and maybe into the season. For example, when Vincent Jackson held out in 2010, it led to a lengthy period before he saw the field again in October and he played just five games that season. For owners who drafted him, they were stuck with the decision of cutting him or holding on to him on their bench for all the games he missed. Trading him before his holdout ended was impossible.

Holdouts don’t always lead to doom. There have been cases where superstars have held out and returned that season to put up stats as they normally would. That brings us to the current question regarding Maurice Jones-Drew. At the time of this writing, there has been no progress made towards ending his holdout. So what do you do when you’re sitting there with your first-round pick and Jones-Drew is still on the board? Do you pass and grab someone else, or do you take him and hope that the issue gets resolved before the season starts? The answer depends on how comfortable you feel with your next pick and if you are willing to make that sacrifice for a player such as Jones-Drew, who can give you 1,600 yards rushing and 8-10 touchdowns.

The history of running back holdouts has been a big concern for fantasy owners for many years. The outcome of these holdouts has been different in every case. Let us look back at the past five stud running backs who have staged a holdout.

5. John Riggins (1980) - In 1979, Riggins finished as the 11th fantasy running back. He posted 260 carries for 1,153 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The next season he held out for more money and the team refused to pay him. Riggins left camp and sat out the entire 1980 season. The next year, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs had to go to Riggins’ farm and ask him to come back (sounds similar to Brett Favre). That season, Riggins played 15 games, carrying the ball 195 times for 714 yards and 13 touchdowns.

4a. Eric Dickerson (1985) - Dickerson set a rookie rushing record with the Los Angeles Rams in 1983 and then set the single-season NFL rushing  record in 1984. His 1984 season of 379 carries for 2,105 yards and 14 touchdowns had him as the No. 1 running back in fantasy leagues and the fourth-best fantasy player that year. In 1985, his holdout caused him to miss the first game of the season before he and the team came to an agreement. He missed the second game and played the final 14 games, rushing for 292 carries with 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished as the 10th overall running back.

4b. Eric Dickerson (1990) - Dickerson held out another season, this time as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. Dickerson was traded to the Colts in 1987. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1988 and 1989. In 1989, he posted 314 carries for 1,311 and seven touchdowns to finish as the ninth overall running back in fantasy. In 1990, he held out for a big contract and said he would never play for the Colts again. He then reported to camp but was suspended by the team for the first seven weeks of the season. He finished the season with just 166 carries for 677 yards and four touchdowns, ranking 32nd among fantasy running backs.

3. Bo Jackson (1986) - Bo knows holdouts. Jackson was drafted No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986 but refused to play for the Buccaneers because they stunk and the team did not want to allow him to play both football and baseball.  He signed with the Kansas City Royals instead, and the Buccaneers lost his draft rights after the season, allowing Jackson to re-enter the draft in 1987. In 1987, the Los Angeles Raiders drafted Jackson in the seventh round (what a steal!). That year, Jackson didn't show up until after the baseball season, and in seven games carried the ball 81 times for 554 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 15 fantasy points per game, and, had he played a full season, that average would have put him No. 1 overall among running backs. He didn’t play a full season for his entire career and suffered a career-ending hip injury during the 1990 playoffs.

2. Emmitt Smith (1993) - In 1993, Smith was a restricted free agent and wanted to be the highest paid running back in football.  The previous season, he finished as the top fantasy running back and the second-best fantasy player behind Steve Young. He finished that season with 373 carries for 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns. So, in 1993, he held out and went to other teams looking for a new deal. No other team made an offer. The Dallas Cowboys started the season 0-2 without Smith, and owner Jerry Jones then made him the highest paid running back, ending the holdout. Smith led the league in rushing in just 14 games and finished with 283 carries for 1,486 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished as the No, 1 running back in fantasy and sixth overall among fantasy players. He averaged 17.9 fantasy points per game.

1. Chris Johnson (2011) - Last season, we saw Johnson holdout for a big contract. Even though he did not match the 2,000-yard season he had in 2009, he did rush for 1,364 yards on 316 carries and scored 11 touchdowns in 2010. He finished as the fifth overall fantasy running back. In 2011, he held out of camp and was signed before the season. He started the year awful and had rushed for just 33 yards per game in the first three weeks of the season with no touchdowns. He scored just two rushing touchdowns during the first 12 games of the season and posted just two 100-plus yard games in that span. He finished the season with 262 carries for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns and was ranked as the 16th overall fantasy running back. It’s proof that Johnson wasn’t in good enough shape entering the season because he missed all of training camp.

So, there you have it. There are big risks and rewards when it comes to running back holdouts. In the cases of the past five stud running backs to holdout, Riggins and Jackson missed the entire season, Dickerson and Smith missed the first two games, Dickerson then missed the first six games and Johnson started the season with just 33 yards per game for the first three weeks.

So, with MJD's situation, you need to monitor how things are going. The closer we get to the regular season, the more serious a holdout becomes. If you draft him, be prepared if he misses a game or two for the season or starts the year slow. Hopefully he won’t sit out this season. That would be a big blow to your team and an even bigger blow to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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