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Running Back Rankings – Version 3

By: — August 31, 2009 @ 7:15 am
Filed under: Forecast

The running back position is most likely to make or break your fantasy team and it’s time for an update to the rankings. There have been significant developments since our last rankings but not necessarily based on the players themselves. Certain roles have been changed from what was expected to materialize as training camp started and a few teams have had very poor offensive showings thus far. Both developments have caused a significant shake-up starting at the 7th ranked running back and continuing down into the mid-twenties. 

  1. Adrian Peterson, MIN – No change at the top. He’s the running back most likely to have a phenomenal season.
  2. Michael Turner, ATL
  3. Matt Forte, CHI – Moves up a notch with Chicago’s offense looking good and Orlando Pace solidifying the left tackle position.
  4. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX – Down a notch on concerns about the Jaguars ability to consistently move the ball.
  5. DeAngelo Williams, CAR
  6. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD
  7. Frank Gore, SF – Moves up more due to concerns with other backs than his situation. Rookie Glen Coffee has looked good but Gore still figures to get major touches.
  8. Steven Jackson, STL – The Rams get Donnie Avery back earlier than expected.
  9. Steve Slaton, HOU – He’s going to lose touches in the red zone to Chris Brown but likely won’t come off the field much otherwise.
  10. Marion Barber, DAL – Concerns at wide receiver and it now seems certain that the Cowboys will give significant touches to Felix Jones.
  11. Brandon Jacobs, NYG
  12. Ronnie Brown, MIA
  13. Brian Westbrook, PHI – Moves down due to concerns about his health and with the back injury to right tackle Shawn Andrews.
  14. Chris Johnson, TEN
  15. Clinton Portis, WAS – Most significant drop in the rankings. Portis is still talented but major issues in Washington at QB, WR and along the OL plus head coach Jim Zorn has installed Ladell Betts as the third down back.
  16. Pierre Thomas, NO – Up a couple spots based on the Saints offensive potential.
  17. Ryan Grant, GB
  18. Joseph Addai, IND – Major upside if he gets the goal line work and stays healthy.
  19. Kevin Smith, DET – Looks like rookie Matthew Stafford could start at QB soon which almost certainly limits Smith’s upside.
  20. Darren McFadden, OAK – If only there were realistic TD opportunities in Oakland.
  21. Marshawn Lynch, BUF
  22. Reggie Bush, NO
  23. Thomas Jones, NYJ
  24. Willie Parker, PIT
  25. Jonathan Stewart, CAR
  26. Derrick Ward, TB – Down six spots as it now appears he will split time evenly with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams, plus the Bucs offense looks to have limited potential.
  27. Larry Johnson, KC – Unless he gets better as a receiver, he may spend time sitting in a pass heavy offense.
  28. LenDale White, TEN
  29. Jamal Lewis, CLE
  30. Cedric Benson, CIN – Looks like he will carry a heavy load in Cinci so he moves up four spots.
  31. Ray Rice, BAL – Holding on to the top role in Baltimore so he’s up from 36.
  32. Felix Jones, DAL – Indications in Dallas are he will split time with Barber.
  33. Fred Jackson, BUF
  34. Chris Wells, ARI
  35. Julius Jones, SEA – With Edge on board, Jones drops five spots.
  36. Leon Washington, NYJ – He’s here but he has some upside. Great flex option.
  37. Tim Hightower, ARI
  38. Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Expected take off appears to be delayed.
  39. Earnest Graham, TB – If it is indeed a three-man rotation in Tampa, Graham also suffers.
  40. Donald Brown, IND
  41. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG
  42. Fred Taylor, NE
  43. Jerious Norwood, ATL
  44. Edgerrin James, SEA – 8-12 carries a game and goal line work are in his future.
  45. Darren Sproles, SD
  46. Ricky Williams, MIA
  47. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT
  48. Le’Ron McClain, BALMichael Bush, OAK
  49. Glen Coffee, SF – Looking great but hard to move him up.
  50. Sammy Morris, NE
  51. Chester Taylor, MIN
  52. Willis McGahee, BAL
  53. LeSean McCoy, PHI
  54. Jamaal Charles, KC – Sleeper potential if he is employed in a receiving role and the Chiefs are playing from behind (very likely).
  55. Brandon Jackson, GB
  56. Chris Brown, HOU – Looks like he’s in line to get the goal line carries.
  57. Cadillac Williams, TB – Feel good story or is he just being showcased?
  58. Maurice Morris, DET
  59. Kevin Faulk, NE
  60. Correll Buckhalter, DEN
  61. Mewelde Moore, PIT
  62. Shonn Greene, NYJ – Has looked good but what exactly is his role?
  63. James Davis, CLE
  64. Greg Jones, JAX
  65. Rashad Jennings, JAX
  66. LaMont Jordan, DEN
  67. Kolby Smith, KC – Maybe he takes over LJ’s role if there are any issues in K.C.

