Archive for category running backs

Trendspotting: Thomas Jones & Leon Washington

NFL_new_york_jets_1[1]Before Brett Favre came to town in 2008, the New York Jets had built their offense to be one that would center on – though not exclusively – the ground game.
 
However, the moment Favre arrived, the Jets morphed into a more evenly balanced attack. Yet despite that, Thomas Jones had his fourth straight 1,000 yard season and his first with double digit touchdowns (Jones had 13 on the ground and a pair receiving).
 
Meanwhile, if you look at his partner in the backfield, most onlookers felt that Leon Washington was criminally underused by the former head coach, Eric Mangini. 
 
Ryan has brought a new attitude to Gang Green

Ryan has brought a new attitude to Gang Green

When new Head Coach Rex Ryan came on board he promised to utilize the offensive line to run block, as it was designed to do. He promised more Leon Washington (so much so that Peter King predicted 300 touches) and drafted a rookie quarterback who would need an effective ground game to keep him from having to win with his arm. 

 
In fact, since Ryan came from the Baltimore Ravens – who had just shepherded their own rookie, quarterback Joe Flacco – confidence was high that this could be a very good season for he Jets rushing attack.
 
After three weeks, what do we have? The Jets are tied for the tenth ranked rushing offense, though that’s largely skewed by game one. Leon Washington has barely topped 40 carries in three games and only has seven receptions. Thomas Jones has had only seven more carries than Washington and only 17 more yards.
 
Both Jets fans and fantasy owners are left wondering what is happening and how much longer it will last.
 
For today’s Trendspotting, let’s take a stab at answering these questions.
 
First let’s look at some hard facts.
 
As ineffective as the Jets run game has seemed, they’ve actually run a ton. They’ve run the ball 104 times versus the 83 times they have passed, a percentage of 56% of the time. A bit more balanced than we anticipated but still not a minuscule amount.
 
In fact, their 104 attempts put them second behind fellow New York team, the Giants. While neither team is totalling extreme numbers, the Jets rank 11th in total ground yards (The GMen are 8th).
 
Where the Jets are struggling is in yards per carry. They are at 3.8 ypc, ranking 22nd in the league. While you might throw the 3.8 out with a mere ‘it’s too early to count it yet’, with the exception of the Giants all the other teams with over 100+ carries are significantly better per carry.
 

TEAM

ATTEMPTS

YARDS PER ATTEMPT

DENVER BRONCOS

102

4.7

MIAMI DOLPHINS

102

4.7

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

102

5.0

BALTIMORE RAVENS

101

4.7

 
Now of course, it’s just three weeks and there are teams who came close to 100 carries like the Detroit Lions (90) with similar YPC (in Detroit’s case, 3.5).
 
Putting aside the small sample size, that’s a significant drop off from the 4.7 that three other 100+ carry teams have the the Jets’ 3.8.
 
So while they are running the ball often, they aren’t doing it effectively.
 
Individually, the yards per carry actually look fine for both backs. Thomas Jones has a 3.77 while Leon Washington has a 4.00 yards per carry.
 
Respectable, right?
 
Well here’s a closer look which tells you things may not be what the appear.
 
 
Watching Thomas Jones the first two weeks didn’t excite me much. Frankly, he looked slow and plodding. He didn’t seem to hit the holes when they were there. 
 
Even in Week 1, when he totalled 107 yards and two touchdowns (his only two thus far this season) Jones looked bad for much of the game. He broke two big runs – one 39 yard touchdown road and a second 39 yard run where he cut back across the defense, who had over-pursued too far to one side of the field.
 
I hate to play ‘taking away run X’ but in order to get a sense of what Jones is doing, you really have to. Because looking at the game as a whole, Jones didn’t look good at all and his yards per carry was awful for most of the game. Same with Week 2. 
 
The majority of runs for Jones are for one or two yards. Occasionally he gets an eight or ten yard run – even more rarely he gets a big gain like the 39 yard runs from Week 1. 
 
