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2008 Player Rankings: Running Backs
Updated: September 2, 2008
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Tier 1
Huddle Rank: 1
Keeper: 1
Auction 10: 40%
Auction 12: 36%
2005 SDC 16 1834 20 340 1464 4.3 18 51 370 2
2006 SDC 16 2323 31 349 1815 5.2 28 56 508 3
2007 SDC 16 1949 18 315 1474 4.7 15 60 475 3
Avg   16 2035 23 335 1584 4.7 20 56 451 3
Proj SDC   2000 21   1500   18 70 500 3

Tomlinson was limited in minicamps but should be 100% healthy for training camp after slightly tearing his MCL last year. He did not require surgery and will take it easy this summer just to make sure “the franchise” doesn’t enter the 2008 season with any health problems. This was the first significant injury of his seven year career and yet he still did not miss a regular season game.

The new RB-friendly offense brought in by HC Norv Turner and OC Clarence Selmon certainly wasn’t a problem for Tomlinson who ranked #1 in the NFL with both 1474 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores. As if that wasn’t enough, he caught 60 passes for 475 yards and three scores – second only to Brian Westbrook. It was just another banner year for the NFL’s premier running back and the 5th time he has exceeded 1400 rushing yards. As he has been doing for a few seasons, Tomlinson had a slow start to the season when he never rushed for more than 62 yards in his first three games and scored only one rushing touchdown. Obviously he made that up with six games over 100 yards and 12 games with a touchdown. Tomlinson would have considered playing more in the preseason to be more “warmed-up” by week one but his knee situation precludes that from happening this year.

The only question to be asked is if Tomlinson is the automatic first pick in every fantasy draft or if his knee should be factored in. At the age of 29, Tomlinson is no spring chicken but also still has plenty of tread left on the tires. He has also been the lowest risk, highest reward running back over the last six years. The Chargers rushing schedule is good this year and weeks 14 and 15 come at home against OAK and at KC which should be bountiful. Week 17 in Tampa Bay could be an issue though. No matter – Tomlinson remains the premier back in the NFL with an offense designed around him. If Gates has any continuing problems from his foot, figure on Tomlinson cashing in on more catches.

Huddle Rank: 2
Keeper: 2
Auction 10: 38%
Auction 12: 35%
2007 MIN 14 1609 13 238 1341 5.6 12 19 268 1
Avg   14 1609 13 238 1341 5.6 12 19 268 1
Proj MIN   2080 16   1720   14 29 360 2

Yeah. Nice draft pick. The Vikings already had Chester Taylor but could not resist taking Peterson with the 1.07 pick last year. All he did was to end as the #2 rusher in the NFL (1341 yards), #2 in rushing scores (12) and be #1 among all running backs with a 5.6 yard per carry average. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Oh yes, and his 296 rushing yards against the Chargers in week nine was merely the greatest rushing performance in the history of the NFL. It wasn’t even his only 200+ yard rushing game. Gosh, just one more thing. He only had 238 carries since there was only twice that he had more than 20 carries. Peterson redefines “promising”.

In case you were not feeling good about picking Peterson, put down the crack pipe and realize he will get more carries this year and though he only had 19 receptions in 2007, they plan using him more as a receiver. Uh-oh, one more thing. Come the fantasy playoff weeks, Peterson faces @DET, @ARI and ATL. The only reason that Peterson shouldn’t be the first running back drafted this summer is because Tomlinson has done it for much longer. But that is no guarantee Peterson doesn’t end up #1 anyway.

Huddle Rank: 3
Keeper: 3
Auction 10: 36%
Auction 12: 32%
2006 IND 16 1406 8 226 1081 4.8 7 40 325 1
2007 IND 15 1436 15 261 1072 4.1 12 41 364 3
Avg   16 1421 12 244 1077 4.5 10 41 345 2
Proj IND   1770 16   1280   14 45 490 2

When Dominic Rhodes left last year, Addai took over as the primary back with no apparent (or actual) back that would split the carries. Kenton Keith had nice games when he replaced Addai for either part or all of a game but he usually only contributed three or four carries in most games. But the oddity was that Addai ended up with almost the same production. He gained 1072 yards last year but had 1081 yards in 2007. He had 41 catches for 364 yards last year but had 40 catches for 325 yards in 2007. Addai did miss one game and played injured in a few others, but the only difference between the two seasons was that he fell from 4.8 yards per carry to only 4.1 in 2007. But – he rushed in 12 touchdowns to rank #2 in the league and had 15 total scores to again trail only LaDainian Tomlinson.

