Joe provides his positional rankings for dynasty leagues in this
multi-part series. He assesses these players according to three
categories—long term, short term, and job security. Joe will
update these rankings periodically throughout the year.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD
Long Term View (LTV): Tomlinson
will turn 28 this week, giving him two more seasons before he reaches
his 30th birthday--an age when most NFL running backs begin to break
down. Despite the fact Tomlinson is entering a point in his career
where he is one of the older featured backs in the NFL, his production
since entering the league is too great to ignore. Since his rookie
season, the six-year vet has never finished with less than 10 rushing
touchdowns, 1200 rushing yards, or 50 receptions in a season. A
point scorer like that is a rare find, making Tomlinson the most
valuable commodity in all of fantasy football. Should his production
begin to drop after his 30th birthday, it's likely he will remain
among the top fantasy scores for another season or two given the
production he has provided in the past.
Short Term View (STV): Norv
Turner replaces Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego this year following
a 14-2 record during the 2006 season. Despite the coaching change,
don't expect much difference in the amount of production Tomlinson
will provide. Turner has gotten great performances from running
backs he has worked with in the past as both an offensive coordinator
and head coach in the league. The Pro-Bowl caliber season Frank
Gore produced last year in San Francisco is the most recent example.
Expect a minimum of 1300 rushing yards and another 10 or more
rushing touchdowns from Tomlinson in 2007. He should tack on at
least another 50 receptions and 500 receiving yards as well.
Job Security (JS): Tomlinson
is signed through 2011 with the San Diego Chargers, which means
he'll be 32 by the start of 2012 season. Until that time, expect
him to remain the featured back in San Diego. Once his contract
expires, it's possible he'll sign elsewhere as he plays out the
last few seasons of his career.
2. Joseph Addai, IND
LTV: In Addai's rookie season,
the first round pick in the 2006 draft rushed for more than 1000
yards, and recorded 40 receptions despite splitting time in the
backfield with incumbent starter Dominic Rhodes. With the departure
of Rhodes via free agency this off-season to the Oakland Raiders,
Addai is now the featured ball handler in Indianapolis' backfield.
With the success he had as a rookie last season, there's reason
to expect good production on a consistent basis from Addai in
the years ahead. Playing in a high-powered offense which features
Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne also contributes
to his value.
STV: With Rhodes out of the
picture, the path is now cleared for Addai to take over as the
Colts featured running back. After averaging just over 14 carries
a game last year, there's a good chance he'll receive an average
of 18-20 carries a game this season. At that rate, Addai will
be on pace for about 300 carries and should deliver with 1200-1300
rushing yards. He should also have 7-10 touchdowns, and at least
50 receptions after Rhodes and Addai combined for 76 of them last
JS: Addai's contract that he
signed as a rookie last year runs through the 2010 season. While
he is in position to become the team’s primary running back
during that time, he'll need to meet expectations placed upon
him to retain that role. At the moment, there's little indication
he won't be able to do so.
3. Steven Jackson, STL
LTV: Despite three years of
NFL experience, Jackson remains one of the youngest running backs
in the league. At the age of 23 (he'll be 24 at the start of the
season), he's coming off the most productive outing of his young
career and appears to have a bright future ahead of him. The Rams
selection of Brian Leonard in the second round of this year’s
draft diminishes his value slightly, but as Leonard is worked
into the offense, the fewer touches Jackson receives should serve
towards extending his career as a featured back in the NFL. After
totaling 436 touches (rushing attempts + receptions) last season,
there will still be plenty of opportunities for Jackson going
forward in Linehan's offense regardless of Leonard's presence.
STV: With the addition of Leonard in the draft, don't expect
another 90 receptions from Jackson this year. Linehan's already
on record stating he would like to see his second round pick take
15-20 snaps a game, lining up at both the fullback and halfback
positions. He's also mentioned periodically using him as both
a 3rd-down and short yardage back to lighten Jackson's workload.
While that may be true, you can still expect the Oregon State
product to finish with another 300-plus carries while rushing
for more than 1300 yards and reaching double-digits in touchdowns.
Leonard is going to eat into his reception totals, but Jackson
should still finish with 55 or more.
JS: Jackson's contract expires following the 2008 season. Expect
the Rams to either sign him to extension before then, or slap
the franchise tag on him in order to keep him around. Leonard
could prove to be a valuable commodity in the Rams offense, but
he's more of a complimentary back within the system. It's unlikely
they envision him as a featured back capable of replacing Jackson
after the 2008 season.
