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Fantasy Football Running Backs – 1st Round 2009

Fantasy Football Running Backs – Potential 1st Rounders

The Football Babble Football Blog continues it’s coverage of fantasy football running backs by looking at 2009′s likely 1st round running backs. I want to go over each of these potential selections and give everyone a quick idea what I’m thinking. Don’t take this as the gospel on each of these players. Just take my analysis as one more perspective to think about, analyze and choose to absorb or discard.

1st Round RB’s – How I Made the List

Okay, let’s look at the potential 1st round running backs in 2009. I’m going to be looking at data from Mock Drafts from Antsports, which has free live mock drafts starting just after the April NFL Draft.

I’ll be using Antsports for two reasons.

One, these mock drafts are still going on, so at least a significant part of these mocks are current – especially considering fantasy football owners are more likely to be joining mock drafts now than two months ago.

Two, Antsports mock draft results are free and public. I don’t want to be using information from any of the pay sites or private membership fantasy football services I might subscribe to, because I’m sure giving out ff information that you’re supposed to pay for wouldn’t make those services very happy. Suffice it to say that one prominent fantasy football prognostication service has the top runners very different, and there are several runners on this list they would argue shouldn’t be, while there are several runners not on this list they suggest you should be drafting high.

That being said, the mock drafts I’ll be referring are conducted by real fantasy football owners who will be drafting within the next month, so this should be some insight into the collective consciousness of the American fantasy football public in 2009.

Antsports Mock Drafts – One Final Caveat

Let me make one final qualification for the data on the mock drafts I’m using. Ant Sports Public Drafts are famous (or infamous) for always having a couple of players in a 12-team league who sign up, then forget to draft their team. This goes on computer auto-draft after 12 hours, meaning the computer selects the next players on its list, according to the average draft order of previous drafts. So there is a certain amount of institutional draft order inertia built into this process, that might reinforce a player in a draft position when the ff public is starting to go in another direction. So keep that in mind.

Antsports Mock Drafts – Average Draft Position Data

Here are the Top 16 running backs being drafted at present. I’ve expanded this beyond the standard 12 RBs who might go in the 1st round, or the Top 10 who are likely to go in the first round (with a couple of WRs or QBs thrown in, like most 1st rounds). I’ve expanded to 16 to include a discussion of even crazy draft picks, that occasionally happen in a fantasy draft. These are also the picks likely to move up in the month before drafts actually happen.

First Rounders – Average Draft Position

The Next Five Being Drafted – Not Being Discussed Today

Analysis of 2009 RB’s

Adrian Peterson – What’s not to like?

Adrian Peterson may not have finished tops in either of his first two years in the NFL, but AP was close to the top both years and he has shown he can be a game-breaker. Coming into his third year, Adrian Peterson has shown he’s not as injury-prone as he looked in college, while he runs for a contending team with a good defense that should be in most games. Finally, he runs on turf, making his combination of size and speed a real terror for defenses.

If you have the first pick, take Adrian Peterson #1 and don’t think a second about it. Heck, if he goes out Week 1 for the year, you were still doing what any rational fantasy owner was doing. Grab Chester Taylor as a solid backup who gets good enough numbers you can make him an emergency starter for bye weeks and injuries.

Maurice Jones-Drew – He’s got everything going for him: big play ability, touchdown ability, getting the hard yards, catching out of the backfield, the primary ball carrier on his team, few injuries in the past, big contract. The only concerning thing is Maurice Jones-Drew is 5’7″, which is way too small to continue to stand up to the pounding. Luckily, at age 24, you can take Jones-Drew and assume he’s got at least another year of good health before his smaller stature becomes a factor. Maurice Jones-Drew is a good risk for now.

If you want to read more on my thoughts about Maurice Jones-Drew as the #2 runner in 2009, read the full page analysis of Maurice Jones-Drew I added to the site a couple of days ago.

Matt Forte – Matt Forte won a lot of teams league titles last year, because he was a 3rd rounder running behind what some considered the NFL’s worst offensive line and had no passing game to speak of to take the pressure off. If you were in a TD league, Forte wasn’t so hot. If you were in a receptions league, Forte was golden. Kyle Orton had nothing to do but dump it off to Matt Forte all year, so he padded his numbers with receptions.

