The D-Den rolls in, this installment to cover the position of Running Back. For those of you that might have missed it, a few weeks ago we published the Quarterback list, which I think can still be seen here:
For the most part, people agreed with the list. There were a couple of formatting errors so it appeared that players were missing, but I think we got everyone on the list that we meant to get on there. Not bad considering we discussed 30+ players. I do appreciate all the feedback, even if you don’t agree with me all the time. I don’t expect everyone to, that’s what fantasy football rankings are all about.
With each positional list, the amount of players grows exponentially, so I think you can understand why it takes a little longer to get these ones out. Hopefully we’ve double and triple checked so that we didn’t inadvertantly leave anyone off the list. Do let me know if something seems amiss at email@example.com. I read all emails even if time constraints prevent me from giving a personal reply.
Just a quick recap, we’re ranking players based strictly by position, with keeper/dynasty leagues being the motivation behind the lists. We’ll list players top to bottom, the top player being the guy we’d keep if we could only keep one guy at the position, the next guy being the second guy we’d keep at the position, etc down the line.
We’ll be talking about players in three levels: First Tier, Second Tier, Third Tier. The First Tier will consist of the best players at the position. They may not necessarily be studs, but anyone in this tier can be counted on to produce fantasy points every week for your team as a starting fantasy player. These are the guys that are going to win you championships in the near term. The Second Tier will consist of guys that could be used in your starting lineup from time to time based on matchups, bye weeks, etc. They are not guys that you can really count on to get you to the championship, but guys that can help you out in a pinch and would fill in should the starter in front of them in the NFL get hurt. The Third Tier will consist of guys that are strictly long term potential players, rookies and young players that haven’t quite been given a chance yet and guys that in general if you have them on your dyasty roster you are holding onto them, but their only hope of being a fantasy entity is strictly long term (2 plus years in most cases). These are the players that are going to keep your team at the top down the road so you definately don’t want to overlook anyone here – find room for these guys if available in your dynasty league.
Ok, enough gibber jabber, let’s get into the list!
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
Not much of a surprise that this is the guy at the top of the RB list. He’s been atop my Dynasty Den lists for probably two years running, I see no reason that things should change. The Chargers really took a step forward as a franchise this year, but regardless of how the team does, Tomlinson has shown that no matter what kind of year the team is having, he is a fantasy monster. Especially if your league rewards recieving statistics, Tomlinson rules the day.
Willis McGahee, Buffalo
What, no? I’ve seen enough in a little over half a season to annoint McGahee as one of the top three fantasy players in the next few years. Before everyone goes nuts, remember what this list is all about – keeper and dynasty rankings. Am I saying that McGahee will be the #2 fantasy RB next season? Not exactly (though he certainly could). Am I saying that for a period of the next year to three years will be be one of the top 3 fantasy RBs? Yes. I imagine that Buffalo has also seen as much and Travis Henry will be long gone by the time the start of next season rolls around. Those of you that picked McGahee knowing he was going to sit out an entire season have already been rewarded handsomely, and will continue to reap the benefits. Not only will he rack up the yardage, but I see him as a guy that occassionally gets the 3 TD game.
Domanick Davis, Houston
I sure am glad that I listen to myself and not all the fantasy pundits that are out there. Davis was a guy that for whatever reason, people were shying away from in many drafts last year. I didn’t, and I have a fantasy championship trophy as a result. Because Houston is not a flashy team, and not one of the top teams, Davis does not get a lot of play on SportCenter – even when he does put in the “130+ total yards and 2 TDs scored” game. I see the Texans on a slow upward trend, and that Davis will continue to be The Guy there to make it happen. All that and he’s only 24 years young, nice.
Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
Like everyone else, we’re starting to see the kind of fantasy numbers that Brian Westbrook can put up. Down the stretch and in the early playoff games, Westbrook is a guy that just can’t be stopped. Opposing defenses know that he’s really the only option, but he still gets 100+ yards and his scores. And I just had to look it up to confirm, but he’s only 25 years old? I thought he was older than that, bonus. Westbrook looks to be a mainstay for the Eagles for years to come.