Addai topped 100 total yards seven times but only once in the final seven games. He only scored in two of the final eight games as well. But Addai suffered a bruised chest and later had a sprained neck which impacted his performance. He did not suffer the same decline in 2006 when he was healthy.

The Colts have a tougher rushing schedule this year; one of the toughest in the NFL. But the Colts have historically had tough schedules and still produced the points so Addai should be okay especially with his role as a receiver included. He is a scoring machine in an offense that produces plenty of opportunities. It is unlikely that Addai has a significantly better season in 2008 than he did last year but at worse he remains a very viable fantasy starter thanks to all those touchdowns.

Tier 2
Huddle Rank: 4
Keeper: 4
Auction 10: 34%
Auction 12: 30%
2005 STL 15 1366 10 254 1046 4.1 8 43 320 2
2006 STL 16 2334 16 346 1528 4.4 13 90 806 3
2007 STL 12 1273 6 237 1002 4.2 5 38 271 1
Avg   14 1658 11 279 1192 4.2 9 57 466 2
Proj STL   1980 12   1380   11 60 600 1

Jackson will be a hot property this year even though he only rushed for 1002 yards on 237 carries and ran in five touchdowns last year. He did add one more score during his 38 receptions for 271 yards but Jackson suffered a torn groin muscle and had a bulging disc in his back. He missed four games and played injured in many. He also lost virtually his entire offensive line during the season. It was a horrific season for the Rams and almost every significant player had at least some injury. But Jackson had gained 1528 yards on 346 carries and scored 13 times in 2006 and even had 90 catches for 806 yards and three more scores as a sign of what he can do. 2007 was just a lost season.

This year brings a new offensive coordinator in Al Saunders who spent 2001 to 2005 directing the offense in Kansas City where Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson were running wild over the rest of the league. One of Saunders first statements was that he wanted to make Jackson the centerpiece of the offense. As if that isn’t enough to make fantasy fans salivate, Jackson is in the final year of his contract and has a very big paycheck to play for.

The Rams have a slightly easier schedule than they did last year and the team is healthy again including both offensive tackles Orlando Pace and Alex Baron. The offense will revolve around Jackson who will return to being a heavily used receiver again. And the icing on the cake is the fantasy playoff weeks when Jackson faces @ARI, SEA and SF. Forget about 2007, Jackson could challenge for the #1 fantasy RB by the end of the year.

08-11-08 Update: Jackson drops just one spot but his continued holdout is fast becoming an issue that will affect his 2008 season. Regardless of fines and bad will, he is not there learning the new offense or getting into playing shape. His prospects in this offense are great but he has to be there to realize them.

08-21-08 Update: Jackson is signing and getting into camp. He is a bit behind now but should catch up and enjoy a very nice rushing schedule.

Huddle Rank: 5
Keeper: 9
Auction 10: 26%
Auction 12: 26%
2005 PHI 12 1233 7 156 617 4.0 3 61 616 4
2006 PHI 15 1916 11 240 1217 5.1 7 77 699 4
2007 PHI 15 2104 12 278 1333 4.8 7 90 771 5
Avg   14 1751 10 225 1056 4.6 6 76 695 4
Proj PHI   1800 10   1100   6 80 700 4

Same old, same old. Westbrook comes off a career best 1333 rushing yards and 278 carries for a 4.8 yard per carry average. He ran in seven scores. He was the #1 running back in the NFL for passes thrown to him (120), catches (90), receiving yards (771) and receiving touchdowns (5). The “little guy” was nothing short of brilliant. He missed his standard one game of the season which was rumored to be a knee condition that could shut him down. Not exactly correct. For the second season in a row, McNabb struggled and was injured and Westbrook tried to carry the entire team on his shoulders.

The same thing happened in 2006 when Westbrook rushed for 1217 yards, caught 77 passes for 699 yards and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. Westbrook turns 29 this year and certainly shows no signs of slowing down. As always, OC Marty Morinwheg says that the team leaned too heavily on Westbrook and that they want to reduce his touches. They said the same thing last year.

The Eagles have a tougher rushing schedule this year but Westbrook is multi-threat anyway and the showcase of this offense. The addition of Lorenzo Booker gives the Eagles a similar style player to Westbrook and a chance to offer some relief to Westbrook but the Eagles have spent the last two seasons defaulting to Westbrook, especially when McNabb struggles or is injured. While his sliding down at the one-yard line instead of scoring in week 16 may have angered fantasy owners last year, it endeared him to every other NFL fan and showed what being a team player was all about. Westbrook is a no-brainer in a league with reception points and still a solid choice in any redraft league.

