Word to the Winners: Fantasy Football Advice from the Experts

2006 Fantasy Football Player Rankings: Running Backs -- By Russ Bliss

Simply put, I want to draft 3rd in every fantasy football draft this season. You simply can't go wrong with any of the top 3 RB's in my opinion. How ever you want to rank them on your fantasy football cheat sheets is positively fine with me. A tremendous argument can be made for each of Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, and LaDainian Tomlinson and why they should be the top RB and I'll be exceptionally happy whichever one of the three I get. That said, I do have to rank them here 1-2-3 instead of 1-1-1 and the reason I choose Larry Johnson is that I like to "swing for the fences" (as I call it) with my top spot. Almost every year, there is 1 RB who stands a good bit higher than the rest by seasons end. We've seen it over the last decade with Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, and Shaun Alexander all shattering TD records. This year, I think it'll be Larry Johnson. While I back away from him shattering any records, I think he has the upside to do it. After the top 3 are gone, I feel there are 8 more RB's who all are very close to being sure things as solid fantasy starters. In most fantasy drafts, I'd take any of these top 11 RB's before I took a player at another position. However, from 12 on down, there are many more questions than answers. From 12 thru 22 are the names I feel most comfortable with as #2 fantasy RB's, but not real comfortable and would prefer to get at least 2 of these guys to cover my bases. After Warrick Dunn at 26, you start to get into real questionable territory and it's simply still too soon to have a good idea of who will emerge as those prime low ranked RB's who will step up and be those big surprises.

1) Larry Johnson: One only need look at the last 9 games of 2005 to see why LJ sits at the top. 261 rush attempts, 1,351 rush yards, 27 receptions, 276 receive yards, and 17 total TD’s. That’s a blistering 5.17 yards per rush attempt and 10.2 yards per reception (which is ridiculous for a RB). The average that comes out to when pro-rated over 16 games is astonishing. Now that LJ is the unquestioned starter, we seriously CAN’T expect him to hold up under such a load (29 rush attempts per game) for an entire 16 games, but even if he just carries the normal load of a traditional workhorse RB (350-400 rushes for a season), the results should be the best in the NFL. Some worry about the loss of Willie Roaf on the offensive line, but Roaf wasn’t there for a few games last season during LJ’s monster stretch and it didn’t stop him from over 100 yards in each of them.

2) LaDainian Tomlinson: If you play in a league where you get a point per reception, LT is probably the first guy to take. He only caught 51 passes last year, and only 53 the year before, but his 5 year average is 68. Figuring that new QB Phillip Rivers won’t hesitate to take advantage of LT’s abilities as a safety valve and you have to expect LT is good for at least that average in 2006. Some are concerned that with a new QB, LT may not face more 8 man fronts, and that’s probably true, but I point out that in 2002 and 2003 (when Drew Brees was being maligned for his poor QB performances, thusly prompting the Chargers to get Rivers) LT had over 1,600 rushing yards both seasons, caught a combined 179 passes, and put up his two best single season yardage totals (2,172 and 2,370) of his career. And, oh yeah, LT scored 15 and 17 total TD’s in those seasons. Looking at the last 4 seasons, I can’t imagine LT not reaching his average from them (around 2,000 combined yards and 17-18 TD’s). I’ll take it to the bank knowing they could even be better than that.

3) Shaun Alexander: It pains me to put Xander in the 3rd spot as I have been touting him for outstanding fantasy seasons each of the past 2 years (and he’s produced for me and helped me win several championships) before the season. But while he blew everyone away by leading the NFL in rushing yards and leading the NFL in TD’s, I think last year was a career season for him. Up until last year, Xander had been pretty consistent in his TD’s scored (an average of 17-18 per year the prior 4 seasons) and his yardage numbers, while very good, (1,723 on avg during those 4 prior years) were never elite yardage totals. Even in his record setting 2005, he still ranked 3rd (his best ever showing) in total yards for RB’s. Xander is a guy you can bank on for 1,700-1,900 yards and 17-20 TD’s. He’s slightly more valuable in TD heavy leagues than LT, and in comparison to the other two, he’s probably the safest choice as the top fantasy football RB. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of the three.

4) Clinton Portis: After a 2004 season that saw Portis score only 7 total TD’s, he put up 11 in his second season with the Redskins. Portis also recorded his 3rd season with over 1,500 rushing yards. Portis isn’t the biggest RB, but two consecutive seasons with more than 340 carries has dispelled the notion he can’t handle a full workload. Entering his 5th NFL season, and 3rd with Washington, Portis is still a young RB who can get even better. While not in the same category as the three names listed above him, Portis is a great #1 fantasy RB. The only knock on Portis is that despite having good receiving capabilities, he isn’t called on to catch the ball much (only 30 receptions in 2005). That could change with new offensive coordinator Al Saunders (formerly of the Chiefs).

5) Edgerrin James: Debate exists whether the Cardinals rushing woes for the past several years was because of the lack of a good offensive line, or a good RB. We’ll find out in 2006 as James is easily the best RB the Cardinals have had since moving to Arizona. Just like in Indianapolis, James will have the benefit of a potent passing attack that will prevent defenses from stacking the line against him. And while expecting James to duplicate the 1,937 combined yards and 11-12 TD’s he’s averaged over the last 2 seasons is a tad too optimistic for my tastes, I don’t see any reason to expect him to drop significantly from that. If a 35 year old Emmitt Smith, clearly past his prime in his 15th and final season in the NFL back in 2004, could run for 937 yards and 9 TD’s behind a line considered to be worse than the current one, why is it so many expect a 28 year old James, in his prime, will struggle. I don’t get it. James is still a solid #1 fantasy RB.

