OK, it’s been a few days since our last post, but hopefully this one will be worth it…
Here on Football Relativity, you’re getting an inside look at how we put together our fantasy football draft board. You’ve already seen us identify this year’s fantastic four and then decide if Larry Fitzgerald deserves to join them on Tier 1A. You’ve also seen us break down the top 3 QBs to see who the best of that lot is.
Now it’s time to start breaking down the next batch of running backs. We’ve got 12 names, and we’re going to see which of the 12 will join Fitzgerald in our Tier 1B. To fit into this tier, a back must be a player you’re comfortable drafting before any quarterback or above any receiver other than Fitzgerald. There is no limit to the number of backs we can put on this tier. So we’ll break these running backs one by one and give a verdict about whether they fit on Tier 1B.
Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson missed four mid-season games last year, but he still finished with more than 1,000 yards and 8 combined touchdowns. The way that Jackson performed down the stretch indicates that Jackson has bounced back from his subpar ’07 campaign. If he’s back, Jackson could be an elite back, as he was in 2006. The addition of rookie OT Jason Smith should make the Rams’ abysmal offensive line better as well. I’m still not sure I would want Jackson to be the bellcow of my team, but when it comes to Tier 1B, Jackson is a yes.
LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – You can no longer take Tomlinson as the No. 1 pick in fantasy, but his 2008 season – 1,100 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving, and 12 total touchdowns – still ended up being good fantasy numbers. If Tomlinson can do that again, or maybe even stay a little healthier and knock those numbers up 10-20 percent, he’s worth a Tier 1B investment. The mitigating factors are the presence of Darren Sproles, who got a big one-year contract to be an offensive factor, and whether Tomlinson can be at or near full strength all season. I’m not sure I expect Tomlinson to exceed last year’s numbers, but I’m comfortable saying that he’ll match them. That means that when it comes to Tier 1B, LDT is a yes.
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Williams, a former first-round pick, went bananas last year, rushing for 1,500 yards and totalling 20 touchdowns. It would be irrational to expect that kind of crazy production again in ’09, but there are good signs for Williams. He is in a run-first offense, and even though Jonathan Stewart is around, it’s not like Stewart (10 TDs, 800 yards) did nothing last year. While we can expect Stewart to get a bit more work this year, projecting Williams for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns isn’t a stretch. And with those numbers, when it comes to Tier 1B, Williams is a yes.
Chris Johnson, Titans – Johnson had a great rookie year, rushing for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns and also catching 43 passes for 260 yards and a score. He is a gamebreaker who gets tons of yards on big plays. But LenDale White, who is apparently in better shape, is there to split carries with Johnson. But White had 773 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns last year, and I just can’t see him surpassing those numbers in ’09. In a run-first offense, that leaves plenty of opportunities for Johnson, who should have another big year. So I say that for Tier 1B, Johnson is a yes.
Brandon Jacobs, Giants – Jacobs is a big, bruising back, and last year he ran for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. I actually think that Jacobs could take a step forward from those numbers this year. Injuries cost him three games last year, and another member of the Giants’ Earth Wind and Fire trio, Derrick Ward, moved on to Tampa Bay in free agency. So while Ahmad Bradshaw is still around to spell Jacobs, it’s big Brandon who will be the Giants’ No. 1 running threat. That makes Jacobs a yes for Tier 1B.
Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook has been an elite fantasy back for the last three years, but while his total numbers last year look good (1,300 total yards and 14 total touchdowns), his production was definitely down. Even worse, the injury problems that had plagued him much of his career seemed to reoccur. Plus, the Eagles finally got a top-level complement to Westbrook in rookie LeSean McCoy. All this makes me think the arrow is starting to point down on Westbrook, and so when it comes to Tier 1B, I’m saying no on Westbrook. I’d rather invest in him as a high-upside, if a bit risky, Tier 1C guy.
Steve Slaton, Texans – Last year, Slaton appeared on my draft board when he wasn’t on most lists, and as a result I ended up grabbing him as my last pick in a couple of leagues. That worked out well, as Slaton became a primary back by Week 3 and ended up posting nearly 1,300 yards and 10 total touchdowns. The question is whether he can do it again. I think he’s definitely a 1,000-yard, 8-touchdown guy, but my hunch is that he takes half a step back this year. Part of the reason is that I still don’t see the Texans’ offense as one that can sustain huge numbers from both Slaton and WR Andre Johnson, and I think Slaton’s numbers are the ones that will fall back just a bit. But I’m still going to sneak Slaton into the bottom of Tier 1B, because if you end up picking near the end of round 1 and he’s your top back, I still think you’ve gotten a solid guy.
Frank Gore, 49ers – For some reason, I think of Gore as injury prone, but he’s played at least 14 games in each of the last 3 years. But his production has leaked over the past three seasons, going from 1,695 rushing yards in ’06 to just over 1,000 last year. His TD numbers bounced back to 8 last year, though. I think at this point that we have to say that Gore is what he’s shown the last two years – a 1,100-yard, 8-touchdown guy – and not what he was in 2006. And since that’s the case, we have to put Gore on 1c. So when it comes to Tier 1B, Gore is a no.
Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber has never been an unquestioned No. 1 back, because he’s always had a complement, whether it was Julius Jones in the past or Felix Jones and Tashard Choice last year. But Barber has still been really productive touchdown-wise, scoring 37 over the past three seasons. He has shown a bit of a decline in those touchdown numbers – going from 16 to 12 to 9 last year – and his yardage numbers aren’t eye-popping, as he totalled around 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards in each of the past two years. The logical thing in rating Barber would be to knock him off Tier 1B, given his numbers and the presence of Felix Jones and Choice. But right now, my sense is that Barber is due for a bit of a bounce back. So as we start our draft board, Barber is a yes to sneak into Tier 1B. It’s a bit of a call, but one we’re willing to make right now.
Clinton Portis, Redskins – Portis hasn’t gotten sincere fantasy love over the past few years, but last year he played and started every game, totalled more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage, and scored 9 touchdowns. Those are big numbers, and they aren’t out of character for Portis at all. Really, aside from a 2006 season in which he missed half the year, that’s what Portis does every year. So while he doesn’t always get mad fantasy respect, he’s legit enough to earn a spot on Tier 1B.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – I’m a sucker for rookie running backs, but they often jump into fantasy stardom right away. Moreno is the back who has the best chance to do so this year. He should have plenty of carries, and he has the talent. But the major changes going on in Denver make me a little more hesitant about Moreno. Instead of putting Moreno on Tier 1B, we’ll make him a featured player on one of the next two tiers. If that means I miss out on him, I can live with that. For Tier 1B, Moreno is a no.
Marshawn Lynch, Bills – Lynch is a very solid back, and he’s had more than 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons. The problem is that he’s facing an NFL personal-conduct suspension that is currently slated to last three games. The Bills also have Fred Jackson and addition Dominic Rhodes to split carries with Lynch. A couple things to note: While the suspension must knock Lynch down a bit, it could be reduced, as Brandon Marshall’s was just before last season. And when he returns, Lynch should at least be a top-15 running back. That’s not enough to put him on Tier 1B, but know that his suspsension makes him a bit of a value just a little further down the board. For Tier 1B, though, Lynch is a no.
So after all this, here is Tier 1B, alphabetically: