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2010 Draft Prep: Portis, Jones headed for a breakdown?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't, but over the years we've had a thing for trying to detect when a running back breaks down before actually breaking down. Our basic theory revolves around not just a player's age but primarily their injury history and their career carry totals. The formula we created suggested to avoid LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook in Fantasy drafts last season.

The red flags, in order of importance:

• Significant lower-body injury

• Near or over 2,400 career carries, including the postseason

• The equivalent of eight full seasons carrying the workload

• 30 years old or older

Now while we're confident in our theory, we're always looking for points of view from running backs that played a long time. Call it field study. Besides, these guys played for years and years in the NFL, taking on all sorts of punishment from running between the tackles and getting taken down on most every rep they had. They probably know a thing or two about when their bodies didn't feel right.

NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, after being told our red flags for breakdowns, was a bit puzzled. After all, he's used to hearing that he left the game too soon.

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"Are you telling me I waited too long?" Sanders asked with a smile.

Coincidentally, Sanders and the two men ahead of him on the career rushing list, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, defied our red flags and played strong well into their 30s. They were athletic marvels who stayed in amazing shape throughout their careers and were "taken care of" by coaches and trainers off the field and by teammates on the field. In Sanders' case, he really did it without a lot of help -- Smith and Payton had massive offensive linemen for the majority of their careers. Sanders didn't -- he just had amazing speed and a knack for not getting caught. But he also credits good eating habits and knowing how to work out for his longevity.

Sanders happened to subscribe to our breakdown theory.

"There's probably a lot of truth to it," Sanders said. "From what I've seen, running backs have always had a short life span in the NFL, and then when you talk about years of really being productive, you're not talking about a lot of years for most guys. To ask your body to do what a running back does, because you touch a ball more than anybody as far as carrying the ball, and so it takes a toll and there's a breaking point."

Sanders' professional breaking point had nothing to do with his physical wellness, he said.

"I didn't really feel any different [physically]," Sanders said about his body at the end compared to the beginning and middle of his career. "For me it was more of the 'Do you really have the drive to be out here playing?' and that kind of thing."

Legendary Oilers and Titans running back Eddie George never lost his drive to play. George was the rare running back who didn't miss a game through his first eight seasons in the NFL, though he saw his production dip well before the end of his career. It just happened to be that George's first noticeably bad season came when he turned 30.

Like Sanders, George agrees with our study and says age is nothing but a number.

"I wouldn't look at the years, but you definitely look at the carries," George said. "The more carries you accumulate over a period of time, over an eight- or nine-year period, that's when you can start to see the decline. The [age] can vary.

"When you look at somebody like LaDainian Tomlinson, you can physically see that he's not the same from when he used to be. He's still productive but he's not breaking off the 60-yard runs, running through tackles, spinning out, running with that great passion that he once did. You see him now tripping over his own feet in the open field, and those are signs that he's not what he used to be. He still can get it done, don't get me wrong, but I don't think he'll be that 1,600-yard back or that 1,500-yard back that he used to be."

Who's next?

By now you know that Tomlinson is an over-the-hill back, and you can attribute the same title to Brian Westbrook. But other veteran rushers with a long, long record of toting The Duke are also potential disappointments this season.

NAME AGE AS OF
WEEK 1
MAJOR
INJURY
EIGHT-PLUS
SEASONS
NEAR/OVER
2,400 CARRIES
Ladell Betts 31     792
Correll Buckhalter 31   654
Justin Fargas 30   827
Kevin Faulk 34     927
Larry Johnson 30     1,434
Thomas Jones 32   2,400
Maurice Morris 30     739
Sammy Morris 33   689
Willie Parker 29(30 in Nov.)   1,380
Clinton Portis 29     2,246
Chester Taylor 30     1,050
Fred Taylor 34 2,620
LaDainian Tomlinson 31   2,976
Derrick Ward 30   468
Brian Westbrook 31   1,437
Ricky Williams 33   2,174

The names that should stand out on this list are Tomlinson, Thomas Jones and Clinton Portis, at least for Fantasy Football owners. Tomlinson has already seen his draft stock drop because he'll play second fiddle in New York behind Shonn Greene, and the same goes for Jones in Kansas City behind Jamaal Charles (in spite of his career year in 2009). Portis still looks like the primary ball carrier in Washington, though it cannot be ignored that the team added several running backs this offseason to ease his load, including two guys on this list, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. Portis also didn't have leg issues last season but did miss half of 2009 with symptoms stemming from a concussion. But ultimately there is no denying in the case of any of these guys that they've taken on more than their fair share of touches and likely don't have the bodies to absorb hits like they might have in the past. When you evaluate these players on Draft Day, don't forget what you've just seen.

Additionally, sharing carries is the trend we've seen for years, and it's not going away. While it limits the total number of "20-touch" running backs available to Fantasy owners on Draft Day, it should keep running backs fresher for well into their 30s -- if they're still productive enough for the tastes of their coaches. That's what matters to NFL teams. Plus, teams like the Saints are realizing that finding good running backs doesn't require high draft picks or free-agency splurges. If it comes to pass that tandem rushing situations can be built effectively without spending valuable draft picks or cap room, the whole landscape of how running backs are evaluated, or how a breakdown is determined, will change dramatically.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Bills move Corey Graham to safety
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 am ET) The Bills have moved cornerback Corey Graham to safety, the Buffalo News reports.

Graham said that he and the team have discussed the move all offseason and decided to give the position change a try on Tuesday when the team held its first workout of OTAs.

"He’s got that unique ability where he can do both things," coach Rex Ryan said. "So let’s see what we have out there. And this is no slam on Duke or on Rambo or on Meeks or any of those guys, but this is us doing what’s best for the team. And if that means we feel good about [Graham] playing safety, then that’s where he’ll be."

Graham is enthusiastic about playing the safety position full-time.

"I want to try to really learn it and see where it goes, see how much my grasp is, see how I’m playing at it, see where it can take me," he said. "I look forward to it. It’s a challenge for me, but I’m actually very excited about it."

Graham recorded 84 total tackles last season, his first in Buffalo, while intercepting two passes.


Vikings' Bridgewater 'extremely comfortable' with leadership role
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is embracing his role as leader of the offense, the Star Tribune reports.

"I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down," Bridgewater said. "That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that so far."

Coach Mike Zimmer is satsfied with the work Bridgewater has done during the offseason.

"It’s hard to never not be pleased with Teddy because he’s such a hard worker," Zimmer said. "We wanted him to get bigger and stronger; he looks a little bit bigger to me. He’s always worked real hard. The leadership things are starting to come better. I think he’s been doing a good job the two days we’ve been out here against the defense."

Bridgewater made 12 starts in his rookie season and played 13 games in all, racking up 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 64.4 percent of his passes.


Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders hoping to reach 1,000 yards
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes the new offensive scheme in Denver will effect his numbers, accoridng to the team's website.

Sanders is working with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and coach Gary Kubiak to install the team's new offense and noted it's very different from last year's spread attack.

"You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that's huddling up, to an offense that is predicated off running a football and then throwing it. It's different," Sanders said. 

"It's a totally different set up, but I tell you what, the more and more I'm in it," said Sanders. "Because we can get the run game going and just use my vertical speed on cross routes and all these different combinations of routes is based off the play action, then I think the offense will be successful with Peyton Manning at the helm."

Sanders, who totaled 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, doesn't think he'll accomplish the same numbers.

"Of course obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses, well I'm praying that it is, but obviously it's not going to be one of those offenses where you catch it and you're going to have two receivers catching over 100 passes," said Sanders. "Hopefully, my goal is really to try to get a 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games."


Cowboys rookie La'el Collins taking reps at RT in OTAs
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Cowboys rookie offensive lineman La'el Collins started offseason team activities on Wednesday taking reps at right tackle, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Collins, who was signed as an undrafted free agent, could also see time at left guard. But the rookie is taking his first reps with the team at right tackle with Darrion Weems while Doug Free recovers from ankle surgery.

"We think he has the physical ability to play a couple of different spots," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was a tackle for most of his career in college but did play guard. We see him as a guy who can maybe do both of those things as he goes.

"The big thing for him is to try to get him acclimated as quickly as we can. So right now he's going to play right tackle for us. He and Darrion Weems are competing at that spot in Doug Free's absence and we'll just see how that unfolds." 


Vikings' Adrian Peterson on absence from OTAs: 'It's business'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said in a statement on Wednesday that his absence from OTAs has "nothing to do with wanting to be traded," ESPN reports.

"The reason I'm not attending OTAs has nothing to do with wanting to be traded. It's about securing my future with the Vikings. It's business, not personal and I understand that firsthand. Go Vikings."

It was reported earlier Wednesday that coach Mike Zimmer said that Peterson could "either play for us or not play." The running back has expressed frustration with team management for not showing him support during his legal case for child abuse.


Report: Falcons' Dezmen Southward undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Falcons defensive backs Dezmen Southward underwent a minor-knee operation Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southward did not attend Tuesday's OTA and it is not known how long he'll be sidelined.


Julius Thomas trying to fit into Jaguars' offense
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said after Wednesday's organized team activity that he intends to make it work with quarterback Blake Bortles, reports The Florida Times-Union.

"There is no 'Here's me coming in, and Blake's going to get on my page.' I'm going to be on Blake's page," Thomas said. "Whatever he expects, that's what I am going to do. He's the quarterback. He's the one in control of that huddle, and I like catching passes so I will make sure I do exactly what he wants."

With Thomas entering his first season with the Jaguars, he said it will take time to develop a rapport with Bortles.

"I think that getting good chemistry with a quarterback probably takes a couple of thousand passes," Thomas said.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden not concerned with playing time
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/27/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


 
 
 
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