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2004 Player Statistics and Analysis: Running Backs
Updated: August 29, 2004
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Steven Jackson STL HT 6' 2" WT 233 AGE 21 EXP R    
ROOKIE STL 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
He’s best running back in the draft that no one wanted. After getting passed over by Denver, Detroit and Dallas, Jackson fell to the Rams who moved up to grab him at the 1.24 slot. This was considered a weak running back class and that was proven when no backs were taken until the 24 th pick, even though three teams had definite needs. Jackson is considered the complete package. He has legitimate 4.4 speed, great hands, superior blocking skills and can bull his way to yardage when needed. At 6’1 ½” and 238 pounds, he makes a great passing target as well as a line buster. He’ll now sit behind Marshall Faulk until the next injury happens. Faulk is already 31 years of age and Jackson makes a great replacement with the same sort of speed and pass catching ability that the Rams offense demands. It is only a matter of time before Jackson gets the reins and with Faulk’s recent history, it will be for at least a few weeks this season or more.
Edgerrin James IND HT 6'0'' WT 214 AGE 26 EXP 6    
2001 IND 6 855 3 151 662 4.4 3 24 193 0
2002 IND 14 1342 3 277 989 3.6 2 61 353 1
2003 IND 13 1549 11 309 1257 4.1 11 51 292 0
  Avg 11 1249 6 246 969 3.9 5 45 279 0
James was bothered by a back condition last season and missed three games. He still rushed for 1257 yards and scored 11 times for the season. With that pace he could have had easily over 1500 yards rushing. Since his knee injury of 2001, James has been increasing each season and excelled in 2003 in spite of a lingering back problem. As a major component of one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses, James is a low risk to succeed yet again this season and is poised to return to his career-best level of 2000 (2303 total yards and 18 scores). In his final seven games last year, he scored nine times and averaged 108 yards rushing a game. Perhaps the most important of all – James carries the load no matter where on the field. He led all running backs last season with 39 plays inside the 10 yard line. James is also in the final year of his contract.
Larry Johnson KC HT 6'2'' WT 225 AGE 25 EXP 2    
2003 KC 5 87 1 20 85 4.3 1 1 2 0
  Avg 5 87 1 20 85 4.3 1 1 2 0
Johnson was the second RB selected in the 2003 draft when the Chiefs used their 1.27 pick on the Penn State Senior classman. While Johnson came in with good size and power, he was never impressive in training camp last year. He was selected not knowing how well Priest Holmes would bounce back from his hip injury nor if a contract would be signed to prevent a Holmes’ hold-out. He had a great opportunity and came in with apparent pedigree but has done nothing to justify the pick. He was passed by Derrick Blaylock on the depth charts and ended with a mere 20 carries on the season and one touchdown, finally, in the final game of the season. Unless Johnson suddenly comes to life in training camp this summer – a distinctly unlikely event – he will again watch Blaylock take up the minimal action that Holmes allows. Johnson’s value is unproven and his only plus is still his numbers from college, his draft position and playing behind a 31 year old back. Don’t bother unless training camp shows some progress.
Rudi Johnson CIN HT 5'10'' WT 233 AGE 25 EXP 3    
2002 CIN 6 101 0 17 67 3.9 0 6 34 0
2003 CIN 13 1113 9 214 967 4.5 9 21 146 0
  Avg 10 607 5 116 517 4.5 5 14 90 0
In the four games that Johnson had at least 21 carries last season, he always gained over 100 yards including three which topped 165 yards or better. That was plenty enough to send malcontent Corey Dillon packing in the offseason to New England. Johnson is a powerful 233 pound package that can score at the goal line and yet has quick enough feet to make him harder to tackle. The Bengals hedged their bets on Johnson by tendering him only a one-year $1.8 million dollar contract this season and also used their first round pick to acquire Chris Perry out of Michigan. Hardly a way to say “you are the man”. The Bengals know well enough the value of having more than one good back after hitting gold with Johnson instead if Dillon who himself was only insurance against Ki-Jana Carter being a bust. The fact that Johnson has to prove himself this season will be motivating and with Perry likely to take 3 rd down and relief duty, the margin for error is not large. The Bengals have a very tough schedule this year and that will impact with Rudi can do, but he makes a decent fantasy starter considering the risk and a possible gem again with his ability and opportunity. Grab Perry for insurance.
Greg Jones JAX HT 6' 1" WT 250 AGE 23 EXP R    
ROOKIE JAX 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jones was nearing the single-season rushing record for Florida State in 2002 when he blew out his right ACL and began the long process of rehabilitation. He returned in 2003 but only managed 618 yards and seven scores in his first year back from the injury. He was considered a sure first-rounder prior to the 2002 injury and he fell to the 55 th pick by the Jaguars who traded up to grab him. HC Jack Del Rio said he was not concerned about Jones knee when he drafted him Jones is said to be about 95% of his true form and getting better. He is running as fast as his pre-injury days and with a 250 pound load, he will be hard to bring down. The Jaguars are envisioning Jones as a “Mike Alstott” role player and have hinted at using both Taylor and Jones in the same backfield. Particularly in short-yardage situations where Jones can save wear and tear on Fred Taylor. Jones carries risk as any rookie would, and still has to prove that he has completely recovered from his 2002 ACL tear, but so far he has done everything he can to show the Jaguars move up may prove to be a steal.
Julius Jones DAL HT 5' 9" WT 217 AGE 23 EXP R    
ROOKIE DAL 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0

When the Cowboys passed on Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson, it surprised many fans knowing that the Cowboys were looking for an impact runner this season. Instead, Dallas took Julius Jones as the fifth back taken but continue to claim that they saw no difference between the two “front runners” and Julius. Since they received Buffalo’s 2005 first rounder in the trade, they’ll either look like geniuses or be using that pick for another runner. Julius is the younger brother of Thomas Jones (CHI) but did not have as storied a collegiate career since he was suspended for a year as academically ineligible and has been knocked for being lazy and hard to coach. Bill Parcells will determine soon enough how much of that was just an immature player and how much is truly the player. Jones was never a big pass catcher at Notre Dame but Hambrick only had 17 passes last season anyway and Richie Anderson fills the third down role very well. When Jones returned from his ineligibility last season, he had a banner year, rushing for 1268 yards and ten scores for the Irish last year. Jones is slightly shorter than most backs but has a good ratio of weight to height and has very quick feet. He has good shift to the hole and enough power to keep going when it closes. Jones will have a great rushing schedule this season and plays for a team that wants a big runner. His opportunity, talent and practice results so far are all major pluses and lands him as a certain fantasy starter with more upside than most.