Julius Jones, Dallas
Are you starting to see a theme here? Youth is certainly being served, but even here in the form of Julius Jones, the players mentioned so far look to be fantasy studs next year and well beyond. After missing much of the season with injury, Jones came back with avengeance, hilighted by an incredible Sunday night performance against the Giants where he routinely made defenders look silly. Bill Parcells is a coach that likes to go with one guy and he’s already shown that he has the confidence in him to hand him the ball 20+ (30+?) times a game. As Dallas continues to improve and win more games, Jones’ numbers will be even that much better.
Jamal Lewis, Baltimore
Say what you want about Lewis and his 2005 season, but in my book, I think it’s a complete abberation. Though his off field activities got in the way of him staying on the field, I can’t imagine that Lewis will be making the same mistake twice – in fact, if he does I’m sure he won’t be invited to participate in the league. Despite that, we’re talking about a guy that gained over 2000 yards in 2003 and he’s still only 25 years old. He’s not going to be leaving the Ravens any time soon, and despite being the only offensive threat on that team, it’s a rare occasion that he’s been stopped. I look for Lewis to rebound in a big way in 2005.
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans
I had a hard time with spots 6 thru 10 on this list, a really hard time. I ended up settling on McAllister for a number of reasons, the first of which is that he will be in a contract year next season. The Saints were a disaster this year, and as a result everyone’s fantasy numbers suffered this year. Because of that, I’m hearing that the Saints are not interested in re-signing McAllister before next season – which on one hand scares me since that creates the potential for a hold out, but on the other hand, I think that motivates McAllister to have a tremendous season. Funny how the almighty dollar has that affect.
Corey Dillon, New England
Dillon is a guy that has climbed the most on this list in the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure that’s fair since most teams haven’t been playing, but that’s just the way it is. I don’t think many people remember that he was supposed to be a “bad apple” anymore, just a tremendous season, proving that when he’s happy he can do the job. And with the cold weather, he gets even better. I’m not crazy about the fact that he’s 30 years old, but putting that aside gets him in this position on my list.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis
Just when it looked like the Colts were going to do everything they can to include James in the Big Three on offense, they essentially get shut out by New England in the playoffs, losing to the Patriots for the second straight season. Add to the fact that James pretty much disappeared down the stretch and in that Patriots game. Yes, I know Peyton Manning was throwing a bazillion TD passes, some of those should have gone to James and they didn’t. At some point the Colts are going to have to spend some money on defense, and I worry that James will be cut loose to make room. Of course, that doesn’t drop him *that* far down the list…
Thomas Jones, Chicago
The surprises continue, but look at the numbers, Thomas Jones was a stud this past season. Yes, I know it was only one season, but the 26 year old proved in a big way to Chicago this season that he is more than capable of carrying the load. What impressed me the most, and got him into this position on the list, is his pass catching ability. For those games he was not able to get much on the ground, he was able to offset that by getting a ton of yards thru the air. Chicago is moving towards being a run oriented team and Jones is a perfect fit for this team right now and in the future. You can bet that now that he’s got a starting job that he won’t be complacent, he doesn’t want to lose it.
Shaun Alexander, Seattle
I already know that this ranking will spark the most “you stink” emails in my direction. To that I say, bring it on!! Seriously though, what exactly has Alexander done to prove that he can be one of the top 3 fantasy RBs in the league? I’m just not seeing it. Sure, he has the occassional game where he scores 3 TDs, but those are offset by 2 or 3 games where he does absolutely nothing. The other part of this, I keep hearing about him wanting to be somewhere else even though he’s under contract to the Seahawks, not a good thing. That’s one of the main reasons I knock him down a bit on this list, the unknown as far as where he might be next season. I don’t think Alexander is a guy that can simply go to another team and dominate, though I’ve been wrong before.
