Welcome to the Brew Crew Corner. It’s been a hot summer, but soon we will be cooling down with an ice cold beverage, watching teams in training camp and getting ready for the preseason. I’ve had my sports fix with the World Cup, but now that it is over my focus is fully on preparing for my drafts and sharing my insight on the 2010 season. In the last article we looked at the passing situation for every team in the NFL. We will now focus on the ground game and look at current situations heading into camp.
Let’s start by looking at 10 key runningback facts.
Older vs. Younger running backs – While quarterbacks and wide receivers can play late in to their 30s, runningbacks start to decline. In the NFL the Houston Texans have the youngest group of running backs while the New England Patriots have the oldest.
Thomas Jones and Ricky Williams were the only runningbacks aged 30 or older to rank in the Top 20 at the position.
Chris Johnson led the league in rushing yards with 2,006 and led all fantasy players in points. He also rushed for 125.4 yards per game. He was the only runningback in 2009 to average more than 100 yards per game.
Johnson’s 125.5 yards per game ranks just 11th all time for a single season average. ‘The Juice’, O.J. Simpson, in 1973 rushed for 143.1 yards per game, which is the NFL record for a single season. Jim Brown is the other runningback to average more than 100 yards per game over a career with 104.3.
Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing touchdowns with 18, but he also led the league with six lost fumbles, plus another two during the postseason.
Ray Rice led all runningbacks with 702 receiving yards on 78 receptions.
In 2008, 16 running backs rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
The number of 1,000-yard rushers has declined the past four seasons with a drop off from 23 in 2006. That means you can expect 14 runningbacks or less to rush for at least 1,000 yards this season.
Since 1971, 46 rookie runningbacks have rushed for 1,000 yards or more.
Now that you have some facts in your head, let’s dive into each team’s situation.
As I mentioned in the fact section, the Patriots have the oldest group of runningbacks. I’m not talking about runningbacks that just hit 30, I’m talking about Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk at 34 and Sammy Morris at 33. Laurence Maroney is the youngest of the group at 25. This should be a concern as all these players have missed time due to injury and speed will be a concern. This unit is a true runningback by committee (RBBC) situation and only had seven runs of more than 20 yards with two other going more than 40. One positive was that Maroney did score nine touchdowns and received the bulk of the carries.
We know that the Jets had the top defense in the NFL last season. But did you know they also lead the league in rushing? They ran for a total of 2,756 yards and even outrushed 12 teams by more than 1,000 yards. The Jets were led by Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and Leon Washington. Jones and Washington were traded this offseason and the team signed former San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson and drafted Joe McKnight. Tomlinson is 30 and on the downside of his career, but was still productive last year rushing for 730 yards with 12 touchdowns. This will be Greene’s job as he led the postseason in rushing yards last year and will be primed to be the featured running back on the team. We still need to monitor training camp to see how many carries Tomlinson will cut into. If Greene can hold off Tomlinson to win the starting job, he will have great numbers behind a very good offensive line. I’m hoping that Tomlinson can kill the buzz a little so that Greene’s draft stock will not become overvalued but I will be looking to target him in the second round.
Thanks to an improved passing game and the success of the wild cat formation, the Dolphins finished fourth in rushing and will have Brandon Marshall to help keep defenses from stacking the box. Ronnie Brown will return from yet another season-ending injury and you have to be concerned that he will not be able to last the season. There is no question that when healthy, Brown is very productive as he was on his way to a 1,000-yard season and had eight rushing touchdowns when he got hurt. Ricky Williams, who will be 33 this season, carried the bulk of the carries in place of Brown and finished with 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams was the best value pick of any fantasy player last season. Look for the Dolphins to have a more balanced offense in 2010 while trying to keep Williams and Brown healthy for the whole season.
’s offense last season was one of the worst in the league. The offensive line was a mess and the change at coordinator didn’t help matters. Marshawn Lynch started the year on a three-game suspension and he provided little production over the next 13 games with just 450 yards and two touchdowns. Fred Jackson provided some production as he rushed for 1,062 yards with two touchdowns. The Bills tied for 29th overall in rushing touchdowns with just six, but only four of those came from runningbacks. The team invested a first-round pick in C.J. Spiller in hopes that he will be the playmaker they need. The team still has issues on the line, which they addressed later in the draft. With the issues they have at quarterback they will find it hard to keep teams from stacking the box.