But Matt Forte touched the ball a whole lot of times last year: upwards of 400! (316 rushes, 63 receptions) Those guys usually have injuries the next year. In fact, players who rush the ball 370 times in one season tend to fall apart the next year. Recently, this happened to Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander. It happened to Eddie George, too, and he was never quite the same.

Of course, that’s 370 rushing attempts and not combined touches, but I can’t say that receptions are a whole lot less trouble on the body than rushes, especially when it’s a running back getting hit by linebackers most of the time.

Also, Jay Cutler is in town and I suspect he’s going to be looking downfield a whole lot more than Kyle Orton, so don’t expect as many dump-off passes to Matt Forte this year. Still, Forte showed little sign that he would be injury prone, while he’s still a very young running back. Most of those 400-touch guys were in their late-20′s.

Michael Turner – Speaking of the “Curse of 370″, Michael Turner had 376 rushes last season. That means he’s definitely subject to the curse of 370 rushes. Turner carried a huge part of the burden last year for the Atlanta Falcons, so watch out projecting his 2008 numbers to 2009. In fact, the Falcons as a whole could be subject to the sophomore jinx for rookie quarterbacks who do well in their first season.

Keep in mind that Michael Turner doesn’t have a whole lot of wear-and-tear on him, since last year was his first NFL season as a starting running back. Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson and Eddie George were being pounded on for years prior to their 370+ carry seasons.

Also keep in mind that Michael Turner doesn’t catch a whole lot of balls. He had 6 receptions in 2008. Jerious Norwood is going to be the Atlanta Falcons RB catching balls out of the backfield. Whether through injury or coaches decision, I would expect the Falcons to mix a capable backup like Jerious Norwood into the game plan more often this year.

I’m saying neither Michael Turner nor Matt Forte will match their 2008 numbers, for the reasons spelled above. They are very similar in regards to their 2009 outlook. Turner had 382 and Forte had 379 touches last year, if you want a quick comparison.

Steven Jackson – Stay away from Steven Jackson this year. He’s a consistent 1st rounder, but Steven Jackson has only really had one great fantasy football season – and that’s several years ago. This can be traced to one cause: injuries.

Steven Jackson is a big back who runs upright and gets hit a lot. That’s going to dictate lots of nagging injuries.

Combine that with the lousy St. Louis Rams offense that lost Orlando Pace and Torry Holt and you shouldn’t expect Steven Jackson to lead a fantasy football championship team. While the Rams offensive line could turn into a real strength in a few years with the drafting of Jason Smith, that’s not likely to be the case in 2009. Find someone else to draft.

Ladainian Tomlinson – When the first fantasy football magazines came out, Ladainian Tomlinson was consistently listed around 8 to 10 among runners. The mock drafts have LT at #6. So either this former fantasy football demigod is starting to rise up the draft lists again because the rest of the field looks even more unsteady than a 30-year old LT, or all those fantasy owners are starting to remember all those seasons before 2008.

LaDainian Tomlinson has been a fixture, but running backs suddenly lose their effectiveness after 30. Besides the rare Curtis Martin at 32 posting a huge year, history is against LT2. Given that he’s broken down towards the end of the season the last two years, the writing appears to be on the wall. But in an explosive San Diego Chargers offense, there’s that hope he has one more great NFL season…

At a point, I’m taking Tomlinson. Somewhere down in the second half of the 1st round, he’s a value guy with a lot of upside. He’s clearly not the runner he was at age 27, but he has his moments, Tomlinson catches a lot of balls and he’s still on that offense. Match him with a younger back who’s less likely to break down, or one of those stud Top 3 wide receivers and see where the season goes.

One thing, though: if you draft Ladainian Tomlinson, you need to draft Darren Sproles quick. If LT does break down, that’s your best chance to fill that void of production.

Chris Johnson – After all the talk about whether the Dallas Cowboys should have drafted Felix Jones or Rashard Mendenhall in the 1st round of the NFL Draft last year, it was an afterthought when Chris Johnson went the pick after Mendenhall to the Tennessee Titans. A year later and I’m wondering if Jerry Jones might not have drafted Chris Johnson instead of either Felix Jones or Mendenhall.

Chris Johnson put up a big rookie season for the Tennessee Titans, supplanting Lendale White as the Titans starter. Chris Johnson showed he had speed, pass catching and surprising durability. So I see him as a solid middle 1st round pick in 2009.