6) Carnell Williams: I wasn’t a believer in Cadillac Williams going into last season, but he proved me wrong. Not with his outstanding first three games, but with how he responded to a foot injury that caused him to miss 2 games and bothered him throughout the season afterwards. In the last 7 games of 2005, he ran for 662 yards (and avg of 94.6 yards per game) and scored 4 TD’s. Williams was a rookie RB who averaged nearly 21 carries per game, came back from injury, and finished the season strong. He is a guy I believe will step up and be even better his second year. The only disappointment with Williams last year was his lack of involvement catching the ball out of the backfield.

7) Rudi Johnson: Johnson’s consistent in his totals the past 2 seasons. 1,454 rush yards, 84 receive yards, 12 TD’s in 2004; 1,458 rush yards, 90 receive yards and 12 TD’s in 2005. Despite the numbers being consistent, Johnson scored 10 of those 12 TD’s in a 6 game stretch from week 9 thru week 15. In 8 of 16 games, he had no TD’s, and only rushed for over 100 yards in a game 4 times all season. When he’s on, he carries a team, when he’s off, he’s just a decent fantasy #2. But the upside is there for him to carry a greater load, especially early in the season for Cincinnati as they will attempt to take pressure off of either Carson Palmer (if he starts the regular season) or Anthony Wright (if Palmer isn’t ready at the beginning of the regular season). Johnson is also a non-factor as a pass catcher and in PPR leagues, he drops down the list several spots.

8) Tiki Barber: Barber shed the “inconsistent” tag in 2005 by putting up back to back solid fantasy seasons for the first time in his career. He actually led the NFL in combined yards from scrimmage with 2,390. In the last 2 seasons, Barber has proven to be capable of carrying a full load (679 carries), a great yardage producer (4,486 combined yards), and a good scoring threat (26 total TD’s). His receptions have come down a little to an avg of 53 per season the past two years after having averaged nearly 70 the 3 seasons prior, but he’s still one of the top pass catching RB’s in the league. The only problem with Barber is that he’s only 5’10”, 200 lbs, 31 years old, and may be ready to hit a wall after 9 NFL seasons. Especially considering the workload he’s shouldered the past two. As there almost always is with Barber, there’s talk about the Giants wanting to cut down on his touches so he’s “fresher” late in the season, and if the team is serious about it, it will come in short yardage and goal line situations. Barber’s not a lock to score double digit TD’s because of that. However, in a PPR league, Barber can rank as high as 4th.

9) Ronnie Brown: I had high expectations for Brown as a rookie in 2005, but then a strange thing happened, Ricky Williams actually got playing time after week 4. Brown managed to finish the season with 907 rush yards, 232 receiving yards, and 5 TD’s. If you figure that Brown could have at least attained half of Ricky’s stats if Ricky hadn’t have played and gave them to Brown, his line becomes 1,278 rushing yards, 279 receiving yards, and 8 TD’s. Every owner would have been thrilled with that. Now, in 2006, with Williams gone, Brown gets to shoulder the full burden, and he should be ready for it. A big (6’0”, 232 lbs) RB with great receiving capabilities, Brown will be relied upon to help ease new QB Daunte Culpepper into the Dolphins fold. Brown should be a top 10 fantasy RB in 2006, and in PPR leagues, maybe even top 5.

10) Lamont Jordan: Jordan proved worthy of getting a chance of being a feature RB in 2005. Despite the horrible season the Raiders had, Jordan held up his end of the bargain as best he could despite having missed the last two games of the season with a toe injury. By that time he had amassed 1,025 rushing yards, 563 receiving yards on 70 receptions (most of any RB in 2005) and 11 total TD’s. Jordan’s a powerful RB (5’10”, 230 lbs) who should excel in new coach Art Shell’s power style of running game. Assuming the Raiders offense gets just a little better by virtue of a healthy Randy Moss, Jordan should finish as a top 10 fantasy RB in 2006.

11) Steven Jackson: More was expected of Jackson in 2005 than the 1,046 rushing yards, 320 receiving yards, and 10 total TD’s he finished with. But to be fair, there are two reasons for it, and those two reasons are exactly the reasons why Jackson is ready to step up and be a solid fantasy football starter in 2006. Reason 1 was Marshall Faulk. Faulk is a fantasy legend, but his time has passed and it’s likely we’ll never see Faulk in uniform again now that his knees won’t even respond to surgery. Reason 2 was former coach Mike Martz. Martz had an irritating habit of being so in love with his passing game that he forgot about running the ball. Jackson proved to be a tough guy by playing in 15 games despite cracking ribs early in the season and suffering from ankle and hip problems later on. Even though new coach Scott Linehan is known for his passing offenses, he simply can’t be as blind as Martz was and not give Jackson more than 254 carries in 2006.

12) Willis McGahee: Everything was looking good for McG in 2005 through the first 6 games. In those games, he had 604 rushing yards and 4 TD’s. However, the last 10 games weren’t nearly as kind as he gained only 643 more rushing yards and scored only 1 more TD. What went wrong? Could have been his proclamation of being the best RB in the NFL ticked off opponents who had pretty good RB’s too. Could have been the awful QB play that had opponents gearing up to stop McG as they had no fear of the Bills passing attack. Who knows? What can be said for 2006 is that the QB situation hasn’t changed at all. The team traded one of its two starters at WR (Eric Moulds, and no one who will replace him is nearly as good as he was). An offensive line that was below average in performance wasn’t upgraded. Despite these things, McG is still a quality fantasy RB who is on that borderline #1/#2 category. He’s simply too talented to have only 5 TD’s again and his 1,247 rushing yards in 2005 (considered a disappointment) were still good enough to rank 10th overall in the NFL. If Buffalo’s QB situation somehow magically gets a lot better, McGahee could have a bounce back season.