Jones falls with the addition of Eddie George to the roster but still will be considered in game plans. HC Bill Parcells has indicated that Jones would receive the heavier use when the Cowboys were on articificial surface and when DAL faced very tough defenses, George would be the main ball carrier. This is a sharing scenario even though it is unlike Parcells to do that. This will more likely be sharing depending on the opponent rather than game situation.

08/22/04 - While Jones has not been spectacular in preseason, he has been very solid and recent statements by the coaching staff supports that both he and George will be getting playing time this year. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it will likely be swapping roles between George and Jones for different games than merely downs.

Kevin Jones DET HT 5' 11" WT 221 AGE 22 EXP R    
ROOKIE DET 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jones was only a Junior last season at Virginia Tech. He is proto-typical in and has both speed and strength. The Lions traded up to grab him at the 1.30 pick in the NFL draft and got a player that has great burst and spend but the size and power to hit between the tackles and keep running. He has excellent vision and a fluid running style with a very good ability to cutback. His speed and moves are tailor made for the fast track. His only missing quality is that he had very little experience at Virginia catching the ball and in the west coast variant used by the Lions, he will have to learn. He is noted as being a good blocker but will naturally take some time to learn to pick up the blitz. His less experience receiving and blocking on passing plays will likely keep Shawn Bryson in the equation as a third down back but the Lions want Jones to develop into an every down player as soon as possible. Jones will have excellent opportunity this season and will be prized in fantasy drafts as one of the few – perhaps two – rookie runners who will start.
Thomas Jones CHI HT 5'10'' WT 211 AGE 26 EXP 5    
2001 ARI 16 531 5 112 380 3.4 5 21 151 0
2002 ARI 9 624 2 138 511 3.7 2 20 113 0
2003 TB 15 807 3 137 627 4.6 3 24 180 0
  Avg 13 654 3 129 506 3.9 3 22 148 0

Thomas Jones had been a big bust during his three years with the Cardinals but resurrected his career with only half a season in Tampa Bay. Pairing and sharing with Michael Pittman, Jones was a solid and yet unspectacular addition. Once he took the reins as the starter, he recorded four games over 100 total yards and scored in three of them. He ripped off 134 yards against the Packers on only nine carries and against Houston again ran for 134 yards using 34 carries. Just as important, he had four catches in both the final games. As a free agent, Jones was scooped up by GM Jerry Angelo who considered Jones as “one of the NFL’s worst-kept secrets”. While Anthony Thomas was the 2001 rookie of the year, the Bears have clearly not been satisfied with him since that season. Jones excited coaches during his initial mini-camps with the Bears and is poised for a heavier role than the last several years has provided. Anthony Thomas will still figure in and has been better in short-yardage situations but Jones is the new kid in a new offense and carries none of the ties to the past. Look for Jones to gain a rebirth for his career on a team that intends to open up the offense and throw to the backs.

08/16/04 - Jones rises in the rankings as one of the dwindling number of runners who have a lock on the starting role for his team. So far, the new regime is very happy with their free agent pick-up this season and he has been fast and strong in camp.

LaMont Jordan NYJ HT 5'10'' WT 230 AGE 26 EXP 4    
2001 NYJ 13 336 2 39 292 7.5 1 7 44 1
2002 NYJ 14 476 3 84 316 3.8 3 17 160 0
2003 NYJ 13 291 4 46 190 4.1 4 11 101 0
  Avg 13 368 3 56 266 4.7 3 12 102 0
Jordan spent most of the off-season huddling with his agent to figure out how to A.) Get rid of Curtis Martin, B.) Get a lucrative contract extension and C.) Take over the primary rushing duties. Unfortunately, it appears he will get D.) Shut up, play out your final contract year and see what happens in 2005. Jordan wants to play more and is promised as much almost every season. Entering his fourth year, he has never had more than 84 carries (2002) in any season. One of the main impediments to a new contract and more work is that Jordan has not been very productive with the few chances he has received. It is far easier for a back to have a big “yards per carry” when they are the change-of-pace player (just ask Troy Hambrick), but other than the occasional long run, he has been more consistently rushing at less than four yards a carry. In his biggest year, his 84 runs only produced 316 yards. His best 2003 effort was against OAK when he popped a 39 yard run. Otherwise, he only gained 30 yards on six carries. Against OAK. Earlier efforts to trade Jordan to the Redskins or Jets failed and barring an unforeseen contract move, Jordan is destined for “more of the same” in 2004 and then gets to see how much a 27 year old free agent back with four years of under-use is actually worth.
Jamal Lewis BAL HT 5'11'' WT 231 AGE 25 EXP 4    
2002 BAL 16 1769 7 308 1327 4.3 6 47 442 1
2003 BAL 16 2269 14 388 2064 5.3 14 26 205 0
  Avg 16 2019 11 348 1696 4.9 10 37 324 1

Lewis delivered the goods last season, managing to eclipse the 2000 yard rushing mark in the final game of the season and led all runners with 12 games over the 100 yard mark. His 388 carries easily led the league and his 5.3 yards per rush was second only to Clinton Portis (5.5). The only area he lags other backs is in the passing game since the offense uses the run to set up the run, ad infinitum. This season Lewis faces an easier schedule than 2003, but his durability will always be in question after blowing out a knee in the summer of 2001. With such a heavy workload, no runner can last without getting at least dinged up if not knocked out and Lewis is one of the bigger backs in the league at 231 pounds. Lewis deserves to be one of the first running backs drafted as he is on a team with a great offensive line that likes to run. Lewis will be on trial this summer for drug conspiracy and the trial date is expected to be during August. He claims that it has not been a distraction and even that it is a motivator because, naturally, he believes to be completely innocent and he is being unfairly targeted. Without knowing the outcome of that, this is a big risk pick until he is exonerated.If he is found guilty, his ranking will drop “rather briskly”.