Quarterback Rankings – Version 3

By: — August 26, 2009 @ 10:53 am
Filed under: Forecast

With fantasy football drafts and auctions now upon us, it’s time to update our quarterback rankings. The rankings haven’t changed dramatically since our last update, with most changes being a position or two at most. The biggest news is that it now appears Matthew Stafford has an above average chance to open the season as the starter in Detroit and Byron Leftwich now appears likely to start in Tampa Bay.

  1. Tom Brady, NE – No change at the top.
  2. Drew Brees, NO
  3. Philip Rivers, SD – Moves up a notch with all of the Chargers skill position players healthy.
  4. Aaron Rodgers, GB – Down a notch due to concerns about offensive line.
  5. Kurt Warner, ARI
  6. Peyton Manning, IND
  7. Donovan McNabb, PHI
  8. Matt Hasselbeck, SEA – Moves ahead of Romo and Schaub because receiving corps looks good and Seattle running game looks awful.
  9. Matt Schaub, HOU
  10. Tony Romo, DAL
  11. Jay Cutler, CHI
  12. Carson Palmer, CIN
  13. Matt Ryan, ATL – Moves up mostly due to others dropping. Still not sold that Ryan is due for a breakout fantasy season.
  14. David Garrard, JAC – With Troy Williamson appearing the best option to start alongside Torry Holt, Garrard moves down the list.
  15. Matt Cassel, KC – Moves lower due to poor preseason and concerns about offensive line.
  16. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT – Big Ben moves up a couple of spots with the running game perhaps not being as formidable as in prior years.
  17. Jason Campbell, WAS
  18. Trent Edwards, BUF
  19. Chad Pennington, MIA
  20. Jake Delhomme, CAR
  21. Eli Manning, NYG
  22. Brett Favre, MIN – Biggest mover with a five spot leap. Percy Harvin looks exciting and Bernard Berrian figures to provide solid deep threat not to mention the running game is exceptional.
  23. Joe Flacco, BAL
  24. Matthew Stafford, DET – Rookie now appears ready to open the season as the starter and has the arm to take advantage of Calvin Johnson‘s deep ball skills. Buyer beware in leagues that takes points away for interceptions.
  25. Brady Quinn, CLE
  26. Kerry Collins, TEN
  27. Kyle Orton, DEN – Drops a few notches after a horrible training camp thus far.
  28. JaMarcus Russell, OAK
  29. Shaun Hill, SF – Was annointed the starter by head coach Mike Singletary but hasn’t looked good and won’t get much help from 1st round pick WR Michael Crabtree, if any at all.
  30. Byron Leftwich, TB – Looks like the Bucs starter but not very exciting as a fantasy option.
  31. Mark Sanchez, NYJ
  32. Marc Bulger, STL – Down a couple spots to 32 with Donnie Avery‘s status in doubt for the first couple of games.

Current backups who could produce if given an opportunity include Sage Rosenfels, Matt Leinart, Chris Simms, Daunte Culpepper, Derek Anderson, Alex Smith and Vince Young.

Willie Parker Comeback Player?

By: — @ 10:40 am
Filed under: Forecast

Steelers running back Willie Parker was a surprise 15 game starter for the team in 2005, despite being a former undrafted free agent. Parker seemed to come out of nowhere and the combination of his blazing speed and a solid offensive line produced great results considering the cost to acquire him.

He followed that 172 fantasy point season with 267 points in 2006, good enough for fifth overall in the fantasy RB rankings. However, he fell back down to earth in 2007 averaging just under 11 points per game and 10 points per game in 2008, when he missed five games due to injury.

