From the Gut - Part 2 - Running Backs
By David Dodds
August 27th, 2010

As I comb through mounds and mounds of data to help me produce projections for the website, I still think back to some of my best fantasy rosters when I went in with a short list of guys I wanted to nab.

Sometimes you just have to follow your gut.

Below is a list of players, strategies and just random thoughts that are buzzing in my head.

Chris Johnson, Tennessee - As much as people want to look like Nostradamus and predict his demise, you certainly can't do it by watching game tape. He is as solid as there is on the field with an extra gear that gets him to the second level often. I don't care how many carries he had last year. I am not going to predict doom until I actually see his skills degrade. He should be the #1 or #2 pick in every fantasy league this year.

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota - I love the player, but am starting to hate the situation. Sidney Rice looks like he is going to be lost for most of the season to recover from hip surgery. Percy Harvin's migraines are flairing up again. Old Man Brett Favre skipped all of training camp, has played a whopping 4 plays in a preseason game and is hobbling on a bad ankle. None of that directly has anything to do with Adrian Peterson, but I suspect all of it could mean a lot more attention in the box to stopping the Minnesota rushing game. It also could lessen the TD numbers should the Minnesota offense take some time to get on track here.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville - I have a horrible feeling here that Jones-Drew kills fantasy owners this year. The team is awful on many levels and I think that is going to stack up against Jones-Drew. He will likely manage to claw his way (both running and taking checkdown screens for good gains) to decent yardage totals, but I think his TDs could take a serious hit. Head Coach Jack Del Rio is on the hot seat here and I think that will get Garrard benched at some point this season which in turn further throws this team in chaos.

Ray Rice, Baltimore - Although I doubt I would draft him above Johnson and Peterson, it won't shock me in the slightest when he is the number one RB this year (especially in PPR leagues). This Cam Cameron offense looks deadly through the air and Ray Rice will be a huge part of that. The team pulled Rice a lot near the goal line, but I am not certain that trend continues through this season. I also think the trade rumors around Willis McGahee are likely true. If McGahee were to be traded, Ray Rice deserves consideration as the #2 RB in PPR leagues.

Frank Gore, San Francisco - This San Francisco team reloaded upfront and Frank Gore should not be happier. The 49ers have an unbelievably weak schedule that should see Gore shredding teams for a ton of yards. I initially soured a bit to Gore's prospects with the signing of Brian Westbrook, but have since backed off that. I am now convinced that signing was more of an insurance policy and to bring a veteran's presence into the locker room than anything else. Gore is going to see the field a lot if he can stay healthy.

Michael Turner, Atlanta - His stats per game last year were just as solid as his great 2008 campaign. The difference was he missed games. He looks as good as ever in camp and I suspect we see him have a great year. The team has promised to involve him more in the passing game, but I will believe it when I see it.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis - He could very well be the most talented back in the NFL. But playing for the Rams means he is going to be gang-tackled on almost every play. That exact scenario has cost him tons of missed time in the past, but he starts the year healthier than he has been in a long time. The Rams also play a super soft schedule opening with Arizona, at Oakland, Washington, Seattle, at Detroit, San Diego, at Tampa Bay and Carolina before their bye week. My gut tells me he gets through these soft tacklers unscathed and has a great season. He is likely under-valued in PPR leagues this year. That schedule is that soft.

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh - He outplayed "Fast" Willie Parker last year to be the bellcow in this offense, but I am not certain how impressive that really was. Parker is now buried on the Redskins depth chart a year later and may not even make the final roster. Mendenhall has skills, but his offensive line is borderline awful. Add to that Ben Roethlisberger will be out at least 4 games and this situation could turn into a mess for Mendenhall. His ADP is probably about right, but my gut says to avoid this player this year. His ceiling is far below the other backs drafted near him.

DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart, Carolina - What does DeAngelo need to do to get any respect? He has been shredding the league for awhile now, but his pesky team mate Jonathan Stewart has been doing the same. Stewart's still not fully practicing yet (He is expected to play in week 1 though) which has me tilting this battle to Williams (at least in the early part of the season). The question becomes what happens if the losses mount. I originally thought the team would let Williams walk for 2011 and would have incentive to get Stewart out there as the fulltime back near the end of this year to judge what they have. Now I am not so certain this will play out like that. The team will likely franchise Williams next year and because of this I am now leaning towards the Panthers riding him throughout the year (if he can stay healthy)

Ryan Mathews, San Diego - When I read how Mathews was staying after practice to catch balls so he could improve there, I knew the Chargers did well moving up in the draft to get their guy. He has looked awesome in camp and I suspect that continues all season long. The Chargers are another team with a ridiculously soft schedule. They open up with: at Kansas City, Jacksonville, at Seattle, Arizona, at Oakland and at St. Louis. Mathews might have a spot reserved in Canton after those easy games. People are heistant to grab rookies early, but I think this is a safe play this year. He is going to be very active in this offense.