08/16/04 - Lewis remains, appropriately, a tier one back but falls behind Alexander and Edgerrin James with the potential of a court case in November. It could still be delayed or even dismissed and regardless, Lewis claims he will not miss any playing time even if it is held. The slight risk that offers makes him the end of tier one. If it is delayed or dismissed, he goes back to #6 on the board.

Reno Mahe PHI HT 5'10'' WT 211 AGE 24 EXP 1    
2003 BAL 2 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
  Avg 2 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0

Mahe played primarily special teams as a rookie but has been generally impressive to the coaches. He already was most likely to fill the #3 role for the Eagles this year and with Buckhalter's injury, now should be valuted into the #2 spot behind Brian Westbrook barring the Eagle's acquiring another runner. Eric McCoo is the only other running back on the Eagles roster presently. Mahe is little bigger than Westbrook and would have provided a better replacement for Westbrook than Buckhalter. Until another player is brought in, Mahe take the #2 spot behind the less than durable Westbrook.

08/27/04 - Looked good against the Steelers and cemented the #2 role behind the less than durable Westbrook.

Curtis Martin NYJ HT 5'11'' WT 205 AGE 31 EXP 10    
2001 NYJ 16 1823 10 331 1483 4.5 10 55 340 0
2002 NYJ 16 1456 7 261 1094 4.2 7 49 362 0
2003 NYJ 16 1573 2 321 1311 4.1 2 42 262 0
  Avg 16 1617 6 304 1296 4.3 6 49 321 0
Martin had a very slow start in 2003, averaging only 55 rushing yards per game through week 6. He evidently caught his breath then since the final 11 games had him averaging 94 yards per game which is a pace for 1500 yards if sustained. Starting in week nine when Pennington returned, he had six of nine games over 100 combined yards including a 228 yard effort against the Steelers. His scoring has been steadily declining thanks in part to Lamont Jordan but his yardage is still good even after nine seasons in the NFL. Martin has started slowly the past two seasons and the plan now is to allow Martin to run more in preseason games to help jumpstart the sense of rhythm that a rusher needs. He had been given lighter duty in the summer in the hopes to keep him fresh but the coaches now feel he will benefit from the same lighter practice time but more preseason work. Martin claims to feel better than he has in years, a statement made by most backs that have played for many seasons. His age (31) is an issue but he has been very durable and has not missed a game since 1998. Lamont Jordan has been very unhappy with his relief role and it has ended with Jordan remaining a Jet and playing out his contract this season for hopeful pay off in 2005 as a free agent. The Jets claim to plan on using Jordan more, but they have said as much for three seasons. If he doesn’t play too much, that might make him… cheaper to sign… hmm.
Deuce McAllister NO HT 6'1'' WT 221 AGE 26 EXP 4    
2001 NO 16 257 2 16 91 5.7 1 15 166 1
2002 NO 15 1740 16 325 1388 4.3 13 47 352 3
2003 NO 16 2157 8 351 1641 4.7 8 69 516 0
  Avg 16 1385 9 231 1040 4.5 7 44 345 1
In three seasons, McAllister has evolved from an supposed fragile back-up to Ricky Williams to being one of the most gifted rushers in the game. In 2003, he tied with Priest Holmes for the most number of games with 100 combined yards (13) and placed third in the NFL for 100 yard rushing games (9). He strung together all nine from weeks 4 through 13 and still topped 100 combined yards in two of his final four games. He tied with Tiki Barber as 3 rd most receptions by a running back (69). McAllister did that in spite of playing TB and CAR twice, and also facing TEN, DAL, PHI and JAX. He had one of the toughest rushing schedules last season for any NFL runner and yet still ranked around 7 th in fantasy scoring. This season McAllister gets an easier run, adding SF, SEA, MIN and ARZ to his schedule. His only downside as a runner is that he does not score touchdowns in many games, crossing the goal line in only five in 2003. Three of them were multiple touchdowns though and McAllister is a lock to continue his big yardage ways. Low risk, high fantasy reward. Unlike many other teams, McAllister is rarely spelled and takes almost all the running game by himself.
Willis McGahee BUF HT 6'0'' WT 223 AGE 23 EXP 1    
2003 BUF 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
  Avg 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0

McGahee was a scoring machine back in college, rushing 282 times for 1753 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns. That was the third best mark for rushing touchdowns in the history of the Division I-A football, bettered by only Mike Rozier (29) and Barry Sanders (37) in a single season. McGahee was the consensus best runner in the 2003 draft and was a lock to have his name called among the very first in the NFL draft until he tore his left ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. McGahee also only played five games during his senior year in high school due to a knee injury. After signing a four-year deal worth up to $15 million dollars, McGahee flirted with playing time after coming off the reserve non-football injury list and being cleared by doctors. Though activated onto the roster, he never played. This season he has already gone through two mini-camps without any swelling in his knee and is shaking off the rust from his layoff. McGahee is extremely talented; he just has not been very durable and actually has played much less than most other runners his age due to past injuries. The Bills did not cough up the money not to use this first round pick, but they did not release Travis Henry either making the duo both likely to play this season. OC Tom Clements even alluded to using both players in the backfield at times, a common statement when there are two good runners on the roster. Hopefully the end of training camp will yield a more concrete view on the roles of Henry and McGahee.

08/16/04 - McGahee has been impressive in scrimmages and exhibition games so far and is certainly working his way into a rotation at the very least. He's looked good enough to publicly concern Henry and is likely to rise more depending on more work and coaching decisions. If you have Henry, you better have McGahee.

Travis Minor MIA HT 5'10'' WT 205 AGE 25 EXP 4    
2001 MIA 16 544 3 59 281 4.8 2 29 263 1
2002 MIA 16 180 2 44 180 4.1 2 0 0 0
2003 MIA 12 206 1 41 193 4.7 1 4 13 0
  Avg 15 310 2 48 218 4.5 2 11 92 0

Minor offers a change of pace role for Ricky Williams but at only 205 pounds, he is unlikely to be the full-time starter if Williams is injured. Minor has nice speed and is truly different from the bruiser Williams, but as evidenced last season he is only good for a handful of runs each season and does not act as a receiver on third down. The fullback Bob Konrad fills that role, small as it is. Minor merits only minor fantasy consideration and would need Williams to be out for an extended period of time before he would gain appreciable carries and yards. Even then, the load would most likely be distributed over he, Leonard Henry and Bob Konrad. Minor is the first-line back-up for Williams but that has not meant much so far nor will it if Williams gets injured.