Raye's departure could be hurting Jones

Raye's departure could be hurting Jones

For sure, part of this is due to the departure of running back coach Jimmy Raye, who left to be the Offensive Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Under Raye, Jones had two of his most productive years ever. When a coach like that leaves, it certainly can have an affect on a player.

 
Of course, another part of this is could be Jones.
 
I’ll give this to Jones – he is not mailing it in. He may look a little slower than in the past, but he’s fighting hard.
 
Jones’ biggest issue might be – and here’s a shock – the offensive line.
 
As I said earlier, watching him on television for two weeks left me less than enthused. I got even more concerned when I saw Jones in person against the Titans in Week 3 but it wasn’t just because he looked a little slow.
 
Granted the Titans are a great team against the run even at 0-3. Record aside, they are ranked second in the NFL against the rush and they found ways to meet Jones at the line all day. The Jets line really struggled with the inside stunts the Tennessee unit threw at them. 
 
What makes it more difficult for Jones is that he can’t really attack the edge. He doesn’t have that speed and ability to turn that outside corner and when the Jets try that with him, he gets caught. So the Jets have to keep him pounding the middle even when he’s ramming into a wall of defenders.
 
The offensive line play hasn't been as good as expected

The offensive line play hasn't been as good as expected

During the Titans game the Jets’ offensive line didn’t get enough initial push – something that was the case against the Patriots in Week 2 as well. Sure, Jones has lost a step and yeah maybe he’s not all that happy with his contract but those are not affecting his overall work. On Sunday he recovered a fumble, sold the heck out of a play-fake and did some great pass-blocking.
 
Jones is giving effort, he’s just not getting enough help from his line. While I wasn’t in love with his play in Week 1, I’m more concerned with the line’s play in Weeks 2 & 3.
 
I think Jones can still have a very nice season and as Coach Rex Ryan has publicly stated he isn’t planning on putting Shonn Greene in more, he will continue to have opportunity. He’ll turn it around, and we’ll get to that in a minute. First, we have to look over the other half of the rushing attack.
 
Big numbers have eluded Washington so far this year

Big numbers have eluded Washington so far this year

Leon Washington
Ryan promised to use more of Washington in 2009. After an almost criminal under-utilization of Washington last year, fans and owners alike were ecstatic.
 
Washington is certainly getting more snaps, averaging 13.67 a game. He can run between the tackles, though he runs into the same problem Jones does in terms of no push from the offensive line.
 
What I am not seeing enough of, certainly considering what we expected, is a ton of pass targets.
 
In the first game, Washington had six targets, four of which he hauled in for a total of 24 yards. But the last two games he’s seen just five. He’s caught three of them and totaled in two games what he got in Week 1 – 24 yards.
 
Washington is very dangerous out in space and when catching a screen pass yet he hasn’t been used in that manner very often the last few games. Part of that is that teams now what he can do and guard against it. Yet it also comes down to play-calling.
 
Why aren’t Ryan and Offensive Coordinator utilizing him in the pass game more? Perhaps it has just been that in game planning for the last two match-ups, they were concerned both defenses might be waiting for it. That’s the problem early in the season – not a ton of empirical evidence to look over.
 
It could be Washington isn’t in as often on third downs as Jones is, as Jones has been a very good pass-blocker and may have an easier time doing that due to his heavier weight.
 
While Washington has been getting half the carries in the run game and plenty of touches overall, he may not be getting the right touches currently. Just having him run between the tackles – something I saw a bunch on Sunday against the Titans – seems to be a waste of his abilities.
 
 
Sanchez has won Rookie of the Week 3 Weeks in a Row - but that's not helping the run game

Sanchez has won Rookie of the Week 3 Weeks in a Row - but that's not helping the run game

Mark Sanchez
Wait a minute. Why is the rookie Quarterback in this edition of Trendspotting? We’re talking RUNNING BACKS.
 
Well, next to the oline, nobody on the field will impact the not-so-dynamic-duo as much as the ‘Sanchize’.
 
Sanchez – while now a three time Offensive Rookie of the Week and according to the media the ‘front-runner’ after three whole weeks for Rookie of the Year – isn’t perfect.
 