Ryan Grant, Green Bay - He plays on a great offense and that's why he gets drafted where he does. It's hard to absolutely love his game, because he is just an average player. But on this offense and without any real threat to steal carries, this is a safe guy to draft this year. He has limited upside and likely limited downside (unless he gets hurt). He will plod and plod and score sometimes and be competent.

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia - I have flip-flopped a lot on this player. I was not impressed with his game last year at all. Admittedly he was thrust into the starting job when Westbrook got hurt, but I did not see a player that looked confident in this system. I expected Mike Bell to significantly cut into his carries based on McCoy's seemingly average talent. Then Mike Bell continued to get hurt and although is expected back soon is a hard guy to trust right now. So this situation is a mess in my eyes. McCoy has a great opportunity here based on lack of viable alternatives, but that still doesn't really inspire me.

Shonn Greene / LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets - The running backs for the Jets are going to get a lot of action. This is a team with an impressive offensive line so any competent back should do well in this system. Greene has been named the starter and although I like his chances to succeed here, it's hard not to be impressed with how good LT has looked this preseason. At their current ADPs, give me LT everytime especially when you consider how small of a sample size Shonn Greene's body of work is. If either of these backs were to get hurt, the other's value could skyrocket.

Pierre Thomas, New Orleans - Can he stay healthy? Because if he can he is in a great situation to be a monster in this league. Reggie Bush will never get a ton of rushing attempts so the opportunity for Thomas is sky high. My gut tells me this is the year it all comes together for him.

Jahvid Best, Detroit - Wow. I had hopes of trying to get this guy in virtually every draft this year. This preseason likely killed that notion. Best is everything you want in a back. He is fast (seriously think Chris Johnson speed here because in pads, he is very fast) and comes in and out of breaks like no other. His change of durection is ankle breaking for defensive players. In the Tennessee / California game I got to see DeSean Jackson and Jahvid Best play in the same game. DeSean Jackson used his speed to completely out run the punt coverage despite being pinned in the corner. And despite this showcase of speed, I left with the feeling that Best was faster in pads than Jackson. He is Reggie Bush without any of the dancing. He might be under-sized and maybe he does get hurt, but every game he is 100% I would not bet against him. The fact that the Lions look so much more competent on offense leaves me giddy to what Best is capable of. The only real downer for Best is he faces a very hard schedule. In fact, after 4 weeks he will have played at Chicago, vs Philadelphia, at Minnesota and at Green Bay. That's a rough start for someone capable of being rookie of the year.

Chris Wells / Tim Hightower, Arizona - In my heart I believe Chris Wells is the better player. But what came easy to Chris at every level before the NFL isn't coming easy now. Hightower is a pro's pro. He works hard and impresses the coaches with all the little things. Unfortunately for Chris Wells, Hightower isn't going to away. Hightower has limited upside (See Ryan Grant), but will keep plodding away while earning playing time. Both of these players seem slotted pretty well according to their ADP. Both would see their value skyrocket should the other get hurt. Wells has massive upside, but expecting Leinart's noodle arm to keep defenses honest might be just too much to ask this year.

Jamaal Charles / Thomas Jones, Kansas City - Does Todd Haley ever watch game film? The fact that Thomas Jones supposedly sits atop the depth chart here is beyond laughable. Hopefully it really is just a motivational thing, but this head coach did the same with Dwayne Bowe last year. I believe in Charles, but I fear the coaches head games makes his ADP too high for my liking. Personally I think Jones is way past his prime and will be exposed with a lot worse offensive line this year.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati - I was in the running for the #1 fan of the Benson Hate Fan Club when the Bengals signed him last year. I will give credit to where it is due. He stopped pouting and blaming others and ran with force. In fact when I first saw him breaking tackles and running over opponents, I had to rewind and watch the footage over and over again. I couldn't believe this was the same player that played super soft in Chicago. So going into this year one would think I am a convert now, right? And as much as it seems to make sense that Benson will continue where he left off last year, I have this sneaky feeling he lets us down. In fact, my gut tells me that 2nd-year player Bernard Scott is going to push Benson for carries at some point this season.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver - I am a big fan of his game and like Jahvid Best pictured myself taking him in a lot of leagues this year. And then he tears his hamstring in camp. And for me that changes everything. I know the reports are that he is almost back on the field, but a less than 100% hamstring on a running back is something I prefer to avoid. It's a shame too as I believe this kid has talent and was going to thrive in this offense.

Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams, Miami - Wildcat U...It's hard not to watch these players running the Wildcat and just shredding veterans who really still don't know how to defend it when it's run well. Both are back healthy this year, but I am not that excited about either now that Brandon Marshall is in town. I think the game slowed down for QB Chad Henne last year and I think the coaching staff knows what they have in both Henne and Marshall. Something has to give and I expect it will be significantly less running plays.

Joseph Addai / Donald Brown, Indianapolis - As much as I loved the talent of Donald Brown coming out of college, I am beginning to learn not to bet against Joseph Addai. He hasn't rolled over at all and looks to be distancing himself in this competition. His ADP indicates a major time-share with Donald Brown. Although that is certainly a possible scenario, I am not sure it's the most likely one.

Marion Barber / Felix Jones / Tashard Choice, Dallas - The fact that Marion Barber lost weight while Jones added weight is interesting to say the least. Many have commented how great Barber looks and indeed he sits atop of this depth chart. I think Felix has skills, but he doesn't seem like a fulltime guy at all to me. Tashard Choice would probably start for a third or more of the NFL teams. He is buried in this rotation, but his value would skyrocket should either Barber or Jones get dinged (which has happened a lot in previous years). For the price though, I want Barber on my roster. This offense could be special and I think if he stays healthy this might be his best season as a pro yet.

Ahmad Bradshaw / Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants - I have man-love for Ahmad Bradshaw. I just really enjoy watching him run. A smallish player that attacks the second-level like that deserves every yard he gets. I think he is massively more talented than Brandon Jacobs, but I am not foolish to think Jacobs won't have a significant role. This is a true RBBC that will likely leave fantasy owners frustrated many weeks unless one of them was to get injured.

Matt Forte / Chester Taylor, Chicago - Every once in awhile (although it's rare), I will admit when I am wrong about a player. I was wrong to bury Cedric Benson and will admit that he looks like a completely different player than the one that played for the Bears. I hated Matt Forte's game last year. He played soft and was awful in short yardage. If the offense gave him a hole worthy of a 5 yard run, Forte was good for 4. He rarely broke tackles and showed no speed on most runs. So when the Martz-led Bears went out and got Chester Taylor (and paid him a hefty contract), I had already dug Forte's grave and buried him. I expected to see the same slow, non-tackle-breaking player that was below average in ever respect. But that's what's interesting about elite athletes. About the time they are to be counted out, they rise up to the latest challenges and shock the world. Forte claims he was injured all last season and based on what I am seeing this preseason plus the glowing camp reports, I think he is telling us the truth. He looks like a completely different player...or at least the player that did so well in 2008. I still expect Chester Taylor to get some carries here and I am not certain a Martz RB with a bad offensive line has great value, but I am here to state for the record...that Matt Forte in 2010 will be a lot better than what we saw last season.

CJ Spiller / Fred Jackson / Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo - Before everyone got hurt, I thought a Fred Jackson / CJ Spiller handcuff could be a really cheap way to get a pretty good RB. I love Fred Jackson's game. I expected him to overtake Lynch last year and he did just that. Before the injury, I though Jackson potentially could even hold off Spiller all season. As for Lynch, I don't get why he is still on the team. He may play now because of injuries, but he would be far more valuable on another team. Now that Jackson and Lynch are dinged up, CJ is getting too much love for my liking. This is still a very bad team with an awful offensive line. The rookie still isn't good at blitz pickup, etc. I am likely passing on all of these players. If I take any, I will roll the dice with Fred Jackson super late. I still think he is the most complete back on this roster.

Jerome Harrison / Montario Hardesty, Cleveland - I have been crying for Harrison to hit the field for years. He finally got his chance last year and was beyond impressive. So what does Cleveland do? They go draft an elite back. There is a reason bad teams stay bad. The team is starting Delhomme, has multiple WRs that wouldn't be WR3 on any other team sharing reps at WR1 and they go get an elite back. Hardesty's injury in camp though has given the green light for Harrison to start this season. This is a bad team, but they have a very good run-blocking offensive line. I expect Harrison to do well early. He probably will get benched for Hardesty when the losses mount, but counting out Harrison after what he did last year feels like a huge mistake to me.

