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Article:Fantasy Forecast: Running Backs

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July is too early for Fantasy Football? Garbage. July is practically too late really, you need to be thinking about this stuff constantly (at least you do if you want to be the guy who spends 25-30 hours a week working on his salary cap team lineup, not to mention other team’s he runs). July is where winners are made. Of course all your hard work in July won't mean anything when someone you drafted gets hurt in the preseason, but that's besides the point.

This is the first part of my Fantasy Football preview. I will break down each position in upcoming pieces, then break out into a draft ranking, ranking every player.

Running Backs    

Fantasy Football is changing. Drafting running backs is becoming harder and harder. With advancements in medicine and nutrition (and science!), players are getting bigger and stronger. This means an NFL running back takes more of a pounding than ever, and as such more and more teams are being run by committee. There are very few elite number one backs anymore, and that makes ranking running backs that much more important for your team.

With the emergence of some players last season, others making their return from injury, and a few off season moves, this NFL season's running back situation is just as interesting as any other.

The Best

1. LaDainian Tomlinson – I'm taking him first until another running back proves me wrong. Plus, with Michael Turner gone, LdT owners don't have to fear 60 plus yard third down runs for touchdowns robbing him of more touches anymore.

The Rest of Tier 1

2. Brian Westbrook – Is this the year Donovan McNabb is healthy? I'm not sure it matters because Brian Westbrook has shown he can perform with and without McNabb. His fantasy numbers are so consistent, he's exactly what you're looking for, especially in point per reception leagues.

3. Joseph Addai – Had a great year last year, things should only get better. Plus, I tend to like guys who play in a dome for late season games.

4. Adrian Peterson – I'm not sold on him yet, but a lot of other people are. For one, Chester Taylor is still in the picture, but more noteworthy to me seems to be his games last year of 70 yards on 20 carries, 66 yards on 20 carries, 63 yards on 12 carries (1 TD), 45 yards on 11 carries, 36 yards on 11 carries, 27 yards on 9 carries, and 3 yards on 14 carries(!). That's 1 touchdown in those 7 games. He has big game potential (obviously), but he doesn't have the consistency you want in a first round pick.

Tier 1a

These players just aren't quite at the top of the hill, but they shouldn't be grouped in with the second tier guys.

5. Steven Jackson – Partly a reach, but put up pretty solid yards per game numbers last season as he toiled away on that horrible team. Bulger's return from injury should also open things back up him and lead to another strong season. He was 14th for backs last year while missing four games.

6. Clinton Portis – After missing half of 2006, he came back with a really solid year last season, playing in all 16 games. He's only missed three games in his other five years of play, so I'm not so concerned about injuries, plus the Redskins have a formidable offense (formidable enough to keep eight out of box for him anyway).

7. Marion Barber – With the departure of Julius Jones, he's the undisputed number one running option in Dallas. Will his body be able to handle it? Will he continue to put up solid numbers for the high powered Dallas offense? I like him here though, there aren't many backs in the league with his talent.

Tier 2

It begins. You'd really like to have one of the top seven guys as your number one running back, but all is not lost. There's still some serious talent to be drafted here.

8. Marshawn Lynch – The emergence of Trent Edwards as a game managing quarterback might finally begin to open things up for a Buffalo Bills running back.  Look for him to have a good year, but you'd definitely feel more comfortable with one of the above guys as your number one. (Something of a reach pick I might add)

9. Jamal Lewis – The Cleveland offense is definitely for real. Great options at receiver and a solid quarterback should help keep the middle open for Jamal. Again, a scary number one running back.

10. Edgerrin James – Somehow he finished ninth in scoring last year, which I consider a big success. I don't like him as a number one, but what else are you supposed to do if you're looking for the tenth best running back?

11. Willis McGahee – Only missed one game last year, has only missed three games in his career. He had a lot of yards to go with seven touch downs. I see this year being pretty much the same thing.

12. Larry Johnson – What to make of this guy? He fell apart last year, to no one's surprise, but should be rested for another year of tons of carries. You're not excited about drafting him here, but I feel like you have to.

13. Frank Gore – Only missed one game last season. Is this the season the 49ers finally make the leap? No, but Gore is definitely in the second tier of fantasy backs, and a decent option.

14. Ryan Grant – A tough one to place. I don't think he'll be as good as he finished last season, ultimately because teams will look to force Aaron Rodgers to make plays by stacking the line. A viable second option though.

