Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

This second guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. This article is a follow up to his first guest post on three RBBCs to avoid in your drafts this season.

It’s now time to look at the running-back-by-committees (RBBC) that fantasy owners should try to monopolize in drafts this year. In most cases, fantasy players should study RBBC situations and draft only the favorites to receive the most carries when the time is right, but some teams possess running backs who collectively are undervalued or that, when drafted together, increase the value and reliability of those players.

Dallas Cowboys

A fit (well, fitter) Marion Barber is a surefire fantasy workhorse. One of the toughest running backs in the game, Barber is not only a threat on the goal line but also receiving out of the backfield. He will get every yard available.

MBIII has shockingly been falling to the beginning of the third round in 12-team drafts, mainly because of the presence of Felix Jones. This fall makes Barber an absolute steal given his propensity to carry the rock into the end zone on a weekly basis.

Jones still represents draft value at the very end of the sixth round, but here’s the clincher: the two of them offer different skill sets, don’t mutually deplete fantasy value very much and will be given enough touches to produce fantasy points.

Barber cannot carry the ball 25 times per game without breaking down while Jones is a threat in space, not in short-yardage situations. Take both with glee, and if you smell an injury, Tashard Choice won’t be waiver-wire fodder for long.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m making a joke, right? The Colts’ backfield, the very same backfield that struggled immensely in 2008, is one of the top three to target in 2009? Yes, it is!

Last year, not only did Joseph Addai have injury problems, but so did three of his offensive linemen and Peyton Manning. All have returned to good health this season. One must remember that Indianapolis is an offensive machine — always has been, always will be. At least while Manning is around…

Between Addai and rookie Donald Brown, we either have one back who will produce RB1 stat lines or two backs who will post RB2 and RB3 numbers. At the very worst, drafting both guarantees you will have insurance against an Addai injury.

You can wait on taking a second back through the first three or even four rounds — yes, Addai has been falling that far (ADP: 5.08!) — and secure the most undervalued RBBC in all of football in the sixth or seventh round.

Just make sure you don’t get arrested for robbery at the end of the year.

San Diego Chargers

The word on the grapevine is that last year was an offensive hiccup for San Diego, not in terms of total output but in the fact that the Chargers succeeded by passing the football and not running it.

With an improved defense (Shawne Merriman single-handedly improves this unit), why not control the game by slowing it down on the ground and letting Philip Rivers air it out with play action when necessary?

With LaDainian Tomlinson hitting the big 3-0 and Darren Sproles not yet a seasoned pro, one could be forgiven for doubting them, but L.T. is a once-in-a-decade back. A single season of wear and tear is not going to bring him down. A pick in the latter half of the first round — anywhere after that is a steal — represents value.

The kicker is that Sproles, who is playing under a franchise tag, is not going until late in the eighth round. If you’re in the right draft slot, take them both and sleep well knowing you have guaranteed yourself some big production at running back.

And one more bonus RBBC…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Editor’s Note: Tampa Bay was originally the third team to target until recent news revealed the 2-2-1 split they plan to use with Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams. Take these words as you will now that we know this committee will be very divided...

Tampa Bay is one of a couple of backfields that will be drafted late, mainly because of the lack of standout names but also because the statistical ceiling isn’t quite as sexy as it is elsewhere.

Make no mistake, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham will consistently notch points for fantasy owners in 2009 — the former with the bulk of the carries and the latter with the bulk of the touchdowns.

The advantage of this RBBC is that Tampa Bay does not have much of a passing game to hang its hat on. Antonio Bryant is unpredictable and potentially unreliable, and the same could be said of Kellen Winslow and his health issues. On top of that, the quarterback situation is confusing, and there seems to be little reason for Raheem Morris to do anything but lean on the run.

Ward has been drafted right at the end of the fourth round (steal), and Graham has seen his number called as late as the end of the tenth round (bigger steal!).

Do you agree or disagree with Ross on these RBBCs to target? As always, the comments are yours. Read more of Ross’ writing at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.

Injury Concerns: Are Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook worth your draft pick?

Brian Westbrook convinced the world that a smaller, shifty back could make it work in the NFL. In recent years, he’s become a fantasy points factory, churning out production each season, but he’s also never been one to rely on for all 16 weeks of your fantasy season.

With Westbrook’s production come injuries. Someone who moves as well and as uniquely as Westbrook is bound to get caught or banged up by the end of the season when a team leans on him as much as the Eagles have over the years. His injuries have landed Westbrook on some fantasy blacklists when it comes time to draft. Owners would just rather not deal with his questionable status every Sunday and one or two zeroes in the weekly fantasy point column for the games he misses.