13) Jamal Lewis: After a forgettable 2005, Lewis is primed for a bounce back season in 2006. Lewis spent the off-season before last season in jail and wasn’t able to properly rehab an ankle he had surgery on prior to incarceration. He also never got a chance to be with the team until the second week of training camp. The effects of those two things were apparent in Lewis’s production in 2005. While it’s doubtful Lewis will ever get close to the numbers he produced in 2003 (2,066 rushing yards, 14 TD’s) Lewis is better than the 906 yards and 4 TD’s he had last season. The addition of Mike Anderson may take some carries away, but it’s still Lewis who will be the primary. It should also help having a QB in Steve McNair that opponents will have to respect for a change, thusly making sure that Lewis doesn’t see defenses keyed to totally stop the run.

14) Willie Parker: When Jerome Bettis was out the first few weeks of 2005, Parker carried the load and put up solid numbers. When Bettis resumed a role in the offense, the carries were split with Bettis getting the short yardage and goal line touches while Parker got the yards between the 20’s. Bettis is retired and although Parker is deemed to be too small to be an effective goal line RB, he should improve on the 5 total TD’s he scored in 2005. Parker is a big play RB (as witnessed by his Super Bowl record 75 yard TD run) and while not likely to be a 20+ carry guy, he should get more than the 255 he had last year and post better overall numbers than 1,420 total yards and 5 TD’s (his totals in ’05).

15) Brian Westbrook: I’d be a bigger Westbrook fan if I could be convinced he’d touch the ball more than 250 times in a season. I don’t mean “rush” 250 times, I mean “touch”, as in combined rushing attempts and receptions. Westy had exactly 250 touches in 2004, and that was a career high. Westbrook’s value isn’t in rushing yards, it’s in combined yards. His best rushing yards total from a single season was only 812, but when combined with his receiving yards, he averages over 100 total yards from scrimmage per game over the last two seasons. He’s had problems staying healthy, and although very productive when on the field his TD totals have come down each of the last 2 seasons from 11 in ’03, to 9 in ’04, and 7 in ’05. Westbrook is one of the top receiving RB’s though and in PPR leagues, his value is top 10. Just be prepared to have him miss some games and draft accordingly.

16) Joseph Addai: I’m sure here’s a name that will cause some debate, but I am a believer. Not in Addai being an elite RB talent because he’s not an elite talent. But rather in Addai having better skills than Dominic Rhodes. I believe Addai is in the best situation of any rookie RB (and better than a lot of veterans). I believe that if you look at the Colts offense over the past several years, and notice the success it had running the ball even when Edgerrin James was injured and other RB’s had to fill in, you’ll conclude that whoever turns out to be the primary RB for Indy in 2006 is likely to be a solid fantasy option each week. And since Addai is bigger, faster, a better pass catcher, and simply a more talented RB than Rhodes, that RB from Indy will be Addai. The season may start with an even split between them. It may even last a few weeks. But I believe that Addai will show himself to be the better RB before long (if not in the pre-season outright). The only two advantages Rhodes has are his familiarity with the Colts complex offense and NFL experience. Otherwise, every check mark goes into Addai’s column. If Addai simply gets two thirds of the production Edgerrin James has averaged per game over the last 3 season (just 67% of it), Addai would have 1,050 rush yards, 271 receiving yards, and 8 TD’s at the end of 16 games. That would have ranked him 14th in total yards for all RB’s in 2005, and 15th in total TD’s. And I believe Addai will have slightly better numbers than those.

17) Tatum Bell: When you can put up 921 rushing yards and 8 TD’s in a season where you’re the second leading rusher for a team, it says something. Bell is a game breaking type of RB who supposedly has gotten stronger during the off-season in the attempt to be more able to carry a bigger part of the load and be the Broncos starting RB in 2006. While he currently sits behind Ron Dayne on the depth chart, it’s hard to imagine that Bell will get fewer carries in 2006 than he did in 2005 as Dayne has never proven to be able to be consistent. Bell is a bit of a risk, but a risk with a higher upside than any other RB in Denver. And we know that Denver RB’s over the years have proven to be good fantasy RB’s.

18) Corey Dillon: Many think Dillon’s injury plagued 2005 is a sign of his decline. But I’m not ready to give up on Dillon yet. Despite missing 4 games (and playing thru injuries in several others), Dillon managed to rack up 13 total TD’s in 2005. His yards were horrible (733 rushing) but if he had been healthy, he probably would have had over 1,000 and then we’d be looking at all those TD’s combined with over 1,000 yards and thinking Dillon had a pretty good season. Question is will he stay healthy? The Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney in the 1st round of the April draft and while he will get some time this season spelling Dillon, I doubt if he’s going to usurp him as the primary RB. From all reports, Dillon appears to be in great shape for training camp and is looking more like the RB who had 1,635 rushing yards and 13 total D’s in 2004. Considering Dillon has been going after round 5 in most drafts, I think you can get a real bargain with him as a potential starter if you attack other positions earlier in your fantasy football drafts.

19) Domanick Davis: After a great 2004 season, Davis disappointed in an injury plagued 2005. Still, when healthy, he’s showed enough to the Texans for them to not draft Reggie Bush. Davis is one of the better pass catching RB’s in the league and has a per game average of almost 80 yards rushing and 32 yards receiving in 40 games. Of course, this means he’s missed 8 games the last 3 seasons, and that’s the concern. He’s scored 28 TD’s in those 40 games though and that would come out to 11 for an entire 16 game season. Davis has been rehabbing a knee injury all off-season and while it appears he should be fine for the start of the regular season, this certainly leads to the caution I show with him.

