The draft order for my long-running fantasy football league was released this week. It’s a league my friends and I have been doing for nearly a decade now, one in which I’ve assembled many a fine franchise, making it to our title game two of the past three years, but not since my now infamous 16-1 season in 2001 have I managed a championship. This year, I vow to get over the hump. Or at least blow off a lot of work trying. So I’m of the belief it’s never too early to start talking fantasy football, and my first order of business was figuring out some draft-day strategy. Generally I subscribe to the theory that you should draft running backs early and often, but after some quick perusing of the RB scene, I’m not so sure that the strategy holds up this year.
Last year, I bemoaned the influx of “running back-by-committee” systems around the NFL. The true, workhorse back seemed like a dying breed. But after some offseason moves, it appears that almost every team has a set No. 1 runner this year entering the season – a very good sign for fantasy buffs. Travis Henry to Denver, Jamal Lewis to Cleveland, Willis McGahee to Baltimore, Thomas Jones to the Jets, Corey Dillon’s retirement – it has all helped even out the number of talented starters around the league which, hopefully, means a clearer picture for owners on draft day.
Having said that, however, there may still be some steals among potential backups at running back. While so many starters seem entrenched, there are a handful of benchwarmers that could end up carrying you to a title. Here’s a few names to watch out for:
Brandon Jacobs, NYG. The Giants brought in Reuben Droughns to replace much of Tiki Barber’s production, but it will be Jacobs who is the star of the show by season’s end. Droughns is serviceable, but he’s not a game-changer. Jacobs, on the other hand, has all the potential here, and it won’t take long for the Giants to realize it.
Ladell Betts, WASH. While Clinton Portis battled through one problem after another last season, Betts proved he was capable of carrying the load. He won’t have a secure job as a starter entering the season, but my guess is Portis is crazy enough that something is going to happen to him along the way and Betts finds his chance to post some significant numbers.
Chester Taylor, MIN. Everyone seems to be sleeping on Taylor with the arrival of Adrian Peterson to Minnesota’s backfield. That’s a mistake. Peterson had injury issues throughout college, he didn’t play for most of the latter half of his junior season last year, and Taylor showed he could be a workhorse despite a dreadful quarterback situation with the Vikings in 2006. Plus, you need look no further than New Orleans’ duo of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister to see that two running backs can split touches and still both put up numbers. Besides, raise your hand if you think Tavaris Jackson is going to be chucking the ball downfield much. Didn’t think so. There’ll be plenty of carries to go around in this offense.
Jerious Norwood, ATL. OK, so I’ve said this each of the past five years, but this is the year Warrick Dunn breaks down. His numbers have decreased significantly in the second half every year, and Norwood showed last season what he’s capable of. He’ll be getting the bulk of the carries by Week 6.
Brandon Jackson, GB. Please tell me what the heck Vernand Morency did to earn starter status. Jackson has looked solid in preseason camps and there’s already a pretty good amount of buzz surrounding him. Don’t be surprised if he’s supplanted Morency by the end of the preseason.
Michael Bush, OAK. I don’t really recommend taking anyone from Oakland’s offense, but Bush may be worth a flier. If he can prove he’s healthy, he may become the steal of April’s NFL draft and the steal of your fantasy draft.
Marcel Shipp, ARZ. Just look at Edgerrin James’ numbers last year and then remember that the coach who brought him to the dessert is now unemployed.
Greg Jones, JAC, Brian Leonard, STL and Tony Hunt, PHL. These guys all have pretty established starters in front of them and probably won’t see many carries this season. So why are they on the list? The carries they will see will probably be along the goal line, making them superb bye-week or injury replacements – much the way Jacobs was for the Giants last year. And who knows, and injury to the starter could put these guys in elite status at any time.