Update: Minor is the primary runner now that Ricky Williams is gone and the Dolphins have not been able to secure any other free agent runner. His analysis still stands - he is too small to handle a full-time load, particularly in the style of inside running by the Dolphins. He may start the season as the primary, but there is little guarantee he will end as one and even less that he will be nearly as effective as even an average running back while he is in there. He will be constantly challenged by Leaonard Henry and Fred Russell.

Maurice Morris SEA HT 6'0" WT 220 AGE 27 EXP 5    
2002 SEA 11 178 0 32 153 4.8 0 3 25 0
2003 SEA 13 271 1 38 239 6.3 0 4 32 1
  Avg 12 225 1 35 196 5.6 0 4 29 1
For the two seasons he has played, Morris has continually impressed the coaches in practice and been mentioned as becoming a bigger part of the offense to make use of his talents. Both years it did not happen and he is given only around three carries a game. He does a lot with those three carries, but not enough to have any fantasy impact. Playing behind one of the most durable and productive backs in the game has not helped his cause and since Seattle uses the fullback Mack Strong in passing situations, Morris does not even rate as well as the average third down back. He is very fast and could make a difference if Alexander ever goes down with injury but so far there is no sign that is going to happen anytime soon. He is only a deep insurance pick in fantasy drafts and often “stolen” by another owner who ends up with a wasted pick. If you own Alexander, Morris makes sense but not much for other fantasy teams.
Sammy Morris MIA HT 6' 0" WT 224 AGE 23 EXP R    
ROOKIE BUF 16 108 0 20 72 3.6 0 7 36 0
  BUF 16 53 0 2 5 2.5 0 3 48 0
  BUF 9 170 1 19 70 3.7 1 14 100 0
Morris is in the mix at tailback in Miami, much as anyone wearing a jersey number that starts with a 2, 3 or 4. He is currently the #2 back behind Travis Minor but the Dolphins are shopping around for a free agent or trade. He is worth owning if no one is brought in but is unlikely to produce significant fatnasy numbers in any scenario.
Chris Perry CIN HT 6' 0" WT 224 AGE 23 EXP R    
ROOKIE CIN 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Perry is considered to be a good “all-around” running back and where he truly excels is catching the ball out of the backfield. Somewhat an unexpected pick by the Bengals who already had established Rudi Johnson as the starter, the loss of Corey Dillon and Brandon Bennett left the running back depth too thin not to take advantage of Perry’s talents. Perry has the size to be an every-down runner but for this season, the plus is that he can pick up blitzes as a third down back and has great hands and very quick feet for pass routes. His use will largely be contingent on how well he adapts to blocking on pass plays. In mini-camps he impressed the coaches with his speed, moves and catching ability. His college coach noted that Perry was the best practice player he had ever coached. Perry is a definite early pick in dynasty rookie drafts and a needed bookend for those with Rudi Johnson. His production this year is intended primarily as a third down back and in relief of Johnson. Since Rudi only signed a one-year deal, there is a chance Perry gets a starting shot next season regardless of Johnson’s performance.
Michael Pittman TB HT 6'0'' WT 218 AGE 29 EXP 7    
2001 ARI 15 1110 5 241 846 3.5 5 42 264 0
2002 TB 16 1195 1 204 718 3.5 1 59 477 0
2003 TB 16 1342 2 187 751 4 0 75 591 2
  Avg 16 1216 3 211 772 3.7 2 59 444 1
Pittman turned in only 751 rushing yards last year but had his best season every receiving, hauling in 59 catches for 591 yards – a career best. His rushing totals would have been higher had he not lost the starting job to Thomas Jones. Pittman also benefited from a heavier load when Mike Alstott ended his season after week 5. Unfortunately, Pittman played bumper cars with his unwilling wife and had a two week sentence in an Arizona jail for the felony charge of endangerment. As this is his second offense with league the personal conduct policy, he will miss the first three games of the season, along with being unable to even practice with the team. The Buccaneers have a favorable rushing schedule in 2003 but how it all plays out will be in yet another committee approach. In the offseason, Charlie Garner joined the team and is re-united with Jon Gruden. Jamel White and Brandon Bennett also signed up. Add in Mike Alstott returning and the picture is not only muddled, it is not likely to ever be clear given the injury history of aging players like Garner (32), Alstott (31) and Bennett (31). This is a fantasy situation to avoid until more is known. Both Garner and Alstott are returning from injury, so Pittman could still figure in after his suspension is concluded.
Clinton Portis WAS HT 5'11'' WT 205 AGE 22 EXP 3    
2002 DEN 16 1872 17 273 1508 5.5 15 33 364 2
2003 DEN 13 1905 14 290 1591 5.5 14 38 314 0
  Avg 15 1889 16 282 1550 5.5 15 36 339 1
Portis comes off his second monster year and he improved his 2002 numbers in spite of missing three games last season. He still ended up with ten 100 yard rushing games – 2 nd only to Jamal Lewis. He was tied for 4 th with 11 games with over 100 combined yards and had four games with multiple touchdowns. Had he played all 16 like he did the 13, he would have ended with 1958 rushing yards. Not bad at all for missing three games. Portis signed an eight-year deal with the Redskins making his trade one of the biggest ever involving a running back. The deal is worth $50.5 million and had a $17 million bonus. The Redskins upgrade over Trung Canidate is exponential in value. This season Portis will be running without a fullback as has always been Gibbs style but shouldn’t affect his running negatively. With tremendous burst and speed in an offense that broke the bank to acquire him, Portis is a lock for plenty of productive opportunity in 2003 and beyond. His only risk is injury and that will always apply for one of the lightest runners in the league but as he showed last season, he is pure gold when he is in the backfield. His fantasy value is dinged slightly from the move to a new offense but should see at least 300 carries or more this season.
Dominic Rhodes IND HT 5'9'' WT 208 AGE 25 EXP 3    
2001 IND 15 1328 9 233 1104 4.7 9 34 224 0
2003 IND 10 219 1 37 157 4.2 0 6 62 1
  Avg 13 774 5 135 631 4.7 5 20 143 1
The back-up player to James has been a fruitful spot for the past few years and Dominic Rhodes is the front-runner in a group that includes Ricky Williams and James Mungro. Rhodes suffered from a bad shoulder and knee sprain in 2003 and saw spotty play in his first season back since tearing his ACL in 2002. The Colts are taking it easier on him in mini-camps and likely training camp so he can reach the season healthy once again. He had 1104 yards rushing back in 2001 while covering for James and the Colts know that he is the best back-up on the squad when healthy. Taking James makes Rhodes a prudent bookend pick, but he’s not likely worthwhile otherwise unless James is injured for a series of games.
Fred Russell MIA HT 5'7" WT 191 AGE 24 EXP R    
ROOKIE CIN 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0

