Archive for June, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: DeAngelo Williams

DeAngelo Williams

How can I NOT have him earlier will be the cry – and it doesn’t matter where he ranks. If it isn’t top 3, it won’t matter. Some folks will be bent out of shape.

Those cries have a case – Williams finally exploded last season and Carolina Head Coach John Fox loves his veterans – usually to the point of benching a more talented rookie.

He might not even have to even make that choice this year as Williams seems to be poised for potentially another great season while second year RB Jonathan Stewart hasn’t stepped up yet to become lead back. And wow is that offensive line adept at opening holes for Panther backs to run through.

Yet even though the offense runs the ball a lot (504 attempts last season) will they duplicate the amount of carries from 2008 in 2009?

Stewart pitched in with 10 touchdowns and even while battling an early injury he played well last season. Rookie Mike Goodson might see some work too. As much as they do run there still should be plenty to go around but it also means they will need to spell Williams. How much? And if they don’t will he burn out after two heavy carry seasons?

Finally, we have to wonder: was what we saw last year the reality – or a one shot deal? Will he be able to repeat his 2008 performance? We’ve had one year wonders before – and many teams who grabbed them too early in the first regretted it later in the season.

I like Williams, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not sure I like him enough to take him with a top five pick like many are suggesting.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Matt Forte


Matt Forte
Another guy who people will argue should/could be in the top 3 but I can’t go there.

Yes, fantastic first year. And the offense looks like it is about to step it up. But that doesn’t mean Forte will get even better.

Why? Well, for several reasons. First of all, his YPC was a pedestrian 3.9 and he’ll need to improve that to continue to put up numbers, especially since his carries will probably drop as Cutler throws more than Orton did.

Speaking of Cutler – while his arm will open things up for the run game (even with mediocre wide receivers) a ton of Forte’s 63 receptions were checkdowns by the quarterback. Cutler doesn’t play that way – he much more often forces a throw down-field.

So I think it is hard to expect close to the receiving numbers He threw just 61 TARGETS to backs in 2008. Not receptions – TARGETS. (In fairness to the ‘numbers’ game – he threw at running backs 81 times in 2007.)

The Bears’ offensive line is not as good as Denver’s, his receivers aren’t close and the defense should keep it close. Still, they didn’t trade the house for Cutler to hand Forte the ball, regardless of the young RB’s talent.

Once again, this points to at least a slight dip in Forte’s production. I just don’t know how big it goes.

If the Bears defense cannot hold the line, it could be a big dip as Cutler throws to his less-than-stud receivers to come from behind. Or it could just be a little regression as the team transitions into a more passing team.

But until I see the offense in action – and by action I don’t mean t-shirts and shorts – I can’t say what it will look like. So I don’t want to invest a huge risk by grabbing him before some of the guys prior to him on the list.

He’ll land in the top 10. I just don’t expect a repeat of his top 3 ranking from 2008.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Maurice Jones-Drew


Maurice Jones-Drew
One of the most divisive backs in fantasy right now, Maurice Jones-Drew is a fantastic athlete whose strength and speed belies his size.

But questions still plague him.

He’s never carried the rock as the feature back, not even in college. And as much as he is tough, will he wear down if the Titans do use him as the bell cow? Or conversely, will they spell him a bunch with Greg Jones and Rashard Jennings?

MJD should put up nice numbers, especially in a PPR league but he’s going as the second – in some cases FIRST – Rb off the board in some drafts.

I haven’t even gotten to the revamped offensive line, though I think it will be healthy and capable this season. But they’ll be rolling out a pair of rookies and while some of that could be merely for depth, they really collapsed fast in 2008.

In their defense, you can’t have what they went through happen and not collapse. Once Richard Collier was shot and paralyzed, the fact they even pulled it together when they did is pretty gutty.

The passing attack appears to also be a big question mark at first glance. But Tory Holt alone is better than anyone on the roster last year, save the departed Matt Jones. And the two draft picks of Jake Dillard and Mike Thomas have looked good enough in tees and shorts to allow Dennis Northcutt to be traded.