20) Kevin Jones: Jones struggled in 2005 after having a very solid rookie season in 2004. Injuries, a poor OL, and a woeful situation at QB all contributed to his disappointing 664 rushing yards and 5 TD’s. The Lions have said they will get Jones the ball more in 2006, and even new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has said that Jones should be getting 30 touches per game. But Martz has never been known for getting his RB’s anywhere near that number. Marshall Faulk in his prime barely averaged over 20 under Martz. And while Jones has upside, he’s no Faulk. A best case scenario has Jones getting maybe an average of 18 rushing attempts, and catching another 60 passes. But that’s best case, and if the Lions are behind in games, we know Martz will abandon the run altogether. Jones is a decent #2 fantasy RB, but even then, he’s going to be a guy you will prefer to sit on some weeks.

21) Julius Jones: When healthy, Julius Jones has been a solid fantasy point producer. But considering as a rookie he missed 8 games because of a rib injury before breaking his shoulder blade, and then missed 3 games last year with an ankle sprain, and you should be concerned about his durability. Throw in that Marion Barber came on last year as a rookie and showed well enough for Bill Parcells to declare that he wants him more involved in the offense, and you should know why Jones is this far down the list. There’s a lot to like about Jones potential, but he’s spent enough time on the sidelines that it’s allowed another RB with potential (Barber) to get the coaches notice. High risk/high reward type of #2 fantasy RB. And do yourself the favor of not waiting too long (say round 8 or so) before you handcuff Barber to him.

22) Reuben Droughns: For a guy who’s put up over 3,000 combined yards in the last 2 seasons, Droughns certainly doesn’t get much fantasy respect. And the reason for it is that you just keep wondering when the Browns are going to follow through on their promises of not overworking Droughns and getting another RB to take some of the load off. It didn’t help last year that Droughns only had 2 TD’s the entire 2005 season despite gaining 1,601 total yards. If the Browns don’t get another RB involved, then Droughns should be higher on this list as it’s hard to imagine he’ll have only 2 TD’s when he touches the ball 348 times.

23) Chester Taylor: I think I’m the only person who didn’t drink the Chester Taylor Kool-Aid this year. Some seem to think he’s going to be a top 10 fantasy RB. I’d love to see why they think it. Taylor’s 5 total TD’s in the last 3 seasons? Don’t get me wrong, I think Taylor is a fine complimentary RB, but I question whether he can be a feature guy who carries the ball 20+ times for a full 16 games. He’s never had the opportunity as Jamal Lewis’s backup in Baltimore, and I’m dubious of whether he’ll even get the chance to carry it that often as a primary RB in Minnesota. New Head Coach Brad Childress comes from Philadelphia, where he spent the last 7 years (4 as offensive coordinator). The only year he really was committed to running the ball in that offense was in 2003 when he had Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, and Brian Westbrook. Even then they all split the carries to the point where you never knew which one would be the guy any given week. Other than that one year, the Eagles were always a passing team. Now, that’s an area where Taylor has shined (catching the ball out of the backfield), but will it be enough? Add in that the Vikings have Mewelde Moore (productive, but an injury prone clone of Taylor) and Ciatrick Fason and you may start to see where I’m coming from. Taylor’s either going to be very good, or part of an RBBC (Running Back By Committee).

24) Thomas Jones: With over 2,800 total yards and 16 TD’s in the last 2 seasons combined, TJ’s been a great surprise for fantasy players. Last year was particularly impressive as he recorded his first ever 1,000+ yards (1,335 to be exact) rushing season. This was despite the fact the Bears passing attack was AWFUL and teams were keying on Jones. 2006 looks to be slightly different for him though. The Bears rookie RB from last year, Cedric Benson, is in his second season now and has passed up Jones on the depth chart while Jones was holding out of mini-camps because of unhappiness with his contract. Benson hurt his shoulder in camp and may miss a preseason game or two, but is expected to be okay for the regular season. While this opens the door for Jones to reclaim the starting job, Benson will be back in time to take a chunk of the playing time away. Jones needs to be awesome out of the gate to prevent that and have more fantasy value.

25) Deuce McAllister: After signing a juicy contract extension that made him one of the highest paid RB’s in the league in July of 2005, McAllister looked like he was going to be the Saints feature RB for several more years. Nearly 5,200 combined yards and 33 TD’s from 2002-2004 had made McAllister one of fantasy football’s top 8 RB’s on draft day. But then a torn ACL 5 weeks into last season shut him down, and then the Saints had the unthinkable happen: Reggie Bush was still on the board with the second pick of the first round of the draft. So not only is McA dealing with coming back from a serious injury, he also has to contend with a highly publicized rookie who plays the same position. The knee has held up fine in training camp and he appears to be ready for the regular season. But you have to expect that he isn’t 100% healthy, and he’ll probably be in a split carry situation with Bush. While I think McAllister has the better totals in 2006, it won’t be by much. And it’s likely that the Saints decide they can’t afford both him and Bush after this season.

26) Warrick Dunn: After putting up 1,400 total yards and scoring 9 TD’s in 2004, Dunn posted a career best 1,636 total yards in 2005, but his TD’s came down only 4. Dunn’s only 180 lbs and it’s believed he simply isn’t big enough to score at the goal line. The Falcons have said they want to bring down his total touches as 7 of his best rushing outings (and 3 of his 4 TD’s) came in the first 8 games of 2005. Dunn still has big play capabilities, but turns 32 in January and the Falcons would be smart to try and keep him fresher for later on in the season if they have playoff aspirations. With T.J. Duckett in a contract year, and the drafting of Jerious Norwood, it would seem unlikely Dunn is a reliable #2 RB for fantasy purposes. In yardage heavy leagues though he could fill that bill and makes an excellent RB #3.