New 7-25-04: Russell is an undrafted rookie that suddenly becomes of interest once the Dolphins discovered their RB depth would be sorely tested the week before training camp opens. In mini-camps, Russell made strides to making the team and displayed good speed but is a bit under-sized for a significant role. Prior to Ricky Williams dropping the retirement bomb, Russell was being considered for kick return duty along with Travis Minor.

08/20/04 - Russell had a nice run last week but is being primarily considered as a kick returner since he is only 5'7" and 191 pounds. Even in the current mess in Miami, Russell is likely to only get occasional spot duty if that. Leonard Henry has dropped from the rankings.

Josh Scobey ARI HT 6'0'' WT 216 AGE 25 EXP 3    
2002 ARI 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003 ARI 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 9 0
  Avg 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0

Scobey enters the picture much more now that Marcel Shipp has been likely lost for the season with a leg fracture. He has been behind Damien Anderson on the depth charts but HC Denny Green has noted that Scobey is likely the fastest back on the roster (with comparisions to Emmitt, not all that impressive). He will battle Damien Anderson for the back-up role behind Smith but Larry Croom has also been catching the coaches eye.

08/20/04 - Anderson is now #3 on the depth charts in Arizona, though eventually they may get there this season.

Marcel Shipp ARI HT 5'11'' WT 222 AGE 26 EXP 4    
2002 ARI 15 1264 9 188 844 4.5 6 39 420 3
2003 ARI 16 1012 0 227 828 3.6 0 30 184 0
  Avg 16 1138 5 208 836 4 3 35 302 2

Shipp has always been a fantasy tease, turning in monster games and yet he remains too inconsistent to be considered an upper tier back. After 227 carries last season, he still had not scored a touchdown, even though he had 64 carries and 334 yards in his two games against SF and CIN. After those great games, he only managed over 62 yards twice in the final eight games. Those were his only 100 yard rushing efforts last year. Shipp has almost proto-typical size, but wasn’t used successfully near the goal line as well. The Cardinal quarterbacks had more rushing touchdowns (3) than all the running backs (2). Shipp’s numbers became depressed at the end of last season not only because of Smith’s return, but also due to swollen bursa sacs in a knee and both elbows. Shipp will be facing a tougher rushing schedule than last season with almost half his games against defenses that were top 10 against running backs last season. Add in that Denny Green suddenly decided that Emmitt would enter training camp as the starter and Shipp’s stock has taken another tumble. As is his normal practice, look for Shipp to take over the reins sooner than later in the season and he has a tremendous fantasy playoff schedule against DET, SF, STL and SEA. He makes a nice addition to your team with upside later in the year.

Update 8/8/04: Shipp has a broken fibula and had a plate and screws inserted into the leg. While initially it was hoped he might be back within 8 to 12 weeks, now the prognosis is that he will likely miss the entire season. As such, I am removing him from the rankings.

Antowain Smith TEN HT 6'2" WT 232 AGE 32 EXP 8    
2001 NE 15 1349 13 287 1157 4.0 12 19 192 1
2002 NE 15 1225 8 252 982 3.9 6 31 243 2
2003 NE 13 734 3 182 642 3.5 3 14 92 0
  Avg 14 1103 8 240 927 3.8 7 21 176 1

Smith signed with the Tenness Titans and will be paired with Chris Brown in light of the departure of Eddie George to the Cowboys. He signed only a one year contract for veteran minimum and is expected to provide a veteran presence in the backfield and lockerroom while mainly backing up Chris Brown. Training camp should make roles a little clearer, but Smith is more insurance than a shake-up to the depth chart.

08/25/04 - Smith will not be used in relief of Chris Brown unless absolutely neccessary due to injury. He falls in the rankings.

Emmitt Smith ARI HT 5'9'' WT 209 AGE 35 EXP 15    
2001 DAL 14 1137 3 261 1021 3.9 3 17 116 0
2002 DAL 16 1064 5 254 975 3.8 5 16 89 0
2003 ARI 10 363 2 90 256 2.8 2 14 107 0
  Avg 13 855 3 202 751 3.7 3 16 104 0

Since Emmitt has decided to leave the game with a whimper instead of a bang, his numbers continue to decline and he starts the season not in the primary role for the first time since he joined organized sports. Instead of leaving with an almost spotless injury record, he missed six games last year ironically when he broke his left shoulder blade in his only meeting against the Cowboys. His yards per carry average continues to nosedive and in his final eight games played, he only crested a measly 3 yard per carry once. Denny Green reversed his previous stance that Shipp is the starter and promoted Emmitt back into the primary role prior to training camp. Since the move was a surprise even to Emmitt, it should be considered with a grain of salt since Emmitt was unimpressive in the role last year before he was injured. The risk is too high here to consider Emmitt as a worthwhile fantasy starter. For unknown reasons, Marcell Shipp will continue to start a season as the back-up runner and chances are only greater that he will step into a bigger role even earlier this season.

Update: He may be 35 years-old, but Emmitt is now a lock to be the starter until he eventually gets hurt. With Shipp out of the picture for the next 8 to 12 weeks, Smith has much less worries about HC Denny Green coming to his senses and demoting Emmitt.