Arian Foster / Steve Slaton, Houston - The fact that Slaton was practicing with the returners this week says everything to me. Foster is the perfect one-cut back for this system. I think he is going to be a beast on a very good team. He was going cheaper with Tate still healthy, but he is still massively undervalued in drafts. Slaton will see change of pace carries, but this is Foster's offense if he can stay healthy.

Reggie Bush, New Orleans - It started last year around the playoffs. He stopped dancing and hit the hole. This is the back I remember at USC. I blame the Kardashian's here. His head wasn't in the game the way it needed to be. I have seen that same attacking style this preseason. With the way Pierre Thomas stays healthy, Bush could be in for a huge season if his playing time were to increase. But even if it doesn't he catches so many passes that he will always be relevent (if he stays healthy and attacks instead of dances).

Michael Bush / Darren McFadden, Oakland - I got burned in a ton of leagues with McFadden last season. I know there are skills hiding below the surface with McFadden and he could be special if he could stay healthy, but I think Michael Bush is already that player. The fact that Bush has clawed his way up to the top of the chart is also impressive. This is a pretty good offensive line playing in a soft division so this battle is indeed important. I will be rolling wth Bush in just about every league I can. I am a believer in his skills and in McFadden's propensity to get injured yet again.

Justin Forsett / Julius Jones / Leon Washington, Seattle - Julius Jones. Let's call him for what he is. BAD. Julius Jones is a sub-par RB at best that somehow seems to practice well enough to never get cut (and even sits atop the depth chart at times). But suffice it to say we know Julius Jones will be bad when he is counted on. I had Forsett on a lot of rosters last year waiting for the coaches to see what we all knew about Jones. I don't really think Forsett is all that special as an NFL back, but he could win this job by default. The guy I am targeting in most drafts though is Leon Washington. He really is electric and looks all the way back from his devastating injury. He probably won't ever be a 25-touch back, but the fact Washington can take any play to the house makes him like Jamaal Charles. He is special. The haters can tell me Pete Carroll doesn't know football, but I think he definitely knows what he has in Washington. It's hard not to love his game as he attacks defenses at full speed and is so dangerous in space.

Cadillac Williams / Kareem Huggins, Tampa Bay - Herniated disks for the starter and nothing short of electric camp performer for the latter. I am pretty certain we have seen this type of situation play out over and over again. I respect Cadillac Williams. He is as tough as they come and I can't imagine his pain tolerance to play with his condition. He is a warrior and deserves our applause. But I think he will break down. And when he does, Kareem is likely to take this job and never give it back. He is everything Derrick Ward has failed to be. Roster Kareem at all costs and you can thank me later.

The New England Backs - Three for a hundred, please. Collectively, that's the combined age if Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk all make the roster. I get stubborness to an extent, but this experiment failed badly last year and I expect the same bad result this year. I find it crazy that the team did not draft a RB while they seemingly owned half of the second round picks in the draft. Maroney is probably the smart bet this year as these old players all get dinged up. He comes cheap, but never seems to have the eye of the caching staff. He is the youngest by a mile though and is playing for a new contract. Maybe the light comes on and he can make the most of an increased opportunity when it presents itself.

Willis McGahee, Baltimore - Everyone expecting McGahee to vulture everything that Ray Rice sets up, might be disappointed. I believe the Ravens are willing to move McGahee (and give Rice a lot bigger role), but the right deal has not been presented. McGahee's value will likely be at it's highest after some profile back on a good team goes down. He probably will be a vulture until then, but the team knows Ray Rice is ready to be a workhorse too.

Bernard Scott, Cincinnati - I loved him last year before he got hurt. As much as Cedric Benson has turned around his game, I still think Scott is a break away from being the primary ballcarrier. He is another RB that you really want to have rostered for upside. If he becomes the RB1 over Benson, his value will skyrocket with this strong offensive line.

Javon Ringer, Tennessee - Of course he is not better than CJ2K, but who is? This kid can play though and I will be shocked if the team doesn't find a way to get him more involved. His real value would come into play with a Chris Johnson injury though. And if that did indeed happen, Ringer would likely be rated in the top 10 RBs each week.

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