Listen, he’s cool in the pocket, brave to the point of insanity (ever hear several thousand Jets fans shriek ‘SLIDE MARK SLIDE’? I have.) and has been playing pretty contained football so far during this young season.
 
Yet he has forced throws, been baited into bad decisions and at times looked like what he is – a rookie quarterback. The thought prior to the season is that the team would protect him with a solid run game and that might up Jones and Washington’s numbers as it would increase their carries.
 
Of course, there was some discussion about how a rookie quarterback makes it hard on the run game. Defenses decide most of the time to make the rookie beat them and stack or attack the run. They don’t give up on the pass defense entirely, but a rookie quarterback has to earn their respect.
 
This seemed to get lost in some of the conversation about the Jets rushing attack just before the season.
 
As much as opposing teams respect what Sanchez brings to the table and as much as he has shown flashes of the ability to burn them long, he doesn’t do it consistently enough for them to lay off the run. 
 
OC Schottenheimer keeps things simple for rookie QB Sanchez

OC Schottenheimer keeps things simple for rookie QB Sanchez

Further, Schottenheimer and Ryan are keeping things pretty simple for the rookie. They don’t want to risk overwhelming him with too many schemes and choices. Keeping things a little plain allows the defenses playing against the Jets to focus on fewer potential looks and scenarios.

 
Given the large amount of carries, we know the team is protecting Sanchez with the run. But the vanilla plays they often run (with the exception of the occasional WildCat or razzle dazzle) allow the defense to concentrate on stopping that run.
 
Sanchez needs to get better and make a few more plays downfield if the Jets are to pull the dogs off Jones and Washington at the line. It wouldn’t hurt to see a few more screens to Washington either.
 
What To Do?
 
Both of these players are worth hanging on to. When it comes to Thomas Jones, if you have him and are not hemorrhaging points at the RB2 or Flex spot, hold him.
 
As for Washington, like Jones, he isn’t playing as well as we’d hoped. You probably drafted him much later than Jones, so he may not be hurting you as much. I believe he will continue to get his half of the carries and I believe that as Mark Sanchez continues to improve he will be able to move defenses off the line of scrimmage more.
 
Finally, you have to like the Jets schedule as it stands.
 
There are some tough teams, especially at first glance.
 
Looking over the whole of it though, the Jets have some match-ups which should make their backs salivate. Carolina (29th vs run), Oakland (28th), Tampa Bay (31), Atlanta (24th) and perennial good RB match-up Indianapolis (21st) all should be good days for the Jets tandem. Some of them will improve as the season goes and some of their stats are skewed due to small sample size (three weeks folks). 
 
Still they mark some good potential games for the Jets down the road.
 
Also, some of the tough match-ups aren’t necessarily all they appear. 
 
Sure, Miami (3rd vs the run), Jacksonville (14th) and Cincinnati (11th) seem tough against the run – until you look at their pass defense. Miami (26th), Jacksonville (32nd) and Cincinnati (19th) all struggle against the pass. So that’s what teams do – they pass against these shaky secondaries.
 
It doesn’t mean they aren’t decent run defenses or won’t improve. It does mean that a bad pass defense may be inflating what appears to be a good run defensive ranking. 
 
Many of the best match-ups come late in the Fantasy Season – in fact, Indianapolis is there for many owners Championship Week in Week 16. Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta are all late season match-ups as well.
 
In both cases, these are players worth hanging on to. As I believe they will trend upwards over the next month or so, I would also recommend seeing if you can buy low on them. Point out the offensive line woes and the low total yards past week 1.
 
Looking forward I think this is a rushing attack that will improve as the season gets older.