Huddle Rank: 6
Keeper: 5
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2007 BUF 13 1299 7 280 1115 4.0 7 18 184  
Avg   13 1299 7 280 1115 4.0 7 18 184 0
Proj BUF   1720 11   1390   10 35 330 1

(+Upside) The rookie had a decent year when he ran for 1115 yards and seven scores but the stud from CAL had been a great receiver in college as well but only caught 18 passes for 184 yards in the thirteen games that he played. He only averaged right at four yards per carry so it would be easily to underestimate him this season. But the Bills are installing a new offense that OC Turk Schonert has already said is dedicated to getting him 20 to 25 carries per game. Realize too that Lynch suffered a high ankle sprain that dogged him in several games and forced him to miss three weeks. He still ended with seven of 13 games with a touchdown and topped 100 rushing yards three times in his final six games played.

What brings more excitement to Lynch is the prospect that he could get more passes this year in the spread offense that the Bills are installing and the new coaching staff is intent on using him as a full-time back. One more thing – the Bills have the easiest rushing schedule in the entire NFL by a significant margin. Thanks to the demise of the AFC East and catching divisional match-ups against the NFC West and AFC West, Lynch gets to face what is clearly the easiest set of opponents based on last year. Of course defenses change but consider his final four games of the fantasy season face SF, MIA, NYJ and DEN. The only two games where he faces a top ten defense from last year is JAC and NE and the second meeting against the Patriots comes in week 17.

Combine that rushing schedule with a new offense that intends on showcasing him as an actual full-time back and the prospects for Lynch rise this season. He should end up as a steal in most leagues this summer.

Huddle Rank: 7
Keeper: 6
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2005 SFO 14 744 3 128 613 4.8 3 15 131  
2006 SFO 16 2180 9 313 1695 5.4 8 61 485 1
2007 SFO 15 1538 6 260 1102 4.2 5 53 436 1
Avg   15 1487 6 234 1137 4.8 5 43 351 1
Proj SFO   1880 8   1320   6 66 560 2

Gore had a disappointing third season thanks to a high ankle sprain that made him miss one game and plagued in many others. He ran for 1102 yards on 260 carries but only rushed in five scored. He caught 53 passes for 436 yards and one more score but that paled to the 2180 yards and nine scores he turned in during 2006 while still under Norv Turner. Now Mike Martz brings his offensive scheme to the 49ers this year and has vowed to make Gore the centerpiece of this offense (a genius move since he is the only weapon on the team).

If there is only one sure thing, and there may be only one, it is that the 49ers are going to heavily feature Gore to the point it may jeopardize his health. Not only will his rushing be the featured item in this offense, but he should end up with a career high in receptions as well. The Martz offense is complicated to install and run and the passing game is not shaping up to be much better than the last many years. That means Gore gets heavy use and the only question is if his surgically repaired knees can take the pounding. Martz has never been a run first coach but on this team, he will have to use what works best and that is clearly Gore. Both as a runner and a receiver.

There is going to be some risk with Gore because of the new offense and the past history of Martz not using the rushing game as much, but he is healthy again after being plagued with a high ankle sprain. And the 49ers have an easier rushing schedule than they did in 2007. If he lasts, his fantasy playoff schedule faces NYJ, @MIA and @STL. That could be a nice payoff when you need it most.

Huddle Rank: 8
Keeper: 8
Auction 10: 24%
Auction 12: 24%
2005 WAS 16 1732 11 352 1516 4.3 11 30 216  
2006 WAS 8 693 7 127 523 4.1 7 17 170  
2007 WAS 16 1651 11 325 1262 3.9 11 47 389  
Avg   13 1359 10 268 1100 4.1 10 31 258 0
Proj WAS   1730 9   1290   9 45 440  

After six seasons, it is hard to believe Portis is only 27 at the start of the season and still has several good seasons ahead. He ended 2007 as the #1 busiest rusher with 325 carries but only gained 3.9 yards per carry for a total of 1262 yards and 11 touchdowns. He added 47 catches for 389 yards as well. It was actually his worst season statistically in his career other than the injury-shortened 2006 and still landed him as the #4 RB in standard fantasy scoring. Portis has been money each year in the NFL as long as he remains healthy.

But after six seasons, Portis has only played all 16 games in a season twice. He typically misses just a game or two but plays injured and always performs when on the field. His drop in yards per carry is troublesome and in four seasons in Washington, he has never had more than 4.3 YPC. In Denver, he had two seasons of 5.5 YPC. The Skins are determined to build a balanced offense this year which could result in less carries and yet more yardage. The passing game has never inspired fear nor much concern by the opposing defenses while Portis has played and he typically lines up against eight-man fronts who know he is the biggest weapon to stop.