Still, Garrard seemed to plateau last season and if he cannot get a little more going on, MJD might start finding his running lanes clogged.

While I think Jones-Drew has the talent, there are many questions I have about him. To many to take him earlier than where he is at five.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steven Jackson


Steven Jackson
I have decided that Jackson is the perfect Fantasy Football Illusion. We all treat him as if he’s a stud and yet he’s only been in the top 10 fantasy-wise once in his five year career.

So what exactly is keeping him ranked this high year after year? Well for starters he DOES produce well despite missing games and suffering through terrible offensive lines and injured QBs. He can catch the ball, break a big run and fight for hard yards.

But the risk is he has only finished a full season once – in 2006 which was the year he was a top fantasy player. That’s telling – but so is how much he’s been hurt.

He’s also facing another season with a questionable Oline and now has a very young and/or inexperienced wide receivers for a weakening Bulger to throw to.

Jackson once again is a back with a ton of potential – but will it be reached or is it merely an illusion we chase every season?

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Ladainian Tomlinson


CURVE BALL. Instead of the number three back, I pull out old LT2 who I think is NOT dead yet.

Here’s why:

Ladainian Tomlinson
I always love movies where some guy is counted out – be it in the boxing ring, a classroom, a board room – the comeback story is a favorite.

Maybe that’s why I’m higher on LT than many others. I think Tomlinson has another year – at least – in him and will put up solid numbers this year.

By all reports he’s healthy, so he won’t be starting the season banged up as he did last year. Now staying healthy – that’s the trick and at LT’s age, it might be no mean feat. Also a question is the play of the offensive line, which was borderline criminal last season and left LT, Darren Sproles and Phillip Rivers exposed to mad abuse.

That certainly didn’t help Tomlinson’s numbers.

A lack of a pure blocking fullback hurt as well. That also remains a question mark though Jacob Hester’s blocking improved as last season wore on.

Still I believe LT has at least one last hurrah in him and in fact will benefit in getting spelled for some carries by Sproles. He’s on the mat, bruised and battered by the pundits and I think the story ends with him getting up one last time and sending those pundits to the mat.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Michael Turner



Michael Turner

Turner is a good news/bad news guy.

Good News: Tony Gonzalez is here to stretch the defense and add his skills for third downs.

Bad News: Tony Gonzalez is here to steal red zone TDs and third down yardage.

In other (potential) bad news, you also have to assume he won’t repeat the 377 carries which could dip his numbers. If they try to run him that often again, I would worry about burn-out and injury.

Some of that depends upon how he spent his off-season. If he got some rest while working to stay in shape, he should be good to go. But if he pushed too hard and didn’t give his body time to recover, last season may hurt him a bit.

Still in a non-ppr league, he’ll put up great numbers. He drops in a PPR league, though as he gets no catches. Don’t believe me? Last season he hit his career total – of 6.

He’s still a top back, but in point per reception leagues he won’t put up quite the numbers Jackson or a few other backs would.

But in standard scoring leagues, Turner is a solid bet to end up in the top five.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Adrian Peterson


So while I said I wouldn’t be doing this numerically, I’d be hard pressed to start anywhere than with this guy.

Adrian Peterson
What’s not to like about Peterson? Good runner, great offensive line, decent WRs. All he needs is a few more TDs. Peterson has few minuses and now it looks like Brett Favre will be throwing the ball, in which case suddenly he gets someone who can keep the defenses from stacking against the run. Even Taylor isn’t too much of a threat for AP.

Safe and dependable, you know Peterson will finish in the top 5 every year. He has had some fumble issues he needs to work on and on occasion Childress has almost appeared to underuse him – but honestly these are minor details. Even a few carries to rookie receiver Percy Harvin won’t hurt Peterson all that much. Aside from injury – and you can’t predict that with real confidence – Peterson is the bottom line, safest running back in your fantasy draft.