 

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Twitter Roundtable Vol. 2

roundtableWelcome to the second edition of the Twitter Fantasy Football Roundtable. As is the case last time, a bunch of Fantasy writers who met on Twitter have gathered together to debate and discuss a current topic – today’s group consists of:

Matt Schauf  (@mschauf63) started writing about football for the expansive audience of metropolitan Oneonta, N.Y., back in 2002. After a couple of years of catering to his three readers there, he got picked up by ProFantasySports.com to be an IDP specialist. Soon after, Matt became the lead football writer for PFS and SportsBuff.com. You can now find his work there or at RapidDraft.com, where he also provides the strategy for the “Hollywood” character in the industry’s first single-player fantasy football game. His IDP writing can also be found at SportingNews.com and in preview magazines for Sporting News, Rotoworld and Football Diehards. In addition, Matt runs the industry news site FantasySportsBusiness.com, which was named best new site of 2008 by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Joshua Torrey (@jmtorrey) is an Electrical/Computer Engineer working out of Austin, TX. A die hard Steelers fan & fan of not just football but football strategy, Joshua enjoys breaking down game tape and team schemes to predict long term fantasy success. He is also a contributor to FantasyDC.com. He has 5 tattoos, showered yesterday and is eating meatloaf for lunch.

Andrew Garda (@ThunderingBlurb ) has been writing about football for the last eight years, covering everything from Fantasy to College to the NFL. He’s written for such sites as Draftguys.com and BleacherReport.com, but for the last year and a half has also had his own site at ThunderingBlurb.com. He’s also been podcasting since before they had a name for it and despite that making him feel quite old, continues his own weekly show The Thundering Blurb Football Show every Wednesday (10pm EST) on BlogTalkRadio.com.

Mark Gram (@FF101) Along with Adam Stark and Eric Pedigo, Mark begins the 5th season of Fantasy Football 101 with a fantasy draft special on Aug 13th on www.sportsradio1450.com WFMB am.

 Jim Day (@Fantasytaz) is a retired Biotech Engineer who has been playing Fantasy Football since 1992. Seriously addicted, Jim plays in about 30 Fantasy leagues a year, with most of these being large roster IDP Dynasty leagues. He has been writing for FF sites since 2000 when he started with Xpertsports.com. Jim started Fantasy Football Whiz in 2007 just as a place to have some fun and conversation with fellow league mates and any other fantasy fanatic that wanted to talk FF. It’s a small site, but is growing every year. Besides The Whiz, he also owns and acts as head engineer for Ultimate Recording, a 96 track, fully digital recording studio (im’s other love).

Steve Wyremski (@retiredrookie) is a CPA working in NYC.  He’s a big time New York Jets and Boston College (alum) fan and has been playing fantasy football since 1996.  His primary focus is to reach out to NFL and NCAA players for interviews in an effort to bring the players closer to fans.  Dynasty leagues are a huge focus of his, but general football strategy is his love.

Parag Gheewala (@vote4parag) is an average guy with a day job who loves fantasy football and is also the mastermind behind Mockumentary, which started as his Twitter commentary on the first Twitter Fantasy Football Mock Draft. It quickly lead to Top 10 Fantasy Football Tweeter status. Parag loves the interactive and instant nature of Twitter, but the blog allows him to provide more in-depth comments when needed. Follow him on Twitter and via Mockumentary.

Jared Ferree (@WYFShow ) hosts the “What’s Your Fantasy” radio show/podcast on Blogtalkradio’s Fantasy Sports Channel with Raymond Summerlin.  He is also a frequent contributor to www.lindyssports.com with both fantasy player rankings and general fantasy football articles. 

And now the question of the day.

 

Last year saw a pretty much unprecedented amount of rookie running backs who turned in stud performances: Steve Slaton, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson were the class of the class – and all things being equal Kevin Smith looked pretty darned good as well.

Which of these guys is most likely to see a dip in numbers their second year and why?

 

Matt Schauf – RapidDraft.com:

Steve Slaton topped out at 248 carries in college and twice carried fewer than 215 times in his three seasons. The Texans know that they have to be careful about overworking him — as evidenced when they basically sat him (four carries) for the Baltimore game last year. He can’t average 22 carries like he did over the final six weeks of 2008. If more short-yardage carries go the way of Chris Brown and/or Ryan Moats, it’ll chip away at the nine rushing scores Slaton had last year.

That said, I think all of these players belong in the first two rounds of any draft (unless you have some funky scoring system).