The Redskins have a tougher rushing schedule this year but at least new HC Jim Zorn has indicated that he will use a run-first approach to start the season at least until the passing game starts to take shape. And even better news – Zorn has raved about Portis as a receiver. Portis can turn in at least average fantasy numbers this year and has the chance for very good stats if they increase his role as a receiver. The schedule is not kind but almost everything else positive. Zorn wants Portis to be a workhorse.

08-29-08 Update: The Redskins have looked horrible installing the new offense this summer so while Portis will get plenty of work, he drops a few notches since it is questionable how much help he is going to get.

Huddle Rank: 9
Keeper: 13
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 22%
2005 BAL 15 1097 4 269 906 3.4 3 32 191 1
2006 BAL 16 1247 9 314 1132 3.6 9 18 115  
2007 CLE 15 1552 11 298 1304 4.4 9 30 248 2
Avg   15 1299 8 294 1114 3.8 7 27 185 1
Proj CLE   1550 11   1300   10 26 250 1

The 29-year old Lewis had a somewhat improbable turn-around in his career when he left the Ravens after seven seasons and went to the historically low-rent rushing game of the Browns. But magic happened (AKA an offensive line that came together and remained healthy) and Lewis had a rebirth to his career with 298 carries for 1304 yards and nine touchdowns with 248 yards on 30 receptions and two more scores. It was his best season since 2003 when he had his 2066 yard season and more importantly, a return to a healthy 4.4 yards per carry average after several seasons south of the four yard mark. He evidently wasn’t done yet, he was just waiting for a top notch line and another chance.

The biggest oddity about Lewis’ big season was that it pretty much all happened at home – not on the road. Playing in Cleveland, Lewis rushed for 777 yards and eight touchdowns. On the road, he only had 527 yards and three rushing scores. He topped 100 yards only once in an away game(@NYJ) and yet had four efforts exceed 120 rushing yards at home including 216 yards against the Bengals. To his credit he was better as the season progressed though and rushed for at least 92 yards in five of his last six games. He was definitely better at home but do not undervalue that he was better as the season started to draw to a close.

Lewis was playing with a one-year contract and the Browns re-signed him to a three year, $17 million contract in the offseason that had over $6 million in guarantees. His schedule should also prove tougher this year going against the AFC South and NFC East but the Browns are committed to him and he should still have at least a year or so left on his tread. And certainly not the least, the Browns are carrying over the same line two years in a row. Finally.

Huddle Rank: 10
Keeper: 10
Auction 10: 22%
Auction 12: 20%
2007 GBP 15 1101 8 188 956 5.1 8 30 145  
Avg   15 1101 8 188 956 5.1 8 30 145 0
Proj GBP   1580 10   1200   10 38 380  

The Packers have offered Grant an exclusive right free agent contract worth $370,000 but he has no intention of signing it. He doesn’t plan on holding out but is hoping to sign a free agent deal since his production over the final ten games of 2008 was eye-popping. He rushed for 956 yards and eight touchdowns as the biggest running back surprise of the year. He also added 30 catches for 145 yards as well. In the course of those ten starts, Grant turned in five 100+ rushing yards efforts and scored in seven different games. Had he maintained that pace for the entire season, he would have ended as the #1 running back in rushing yards. Oh yeah, he’d be happy with $370,000… not...

Obviously Grant spawns much optimism this year but there are three considerations that cannot be ignored. First, he has only managed that level for ten games. A big first year is not a guarantee of a repeat as defenses plan against him with plenty of game film to go by. Secondly, Brett Favre has retired and that has a monumental effect on the rushing game unless Aaron Rodgers can exceed expectations as the new starting quarterback. Defenses tend to play back when facing the most productive quarterback of all time. Less so with a three-year guy who has not started a game since CAL lost to Texas Tech in December of 2004. Third, the Packers have a tougher schedule this year and also ends with the fantasy playoff weeks of HOU, @JAC and @CHI.

Grant’s 2008 season is a much bigger question mark than it might seem thanks to the departure of Favre and while it is reasonable to expect the Packers to focus more on the rushing game while getting Rodgers into the swing of being a starter, the defenses will certainly load up on Grant more this year. As a RB2, Grant should not disappoint and has upside but as a RB1 for your team, there is more risk than his fine performance last year may suggest.

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