Steven Jackson, St.Louis
I put Jackson here on this list with a little reluctance, sure he’s shown that he can be a productive back in this league in the little action that he’s been involved in, but once Marshall Faulk is out of the way and Jackson is The Man, will things be the same? I’m thinking that he can get it done, but I do have a slight hesitation in saying that he will definately become a stud.
Clinton Portis, Washington
I took a lot of heat for not having Portis as one of the top 10 fantasy RBs heading into last year’s fantasy drafts. I didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t put together a complete season as The Guy, and I didn’t like that he was going to be on a different team with a coach that was coming out of a decade on the NASCAR circuit. I had seen the great Hogs offensive line of years gone by, I saw the offsive line the Redskins put together, and gentlemen, they were no Hogs. So here he is on this list, once again outside the top 10, and I think the reasons are still valid. He still hasn’t put together a complete injury free season as The Guy, and now I’m hearing that Washington will be looking to add a goal line RB since Portis had some troubles in that area this past season. Again, the warning signs are there, though many will continue to ignore them….
Kevin Jones, Detroit
This might be the biggest “reach” in the Top Tier. After a sproatic start to the season, Jones ran up 4 100 yard games and scored 4 TDs in the final 7 games for he Lions. Detroit was looking to see if he could do the job, and I would say that he impressed them enough that he can do it. I also liked that his pass catching skills improved as well, always a good sign that a rookie is on his way to becoming a stud in the league. Proceed with a little caution, though I think Jones will be a prize to own next season.
Priest Holmes, Kansas City
Holmes is still very much a top-10 RB for next season, and I’ve said it before about him, but how long can it last? Yet another season that came to a premature end thanks to injury, with Larry Johnson waiting in the wings, the Chiefs may have a short leash for Holmes in the next couple of years.
Ahman Green, Green Bay
This might be a little low of a ranking for Green here, but I’m just not getting a great long term feeling from the guy. And believe me, Green is a guy that I’ve been in his corner for a long time so it’s not that I don’t like him. Contract season coming up for him, and yet I’m not sure he’s a guy that can handle this type of pressure, especially coming off a very disappointing season.
Chris Brown, Tennessee
Brown was a hit or miss guy on draft day last season. The Titans finally let the ineffective Eddie George go and handed Brown the reigns. When he was healthy, he played tremendously, terrific fantasy numbers. But he proved many of his detractors correct in that he spent a significant amount of time out with an injury. Tennessee is used to at least having a healthy and reliable back, so if Brown can’t stay healthy this upcoming season, then his decline down the rankings could be record breaking. Tread with caution here.
Tiki Barber, New York Giants
Here is a classic guy that probably got many fantasy owners into the playoffs, but he was not able to take you to the title. My thinking here is that we’ve seen the very best we will ever see from Tiki Barber. I can’t see him having another season like this past one. In other words, “sell high”, I just don’t see his value ever being this high again, especially once he jumps over 30 in age.
Curtis Martin, New York Jets
Quick story, my dynasty league has been going at it for five or six years now, Martin was my #1 pick (I think I was picking at #9) in the league’s inaugural draft. I also drafted Shaun Alexander (then a rookie) and Thomas Jones (also a rookie, I think). Long story short, this past off season I got a ton of offers for Curtis, but I wouldn’t bite. Hopefully you did the same as Martin enjoyed a tremendous fantasy season. However, this might finally be the time to move him along, like Barber I just don’t see his value any higher. I do think he’s got another couple years of solid fantasy production in him so don’t deal him for junk.
Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
Say what you want about Taylor, but he’s just about lost the “Fragile Freddy” tag that had dogged him for years. Yes, I know just this week he had knee surgery, that’s why he falls down to this level on the list. I do believe he’s got some good productivity in him for the next 3-4 years. Before missing some time this year, he was putting up great fantasy numbers as Jacksonville definately still believes in him…so should you.