When Reggie Bush entered the NFL as a rookie, he was one of the most hyped fantasy prospects of the season. NFL analysts projected he would be an impact player at running back despite his shifty, “dancing” ways, but, much like Westbrook, he’s also proven that it was going to be difficult for him to stay on the field for 16 games in a row.

Bush and Westbrook 2009 Outlook

Bush and Westbrook are truly two of the most unique players in the NFL. If either is in the game for their respective teams, they change what their team can do on the field.

The Eagles without Westbrook have lacked that explosion out of the backfield. Correll Buckhalter was a fine stand-in last season, but he couldn’t do all the things that Westbrook could do. Defenses don’t fear him as much, and he can’t make everyone miss.

This season, Westbrook finally has a backup who is worthy of carrying his torch, rookie LeSean McCoy. McCoy should cut into a few of Westbrook’s carries, but the coaching staff still promises that this is Westbrook’s job.

When available to the Saints, Reggie Bush found a role as a gimmick back last season. He took short passes out of the backfield, running back carries up the middle or to the outside and sometimes he even split out wide just like a receiver. This dynamic play earned him plenty of fantasy points…right up until he went down with an injury.

He’s been training this offseason, and beat writers have claimed this year is the most committed he’s been to the game since he first came in as a rookie. Bush knows this is a make-or-break year for his career. If he can’t prove that he can stay healthy and contribute, his role — and contracts — will be limited in the future.

Bush and Westbrook Fantasy Football Value

When it comes to these two backs, owners question every year whether they are worth drafting.

Brian Westbrook

With Westbrook, the answer is certainly a “yes,” but there is some qualification. Westbrook is still not back on the field from offseason injuries, but that doesn’t worry me about the impact he will have in this year’s improved Eagles’ offensive attack. He’s a safe pick in the second round, where he’s currently fallen due to injury concerns and age, but be sure to draft his backup and rookie standout LeSean McCoy if you get Westbrook on your roster.

Westbrook is bound to miss games, but McCoy looks good enough to jump in without missing a beat in this offense. McCoy’s average draft position (ADP) has him going in the eighth round of most drafts, so it should not be difficult to secure him a tad early with your pick in the seventh round.

If he warms your bench all season, you may feel a little upset, but Westbrook will have proven a lot of doubters wrong for your fantasy team.

Reggie Bush

Reggie Bush is a bit of a different story. Outside of points-per-reception leagues, he’s not as much of a beast as Westbrook. Pierre Thomas is looking like the primary back out of the Saints’ backfield this season, which would further limit Bush’s potential.

Bush worked on becoming a better football player this entire offseason, and he will attempt to return from his injuries this weekend against Oakland. That’s promising. Then again, he’s also rumored to be getting back together with another famous back, Kim Kardashian. We’ll see how that works out.

While he’s still worth drafting, he’s only worth drafting in the sixth round or later and after more promising young backs like Felix Jones are off the board. If Bush pays off, you’ll be glad to have him aboard. If he’s bothered by injury, you won’t have paid a significant price to get him.

In PPR leagues, he could be a stud, and you may feel better about taking him earlier in your draft when the payout is higher. That said, there’s just too much risk to make him a star on your fantasy team. Have a contingency plan for Bush if he goes down.

Pairing Darren McFadden and Bush together by taking them in your draft and rotating them based on health could make a deadly combo.

This year is a turning point for both these players. While Bush and Westbrook are both worthy of drafting at the right values, they are also full of risks. Prepare accordingly if you take that chance.

As always, the comments are yours. Would you draft Westbrook or Bush this season?

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With most of you hunkering down to conduct your drafts this week, if you haven’t done them already, let me remind you about our handy rankings and strategy recommendations.

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Now that our “draft kit” of sorts is out of the way, let’s talk football, shall we?

A Kick and a Prayer

For starts, did you see Chad Ochocinco kicking field goals last week? The fantasy football world will never be the same…

The first time Ochocinco kicks it into a screen at Cowboys Stadium, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can’t believe all the fuss about a television screen. Yes, it can be raised out of the way, so why are we so concerned that it will change the game? The Titan’s punter was gunning for it. That’s my story.

Chad Ochocinco might be better on your fantasy team as a kicker this year. Chris Henry has looked sharp this preseason and was drawing compliments from Carson Palmer in the offseason workouts. For the second straight week, Chris Henry scored a touchdown, even with J.T. O’Sullivan throwing the ball.

There may be better sleepers out there, but Chris Henry is the only Bengals receiver I would want to own on my fantasy team this year. He’s in a contract year, which means he won’t disappoint, and with Palmer looking like he’s one more sack away from sitting out 2009, it’s good to see that Chris Henry can play nice with backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

Rusty Tom-bone

On the Patriots side of the ball, Tom Brady looked a bit off Thursday night. As I’ve warned in the past, he could be a slow starter this season, and I wouldn’t blow an early pick on him unless you’re in a passing touchdown or quarterback heavy league.