Because he isn’t very shifty or very good at making tacklers miss, Parker has always relied on his speed and there are questions about how much speed he has lost although he is only 28 years old. He relies on his offensive line more than most backs and was injury prone in 2008.

With 2008 1st round pick Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore, who was surprisingly productive last year, in reserve, there are questions about how much Parker will be used in 2009. He struggled in short yardage, continues to be a poor receiving option and the offense seemed to be more in sync at times last year when Moore was getting the reps.

As with all things fantasy football, it’s about value. Parker owners should consider acquiring Mendenhall as a handcuff if the price is right, but it could mean using two picks within the first ten rounds to secure both players. Parker generally comes out of the gate fast and he will have this year in order to secure his job. Look for Parker to remain marginally productive and produce a few solid outings but he’s a fantasy backup in ten team leagues and a low end starter in 12 team leagues.

Edge Signs With Seahawks

By: — August 25, 2009 @ 4:05 pm
Filed under: Free Agents

The Seattle Seahawks have signed former Cardinals and Colts running back Edgerrin James to a one year contract. The signing of James comes after the team struggled to run the ball in the pre-season, a trend that began last year. The deal is reportedly for one year and $2 million.

The 31-year old James is coming off the worst year of his illustrious 10 year career, with just 514 yards rushing and three TD. He lost his starting job to Tim Hightower part way through the season before reclaiming it and providing steady, if not spectacular, production during the team’s run to the Super Bowl.

With James on board, the Seahawks are expected to release T.J. Duckett and enter the season with Julius Jones, diminutive Justin Forsett and James as the team’s three running backs. His signing further magnifies general manager Tim Ruskell’s questionable decision not to pick a running back in this year’s rookie draft despite the team’s questionable depth at the position.

Fantasy Impact

It all starts up front with the offensive line and unfortunately for Seattle, they have already lost three-fifths of what was expected to be their starting offensive line. Left tackle Walter Jones is out indefinitely due to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, center Chris Spencer is likely to miss one or two games with a slight tear in his right quadriceps and left guard Mike Wahle was released after failing his physical. If Spencer and Jones are not available on opening day, the team will go with a very inexperienced offensive line to start the season.

James is unlikely to have signed in Seattle without receiving at least some assurance that he would receive a reasonable amount of playing time. Unfortunately, his average yards per rush over the last three seasons were 3.4, 3.8 and 3.9 so it is clear that his big play ability has been extremely diminished. He has adapted his game to become more of an inside, straight ahead runner who avoids negative plays.

Look for James to back up Jones but get 8-12 carries per game and be the team’s short yardage option, a role he lost to Hightower in Arizona, and perhaps a late game closer. James is, at best, a solid handcuff to Jones but an interesting one because of Jones’ history of injuries and ineffectiveness.

Position Battles – Running Back

By: — August 24, 2009 @ 2:18 pm
Filed under: Forecast

Just like every other year, there are a handful of starting running back positions with an uncertain outcome, and picking the right side could make or break your fantasy season. For the most part, these players are worth having but not worth reaching too early for given their uncertain playing time. Therefore, the value will be found when these players start to fall in your league’s draft or if the auction cost is low.

There are two bigger name players in this group – Thomas Jones of the Jets and Derrick Ward of the Bucs. The Jets starting quarterback will likely be rookie Mark Sanchez after Brett Favre’s departure, plus the team lost starting wide receiver Laveraneus Coles, both moves that will hurt Jones’ fantasy potential. Ward moved over to the Bucs from the Giants and is supposedly in a battle with Earnest Graham for the starting position.

New York Jets – Thomas Jones vs. Leon Washington vs. Shonn Greene

We’re putting this in here as a battle but that’s mainly because most people seem to think it’s one. We don’t. Jones is coming off a huge season, he’s a workout warrior and motivated to earn a new contract and avoid being given the pink slip after this season. Sure, his fantasy situation isn’t as favourable as last season when he finished as the league’s 5th ranked fantasy running back but he’s unlikely to lose his spot to the diminutive Washington or Greene, the team’s 3rd round pick in 2009. Jones won’t likely be a top ten back in 2009 but should be a decent low end second running back with mild upside. The risk is the Jets season going south and Jones losing playing time to Greene.

