Jul 13, 2009
With the ever popular running back by committee (RBBC) sprouting up everywhere in the NFL, it seems a bit preposterous that running back battles still exist. After all, the RBBC makes the NFL seem a bit like Pop Warner – anyone who wants to carry the ball will get a turn. Still, favoritism exists, as there are glory roles to occupy in the RBBC, including the titles of goal-line back and primary carrier. Thus, the Bruno Boys bring to you today a look at some of the battles brewing as we get set for the pre-season.
ARIZONA CARDINALS – Tim Hightower vs. Chris “Beanie” Wells
Had Hightower posted even an average yards per carry number in 2008 to go along with his 10 TDs on the season, this battle would have been avoided. But, the back faltered when given his chance to secure the starting role, amassing just 2.8 ypc out of the Arizona backfield. Hightower’s inability to rack up the yards led the Cardinals to select Wells with their first round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. While the team will most likely line up Hightower as the starting back in week 1, it won’t be long until Wells, who has the better talent, surpasses him on the depth chart. Hightower, though, should remain fantasy relevant thanks to his goal-line prowess.
BALTIMORE RAVENS – Willis McGahee vs. LeRon McClain vs. Ray Rice
Oh, what a difference a year makes! Prior to the 2008 season, Ray Rice was a rookie too small to cut it in the NFL; LeRon McClain was a fullback who had had a handful of carries (8) during his rookie campaign, and Willis McGahee was the man when it came to the Ravens’ backfield. Now, McGahee finds himself fighting for his football life as both Rice and McClain look to continue to steal touches from the back thanks to very solid 2008 outings. Head coach, John Harbaugh, has gone on record to state that the Ravens’ backfield situation is a true RBBC as the club plans to utilize all three parts of their three headed monster during the season; often times, riding the hot hand.
BUFFALO BILLS – Fred Jackson vs. Dominic Rhodes
Don’t get us wrong, Marshawn Lynch will be the main man in Buffalo yet again in 2009; however, as of now, the back is set to miss the first three games of the season due to a suspension he received for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. That means that for three weeks either Jackson or Rhodes will be very valuable to fantasy owners. While Rhodes did experience somewhat of a rejuvenation last season in Indy, totaling 538 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, and 9 total TDs, the Bruno Boys give the edge to Jackson in this battle thanks to his 4.4 ypc average in 2008 compared to Rhodes’ 3.5.
DENVER BRONCOS – Knowshon Moreno vs. Correll Buckhalter vs. LaMont Jordan
Sure, the Broncos may have gone a little batty with all the running backs they brought in this off-season, but after all the injuries that hit the position last year for Denver, can you really blame them? Out of the bazillion runners Denver has on it’s roster, the battle will come down to rookie and #12 overall pick, Knowshon Moreno, and veterans Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan. In the end, experience will take a back seat to talent as Moreno should win the job; however, don’t be surprised to see Denver keep the rookie’s load light by spelling him with Buchalter and Jordan throughout the season.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – Laurence Maroney vs. Sammy Morris vs. Fred Taylor vs. Kevin Faulk
Laurence Maroney’s career hasn’t gone quite as the Patriots expected when they drafted the running back out of Minnesota. The result – one of the league’s most cluttered backfields. However, the Patriots have made it work, utilizing the RBBC philosophy to the fullest. For the upcoming 2009 season, it looks like veteran Fred Taylor, who the team signed after his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, will be the team’s starter, with Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney spelling him in short yardage situations and to keep his elder legs fresh. Kevin Faulk, meanwhile, will continue to play the role of receiver, earning most of his playing time on 3rd downs. For fantasy purposes, none of the Patriots’ runners appear to be anything more than RB3s.
OAKLAND RAIDERS – Justin Fargas vs. Darren McFadden
While it was Fargas that led Oakland in rushing attempts (218) and rushing yards (853) in 2008, don’t expect a repeat in 2009. Following what was a disappointing rookie campaign, hampered by turf toe, running back, Darren McFadden seems to have his explosiveness back and seems poised to slip into the Raiders’ backfield as the team’s starter. Fargas has been serviceable in his time as the starter, but Al Davis did not take McFadden 4th overall last off-season to have him sit behind Fargas on the depth chart.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – Julius Jones vs. TJ Duckett vs. Justin Forsett
Upon Maurice Morris’ departure to the Detroit Lions, it appeared that Julius Jones would be the go-to-guy in Seattle, making him an intriguing fantasy option for 2009. However, while Jones will be the team’s primary ball carrier, Duckett and Forsett will have larger roles than previously assumed. New offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, has gone on record stating that he will use a rotation of runners for the Seahawks throughout the season in order to keep his stable of backs healthy. To translate that into fantasy lingo, none of the Seahawks’ backs make for strong fantasy options for 2009. Jones will see the majority of the touches, but Duckett will vulture his redzone opportunities while Forsett steals just enough of Jones’ touches to make him a pain for those owners who have Jones on their rosters.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – Derrick Ward vs. Earnest Graham
Complimenting bruiser, Brandon Jacobs, last season, Derrick Ward posted the finest year of his career, going for 1,025 rush yards and 2 rushing TDs. The work landed Ward a nice four-year, $17 million dollar deal with the Bucs this off-season, where he’ll compete for touches with Earnest Graham. However, judging by the talk coming out of Bucs’ camp, it appears the two are not so much in competition but rather will be working as a dynamic duo as the Bucs look to use the pair as a change of pace from one another, much like the Giants did with Ward and Jacobs.