2009 Running Back Rankings – 6/25/09

So after much shuffling of people and hand wringing, here is the inaugural Blurb top 50 Fantasy Football Running Backs. Over the next day or two, I’ll have player breakdowns of about the top 10 or so on this list – not necessarily in order of where I ranked them.

If there is a guy you want to know about beyond that, drop me a line in the comments or at thunderingblurb(a)gmail.com and I’ll try to get on it ASAP.

A lot of this list comes down to my feeling after several mocks and early redrafts. In my opinion from the second to the tenth pick, you could make an argument for a number of players. Feel free to make YOUR argument known here or even on next Wednesday’s Blurb podcast.

Assume these will change by the time training camp hits.

Player
1 – Adrian Peterson
2 – Michael Turner
3 – Steven Jackson
4 – LaDainian Tomlinson
5 – Maurice Jones-Drew
6 – DeAngelo Williams
7 – Matt Forte
8 – Steve Slaton
9 – Chris Johnson
10 – Frank Gore
11 – Clinton Portis
12 – Brian Westbrook
13 – Brandon Jacobs
14 – Marion Barber
15 – Ryan Grant
16 – Ronnie Brown
17 – Knowshon Moreno
18 – Chris Wells
19 – Pierre Thomas
20 – Reggie Bush
21 – Willie Parker
22 – Kevin Smith
23 – Joseph Addai
24 – Thomas Jones
25 – Darren McFadden
26 – Larry Johnson
27 – Jonathan Stewart
28 – Donald Brown
29 – Marshawn Lynch
30 – Ray Rice
31 – Derrick Ward
32 – Jamal Lewis
33 – Cedric Benson
34 – Rashard Mendenhall
35 – Felix Jones
36 – Fred Jackson
37 – LenDale White
38 – Darren Sproles
39 – Julius Jones
40 – Leon Washington
41 – Ahmad Bradshaw
42 – Chester Taylor
43 – Fred Taylor
44 – LeSean McCoy
45 – Willis McGahee
46 – Earnest Graham
47 – LeRon McClain
48 – Jerious Norwood
49 – Laurence Maroney
50 – Justin Fargas


JUST MISSED

Cedric Peerman - Will he take over for McGahee?
Shonn Greene - The future Thomas Jones – will he get snaps?
Tim Hightower – If Wells holds out, Hightower gets a second chance.
Tashard Choice - Who is spelling Barber? Will Choice get a shot?
Jamaal Charles - LJ isn’t getting younger.
Rashad Jennings – Someone has to spell MJD. Jennings has the talent.
Michael Bush - Looks great in shorts. Will he make it a three headed monster?

Back soon with the first batches of player breakdowns.

ProFootballTalk.com Bought By NBC – Is This Good?

Sunday night, Blurb friend and excellent LA Times scribe Sam Farmer broke the story that Mike Florio’s website ProFootballTalk.com will be purchased by NBC with plans to feature it prominently on the NBC Sports site.

For those who don’t know (and if you’re reading this on ThunderingBlurb.com or BleacherReport.com you probably do know) PFT was begun by Florio about eight years ago as a way for the then-lawyer to riff on the news of the day in the NFL.

Florio has broken quite a few stories over the years — as pointed out by Farmer, most famously the erroneous death of Terry Bradshaw (which should be a book, rock band or film if it isn’t already).

Take a second and read Sam’s piece at latimes.com and then come back – it’s worth the read and will give you the grasp of what is going on.

What I want to focus on is the impact of something like this as well as the continuing impact of new media acquisitions.

Like him or hate him, Florio shoots straight about what he thinks. While that drew the ire of many NFL insiders and a ton of NFL fans (who still flock to a site they purport to hate), it also has attracted some pretty high-profile followers.

As mentioned in Farmer’s article, among them is Al Michaels. You have to figure when Al Michaels is a fan, you’re doing something right.

Heck, he’s not alone. Everyone from casual fans, to guys like myself to folks like Farmer and Rich Eisen— we all have Florio’s blog bookmarked. Heck, he’s one of only four twitter people who have tweets sent to my low-tech crappy cell phone.