Jag Snag?

Can Troy Williamson be a legit receiver? That’s what the Jaguars are starting to think while Mike Walker is missing time.

Williamson was supposed to replace Randy Moss when Minnesota drafted him. He didn’t. Now he looks like he could be a deep threat. Then again, Williamson might just be putting on a show until the regular season starts so that he can disappear in a cloud of fantasy owner frustration.

I’m interested in what he has to offer this season for the moment, and you can probably look for him as a late-round flier in most drafts or simply keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

Anyone who is worried that the Falcons won’t run as much with Michael Turner this season should have watched the Falcons game against the Rams. I’ll give you that it was the Rams, but Turner looked like he was in regular season form.

Contrary to Popular Belief

Willie Parker can still score touchdowns. He proved that this week. Rashard Mendenhall is great and all, but he’s just not spectacular enough to find his way on the field for many snaps this year unless something happens to Parker.

Packing It In?

The new-and-improved Packer defense doesn’t look half bad. Actually, they don’t look even one-third bad. If this continues, I’ll have to look to snag them as a sleeper team defense. They certainly have looked exceptional at causing turnovers in the preseason. The Baltimore Ravens are not too shabby in that category either.

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

And, for the record, Jay Cutler looks much better than Kyle Orton. Sorry, Broncos fans, you’ve been ruined this season by the neckbearded left hand bomb.

First Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy for 2009

You know that tough feeling when your heart is telling you one thing, but your mind is telling you something completely different?

It’s not love…or the cheese fries. It’s the first round of your fantasy football draft. Easily confused, for sure, but very, very different.

The first round is a Wild West again this season with no locked-in picks in the first round. Many consider Adrian Peterson the consensus first overall pick or the safest option at the top of the draft, but rebels out there will tell you that they prefer Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner or even Tom Brady, if they dare.

Just because A.P. is rated first overall, that doesn’t mean you have to draft him. Depending on the scoring rules, I might not. He’s just not my favorite guy.

In the first round, you should consider drafting a running back, a wide receiver or a quarterback — draft a kicker and someone will smack you — and there’s a strategy to taking each position.

Drafting a Running Back in the First Round

It’s not that it’s out of style to draft a running back. It’s just that it loses its shiny appeal after the first three to four picks are off the board. Once Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and Matt Forte are off the board, the running back ranks get muddy.

Draft LaDainian Tomlinson? No, thanks. Steven Jackson? Yeah, but no. Kill me now.

The conventional wisdom is that taking a running back in the first round is the safest option and most valuable pick since true No. 1 running backs and running back depth is hard to come by in fantasy drafts, but much like 2008, this season offers up plenty of running back by committees, or RBBCs, which will do just fine for my fantasy purposes.

Even in the third round of a 12-team league, you’re still able to find quite a few running backs worth starting, and that allows you to have some freedom in the first round. Marion Barber (ADP: 3.01), Ryan Grant (ADP: 3.08) and Kevin Smith (ADP: 3.10), all third round picks according to Fantasy Football Calculator’s average draft positions, aren’t terrible options. They were close to first-round consideration if they weren’t drafted in the first round just last year.

If you have one of the top four to five picks in the draft, taking a dominant runner is a valid option — and probably your best strategy — but with backs like Frank Gore (ADP: 2.o2) and Clinton Ports (ADP: 2.11) still available in the second round, don’t force it.

Drafting a Quarterback in the First Round

You may be tempted by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, especially if you play in a league that awards six points for passing touchdowns, but don’t draft a quarterback in the first round just because they score the most points each week.

It was a hot trend last season, but the fantasy football community cooled off after Tom Brady made owners pay by going down in the first quarter of his first game. So much pain to think about…let’s move on…

By the nature of starting lineups, most leagues only require 24 quarterbacks to be drafted (12 starters, 12 backups), and only 12 of those players start each week unless you’re in a two-quarterback league.

Only starting one, there’s better value to be had waiting on your gunslinger. The signal callers of the fourth and fifth round aren’t far behind the first-round prospects and could always rise, much like Philip Rivers did last season, up to their level if you’re lucky.

Drew Brees and Tom Brady are great and all, but I’d rather take Tony Romo (ADP: 5.09) or Aaron Rodgers (ADP: 4.01) and have three or four stud running backs or wide receivers on my roster.

Current average draft positions show Brees (ADP: 2.03) and Brady (ADP: 2.03) finding their way back into the second round, and Peyton Manning (ADP: 3.03) might still be around in the third at a great bargain price.

If you find yourself at the tail end of the first round, you can consider drafting a quarterback, but I think the odds are in your favor if you wait on even the elite to fall into the second or third rounds. Some say taking a quarterback in the first three rounds is a waste. My sweet spot for quarterback value is the fourth and fifth rounds this season.