The Steelers have had an interesting offseason to say the least and most of it has not been good for the outlook of 2010. The team traded away Santonio Holmes, has Ben Roethlisberger suspended for 4-6 games and placed Willie Colon on injured reserve. Teams will be able to key in on the run early, forcing Byron Leftwich or whoever wins the job for the start of the season, to have to throw. Last season owners felt Rashard Mendenhall would be a Top 10 runningback after a disappointing rookie year in 2008, which ended with an injury. Through the first three games of the season many owners were pulling their hair out and were looking to pull the plug due to Mendenhall. Then, in Week 4 Mendenhall ran for 165 yards with two touchdowns. The rest of the season he was serviceable, but not spectacular, as he ranked 14th among runningbacks. The Steelers will get off to a slow start this season and it is unknown how they will play once Roethlisberger returns. I would be hesitant to draft Mendenhall as a starter but would take him as a flex option.
The Bengals have revived their offense and will look to improve in 2010. Cedric Benson was considered a first-round bust early in his career, but has played well on a new team to show that he can be a productive runningback. Last season, Benson missed two games due to injury and didn’t play much in the final game against the Jets, but still ran for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns. Had he played in all 16 games, he could have rushed for better than 1,500 yards. Benson finished ninth last season and could finish in the Top 10 again this year. I would take him as my second runningback now that we know he will not face a suspension due to his off-field issues. There is a risk factor as Benson is inches away from a big suspension but you can probably get good value for him this season.
There aren’t many runningbacks in this league that I get man-love for. You usually have a couple of players in a season that you would want in every one of your leagues if you could get your hands on them. Ray Rice is that guy. At just 5-foot-8 he put up big numbers last year. I think he will have a season this year where he rushes and catches fore more than 1,000 yards. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards and added 702 receiving last year, so the expectations of him producing even more is not out of the question. The only concern I have is how many touchdowns will Willis McGahee vulture? After starting the season strong McGahee took a back seat to Rice, but over the final six games of the season he scored seven touchdowns. That is the one factor that keeps Rice from going higher than third in drafts and in some cases you have to decide between him or Maurice Jones-Drew and will the touchdowns lost to McGahee factor into your choice? Jones-Drew outscored him by nine fantasy points last year.
Last year, Jerome Harrison sat on waiver wires or on the bench until Week 15 when he came out of nowhere to rush for 286 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second most productive fantasy game for a runningback in 2009 with 55 fantasy points behind Chris Johnson’s Week 2 monster game of 57 fantasy points. For owners lucky enough to have had him on the bench or claim him off waivers, they benefited over the final two games where he ran for more than 100 yards and a touchdown per game. The buzz on
Steve Slaton was a first-round bust in last year’s draft. He missed the final five weeks of the season with an injury after failing to rush for 100 yards in the first 12 games. Slaton is coming off of neck surgery and has yet to resume contact in practice. Look for Arian Foster to take the bulk of the carries early in the season and if Slaton gets fully healthy then it will be a shared committee. Rookie Ben Tate will get opportunities to prove himself this preseason and he offers more upside then the other backs. I will probably pass on Slaton in drafts as the potential for him to re-injure that neck is very high. Grab Tate at the end of the draft or off waivers.
It is no secret that the Colts are a passing team. After all, you want Peyton Manning making the plays as much as possible. However, you would think that in a game where teams are focusing on the receivers heavily, there would be room to run. The team finished last in the NFL in rushing yards. The majority of those came from Joseph Addai, who has had two subpar seasons after rushing for more than 1,000 yards his first two years in the league. The one bright spot for Addai is that he still finished 10th among runningbacks behind 10 rushing touchdowns. This season, don’t expect the Colts running game to be much better. In the past three seasons the team’s overall rushing has dropped from 18th to 32nd. The team likes Donald Brown, who didn’t show much his rookie year.
