Football Blog

Fantasy Football Running Back Situations

Fantasy RB Platoons in 2009

Training camp is here and I’ve got way too many things to blog about. We’re talking fantasy football implications rigth now, so I wanted to look at the position so many fantasy football owners obsess about this time of year: running backs.

Draft a couple of Top 5 running backs and you’re going to contend for the league title. If you’re running backs suck, there’s a 95% chance you’re going to struggle big time. (Yeah, I’ve seen people do okay with a Tom Brady and Randy Moss combo and so-so runners, so there’s that 5% or less chance, but it’s rare and I wouldn’t suggest trying it.) Runners are hugely important, even in these days of RBs platoons and increasing injury factors.

So we’re going to look at three fantasy football running back situations in 2009. I want to look at the rookie running backs here soon, but not today. I want to hear a little about which rookie runners are getting the 1st team reps before I start to speculate too much about the rookie fantasy football running backs. For now, let’s look at three veteran running back situations to look at in 2009. (With several 2nd year veterans involved.)

1. Baltimore Ravens Running Backs – With the departure of Derrick Mason, Bart Scott and Rex Ryan, I’m predicting a sophomore jinx for Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. They’re one of those big winners of 2008 that could easily turn into a 2009 mess, given a key injury or two and the regression of their young quarterback. Remember that the Ravens weren’t expected to do much last year after a disappointing 2007, then a solid running game platoon and a great defensive effort put them into contention.

The runners on this team should be huge, especially if Derrick Mason doesn’t return from retirement and the team needs Willis McGahee, La’Ron McClain and Ray Rice to protect Joe Flacco with a stout running attack. If the Baltimore Ravens Defense isn’t as good with Ray Lewis a year older and Rex Ryan in New York City, that could mean a drop of production for those runners.

I frankly don’t like drafting any of these guys very high this year. Willis McGahee will be the starter, but the Ravens are signalling they are going to give Ray Rice more attempts this year. You might think La’Ron McClain is the guy to get in the middle rounds, but I wouldn’t draft McClain in anything besides a touchdown-only league. McClain is being moved to fullback full time, so I think the safe assumption is the team will give Ray Rice the nod if McGahee gets injured. That’s only a hunch, and you can make your own guess.

The problem is, based off his 2008 numbers, La’Ron McClain is going to be taken fairly high in drafts, probably in those middle rounds among the first few backup running backs to go. With the fullback question hanging over his head, I think there are better selections than La’Ron McClain in that part of the draft.

Given the loss of personnel and coaches, the lingering questions with the Ravens passing attack and concerns about McClain and Rice taking production from Willis McGahee, I wouldn’t be drafting McGahee very high either. He’s sure to lose production to somebody.

The pick to make (if any) is probably Ray Rice, if you can sneak him real late (real late) and if you are prepared to sit him long enough for him to pay off. At the end of your draft, there are worse options than a guy who brings something different off the bench than Ray Rice, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Flacco dumping the ball off more this year than last. Those few games where Ray Rice got sizable carries and catches, he showed he could be productive.

Just don’t take that and draft Ray Rice anywhere before the 15th round, unless something happens in training camp that completely changes the equation (injuries, promotion of Rice). The right play is to avoid the Baltimore Ravens and try to find the team that comes out of nowhere in 2009, like the Ravens did in 2008.

2. Oakland Raiders Running Backs – Some insiders suggest that Darren McFadden disappointed Raiders officials with his lack of toughness or desire to run inside last year. While Darren McFadden showed big play ability on the wings, he seemed hesitant to run inside. Of course, given the fact McFadden had two turf toes last year, we certainly didn’t see McFadden at his best.

The question is: will we ever see Darren McFadden at his best? Some believe McFadden doesn’t have what it takes to be an every-down, between-the-tackles runner. I don’t know what you can determine off one year about injuries, and I don’t know how you can write someone off for a year with the Raiders. Darren McFadden should get plenty of chances, given that Al Davis signed him to a $60 million contact.

But if Justin Fargas or Michael Bush come on this year, we could see Al Davis holding a press conference about how McFadden “betrayed him” like Al did last year with Lane Kiffin.

Word is that Justin Fargas is a Tom Cable favorite, and he’s been the most productive Raiders RB the past couple of years. Fargas has been written off at this point of the season every year for years, but he seems to find the field in Oakland due to injuries or unproductiveness of the guys in front of him. And we can’t forget Michael Bush, who was drafted two years ago and likely would have been a 1st rounder had he not had a season-ender his senior season at Louisville.

If he’s back fully healthy and the Oakland Raiders are looking for someone to run between the tackles, Michael Bush might get a chance to repeat his performance in Week 17 of 2008. Sports Illustrated claims that some in Oakland believe he’s the most physically gifted of the bunch, which is amazing, given that McFadden was the 4th overall pick based on his physical gifts.

Looks like that “why not?” Michael Bush draft pick I made in my crazy-big dynasty league two years ago might finally be justified.

3. Dallas Cowboys Running Backs – I live locally and everyone in the Dallas Cowboys media claims the Boys’ decision makers are building up Felix Jones as the savior in Dallas. I’ve even heard one theory that Felix Jones will be a major part of replacing the production of Terrell Owens. That is, Felix Jones won’t be catching a bunch of passes as a wideout, but the Cowboys are planning on highlighting the running attack as opposed to their T.O.-friendly pass attack of the last few years.

The suggestion is the Cowboys are going to be more balanced, with the loss of Terrell Owens’ production being offset by major contributions of Roy Williams, Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett – each of whom was a marginal factor last year. When I say the Cowboys are looking at Felix Jones as the savior, I’m saying he’s expected to be the big-play threat.

Expect to see Marion Barber as the starter again, despite some theories that he would be brought off the bench as a 4th quarter hammer like he was in the so-called “Julius Jones Era”. Expect to see Felix Jones receive a bigger percentage of the offense than last year, and don’t expect games like Week 4 against the Redskins, where the Cowboys’ offensive staff touted it was going to get Felix Jones a lot more involved, then chose to give him 0 carries and 0 pass attempts. Those days are gone, because Jason Garrett has had to hear about Felix Jones all off-season.

Felix Jones looked explosive in his limited action last year. “Limited” brings up the big question, though: can Felix Jones stay healthy? Yes, like his ex-Arkansas Razorbacks teammate, Darren McFadden, there are questions whether Felix Jones can stay on the field. He wasn’t able to stay healthy during the o.t.a.’s, of all things.

Of course, that’s the concern with Marion Barber, too (and every other running back in the NFL, for that matter). MBIII’s great when he’s on the field, but how long can he last with that punishing style of running? As an NFL starter, he lasted just over half a season last year.

Which brings us to Tashard Choice. He’s worth a late-round selection in deeper leagues, if you’re willing to sit on a guy who likely won’t get play for weeks and weeks. I heard just today, on the opening day of Dallas Cowboys training camp, that Tashard Choice might get a surprising amounts of looks this year. The Cowboys staff raves about Tashard Choice, and claim he was “the most complete” running back in the 2008. Tashard Choice fell to the 4th round because his running times weren’t high enough (which might make him less-than-complete, but that’s just being argumentative, I guess).

I always warn against getting too excited about the running back who gets no carries for the first three months of the NFL regular season, then tears it up off the bench in the final month or six weeks of the year. Those guys are often fresh legs running against tired and injured defenses, so they look a lot better than they really are.

That’s why I’m tapping the breaks on the Pierre Thomas bandwagon a little bit, just based off his last two Decembers. Remember Ryan Grant in 2007. Remember Earnest Graham the same year. Or Julius Jones in his rookie year, for that matter.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 at 10:13 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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