Musa Smith BAL HT 6'1'' WT 235 AGE 22 EXP 2    
2003 BAL 2 31 2 9 31 3.4 2 0 0 0
  Avg 2 31 2 9 31 3.4 2 0 0 0
Playing behind the 2 nd most productive running back in NFL history did not yield many dividends for the rookie Smith. Playing behind a player with a pending trial for federal drug charges could be. Smith is being prepared to assume the starting running back role in the event that Jamal Lewis goes to trial and is found guilty – likely during August. Musa is a fair clone of Lewis in size and punishing style of running and while he long ago dropped from most fantasy radars, he is a must-have handcuff for anyone owning Lewis. The Ravens have a good schedule and a dominating offensive line. Musa should have few problems racking up some good fantasy points if he gets the chance. That is “if”. For those drafting previous to the court resolution for Lewis, Musa makes an interesting late pick-up if the Jamal Lewis owner is getting careless. Chester Taylor is just the third down back and that will not change with or without Lewis.
Onterrio Smith MIN HT 5'10'' WT 220 AGE 24 EXP 2    
2003 MIN 11 708 5 107 579 5.4 5 15 129 0
  Avg 11 708 5 107 579 5.4 5 15 129 0

The self-described “Steal of the Draft” looked the part for the two weeks he was a starter at the end of last season. With two games over 145 yards rushing and three scores, he was a waiver wire/roster depth dream for those who played him. Before considering Onterrio as the new replacement for both Bennett and Williams, realize that he managed to face two defenses that were very accommodating at the end of last season – the Bears and Chiefs. Smith played well when given a chance and even managed over four yards a carry in most of his work last season. He makes excellent depth for the Vikings and a player they can plug in for Bennett at any time and not lose a lot. But they will not be getting 145 yards each time they do. The Vikings rushing schedule is tougher this season and Michael Bennett is healthy again as the starter. Smith will attract attention in drafts this summer because the last games people saw were his two monsters at the end of last year. If Bennett is injured again, Smith is a big bonus to own in that offense and will still contribute at least a few times a game in relief of Bennett. If 2002 repeats, Bennett stays healthy for 16 games and Onterrio is drafted too early.

08/22/04 - Smith gets a drop thanks to his four game suspension to start the season. While he will miss the first month, he still could be a nice draft pick available much deeper for you that only pays off later in the season.

Duce Staley PIT HT 5'11'' WT 220 AGE 29 EXP 8    
2001 PHI 13 1230 4 166 604 3.6 2 63 626 2
2002 PHI 16 1571 8 269 1030 3.8 5 51 541 3
2003 PHI 16 839 7 97 457 4.7 5 36 382 2
  Avg 15 1213 6 177 697 3.9 4 50 516 2
Staley comes off his worst full-season effort of his career, carrying the ball only 97 times for 457 yards but actually tying his career-best rushing touchdown mark (5). Staley threatened to hold out last season and then relented when the Eagles didn’t care. He played out his final season as a part-time contributor and landed in Pittsburgh. He signed a five-year, $14 million contract when he joined the team. Duce is 29 years old this year and leaves an offense that maximized his receiving skills for a new team that prefers to run (Zereoue experiment aside). Duce has never been used much on short yardage though he has the size and in Pittsburgh will share carries with Jerome Bettis who likely cannot run anything but short yards. This is destined to be a true committee approach unless Staley does the unlikely and truly turns it on after eight years in the league. Both he and Bettis are just happy to still be playing and the open competition between them is unlikely to make matters clearer going into the season. Both have practiced with the first team in mini-camps. Expect Staley to garner most of the yardage but Bettis to figure in at the goal line.
Lee Suggs CLE HT 6'0'' WT 205 AGE 24 EXP 2    
2003 CLE 4 289 2 56 289 5.2 2 2 0 0
  Avg 4 289 2 56 289 5.2 2 2 0 0

Suggs fell to the 4 th round in the 2003 draft thanks to a torn rotator cuff and he has had a chip on his shoulder since that time. He missed the first nine games of last season with the injury and then was slowly brought into the offense by letting him play on kick returns for three weeks. He finally got the call against the tough Baltimore defense and gained 68 yards on 20 carries. It was his final game of the season – 186 yards and two scores against the Bengals – than immediately penciled him in as the starter this season. Suggs has spent the spring practicing as the #1 and head coach Butch Davis has informed William Green that he is welcomed back but still must win his starting role back from Suggs. Green has said the right things since returning from his woes of 2003 but the battle lines are drawn for this summer’s training camp as Suggs has no interest in losing his hold on the starting job. Until, and maybe only if, Green does turn around his act and win back his old job, Suggs will be the primary back this year. In fairness he only started two games and the week 17 pillaging of the Bengals was impressive but not shocking. Both players need to prove themselves and until the depth chart changes, Suggs is the lead dog. Suggs was the 11 th back taken in 2003 when he was drafted in the back end of the fourth round. He is a little smaller than ideal and will need to prove his ability to gain yards between the tackles.

08/22/04 - Suggs gets another bump up as he continues to play well and hold onto the starting slot in Cleveland. Last night both he had Green had six carries each. Suggs had 63 yards and two TD's while Green only managed 24 yards. There still is no guarantee both will not be mixed this season but Suggs continues to hold to the primary role.