 

Josh Torrey – FantasyDC.com:

I think all of them stand a very likely chance to see a drop in Fantasy production this year. But I agree with Matt, Steve Slaton is one of the ones that stand a better chance. His small frame is what people were holding against him and Slaton proved us all wrong for one year.

 

But this is the NFL & Slaton is seeing more looks and hits from big time NFL linebackers, injury concerns my come up this year. Injuries can wreck Fantasy seasons and Slaton owners need to understand that one healthy season does not translate into a healthy career.

The other player I see being brought low is Chris Johnson. The kid is a blazer but he really is a one trick pony. Willie Parker lit up the league his first couple seasons as NFL Defenses still were not prepared for such potent speed rush attacks. LenDale White helps Chris Johnson in that opposing Defenses have less time to sub in a better defense for the battering ram that is White or the roadrunner that is Johnson.

 

Both Titan RBs saw great production increases last year, but if the Titans do start to favor Johnson, he could be in for a long season. My prediction is that the Titans will keep things balanced and Johnson will see some TDs lost to a better passing attack (not by much granted) and White.

 

Andrew Garda – ThunderingBlurb.com:

Everybody already knows I consider Forte a guy who will slip in year two. But as I’m merely pointing out that I expect him to dip a bit (and remain a top 10 back) I’m not sure I would characterize it as a sophomore slump & I don’t know it will be the biggest.

I agree with Josh that Chris Johnson is a prime candidate for a stumble. My biggest worry is that he is going into the season with no real passing offense. While that didn’t seem hamper him much last year, defenses weren’t as prepared for the speed he brought to the table.

Take a close look at his last few games – he struggled (but scored) on the ground against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. He caught just two catches for a measly 1 yard versus the Steelers. But he also struggled terribly against Houston.

If you let the Ravens game go as he was hurt and left the match, but look at the other two you’ll note that in both cases, teams pinned him against the line, allowed him no cutback lanes and generally hit him early and often.

It didn’t help that Collins was off his already unimpressive game.

If a team like Houston (ranked 23rd vs the run in 2008) can figure this out, more than likely others will too. It’s especially worrisome since it happened late in the season and was replicated by Pittsburgh.

And look at that early schedule – Steelers, Jets, Jags (twice), Pats – it’s not pretty.

Let’s also not forget LenDale White stealing short yardage work, though if it balances like last year that won’t hurt too much.

I like Johnson, but I think this year a season’s worth of tape along with the mediocre pass game may hurt him more than people expect.

 

Mark Gram – FF101 on Sportsradio1450.com:

I had a tough time deciding between C. Johnson and S. Slaton. While I Johnson coming back to the pack just a little, I feel that Slaton will be the guy whose numbers may drop the most.

Good points have already been made as to why Slaton may struggle a bit this season. First, the NFL is not stupid; Slaton will not sneak up on opponents this year. Defenses will be prepared.

Second, as Matt mentioned, the Texans aren’t going to give him the workload that he had last season. With C. Brown and R. Moats as the backups, I think Slaton will see fewer touches at the goal-line.

He’s still a fine option in fantasy drafts, but I’m going into my drafts not expecting the same #’s as last year.

 

Jeff Terfertiller – Footballguys.com:

I see Slaton and Johnson having a decent chance of wearing down.  Both are “smaller” and there is talk of both having a big role this season.  Hard to believe the Titans will give Johnson too many carries. 

 

With White being used to close out games in 2008, he saw extended action as the Titans led many games.  What happens if more games are close?  Will the Titans give Johnson 20-25 touches per game? 

 

Also, what happens if Collins is hurt or ineffective?  I think last year was a perfect storm of good fortune for Tenn.  In Houston, this is the year for Slaton to prove he can handle the load.  If he has two great seasons, he vaults to a perennial Top 5 pick. 

 

Josh Torrey – FantasyDC.com:

Andrew said ‘I like Johnson, but I think this year a season’s worth of tape along with the mediocre pass game may hurt him more than people expect.’

