When it comes to playing fantasy football, everyone who has ever read any fantasy football magazine or been involved in a league knows that the running back position is probably the most important position on the team.
In the real world, an offense is built around the quarterback, but in fantasy football things are different. Obviously, having an elite quarterback on your fantasy team is a plus, but it’s not essential. Most fantasy leagues only require that you start 1 quarterback on a weekly basis, so this means you can usually get away with having someone not named Manning, Brady or McNabb and still have a successful season. But if you want to contend for your league’s championship you are going to need at least 2 very good players at the running back position.
There have been at least 10 well known running backs who have changed teams this off-season, so let’s take a look at what impact this could have for your fantasy team.
- Willis McGahee – His first 3 years in the league, Willis McGahee has had over 3300 rushing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns and an average of almost 4 yards per carry, all while playing for a pathetic Buffalo Bills offense. Now he has moved to the smash-mouthed, ball control offense of the Baltimore Ravens. This move immediately boosts Willis McGahee’s fantasy value and he should easily see 1500+ yards with double-digit touchdowns.
- Travis Henry – Last year, Travis Henry totaled 1211 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns as a member of the Tennessee Titans. He has now gone to the running back friendly offense of the Denver Broncos. In 2006, the Bronco’s had the running back tandem of Mike and Tatum Bell, who accounted for 1702 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Tatum Bell has since moved on to Detroit, so this means Travis Henry and Mike Bell should both see sigificant playing time this year in Denver.
- Thomas Jones – He started his career doing very little his first 4 years in the league, but he did spend his first 3 years as a member of the Arizona Cardinals and then 1 year with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Jones then moved to the windy city of Chicago and put up decent numbers from ’04 to ’06. With a healthy Chad Pennington, the Jets showed an improved passing game in ’06, but tried a number of players at running back, with mixed results. Now as a member of the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, Thomas Jones should be able to post numbers similar to what he did in Chicago.
- Kevan Barlow- With just one 1,000 yard season in his career, Kevan Barlow has not made much of an impact in fantasy football. That could change this year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Willie Parker, Najeh Davenport, Verron Haynes, and Kevan Barlow all on the roster, you might be asking yourself, how is this going make Kevan Barlow a significant fantasy player? Before retiring as a Super Bowl champion the Steelers had “The Bus”, Jerome Bettis, who was very good in short yardage situations. Last year Willie Parker was the feature back for the Steelers and did everything they asked very well. This year, in order to keep Parker fresh for a possible playoff run, the Steelers may look to Kevan Barlow in short yardage and goalline situations.
- Jamal Lewis – Lewis has posted 1,000 yard seasons in 5 of his first 7 years in the league. In 2001, he did not play the entire season due to injury and in 2005, he missed the 1,000 yard mark by just 94 yards. He has also had at least 6 touchdowns per year, except for ’01 and ’05. Lewis now moves to the division rival Cleveland Browns, who ranked next to last in rushing yards last season. With Reuben Droughns now a member of the New York Giants, the Cleveland Browns will be counting on Lewis to carry to load this season.
- Tatum Bell – Bell has shown flashes of greatness as a member of the Denver Broncos, but has not been able to put together a consistent fantasy season. Last year, he did have his first 1000 yard season, but he had just 2 rushing touchdowns. Now a member of the Detroit Lions, Bell will have to share the backfield with Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett. It’s hard to say who will be the best option for your fantasy team, each of them has potential, but none of them can be counted on as the number 1 running back for your fantasy team.
- T. J. Duckett – Last year as a member of the Washington Redskins, Duckett did next to nothing. Before last year, he was a very good short yardage back for the Atlanta Falcons. As I have just said, Duckett will share the backfield with Kevin Jones and Tatum Bell, so I see Duckett again being used in short yardage situations. I don’t think he will be a guy that you keep in your starting lineup on a regular basis, but he should be an adequate bye-week filler.
- Reuben Droughns – Droughns will have big shoes to fill, now that he has moved to the Big Apple. Tiki Barber was “The Man” for the New York Giants, but he has since retired, leaving Droughns and 6’4″ 265 lb. Bradon Jacobs as the two main ball carriers for the Giants. I believe that Jacobs will be the better option of the two, he will definitely score more touchdowns and could be used to pound the ball if the Giants have the lead late in the game.
- Ahman Green – No longer a member of the Green Bay Packers, Green will have a number of factors to overcome this year. The last few years, Green has had numerous injuries, which have reduced his playing time. Also, he is now part of the Houston Texans organization, which have been mediocre at best since coming into the league in 2002. Lastly, the Texans have a crowded backfield, with Green, Sam Gado, Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy all on the roster. This obviously a RBBC, or running back by committee situation and none of them are more than bench fillers for your team.
- Domanic Rhodes – Rhodes has cracked the 1,000 yard mark once in his career, but he was a backup to Edgerrin James until last year. In 2006, as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, he was forced to share playing time with rookie Joseph Addai. Rhodes now goes from being a Super Bowl Champion with the Colts to the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders had one of the worst offenses in football in 2006. Last year, the running back tandem of Lamont Jordan and Justin Fargas were only able to achieve 1093 yards and 3 touchdowns. Rhodes will have little impact this year, so I would not waste a draft pick on him.