DeShaun Foster, Carolina
I really don’t know what to make of this guy. Tremendous skills, great size, all the physical attributes that you need in a running back, and yet he’s another player that just can’t seem to stay healthy. If he could ever put together an entire season, he’d be a top 3 RB, but until that day…
Warrick Dunn, Atlanta
Dunn’s performance in the playoffs vaults him to the top tier, but I’m not sure that it will be a long stint there. Dunn is 30 so he won’t be around forever, but I think up to this point in his career he’s been underused so he doesn’t have the same wear and tear of say, Priest Holmes. I’d say he’s around 27 or 28 in NFL RB years, so plan accordingly.
TJ Duckett, Atlanta
We start off the second tier with a guy that has done very well as a goal line option (throwing in a nice 3 TD game late last season), but as long as Warrick Dunn is still in the picture, Duckett will struggle to get the carries necessary to get him in your starting fantasy lineup on a regular basis.
Maurice Morris, Seattle
All I will say is this about Morris, if Shaun Alexander gets the boot in Seattle, Morris immediately moves into Tier One. Be forewared.
Ontario Smith, Minnesota
Just wondering, could there be any more options at RB in Minnesota? One of these years it would be nice if the Vikings will whittle things down to two RBs, would that be so much to ask? Smith is arguably the best of the lot, but RBBC stinks.
Larry Johnson, Kansas City
Finally, when given the chance, Johnson displayed the ability that had him selected early in the NFL draft. There seemed to be some bitterness/war of words between he and the coach most of the season, but in the end I think Johnson will finally “get it”, especially since it looks like he does have the skills to play in this league. Johnson could go much higher on this list, but with Holmes likely to play at least one more season in the feature role, it might take another year for him to blossom.
Duce Staley, Pittsburgh
Quick tangent, Jerome Bettis taking a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh this year not only singlehandedly got the Steelers into the AFC Championship game, but it changed the face of fantasy RBs even further. No doubt the rest of the league took notice when Staley went down, Bettis stepped right in and the Steelers did not miss a beat. Bill Cower accidentally stumbled upon what would have been a genius move, keeping two solid RBs. No doubt the rest of the league will take notice and employ much of the same strategy, if for nothing else than to save cap space. As a result, this is where Staley ends up on this list, even if Bettis ends up retiring. Verron Haynes took many a carry when Staley AND Bettis were healthy and playing.
Michael Pittman, Tampa Bay
I’ve never been a big fan of Michael Pittman. He’ll put in some pretty good games, even a stud like game now and then, but then he’ll disappear for a stretch of 2-3 games. Not the kind of thing that you need from a stud RB. Plus I don’t get the feeling that Gruden likes him that much, especially with his penchant for fumbling at the wrong time (well, when is there a good time to fumble, probably never).
Kevan Barlow, San Francisco
Oh how the mighty have fallen! Perhaps this is a little harsh to have Barlow so low on this list, but what a pathetic season he had. Signs the big money contract, then absolutely blows all year. It will be interesting to see how this plays out since Barlow may have damaged his chances of playing in San Francisco beyond repair.
Marshall Faulk, St.Louis
I don’t think Marshall’s career is over, but he’s clearly heading towards the clubhouse. Couple that with the fact that Mike Martz is an idiot and Marshall’s days of fantasy production at least in St.Louis are probably over. Perhaps a change of scenery might get another year or two out of him, but even that might be a stretch.
Stephen Davis, Carolina
The Panthers are in the unique situation where they have two very good running backs, yet neither of them can stay healthy. Davis has just turned 30 and will be coming off some pretty serious surgery this off season (something about a microfracture? whoa!). Reason enough for me to demote Davis down this far down the list.
Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati
I’m not quite ready to admit that I was wrong about Rudi Johnson. I didn’t like him heading into last season, and I don’t like him heading into this year either. Yes, he was a top-10 fantasy when the season was over, and consistency is worth something, but Rudi only twice had that game that got you in the win column when you probably deserved a loss. And yes, I know he’s very young. While he did make it thru the entire season, it just doesn’t add up for me still. The fact that the Bengals drafted a running back early last year was a flag, and now I’m hearing that there could be an ugly contract situation brewing. This has the potential for disaster (ie. Rudi sits out, Chris Perry fills in nicely, Bengals decide to continue to go on the cheap and Rudi is out of luck) so use caution here.
Tatum Bell, Denver
Denver seems to have a one year cycle on who their starting RB is, however, Bell never really got his chance this season. The few times he was able to play he looked stunningly good, let’s see if he can put it together for a season’s worth of games.
Lee Suggs, Cleveland
Hopefully the new regime in Cleveland will clear up what has been a depth chart in disarray. Suggs has shown that he has the ability to play, but he’s also shown a propensity for being hurt. My feeling is that he doesn’t ever become a stud fantasy RB, but he could become a valuable Second Tier guy that could help you out in a pinch.
Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh
At press time, it was not yet known if Bettis was going to return for another season. Suffice to say, you should already have other options to Bettis, and if you don’t, well, you’d better soon.
Emmitt Smith, Arizona
Ok, just kidding, wanted to make sure you’re still reading. Yes, I know, he’s officially retired (finally).
Travis Henry, Buffalo
Here’s a guy that has been a victim of some bad circumstance and bad luck. Every time it looks like he has a chance to be The Guy again, he ends up hurt or playing hurt. And I give him credit for playing injured the amount of times that he did. Unfortunately, his time in Buffalo is up and it’s just not a good time to be a free agent starting-RB-wanna-be. Henry wants to be traded and get a new contract, not likely to happen. If he can stand down, play on the cheap somewhere this year, then I like his chances, otherwise his career could come to a quick halt.
Lamar Gordon, Miami
My editor forced me to mention at least one Dolphin in the top two tiers of this list. Gordon had a golden opportunity when he was traded to the Dolphins last season, but promptly got hurt. Nothing went right in Miami so Gordon will probably get a fresh look at the start of next season to likely be The Guy. Not sure if that is worth much, but surely it will be worth more than it was last season.
Michael Bennett, Minnesota
I’ve given up on trying to figure out the Vikings RB sitution. Your guess is as good as mine. Tice won’t play any of the four regularly, yet he won’t give any of them up. Go figure.
Chester Taylor, Baltimore
Seems like he will always be the backup to Jamal Lewis so his value won’t change much until his next stay in the big house.
William Green, Cleveland
Puzzling situation here. Green seems to have a myriad of personal problems that have been affecting his play, plus he’s on the Cleveland Browns which in itself is a death sentence for offensive fantasy numbers (offensive in the sense of offense vs defense, because the numbers on offense were truly offensive for the entire team). He and Suggs are likely to continue to battle it out, worth holding onto to see if he can pull out a miracle and be The Guy.
Tyrone Wheatley, Oakland
Oakland was another place where it wasn’t kind to offensive fantasy numbers. It remains to be seen if/when/where Wheatley will continue to be an effective fantasy player.
Anthony Thomas, Chicago
What was supposed to be an even competition turned into a runaway for Thomas Jones. Anthony Thomas was left in the dust and will probably have to serve as his backup until further notice.
Lamont Jordan, New York Jets
Here is a guy that could last his entire rookie contract without ever getting a chance to start a game. Curtis Martin had a tremendous year and it’s not looking like he will be going anywhere. Jordan’s window of opportunity never opened in New York, he could be elsewhere after this season and yet essentially he’d still be a rookie for the lack of playing time he’s recieved.
Jonathon Wells, Houston
Much has been said of Wells taking over for Dom Davis, I just don’t see it. Wells looks to be stuck playing Jordan to Davis’ Martin for the forseeable future.