At various times, he’s been wrong, loud, hypocritical, dead on right, loud and first breaking his own news just as often as he is reacting to someone else’s news.

More than anything else, Florio has been Florio. A firm and unique personality is what builds a good website and that’s what has attracted legions of fans and foes alike to his.

It’s also rankled the NFL more than once. You know the NFL — the league is attached to NBC by a huge television deal. The NBC buying PFT.

See what might be an issue here?

Farmer put it best when asked by a twitter-follower how soon it would be before PFT publishes something the league dislikes which then causes them to lean on NBC. He simply replied ‘that’s the test’.

And it’s a big one. Trust me; I really don’t expect Florio to tone it down. But I also worked in Hollywood long enough to have seen first-hand network pressure.

It gets contentious. It gets loud. People start pulling rank and checkbook rank. ‘We’re footing your bill’ is a phrase I heard more than once.

In Florio’s corner are his super-lawyer powers. My assumption is he’s prepared for such an eventuality. But who knows? What if he loses that battle? What happens to a site that — again like it or hate it — is a source of unvarnished opinion and more than a few scoops?

The real question here may be not how much a thing like this is to be celebrated — but if it should be at all.

On the one hand, anytime a site which started from nothing online and was built into a powerhouse is bought by a major like NBC, ESPN or CBSSports.com, it is a step towards legitimizing online work in a way that is harder to blow off than the odd scoop by a smaller site.

You can try to ignore it and continue dismissing us as people in our parent’s basement but that’s just head-in-the-sand thinking when this happens or NFLDraftscout hooks up with CBSSports and NFL.com.

It’s not sweeping proof, but it helps. It shows that we can be just as hungry, accurate, successful and hardworking as anyone in ‘traditional media’.

But one of the strengths of sites like Florio’s or DraftDaddy or any of the small sites like mine is the agility that comes with being a small, independent entity.

What scares traditional media — that we don’t have giant editors looking over us — can really be a source of strength. We can often react faster and speak our minds with less red tape than many in traditional media.

Why do you see so many good mainstream writers on Twitter? Well, among many reasons, the ability to reach their audience immediately. To throw out a reaction as something happens.

Of course, that’s new media’s kryptonite as well. I’ve seen firsthand how a bad story, un-supported and improperly followed up on or researched can sink a writer (and no, it wasn’t me). So we have to be more on point and take it even more seriously because we are our own safety net and it’s our rep on the line.

But back on point — if what attracts a company like NBC to a site like PFT is also what scares it….

Well, you have to wonder if that’s a marriage destined to end well or happily. It sure wouldn’t be the first time I saw an edgy project go to a conservative home and then get static for being what it was.

Let’s be honest though. While you may love a site like PFT for the content, a large portion of the reason NBC likes it is because of the audience it can reach. They may love the writing, content, instant reaction and Florio’s nice suits, but audience numbers often factor in there above all else.

Trust me, sometimes a corporation —especially an entertainment entity— jumps into bed with a project because of the pure, raw numbers of the audience.

If PFT breaks a few stories the NFL isn’t crazy about and they mention that to NBC in a not-so-casual-way, someone, somewhere is going to want something to change.

And then we’ll see how adaptable either side is.

If for some reason Florio backs off, even a little — well what does that mean for the rest of us? What makes online content? Is it the same if it gets watered down to be more mainstream? Does that defeat the point?

All things to consider as we watch this unfold.

One last thought though.

Perhaps when Sam said ‘that’s the test’, he was speaking about more than the purchase of PFT by NBC. Maybe the test is about how new media as a whole and traditional media as a whole might struggle to coexist.

If that’s the case, I can think of no better ‘first-adopter’ than Florio and PFT. They’ve made no bones about how they work in the past. I trust that they will continue to be ‘who we thought they were’ in the future as well.

If anyone can make it work, I have a feeling the lawyer from West Virginia might just be the guy.

