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Running Back: Rebound or On the Decline?

What are you to think of last year’s early-round picks that didn’t pan out? Are you to bury them, thinking their best days are behind them, or are you to give them another chance thinking that last year was an aberration? In this article I’ll take a look at the running backs that are looking to rebound this season.

 

LaDainian Tomlinson

L.T. was the consensus top overall choice in last year’s fantasy drafts, but to an extent was a disappointment. Only for L.T. can 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns be considered a disappointment. But his yards per carry also dipped to 3.8, down from 4.7 in 2007 and 5.2 in his record-setting 2006 campaign.

 

Also, L.T. just tuned 30 years old, the number that all running backs hate to hear.  Most running backs start going downhill at that age as their careers dwindle. It even happens to the best such as Erik Dickerson and Eddie George who experienced big dropoffs once they reached 30. He also has a lot of wear on his tires with almost 2,700 carries to his name, which will not help him.

 

But perhaps the biggest thing standing in L.T.’s way of a rebound is Darren Sproles.  The 5-foot-6 shifty back flashed in the postseason including a 105-yard, two-TD effort against the Colts where he was the most exciting player on the field. Sproles got the franchise tag in the offseason, and with the money invested in him I would expect an increase in his workload.

 

Verdict: On the Decline

– I except L.T.’s numbers to dip, but I also don’t think a huge dropoff in stats is in the cards. With all that being said, I wouldn’t take him until the beginning of the second round.

 

Larry Johnson

Last season Johnson was a second-round pick in most fantasy drafts. Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t live up to the hype and went down as a fantasy bust. Now heading into this season, Johnson is being ranked by most somewhere around the 25th running back, making him a backup in most leagues.

 

When looking at L.J.’s numbers from last year, they really aren’t as bad as they seem. When projected to a full 16-game season, Johnson’s numbers come to 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns. While those numbers won’t set the world on fire they certainly aren’t bad for a third running back.

 

The coaching change in

Kansas City shouldn’t have much of an affect on Johnson.  The Chiefs were basically running a spread at the end of last season, and Todd Haley’s offense is similar in that he likes to spread out the field like he did in

Arizona. L.J. will be turning 30 during the season but he doesn’t have many miles on his tires as L.T. Compared to Tomlinson, Johnson has less than half of his carries, so I wouldn’t consider him your typical 30-year-old running back.


Verdict: Rebound

– I’m not expecting a return to his 2005 and 2006 form, but a 1,000-yard season with some touchdowns sounds about right making L.J. a low-end RB2 or a high-end RB3.

 

Jamal Lewis

Lewis look rejuvenated in 2007 rushing for over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns with 4.4 yards per carry average. Last season was another story. He didn’t bomb but disappointed owners who drafted him in the third round finishing with just over 1,000 yards and only four TDs.

 

Lewis, like L.T., will be 30 by the time this season kicks off. Add that to the 2,400 career carries and it doesn’t look good for Lewis. He slumped down the stretch last season, failing to score a touchdown after Week 10. Also, Lewis adds next to nothing as a receiving threat.

 

With Eric Mangini as the new sheriff in town, he is expected to employ more of a committee in

Cleveland. There have been reports he wants to use Jerome Harrison in a Leon Washington type role. Also, sixth-round rookie James Davis looms as a dark horse. He slipped in the draft but has the talent of an early-round pick and could steal some carries this season.

 

Verdict: On the Decline

– All the signs point to a decline for Lewis this year, but he still is the starter and that gives him low-end RB3 value.

 

Fred Taylor

To say

Taylor had a season to forget last year is an understatement. He saw the endzone only once and his yardage dropped from 1,202 to 556. He also saw his 11-year career with the Jaguars come to an end as he was released before ending up signing with the Patriots.

 

Taylor

joins a crowded backfield in

New England that includes Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney. Faulk will likely handle the third-down duties, leaving

Taylor in a competition for early-down snaps. As of now he is the favorite but will face pressure.

 

Taylor

may be 33-years-old, but he still has some good football left in him. The factor that will make or break

Taylor’s value is goalline touches. If he receives some his value will be steady, but if not he will likely have minimal value.

 

Verdict: Rebound

Taylor probably won’t run for 1,000 yards, but something around 800 yards and five touchdowns sounds about right for him. He makes for a fine RB4 and will provide solid depth on your bench.


Joseph Addai

Addai was a consensus first-round pick last year but played like anything but one last season. He had only one 100-yard game and looked nothing like the Addai that we had come to expect. He only managed to put up a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry and put up only 544 yards for the entire season.

The Colts responded to Addai’s poor season with a strong statement by drafting running back Donald Brown in the first round of the draft. Brown led the nation in rushing last year and clearly wasn’t brought in to sit on the bench.

The Colts have a new head coach, Jim Caldwell, who has no allegiance to Addai and will play the better back. The two will likely start off in a timeshare with Addai getting the slight edge in carries, but it won’t be long before Addai gets nicked up and Brown gets a chance to shine. When that happens don’t expect him to regain his starting role.

Verdict: On the Decline

– It doesn’t look good for Addai, who I expect to have a similar season as he did last year, which will leave fantasy owners who drafted him as their third running back upset.

 

 

 

 

 

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