Drafting a Wide Receiver in the First Round

It’s hard to argue with Talented Mr. Roto Matthew Berry’s assessment that there are only seven top receivers to go around this season.

Some have more upside than others, but seriously, the difference between No. 8 on the list of wide receiver scoring leaders from last year (Antonio Bryant, 157 points) and No. 30 (DeSean Jackson, 110 points) works out to fewer than three points a game. So if everyone in a 10-team league started three receivers every week, outside of the elite, you’re basically getting a three-point advantage starting the best non-elite guy over the guy that’s barely better than waiver-wire fodder.

That stings when you put it that way, but it is so true. Receiver is the wise way to go with your first round pick this year if you miss out on the elite running backs. With questions surrounding a few of the top seven like Roddy White, Steve Smith and Calvin Johnson, there are even less sure-thing elite receivers to go around.

Taking a receiver in the first round may ruin a few of your fantasy diehards’ lunches, but the drop off from the late first-round backs to the second-round or even third-round backs is not as significant as the drop off from first-round receivers to second-round receivers. Not to mention, there is a wealth of talent at running back in the middle and late picks of the draft, especially if you like sleepers.

If I draft top receiver in the first round and more elite wideouts are available in the second, I might even draft another one. You can’t stop me!

The stats are there to show it’s the more valuable pick late in the first round. As long as you draft intelligently, the fifth round running backs should be there to save you.

So go crazy, got it? Now you just have to choose a draft strategy for the rest of your draft.

As always, the comments are yours.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.

Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Avoid in Fantasy Football Drafts

This guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. If you enjoy his thoughts on RBBCs in the NFL, you can read more in his recent posts on the AFC and the NFC.

In the past five years, the landscape of fantasy football has changed in a difficult but interesting way. Gone are the days of a multitude of “bell cow” running backs to stack on your roster — run out of town by the rise of running-back-by-committees (RBBC) to the extent that the number of reliable weekly starters has decreased into the teens. In terms of formatting your roster, this shift means you will end up with three, if not four, backs on your team who share time.

The new environment requires more research for your average fantasy drafter. One has to pay lots of attention to training camp battles and keep an eye on pretty much every preseason game in order to make sure that running back “A” has not passed running back “B” on the depth chart, and even so far as to looking into what running back “C” is doing.

With this in mind, I’ve chosen the top three RBBCs to avoid in your fantasy draft.

Baltimore Ravens

A star running back in 2007, Willis McGahee started the Ravens’ camp on the PUP. During the offseason, big-boned LeRon McClain was talked down from his previous years’ short-yardage success and talked up concerning fullback duties, while rookie starlet Ray Rice was bigged up to improve in his sophomore year.

If he’s fit, McGahee, however, is the prototypical workhorse of the group, but remember that coach John Harbaugh seemingly picked his favorite week-to-week on a random basis last year. As a result, while someone has to run the ball in Baltimore and do it well, it’s a crapshoot at this point.

New England Patriots

If you think the Ravens’ backfield committee is a mess, try working out what’s going to happen in New England! Will former first-round pick Laurence Maroney finally fufill his potential? Will Bill Belichick become smitten with free agent grandpa Fred Taylor?

Will Sammy Morris steer clear of injuries and monopolize the carries? And will Kevin Faulk continue to eat into time on passing and third downs? If you can figure this backfield out, you’ll be rewarded. If not, join the rest of us and scratch your head.

New York Jets

Staying in the AFC East with this one, there’s another triple-headed monster to tackle with the added bonus of a potentially weak passing offense in need of a running game to take the pressure off. Thomas Jones surprised many with his 2008 return to form, and he should do so again this year, except in a different way.

Jones has contract issues, and these issues led the Jets to draft power back Shonn Greene out of Iowa. The other runner in the mix, Leon Washington, also wants more money and figures to get more time this year as well. Without Brett Favre and Laveranues Cole around to keep defenses honest, there is too much risk here.

Read more of Ross Mooring at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.

Disagree with Ross about these RBBCs? As always, the comments are yours.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs by ADP

Many a fantasy football site will give you rankings. Most of the time, that’s enough for you to make your decisions when drafting a fantasy team, but I like to add a little depth to my rankings by incorporating the “players to avoid” tag.

You see, not every player is desirable, even if they are the No. 5-ranked running back on the board. Some bad situations may not compel experts to rank a player lower, and at times, there’s no logical reason behind disliking a player other than that icky feeling you get when he’s the next player in your rankings. Regardless, we still have every right to avoid a guy in the draft.

If I had only listened to that inner “pick or pass” feeling when it came time for me to make my first round selection in 2007, I might have never taken Larry Johnson with a mid-first-round pick … and that would have made all the difference.