Chris Johnson, or ‘CJ2K’ as he’s been called lately, has finally come to some kind of agreement with the team and that is good news for 2010. Last year’s top fantasy runningback and “Player of the Year,” Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards and had 14 rushing touchdowns. He also added 50 receptions for 503 yards and two receiving touchdowns. If you look at the past three runningbacks to rush for more than 2,000 yards, the following season wasn’t better for them. In 2004, Jamal Lewis rushed for 1,000 yards less with half as many touchdowns. In 1999, Terrell Davis got injured and rushed for just 211 yards. In 1998, Barry Sanders rushed for 500 less yards but only had four touchdowns and then retired. Even O.J. Simpson’s and Eric Dickerson’s stats were lower the following year. That means there is a good chance that Johnson could have a down year. It could be as disastrous as
Right behind Johnson in the division last season was Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew has been an avid fantasy football participant and in this year’s celebrity draft he traded for himself. The debate this season will be between drafting Rice or Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew finally achieved elite status by rushing for a career high of 1,391 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. His receiving yards were down from the year before but that is fine as long as he’s still getting the ball. Jones is definitely going to be a Top 5 runningback this season. Jones-Drew has had some inconsistent games as he did not have any back to back games with 100-plus yards and his production was average during the final two games of the fantasy playoffs. He has good ball security with only one lost fumble last season and will be the center of the offense once again. The question will be how well the rest of the offense play as David Garrard needs to step up and be more effective in the passing game for Jones-Drew to be able to find lanes to run.
I’ll admit last season I was one of those owners that was burned by Darren McFadden. McFadden, dubbed ‘Run DMC’ coming out of college has played more like TLC. He missed six games last season with a knee injury and when he did play he didn’t do much to contribute. While the Raiders’ organization still has high expectations for McFadden and believes he will play well this season, most owners have already moved on and are looking at Michael Bush as a better fantasy option in Oakland. The Raiders offense was horrible last season and the quarterback bust, JaMarcus “Sizzurp” Russell, is no longer behind center. With Jason Campbell running the offense, it will help the running game. The question heading into camp is whether they will use a feature back or will they have a committee. Rock Cartwright and Michael Bennett are in the mix but not much fantasy value there. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.
Last season I missed out on drafting Knowshon Moreno in a couple of leagues due to value or someone taking him before my selection. At the end of the season, I was glad that I didn’t draft him. Before the 2009 NFL Draft, the Broncos were stockpiling runningbacks before drafting Moreno in the first round. Moreno won the starting job but started the season a little banged up. Moreno put up close to 1,000 yards rushing but his numbers were average. Correll Buckhalter backed up Moreno and had a few good games but as expected he had to deal with injuries and he was inconsistent. This season I am worried about the Broncos offense. The team lacks a true No. 1 receiver and the quarterback situation is not stable. I’d take Cedric Benson or Ryan Mathews over Moreno at this point.
Kansas City Chiefs
I do not share the positive endorsement of Jamaal Charles that I’ve seen this offseason. Charles did finish 12th among runningbacks last season and was a beast during the fantasy playoffs, but he was the offense during that period of time. Charles did not have any competition last year at runningback and Dwayne Bowe had missed time due to a suspension, forcing the team to focus more on the run. This season the Chiefs added Thomas Jones, who was second in the league in rushing yards with 1,402 and also scored 14 rushing touchdowns. The team will look to get Jones as much involved as Charles, as well as find opportunities to use Dexter McCluster in the offense. This doesn’t mean that Charles will not be productive, but he’s drafted on average in the second round as if he is the featured back. I will pass on Charles. Select a runningback later such as Chris Wells or LeSean McCoy and take Thomas Jones in the eighth round where he is being taken for the same production Charles will provide.
San Diego Chargers
The buzz after the draft for top rookie is around Ryan Mathews who has a great opportunity in front of him to play with an offense that ranked fourth in points, but drafted Mathews because they were 31st in rushing. Darren Sproles is not going to beat him out for the starting job and is better suited for a support/change of pace role. The Chargers’ offseason issues need to be addressed to determine where Mathews should get taken. With Vincent Jackson facing a suspension and looking to holdout until Week 10, as well as the holdout of left tackle Marcus McNeill, the team could be derailed on offense and struggle, which will hurt Mathew’s production as well. Hopefully, by the time drafts come along there will be some resolution to this situation. If not, Mathews will be a riskier pick.
This concludes Part 1 of a two-part feature on runningbacks heading into training camp. Part 2 will cover the NFC. Stay cool, and ‘Mock around the Clock.’
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