27) Fred Taylor: Taylor managed to play for an entire 16 games in both 2002 and 2003, which led many to believe he had finally shaken the “fragile” moniker that had plagued him because of injuries causing him to miss games. But then he missed 2 in 2004, and 5 last season. Last season’s injuries allowed the Jaguars to see what they have in Greg Jones and Alvin Pearman, and put Taylor on unsteady footing as the team’s primary RB. Taylor may be #1 on the depth chart right now, but how long he stays there is in question. It also bears noting that while he’s averaged 80 rushing yards per game in the games he’s played in the last 2 seasons, he only scored 6 TD’s. Taylor will put together some very good games, and therefore has value as a 3rd fantasy RB, but counting on him to be an every week starter is unwise.

28) Cedric Benson: Until a shoulder injury suffered in training camp, it appeared that Benson was locking down the starting job in Chicago. But the injury could open the door for Thomas Jones, who has surpassed all expectations the Bears had for him when they signed him to a 4 year deal before the 2004 season, to come in and take it away. The Bears have a great run blocking offensive line and whoever is back there likely will have success. But Benson missed several weeks last year with a knee injury, and now has suffered a shoulder injury. If these things continue to happen, it’s hard to see Benson overtaking Jones. But the upside is there as Benson was looking good before this happened.

29) Marion Barber: Barber proved to not only be a good change of pace RB as a rookie in 2005, but also a guy who got better the more often he got the ball. In the 4 games where Barber got 15 carries or more, he produced 357 rushing yards on 79 carries and scored 4 TD’s. Don’t think that went unnoticed by Bill Parcells, as Parcells leaned on Barber when Julius Jones was injured and either couldn’t play, or was limited. And while Jones may be the starter, Barber may play more often than some thing, leading to RBBC (Running Back By Committee) where getting consistent fantasy points from either is harder. At the very least, Barber should be considered a mandatory mid-round handcuff to anyone who takes Julius Jones.

30) Reggie Bush: With all the hype that follows this guy I’m surprised he doesn’t have a big “S” inside an upside down triangle across his chest and a red cape. Every year, there is someone who has such huge expectations placed on him before he ever plays a down, and almost every year, that player doesn’t live up to them. This year, that player is likely to be Bush. Now, does this mean I think Bush is no good? No. Bush stands a chance of being a fine NFL RB. If used properly, he could even be reminiscent of the guy he’s often unfairly compared to (Marshall Faulk). But will that happen right out of the gate as a rookie in 2006? Not likely. Bush steps onto a team that has a new coaching staff and offensive style. It has a new QB learning that new system. And most importantly, it’s a team that has a guy named Deuce McAllister on it as well. Unless McAllister aggravates the knee injury he’s recovering from, it’s unlikely Bush gets the ball 20+ times every week, especially at the goal line. McAllister’s game is based more on size and strength, Bush’s is based more on speed and elusiveness. The two styles will be a fine compliment to each other on the field. But for fantasy purposes, it likely means that neither RB can be counted on as more than a 3rd RB with upside to be a good starting RB if the other were to get injured.

31) Chris Brown: The Titans RB situation is hard to figure out. Brown is the subject of trade rumors, but nothing seems imminent and all reports have him as the starting RB in Tennessee. Brown’s a good RB, but more was expected of him in 205 than 851 rushing yards, 327 receiving yards, and 7 TD’s, especially since he was never seriously challenged for the starting job at any point during the season. With the drafting of LenDale White, Brown at least figures to give way part of the time to the rookie, and if White shows well, it could end up being a real mess relying on any RB in Tennessee for fantasy production. Working in Brown’s favor though is his undervalued pass catching abilities (a whopping 13.1 yards per catch in ’05) and the fact that when healthy, he’s proven to be an effective RB (4.9 yards per carry avg in 2004 on 220 carries). Brown is a risky fantasy #3 RB who could be worth a lot more, or a lot less.

32) DeShaun Foster: I don’t see in Foster what everyone else seems to see. A lot of pundits think of Foster as a solid #2/#3 fantasy RB. But consider these facts: he’s scored 7 TD’s in the last 3 seasons combined; he can’t seem to stay healthy (the latest being a broken ankle suffered in the playoffs in January) long enough to show he can be a feature RB; and the Panthers drafted a RB in round 1 of the April NFL draft. If you look at the last 4 regular season games of 2005, each of which Foster started, you’ll see that in weeks 14-16, Foster gained a total of 189 rushing yards on 57 rush attempts (an avg of 3.3 yards per carry), caught 6 passes for 24 yards, and scored 0 TD’s. Oh sure, week 17 he exploded for 165 yards and a TD, but that’s 1 game out of 4. Maybe as an okay #3 RB that’s acceptable, but for the press he gets, you’d think he was putting those big numbers up a lot more often than he really does.

33) Cedric Houston: The latest word on Curtis Martin has his ability to play this season in serious doubt. This opens the door for a battle between Houston and Derrick Blaylock (and rookie Leon Washington) for the starting RB job. Houston has the superior size to Blaylock and would be a better choice for both being the primary RB in an RBBC along with being the goal line guy. Houston isn’t a fast RB, nor is he that elusive, but he is strong, and now in his second season, he could be a real sleeper at the position. In the last 4 games of 2005, he got the start at RB and while his numbers weren’t great (275 total yards and 2 TD’s) it did show that he has some promise. Unless the Jets trade for a better RB, it appears that Houston will be the primary guy in 2006.

