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So many teams have new RB thought you would find this interesting


Draft Sharks

April 29, 2004

RB Changes Will be Dramatic in 2004


RB Changes Will be Dramatic in 2004

by Lenny Pappano

There is a tectonic shift ready to occur in the fantasy football

landscape. Look around the NFL and it’s a good bet that nearly half

the teams will have new starters at RB this year. That means fantasy

GMs have to work extra-hard to secure a productive roster, because

this degree of RB-shuffling is unprecedented.

Rookie draft picks, free agent moves, old age, and even police

records, will all have a profound impact on this year’s group of

starting RBs. Since this is always the most coveted position in

fantasy drafts, getting a head’s up on the forthcoming RB changes

will help you plan your draft strategy. Plan things correctly, and

you might be able to avoid an early-round disappointment, plus

uncover a few mid-round gems. We think there is a lot of RB value in

rounds 3 – 10 this season. That hasn’t been the case most years.

Let’s take a tour across the league and target all these changes:

New England Patriots: Corey Dillon replaces the departed Antowain

Smith in Beantown. This could be a great match, despite concerns

about his attitude. Bill Belichick once coached Bryan Cox, so he’s

not fazed by Dillon in the least. He’s surely thrilled to have Corey

after trying to platoon Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk the past few

years. Dillon is a three-time Pro Bowler who averaged 1,254 yards,

4.4 yards per carry and 7 TDs in his first 6 seasons while suffering

in a one-dimensional attack. 2003 was a scratch since he was

battling his first significant injury (groin) in years. He just had

a career year in 2002 with 1,311 yards rushing and 43 receptions.

Dillon’s only 29, and currently owns two of the ten best rushing

totals in NFL history – 278 yards vs. Denver in 2000, and 246 vs.

Tennessee in 1997. In fact, if things go right for him, 2004 might

be a career year for Dillon playing on a team with solid talent.

Cincinnati Bengals: With Corey Dillon out of the picture, Rudi

Johnson rises to the top of the Bengals depth chart. And judging by

his performance last season, he should feel right at home as the new

starter in Cincy. There were times last year when the former Auburn

RB looked a lot like Dillon, ripping off huge gains, while rolling up

968 yards and 9 TDs in only 13 games (he started just 5 of them).

We love the fact that he lines up behind a young and talented O-line,

comes to play every game, and runs through many tacklers. This kid

will have a big 2004, but his lack of receiving skills might diminish

some of his fantasy production. In any event, he’s a good bet to be

a consistent producer with minimal injury risk. We think the

drafting of Michigan RB Chris Perry was done to prod Johnson in

contract talks, and to supply the team with a solid backup. We doubt

Perry will steal many touches.

Cleveland Browns: William Green was the starter last season, but it

looks like the job is Lee Suggs’ to lose as we head toward training

camp. The Browns have already penciled in last year’s third-round

pick as this year’s top RB. In last season’s final game, he burned

the Bengals for 186 yards and a pair of TDs. But the real reason the

Browns like him is that Suggs is the antithesis of William Green: a

hard-working guy who has his head on straight, and will do anything

to help the team win. It’s hard to say if Suggs will be the starter

in September, but our guess is that he will. The downside to Suggs

is his injury history (a torn ACL in 2001 at Virginia Tech), and a

former first-round pick pushing him. If William Green somehow stays

out of jail and remains a Brown, the former first-round pick could

still create an annoying RB committee in Cleveland. That said, we

have seen Suggs going as late as the 6th round of early mock drafts.

If you can get him that late, this kid could offer major value.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Amos Zereoue is gone, and Jerome Bettis is too

old. That’s why the Steelers opted to sign former Eagle Duce Staley

as their top RB. Maybe we’re being a bit jaded, but Staley doesn’t

seem like an ideal starting back in Steel Town. Their backs

traditionally run off-tackle, and Tommy Maddox (or Ben

Roethlisberger) will look downfield to the wide receivers. Staley

was basically a pass-catcher in Philly’s West Coast offense last

season. A three-time 1,000-yard rusher, Staley was robbed of his

cutback ability after a severe foot injury (the “Lis Franc” sprain) a

few years ago. You’ll undoubtedly hear some Bettis-loyalists

bragging that the 12-year veteran is in the “best shape of his life”

again this summer. Just ignore it. Bettis has had at least four

arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee since 1998, and he’s

definitely in the twilight. The real worry is that Jerome will be a

goal-line vulture and steal some TDs from Staley. How the Steelers

utilize both backs will be a key point of interest this preseason.

