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A Change of Pace

Third down backs are anything but. The little runners of the league made a big impact in ’08. Once thought to be specialists, too small or slight for the NFL – the “Rudy” runners of the league are showing people otherwise. The playmaking ability of these athletes cannot be denied. Coordinators are becoming creative in adjusting their schemes in order to get the ball into these players’ hands. Could they handle a 20-carry load week in and week out? Probably not, but teams aren’t asking them to do so. These players don’t need 20 touches to make an impact. They are game changers who have the ability to take to the house at any moment. Whether it be as a runner, receiver or special teams player, coaches are finding more and more excuses to get the ball in their hands. Positional job descriptions have changed. Teams now value versatility.

Look for this trend to continue in ’09. We are a “super-sized” nation. But these small fries showed us that bigger is not necessarily better.

Darren Sproles

(5’6″/181 lbs.): Over the past three seasons Sproles has averaged nearly 5.4 yards per carry. He is threat catching the ball out of the backfield with 29 receptions for 342 yards and five touchdowns in spot duty for LT in ’08. Sproles’ speed is truly apparent in the return game where he totaled 1,625 yards in kick and punt returns. The franchise tagging of Sproles and the speculation that this is LT’s last year in a Charger uniform is a testament to the big impact some small players can have. Look for an expanded role in ’09.

Leon Washington

(5’8″/202 lbs.): This pint-sized player put up gallon like numbers as the year progressed and tallied nine all purpose TDs. The drafting of Shonn Greene will impact Thomas Jones’ production more than Washington. Jones has yet to show up at Jets camp. The situation is worth keeping an eye on.

Steve Slaton

(5’10″/190 lbs.): Coming out of West Virginia, Slaton was slated as nothing more than a pace changer. He changed pace alright: 268 rush, 1,282 yards, 9 TD; 50 rec., 377 yards, 1 TD. WOW! Slaton received a strong workload in 2008 with over 300 touches. Look for the Texans to work another runner into the mix to make sure that Slaton does not wear down.

Chris Johnson

(5’11″/200 lbs.): No 40-time has translated into game speed since Deion Sanders. What “Dash” did to Baltimore’s defense in the first half of last years playoff game, was enough to have me envisioning big things for the once thought to be too small. Johnson is my favorite player of this bunch. I look for him to get even more of a workload in ’09. His 2008 stats: 251 rush, 1,228 yards, 9 TD; 43 rec., 260 yards, 1 TD

Kevin Faulk

(5’8″/202 lbs.): Mr. Consistent. He always comes up big in clutch situations. He has the sixth sense of always knowing where the first-down marker is. A glance at his career stats would surprise even the most informed NFL/fantasy fan. With little respect in the fantasy world, I had to give the little man a shout out for winning me two games last year in spot duty.

Mewelde Moore

(5’11″/209 lbs.): He made the most of Willie Parker‘s injury (1,114 all-purpose yards to go with six TDs) and has boasted surprisingly tall numbers over his career, averaging over five yards per carry.

Paving the way:

Warrick Dunn

(5’8″/180 lbs.): He took on a larger role than anyone expected last year in

, showing there is still something in the tank for anyone interested in picking him up after recently being cut.

Maurice Jones-Drew

(5’7″/206 lbs.): Finally MJD will get the chance that fantasy owners have been dreaming of. With Fred Taylor leaving town, Jones-Drew will get the increase in work load that should make him a fantasy star. Standing at just 5’7″, MJD looks as wide as he is tall. Stay tuned to see how high MJD climbs in our drafting ranks.

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