34) DeAngelo Williams: Williams is the RB the Panthers drafted in round 1 to compete with DeShaun Foster for the starting job. Williams is a strong runner who has deceptive speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield. While not as big as one would prefer in a goal line RB, if Eric Shelton fails to impress the coaching staff again in that capacity, it could be Williams who gets that call. Since Foster has yet to prove he can stay healthy, Williams has an excellent chance of seeing the field often, and if he shows well, could be the better choice for fantasy purposes. At the very least, Williams should be considered a mandatory handcuff to whoever takes Foster.

35) Ahman Green: After missing all of the off-season workouts as he rehabs from a bad quad injury, Green has been given the green light to practice in training camp for the Packers. However, the team is taking things very easy on Green, and he probably won’t see much action at all during the preseason. Green was a workhorse RB for Green Bay for 5 years before succumbing to injury last season, but even before that injury, he looked like a shadow of the once near elite fantasy RB he used to be. Given the question marks with how much Brett Favre has left in the tank, the suspect OL, the new blocking scheme’s being implemented by the new coaching staff, plus the other RB’s on the roster (Najeh Davenport and Samkon Gado) and I have big doubts about Green being able to put up much fantasy success in 2006.

36) Frank Gore: Gore ranks higher on this list than teammate Kevan Barlow because of his upside and power running style despite not being that big. While whichever wins the “starting” job gets to claim top billing, it’s clearly an RBBC and trusting either one to be more than your 3rd or 4th RB is unreasonable. Both Gore and Barlow are coming off injuries, so if either one were to get injured, the other would take a jump in value. Gore had shoulder surgery on both of his shoulders in the off-season.

37) T.J. Duckett: Here’s a guy who needs a change of coaching staffs or scenery. Duckett is a big, powerful RB with good speed and decent hands (although you’d never know it from his stats) who just doesn’t seem to be in favor much in Atlanta. Duckett’s yard per carry average dropped significantly in 2005 to only 3.1 after posting 4.9 in 2004. In 2003, the one year he was actually used quite a bit in the offense besides being a goal line guy, Duckett racked up 779 rushing yards and 11 TD’s. He’s scored 8 TD’s in each of 2004 and 2005. His primary use in the offense is as the goal line vulture, but if he got traded, he’d show he’s capable of being a top 20 fantasy RB. For right now though, he’s a guy with a lot more value in TD only leagues, and minimal value as a 4th or 5th RB in performance style leagues.

38) Dominic Rhodes: You don’t need to sell me on Rhodes’ 2001 season (1,104 rush yards and 9 TD’s). I was all over him then when Edgerrin James went down. But then Rhodes tore his ACL before the 2202 season and Edge hasn’t missed significant time since. That’s meant that Rhodes has had few opportunities to show whether he’s capable of being a feature RB. However the people who know that answer best (the Colts) said a lot in their actions when they drafted Joseph Addai in round 1 of April’s draft. Rhodes steps into training camp as the starting RB, but how long he holds onto that position is seriously in question. The only advantages he has on Addai are his experience, and his knowledge of the Colts offense. And really, Rhodes’s lack of size makes him best suited for a role as the change of pace RB who touches the ball 5-7 times per game (which would be almost double what he’s averaged the last 3 seasons)

39) Ron Dayne: Will everyone please put down the pipe when it comes to Dayne? Trust me, I’ve been a supporter in the past, but he’s simply never lived up to his billing, and I doubt he ever will. Dayne is a big RB who plays small, isn’t good at catching the ball, and despite multiple opportunities with his 5’10, 245 lb frame to be a goal line vulture, has never scored more than 7 TD’s in any season of his career. Now the Broncos did coax a career best 5.1 yards per carry out of Dayne in 2005 (the only time in his career he had better than a 3.8), but I give the kudos there to the Broncos OL and not Dayne. Currently, Dayne sits at the top of the depth chart for Broncos RB’s. But I just don’t see it carrying over for long. The latest rumor is that the coaching staff likes the undrafted kid, Mike Bell, better than Dayne (and maybe even Tatum Bell), and if either Bell steps up during preseason, Dayne’s value could slip back to what it’s always been: much lower in reality than what people want to think. But because at this point he is still expected to be the starting RB for Denver, I’ll leave him this high.

40) Kevan Barlow: I like Barlow, but think his problem is that once he got the money, he got complacent. At 6’1”, 238 lbs, Barlow is a solidly sized RB who also has terrific hands for catching the ball. He doesn’t play up to his size though and tries to be a finesse style of runner too often. Barlow, after a hugely disappointing 2005 season in which he struggled with a myriad of minor injuries, will compete with Frank Gore for the starting job and just like I said before, whoever wins it, gets the title only as it’ll be an RBBC. I think this will be his last year in San Francisco as I see Frank Gore eventually taking over. Not because Barlow doesn’t have the skills, but because I think he wants out. On another team, Barlow may have a fresh perspective.

41) Greg Jones: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in 2 of the 3 games when Jones got more than 20 carries, he had over 100 yards rushing, and scored 2 TD’s. Jones is a big RB who plays big and will run opponents over. But he’s not very elusive nor is he very fast. Considering that the Jaguars have the health-challenged Fred Taylor as their starter, and you’d be right in thinking there will be games for Jones to get his carries again in 2006. The current thought for the team is to have Jones be the starting FB and backup RB, but to have rookie Maurice Drew be the third down RB. If Taylor were to get injured, there’s a chance the team would rather see what the speedy Drew could do instead of the bigger Jones.