Denver Broncos: Number 26 figures to be the best back in Denver again

this year… Only this year, number 26 is rookie Tatum Bell, their

second round pick out of Oklahoma State. Bell will compete with last

year’s fourth-round pick, 5’7” Quentin Griffin, and Garrison Hearst.

Hearst is still an accomplished NFL runner, but his average per carry

drops every year, and he’ll be 34 in January. We’re betting that

Bell’s blazing speed (4.34 in the forty) and heralded blocking skills

will land him the starting job (despite his reputation as a fumbler

in college). Bell averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season while

leading the Big 12 in rushing with 1,286 yards. This brash rookie has

publicly stated that he also wants to lead the NFL in rushing this

year. That’s probably a reach, but remember that Coach Shanahan has

directed four different first-year backs to 1,000-yard seasons

(Clinton Portis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary and Terrell Davis).

We’re not quite ready to anoint Bell the next Clinton Portis, but

assuming he can lock down the starting spot, don’t be shocked if he

finishes 2004 as a top 20 fantasy back.

Oakland Raiders: Charlie Garner is gone, but it’s not clear who the

starting RB will be in Oakland. Will the team turn to an

aging-but-trusted back like Tyrone Wheatley? Wheatley is 32 years

old, but managed to average 4.3 yards in only 159 carries last year,

showing he’s still got something left in the tank. The way it looks,

Wheatley will compete against the second-year halfback Justin Fargas,

a kid who got the most out of his touches with a nifty 5.0 average

per carry. However, there might be another scenario that plays out

this summer. Knowing the Raiders were interested in Corey Dillon,

the looming cap cuts on June 1st could yield the Raiders a new RB.

Eddie George, Anthony Thomas, and William Green were on the potential

cut-list as of press time. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles run the ultimate

“running-back-by-committee” offense, shuffling as many as 3 RBs into

a game. Or at lest that was the case last year, before the team got

rid of Duce Staley and Dorsey Levens this offseason. Coach Andy Reid

has hinted that Brian Westbrook will be the main back this year, but

it’s also likely that Correll Buckhalter will steal a fair number of

touches. That’s too bad for fantasy owners since Westbrook has shown

that he is an explosive player when he’s been healthy. He totaled

945 yards and 11 TDs from scrimmage last year, despite having only

154 touches in an injury-plagued season. He played most of the year

with a hip-pointer, hyper-extended knee, and high-ankle sprain before

tearing a triceps muscle late in the year. Let’s see if Westbrook

can stay healthy and keep Buckhalter on the sidelines for most of the

year. If so, he’ll still have to contend with Donovan McNabb and

Buckhalter stealing some goal line touches. Westbrook might be a

boom or bust guy this year.

Washington Redskins: Clinton Portis will be an old face in a new

place. He heads to Washington to lead the charge for coach Joe

Gibbs’ new offense – and the Redskins are expecting him to continue

the 1,550 yards and 15 TDs he has averaged the last two seasons in

Denver. That would be a huge turnaround for Washington, a team that

had no RB with more than 600 yards last year. Portis arrives in DC

with a string of six 100-yard games, a whopping average of 5.5 yards

per carry, and world class speed. No matter where this guy plays,

expect him to be a top-5 RB for several more years.

Dallas Cowboys: Troy Hambrick’s days as the starter are over. He was

horrible last year, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and running

softer than any 235-lb back in recent history. His replacement will

be rookie Julius Jones, a 1,268-yard rusher out of Notre Dame last

year. The Cowboys fell in love with him at the Senior Bowl, where he

had the best week of practice out of all the RBs. Jones is fairly

good at everything, with the grit to run between the tackles, the

speed to get to the corner, and perhaps most importantly for Bill

Parcells – he’s superb in pass-protection. The biggest knock against

Jones is that he’s not an accomplished receiver, but Parcells uses an

H-back (Richie Anderson) on third downs anyway. We think Julius will

earn the starting job this year, barring any unforeseen trade or free

agent pickup in June.

