Preseason Upgrades and Downgrades - RBs
By Sigmund Bloom
August 29th, 2011

After three games, here are my thoughts on how some players are moving up and down the rankings.

Upgrades

  • Rashard Mendenhall, PIT - Mendenhall has transformed himself into a three-down back and he has the look of a player poised to put up career year numbers. He isn't in the elite top 4-5 RBs on most draft boards, but with his playoff schedule (STL and SF), the 24-year-old should be.

  • Darren McFadden, OAK - Yes, he suffered a fractured orbital bone to remind us that he misses time every year. Yes, he lost starting guard Robert Gallery and offensive line-centric head coach Tom Cable to Seattle. It's still hard to ignore that McFadden has wowed everyone in training camp. Head coach Hue Jackson recently revealed that the team made some changes to the running game to suit McFadden's style and the results were evident. He was basically as explosive as Jamaal Charles last year, but he is available a round later. You take guys like him in the second and count on your depth drafting, waiver wire work, and trades to protect you when he misses time.

  • Peyton Hillis, CLE - Brandon Jackson was going to take third-down work, but he has turf toe issues. Montario Hardesty was going to force this backfield into committee territory, but it is considered a victory now just for him to be on the field in the preseason. Madden curse be damned, Hillis is set up a lot better to repeat 2010's top 5 finish than his late second/early third-round ADP would have you believe.

  • LeGarrette Blount, TB - He spent a lot of time this offseason working on his passing game skills and it shows. He won't be a Michael Turner-esque near-zero passing game contribution RB even though he has that reputation. Feel lucky if you can still get him in the fourth round.

  • DeAngelo Williams, CAR - Williams has been a top five back with Jonathan Stewart in tow because of John Fox's commitment to the two-back backfield, but now Fox is gone and Stewart has had achilles soreness, a bad sign in the preseason for a player that has seemingly never been 100% for an extended period in his career. The overall state of the Panthers team is a bit worrisome, but Williams should have a chance to be a feature back and earn his 20+ million signing bonus.

  • Felix Jones, DAL - It took a while, but it looks like Jones is finally ready to deliver on the promise that got everyone so excited when he was drafted back in 2008. He is looking strong and fast and he has the feature back role all to himself. You might have to take him in the third round to get him now, but he clearly has the potential to outperform even that lofty draft position.

  • Chris Wells, ARI - Wells is moving up because he has stayed healthy and his new competition, second-round pick Ryan Williams, suffered a potentially career-threatening patellar tendon tear. It's hard to believe in Wells ability to stay healthy all year, or in the perennial bottom-dwelling Arizona running game, but the risk and reward balance out nicely in the sixth round. Wells is looking good right now, so err on the side of taking the plunge after guys like Blount and Jones are off of the board.

  • Reggie Bush, MIA - A feature back? Really? Have the Dolphins not been watching the same Reggie Bush we have been watching the last few years? Bush is going to likely get the largest workload since his false breakout rookie year. Whether he holds up or performs up to expectations is very questionable, but in PPR leagues, he's worth the plunge in the seventh or later on an RB board that dries up quickly around that time.

  • Tim Hightower, WAS - Big ups to ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, who said Hightower was brought in to be more than depth before anyone else predicted Hightower would be the #1 going into the season. He has looked like a natural fit in the preseason, and more importantly, held on to the ball. He is a boom/bust seventh or eighth rounder right now, and with the efficiency of the Shanahan running game behind a line that seems to be gelling, he's probably worth the gamble.

  • Pierre Thomas, NO - I am an avowed Mark Ingram backer, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that Thomas's outlook is a lot better than we expected a month ago. Where he looked like a backup based on his contract in comparison to Darren Sproles and the 2012 first-round pick the Saints gave up to get Mark Ingram, it is clear now that Thomas is a co-lead back, even if he's one that gets pulled inside the 20. He is a fine first RB off the bench in PPR leagues, and he could hit big if Ingram gets hurt or otherwise doesn't live up to the hype.

  • Leon Washington, SEA - Tuck this one away in your back pocket. The Seahawks are excited about Washington and no longer taking it slow with him since he is two years removed from his gnarly leg break. They may want to run Marshawn Lynch into the ground, but it's hard to picture that happening with their ugly QB play. Washington's Westbrook-esque skillset could be just what their offense needs this year.
  • Downgrades

  • Arian Foster, HOU - As I write this, we are still in the dark about the severity of Foster's re-aggravation of his left hamstring injury, but at best, he'll be questionable going into week one and certainly at risk of having this be something that plagues him on and off all season. I would be fine with taking him in the mid first of a non-PPR league or late first of a PPR league, but recurring hamstring injuries are nothing to trifle with for running backs. Foster looked angry and frustrated when he hurt the hamstring again, and I'm afraid that's what his fantasy owners will experience this year.

  • Chris Johnson, TEN - Johnson has the personality to take this holdout well into the regular season and the Titans don't seem to be ready to blink any time soon. Even the least risk-averse drafters have to have Johnson outside of their top four right now, and I suspect that if you had to think about him at 6,7, or 8, you would pause and have more doubt in practice than you do in theory. The one thing we can't tolerate in the first round is uncertainty, and Johnson is swimming in it right now.

  • Michael Turner, ATL - It's hard to get excited about Turner when you learn that he had offseason groin surgery and also dealt with a groin issue during the 2010 season. It's even harder when you see that Atlanta is ready to air it out with their commitment to the passing game via the trade-up for Julio Jones. He's still a fine third-round pick, but Turner is no longer a fantasy cornerstone.

  • Jahvid Best, DET - Can it get more ominous than seeing a back who struggled to stay healthy under a feature back load in his rookie year get creamed, concussed, and fumble on his first touch of week two of the preseason? Best had concussion issues at Cal, so the preseason head injury makes drafting him in the first three rounds give me the willies this year.

  • Ryan Mathews, SD - No matter how much sunshine Norv Turner beams about Mathews, the reality remains that Mathews is in an RBBC, he's not getting goal-line looks, and he had both conditioning and injury issues already during camp. He is a high-upside RB3, but he shouldn't be taken in the first four rounds with RBs like Blount and Jones coming on strong.

  • Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG - Bradshaw didn't get feature back money from the Giants (or anyone else), Tom Coughlin said Brandon Jacobs was underused, and the last month of 2010 saw pretty close to even split in carries between Bradshaw and Jacobs. Bradshaw is a great runner, no doubt about, but he shouldn't be going in the third, or maybe even the fourth round like he is in a lot of drafts.

  • Ryan Torain, WAS - In elementary school the rule was, move your feet, lose your seat... in the Washington backfield, it's break your hand, lose your job. Torain is almost certainly behind Tim Hightower now, and he might be looking up at Roy Helu before long. No matter how much Mike Shanahan thinks he resembles Terrell Davis, Torain is not worth much if he isn't on the field. He could be a savvy early waiver wire pickup, but it's hard to draft the injury-prone back right now.

  • Ryan Grant, GB - A one million dollar pay cut, rumors that he could be cut from the roster, cut him from your RB3 draft board. It's beginning to sound like Grant will never be the back we saw from 2007-2009 again.

  • Daniel Thomas, MIA - Beware the rookie RB who has opportunity going for him at the beginning, but fails to build any momentum in training camp or the preseason. The Dolphins didn't go out and sign Larry Johnson because they were excited about Thomas. There's been nothing but lukewarm (at best) reports about Thomas. At this point, I almost prefer rookie backs with longer roads to touches, but more positive reports about their initial performances.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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