42) LenDale White: After the Rose Bowl, I actually thought of him as being a potentially better pro prospect than Reggie Bush. His size, speed, and power made him an excellent candidate for being a feature RB at the NFL level. Well, instead, White had a hamstring injury and weight issues early in the off-season which caused me to me back away from my prior stance. The latest word on him is that the hammy is fine, his weight is down to 227 lbs (which would be lean for him), but he has bone spurs in his toe. The injury isn’t considered serious at all, but a pattern is emerging and it sends up caution flags to me. Since the Titans have stated that Chris Brown is their starter, White’s going to have an uphill battle to get more than some token playing time and he needs to stay healthy enough to practice and play through the preseason to close the gap. If he can, or if the Titans trade Chris Brown (which has been a rumor that pops up every other week or so), then White could shoot up this list. He’s definitely worth a flyer as 4th or 5th RB.

43) Duce Staley: With Jerome Bettis retired, there’s an opening for a backup RB and goal line guy for the Steelers behind Willie Parker. Staley could fill that bill nicely. A good RB, Staley catches the ball very well, and in the role of change of pace RB, he could put up some nice totals. First he has to beat out Verron Haynes for the job though. If he does, and if Willie Parker can’t hold up to being the primary RB, Staley could surprise with some solid fantasy numbers. At the very least, I consider Staley to be an excellent handcuff to Parker.

44) Brandon Jacobs: Jacobs 99 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry average as a rookie in 2005 won’t excite anyone, but his 7 TD’s show that he is an effective goal line RB. And the reason Jacobs isn’t used more often to spell Tiki Barber is because at 6’4”, he has a problem getting his shoulders low enough to really drive a pile with his 256 lb body. If the Giants are serious about wanting to give Barber more rest, Jacobs will get more than just touches in short yardage and goal line situations, which would greatly increase his value.

45) Laurence Maroney: Drafted by the Patriots as both insurance in 2006 in case Corey Dillon’s injury problem rears its head again, and as Dillon’s eventual replacement, Maroney has a dicey fantasy season ahead of him in 2006. From all reports, Dillon has looked good and unless anything happens to him, Maroney’s job will be to spell Dillon a few times per game. Since the Patriots also have an excellent pass catching RB in Kevin Faulk, there’s little chance Maroney assumes those duties, further decreasing his fantasy prospects. But if anything happens to Dillon, Maroney, and not Faulk, will be the guy to take over. Maroney is a smart handcuff to Dillon.

46) Chris Perry: Perry caught 51 passes in 2005 as he was excellent in that 3rd down RB role. But he only carried the ball 61 times since the Bengals have Rudi Johnson, and usually had a lead. Currently, Perry is on the PUP list for Cincinnati as he’s struggling to recover from ankle and knee surgeries during the off-season. While that does raise some concerns, it’s not considered to be serious at this early stage. Perry’s a smart handcuff to Rudi Johnson, and a decent #4 fantasy RB in leagues that give you a point per reception.

47) Samkon Gado: Every year there is a feel good story of a guy who comes from out of no where on the fantasy radar and helps teams win games. Last year that player was Gado. When both Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport went down with injuries, it was Gado and not Tony Fisher who stepped in and actually produced great fantasy numbers in 5 of 6 games from weeks 9-14. Unfortunately, he tore an MCL in week 15 and that was it for the Cinderella story. The question for 2006 is that with the anticipated return to health of both Green and Davenport, how does Gado fit into the Packers plans? Since Green is showing signs of slowing down, and Davenport has been injury prone throughout his career, it’s not out of the question for Gado to ride in to the rescue again. But until then, he has little value.

48) Curtis Martin: Martin’s got a knee condition where the cartilage is almost totally gone in one knee and he’s rubbing bone on bone. While both he and the Jets hold out hope he may be able to play in 2006, it’s starting to sound more and more unlikely as we get closer to the start of the regular season. I don’t even know if I can seriously put him this high on the list, but until I know of something for sure, Martin has to be considered as worth a late round pick. He’s put up way too good numbers throughout his career to not at least get a small benefit of the doubt. If he doesn’t play at all, the Jets will likely go with an RBBC of Cedric Houston, Derrick Blaylock, and a little of rookie Leon Washington sprinkled in. And while Houston is the projected best starting candidate, Blaylock immediately heads up this list higher than Martin by a few spots.

49) Michael Bennett: Realizing that they needed a better backup RB to Larry Johnson than Dee Brown, the Chiefs went out and got Bennett from the Saints. The Saints had signed Bennett to be their #2 RB and insurance policy in case Deuce McAllister had problems coming back from the knee injury that cut his 2005 season short, but when they drafted Reggie Bush, Bennett became expendable. Bennett has breakaway speed and is underappreciated for his pass catching abilities. While the Chiefs are slowly bringing him along in their offense, he should be a valuable handcuff to Larry Johnson if anything should happen to LJ.

50) Mike Anderson: From starting RB in Denver to backup RB in Baltimore, Anderson will get time at both FB, and backup RB for the Ravens. Anderson will need either for Lewis to stink like he did last year, or an injury to Lewis to have any real value. The goal line duties Anderson is excellent at are also something Lewis is good at. Considering that he was coming off a 2005 season where he posted 1,014 rushing yards and 13 total TD’s, and it must be assumed that Anderson, who will turn 33 in September, simply wanted out of Denver. He makes a wise handcuff to Lewis, but unless he gets the goal line touches, Anderson has minimal value.