Chicago Bears: The Bears are so disappointed in Anthony Thomas that

they handed the starting job to a colossal underachiever, Thomas

Jones – whom they signed away from Tampa in March. Jones (older

brother of Julius Jones) actually flashed that ability that got him

drafted 7th overall in the 2000 draft, and it earned him a nice $10

million contract from the Bears. Over the final 7 games he carried

110 times for 536 yards – a robust 4.9 per carry – including two

100-yard games. However, it’s worth mentioning again that Jones did

close to nothing as a starter in his first 3 seasons with Arizona.

Though our staff has mixed opinions on Jones’ prognosis in 2004, it’s

safe to say that neither Anthony Thomas nor Thomas Jones spark much

excitement in fantasy circles. Draft Sharks will keep an eye on this

situation, especially to see if “A-Train” gets cut or traded before

training camp.

Detroit Lions: The Lions running game ranked 32nd in the NFL last

season, so it was no shock that they selected Virginia Tech RB Kevin

Jones with the 30th overall pick of the draft. Pencil in Jones as

the team’s new starter. At one point he was rated a top-12 overall

selection by many scouts – but he ran a tepid 4.6 at his Pro Day

workout and fell down a few draft boards. The Lions discounted that

slow time, saying that he used bad technique with starting blocks – a

piece of track equipment he won’t use on the football field. They

still had Jones as the top-rated RB in the draft, as did both the

Titans and Jaguars. Kevin’s an explosive runner and a terrific

athlete, which should make him a solid fit in Steve Mariucci’s West

Coast offense. We doubt he’ll get any competition from the veteran

holdovers (Shawn Bryson, Olandis Gary), but we should watch

second-year back Artose Pinner to see if he stays healthy and

challenges for the job.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jon Gruden’s running game seems unsettled as we

head into summer. Thomas Jones was their leading rusher in 2003, but

he left for starter’s money in Chicago. Michael Pittman faces a

lengthy suspension from the NFL after being jailed for 30 days for

domestic abuse. In fact, the Bucs might simply decide to release

him. That would leave Charlie Garner as the favorite to be the

primary ball-carrier, which doesn’t say much. He’s a 32 year-old

undersized back who is still trying to rehab his left knee as we

approach training camp. Garner’s going in the third round of most

mock drafts lately, which is way too early for our taste. The Bucs

also signed the explosive halfback Jamel White (from Cleveland), plus

Mike Alstott plans to be ready for training camp after rehabbing a

neck injury. Tampa still might pull off a trade or bring in a young

free agent to compete for the starting job. This is a mess, plain

and simple.

Arizona Cardinals: It’s all but certain that Marcel Shipp will take

over for Emmitt this year. The young veteran slumped a bit last

year, fighting off some injuries, and serving mostly as Emmitt’s

backup. Look for Shipp to excel under new head coach Dennis Green,

who will design creases for the 220-pounder to break off big chunks

of yardage (remember Robert Smith in Minnesota?). Shipp runs with

authority and can catch the ball out of the backfield. In

back-to-back victories last year, he ran for 165 yards (vs. San

Francisco) and 141 yards (vs. Cincinnati), so he’s demonstrated that

he can be an every-down player. He looks like a value pick in mock

drafts so far – selected after Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley, and

Michael Bennett on many occasions. This guy might be a real surprise

on a young and improving Arizona offense.

San Francisco Niners: It seems like every year for the past 3 years,

we all predicted that Kevan Barlow would take over for Garrison

Hearst. Well, it’s official now – Hearst left for Denver and Barlow

earned a 5-year extension worth up to $20 million. The good news is

that Barlow is a powerful 239-lb runner (think Stacey Mack with

better feet) who rolled up 1,024 yards and 6 TDs on 201 carries last

year. He also grabbed 35 passes for 307 yards and a TD through the

air. The bad news is that the Niners had to release two superb

linemen – Derrick Deese and Ron Stone – and have gone into rebuilding

mode (again?). Also gone are Pro Bowlers Jeff Garcia and Terrell

Owens… Ironically, Barlow may now be the best player on a brand new

offense featuring QB Tim Rattay and WRs Brandon Lloyd and rookie

Rashaun Woods. Will the new surroundings (and fat wallet) impede

Barlow’s progress? It’s hard to ignore Barlow’s talent, especially

when he’s falling to the third round in some mock drafts.


