Daily Archives: October 7, 2009

Applaud or a Fraud – Emerging Running Backs

Yesterday, we went back through our preseason top-35 running back rankings to determine whether fantasy owners should applaud these backs or consider them frauds going forward. You can read that post here.

In this post, we’re going to look at running backs outside of the preseason top-35 and determine whether we should applaud these backs or consider their numbers fraudulent. Read the individual reports to see whether the verdicts mean you should start a player, hold him on your bench, pick him up, or drop him. We’ve listed these players alphabetically.

Mike Bell, Saints – Bell burst onto the scene in Week One when Pierre Thomas was hurt, and over the first two weeks he had 229 rushing yards and a touchdown. But he has missed the last two games with injury, and Thomas has reestablished himself as the main back in New Orleans. Bell will be a role player when he returns to action, and that limits his fantasy value. Verdict: A fraud

Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw is now a solid No. 2 behind Brandon Jacobs in New York, and that will get him 12-15 carries a game. But Bradshaw’s not a touchdown threat unless he breaks a long run. So his current average of 66 yards per game is probably all you can expect from him. That’s OK No. 3 fantasy back production, but it’s not starter worthy. Verdict: A fraud

Correll Buckhalter, Broncos – Buckhalter had a good start to the season with 363 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in the first four games of the season. But he will miss the next two games with injury, and that will give rookie Knowshon Moreno a chance to seize more carries in Denver. Despite his solid numbers thus far, Buckhalter isn’t more than a bye-week fill-in going forward for fantasy owners. Verdict: A fraud

Tashard Choice, Cowboys – Choice started the season as the Cowboys’ No. 3 back, but injuries first to Marion Barber and then to Felix Jones have given him chances. He has 215 yards from scrimmage thus far with one touchdown, showing that he’s good enough when he gets the ball in his hands. As long as Barber is healthy, Choice isn’t really a starter, but he’s worth hanging onto in most leagues because you never know if Barber and Jones will stay healthy. Verdict: Applaud

Felix Jones, Cowboys – Jones has had solid numbers as a change-of-pace back and an injury fill-in thus far, but he missed the Week 4 game vs. Denver and will miss some more time with a knee injury. So despite his 232 yards from scrimmage, he’s droppable in fantasy leagues right now. Verdict: A fraud

Julius Jones, Seahawks – Jones is the best back Seattle has, which isn’t saying much. But he has been a decent fantasy performer thus far with 316 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns. That makes Jones a solid No. 3 fantasy back or flex option, which is a nice find, and we can assume that he’ll have similar fantasy value moving forward. Verdict: Applaud

Tim Hightower, Cardinals – Hightower has held off Beanie Wells for the Cardinals’ starting RB job, and he’s produced 279 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He’s not a great fantasy back, but as long as he holds this role he’ll be a flex option or No. 3 back in most leagues. That’s decent value. Verdict: Applaud

Willis McGahee, Ravens – McGahee has been the biggest surprise for fantasy owners this year with seven touchdowns in the first four games. It will be hard for McGahee to continue this torrid TD pace, but you should be starting him until he starts to go through an extended scoring drought. Ray Rice is the better overall back, but McGahee’s production is impossible to ignore. Verdict: Applaud

Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – After doing next to nothing in the first three games of the year, Mendenhall went crazy in Week 4 against San Diego with 165 yards and two touchdowns. But he has just 210 rushing yards total, and when Willie Parker returns Mendenhall shouldn’t be in your fantasy lineup. He’s only valuable as a Parker handcuff, not as a part-time player on his own. Verdict: A fraud

Darren Sproles, Chargers – With LaDanian Tomlinson out for one week and hobbled for a couple others, Sproles has stepped up with 287 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. But now that Tomlinson is coming back, Sproles becomes a feature player. Sproles will probably end up with around 800 yards from scrimmage and six TDs, and that’s not enough to make him a starting-caliber player unless Tomlinson gets hurt again. So we’ll turn a thumbs-down on him continuing his current level of production. Verdict: A fraud

Fred Taylor, Patriots – Taylor has had one 100-yard game, but other than that he’s been a role player in the Pats’ RB-by-committee approach. The problem with Taylor for fantasy owners is that it will be all but impossible to figure out when his chances will come. That makes him hard to start despite his still-existent talent. Verdict: A fraud

Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers – Coming back from an atrocious knee injury, Williams has burst back on the scene with 272 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in four games. Williams has established himself as the best back in Tampa Bay, and that role will allow him to be a fantasy contributor as a flex option or No. 3 back. Verdict: Applaud

Ricky Williams, Dolphins – I was surprised to see Williams end up on this list, but he’s legit with 310 yards from scrimmage and three TDs. The fact that both Williams and Ronnie Brown continue to produce shouldn’t surprise us, because that’s the Dolphins’ formula to win. That means Williams will be a decent No. 3 back in all fantasy leagues going forward. Verdict: Applaud

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Wild Wideout Wednesday

Two huge news items regarding NFL wide receivers Wednesday. San Francisco and first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree finally agreed to a contract, ending the last holdout from this year’s NFL draft. Then the Browns traded WR Braylon Edwards to the Jets for WR Chansi Stuckey, LB Jason Trusnick, and third- and fifth-round draft picks. Here are some thoughts on both moves, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective

On-field perspective

Many observers and analysts considered Crabtree the best receiver in this year’s draft (including Crabtree himself), but the Raiders took Darrius Heyward-Bey over Crabtree with the seventh pick. Crabtree went 10th the 49ers but continued to insist he deserved to be paid as the top receiver entering the league this year. That led to a stalemate between the Niners and Crabtree, with the would-be rookie threatening to sit out the entire season. But with the Niners coming on, Crabtree came on board and signed a six-year contract in which the final year is voidable. It will take Crabtree time to learn the offense, but later this season he could be an impactful addition to the Niners’ playoff push. His route-running and run-after-the-catch ability meshes well with QB Shaun Hill’s accuracy, and that could create more big plays than the Niners’ offense is currently capable of. It remains to be seen how long it will take Crabtree to become a good pro, but it seems safe to say that he will become a good NFL player at some point.

Edwards, a former top-3 draft pick, only had one season in which he fully lived up to his potential in Cleveland. In that season, 2007, he was a big-time receiving threat with 80 catches for 1,239 yards and 16 TDs. He has great size and speed, but his hands are sometimes questionable. That was certainly the case last year, when he fell to 55 catches for 873 yards and three scores. Edwards also was reportedly unhappy in Cleveland, and Chris Mortenson tweeted that Edwards was the source behind many of the “problems” and “grievances” that had been filed against head coach Eric Mangini. Because Edwards wasn’t on board, Mangini and the Browns dealt him away – just as they dealt away their other top offensive playmaker, Kellen Winslow, in the offseason. With Edwards gone, the Browns will have to rely on rookies Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi to step up as receivers. Chansi Stuckey, the third or fourth receiver with the Jets who came over in the trade, could help, but he’s not a long-term answer. In addition to Stuckey, the Browns got special-teams stalwart Jason Trusnick and third- and fifth-round picks. That’s not great return for Edwards, who might have drawn a first-rounder from the Giants or Titans before the draft if Cleveland had traded him then. This is another example of Mangini assigning more value to guys he previously coached and getting inadequate value in a trade – just as he did in the Mark Sanchez draft-day deal. For the Jets, this deal could answer their biggest question – an outside receiving threat. Jerricho Cotchery has been good, but he’s more of a possession guy than a gamebreaker. Having Edwards and Cotchery, along with TE Dustin Keller, gives the Jets a chance to build a passing game around rookie QB Sanchez. Edwards longed for the spotlight of a big city like New York, but we’ll have to see if he can perform at a level to make that spotlight shine instead of glare. If he continues dropping passes frequently, he could get run out of the Meadowlands in an ugly scene. But at this price, the trade is a no-brainer for the Jets, who have a chance to build a special offense.

Fantasy Football perspective

Crabtree is not a great prospect for this year, because it will take him at least a month or two to adjust to the offense. If you’re in a keeper league, he’s worth a speculative claim. His presence also bumps Shaun Hill’s value up just a bit.