51) Ryan Moats: A sprained knee in training camp has hindered Moats development in his second season. The injury is supposed to be okay by the start of the regular season, so let’s be hopeful. Moats played in 6 games in 2005 and he looked really good in two of them (23 carries, 192 yards, 3 TD’s), but pretty bad in the other 4 (32 carries, 86 yards, 0 TD’s). He’s got excellent speed, but isn’t accomplished as a pass catcher. Likely to be the backup and change of pace RB to injury-prone starter Brian Westbrook. If Moats can be healthy those games when Westbrook isn’t, he could be a pretty good pickup.

52) Tony Fisher: Fisher’s a bit of an enigma. Despite having a terrific combo of size and speed, he’s never really excelled at being a feature RB when the few chances have been presented to him. He’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield (86 receptions for 624 yards and 3 TD’s the last 2 seasons combined), and ought to be a solid change of pace to Steven Jackson in St. Louis. Unless Jackson gets injured though, Fisher has limited value as Jackson is a complete package type of RB.

53) Najeh Davenport: When Davenport starts, and Davenport plays, Davenport does well. Very well. In his only 2 career starts, Davenport’s totals are 31 carries for 232 yards and 3 TD’s. Big, powerful, and deceptively quick, Davenport is a monster to bring down. But something else happens when Davenport starts and Davenport plays: Davenport gets injured. All the talent in the world doesn’t mean squat when you can’t stay healthy. Broken ankle in 2005 ended his season after 5 games. Hamstring, broken ribs, and shoulder injury prevented him from playing in 5 games in 2004. Minor injuries to his hamstring, wrist, ribs, foot, and neck limited him throughout 2003. Should I go on? There’s a lot of reward with Davenport if he can stay healthy. But he’s simply never been able to do it.

54) Vernand Morency: Morency will compete with Antowain Smith and Wali Lundy for the backup role to Domanick Davis. Since Davis has had injury problems (he missed 5 games in 2005), whoever wins that job will likely have some value. There’s even talk that the team wants to reduce Davis’s carries and playing time in the hopes he can stay healthy for the entire season. That means more chances for whoever gets the top spot. Early word from training camp is that Morency is having difficulties adjusting to the system installed by new coach Gary Kubiak. Since Morency is only his second year, and has a higher upside than the plodding Smith, and more experience than the rookie Lundy, I give him the nod to be the starter if anything happens to Davis.

55) Mewelde Moore: Moore will start the season as the backup to Chester Taylor. And while Moore has a reputation for being easily injured, I think that might have been unfairly placed upon him by the former coaching staff. When given chances, Moore has shown he has good speed, can make smart decisions running with the ball, and can very effectively catch it. In 7 of his 8 starts in 2005 (I discount the token start he got against Detroit when he got only 1 carry and then never touched the ball again), he rushed 114 times for 483 yards, caught 18 passes for 170 yards, but scored only 1 TD. If there’s a failing in Moore’s game, it’s that he lacks the ability to get the ball into the end zone. The Vikings used Ciatrick Fason in that short yardage role last year and it remains to be seen how the new coaching staff will handle it in 2006, but in performance style leagues, Moore is a very smart handcuff to Taylor as Taylor’s never proven he can take the pounding to be a feature RB in the NFL.

56) Michael Pittman: It’s easy to forget about Pittman in Tampa Bay. After all, there’s Cadillac Williams, and Mike Alstott. But Pittman gets forgotten a lot it seems. While I am very high on Williams, the biggest deficiency in his game is catching the ball. This is an area where Pittman excels. In 4 seasons in Tampa, Pitt’s caught 211 passes. Despite having a dramatically reduced role in 2005 in the Bucs offense, he still caught 36 passes. In a point per reception league, Pittman has value as a bench RB, who could turn out to be a very good starter if Williams suffers a sophomore slump or gets injured. Pittman won’t get many TD’s (he scored 10 in 2004, but only 5 in his other 3 seasons in Tampa combined) with Alstott and Williams around, but he’s a great handcuff to Cadillac.

57) Michael Turner: Turner has limited value unless you have LT. As a change of pace to LT, Turner put in some nice totals (57 rushes, 335 yards, 3 TD’s). But the only value he’ll have is as insurance to LT, or trade bait (as that little something extra you add in to a trade that puts it over the top) to the guy with LT.

58) Ladell Betts: The Redskins love this guy, but he’s clearly only got value if anything happens to Clinton Portis. In the last 2 seasons, Betts has been excellent in that change of pace role to Portis and has showed that he could put up some solid fantasy numbers if Portis were to get injured. Handcuffing Betts to Portis makes a lot of sense.

59) Maurice Morris: Morris becomes our 3rd handcuff in a row to talk about. Only Morris is the guy you cuff to Shaun Alexander. For two years now, the Seahawks have been saying how they need to get Morris more involved somehow as he is talented. But with Xander being a horse, Morris hasn’t gotten that chance. However, a 4.7 yards per carry career average when called upon to spell Xander the past 4 seasons shows he might be capable if the durable Xander has any health problems.

60) Kevin Faulk: Lost in the Corey Dillon/Laurence Maroney debate is Kevin Faulk. Considered too small to ever be a full time RB, Faulk has been very productive in the chances he does get in his role as change of pace and 3rd down RB. Now 30 years old, it’s a concern that he’s missed 13 games the last 2 seasons, but that hasn’t prevented him from catching 55 passes for 508 yards in the games he did play in. Or rushing for another 400 on his 105 carries. These are hardly numbers to get excited over, but the point is that if Dillon gets injured, and Maroney struggles as a rookie, Faulk is a guy you’ll find on your waiver wire who will likely be a lot better than many people think. That’s two big “if’s”, but hey, we’re talking about the 60th RB I’ve listed. You’re only going to find “if’s” here.

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