2009 NFL Running Back Battles to Watch: Part 2

Welcome to part two of the 2009 NFL Running Back Battles To Watch. Yesterday we looked at a bunch of great backs including – but not limited to – the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers.

Today we’ll be looking at some more interesting backfield situations and seeing what they might mean for their respective teams.

We’ll start off with a team that has a clear-cut number one back but also some questions as to what to do if he cannot carry the full load over the course of the 2009 season.

Jacksonville
We all think Maurice Jones-Drew aka ‘The Human Bowling Ball’ aka ‘The Bad Little Man’ will be the bell cow here and get most if not all the work. The man can do it all and despite his size, usually stays healthy. With no Fred Taylor, he should get every carry Freddy used to get, right?

Well, yes and no. While MJD is a stud and the offensive line is much healthier and better than 2008’s version, the Jaguars will by no means risk burning out Jones-Drew before the playoffs. I expect one of the backs behind him to get a fair share of carries as well.

Note that I am not saying they will cut significantly into his totes – but that it will factor in and probably in a good way.

Former USC tailback Chauncey Washington patiently waited for his shot, but now has to hold off former Liberty stud Rashad Jennings a guy who improbably fell to the Jags in the seventh round – something I still can’t figure out.

Both players have the ability to fill in for MJD but despite being a USC Homer, I like Jennings better. He can catch, he can slide into holes but he has decent size. Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and footballguys.com said it best; ‘what you should know about Jennings is that he’s a bigger back with finesse’.

That size combined with the skills Waldman alludes to make him a very attractive compliment to Jones-Drew and a guy to watch for long term on his own as well.

Jennings has some issues finishing a run and will need to improve that if he wants to catch Washington.

And lest we forget, Greg Jones has been occasionally stud-like when he has had a shot in the past and is a great 3rd down back. Jones has never quite been the same since a knee injury and is often hurt.

Who ends up spelling MJD could have some real value for fantasy owners and Jags fans. It should be a horse race between these three.

New Orleans
Will Reggie Bush stay healthy? Will Pierre Thomas? Who gets the ball on third downs and at the goal line?

Big questions for an offense which needs to improve it’s run game to take some pressure off the pass game. It looks like Thomas has the between-the-tackles work locked down while Bush will continue to play scat-back.

But both have some injury questions (Bush his legs and Thomas’ wrist) so the Saints have journeyman Mike Bell, second year player Lynell Hamilton, and undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson.

Mike Bell has played well in camp so far but don’t discount the rookies. The Saints went hard into the street free agent market post-draft so they clearly have some concerns with the tailback position.

Bell has played well before and then faltered. Hill has some serious character concerns but seems to realize he screwed up and is motivated to prove he has the ability and maturity to make an impact. All three are big backs, something the Saints lost when they let Deuce McAllister go.

It will be interesting to see if any can make ground on Thomas and given the injury issues (for both Thomas and Bush) and Thomas’ size, one of these guys could see action this season.

Philadelphia
With Brian Westbrook banged up again (What? Stop lying Garda! NEVER!) every Eagles fan – and many, MANY fantasy football owners – want to know who to grab for this year’s version of Westbrook Insurance.

Aside: Should Westbrook and/or the Iggles talk to Geico about a sponsorship? I mean, in these troubled economic times, shouldn’t a club be looking for cash wherever they can?

I’m not saying, but I am just saying is all.

But all shenanigans aside who backs Westy up resonates hard an long amongst the NFL community of fans and it goes beyond fantasy football folks. As much as I like the receivers and the passing offense this year, they need the run game hitting on all cylinders.

With the very real possibility that the last two years of 15 games might have been an illusion in terms Westy’s health the Eagles need to know they can throw another guy in there and crank out the yards effectively.

Which leaves you with this question: LeSean McCoy or Lorenzo Booker?

Booker was a guy who I had high hopes for coming to Philadelphia last season after being virtually ignored by Miami previously. With his ability to catch the ball and his general shifty running style, I thought Lo-Book was going to get some traction finally but sadly that didn’t happen.

