As originally published at Nice Little Sundays


Most often running backs are thought to be the key to a fantasy teams success. Whether you believe this to be an aged theory in fantasy, or you believe the scarcity of top tier running backs does in fact make them the key, running backs remain the focus of most fantasy drafts.

As we enter the off season we'll take our initial look forward to the team by team running back situation in 2008. In most cases fantasy leagues don't force keeper decisions until after the summer, but we'll take a look a every teams running back situation as it stands now going into the off season. The analysis below is based on what we know today and obviously, following an off season of free agent signings and a draft, the analysis will change.

We'll start with the AFC and post the NFC next week.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills - This is one of the few clear situations going into next year. Marshawn Lynch had a good rookie season aside from some injury issues, managed to put up 1000 plus yards and appeared to run hard every down. There won't be competition for carries next year on any down and Lynch should be a #1 RB. Some may believe Fred Jackson earned some touches, but in our mind he earned the backup job and shouldn't take enough touches away from Lynch to hurt his production. Frankly, if Jackson can take 5-7 carries off Lynch's workload it should help Lynch throughout the season. Final Analysis: Marshawn Lynch, Top 10 RB entering '08 - Fred Jackson, Handcuff to Lynch only

Miami Dolphins - Miami should have had a clear running back situation, but Ricky Williams getting re-signed shows that Miami is concerned about how quickly Ronnie Brown will be back, and more importantly when he'll be back to form. Bottom line is anyone in this backfield is a risk. Brown is obviously the one to own and if he recovers fully from the knee injury he's a #1 back, but Chatman and Ricky or not to be counted on. Final Analysis: Ronnie Brown, Should be a 2nd or 3rd round pick in fantasy drafts, but plan on him contributing in the second half of the season - Ricky Williams, Our bet as the handcuff to Brown and the primary ball carrier if Brown doesn't start the season, making him a serviceable #3 back (possible #2) - Jesse Chatman, Handcuff to the handcuff - Lorenzo Booker, Miami hopes he will become the 3rd down back next year, but probably not relevant in fantasy

New England Patriots - Maroney was supposed to break out this year after Dillon leaving, but ended up getting less snaps than Faulk this year. Unless the Patriots take a RB in the draft, which we doubt, Maroney will still be the #1 on paper next year. Learn your lesson from this year and temper your expectations of Maroney as long as Brady, Moss, Welker, etc are still in town. Final Analysis - Laurence Maroney, Being New Englands #1 back makes him a #2 back in fantasy - Kevin Faulk, Only has fantasy value when Maroney gets hurt.

New York Jets - Thomas Jones will be the starter after rushing for 1000 yards again and his touchdowns can go no where but up. The question will be if Leon Washington's explosiveness in the return game will translate into more carries. Our guess is next year will be a lot like this year, but Washington gets some additional work. Final Analysis - Thomas Jones, Will be another good yardage year with a couple of more TD's, making him a #2 fantasy back - Leon Washington, The handcuff to Jones with a few big weeks due to long runs, but not relevant without a Jones injury.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens - Pretty clear here... Willis McGahee is the man, will get most of the carries, and will put up decent numbers. If Schottenheimer does come in as the new head coach look for the numbers to improve even more. Not to mention, if the Ravens bring a QB in that can add to the passing game and open things up McGahee should have some more running room. The largest concern here is the probable retirement of Jonathon Ogden. Final Analysis - Willis McGahee, Obviously we like him going into next year. He's a low end #1, very high #2 fantasy back next year - Cory Ross, Who you say? You don't believe in Mike Anderson or Musa Smith anymore do you? The Ravens are likely to bring in someone through the draft or free agency to back up McGahee, but keep your eye on Ross. He can run, and if he gets over his fumbling issues could be a good handcuff.

Cincinnati Bengals -For the first time in a few years the Bengals go into the off season with some uncertainty at running back. Rudi Johnson didn't look like the same back this year and was outrun by Kenny Watson much of the year. Look for Cincinnati to make some type of change this off season by opening it up for competition. Final Analysis - Rudi Johnson, The starter going into the season for now, but even if he wins the job he's now a #2 fantasy back and no longer a first round pick - Kenny Watson, He didn't magically become great in his 6th year. If he wins the job he's a marginal #2 back - Kenny Irons, Forget DeDe Dorsey as Kenny Irons will be back from a pre-season injury that cost him his rookie season. It would be a stretch for Irons to win the job outright in camp, but he is the youngest, freshest back on the roster and was a 2nd round pick. He's our sleeper candidate in Cinci.

