Thursday, November 8, 2007

Curse of the Running Back: Conventional Wisdom Kills Seasons

If you are a veteran of Fantasy football like me, when you drafted your team, you usually went for the running backs. Names like LaDainian Tomlinson, the J&J Boys (Rudi and Larry Johnson), Shawn Alexander, and Steven "No Action" Jackson were at the top of your list. If you happened to be in the top 5, you were going to get a stud who could give you 25 points on a bad week. If this was the route you went this year, unless you got the first pick with LT, you pretty much dug yourself a hole.

As many owners of the top running back choices in this year's drafts have found out, picking a running back first blew up in your face. Of the average of the top 10 RBs in this year's drafts, 6 are struggling mightily, injured, or out for the season.

The universal #1 pick in pretty much every draft that didn't have a brain dead dude picking first was Ladainian Tomlinson. LT has had an off year for LT, but has still been a solid performer for his owners. He had one very big game against Oakland and several solid efforts between 10 and 20 points, but he did have two single digit games through the first 9 weeks, which was uncharacteristic for guy who has been awesome for 5 seasons. LT was a good number 1 and will most likely have paid off by the end of the season. With SD struggling for playoff position, I would expect LT to be a big time scorer through the end since SD will not be able to sit him.

Steven Jackson, who went 2nd in my league's draft has been on the bench or in traction longer than he spent on the field. He is trying to comeback, but with the Rams perched on the toilet at 0-8, I'm sure "No Action" Jackson is not in a rush to come back. He has been, by far, the biggest disappointment for guys who thought they had hit the mother lode with the number two pick. He has been a bust for a very bad team.

Larry Johnson has performed and not performed. A 12 yard effort against the Jags, sandwiched between 123 and 119 yard efforts. He started off very slowly with no double digit games in his first 3, but picked it up in 4 of his last 5. In the midst of a huge game last weekend, he severely sprained his ankle while being tackled and is out for a while. LJ owners have not gotten what they'd hoped for.

Next on the injury or sucky firing line is Mr. Alexander. Shaun is a former MVP who has not played like an MVP in 2 seasons. He has been oft injured over the last 2 seasons, and when playing, he appears to be building up his 401(k) for retirement. Whenever he can get the extra yard, he lays down so he won't get hit. I can't blame the guy for trying to stay healthy and prepare for his gig next to his brother, Tiki Barber, on Today. (They are not really brothers, but as many have pointed out, Tiki, Ronde, and Shaun are triplets.) However, when his team is decent enough to contend for the weak NFC title, Shaun isn't putting out the full effort. He's been mired in mediocre performances. It's sad because I remember the guy dominating, like scoring 4 TDs in a Sunday night game, wishing I had him on my Fantasy team. Not many people are thinking that this year.

Frank Gore was coming into his own. He had a breakout year with a really bad team last year and was poised to take his team and his game up to the next level. So far, he has reached down a level. Mr. Gore, through injuries, has been Mr. Bore. He has missed a couple of games and has reached the 100 yard level exactly zero times. Zero times? This guy went 5th in my fantasy league! He's hurt still and the guys who pick the forecasted scores are saying "We'd pass on him, play or not play". This guy was No. 5 pick in the draft and you should sit him? Amazing.

Joe Addai has had a great sophomore year. He was injured a couple of games, but the 6th RB picked has been Fantasy gold for his owners. The last two weeks, he put up 28 and 30 points respectively. This week, he has the Chargers, who gave up a record 296 yards to rookie Adrian Petersen (the Good One). Except for the one game he missed, Joe has not scored less than double digits. He's as good as it gets right now.

Brian Westbrook is the Eagles. With Donovan struggling to find targets and a wide receiver corp that makes '85 Oklahoma look like All-Stars, Westbrook has been the only guy to perform week in and week out for the struggling Eagles and it's not for lack of effort from this guy. He has been all over the field and seems to have the ball in his hands on pretty much every play. How valuable is Westbrook? Exhibit A against the Giants: McNabb on his back more than Britney Spears due to the defensive pressure and blitzes. They were crushed without him. If he can remain healthy, he could end up in the top 3 RBs of the season.

Willie Parker, the number 8 RB picked, has been solid, but nothing spectacular this year. He has run for over 100 yards in several games, but has not had that breakout performance where he's scoring 30 points. Willie is typically good for a 10 to 15 point week and has been a consistent producer for his teams. I think most players would like to have Willie on their team, especially with the Pittsburg offense chugging along.

Rudi Johnson = Not Good in 2007. Rudi had one good game against the Cleveland "No D" Browns and that's it. He had 9 yards on 17 carries in Week 3 and has pretty much disappeared from view with injuries and general suckiness. Last week against the Bills, he put up 11 yards on 9 carries for 1 point. That's not going to get 'er done. He's probably done and has been the second biggest disappointment this season.

Finally, Lawrence Maroney, the number 10 pick in my Fantasy draft. He has been a side show on the Greatest show on Nature turf this year. With Tom "God" Brady at the helm leading the New England passing game juggernaut, the running game has pretty much taken a back seat. Maroney has been hurt much of the year, but it really wouldn't matter much with the machine in place. LM has missed 3 games this year and only had 1 100 yard game. He hasn't reached his potential yet, but with Brady's Bunch kicking as much as ass as they have been, Maroney's owners will probably be watching from the sidelines.

Those 10 have had mixed results with LT, Westbrook, Addai, and Parker having All-Pro campaigns. The rest of them were wasted picks. The guys who weren't in the top 10 who have been awesome this year? Obvious Rookie of the Century, Adrian Peterson has had two huge games, including last week's all time best performance in NFL history again a pretty good defense. It appears that AP's injuries from college stayed in Oklahoma. The sky's the limit for him. Ronnie Brown was having a great season until he blew out his knee. He's been out for 3 weeks and is still the number 5 back in scoring in FF. He was good while he lasted. Marion Barber went later in most drafts, but with his touchdown scoring has produced big so far.

Overall, this year, you wanted Tom Brady and Randy Moss, pretty much before anyone else, but I don't think many people thought that Moss would get his crap together or that Tom Brady with 3 good receivers would dominate like he has. (He dominated with no receivers, I guess I should have seen that one coming, like no one else did.)

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