 

I like Chris Johnson in the 2nd Round. But I don’t think I will ever get a chance to even sniff at him.

 

Parag Gheewala – Mockumentary:

I like all three RBs and don’t foresee a major stumble out of any of them.  I expect Forte’s numbers to decrease from last year because of fewer targets and carries, but he’s good enough not to bust.  Until I see signs that Slaton can’t handle the load, I’ll believe what I saw last year.  Same goes for Johnson – I think he’s got elite skills.  Slaton and Johnson are great values.

 

Jared Ferree – What’s Your Fantasy Podcast:

One thing that really annoys me about Matt Forte is that I feel people are over valuing him based on the value he represented last season.  Forte went undrafted in some leagues and if you did draft him, you probably picked him up very late.  So based on what he did last season, he was a tremendous value and has people all in a tizzy about him.  The guy did less with 300+ carries than anyone I have ever seen, 3.9 YPC, and 8 rushing TDs, are you serious? 

 

His value was in the passing game and I don’t think that was planned it was due to Kyle Orton looking to check down.  Cutler thinks he can hit a guy with 2 DB’s draped on his back and if there is one thing I can guarantee in fantasy football this season, it is that Matt Forte won’t come close to his reception totals last season. 

 

If you watched some of the games that Forte played in last season, there were times he sat out for a long stretch and then got brought in at the one yard line and got a TD, and his stat line was decent.  He was average at best running the ball and better than people thought catching the ball.  I think he doesn’t carry more than 265 times, and doesn’t catch over 40 balls.  That means his production drops quite a bit. 

 

I don’t predict injuries, so I am assuming Slaton stays healthy and Johnson is a threat to go deep every time he touches the ball, so to me, this one is easy, if you take Forte top 5, you will be disappointed, because I don’t think he is a top 10 fantasy back this season. 

 

Jim Day – FantasyFootballWhiz.com:

I have to agree with Jared on this one, I think Forte falls the furthest. That being said, I think all of these kids (outside of Kevin Smith) will remain top 10 at the position. I just don’t think Forte come out on top of this group.

Hate to reiterate what has already been said, but it has been said that his touches will go down partly due to a healthy Kevin Jones looking quicker than he has in the last couple of years according to Chicago beat writers and also the fact that Cutler will look to throw the ball further downfield more often.

Ultimately though I think these things help Forte and allow him to remain fresher longer into the season and maybe even extend his career some, I’m just not sure I see top five in his future in 2009.

 

Josh Torrey – FantasyDC.com:

While Kevin Jones might be healthy with the pads off, I don’t expect Jones to make it 2 weeks without getting injured. I think the other Adrian Peterson will steal more carries from Forte & is the handcuff to own.

 

Jim Day – FantasyFootballWhiz.com:

I am not a fan of Handcuffs and don’t draft that way, so I really don’t care who takes his carries, just that they will be taken.

 

Steve Wyremski - retiredrookie.com:

Forte is my guy.

Chicago was a game managing team last year with a ton of dump offs and clock management.  Add a gun slinger and I see two changes:

1) Less dump off passes to the RB;
2) More tossing the ball around.

This all equals fewer opportunities for Forte.  Let’s face it… Forte was the Bears offense last season.  While the addition of one of the best young QuarterBacks in the league may help keep the safety out of the box, he’s not going to see the same number of touches.  The Bears are also more likely to get a second RB involved this season based on recent news out of Chicago.

Forte’s big time overrated right now.

 

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Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steve Slaton

Slaton is another back who people are either very high on or very wary of.

Questions about him are many: Is he too small to carry the load (ala Maurice Jones-Drew)? Will he lose carries to a second back (ala Joseph Addai)? Will he have issues if (maybe when) quarterback Matt Schaub or wide receiver Andre Johnson go down?

Let’s take a look at these very valid concerns and see if they hold up and if so (or if not), what that truly means.

First of all, size. While I have been researching an article on Jones-Drew, I’ve taken a hard look at the sizes and weights of many NFL running backs. Slaton is a tad on the short side, although at 5′-9 I still think that’s not a huge concern.