Keep in mind that the Tennessee Titans aren’t likely to go 10-0 to start the season like they did in 2008, which means they won’t be able to run it down team’s throats quite as much. Also, keep in mind that Chris Johnson is still a little under 200 pounds (depending on who’s stats you read), so don’t expect him to ever be the singular every down runner. Still, the Tennessee Titans are going to need big plays more than ever this year, so Chris Johnson could well be the main man on a Titans team that comes back down to Earth in 2009.

DeAngelo Williams – I just wrote about DeAngelo Williams the other day, so read my piece on the Carolina Panthers’ 4th year runner if you want the full scoop. The limited scoop is you’ll find DeAngelo Williams in a platoon situation.

Jonathan Stewart is likely to be a whole lot healthier in 2009 than he was in 2008, when he played on two turf toes suffered returning from a major knee surgery. Stewart was still having a few pains in the OTAs, but that should be healed up by training camp. What you should remember is that Jonathan Stewart had good numbers as a backup last year with lingering injuries, so you should expect to see him get more opportunties in 2008, assuming he’s healthy.

DeAngelo Williams will be the starter, though. He’s had a 5+ yards per carry average for his NFL career, and he had 20 combines touchdowns in 2008. Those are great numbers to ponder when drafting this year. I just don’t like drafting a 1st round RB when he’s almost certain to be in a platoon situation.

Frank Gore – I’m surprised Frank Gore is this low. Gore is only 25 now and he’s shown he’s over the injury-prone tag. The San Francisco 49ers offense might not be a juggernaut, but it’s certainly no worse off this year than it was last year at this time. In fact, with Mike Singletary coaching, the San Francisco 49ers are more likely to compete than they have been the past few seasons.

Their quarterback situation is iffy, of course. But it’s been that way for every season Frank Gore has produced in the NFL, so Gore’s shown he doesn’t need an elite QB to take the pressure off.

Frank Gore does a little bit of evreything, which makes him valuable in an offense that’s not so great. With Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree part of the program these days, the Niners have more potential players around him than they have in Gore’s stint with the 49ers.

I would draft Frank Gore over several of the players higher on this list, if nothing else because he’s the undisputed every down runner in San Francisco.

Brian Westbrook – I don’t like the looks of this one. When you’re like me, who’s predicted that Westbrook will finally fall apart this year for the last several years, you have to expect that one of these years, you’re going to be right. With Westbrook turning 30 and coming off two major surgeries in the offseason, this looks like it could be the year.

If you do draft Brian Westbrook in 2009, by all means make certain to draft LeSean McCoy, the shifty rookie running back the Philadelphia Eagles drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft this year. With Correll Buckhalter gone to Denver, it looks like LeSean McCoy is the heir apparent in Phillie.

You know the score: Brian Westbrook is great when he’s healthy. Heck, he’s great when he’s hurt, but healthy enough to play. But you know Westbrook is due to have one too many injuries one of these years, so draft Westbrook at your own risk.

Steve Slaton – Steve Slaton is a good choice, if you can deal with his slight build. But if you’re going to make exceptions for Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson, there’s no reason to have qualms about Steve Slaton.

Steve Slaton had a solid 2008. The Houston Texans creep a little closer to playoff contention every year, and they probably would be in contention if they weren’t ina division with the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.

But the Colts are aging quickly, the Titans are due for a dropoff, with Kerry Collins still their QB and with their loss of Albert Haynesworth, while the Jags haven’t entirely convinced me that 2008 was an abberration. Some people are picking the Houston Texans, who have been respectable for a couple of years now, to make a suprise push to make the playoffs in 2009. If so, Steve Slaton would necessarily be a big part of that push.

Reggie Bush – Are you crazy?

Reggie Bush is great when he’s on the field, but Reggie Bush has proven one thing in the NFL: Reggie Bush can’t make it through a 16-game NFL season.

Once again, Reggie Bush and the New Orleans Saints will rely on another RB to carry the main load for the team – this time around, Pierre Thomas. You don’t want to spend a low 1st round, high 2nd round pick on a player who’s likely to have sporadic numbers, simply because he’s not the guy getting the most touches.

I’ve always compared Reggie Bush to an elite receiver. He’ll give you some huge games and some games with little production. The only difference is that Reggie Bush is more injury-prone than most wide receivers.

Most magazines have Reggie Bush going in the 4th or 5th round. That’s probably a little lower than I would have expected, but there’s no way I draft a guy known for getting hurt this high.