Arizona — Tim Hightower vs. Chris “Beanie” Wells

Not satisfied with Hightower’s performance as a starter as a rookie in 2008 when he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry but still managed to score 10 TD, the Cardinals spent a 1st round pick on Chris Wells to provide competition and depth at the position. Reports out of Arizona indicate that Hightower is having a solid training camp while the rookie Wells is in limbo courtesy of a right ankle injury. Questions regarding Wells’ durability helped cause his draft stock to fall and missing time will certainly impact his ability to supplant Hightower. Rookie running backs generally struggle with their pass blocking assignments and that is very relevant in Arizona where starting quarterback Kurt Warner is perhaps the least mobile player at his position in the league. Basically, Hightower played well enough last year to deserve another chance unless Wells had an outstanding training camp and that can’t happen when he’s in the trainer’s room. Look for Hightower to start on opening day and for Wells to have to earn the starting nod as the season progresses. Either way, this looks to be a timeshare.

Tampa Bay — Earnest Graham vs. Derrick Ward

After three years in the league, Graham came virtually out of nowhere to post 898 yards rushing, 10 TD and 324 yards receiving in 2007 despite starting only ten games. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a lacklustre campaign in 2008 with 737 combined yards and four TD while missing six games due to injury. The verdict out of Tampa was that Graham was not a full time back and hence the decision to sign Ward away from the Giants.

Ward is coming off a stellar campaign in New York, where he topped 1,000 rushing yards as Brandon Jacobs’ backup while also notching 384 receiving yards, good enough for the 23rd fantasy ranking at the position. Critics point to the fact that Ward managed just two TD and benefited playing behind a solid Giants offensive line. However, he did manage 5.6 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception and there is little doubting that Jacobs is one of the better, if not the best, short yardage backs in the league. In addition, the new Bucs regime brought in their guy, he was hugely productive in 2008 and he is shiftier and provides more big play potential than the incumbent. The only question here is whether Graham gets the goal line carries.

Baltimore — Willis McGahee vs. Le’Ron McClain vs. Ray Rice

The veteran malcontent goes up against the out of nowhere fullback and the diminutive second year player for the starting running back position on the team that figures to run the ball more than any other team in the league in 2009. This has the makings of an extremely fascinating fantasy football issue heading into this season as owners determine which back to hedge their bets on. Unfortunately, what’s more likely to occur is that all three will put up decent production but ultimately disappoint their fantasy owners because of consistency issues.

Rice figures to have the most upside given that he is currently carrying starter status and is the best receiving option amongst the three players. McClain will focus more on a fullback role in 2009 but could be the short yardage and closer running back, particularly if the team keeps Jason Cook as a backup fullback. McGahee, who is coming off offseason knee surgery, will likely spell Rice and get significant carries in a backup role. In a nutshell, it is likely best to avoid all three unless they fall to the lower rounds in your league’s draft. If you must have one, bet on Rice.

Denver — LaMont Jordan vs. Correll Buckhalter vs. Knowshon Moreno

Another fantasy carousel figures to happen in Denver where new head coach Josh McDaniels brought over Jordan with him from the Patriots, signed Buckhalter from the Eagles and drafted Moreno with the 12th pick in the draft. McDaniels also signed J.J. Arrington but the team released him after determining his knee wasn’t healthy enough to allow him to contribute in 2009. The team also has fullback Peyton Hillis, who averaged 14.4 points per game over his last six games in 2008.

Moreno clearly has the most upside of the bunch and figures to be starting by midseason, given the new regime’s investment in him. Look for Jordan to start on opening day before being relegated to a relief role, Buckhalter to be utilized on passing downs and Hillis to move to more of a traditional fullback role. Moreno’s the guy to have but don’t reach for him.

New England — Sammy Morris vs. Fred Taylor vs. Laurence Maroney

The Patriots backfield is a fantasy mess, consisting of talented but injury prone players (Morris, Maroney), a solid receiving option (Kevin Faulk), a low rent 2nd year player who scored five TD in just 74 carries as a rookie (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and a veteran newcomer with a history of putting up 1,000 yards rushing (Taylor). Look for Morris or Taylor to earn the starting job out of camp with Maroney either earning time as a backup or being moved to another team. Green-Ellis will be in tough to make the roster and Faulk will definitely have a few big games catching the ball out of the backfield. This is another situation to avoid but the players with the most potential are Taylor and Maroney with Taylor getting the nod here.