Booker barely saw the field and then the team went and drafted LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy who is plays very similarly to Westbrook’s game. And while a tad undersized, McCoy plays tough and isn’t afraid of contact.

It will be a battle in the most literal sense and no other fracas may impact the whole offense of a team like this one. If they cannot move the ball on the ground – and lack a player at the RB spot who can catch the ball as effectively as Westy – defenses could key heavily on the pass game.

San Francisco
I spent a lot of time the past few months looking oer the 49ers and there are a ton of questions surrounding this run game and what it could be.

New offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye keeps saying this will not be a run heavy playbook, but if you look at his resume, he’s definitely developed some very strong rushing attacks. So does that mean Raye is tossing some disinformation out there?

Maybe not.

The 49ers often run a game where a strong rushing attack sets up a vertical passing attack. It hasn’t worked well for many reasons – not the least of which is the lack of a permanent solution at quarterback.

So it isn’t far fetched that Raye is being truthful – a rarity in today’s NFL it seems. With the weapons at both running back and wide receiver, the Niners are set up to have an effective attack from either direction.

We know Frank Gore is the stud-bell cow-big dawg-whatever you call it in the backfield. But he cannot do it alone as we saw when he wore down last season.

So who is the backup who could share in his carries? A great question as the backs behind him all have questions.

Michael Robinson has functioned more as a fullback and special-teamer and while Thomas Clayton tends to shine in preseason games, he hasn’t played worth a tinker’s damn during the season. Neither of them have quite been able to give the team a consistent and safe backup to Gore in the past few years.

Two rookies – third round pick Glenn Coffee and street free agent Kory Sheets – have a shot at spelling Gore. Coffee is a solid one cut runner with great vision, who can aggressively attack the hole. He’s a powerful runner who could help the short yardage game, something that occasionally struggled in 2008.

Sheets has great acceleration and burst and is a very good receiver out of the backfield. He can be very elusive and shows patience behind the line with good vision and instincts. I think he could emerge as a nice compliment to Gore in the vein of a Leon Washington or Reggie Bush.

Adding Sheets as an extra weapon is nice, but ultimately the 49ers need to get someone to consistently and reliably spell Gore to save him for a potential run at a playoff spot this year.

Seattle
Somehow the Seahawks ended the draft without a replacement for the long departed Shaun Alexander, instead relying on Julius Jones and TJ Duckett for a solution at the running back position.

I can’t say I am enthusiastic about that, however I am cautiously optimistic.

With a healthy pass game – which they lacked from the get-go last season – the Hawks could find themselves in possession of a consistent though not spectacular rushing attack.

Julius Jones has shown some skills in the past and will probably make a good two-down runner for the team, getting a lift from a new zone-blocking scheme which he fits into well. However, even though he was the top running back for Seattle last season, he was pretty inconsistent and has to correct that if the team is to depend upon him.

People keep talking each season about how this is TJ Duckett’s time to shine, but I haven’t heard a lot of that yet this off-season. Maybe that bodes well for the former Falcon/Redskin/Lion. He has always possessed a nose for the end zone and he’ll get most of the redzone/end zone looks in my opinion – at least when the team isn’t throwing the ball to Houshmandzadeh or second year tight end John Carlson.

The question – aside from will Edgerrin James or Duece McAllister sign prior to the season – I am asking is where do guys like Justin Forsett end up? If Duckett is more suited to the short yardage/goal line role, will Forsett a second year man out of California, end up as Jones’ backup? Or will he be relegated to special teams?

I want to watch this battle closely as teams all know the Seahawks are gearing up to throw the ball a lot. So who ends up running the ball is of paramount importance. If they cannot move the ball on the ground, the wide receivers may find it very tough to get room to work in the secondary.

That’s it for now – if you don’t hear from me in a few days, have someone send a cop to check on me. I might be buried under an avalanche of moving boxes.