Marion Barber – I guess we’re at the part of the draft where you draft runners on big production offenses, but who injuries seem drawn to.

In Marion Barber’s defense, he’s really only had one big injury – the one which cost him the final several games in 2008. Also, the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff has talked all offseason about their desire to run, run, run the ball in 2009. From the talk, the Cowboys are going to be a completely different offense than what you’re used to seeing.

Jason Garrett put his foot down with Jerry Jones: he couldn’t install
the balanced offense he wanted to install until Terrell Owens was gone. It’s time for Garrett to prove what he can do, and that involves running Marion Barber and Felix Jones – a lot. It probably involves mixing in Tashard Choice a fair amount, too. But Marion Barber gets the starts and should be in for the goal line carries.

Assuming the Dallas Cowboys remain a top offense, Marion the Barbarian should get plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns. And with two running backs behind him the team trusts, Marion Barber might have the chance to stay healthy. Heck, you may think that so-called injury factor is just an abberration. (Not me. I think it’s logical.)

Clinton Portis – Clinton Portis is a bit of an afterthought in many draft strategies in 2009, even though Portis had a highly productive 2008. After Week 1, I was convinced the West Coast Offense would be a disaster with the Redskins’ personnel and Clinton Portis was going to fall off the map. That didn’t happen and Portis was a solid fantasy player.

But Clinton Portis continues to play on the NFC East’s 4th-best team (and offense) and the Washington Redskins tried to replace Jason Campbell in the offseason. I still wonder whether the Skins ever plan to ditch their small, quick non-West Coast-seeming wide receivers (Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle-El) and switch to the bigger receivers more suited to get short balls and take the hits required by the WCO (Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly). Maybe they make that change next year, when they are likely to bring in a new QB. Stay tuned.

That hardly matters. Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley are likely to be the consistent performers on the Washington Redskins in 2009, and Portis should be a solid 2nd rounder. I wouldn’t draft him as a 1st rounder, though.

Note: The next two are consistently going early 3rd round, so they aren’t likely to be 1st rounders. But I wanted to list them, because I’ve seen fantasy football news sources suggesting these guys get drafted late-1st and early-2nd.

Ronnie Brown – Ronnie Brown is 27 years old, two years removed from his bad knee injury and had the biggest single-game touchdown total of any running back in the NFL last year (5). Bill Parcells’ team is going to want to run the ball, like they always do, and Ronnie Brown is seen as the undisputed #1 RB – even with Ricky Williams still on the roster.

Ronnie Brown isn’t likely to run the Wildcat Offense as much in 2009, with West Virginia QB Pat White the Dolphins 2nd round draft pick. The Dolphins claim they’re taking the Wildcat Offense “to the next level” with Pat White onboard. I tend to wonder if the Wildcat will be as effective in its second year, after defensive coordinators have a chance to dissect it on film. Also consider that more teams claim they’re going to use the Wildcat, meaning defenses will get more used to seeing this attack.

I’m swimming against the stream on this one. Everyone seems to think the Wildcat is the next big thing, so you decide on that one.

The fact is, Ronnie Brown is back as a legitimate 2nd round selection. One publication has Ronnie Brown as its breakout player of the year, based on the fact he should be in the prime of his career and should be fully healthy coming off the knee injury. If Ronnie Brown is going to have a big time career year, 2009 appears to be the year it’s going to happen.

Brandon Jacobs – Brandon Jacobs is one of those players who is a big time producer when he’s on the field. Jacobs is running behind one of the absolute best offensive lines in the NFL, and he’s a load to bring down at 260 pounds. In that way, Brandon Jacobs is in the perfect situation.

But the New York Giants suffered from the loss of Plaxico Burress at the end of 2008, so you’ll have to take into account that Jacobs might be running against stacked lines or 8-men in the box to start the year. The Giants and Eli Manning are going to have to show they can throw the ball consistently, or teams will load up to stop Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

That shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Plenty of runners have productive years without elite wide receivers to take off the pressure, and Jacobs does have a good defense to get him the ball back and that offensive line to open holes for him.

The big concern with Brandon Jacobs is his health. I’m not sure if Brandon Jacobs is brittle, but he seems to always miss games in a season. Draft Jacobs knowing he’s going to miss time, so make sure to have a backup plan. When Brandon Jacobs is healthy and ready to go, though, he’s likely to put up elite numbers.



This entry was posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2009 at 7:10 pmand is filed under Fantasy Football. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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