What might be a concern is his weight. Slaton rolls in as a trim (maybe slight is a better term) 203 pounds. While he isn’t Darren Sproles (5-6, 181lbs!) the thin frame is worrisome.

Even Slaton knew this – that’s why he added about nine pounds of muscle to help with the pounding. That pulls him closer to some of the slightly taller backs (in the 5-10 to 5-11 range) and help him with his short yardage work.

Now, as we’re concerned with size, it would stand to reason the Texans would be as well. But they didn’t bring in a power back to cut into Slaton’s carries at all. In fact, the backs behind him consist of a fragile runner, an underperforming back who runs like Slaton, a pair of rookies and a perennial camp body.

Not really a group striking fear into Slaton’s heart. Of them, most likely to succeed in any way is rookie Arian Foster, who impressed in OTAs and at 6-1, 225 pounds can fulfill the power back role. This might harm Slaton’s overall touchdown total as an awful lot of his TDs were short yardage – four were a yard or less and a fifth was just two yards.

Two thoughts – one, Slaton sure seemed to be ok going short yardage and not only was he effective on the goal line, but he played well getting first downs. Could it be that Houston didn’t acquire a full-on short yardage back because they believe Slaton can do it, with Brown (or now Foster) spelling him?

Alternatively, you have to be concerned that if he does loose his goal-line attempts, his touchdown totals are decimated.

Slaton did have about seven 40+ runs, though, including one over 71 yards which resulted in a touchdown. He can break away from tacklers and if the offense is more consistent, that could offset any loss in the short yardage game.

Still, most of his ten touchdowns were short yardage. So it definitely could be a problem.

Finally, there is the concern that if Johnson or Schaub goes down with an injury, Slaton could face too many defenses selling out to stop him.

Well, with Schaub on the bench injured and Sage Rosenfels striking fear into the hearts of nobody, Slaton performed pretty well for the most part last season.

While the depth behind Schaub is even more shaky this year (Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman – WOO HOO!), I still expect Slaton to play as well as he did last year and with another year under his belt, have the potential to be even better.

Overall, Slaton ran the ball well throughout the 2008 season. He had some good games against good run defenses (Minnesota), some ok run defenses (Jacksonville) and some bad run defenses (Detroit, Green Bay & Indianapolis).

He also had some disappointing games against poor run defenses (Cleveland) and some great run defenses (Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore). That’s to be expected from a rookie. This year he needs a little more consistency before he is considered a true stud.

Overall, I like Slaton quite a bit this year.

I think he will not lose much in the way of carries or targets and has already said he feels like he knows what his coaches want and how to achieve it. I think he has no more or less questions than any back in front or behind him, has no real challengers for carries and I believe the offensive line has continued to improve over time.

His questions are very real, however, and must be considered when drafting him.

If Slaton stays healthy and the offense plays well, he has the opportunity to not only crack the top ten again, but potentially the top five as well.

The risk is; with just one season to look over we don’t know if last year was the rule – or the exception.

And that risk will keep him from the top of a lot of people’s Fantasy Draft boards.

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: 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: 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 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.

Running Back Camp Battles to Watch Part 1

While OTA’s are winding/have wound down, the NFL does not sleep. While the players get what passes for a vacation, media does not, especially since Brett Favre can’t make up his damned mind.

In perfect universal symmetry, neither can the Vikings. Marriage made in heaven or hell? We’ll find out soon enough.

In order to get you prepped for tons of footbally goodness at the end of July, I’ve decided to break down some of the more interesting running back battles to watch in July and August.

This is what happens when you drive cross country folks. You fill time.

This is also not to say that there won’t be battles we don’t see as important now, emerging down the pike as intriguing. But for now, these are ones that stand out as important immediately.

Without further ado (or more ado than usual at least) here are the Training Camp Battles to Watch: Running Backs.

Carolina: There is a ton of assumption going on here after DeAngelo Williams went off in 2008. We know John Fox loves to hang with his long term vets and you have to figure Williams earned some consideration. Still, Jonathan Stewart was able to score 10 TDs even with Williams numbers, so Fox is willing to work him in. Where this gets interesting is behind Stewart with Mike Goodson.

Stewart has been hurt during Mini’s and OTA’s and Goodson is a guy the team wants involved. Why does this matter? Because if Goodson gets a shot to shine and does so, this could become a three headed monster which might be great for Panther fans, though hurt the overall numbers of all three guys. Carolina runs a ton (504 pass attempts versus 414 passing according to footballguys.com) so there could be work for all, but that might be offset a tad by three running backs.

Baltimore: Will last year’s Thundering Blurb Mr. Glass Award Winner (TM) Willis McGahee, ever be healthy? My guess is no, sure as heck not coming off of two off-season surgeries. Both his knee (the one that has been hurt since…. um…. 1942?) and his ankle went under the knife. Stick a fork in him (or a scalpel), the man is DONE. The Ravens may not agree and we’ll get a sense of that in Training Camp. That could mean the start of the Ray Rice Ruckus (also (TM)).

Rice showed some skills last season when he was healthy and should get a ton of the carries. He won’t do it alone, however and whether the teams sticks with rookie Cedric Peerman, moves Le’Ron McClain back from fullback (where he went during OTA’s) or adds some work for Jalen Parmele. How the backs behind Rice shake out could impact his numbers very sigificantly.

Buffalo: With Marshawn Lynch suspended the first few games of the season, Fred Jackson will get his time to shine again. Jackson looked great in limited (sometimes not-so-limited) action last season. But the Bills acquired journeyman Dominic Rhodes this offseason to protect themselves and he’ll duke it out for lead bell cow while ‘Dis Muh Son’ Lynch is in Goodell’s pokey.

This battle, mostly between Jackson and Rhodes is critical because whomever wins the top spot might not relinquish it when Lynch comes back and could factor in with what the Bills do with the troubled back long term if he can’t get his head straight.

Cincinnati: I know the Bengals think they have some sort of hidden gem in Cedric Benson, and I’m happy for them but remain unconvinced. Benson did well behind a tragic offensive line, which will not be the case if rookie Andre Smith can get his act together. But I can’t help but recall all the problems Benson had in Chicago, so I am not annointing him anything and neither should Cinci. Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott are both good short yardage backs who can catch the ball and could make some noise.

Scott will have to overcome some maturity issues and they will both have to shine in camp to wrest carries away from Benson. That’s completely possible in my opinion so I will be interested to watch this camp closely.

Denver: There are three sure things in football right now – Brett Favre will be considering and waffling about a comeback in the spring and early summer, the Raiders will make decisions based on logic only they can comprehend and the Broncos running back situation will be a cloudy mess.

But have we lost one of those sure things? Surprising everyone in this April’s Draft, the Donks took Knowshon Moreno, the talented back from Georgia and the interwubs is all a-twitter (or all twittering) about Moreno carrying the whole load.

For sure, he can do it all – block, run, catch. But will Head Coach Josh McDaniels truly rely on one back? His former team, the Patriots, didn’t. Of course, you can argue they lacked a back like Moreno.

All I know is Moreno has the ability to do it. But with recent additions Correll Buckhalter, Lamont Jordan and Darius Walker, along with impressive 2008 rookie Peyton Hillis, this is a camp battle you have to watch. Considering they no longer have Jay Cutler slinging the ball, the run game is of paramount importance this year.

Indianapolis: It wasn’t that long ago that Joseph Addai was the answer in Colt-land at running back. A few injury-plagued seasons later, Donald Brown is drafted and Addai is poised to lose most of his carries.

Brown can do pretty much everything Addai can do, and might have the size to stay healthy as well. Most analysts feel it is only a matter of time before Brown takes over the higher percentage of carries in this obvious running-back-by-committee.

What I want to know is, what percentage does he start the season off with? A good camp by Brown could give him a large role in this prolific offense.

That’s it for today’s installment. I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at some more teams, including who might be backing up MJD in Jacksonville, what Philadelphia is looking at if Westbrook stays hurt and who will be the top dog in the mess that is the Seahawks’ run game.