Five Backups Worth Owning in the Playoffs

If you’re in the playoffs, your team should be pretty strong, but injuries and/or a Week 17 championship game might soon leave you hurting for some unlikely names.

Backups who haven’t seen any action this season are much more important, and you might find yourself saving your season or winning in Week 17 by getting some backups on your roster now. Here are a few backups that could be big factors in these final weeks.

Byron Leftwich, QB Pittsburgh Steelers (@BAL, @TEN, CLE)
Ben Roethlisberger has taken a lot of hits this year, and he gets to end the season against two of the toughest defenses in the league. Since his offensive line a stinky pile of worthlessness, it’s not unlikely that Big Ben takes the big hit that knocks him out for a game or two.

Leftwich has shown he can be effective in the Steelers offense coming in for Big Ben this season, and he could do some damage against a done-for-the-season Cleveland if he were to get the call in Week 17.

Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals (MIN, @NE, SEA)
Kurt Warner has been amazing this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible. He’s been known to get injured, and even if he’s mostly healthy, he might get benched quite a bit the last couple of weeks of the season since the Cardinals have their playoff spot locked up already.

If the Vikings deal him a big blow this week, Leinart should have good games against a poor New England secondary and a finished Seattle secondary. Hey, how can you do badly with a pretty boy face and one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL?

Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers (@KC, @TB, DEN)
LaDainian Tomlinson has had a terrible season, and the Chargers are out of the playoff hunt. Even though L.T. faces two of the weaker defenses in the league and a questionable Bucs squad in the final weeks, Sproles could play a larger role as the coaches let L.T. rest and see more out of their younger back.

Brandon Jackson, Green Bay Packers (@JAX, @CHI, DET)
Ryan Grant has struggled this season. With no reason to push Grant and the incentives of his contract, the Packers might rather see more of Brandon Jackson in the final games of the season.

Whether Grant sits or not, playing Detroit in Week 17 could allow for both running backs to have big days. Keep your eye on how much Grant is used against Jacksonville to see whether the carries begin to shift into Jackson’s hand.

Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts (DET, @JAX, TEN)
This one is sort of a gimme. With Joseph Addai banged up, Rhodes has already seen some work this season, and it’s likely that he starts this week against the Lions.

Obviously, he’d make a good start against Jacksonville as well and, as much as the Colts score when they’re at full speed, a half decent play for the Titans in Week 17 since the Titans will already have the division secured. Rhodes should be owned in all leagues, and he’s already a good start for this week.

If you have questionable starters or don’t know how to utilize your last few bench spots in these crucial playoff weeks, you should consider getting yourself some backups. If nothing else, you can block your opponents from rebuilding their team if they suffer some injuries in these final weeks.

Dude… DeAngelo Williams

The running back we all doubted in Carolina stepped up big against the Chiefs. No, it’s not the biggest accomplishment in life to run over the Chiefs defense, but Williams did it in style AND takes home the Dude… award this week because of it — mostly because we doubted him. Unfortunately for all the Stewart owners out there (including me), Williams didn’t share the TD wealth and got several carries close to the goal line.

Williams ended the day with 123 yards rushing, 25 yards receiving and three touchdowns. That’s Ronnie Brown-esque, but, not taking away from his Dude… award-worthy week, I wouldn’t expect that kind of output on a regular basis from the “starter” in Carolina. Jonathan Stewart is building momentum to take over that starting job, and nothing is better than a running back with a nickname like “The Daily Show.” Let’s hope Stewart has just as much wit and much more nasty.

“Daily Show” owners shouldn’t get worried just yet. Our day is still coming. For the moment, however, the day belongs to DeAngelo Williams.

Q&A QB: Which Rookie Running Backs Are Worth Drafting?

Q&A QB is a head-smacking, hard-hitting, name-taking question and answer series where Jacob assists readers and his Twitter followers in perfecting their draft strategy and winning their league. If you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A QB post, send Jacob an email or tweet him (whatever that means).

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on some of the rookie running backs in the later rounds?

