Sinking Ships - Running Backs
By Chris Smith
Jul 27th, 2012

Every NFL season, we have players that rise from obscurity to become star players and excellent fantasy football starters. On the flip side, we have players that have been very good fantasy starters in the past who for reasons such as age, fresh young talent, injuries, trouble with the law, etc. slide from being relevant in fantasy circles to afterthoughts and then out of the league. This transition can and often does happy quite quickly and identifying these types of players before the slide happens will help a fantasy team avoid the dead weight that can bring your ship to the bottom of the sea.

The article will break down the candidates to fade away in the running back category.

  1. Cedric Benson, UFA: Benson was considered a draft day bust with the Chicago Bears. He was a 4th overall pick in 2005 and had three utterly forgettable seasons with the Bears organization. He moved on with the Bengals organization, had a quiet first year and then put up three decent seasons for the club from 2009 to 2011. The important thing to realize during his Bengals days however is he failed to 4.0 yards per carry in those four years and scored just 22 total touchdowns. He without question was a nice story and went from being an outright draft day bust to just a disappointing 4th overall pick but his best days are behind him and being a big back, he is likely already hitting the big back wall that former players such as Eddie George could not avoid.

  2. Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco 49ers: Jacobs is a beast of a running back. At 6'4 and 260 pounds, he looks like a big linebacker out there on the football field and takes great pleasure in running over players. However much like former big backs such as Christian Okoye, the bruising style takes a toll on a player's body and Jacobs best days are behind him. He averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry in two of the past three years and has gone to a team that has plenty of running back talent competing for touches. Best case scenario for him in 2012 is likely some short yardage work but his days as a relevant fantasy option are clearly behind him.

  3. Ryan Grant, UFA: Grant is a nice NFL story as the formerly undrafted player from Notre Dame had some nice seasons with the Packers including an 8th best fantasy performance in 2009. However injuries caught up to him over the past couple of seasons and he has just three touchdowns over that span. He will turn 30 years old this season and he was an excellent of hard work over exceptional talent. His best days are clearly behind him and he may not get another starting opportunity in the NFL.

  4. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons: Turner has had a very good run with the Atlanta Falcons and that will likely continue through this season. However as history has shown over and over again, bigger running backs often hit the wall with little to no warning and the 235-pound Turner has absorbed a ton of big hits over the past several seasons. It should be noted that he had limited work in San Diego through his first four NFL seasons but I believe that hits take a toll on bodies more as age begins to become a factor and Turner has already turned 30. Let somebody else take Turner in your fantasy league unless he drops for value as he has become his downward spiral even if the statistics have not displayed that as of yet. Don't be surprised to see him fail to reach the 250-carry mark in 2012.

  5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Jackson has been a good fantasy running back throughout his eight-year career but rarely a great one. In fact, he has just one season inside the top-ten of fantasy football over his NFL career and that was back in 2006 when he finished as the 3rd best fantasy back thanks to 1528 rushing yards, 90 receptions (40 more than his next best season) and 16 touchdowns (6 better than his 2nd best effort). Big backs such as Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Eddie George and Earl Campbell all fell into complete obscurity around the exact age and mileage as Steven Jackson has reached now. Jackson has racked up tons of punishment behind some very poor offensive line play over last few years and has almost 2400 touchdowns in just 7 years. Those are all huge caveats to be aware of. Let somebody else draft Jackson in 2012. There is just as good a chance he struggles than succeeds.

  6. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: Gore has had a remarkable career considering the horrible knee injuries he has endured in both college and in the NFL. He is now 29-years of age which isn't that old until you consider the injuries that Gore has had to deal with. With several running backs on the roster, don't be surprised to see Gore's total touches drop to around the 200-touch level. He will still have fantasy value this season and may help the team even more with the controlled touches this season but his days as a fantasy starter may be behind him and the end is coming. It's OK drafting Gore this season but not before the 5th round in your fantasy draft. By 2013, he will begin to phase out of the offense.

  7. Joseph Addai, UFA: Really, Addai has been on this slippery slope for a while but it will officially come to an end this season. He had three top-12 seasons in his first four seasons but his best days are clearly behind him and has no place on a fantasy roster.

  8. Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers: Another player who has been on this slope for quite some time. He almost retired then signed with the Chargers. Either way he will have no fantasy impact.

  9. Cadillac Williams, St. Louis Rams: This Cadillac is stuck in the garage. His best days are clearly in the rear view mirror.

  10. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos: McGahee was a great story last year but he is near the end of his NFL career, turning 31-years of age this season and the Broncos drafted the talented Ronnie Hillman from San Diego State to eventually earn the starting job. McGahee is capable of one more good season but with three of the last four years with 170 or fewer carries, it is best to temper expectations and let somebody else roll the dice on him for 2012.

Please feel free to email smith@footballguys.com with any questions or comments.

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