4. Frank Gore, SF
LTV: Gore enters his third year
in the league coming off a stellar season with the 49ers. In just
his second season, Gore rushed for 1695 yards on 313 carries,
averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the process. He also rushed into
the end zone for 8 scores, while recording 61 receptions, for
485 yards and another touchdown. Surrounded by young talent at
the QB and TE position, along with the additions of wide receivers
Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie in the off-season, it appears
the future is bright for the 3rd-year running back as a young
49ers offense continues to develop.
STV: While the new additions at wide receiver should provide
a boost to the 49ers offense, it may be difficult for Gore to
match the success he achieved last season when he totaled more
than 2000 yards. While his yardage totals are likely to drop,
there's a good chance we'll see an increase in his number of touchdowns
this season. Expect him to rush for 1300-1400 yards, with 10-12
touchdowns, and around 50 receptions this season.
JS: Gore signed a 4-year contract extension with the 49ers in
the off-season that doesn't expire until after the 2011 season.
The only concern with him going forward is whether or not the
injuries that plagued him during his college career will come
back to haunt him in the NFL. After watching him start all 16
games last season however, his owner’s worries should be
5. Larry Johnson, KC
LTV: Larry Johnson is 27-years old, will be 28 by the end of the
season, and has a contract that expires in 2009 following his
30th birthday. With those thoughts in mind, it's likely the former
Penn State tailback will have three strong seasons ahead of him,
but beyond that is unknown. If the Chiefs do not wish to resign
him after the final year of his contract, it's likely he'll land
a starting position elsewhere in the league. At the age of 30
however, it's doubtful he'll produce as a top fantasy performer
like he has in each of the past two seasons when that time comes.
STV: This is what keeps Johnson's fantasy value in dynasty leagues
so high. After rushing for more than 1700 yards in each of the
past two seasons while totaling 37 rushing touchdowns, chances
are his production is going to slip this year. Nonetheless, he's
virtually guaranteed 300-plus carries while remaining a threat
to score 10 or more touchdowns a season while he's with the Chiefs.
Consistent production like that is hard to find in fantasy leagues,
which is why it would be difficult to pass on Johnson past this
point in a start-up draft for your dynasty league. There is a
chance he could be in for a disappointing season following Trent
Green's departure to the Miami Dolphins, but the amount of work
he receives should continue to place him among the top fantasy
backs for a few more seasons.
JS: Johnson should remain the Chiefs starting running back for
the next three years, but there's a good chance he could be let
go after the 2009 season when his contract expires. If he continues
to carry close to 350 times per season, the wear and tear will
likely take a toll on his body and diminish his value by the time
he signs a new deal.
6. Brian Westbrook, PHI
LTV: Westbrook is coming off a career year for himself. A year
in which he tallied highs in rushing yards, rushing attempts,
and receptions. His 1217 rushing yards marked the first time he
surpassed 1000 in a season. The system he plays in complements
his pass catching ability so well, that he also remains a threat
to record 70 receptions every year. At the start of the season,
the 6-year vet will be 28 and is quite possibly entering the prime
of his career. He may never rush for 1300 yards in a season, but
over the next 3 years you should be able to expect 1000-1200 yards
from him on the ground. He'll also remain a threat to record 600-800
yards and finish with 10 or more total touchdowns over that span.
While most running backs begin to see a significant drop in production
after their 30th birthday, Westbrook's talents match Andy Reid's
system so well that he could remain at least quality #2 RB on
fantasy teams for a couple more seasons.
STV: The Eagles selected Penn
State product Tony Hunt in the 3rd round of this year’s draft,
but there still isn't a back on the team that matches Westbrook's
abilities. With Marty Mornhinweg providing more input into Andy
Reid's play calling last season, it appears the Eagles may finally
be ready to run Westbrook more often on a weekly basis. Between
his rushing and receiving totals, he's a threat to record 100-125
yards every week. He's also a threat to score a touchdown in every
JS: Westbrook's contract keeps him in Philadelphia through the
2010 season. Expect him to remain the primary focus of the Eagles
offense over the next four years.