I have a feeling someone in my league will jump on the McFadden bandwagon and take him second or third round. I’m not sold on him that high, but what about Matt Forte in the later rounds (sixth or seventh)? Maybe Jonathan Stewart and Rashard Mendenhall? A sleeper pick I am looking at for the tenth or eleventh round is Ray Rice. What are your thoughts on him?

To answer this question, let’s just break down all the rookie RBs worth drafting. Rankings are at the bottom for those of you who like to cheat.

Darren McFadden RB Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden is going earlier than I think he deserves. He’s not going to put up Adrian Peterson numbers this year. I think fourth round is really the best round to snag him in for value. Any sooner than that is expecting more than you are going to get.

I am not a fan of the crowded backfield in Oakland. He will eventually be the starting running back there, but the Raider offense is still very weak and unproven in the passing game. They will lean heavily on their running game and get McFadden decent numbers with a few exceptional performances. He won’t be breaking any rookie records.

In the second round, let someone else spend a high pick on him. Solid running backs that will out produce him for 2008 are still available there. You can find a better RB2. Make McFadden a FLEX or RB3.

Matt Forte RB Chicago Bears

Matt Forte is a reliable pick. He won’t put up any crazy stat weeks, but he should be good for some consistent yardage and a few scores.

He’s a nice pick because he is actually going at his value.

There is a slight scare now that Kevin Jones has returned from his injury that he will take Forte’s job away, but I think the Bears still want to put the ball in Forte’s hands as their back of the future. Even if they share time, I think I like the chances for Forte to be successful.

You can get Forte in the later rounds, and if he does end up producing more than consistent yardage and the occasional score, he’s has great value there.

Jonathan Stewart RB Carolina Panthers

I really Jonathan Stewart this year, but no one is sure whether he will get the start in Carolina.

Last season, Carolina screwed everyone by starting DeShaun Foster after consensus opinion was that DeAngelo Williams would have won the role. It could happen again with Stewart and Williams.

Depending upon who you ask, Carolina has one of the easiest rushing schedules in 2008. If you can get Stewart in the fifth round and DeAngelo Williams in the sixth or seventh, the pair creates a strong RB2 for any fantasy team.

If you draft Stewart in the fifth round or so, just make sure you get Williams or another solid start in case Stewart doesn’t win the starting job right away.

Rashard Mendenhall RB Pittsburgh Steelers

Rashard Mendenhall’s value isn’t really clear at this point.

He’s likely to steal short yardage looks for Willie Parker, but I don’t see him taking command of this offense this year as much as Jonathan Stewart could. He might be a bye week fill late in the season if he sees an increased role, but for now, he is merely a good backup to roster late for Willie Parker owners.

Some people are going to be really high on him like I am on Stewart, but I don’t buy him being a big fantasy producer in the Steelers’ offense this year. Take Mendenhall later in your draft if you get Willie Parker, but he should go off the boards only after all the RBs with the chance to start are gone.

Ray Rice RB Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice is a smart pick to close out your draft — especially with McGahee returning slowly from his recent surgery. Rice could end up playing a larger role in this offense than we originally thought for 2008 if McGahee falters.

Cam Cameron knows how to make phenomenal RBs. If Rice has the job given to him, he will benefit, but I still think McGahee is the guy in 2008. He’ll get past his injury before the season gets going.

Steve Slaton RB Houston Texans

Steve Slaton is a better flier late in your draft than Ray Rice. He has a good chance to start by the end of this season.

Houston has Ahman Green in the starting role, but he is on his way out. They brought Chris Brown to play a stopgap role in case Green is injured again this season and to hold them over until Slaton can start, but Brown has injury troubles again as well.

Slaton is the future of the franchise at RB — unless Chris Taylor lives up to all that “coach speak” love from offseason last year. Luckily for fantasy owners, Taylor is being transitioned into a fullback. If Slaton shines enough, he could have the starting job.