For this first addition of “pick or pass,” I gathered the top 24 running backs ranked by average draft position (ADP) over at Fantasy Football Calculator to break down. The rankings were current as of July 15, 2009. If you have any more reservations about players that I don’t touch on here or just find yourself wanting to share your agreement, please tell me about your concerns and tips in the comments.

Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 1.01 – PICK
So what if he is the unanimous No. 1 running back? Some guys still don’t love him first overall. No one says you have to take him — even if you league boos (and they will). Despite my personal distrust of Peterson, I would “pick” Peterson at the No. 1 because of his explosive potential and the huge tradebait he becomes if you want to do a little preseason maneuvering before the first game of the season. You can’t go wrong with the player everyone expects to be the best, right?

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
Everybody loves the bowling-ball receiving back from the Jacksonville Jaguars. While I dislike him here at the No. 2 spot, he’s still a “pick” for me somewhere in the top five. Unless the offensive line pulls another Humpty Dumpty routine, Jones-Drew should have all the chances in the world to put up RB1-worthy stats. Then again, if you’re not a Jacksonville fan … you may hold off on Jones-Drew at the No. 2 because we all know he’ll still share the rock with Greg Jones this season, even if it’s not as much as he shared it with Fred Taylor.

3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
He’s just barely a “pick” because he’s such a safe choice. Yes, his schedule is tougher. Yes, he ran many, many times last season. Yes, his quarterback’s other weapons are improved this season, but look again at how many chances Michael Turner had near the goal line last year. Turner can only benefit from more movement up and down the field, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him anywhere in the top five.

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears –   ADP: 1.04 – PICK
The little rookie back that could last season, Forte was the definition of consistent. If he didn’t get a touchdown, he got 100+ yards — and he always got 100+ yards. Jay Cutler under center should shake things up, but much like Turner, making the weapons more dangerous only makes me like Forte more. He’s a “pick” anywhere in the top five as well.

5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 1.06 – PASS
Ah, the first “pass” of the running back class rears its ugly head at No. 5. Steven Jackson is one of the most talented backs in the league, and the Rams plan to make him a workhorse this season. Still, I’m just not feeling his health and the team play in St. Louis. The Rams have very little receiver talent, a banged-up veteran at quarterback in Bulger and not much to make opposing defenses look at anyone but … you guessed it … Jackson. He may get plenty of carries and quite a few yards, but I’ll “pass.”

6. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 1.08 – PASS
Sermons have been written on why LaDainian Tomlinson faded last season and how much you need to believe in him this year, but they’re all blasphemy, my friend. If it looks like the end of his career and it talks like the end of his career, it’s probably a duck … and perhaps I missed something in the argument I was trying to make there. Here’s the point: he’s aging, Darren Sproles is franchise-tagged and looking to impress his way out of San Diego and the Chargers window for a Super Bowl victory is closing faster than Tom Brady can buy new flower boxes. If L.T. stays healthy for the entire season, he’s likely to put up numbers close to his old averages, but this high in the draft, I’d still “pass.”

7. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – ADP: 1.08 – PICK
The reason you’d pass on a guy like Steven Jackson or L.T. is right here at No. 7. Chris Johnson has the speed to burn you, and the team to grind you into the ground. I’m not scared of LenDale White unless I’m covered in donut glaze. Johnson is just the kind of young running back in a run-oriented offense that I would want to lead me into battle each week — fantasy battle, that is. I’d pick him before Jackson, L.T. or DeAngelo Williams.

8. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 1.11 – PASS
“Pass, pass, pass.” I went into more detail about how painful DeAngelo’s second season as a starter could be when I compared him to Michael Turner in Truth or Fiction. Here’s the short version: a better Jonathan Stewart means fewer carries to go around, a tougher schedule means it’ll be more difficult to score touchdowns and a weaker offensive line means less holes to run through. I’ll “pass” on Williams this season because he’s just not worth the risk.

9. Steve Slaton, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.11 – PICK
Slaton had a solid amount of carries close to the red zone just as Michael Turner did last season, but Slaton was basically the only running back left standing in Houston for most of the season. With bigger backs like Chris Brown and the new guy, Jeremiah Johnson, around, he may lose those touches, but he won’t lose that speed that kept him on the field last season. Slaton was one of the best surprises of 2008, and I’d “pick” him again in 2009.

10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 2.01 – PICK
It’s all a bit of a toss up when it comes to the 49ers. All those words from the coaches about a running-based offense is great, but I want to make sure they’re actually going to put points on the board this season. Gore should tote the rock without too much sharing, and unlike the Rams and Steven Jackson, the 49ers should have enough other weapons to make Gore productive. I’d “pick” him.

11. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 2.04 – PASS
Westy’s been an injury concern for several seasons, but this year, I might actually count that against him. His offseason surgeries and the addition of LeSean McCoy are just enough to make me want to hold off on him this year. I’d take him as a mid-range RB2, but I’ll “pass” here with bigger fish still left in the sea.

12. Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants – ADP: 2.05 – PICK
If the word “pick” could sound more intimidating and bulky, I would use it here. Jacobs is a quality pick for the second round. Without Derrick Ward, he should have more yardage than he did last season. Regardless, we know he scores touchdowns. Without Plaxico Burress, one can only hope that the Giants forget how to do anything but run this season.

13. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins – ADP: 2.07 – PICK
Portis took his shots last season and still came out on the other side. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to play through all his injuries, but the man is consistent — one of the most consistent at his position over the years. I like him a tad less this season just because of his workload, even though I don’t think that it will slow his productivity. What does concern me is the team around him coming into this season. Jason Campbell is in his “make or break” year in Washington after all the trade talks this offseason, and there’s talk of Colt Brennan getting a shot before season’s end if Campbell can’t prove his worth. That spells a hard year for Portis, and it’s just enough to tempt me to take Barber instead. Portis still deserves a “pick.”

14. Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 2.11 – PICK
The touchdown machine in Dallas runs only for this man. Barber could be in line for more this season if the Cowboys move towards a more run-focused attack. Even if they don’t, the running game has always made Barber productive. Normally a first round back in the parts where I draft (Texas), I see no reason not to make him a “pick.”

15. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins – ADP: 3.04 – PASS
For being the quarterback in the Wildcat and the “starting” running back for Miami, I expected more from Ronnie Brown last season. By the end of 2008, he was practically worthless. Ricky Williams is still around to demand some carries, and now there is talk of letting Patrick Cobbs get more touches. I just don’t feel Brown here in the second/third round. I like my starting two running backs to be dependable. Sorry, Brown, I’ll “pass.”

16. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.06 – PICK
I’m surprised to see Thomas trending this high in ADP since most rankings project him as a fourth-round acquisition. He’s a quality running back and deserving of the ranking … but really? No. 16 at running back? With the scoreboard the Saints put together and the struggles of Reggie Bush, I don’t expect Thomas to disappoint. He’ll be worth this “pick.”

17. Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 3.09 – PICK
Oh, how low the mighty have fallen. Grant was thought of as a top-10 with upside that could make him a top-five last season. Then injury struck. Grant’s still high on my list, and I’ll give him credit for finishing strong in 2008. I’ll “pick” him here and consider him better than the likes of Ronnie Brown.

18. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions – ADP: 3.11 – PASS
This is it! This is Kevin’s year to carry the rock. Can’t you hear the screams right this moment? If Matthew Stafford gets the nod, the Lions are definitely going to be running the ball this season, but I haven’t become a Smith believer just yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t blow up this year, but it does mean I’m willing to take my chances elsewhere. The move to a new style of running offense, away from what Smith is used to, doesn’t make me feel good about his chances this season. “Pass.”

19. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
Suspension or not, Lynch is one of the grinding backs in this league. No. 19 is still a little rich for my tastes with those games missed at the beginning of the season, and Fred Jackson has a great deal more upward mobility as the guy who will start those games and contribute all season. But Lynch is the guy in Buffalo, and with an improved offensive attack — even if their O-line has taken a step back — he’s worthy of a “pick.”

20. Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 4.06 – PASS
He’s a better receiver than a running back, so unless you have a sucker who would trade you a real gem in a package for this circus show, I’d “pass” outside of PPR leagues. I am not convinced he can stay healthy enough to fill the role of a running back, and as a gimmick player, his value is limited. But if he falls into a bargain round, I can’t say I would still refuse him.

21. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
I’m not a believer in the new Denver coach, and I’m not a fan of rookie running backs when they are accompanied by a real pack — and I do mean “pack” — of veterans. Even if Moreno wins the starting job, how much of it will he win? I’d rather take the “wait and see” approach with KnowMo. (Does anyone call him “KnowMo” now? Because I really want to now … I won’t pick him “KnowMo.”)

22. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
He didn’t get his shot last season with all the injury trouble and that dastardly Justin Fargas, but with a season under his belt, I’d “pick” him to earn his place among the high-performing rookies from last season. No one likes to fall behind, and McFadden has plenty of ground to make up.

23. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.02 – PICK
All alone in Tampa Bay with no “Earth” or “Fire” for his “Wind,” Ward should have plenty of opportunities to show why the Giants used him as much as they did last season. Ward is a “pick,” even if he ends up getting a “change of pace” tag and yields red zone chances to Earnest Graham. He’ll earn his time just like he did with Brandon Jacobs.

24. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.03 – PICK
From top-five to No. 24? Even with rookie Donald Brown breathing down his neck, I have no fear in taking Addai in the third round and beyond. The Colts’ offensive line was pretty terrible last season without Jeff Saturday. A healthy Peyton and a healthy Saturday make for a good Sunday for Addai. He’s a “pick” in my book.

Agree with my picks and passes or disagree? The comments are yours.

DeAngelo Williams vs Michael Turner: Truth or Fiction

DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner exploded out of their draft stock in 2008, much to the chagrin of the owners who didn’t draft them. Freed of DeShaun Foster, Williams still wasn’t supposed to put up enough of a fight to keep rookie running back Jonathan Stewart on the bench. Opposing defenses should have swamped Turner, escaping from LaDainian Tomlinson’s shadow only to be the lone offensive threat in a Falcons offense led by rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

As it turns out, both backs handled their problems very well. They just had slow starts.

Williams yielded to Stewart early in the season only to take games over in the second half of the year after Stewart had some injury setbacks. He finished the season as the No. 1 fantasy running back with 20 touchdowns and more than 1500 yards. Turner started the season hot but struggled to get touchdowns against more challenging defenses until the last handful of games. He ended the season with more than 1700 total yards and 17 touchdowns.

Was 2008 truth or fiction for these two running backs?

DeAngelo Williams: Fiction

Williams had a great year, the kind many expected to see from him since he came into the league. He was elusive in the open field, deadly in the red zone and did plenty to keep the starting job over Jonathan Stewart this offseason.

But sadly, I don’t see him coming close to these numbers in 2009.

Carolina’s 2009 schedule, rated among the top-five most difficult by most analysts, is much tougher than the one they faced in 2008, rated among the top-10 or at least top-15 easiest in the league. The tougher run defenses will limit the potential scores for the both Carolina Panthers backs and could open the door for Stewart to gain more ground as the tougher, inside-running red zone threat.

Speaking of Stewart, drafters will have to keep in mind that he wasn’t a poor runner either last season. Coming off his surgery in the offseason, he had a strong finish to the season, in which he racked up 10 touchdowns and almost 900 yards.

With a full offseason under his belt and, hopefully, a healthy training camp, he stands to get a larger portion of the carries. At best, Williams and Stewart could have an even split in 2009.

With this schedule and sharing with Stewart, Williams should have a hard time generating as many touchdowns as he did in 2008, and I doubt Williams will live up to his first-round draft stock.

I’d much rather take Jonathan Stewart in the fourth round or later and believe that Williams’ 2008 performance was purely fiction.

Michael Turner: Truth

Turner struggled against the better run defenses of the NFL early in the season, had many, MANY rushing attempts (376) in 2008 and has the MOST difficult rushing schedule in the league in 2009. Even still, he’s being ranked and drafted just behind Adrian Peterson as the No. 2 running back in fantasy football for 2009, and he deserves to be there.

Turner found his groove in 2008 and wasn’t slowed by the Vikings or Bucs when he faced them late in the season. With an entire offseason to recover from all those carries, I doubt he’ll be slowed down by his large workload in 2008.

As for his schedule, he may be facing the tougher teams from 2008 on defense, but the offense in Atlanta is much improved with the addition of Tony Gonzalez in the passing and blocking game.

Turner’s carries may be decreased this season, but a veteran tight end and big receiving threat on the field with Roddy White should make it tougher to bottle up a powerful runner like Turner and stop him from breaking longer runs. His fresh legs, in just his second season as a starting running back, will keep him atop the fantasy ranks even if he doesn’t finish in the top two where he is being drafted.

He’s one of the safest picks at the top of the draft in 2009 and should be among the top-five running backs at season’s end. His 2008 performance was truth, not fiction.

Marion Barber Redux: Introducing Shonn Greene

He’s a power back and strong between the tackles. He’s tough to bring down, especially late in games, and his offensive line might be one of the best in football when it comes to run-blocking.

It’s not just Marion Barber III anymore. Shonn Greene could be the next Barbarian.

Drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, Greene is a big, 227-pound back built for tough running. A beast in the backfield for Iowa, he rushed for more than 100 yards in every game and 20 touchdowns last year.

Whether rookie Mark Sanchez or almost-rookie Kellen Clemens starts under center, the Jets need a strong rushing attack to support their young starter this season. The Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens enabled their rookie quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, to find success sooner than expected by giving them all the help they needed in the run game.

Luckily for the Jets, they almost had to deal with this situation last season before Brett Favre fell into their lap. As a result, they assembled one of the more dominating offensive lines in the league, a line that enabled Thomas Jones to lead the AFC with 1,312 yards and set the Jets’ single-season touchdown record with 15 scores.

Put Shonn Greene behind a line like that and the rest of the AFC will have to take notice.