Cleveland Browns - Simple as this... If Jamal is back he is the guy and a low #1, high #2 fantasy back. If he isn't back, who the hell knows. Both Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison have talent, but thus far it hasn't translated. Final Analysis - Jamal Lewis, see above - Jason Wright, Handcuff for now - Jerome Harrison, Best case a 3rd down back

Pittsburgh Steelers - Willie Parker will be back from injury and the a #1 in Pittsburgh and in fantasy. Final Analysis - Willie Parker, First round fantasy pick - Najeh Davenport, Legitimate handcuff for Parker owners only

AFC South

Houston Texans - Basically a big bucket of suck, which is unfortunate since this team is improving (8-8). Frankly, Ron Dayne has been their best back, but when Ahman Green is healthy he is their starter. The Darius Walker sighting towards the end of the season is a mirage. Best case scenario is the Texans make a move and establish a future at the position, either thru free agency (Michael Turner anyone) or through the draft. Final Analysis - Ahman Green, Flex or bye week replacement when healthy - Ron Dayne, Like each of the past few years he is a decent spot start in fantasy when he gets the start for Houston.

Indianapolis Colts - Not much to say... Joseph Addai is a #1 back everywhere and a top 10 fantasy pick. Final Analysis - Do you need one? The only question is who do fantasy owners handcuff him with? Looks like Kenton Keith for now.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Wow. Jones-Drew was a high draft pick in fantasy after a superb rookie year, but it wasn't realistic for anyone to expect him to generate the touchdowns he did last year. Plus, even when Fred Taylor received his contract extension no one expected him to have the year he did. Final Analysis - Maurice Jones-Drew, The fantasy back to own here, but he'll have wild swings in fantasy production again. Consider him a #2 back, unless you have jumbo huevos - Fred Taylor, Was a solid fantasy back and could again be a #2 fantasy back in '08, but the decline could start anytime with his mileage.

Tennessee Titans - You would have to assume that either LenDale takes the job and is the man next year, or they make another running back move creating another RBBC. LenDale had a good stretch of 100 yard games mid-season, but I don't know if anyone should count on him. They're likely to make another move through free agency. Final Analysis - LenDale White, Is the #1 for now, but only a #2 fantasy back - Chris Brown, He had as many carries most of the year, but they didn't seem to want him back last year and re-signed him at the last minute it seemed like, so don't count on him next year.

AFC West

Denver Broncos - We aren't wasting our time. Don't draft Denver running backs. Ever (unless Terrell Davis comes out of retirement).

Kansas City Chiefs - This is Larry Johnson, Larry Johnson and Larry Johnson. Whoever the new offensive coordinator is they'll surely ride him to death. If they really do install a zone blocking scheme (think Denver), watch out! Final Analysis - Larry Johnson, A #1 back in fantasy and top 10 pick if healthy - Kolby Smith, LJ's backup, only to be owned by LJ owners or those owners looking to Sweep the Leg (see glossary below).

Oakland Raiders - Pretty much as mess. You can take all 4 of their backs and make a case...allow me. Lamont Jordan - If he stays (which is doubtful) with what they will be paying him he could be the starter to start the season again. Dominic Rhodes - Hard to believe, but he did finish the season strong and has been productive in the past. Justin Fargas - He's a free agent after having a career year, but after being in Oakland the last few years do they really believe he's a #1. If he re-signs, expect him to start, so we'll make him our favorite for now. Michael Bush - Our favorite of the bunch. Without his senior year injury he would have been a first round NFL draft pick and probably been starting by mid-season. Easily the highest upside of the group. Final Analysis - None of them are more than a low #2 fantasy back, unless Bush wins the job outright, watch out.

San Diego Chargers - Clearest situation in the league. LT =top fantasy back. The only question is who to handcuff him with. Final Analysis - LaDanian Tomlinson, The #1 fantasy back - Michael Turner, Will sign elsewhere this off season and try to prove his YPC isn't a fluke - Darren Sproles - As it stands now the handcuff for LT owners.

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