If the Texans RBs are plagued with injury, Slaton will start and produce well. He could work his way into a role worth of a RB2 spot on your fantasy team. If you are willing to wait on him — and he’s a better one to wait on than Ray Rice or Mendenhall — he’s more likely than other rookies to have a significant role by the middle of the season.

Chris Johnson RB Tennessee Titans

The wild card rookie this year is Chris Johnson. He set the NFL Combine ablaze when he posted the fastest 40 time. That speed got him drafted in the first round by the Titans.

He’s sharing a backfield with LenDale White, but he also has explosive, big play potential. The Titans could use him like Reggie Bush was utilized in the Saints’ offense during his rookie season.

Johnson is already gunning for offensive rookie of the year and talking it up. With a crowded backfield for McFadden in Oakland and the absence of receiving playmakers in the Tennessee offense, it just might happen.

The only drawback of drafting Johnson is that he is skyrocketing up draft boards. He’s going ahead of LenDale in some drafts now. If he falls to the sixth or seventh in your draft, he is a steal there. Taking him as a RB2 is not advised, but a FLEX or RB3 is a perfect place to put him. Don’t pay too much for a guy you can’t be sure about.

Kevin Smith RB Detroit Lions

When Tatum Bell returned to the Lions, he thought he would be the starting Detroit RB. Too bad…

Kevin Smith almost broke the record for total yardage in a season while in college. He can handle a big workload. Plus, he ran in the Detroit Lions same system while in college. The Lions won’t be great this year, but as long as he has another strong showing in the Week 4 preseason game, the Lions are likely to declare him the starter over Bell. That means he’ll be worth something in fantasy.

He’s barely worth a RB3 spot right now, but taking him as a backup RB could end up being a smart move when Detroit faces weak run defenses.

Ryan Torain RB Denver Broncos

It’s no secret that Mike Shanahan is in love with Ryan Torain. He likes his physical size and abilities and compares him to Terrell Davis.

Torain could have overtaken Selvin Young before he injured his elbow in the preseason. Now, he should miss the first part of the season and return in a backup role, but don’t be surprised to see him get on the field.

Selvin Young, for all his talk this offseason, is not a feature back. While Young can carry the load early this season, he could easily struggle or suffer an injury. It’ll be hard for him to keep a guy like Torain on the bench as long as Mike Shanahan likes the new rookie RB.

He’s not worth drafting, but he’s a player to watch as the season progresses. Just like every other guy on Shanahan’s list, Torain could put up some fantasy points when he’s back on Denver’s RB depth chart.

Felix Jones RB Dallas Cowboys

To use the incredibly over-killed phrase, Felix Jones is the lightning to Marion Barber’s thunder. (I already feel cheaper for having said that.)

Unlike the fading Julius Jones, Felix Jones brings some impact speed to the Cowboys running game. He’ll likely play more snaps than Julius Jones did late last season and compliment Barber with some big yardage breaks and a few big touchdowns.

He doesn’t have the same super speed as Chris Johnson, but he is worth putting on your roster before you start going after some of the iffy starting RBs. Dallas’ offense is powerful, and Jones will put up points by just being in that machine. You could take him in the seventh or eighth round for a potent FLEX player or backup RB.

More rookie RBs that just aren’t worth drafting yet:

  • Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals (He won’t steal Edge’s job just yet)
  • Mike Hart, Indianapolis Colts (Addai and Rhodes in front of him)
  • Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys (He’ll give Barber breathers but not much else)
  • Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Not impressive enough to steal much time from LJ or Kolby Smith)

Which rookie RBs are worth drafting and where?

Rankings go by who I would want on my team the most, not necessarily where you’ll have to draft them to get them on your team. Round recommendations are the earliest I would suggest drafting the rookie RB based on a 12-team, non-PPR league. Average draft position stats from Footballguys.com.

1 Darren McFadden ADP: 40 4th Rd
2 Jonathan Stewart ADP: 64 5th Rd
3 Chris Johnson ADP: 96 6th Rd to 8th Rd
4 Matt Forte ADP: 66 6th Rd
5 Felix Jones ADP: 98 7th Rd to 8th Rd
6 Kevin Smith ADP: 67 6th Rd
7 Steve Slaton ADP:153 12th Rd
8 Rashard Mendenhall ADP: 87 9th Rd to 10th Rd
9 Ray Rice ADP:114 12th Rd (Late Flier)
10 Ryan Torain ADP:198 Undrafted (Late Flier)

Ronnie Brown rehabs his knee, lacks Brady Quinn’s label turning expertise

If you were concerned about Ronnie Brown after reading my article about how much you love him this season, maybe a little video about how he is rehabbing will help you calm down about that pesky knee. Yes? No?

[Video no longer available]

I don’t particularly like to hear that his knee isn’t as strong as it used to be. This trip to the gym was filmed just months ago, but then again, I haven’t been drinking the Kool-Aid that his knee will be ready — both mentally and physically — to start this season.

I don’t want to wait around until Week 9 to see the guy he was last season, and who says he will even be the same guy? He really just emerged last season, and Cam Cameron’s out of town working with another running back now. Miami might even be able to pass this year. The quarterback situation has changed–they have one.

Since you guys hate him, maybe he drops to the end of the fourth, but I think I’d rather have LenDale White.

I do have a sudden urge to go drink some EAS though. Doesn’t Brown know to turn those labels out?

Brady Quinn would have known better.

How to Draft (or Not Draft) the Houston Texans Running Backs

My first draft of this article was just “AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. The end.”

While contemplating whether to put that in bold or change the text to some nice shade of red, I realized my very intelligent warning doesn’t help you much. Many people, through bad luck, absent-mindedness or sadistic desires, will be in need of a running back and have to choose between drafting a member of the Houston backfield at some point in their fantasy drafts or skipping over them.

While they’re not ideal roster grabs, the Houston running backs make a decent bye week fill for your fantasy team in a pinch and might even become a low-end starter. The only drawback is that they come as a pack.

Even though the most senior members of the backfield in Houston all have some kind of injury concern, there’s still some upside to be seen.

The Texans have brought in Alex Gibbs and his highly touted zone blocking expertise to put some fire in the running game this year and strengthen the offensive line. With his help, the running game could flourish.

Ahman Green is the big name and the supposed starter, but coming off a knee injury last season, he is likely to share a lot of carries with Chris Brown, the frequently injured former Tennessee Titan. Green is on what’s left of his last legs, and Brown has already been banged up in training camp.

Behind those two, the Texans have rookie Steve Slaton and the recently signed former Bronco Mike Bell.

Bell impressed enough in Denver’s zone-blocking system a couple of seasons ago to beat Tatum Bell for the starting job, but then again, that was Tatum Bell. With the same last name, smooth-as-leather Mike Shanahan might have just gotten them confused.

Despite being buried on the depth chart in Denver last season, Bell must have impressed his former coach at Denver, Gibbs, enough for Gibbs to bring him into Houston with a two-year contract. Like Chris Brown, Bell has had success in a zone running system, but it’s unclear where he fits in the depth chart now.

Rookie Steve Slaton has all the upside with the potential to take over Houston’s patched-together run game. Still, it might not be his year in 2008 unless the RBs are ravaged by injuries. Slaton would have to learn to pass block like a veteran–a necessity with Matt Schaub getting knocked around under center last season.

The two unknowns in the Houston backfield are Darius Walker and Chris Taylor.

Taylor got love in the offseason from the coaching staff, but had received similar praise last year before his season-ending injury. He hasn’t seen the field enough to earn a spot in the run game just yet, so don’t expect him to be a Ryan Grant this year. He is a super, SUPER sleeper–so sleeper he’s comatose.

Darius Walker filled in when needed last season but failed to blow anyone away. He bounced into the active roster from the practice squad last year only because of injuries to Chris Taylor and Ahman Green. He’ll probably bounce to the practice squad by the end of camp.

How do you play this one if you are in need of a running back late in your fantasy draft?
Treat the Houston RBs like Pokemon. You gotta catch ‘em all!

The good thing about the Texans running game is that it comes cheap. If you want another backup or, heaven forbid, need a second starter but waited too long, take both Ahman Green and Chris Brown somewhere near the 11th round or later. You will likely be able to draft both RBs as back-to-back picks and, at the very least, have a decent bye week filler between the two of them.

If you miss on Brown and Green or want a sleeper pick, take Steve Slaton late and sit on him. As injury prone as Chris Brown and Ahman Green tend to be, it wouldn’t surprise me if Slaton starts a game or two late in the season. Even if you don’t look at Green for your roster, Slaton’s probably worth a flier.

It’s a murky situation and difficult to predict this far out, but the Houston running backs still have some value.

In short, AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. Maybe that is the best way to say it.

The Incredible Depth at Running Back in 2008

If you followed along with my recent expert draft, you saw me pass on taking a lot of depth at running back (RB) in the early rounds. Only in the later rounds did I really flesh out the RB position on my team.

Taking Tom Brady in the first round certainly didn’t help me snag several elite RBs, but he fell to me at the 10 spot. Come on, I had to do it.

In the first seven rounds, I only took two RBs, Ryan Grant in the second round and Jonathan Stewart in the fifth round.

I don’t hate the idea of taking two or three RBs at the beginning of your draft this year. In fact, I have in several mocks I’ll be posting about soon. It just so happened that each time my pick came up in the expert league draft, I saw RBs who I expected to be available at my next pick that I was fine waiting to get. I never felt compelled to take a RB because there were always more. There are ALWAYS more this year! Did you hear that?

Unfortunately, since this was an expert league, many of the other drafters also saw these RBs falling and snagged them before it was my chance. So much for catching fatty LenDale White where I wanted him.

As a result of the running back by committee (RBBC) system and the high number of casualties at the RB position, there is a wealth of RBs in 2008 drafts. Once you get beyond the elite and a few more starters, there is quite a large plateau of talent that could at least operate in a rotation for your fantasy team.

I probably would have taken more RBs early in this expert draft, but my average draft position (ADP) stats were all over the place compared to where many of the RBs were taken. Expert leagues operate a little off the norm.

If you aren’t taking elite backs, I found better value in snagging elite and solid wide receivers and elite quarterbacks early in my draft. I’ll toy with my strategy a bit in the mocks I am doing this month, but I have to say, don’t sweat not talking RBs early. There’s plenty to go around this year.

The Difference Between a RB1 and RB2

When we talk about players as being RB1 or RB2 caliber, we are not trying to confuse you.

Okay. Okay. Well, maybe we are just a tiny bit, but that’s a small satisfaction of mine. I have to compensate for all the spammy emails I get from Russia that make me feel “small,” okay?

There exists in the fantasy football lexicon a set of definitions that helps in classifying your expectation for players. These definitions break down the projected performance of a player over the course of a season. “RB2″ is just one of many.

Associating these tags with players on your cheat sheet — maybe by tiering them off into RB1 and RB2 categories — you can better prepare for the kind of team you want to build and better evaluate potential trades.

Yes, you could always jump into a draft expecting to take the next stud available, but there comes a time in every fantasy football players life when they realize that they can’t just fill an entire team with studs of unending potential. You’ll run out. Some of us have more than 6 teams in our league.

You have to decide whether you want to go after a RB1 or take a stud at another position and take two RB2s when you get the chance. Now, that’s getting crazy, but sometimes crazy works. Just try it in a bar fight. No one messes with the crazy guy…

Notch this one on your fantasy football reference manual and clear a spot for your merit badge. These definitions are talking standard scoring (6 point TDs, 1 point for every 10 yards).

RUNNING BACK 1 (RB1)

The king of the “1” positions. RB1 is your workhorse and one of the most dependable (hopefully) players on your roster. Expectations can vary greatly, depending upon whether you have LaDainian Tomlinson or not, but you always want your RB1 to be a touchdown machine or a dependable yardage beast.

At the top, you can usually pray for 10+ touchdowns in a season and 1500-2000 yards. Not too many full-load running backs out there nowadays who can put that up though.

Usually, there are only about 10-12 true RB1s to even draft, and the number of stud RBs has been dropping ever since the dreaded running-back-by-committee system (RBBC) came into place — another dastardly effect of global warming…

Good examples: LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai
Weekly expectations: 100+ yards and at least 1 TD with occasional bonus TDs

RUNNING BACK 2 (RB2)

In contrast, your RB2 is a complimentary back — and the “all you got left” for picks near the end of a big league — here’s to you, picks 11 and 12.

These days, any running back scoring around 8+ touchdowns with around 500 yards or reaching 1000 yards with fewer TDs is pretty exceptional as a RB2. Many of the top RB2s are of the TD-vulture variety.

Any running back that finishes in the top 30 is obviously a pretty decent RB2. You want to collect a couple of these guys if you can to sub in and out on a weekly basis and play those match ups.

Good examples: Brandon Jacobs, Deuce McAllister, Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams
Weekly expectations: 100+ yard and, frequently but not always, a TD

RUNNING BACK 3 (RB3)

As a BONUS — aren’t you lucky? — let’s talk RB3s. If you are in a league that plays three, you are probably looking to snag quite a few running backs and get two RB2-caliber guys. Technically, RB2 guys are the last ones you want to start on a regular basis.

A RB3 would be someone you expect to keep on the bench for a stretch — a new rookie perhaps. If they end up making waves and parting seas to the endzone, you could move them into your starting lineup. Otherwise, they are there if you get in a bind and for potential big games a few times in the season.

Good examples: Jerious Norwood, Tatum Bell, Leon Washington
Weekly expectations: 50 yards and occasional TD unless “special sleeper powers” activated by alien meteor or starting running back injury

PARTING NOTE

There is always some room to play here with these projections. If the league suddenly gets flooded with Adrian Petersons — or more likely, nine or ten Travis Henry types with all the kids he is producing — the RB2 position expectations will fluctuate.

Having trouble classifying a running back for this upcoming season? Post the players in the comments if you want a foolish expert opinion.

Look forward to  more foolish differences explored for the QB and WR position as the offseason’s “Are we there yet?” period continues.

Travis Henry Gets the Shanny Shocker, Released

While there was speculation that Travis Henry wasn’t exactly welcomed back this season to the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan surprised us all by letting him go this early in the offseason workouts. After all, the guy has nine baby mamas with one child apiece. Eighteen mouths don’t feed themselves, and Shanahan has to have some heart inside that burned-brown, leather exterior.

Unfortunately for those 18 mouths, Henry injured his hamstring last month and most likely skipped out on treatments while he wasn’t showing up to OTAs. The situation didn’t win Henry any gold stars for effort and combined with Henry’s damaged rep from fighting a failed drug test suspension all of last season, the dogpile of problems probably caused Shanahan write him off as a bad influence on the litter of young running backs (RB) the Broncos currently have at quarterback camp practicing already (Selvin Young, Andre Hall, newly drafted Ryan Torain and last week’s new addition Michael Pittman).

Shanahan questioned Henry’s commitment to the game in his statement after the release. From ESPN.com:

“Although Travis has the ability to be one of the top running backs in the NFL, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our organization and its goal of winning a Super Bowl,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in a statement. “We did not feel his commitment to the Broncos was enough to warrant a spot on this football team.”

Later Monday, Shanahan said the move was more about Henry’s personality than his play.

“He’s just too inconsistent as a person. When you’re too inconsistent as a person, you usually aren’t going to win championships,” Shanahan said during a spring workout later in the day.

With Travis Henry released, the Denver Broncos running game gets a little murky — and that’s clearer than it was before. The RB situation in Denver was a weak link in 2007, and along with an inconsistent stock of wide receivers (WR), the running game is one of the few elements keeping Jay Cutler from bringing his game together as a franchise quarterback (QB). (If you remember, I made some early offseason predictions for three Broncos stars in 2008, and I’m still standing behind them without Henry.)

Rising to the top, Selvin Young averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season but isn’t the type (at least at his current weight and skill) to carry the full load even if he claims he will hit 2,000 yards this season.

It’s likely Young will split time with Michael Pittman who obviously made Shanahan confident enough to let Henry go. Pittman, at 32, has past his prime, but he should contribute enough to spell Young and sub in on some passing plays until Ryan Torain, the powerful rookie, is ready to take on a larger role.

Until the starting role becomes clearer, the RB situation will be the talk of all the Broncos training camp reports. If Young becomes the starter, look for him as a risky RB2 or a promising RB3 in round 3 or 4.

Pittman might be worth a pick in late rounds if he gets a spot in a committee with Young. If not, he falls into the same indefinite boat as Andre Hall, but being lost in the RB depth chart in Denver doesn’t mean you won’t lead the team in rushing by the end of the year.

The real sleeper of this bunch is Ryan Torain. He could be the surprise RB to emerge for the Broncos this year and has nothing but upside. Stash him on your bench late or keep your eye on him on the waiver wire.

As for Henry, he is probably more likely to find work than Shaun Alexander, but there is not clear team interested in picking up him, his injury and his off-the-field problems right now. For now, he gets to stand in line with Alexander and Kevin Jones at the unemployment office.

Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.

Drafting Your Fantasy Running Backs: The Details to Consider in 2008

If breaking down the details for this year’s fantasy running backs doesn’t make you want to take LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in your re-draft league, I don’t know what will. Seriously, people.

When you’re talking fantasy running backs, what separates the vets from the noobs is consideration of a few minor factors beyond how high-powered a running back’s offense was last year and where the running back ranks on cheat sheets this season. Looking at the slight details like what defenses they face, contract lengths and ages can help you make the call between two closely-ranked RBs in your draft.

Let’s jump into how these factors will affect some top fantasy running backs this season with some good ol’ plus or minus analysis — and we go with negative first around these parts.

The Age Old Rule

First, let’s talk age. When you’re an old running back, you’re like a hot potato. No one wants to get stuck holding you when you crack.

Fantasy Football Toolbox told all with a list of all the running backs age 29 or older. There won’t be any pluses in this category, so we will have Big/Mini shades of Minus — a very scientific method, fingers crossed.

For fantasy’s sake, here’s who is getting to be old bones:

BIG Minus –

  • Warrick Dunn – Tampa Bay: I know you thought he was a spring chicken.
  • Ahman Green – Houston Texans: His knees show his age like the rings in a tree trunk.
  • LaMont Jordan – Oakland Raiders: Age and injury have punched Jordan’s ticket out of Oakland.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: Things could go either way for Jones in 2008 with a new O-line.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to make a comeback with just a couple of years left in the tank.
  • Deuce McAllister – New Orleans Saints: Coming off injury AND old. Not pretty. “Little Deuce” Aaron Stecker (32) isn’t getting younger for the Saints either.
  • The New England Trio: Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris – New England Patriots: Most of New England’s backfield is over 30. The Patriots can get production out of the old guys, but these guys have got to be breaking down this year. Maybe they will remember that they have Laurence Maroney.

Mini Minus –

  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: I think he was reborn when he became a Brown because he certainly did his owners right last year.
  • Fred Taylor – Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone keeps calling for Maurice Jones-Drew, but Taylor seems to find gas in the tank.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Old with flashes of youth still left.
  • Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles: Only 28 but backup is Correll Buckhalter (29). No wonder the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker, a spry 24, from Miami.

Strength of Schedules: Running into Brick Walls

NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano ranked the rushing schedules of fantasy running backs last week while we were just sitting around chatting about the free agents of 2009, which is the next section.

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty also put together a strength of schedule analysis earlier this offseason, showing L.T. is the set to be at the top in 2008.

Pouring out a little link love for my homies, Fantasy Football Librarian noted that Fabiano’s breakdown makes Laurence Maroney look pretty favorable, and Football Jabber singled out the top and bottom five teams. Frank Gore has his work cut out for him, and no one in Houston’s backfield has it easy this year.

Here’s who’ll be hurting on and who’ll be hurting from run defenses this year:

Minus –

  • Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Even if he isn’t the focus of the offense, he will still be the focus of the defense. It’s not looking good. I might go Tom Brady over Gore in the first round, but I’m not totally quitting on him yet.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: Long road back to the top against some of the best defenses out there at stopping the run. Giants will have to keep it dynamic in the run game to say ahead.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Notch Edge down another point for this one.
  • Ahman Green (and friends) – Houston Texans: No one will have an easy time running for Houston. With a pack of inconsistent backs, I’d avoid them all in your drafts this year.
  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: Age AND a schedule full of stacked run defenses. That hurts.
  • Julius Jones – Seattle Seahawks: Jones can’t improve his stock much in Seattle against the best in the biz of stopping him.
  • Marion Barber and Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys: A huge offense makes this a minor point. Does this stat mean they will throw more? PLUS to Romo if that’s the case.

Plus +

  • LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers: You couldn’t really ask for much more than L.T. having the best schedule of any RB. For the most part, Tomlinson will be running against the bottom-of-the-barrel run defenses.
  • Laurence Maroney – New England Patriots: Will the Patriots use him with the easiest rushing defense schedule? I think they might just let Brady throw all day again, but he could run easy when they let him.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: If his new O-line can block for him, Jones has it free and clear this season.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: Two bounce backs is possible. My money’s on Brown more than Ricky.
  • Travis Henry – Denver Broncos: Easy street should win him some points with Shanny.
  • Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense is in line for a big year. Bush is the probably the better back to snag.
  • Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills: The second-best rookie of 2008 gets forgotten at times, but he should have a nice 2008 season with an easy rushing schedule and an improved offense. I’m high on this kid and owned him last year.
  • Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs: Rebounds abound? Maybe. Johnson has an easy schedule to redeem himself for last year.
  • Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: All that postseason hype won’t weigh down Turner much in Atlanta when he faces mostly low-end or middle-of-the-pack run defenses. In an offense based off the run this year, Turner could be more productive than people think.

Freebirds in Free Agency of 2009

Who’s looking to bust a move? Running backs who have a payday coming are always more likely to impress, but those who just got paid can be slowed by their wallets.

Plus +

  • Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: The big man might get money before the season, but if not, stay out of his way.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: He’s got his work cut out for him, but boy, he wants to work.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: The “Freebird” title of this section was purely unintentional — I promise. Ricky probably has to make enough money over the next two years to rebuild his straw hut in a foreign country and smoke away the pain…That might not be very much though.

Minus –

  • Marion Barber – Dallas Cowboys: Likely to have just signed a major deal by the time the season starts even though he is a free agent now. Hopefully, money won’t weigh him down like it did Shaun Alexander.

In Closing

When it’s all said and done, these three factors paint a picture for who looks better than they might have beforehand and worse now than ever before. Some older backs may make nice RB2s, but don’t fall for drafting them as RB1s again this season.

Ricky Williams is still risky, but he has a lot going in his favor. Ronnie Brown is the more dependable guy to have for Miami, but Ricky cold be a good value pick. On the other hand, Marion Barber might have two strikes against him going into the season. Jamal Lewis looks like a player to avoid in the worst way possible.

Take all these factors into your noggin this offseason and remember to factor them in when you are choosing between two running backs in your draft. Upside is hard to find with running backs since the RBBCs are forming everywhere in the league, but make sure you get the most out of your running back picks. Don’t get stuck making the wrong call. Some rookies with young legs might be worth betting on over solid veterans.

Let me echo this again: L.T. looks good overlooking the age effect. In my mind, these factors put him clearly up there in the No. 1 overall spot. Take him first in your re-draft leagues, and call me in the morning.

Agree, disagree or explode in the comments below.