Thomas Jones has reached the dreaded 30-year mark, an age where running backs typically start to break down — see Shaun Alexander. While Jones has been demanding an extension this offseason, it’s unlikely the Jets will give it to him. His backfield partner, Leon Washington, already won the hearts of the fans and the coaching staff last season with his more explosive runs and pass-catching ability. Expect Washington to play a bigger role in 2009 with some help from Shonn Greene, and perhaps, if he returns to the fold before they tire of him, whatever Thomas Jones has left in the tank.

Julius Jones and Marion Barber were a daunting duo in Dallas — yes, I came up with that myself — until Julius Jones began to lose his burst. Jones could pick up the quick yardage while Barber, especially late in the game, punished defenses and controlled the clock. Barber has always been a hard player to keep out of the end zone. I expect Greene to be the same.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Greene matches or overtakes Thomas Jones’ touchdown record for the Jets in his rookie season, especially if he gets the red zone touches over Jones. Much like Marion Barber won over hearts in fantasy footballers everywhere early in his career with his touchdown numbers, Greene could be the next touchdown champion of fantasy football.

Greene hasn’t become a household name in fantasy football just yet since being drafted on the second day kept him out of the early round festivities, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Week 16 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Championship Edition

At this point, you should be starting your studs. We stopped posting all the week-to-week start posts as a result, but I do have a few thoughts to throw out this week with many of you in championship or at least playoff matches.

In the Cowboy game tonight, I like Tony Romo and the Cowboys wide receivers, and I like Tashard Choice as a desperation play. Marion Barber is questionable since he looked injured and lacked a little power in last week’s game against the Giants.

I wouldn’t bet on Anquan Boldin this week with his injury. The Cardinals have a playoff spot, and I’d worry that they will let Steve Breaston take the start this week to save Boldin for the postseason. Besides, the Cardinals are likely playing in the snow against New England, who is in a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive, and it’s tough to bet against a Belichick who wants to make the playoffs. Even Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner are questionable this week if the weather turns frightful.

If you’ve been riding Matt Cassel through the playoffs, I think it’s safe for you to consider him a lock this week against the Cardinals unless the weather gets really bad. It’s likely you don’t have a better play at quarterback, and if Tarvaris Jackson can tear apart a team through the air, I could probably throw a touchdown against the Cardinals.

Marshawn Lynch looked like a lock to be a must-start this week against the Broncos until he came down with a bad shoulder in practice. I still like him as long as he suits up and starts since coaches have played it up as a minor injury, but if he doesn’t take the field, Fred Jackson becomes a great start as the lone back against the Broncos.

If you need a sneak play at running back, I really like DeShaun Foster as long as Frank Gore sits this week. Watch the injury report, and be prepared to sub him in if you have a questionable guy like Marion Barber this week.

Brett Favre worries me a little this week against the Seahawks. While I’m sure there aren’t many teams that stumbled into the postseason with him at quarterback, Favre’s a dangerous play in your championship game. He’ll have plenty of chances to score against the Seahawks terrible secondary, but with the running game firing on all cylinders, I think the Jets won’t change their game plan.

Shaun Hill is a gem this week. Start him. I almost did this week, but I had Peyton Manning. He did okay for me Thursday night.

I like Matt Ryan, but I question whether he’ll be able to come through on the big stage against the Vikings. If they could handle the Cardinals attack, can the Falcons do it? I wouldn’t want to bet my fantasy season on a rookie in a game like this one.

With Reggie Bush is out, Marques Colston looks like a great start this week against Detroit. He’ll get the targets, and it’s the Lions. The Lions, always in a must-win, might even make it competitive enough to get the Saints firing at full blast.

Don’t stop starting Antonio Bryant.

Brandon Marshall is one heck of a player, but I haven’t seen him getting many opportunities. With no big threat in the running game, the receivers are getting locked up. Teams would rather let Eddie Royal take a few short routes and make plays than let Baby T.O. go off.

That said, I think you still have to start Marshall against a Buffalo team that is almost done, but I like several WR2ish receivers better than Marshall this week when it comes down to who I think generates the points.

I think Torry Holt is the one receiver with a good matchup that I would hope I do not have to start this week in a win-or-go-home game.

Wait, scratch that. It’s probably Lee Evans. Even if Trent Edwards returns, Lee Evans is just not reliable enough in a big week, but you have to start him if you rode him this far. The Denver secondary has been very questionable this season, and they could give up a big play … if the Bills can make one.

I won’t go into tight ends and kickers too much because choosing them on a weekly basis is a risky situation. John Carlson and Jerramy Stevens are two guys I like as reliable options this week, but ride the guy that got you to the playoff unless he’s in a terrible situation.

I hope none of your games come down to a kicker, but if they do, good luck to you.

That’s all I got for this week. Start and sit questions can always be left in the comments or emailed to me through our contact page.

Good luck in the playoffs.