Fred Taylor JAX HT 6'1'' WT 231 AGE 28 EXP 6    
2001 JAX 2 129 0 30 116 3.9 0 2 13 0
2002 JAX 16 1722 8 287 1314 4.6 8 49 408 0
2003 JAX 16 1942 7 345 1572 4.6 6 48 370 1
  Avg 11 1264 5 221 1001 4.5 5 33 264 0
In standard fantasy scoring, Taylor has come in around 10 th and 8 th in scoring the past two seasons. Until last season, he had never managed two consecutive good years thanks to an injury bug that bit him regularly every other year. 2003 provided a career-best 1572 rushing yards with a healthy 4.6 YPC for two years now. He only gave up three to four carries a game to Toefield and unlike in previous seasons, the Jaguars under HC Jack Del Rio did not use a goal line back to steal from Taylor who ended last season with the 4 th most plays inside the 10 yards line (30). This season Taylor will be losing some opportunities to rookie Greg Jones who has delighted coaches since his arrival in Jacksonville. The staff is already talking about potentially lining up both Jones and Taylor in the same backfield on some plays and using Jones for short yardage. The Jaguars are also planning on resting Taylor more on third downs this season. It all spells a drop from his 345 carries last season. As long as Taylor stays healthy, he’s been a fantasy gem the last two years and will be again. He had 10 games with 100 total yards last season and the offense should be better this season. Taylor will still be considered risky, but for two years now he’s proven it is a risk well worth taking.
Chester Taylor BAL HT 5'10'' WT 213 AGE 25 EXP 3    
2002 BAL 14 251 2 33 122 3.7 0 14 129 2
2003 BAL 16 408 2 63 276 4.4 2 20 132 0
  Avg 15 330 2 48 199 4.1 1 17 131 1
The Ravens drafted Musa Smith last season but only used him in two games. Taylor continued to be the minimal relief that Jamal Lewis was given in 2003. In the event that Lewis was injured, the rushing chores would most likely be split between Smith and Taylor unless one emerged. For this season, Taylor looks to serve the same role with minimal fantasy value. In two seasons he has only had four touchdowns and never gained more than 45 yards in any game last season. He is merely an insurance pick for Jamal Lewis owners and even then would more likely not get the share of carries as did Lewis. Musa Smith only played in two games last season but scored a touchdown in each, so goal line duty may end up for Smith if the need arises, not Taylor.
Anthony Thomas CHI HT 6'2'' WT 226 AGE 27 EXP 4    
2001 CHI 14 1361 7 278 1183 4.3 7 22 178 0
2002 CHI 12 884 6 214 721 3.4 6 24 163 0
2003 CHI 13 1060 6 244 1024 4.2 6 9 36 0
  Avg 13 1102 6 245 976 4 6 18 126 0
Had Thomas not had a sprained foot and viral pneumonia last season, he would have mirrored his fine rookie campaign of 2001. Thomas had four 100 yard games last year and showed the ability to carry the rock 30 times in a game. That is about the end of the good news. Head coach Lovie Smith is bringing a new, more open offense to the Bears this season and Thomas was a far better fit for the “run + defense” style of Dick Jauron. One feature that is expected this season will be more passes to the backs and Thomas has never been good for much more than 10 yards receiving in a game. He also has a propensity to get hurt thanks to his way of running and in short, does not fit as well into the new scheme. Making life even tougher for him is that the bears acquired Thomas Jones in the offseason and already the coaches have raved about Jones, particularly his ability to catch the ball. Thomas was held out of mini-camps thanks to yet another injury. He will still figure into the equation, but more as a support player and not as the primary back. Lovie Smith wants a fundamental change in the offense and that change shoves Thomas back and Jones forward.
LaBrandon Toefield JAX HT 5'11'' WT 230 AGE 24 EXP 2    
2003 JAX 15 349 3 53 212 4 2 15 137 1
  Avg 15 349 3 53 212 4 2 15 137 1
Toefield was taken with the 4.32 pick in the 2003 draft and he joined Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala as the back-up for Fred Taylor. Only Toefield played in every game but those prudent drafters backing up Taylor were disappointed when he never scored until week 14 and in a typical week would struggle to gain even ten yards. With Taylor healthy all season, Toefield was a fantasy non-factor. Though Toefield was the primary back-up in 2003, there is less reasons to think he will do any better nor even hold on to what he has. The Jaguars drafted Greg Jones with their 2.23 this season and based on the rave reviews that Jones has already received, training camp should see Toefield being replaced by Jones. In a position that demands immediate results, Toefield failed to meet expectations which led to the Greg Jones pick last April. Add in that Jones carries a bigger size and yet is faster and you have Toefield ready to take a backseat.
LaDainian Tomlinson SD HT 5'10'' WT 221 AGE 25 EXP 4    
2001 SD 16 1603 10 339 1236 3.6 10 59 367 0
2002 SD 16 2172 15 372 1683 4.5 14 79 489 1
2003 SD 16 2370 17 313 1645 5.3 13 100 725 4
  Avg 16 2048 14 341 1521 4.5 12 79 527 2
After only three seasons in the NFL, Tomlinson defines excellence in almost every measure. He has never scored less than 10 touchdowns. He has never had less than 1600 total yards in a season and has topped 2100 total yards in both the last two years. He had 11 games with over 100 combined yards in 2003 and scored in 12 match-ups. The fantasy world raised their collective eyebrows after his week one 40 yard effort. By the end of the year, fantasy owners were raising their beer mugs in tribute to another fine season. Tomlinson is not a big part of the Chargers offense, he IS their offense. Only Jamal Lewis and Ricky Williams had more touches in 2003 and neither gained or scored more than Tomlinson. This just in – LT is only 25 years old and could easily keep this up for another four or five years. He has never missed a game and could get even better if the offense picks up any other punches to throw. He is as low risk a fantasy starter as any other running back and does not have the health concerns of Priest Holmes. There is not even any need to back him up since he had over 95% of all Charger rushing yards and he was their leading receiver with an astounding 100 catches and two 100+ yard receiving games.
Brian Westbrook PHI HT 5'8'' WT 200 AGE 25 EXP 3    
2002 PHI 15 279 0 46 193 4.2 0 9 86 0
2003 PHI 15 945 11 116 605 5.2 7 38 340 4
  Avg 15 612 6 81 399 4.9 4 24 213 2

Westbrook turned in a sleeper season last year when he broke loose and produced in eight games with touchdowns. He topped 90+ yards in five times and yet rarely had more than 10 carries a game. His 5.2 yard rushing average was near the top of the league. He tore a triceps muscle that required surgery and forced him to miss the playoffs. A high ankle sprain and sore thigh also troubled him in the middle of the season. The Eagles love the extra dimension that he provides but as one of the smaller players, he has already been injured in a part-time role. Westbrook weighs about the same as Tiki Barber but is 2” shorter for comparison. His 200 pound listed weight is also liberal. He is an explosive runner and kick returner and a deadly weapon in the passing game where he scored four times in 2003 on only 38 catches. Westbrook is healthy and his role will depend on how much use he can take without injury. The Eagles would love to get 15 carries and five receptions per game from him and his punt return duty may be scaled back or even eliminated to keep him fresh. Buckhalter will couple with Westbrook each game and take short yardage and Reno Mahe may warrant some play, but the Eagles know it will be “Westbrook + X” all season. How much “X” they need will depend on how well Brian holds up.