The Edwards deal has many more fantasy football ripples. Edwards has about the same value with the Jets as he had in Cleveland, although it would be no surprise if his numbers jumped a bit because he’s happier in the system. He’s still a marginal starting receiver in 10- or 12-team leagues. Cotchery, who had become a solid fantasy starter, will likely take a step back to being a No. 3 fantasy receiver, because Edwards will take away some targets. Sanchez’s value increases a bit, but he’s still a fantasy backup, not a starter. In Cleveland, whatever sleeper value Derek Anderson had takes a hit, simply because he doesn’t have many good options to throw to. The best might be Massaquoi, who had 8 catches for 148 yards last week after Anderson entered the lineup. He and Robiskie are the upside guys who are probably worth claiming this week as the receiving corps sorts itself out. Josh Cribbs, the returner extraordinare, could find a few more plays as well, which could make him an emergency fill-in. Stuckey, like Mike Furrey, is an OK receiver on the field who doesn’t have real fantasy value.

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Applaud or a Fraud – Top 35 Running Backs

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take our preseason draft board and break down the top players at each position in an effort to determine which players are living up to their draft status, which are surpassing their draft status, and which are falling below their draft status. We’ll use our Applaud or a Fraud titles to compare these players vs. preseason expectations, but you’ll want to read each player’s report to see what the verdict means for him.

As a companion to this piece, we’ll look at the top running backs who weren’t in our top 35 before the season and try to determine whether we should applaud them or consider them frauds for the rest of the season. Watch for that post tomorrow.

1. Michael Turner, Falcons – Turner’s yards per carry average isn’t great at 3.5, but he has scored in his last two games and has had at least 50 yards in all three games. This is a bit of a slow start, but it’s still fair to consider Turner a legitimate No. 1 fantasy running back. He hasn’t been the dominant player that most owners who drafted him in the top 2 would hope, but his performance has been good enough for applause. Verdict: Applaud

2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – Peterson is averaging 103 yards per game, is second in the league in rushing yards, and has five touchdowns already. While much of that production came in a huge Week One, Peterson’s performance is what you expect from a top-tier fantasy running back. Clap it up. Verdict: Applaud

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – MoJo’s yardage total of 296 rushing doesn’t look great, but he also has 97 receiving yards, and his five rushing touchdowns is tied for the league lead through Week 4. He’ll end up with 1,200 rushing yards, another 400 receiving yards, and 15 TDs or more. That’s exactly what owners at the top of fantasy drafts were hoping for when they called his name. Verdict: Applaud

4. Matt Forte, Bears – Forte started really slow before putting up 121 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 4. If we had done this post last week, Forte would have been a fraud. But now his yardage totals (271 rushing and 92 receiving) are close enough to Jones-Drew’s, and if he starts scoring he’ll be just fine. He’s been a little disappointing thus far, but he’s still a No. 1 fantasy back. Verdict: Applaud

5. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – When I was putting together my rankings, it took a long time for me to settle on who the No. 5 and No. 6 backs were. But Williams, who I eventually moved up into this spot, has delivered despite terrible performances by his quarterback and receivers this year. He has 180 rushing yards, 84 receiving yards, and two TDs in three games, which is solid production. Owners can be confident that Williams will end up with 12 touchdowns and 1,200 total yards at least, and those are No. 1 back numbers. He’s the only Panther worth clapping for, but he’s earned it. Verdict: Applaud

6. Chris Johnson, Titans – Johnson was the player I moved into the 6th position, and he has delivered big-time. Even though the Titans are 0-4, Johnson leads the league in rushing yards with 434 rushing yards, and he has another 117 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. If you got Johnson in the first half of the first round of your draft, it’s paying off big time. Verdict: Applaud

7. Steve Slaton, Texans – Like Forte, Slaton started out incredibly slowly before breaking out in Week 4. He has just 192 rushing yards, but he also has 121 receiving yards and the two touchdowns he scored this past Sunday. Slaton looks to be a yardage machine, and if he starts getting into the end zone regularly, he’ll be worth the first-round pick he cost in most leagues. Verdict: Applaud

8. Clinton Portis, Redskins – At one point this offseason, I was staring at Portis’ impressive record and pencilling him in as a top-5 back. I drifted off that a bit, thankfully, as the season neared, but I still considered Portis great value at the end of the first round of my drafts. But Portis hasn’t really delivered, running for 281 yards in four games – three against soft defenses in Detroit, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. The schedule says that Portis should have had a hot start, but he hasn’t done so, and he hasn’t even reached the end zone yet. At this point, I wouldn’t consider Portis an every-week starter, and that makes this preseason ranking just flat wrong. Verdict: A fraud

9. Brandon Jacobs, Giants – Jacobs hasn’t started frequenting the end zone yet, but he has 288 rushing yards in the first four games. He’s not really a top-10 fantasy back yet, but once he starts finding pay dirt more often he will be. For now, he’s a solid fantasy starter, and that’s enough reason to clap. Verdict: Applaud

10. Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson is tied for fourth in the league in rushing yards with 367, and he also has 67 receiving yards. The problem for fantasy owners is that he hasn’t yet scored. Jackson is a victim of the Rams’ sorry offense, but at this point he’s still worth starting for fantasy owners because of his yardage numbers. His worst game was a 67-yard performance in Week One, and that’s not abysmal. So we’ll give him a golf clap. Verdict: Applaud

11. LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – I was down on Tomlinson this year because of his age and injuries over the past years, and so far those concerns have been valid. Tomlinson has just 72 yards from scrimmage so far and just one touchdown, and he has missed two games. His performance could get better, but at the quarter pole his fantasy owners can’t be happy. Verdict: A fraud

12. Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook has missed one game with injury and had a bye, and he’s had one good fantasy game and one OK performance. So while he, like Tomlinson, hasn’t really shined yet, his numbers look a little better in context. His upside for ’09 still has yet to be seen, but he’s done just enough to get a soft clap at this point. Verdict: Applaud

13. Frank Gore, 49ers – Gore is another back who’s already missed a game and most of a second tilt. His injury history was a big reason I didn’t include him in my top 10. When he’s played, he’s been terrific, with 298 total yards and 4 TDs. That makes Gore a legit No. 1 back when he’s in the lineup, and that’s worth applause despite his injury. Verdict: Applaud

14. Marion Barber, Cowboys – Barber is another back who’s missed a game already, but in the three games he’s played he has 302 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. That’s production well worth a top-15 draft spot, even including the fact that he missed a game. Verdict: Applaud

15. Thomas Jones, Jets – Jones isn’t a guy that gives you great assurance when you take him, but as the top back on my Tier 2, he has just barely delivered thus far with 229 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He’s been lacking in some games, but as a No. 2 fantasy back he’s been OK. Given how that meets expectations, we’ll give him some reserved applause. Verdict: Applaud

16. Ryan Grant, Packers – Grant got off to an awful start last year, but he’s been better in the first quarter of the season this year. He’s run for 257 yards and two touchdowns and added 83 receiving yards, which helps. Those are solid No. 2 fantasy back numbers that are worth of this spot on the preseason draft board. Verdict: Applaud

17. Darren McFadden, Raiders – I was far higher on McFadden than most people, figuring that his natural talent would lead to a 1,000-yard, 8-TD season no matter how bad his situation was. But he has just 198 yards from scrimmage and one TD in the first four games, and now he’s hurt. He’s a No. 4 fantasy back, not a fantasy starter. This was a bad preseason ranking. Verdict: A fraud

18. Kevin Smith, Lions – I didn’t love Smith this year, but I liked him enough to rate him as a borderline fantasy starter. And with 335 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, Smith has been a little better than borderline. He’s been a pleasant surprise thus far. Verdict: Applaud

19. Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas missed the season opener and played very sparingly in Week 2, but since then he’s been a big-time back. In the preseason, had Thomas not gotten hurt, he would have been a top-15 back. With 258 yards from scrimmage and 3 TDs in the last two games, Thomas is a legit fantasy starter. Those who had patience with Pierre are being rewarded. Verdict: Applaud

20. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – Moreno (who was also hurt in the preseason) has been a good but not great fantasy player so far with 249 rushing yards and two TDs. And after a slow start in Week One, he has at least 65 rushing yards in each game. Now that Correll Buckhalter is hurt for a few weeks, Moreno has a chance to really emerge as not just a fantasy starter but as a No. 1 fantasy back. That makes him well worth this kind of preseason ranking. Verdict: Applaud

21. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart is a good back, but he’s not good enough to overcome the general malaise that has hit the Panthers thus far. So even though he’s averaging more than 4 yards per carry, he has just 162 yards from scrimmage in three games and no touchdowns. That’s not worth this draft position, and it doesn’t look like he’s anywhere close to being a fantasy starter going forward. Verdict: A fraud

22. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers – This ranking was way, way off. I didn’t see Cadillac Williams as a serious contender for carries, but it’s been Williams who has been the lone fantasy-relevant back for Tampa. Ward has just 129 yards from scrimmage and one TD. That’s not worth this draft position. Verdict: A fraud