Position Battles – Quarterback

By: — August 21, 2009 @ 8:23 am
Filed under: Forecast

There are a number of starting quarterback positions open across the league and their resolutions can have a significant fantasy football impact for the skill position players on their teams. In general, the quarterbacks that have to battle for a starting position are not potential starters for fantasy purposes and in most cases are unlikely to be worthy backups. However, there are always surprises at every position in fantasy football so there’s a chance one of these players could claim the job and put up solid numbers.

This list is in order of which battles are most likely to produce a decent starter for your fantasy team. The situation in Oakland where JaMarcus Russell is currently slated to start ahead of Jeff Garcia has been excluded because it seems clear that Russell will win the job, although the Raiders may have a quick hook if he doesn’t produce.

Detroit – Daunte Culpepper vs. Matthew Stafford

The winner of this battle gets to throw to the ultra talented Calvin Johnson and a revamped group of veteran receivers. Culpepper is familiar with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense from their days together in Minnesota so he is likely to get the nod on opening day. However, it’s anybody’s guess as to how long he keeps it. If Stafford wins out, Johnson’s production is likely to suffer at least marginally.

Cleveland – Brady Quinn vs. Derek Anderson

Quinn seems destined to win this battle and relegate Anderson to the bench just two years after his 3,786 yard, 29 TD performance in 2007, a spectacular fall from grace. However, the Browns offense was horrible in 2008, failing to score an offensive touchdown during their last six games. With a receiving corps led by the enigmatic Braylon Edwards and featuring two rookies plus veteran retreads David Patten and Mike Furrey, a breakout campaign from either of these signal callers is unlikely in 2009. Quinn will likely wind up starting but hopefully not for your fantasy team.

San Francisco – Shaun Hill vs. Alex Smith

Hill put up surprisingly solid statistics in eight starts in 2008, posting 1,793 yards with 12 TD and 8 interceptions. He also had 115 yards rushing and a TD which padded his fantasy stats. However, new head coach Mike Singletary has clearly stated that he plans to increase the team’s reliance on the running game so whoever is starting will almost certainly not achieve fantasy starter status. It says here that a more mature Smith emerges to reclaim the job from Hill, however that opinion is in the minority at the moment. Either way, the team’s starter is fantasy backup material.

Tampa Bay – Josh McCown vs. Byron Leftwich vs. Josh Freeman

This is the fantasy backwater and if any of these guys ends up on your roster, you should be scouring the waiver wire or looking for a trade early in the season. McCown has been scattershot throughout his career, Leftwich has started eight games over the last three years and Freeman figures to need a year of seasoning before being given a shot at the starting gig. Although the team does possess excellent receiving talent in Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow, the overall situation in Tampa looks like one of two veteran retreads throwing to a pair of malcontents. Turn your head away so you don’t see the train wreck in Tampa.

New York Jets – Kellen Clemens vs. Mark Sanchez

The Jets have not named a starter yet but it will be a huge shock if Sanchez does not win this battle. Clemens may be a former 2nd round pick but he looks lost and unsure of himself in the pocket. Sanchez may struggle early but look for the Jets to accept the growing pains in hopes of getting a better return early. Realistically, new head coach Rex Ryan will have the Jets offense heavily focused on the run. Sanchez is a fantasy third stringer at best and Clemens isn’t worth owning even if he wins the job.

Faceoff – 2nd Ranked WR

By: — August 17, 2009 @ 12:25 pm
Filed under: Forecast

The Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald is the consensus top ranked fantasy wide receiver, courtesy of his outstanding performance last year and other worldly run in the playoffs. The Cardinals offense returns its nucleus and there’s little reason to think Fitzgerald won’t duplicate his performance of 2008. In fact, there’s a good chance he will be even better in 2009.

There is also general consensus that the 2nd through 4th ranked fantasy wide receivers come from a group of Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss. The question is, who should be the 2nd ranked fantasy wide receiver on your draft board?