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC
LTV: Jones-Drew's abilities
are a lot like Westbrook's. The difference being Drew is just
22-years old, and already has a season under his belt in which
he nearly reached 1000 yards rushing despite splitting time in
the backfield with Fred Taylor last year. He also rushed for 13
touchdowns, while adding 2 more, and 436 yards receiving on 46
receptions. With the talented, but aging Fred Taylor having celebrated
his 31st birthday in January, expect his touches to be reduced
in the years ahead while Drew's go on the rise.
STV: Fred Taylor may have another year in him where he can crank
out 1000 yards, but with Drew's abilities, the second year back
should rush for another 800-1000 yards this year while adding
500 or more with his receptions. He should also score roughly
10 touchdowns this season.
JS: Drew still needs to prove he can be as productive a running
back as he was last season while carrying the ball over 200 times
a year before securing his role as member of the Jaguars offense
once his contract expires. If he continues to match last year’s
success it won't be an issue. Expect the Jaguars to fork over
the money to keep him around past 2009, at which time his current
contract is set to expire.
8. Laurence Maroney, NE
LTV: Like Drew, Maroney is also just 22-years old acquired in
last year's draft. He also had solid production over the course
of the year. But Maroney didn't come close to matching Drew's
output. There are also some concerns surrounding Maroney and his
recovery following off-season shoulder surgery. At the moment,
it's believed he's on pace to be fully recovered for the start
of the season. If so, and he remains injury free throughout the
year, he should provide an immediate spark to New England's ground
game in his first season as their starter. The only foreseeable
reason for why he shouldn't succeed going forward is if injuries
keep him off the field. At the moment, he's worth the gamble that
he'll be fully recovered to start of the season.
STV: Should Maroney be back to top form at the start of the year,
he's likely to finish the season with over 1200 yards rushing
and 8-10 touchdowns. Pay close attention to his injury status
as the season approaches. If he doesn't participate much in the
pre-season, there may be cause for concern.
JS: Maroney's contract has him signed through the 2010 season.
Provided he's healthy, he should be New England's featured running
back over that span.
9. Ronnie Brown, MIA
LTV: With the addition of Trent
Green in a recent trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ronnie Brown
may finally have some competent play from the quarterback position
to keep defenses a bit more honest. Cam Cameron is the new head
coach in Miami as well, and he's likely to find ways to make the
most of Brown's abilities. The Dolphins also used a second round
pick on BYU quarterback, John Beck, in this year’s draft. Entering
his third year in the league, Brown's best seasons should still
be ahead of him.
STV: With the new offensive
system put in place by Cam Cameron this off-season, along with
the additions of Trent Green and John Beck at the QB position,
expect to see improvements all around from the Dolphins offense.
Chris Chambers is likely to bounce back following a disappointing
year in 2006, and Ronnie Brown should benefit with the best yearly
totals of his young career. Over the next three seasons there
is a good chance he'll be rushing for 1200-1300 yards and scoring
7-10 touchdowns per season.
JS: Ronnie Brown has a contract that doesn't expire until after
the 2010 season. Expect him to remain the Dolphins primary running
back during that time.
10. Reggie Bush, NO
LTV: Reggie Bush is just 22-years old and coming off a season
in which he had a team-high 89 receptions as a rookie. His rushing
and touchdown totals weren't nearly as impressive as his receiving
statistics were, but Bush has the talent to make vast improvements
in those areas as his career progresses.
If it weren't for the presence of Deuce McAllister alongside
him in the backfield, Bush would rank higher on this list. At
the moment, McAllister is 28-years old and has a contract that
doesn't expire until after the 2012 season. He also had a strong
season last year, and will continue to be a force in the offense
run by Saints head coach Sean Payton.
While Bush may one day have combined rushing and receiving totals
that surpass 2000 yards a season, the presence of Deuce McAllister
is likely to keep him from gaining the opportunity for another
2-3 years. Come that time, the Saints may consider releasing the
Mississippi alum as his base salary escalates.
STV: At the moment, Bush can be valued as a high-end number two
running back in fantasy leagues. Eight hundred yards rushing may
be more towards the high end of what to expect from him on the
ground this season, but he possesses the talent to do it. He'll
continue to be a receiving threat out of the backfield as well,
and is likely to finish with 75-85 receptions this season.
JS: Bush's current contract has him signed through the 2011 season
with the Saints. Expect his role to increase as he becomes more
involved in the offense. More…
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