Aaron Stecker, New Orleans
Another capable fill in that will likely only play if Duece McAllister were to miss some time due to injury.
Kevin Faulk, New England
Faulk is a nice change of pace back, probably a guy that is never going to be The Guy. Occassionally will have a game where he puts up 50-70 yards catching the ball and a score, but those wil be hard to predict. Faulk is what he is.
Amos Zereoue, Oakland
Things just didn’t work out for Amos in Oakland, then again I’m not so sure that they would work out anywhere he were to land. Looks like he’ll end up being a career backup unless something extroardinary were to take place.
Ricky Williams, formerly-Miami
You knew he had to make the list at some point. Ricky may or may not be back in the league, but what I do know, is that you don’t want to be releasing him since you know he will immediately be picked up. If for nothing else, keep holding him as proof that you are a good owner and that his quitting is the only reason your team hasn’t won the title yet.
I didn’t feel like creating another Tier, but with so many players I didn’t think any of the guys mentioned here were in the same category as the Tier Three players. Basically what I’m saying about these guys is if you are looking to fill a roster spot, soemone from this list is as good as anyone to fill it. I will also say this, in a dynasty league, unless you have defensive players that are consistently producing 4 points per week (there are very few of these type players), I recommend you cut them loose in the offseason and grab a bunch of these guys.
Reuben Droughns, Denver
Seriously though, the Droughns train has left the station. A tremendous year, can you say lightning in a bottle? Side note, believe it or not, I’ve had this guy on and off my team for a number of years, of course this was not one of them.
Musa Smith, Baltimore
Anytime you are #3 behind Jamal Lewis means you will not be getting much playing time. Still, he’s very much an unknown so he has potential 2-3 years down the road.
Chris Perry, Cincinnati
The Bengals drafted him early for a reason. Look for them to give him a real long look this upcoming season since it’s unknown if they can keep both he and Rudi Johnson happy and around.
Nick Goings, Carolina
Proved this season that when given the chance, he can be a solid fantasy play, putting up nearly 100 yards and a score each game he started. He will likely go back to his role as the backup, but given his success, if he can’t find his way into the starting role in Carolina in a couple of years, he will end up starting somewhere.
Justin Fargas, Oakland
I’ve said it many times, I don’t know why the Raiders didn’t give him a chance last year. They had nothing to lose and they were already losing a ton of games.
Adimchinobe Echemandu, Cleveland
Yes, it’s much more than the fact that I like to see his name, I think his long term prospects have potential, it that makes any sense.
Ladell Betts, Washington
Betts has been hanging around in Washington for a couple of years, waiting in the wings for the latest injury to Clinton Portis.
Mewelde Moore, Minnesota
Much like Droughns, Moore made the most of the spotlight but I think he’ll be back to playing the supporting role, if even that.
Travis Minor, Miami
Ugh, another Miami running back.
Quentin Griffin, Denver
So much promise this season cut short, has the window of opportunity closed on him?
Verron Haynes, Pittsburgh
Seemed to find a way to get his hands on the ball a couple times a game, his value could go much higher if Bettis does retire.
Jesse Chatman, San Diego
Second fiddle to Tomlinson, a must have if you own him.
Artose Pinner, Detroit
Another great unknown kind of waiting in the wings for the Lions. Would probably need to catch a break in order to get a chance to show his wares on the field.
Greg Jones, Jacksonville
Not much action this year, many think that he will become a goal line type back. Those guys don’t have much fantasy value so don’t look for Jones to be a stud any time soon.
Ron Dayne, New York Giants
A guy that just keeps “hanging around”. I drafted him in the first round of one of my rookie drafts, and as bad as he’s been, he *just* hasn’t been bad enough to warrant me cutting him. Many times it has been very close, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I still can’t, even though there’s nothing good I can think of to say about him right now!