15. Michael Turner – He's definitely overrated, and the Falcons weren't very good last year, so you can almost bet on him being overvalued, but I think he could have a solid year. Definitely a number two back.

Tier 3

A lot of question marks with these guys, but you're not at the Breaking Point, yet. If one of these guys is starting, you'd better have made solid picks when the other guys were going off the board. 

16. Rudi Johnson – Missed five games last year, so he might fly under the radar a little bit, but he's no better than a second back, you don't want him as your number one. I still feel like he's going to be overvalued, however.

17. Thomas Jones – I was real excited about the Thomas Jones era in New York, but that didn’t exactly pan out. I think he's a good value pick though, this year will be better than last, especially if they can get that quarterback situation figured out.

18. Reggie Bush – He is not a number one back in real life, he might not be a number two back in fantasy. Of course, when Deuce gets hurt around week seven his numbers will pick up, so this is a tough one to judge. 

19. Brandon Jacobs – Big guy, runs hard. Derrick Ward had a good season filling in for him, but I like Brandon Jacobs here. 

20. Ronnie Brown – Potentially a good value pick, but he's probably going to get hurt again trying to carry the load for that team. I just don't see Ricky Williams making any kind of impact anymore.

21. Maurice Jones-Drew – He has the potential to be great, which we've seen from him before, but there's too much ball sharing with Fred Taylor for him to be a viable fantasy option.

22. Fred Taylor – See above. Still, somehow they both continue to churn out enough stats.

23. Ahman Green – I like Ahman Green as a late pick, because of history, but also because of the emergence of a Texans passing game last year. He missed nine games due to injury last year, so no one is drafting him high.

24. Julius Jones – Very intriguing player. The offensive line in Seattle isn't what is used to be, but they have a solid passing game. Julius Jones might surprise some people this year.   25. DeAngelo Williams – Another intriguing player. He's finally the number one man in Carolina, but he hasn't done too much in years past for me to be overly confident in him. I like him a lot more than the next group of guys though.

The Breaking Point

With 25 players above the Breaking Point cutoff you should definitely be able to draft a team without anyone on the guys below being a starter. (The breaking point for running backs is a lot lower than I expected it to be before I started putting this list together)

26. Willie Parker – He almost led the league in rushing last year, but he never gets in the endzone. 1300 rushing yards, 2 TDs, no thanks. On top of this, someone will likely draft him too high, so you shouldn't be too concerned with him.

27. Laurence Maroney – You don't want Maroney as one of your starters, he doesn't get enough touches... it's that simple.

28. Lamont Jordan – He's a solid player, but Justin Fargas runs well, and you know the Raiders will want to showcase Bryant McFadden some after spending all that money on him. Stay away from the Raiders.

29. Cedric Benson – He showed a lot of promise in the past, and with the Bears' schedule there's some upside, but the passing attack is so screwed up he doesn't have much room to operate.

30. Earnest Graham – He played great to end the season, but with Cadillac returning (again) and the off season signing of Warrick Dunn, I just don't think there's enough carries to go around.

31. LenDale White – Put up some good numbers last year, but Chris Henry put up enough where no one is excited to be drafting LenDale White.

32. Kevin Jones – A player a lot of people in keeper leagues were looking to grab because of his promise, and he’s done pretty much nothing. Fantasy poison, but he’s a number one back.

33. Denver Broncos RB – Why even name them anymore, what's the point? Don't draft one unless it's very late and you're grasping for straws. Cecil Sapp will probably be good for matchups as a back up, but the Denver situation is always too difficult to figure out.

34. Chester Taylor – He's a good back, but he splits time. You pick him because if Peterson goes down, Taylor will become a solid back.

And that's at least one player on every team. Now backups start going off the board if you want to take a flyer on someone getting hurt. Sammy Morris has potential this year, as well as Kenny Watson, Darren Sproles, and Kolby Smith.  Also, Najeh Davenport has value in touchdown only leagues, and his value will go up if Fast Willie goes down.

I think the hardest player to place this year is Larry Johnson. He has the skill, but he has tons of miles. How much did getting hurt last year actually help him for this year? Real, real hard to place. The most intriguing player is definitely Julius Jones though, he could turn into something of the Hedu Turkoglu for this year's Fantasy Football. Late pick, lots of points. We'll see.

Coming Soon: Quarterbacks

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