08/21/04 - Westbrook gets a bump up with the loss of Buckhalter but after only 116 carries last season, he already was having a hard time staying healthy. Westbrook is only 5'8" and about 200 pounds. He will see more work from the Buckhalter injury but it is not the style of the Eagles to use a single back and Westbrook has not shown the durability to be one regardless.

Tyrone Wheatley OAK HT 6'0'' WT 235 AGE 32 EXP 10    
2001 OAK 11 337 6 89 276 3.1 5 12 61 1
2002 OAK 14 490 2 108 419 3.9 2 12 71 0
2003 OAK 15 798 4 159 678 4.3 4 12 120 0
  Avg 13 542 4 119 458 3.9 4 12 84 0

Wheatley finds himself at the lead of a large pack of running backs this season while a new offense is installed by Norv Turner and Jimmy Raye. Tyrone comes off his best season in four years but that still only totaled 678 yards and four touchdowns, even though Charlie Garner was limited much of 2003 and Justin Fargas never actually made it to the playing field. Wheatley had the bulk of carries in the final eight games but in a disastrous season that did not mean much. He had only one game over 100 yards and needed 32 carries to get there. Wheatley will be battling Fargas, Hambrick and Zereoue for playing time and with a new offense, it is not like he has some veteran advantage. At the age of 32, Wheatley is not able to provide 300 carries in a season and has done little to show he merits the use. This season is shaping up to be a committee with no clear primary back given the similarity between Wheatley and Hambrick for rushing, and Fargas and Zereoue being more likely third down backs. Watch the training camp for a more clear picture but there may never be one this season.

08/16/04 - Wheatly ran strong in the first preseason game and received accolades from HC Turner who is looking for a power back. Encouraging too was the improved line play of the Raiders so far. He is old and he has never done that much in his career, but this may be the stage he needs. He distanced himself from the veritable heap of runners in Oakland lately.

Moe Williams MIN HT 6'1'' WT 210 AGE 30 EXP 9    
2001 BAL 13 501 0 65 291 4.5 0 23 210 0
2002 MIN 16 671 11 84 414 4.9 11 28 257 0
2003 MIN 16 1389 8 174 745 4.3 5 65 644 3
  Avg 15 854 6 108 483 4.5 5 39 370 1
Moe Williams had a career year in 2003 as the starting back for the first eleven weeks while Michael Bennett was out or being slowly re-introduced. Once Bennett was in the line-up as a full-time starter in week 12, Moe saw his carries and production take a tumble though he still figured heavily into the passing game. After week eleven, he only scored twice and averaged less than five carries a game. Moe turned 30 this season but he has not had heavy use during his career and his strength has never been speed anyway. A durable, capable running back, Williams will continue to provide support for Bennett this season. The Vikings also drafted Mewelde Moore as his eventual replacement as a third down back. With Onterrio Smith in reserve, Williams is not due for much more work even if Bennett does get injured again. Consider Williams for your team only as depth in case you need a runner for a week or two and cannot access a true starter.
Ricky Williams MIA HT 5'10'' WT 228 AGE 27 EXP 6    
2001 NO 16 1756 7 313 1245 4 6 60 511 1
2002 MIA 16 2216 17 383 1853 4.8 16 47 363 1
2003 MIA 16 1723 10 392 1372 3.5 9 50 351 1
  Avg 16 1898 11 363 1490 4.1 10 52 408 1

Williams has been the workhorse of the NFL for the last years with the Dolphins, rushing a total of 775 times in only 32 games. Throw in 97 catches during that time and Williams has handled the ball an astonishing 872 plays in only two years. His last two seasons were both more active than the highest that Earl Campbell ever had (373). This is not a recipe for longevity – just ask Earl. There were four games over 30 carries last season and what is notable was that Williams had the most carries in the league last season and that includes four more than Jamal Lewis. The difference is that Lewis gained 2064 yards while Williams only turned in 1372. Ricky did play with a painful shoulder injury the final month, but still turned in two one hundred yard efforts in the process. Williams will once again face a brutal rushing schedule thanks largely to the AFC East and while he has managed to remain relatively healthy in Miami, his workload will eventually bring him down. If not this season, soon. Consider Williams as a very solid back to own who scores in about half his games and consistently generates good rushing numbers but with Miami’s ultimatum of the playoffs or bust, Williams could start to wear down if not break down.

Update 7/24/04: You have to love getting thrown a complete curve ball one week before training camp opens. Williams discussed his retirement for two days with HC Dave Wannstedt and appears adamant - even relieved - that he is now retiring. Wannstedt, on the other hand, is now firmly wedged between the proverbial rock and hard place and this could well end up as the death knell for Wannstedt's job in Miami. It may have completely screwed all his teammates, but his exit is a memorable one.

Amos Zereoue OAK HT 5'8'' WT 210 AGE 28 EXP 6    
2001 PIT 13 595 2 85 441 5.2 1 13 154 1
2002 PIT 16 1103 4 193 762 3.9 4 42 341 0
2003 PIT 16 743 2 132 433 3.3 2 40 310 0
  Avg 15 814 3 137 545 4 2 32 268 0

Zereoue joins Hambrick and Fargas in the Redskins attempt to gather all the fantasy mistakes from 2003. New HC Norv Turner prefers a power running game and Zereoue has proven “that ain’t me coach”. He is expected to fill a situational role as a third down back and on passing downs to take advantage of his quickness to the edge and avoid the chance he is mistaken as a primary running back again. Amos will fight for playing time with Wheatley, Hambrick, Fargas and even J.R. Redmond who may work into the mix on passing downs. The only certainty is that he will not become the next Raider starting back and will play in a committee so big that any fantasy value will likely be minimal and inconsistent. As with all Raider running backs, training camp should provide a better picture of individual roles but Zereoue’s chances of having a significant one are less than three other runners. Only in the deepest leagues does he merit any consideration.

08/20/04 - Zereoue gets a bump since the offense has been starting him as the third down back so far in preseason.