23. Larry Johnson, Chiefs – I was far from sold on Johnson, but it was hard for me to imagine him not being at least a decent No. 3 back. But he’s averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, and his 237 yards from scrimmage without a touchdown makes him nothing more than a roster-filler for fantasy owners. Verdict: A fraud

24. Marshawn Lynch, Bills – It’s hard to judge Lynch because he missed the first three games due to his suspension. In his first game, he had just four yards on eight carries, although he did have 43 receiving yards. It’s far from certain that Lynch will be able to beat out Fred Jackson for the bulk of chances in Buffalo’s running game. So the signs aren’t yet good, but if you drafted Lynch you committed to be patient because you knew he would miss the first three games. For now, we’ll be patient with our verdict. Verdict: Incomplete

25. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins – I was a lot further down on Brown than most, and he went as a No. 2 fantasy back in the drafts I was in. But Brown has delivered so far. He’s third in the league with 369 rushing yards, and he also has four touchdowns and 50 receiving yards. He’s a legit fantasy starter right now, which is what I was skeptical of. Another miss on my part. Verdict: Applaud

26. Cedric Benson, Bengals – Benson gained steam as a sleeper during the preseason, and with good reason. He’s tied for fourth in the league with 367 rushing yards, and he has two touchdowns. He’s a legit fantasy starter right now and a nice surprise for owners who took a shot on him. Verdict: Applaud

27. Jamal Lewis, Browns – I was down on the Browns entering the year, but Lewis still made it into No. 3 running back range because he was one of few undisputed starting backs left. Lewis had 150 yards from scrimmage in the first two weeks, which is OK, before missing the last two games. You would never feel good about starting Lewis in a fantasy league, which means this ranking is about five spots too high. He should have been a No. 4 fantasy back at best, not a No. 3, and so we can’t clap for him at this level. Verdict: A fraud

28. Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice is averaging 6 yards per carry, and he already has 429 yards from scrimmage. He just has one touchdown, which is the only thing keeping him from being a No. 1 fantasy back. But he’s a fantasy starter at this point, meaning that owners who got him at this point in fantasy drafts should be thrilled. Verdict: Applaud

29. Donald Brown, Colts – One of my big predictions in my preseason draft-boarding was that Brown would end up being a better fantasy back than Joseph Addai. That’s not yet the case – Brown has 257 yards from scrimmage and two TDs to 283 yards and three TDs for Addai – but I still get the sense that Brown will end up being better. In any case, Brown is already an OK No. 3 fantasy back who still has upside to move into being a regular fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud

30. Willie Parker, Steelers – Parker missed Week 4, and before that he put up 203 yards and one TD. Those aren’t quite No. 3 fantasy back numbers, but they’re close enough that this draft position for him is defensible. Verdict: Applaud

31. Reggie Bush, Saints – I kept moving Bush down my draft board in the preseason, but even this level wasn’t low enough. Mike Bell and Lyndell Hamilton have scored for the Saints, and yet Bush has just one touchdown. He does have 269 yards from scrimmage, and as a No. 3 fantasy back, he’s marginal. This is probably going to end up being about the right ranking for Bush, so we’ll clap – reluctantly. Verdict: Applaud

32. Beanie Wells, Cardinals – We projected that Wells would beat out Tim Hightower for the Cardinals’ No. 1 running back role, but that hasn’t yet happened. So Wells has just 71 rushing yards, and he doesn’t have a catch yet. If you drafted Wells, you probably have to stash him on your bench hoping that he’ll get it more and more as the year goes on. But even with that hope, this draft position looks too high. Verdict: A fraud

33. LenDale White, Titans – White became a fantasy starter last year by being a rushing-TD machine, but with the Titans falling apart White’s goal-line role has disappeared. He has just one touchdown and just 94 yards from scrimmage. He’s barely ownable at this point. Verdict: A fraud

34. Fred Jackson, Bills – Jackson took advantage of his role as the Bills’ primary back in the first three games, and he has a whopping 493 yards from scrimmage in the first four games. He has just one touchdown, but if you took Jackson as a short-term answer, you have to feel good about how he did and about what he can do moving forward. Verdict: Applaud 

35. Joseph Addai, Colts – You can’t be secure about Addai’s role in the offense with Donald Brown emerging, but thus far Addai has been a solid No. 3 fantasy back. So given this ranking, we’ll applaud him. Verdict: Applaud

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