Randy Moss

Randy Moss

Andre Johnson

Andre Johnson

There are sound arguments for all three. Andre Johnson had a stellar year in 2008, finishing as fantasy’s 2nd ranked wideout. The Texans offense looks ready to bust out after having a very solid year both running and passing in 2008. If quarterback Matt Schaub can actually stay healthy for 16 games, Johnson could hit 1,600 yards and 10 plus TD.

Calvin Johnson was superb in his 2nd season with the Lions, posting 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 TD despite questionable play at the quarterback position and a running game that stumbled early. Kevin Smith figures to solidify the running game in 2009 but there are questions at quarterback, where Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford, the 1st selection in the NFL Draft, are battling it out for the starting position. Johnson put up big numbers with marginal play at the position in 2008 so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again in 2009, although there is some risk that the team will go with Stafford and risk the growing pains.

Moss gets quarterback Tom Brady back and has an opportunity to duplicate his 2007 season, perhaps the best performance by a wide receiver in the history of the game. Reports out of New England indicate Brady is fully healthy and Moss owners should reap the rewards of that. Brady validated those reports in his pre-season game appearance against the Eagles, throwing 2 TD in the first half. Expecting Moss to once again approach his 2007 production of 1,493 yards and 23 TD at the age of 32 is unrealistic. However, he put up 1,008 yards and 11 TD in 2008 and fans of the Patriots know that his numbers would have been much better had Matt Cassel been more accurate with the deep ball. Moss still has excellent speed and it is fair to say that he would have had close to 300 more yards and four or five additional TD had Brady been behind center in 2008. Based on that, Moss is the choice despite his age relative to Johnson and Johnson. ~ Dave

Trying to determine which of this talented trio will have the best 2009 is a little nitpicky. Before we get into the detail, keep in mind that this group represents a clear tier of players and if you are able to wait an extra round (i.e. from the 10th or 11th spot in a 12 team league) and still get one of these three, draft another position (RB) first. When it comes to projecting who to draft of these three, it’s less about predicting who will have the best year and more about assessing the risk. Based on his quarterback, lousy talent around him and shorter history in the league, Calvin Johnson clearly has the most risk of the three making this, for me, a question of Randy Moss vs. Andre Johnson.

Moss is the more intriguing option because of the incredible potential posed by a 2007-like season from Pats QB Tom Brady. Consequently a lot of owners will fall in love with Moss and expect huge numbers. Temper your enthusiasm. The Patriots’ 2007 was a once-in-a-generation occurrence and no matter how healthy Tom Terrific is, you’d be foolish to expect a repeat performance. In a great but not spectacular year, Moss will still produce great numbers in spite of the presence of Wes Welker.

Andre Johnson has emerged as a top wide receiver in football. As the feature player in a dangerous offence, you can expect him to be targeted as much or more than Moss. As Steve Slaton continues to improve, I expect the offence to open up a little offering Johnson even more opportunity to stretch out big gains and score touchdowns. With Owen Daniels likely to pick up more coverage underneath, Johnson should also profit from some play action and deep middle of the field routes.

You really can’t go wrong with Moss or either Johnson, but since I expect an improvement from the Texans overall, Andre Johnson is my pick by a hair. ~ Andy

Faceoff – 30 Year Old RB Outlook

By: — August 14, 2009 @ 11:31 am
Filed under: Forecast

In the NFL, the widely held belief is that running backs decline rapidly once they hit the 30 year old mark and there are a number of major fantasy producers that hit that mark in 2009. LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers and Brian Westbrook of the Eagles turned 30 already and Larry Johnson of the Chiefs turns 30 during the season.

Tomlinson has ruled the fantasy landscape for much of the past decade, finishing as the top ranked fantasy running back twice, third three times, fourth and seventh twice, including last year, since joining the league in 2001. The consensus seems to be that he is now past his prime and not capable of recreating his past exploits.

Johnson burst onto the fantasy scene in 2005, courtesy of Priest Holmes injury problems, and finished as the second ranked fantasy back despite starting just nine games. [Editor’s note: Holmes missed half of his 2004 season and more than half of 2005. He turned 31 in October 2004.] Johnson followed that up with a second place ranking in 2006 but injuries, attitude and suspensions have derailed his last two seasons.

Westbrook has averaged 15.3 points per game and 215 points a season since earning a major role in the Eagles offense in 2003. However, he battled injuries last year, lacked consistency when he was in the lineup and had surgery in June to clean up bone spurs in his right ankle.

So which of these three players, if any, do you gamble on heading into 2009? Let’s find out.

Brian Westbrook

Brian Westbrook

LaDainian Tomlinson

LaDainian Tomlinson

Evaluating older running backs is difficult, especially when you can see they are on the way down. You never know when there will be another stud season before the sun sets, and you always worry about this season being the one where the big slide into retirement starts. As a fantasy owner, you shouldn’t get emotionally tied to the player or to the stats he has put up in the past. Every player declines unless they hang them up early. The question is, when?

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m putting Johnson on the shelf. He is getting drafted rounds later than Tomlinson or Westbrook, so if you really want to buck the trend, you could draft a pair of these thirty somethings. Now that we’ve narrowed the field, is there an objective way to evaluate Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson? There are three main things I consider: (1) age and player history, (2) competition for touches and (3) strength of schedule.

We know that both backs are about the same chronological age, but what about “football age”? Tomlinson has played in 16 games in every year except 2004 when he managed 15. Over his career he averaged 396 touches and has managed to stay mostly injury free while watching his production erode slowly from its peak in 2006. Westbrook has travelled a very different road. After easing his way into the Eagles offense early in his career, Westbrook averaged 324 touches per year the last three years. Despite this smaller workload and a slower start to his career, Westbrook seems to miss a game or two per year while being limited in others. Still, I give the edge to Westbrook here on potential to finish the season. While he seems to get dinged a little more historically, LT’s significantly higher average touch total is a big red flag that if one of them is going to go down fast and furious, Tomlinson is the more likely candidate.

In terms of competition for touches, both backs have young understudies getting set to push them for carries this season. Darren Sproles showed enough last year in LT’s absence to earn the Chargers’ franchise tag. HC Norv Turner has made it clear LT is still the main guy, but they will pick their spots utilizing Sproles on offense. The Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy in the 2nd round and have high hopes for him. It is a close call but we’ll lean to advantage Westbrook here for this season given the rookie status of McCoy vs. the veteran Sproles.

Looking at the strength of schedule, the Eagles play early games against New Orleans, Kansas City and Tampa Bay with a few middle of the road defenses as the season wears on thanks to their 2nd place schedule. San Diego does profit from playing in the weak AFC West, but they play a 1st place schedule plus face Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the first 4 weeks of the season. The strength of schedule also seems to point to Westbrook as the slightly safer pick.

This is a very tough call, but Westbrook is the pick this year over Tomlinson. Be sure to handcuff McCoy to Westy as insurance against injury. ~ Dave

This is a tough debate. All three are former studs who, despite their advancing age, are still talented players. The consensus third option would seem to be Johnson. However, he averaged 10.4 points per game last year despite a slow start to the season and playing for an offense that was truly horrible for a large part of it. He didn’t seem to run as hard as in past years but is still a powerful back who managed 874 yards and five TD in just 12 games last year. Plus, he figures to be motivated at least during training camp because his 2009 salary is not guaranteed and the team has added youngsters Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles over the last two years.

Westbrook will play behind a stout Eagles offensive line on a team loaded with solid, if not superstar, skill position players. The Eagles added LeSean McCoy in the draft but Westbrook is clearly the team’s top threat at the running back position. The Eagles may look to reduce his role somewhat in 2009 in hopes of avoiding injuries and keeping him fresh for the playoffs. If healthy and even with a reduced role, Westbrook has the potential to land in the top ten.

Tomlinson figures to lose at least some playing time to Darren Sproles, who shined at the end of last season and in the playoffs. Although Tomlinson played nicked up in 2008, he still managed 1,531 combined yards and 11 TD while playing in all 16 games. As with prior years, the Chargers are loaded on offense and Tomlinson figures to reap the benefits at the goal line. Even if his yards go down, 12 to 16 TD seems reasonable. It says here that Tomlinson is the best option given his TD potential and the fact that Sproles really isn’t a threat to eat into playing time on 1st and 2nd downs. ~ Andy

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