Tennessee Titans: Even though Eddie George is still atop the Titans’

depth chart as of press-time, he might be a cap casualty after June

1. Tennessee wants the aging veteran to accept a pay cut and a

lesser role in the offense, knowing he has clearly lost a step after

2,733 career carries. Cutting or trading Eddie would leave Chris

Brown as the Titans’ undisputed starting tailback – traditionally a

lucrative fantasy position over the years. But even if Tennessee

opts to keep George this year, Brown might come away with the

starting spot by the time training camp ends. After tearing a

hamstring last August, the second-year back out of Colorado quietly

began to make plays late in the season. In the playoffs, Brown

carried 18 times for 96 yards and 2 TDs. Coach Jeff Fisher yanked

George for Brown in several red-zone situations, as well. The bottom

line is this: If George gets cut after June 1, Brown is the guy. If

he doesn’t get cut, keep an eye on this training camp battle.

Buffalo Bills: Travis Henry isn’t about to lose his starting job to

last year’s first-round pick, former Hurricanes star Willis McGahee.

But the Bills are intent on using both RBs heavily in a new

smash-mouth offense. Sort of a “Thunder and Lightning” duo. That

could mean that Buffalo takes an approach of RB-by-committee. It

also means that McGahee could be a late-round steal, and that Henry’s

numbers could dip from his 2003 season. Another training camp to

keep an eye on.

New York Jets: Yes, Curtis Martin is the Jets’ starter… but he might

not be the starter all year. Call this an educated hunch, but Martin

has too much mileage for a starting NFL runner (2,927 carries in 10

seasons), and there were rumors this winter that the Jets wouldn’t

bring him back for 2004. That wouldn’t have been a surprise,

considering that the team has a very capable young veteran in LaMont

Jordan. If you’ve never seen him play, take a look at his career

stat line: 169 carries, 798 yards, 8 TDs, and a robust 4.7 yards per

rush. Jordan broke two runs of 20+ yards in 46 total attempts.

Martin only had four runs of 20+ yards in 323 total attempts. Fantasy

GMs waited patiently for Kevan Barlow to supplant Garrison Hearst,

and the same thing could happen in New York. Highlight Jordan’s name

as you approach the 9th or 10th round.

St. Louis Rams: Ok, it might be a reach to say that rookie Steven

Jackson (selected 24th overall) will challenge Marshall Faulk for the

Rams starting job, but we’ll note that Faulk has battled multiple

arthroscopic knee surgeries and is clearly on the decline. His

average per carry has dropped every year since 1999 – 5.5, 5.4, 5.3,

4.5, and 3.9 last season. Jackson was originally projected as a

top-10 draft pick after shredding Stanford for 148 yards last

November, but he didn’t produce in two losses at Oregon and USC.

Still, he ran consistent 4.4’s this spring and Mike Martz will be

tempted to give his new 233-lb toy a try. At worst, the Rams might

give Jackson a handful of carries to keep Faulk fresh. At best,

Faulk’s knee cartilage (or lack thereof) locks up and Jackson starts

8 or 9 games in a high-powered offense. What about the other Rams

RBs? Arlen Harris was moved to fullback, and Lamar Gordon is simply

a failed experiment. We might be seeing a lot of Steven Jackson by


Baltimore Ravens: Even if Jamal Lewis doesn’t land in jail after

being indicted on drug conspiracy charges, there could still be

trouble on the horizon. He’s already in the NFL’s substance abuse

program (suspended for 4 games in 2001) so his future doesn’t look

too bright. Lewis’ trial might be pushed back to November, but if

convicted he could face a mandatory prison term of 10 years. The

Ravens passed on rookie RB Greg Jones from FSU in the second round

and never drafted a single running back. Chester Taylor and Musa

Smith are behind Lewis on the depth chart. Check back with Draft

Sharks for updates throughout the summer.


Draft Sharks, Inc.

Copyright 2003

All Rights Reserved


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Originally posted by jschlesi

gotta put bell and Jones (Det and Dall) at the top your list then. I guess?

I believe you mean Jones and Jones, and while they're likely the best situated rookie RB's in the short term, neither one is assured of getting much PT. Julius Jones in particular is supposedly ill-suited for the power running style that Parcells favors, which makes it all the more curious why Dallas skipped over Kevin Jones and Stephen Jackson.

Kevin Jones is the best, but it still looks like Pinner and Bryson will likely steal carries from him, at least for a while.

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Originally posted by skin_finatic

I doubt that..... those guys suck!

You say that, but then William Green (yes a head case, but a talented one) sat for half of his rookie year behind a couple of dead-weights before starting. Michael Bennett did too. It takes a while.
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