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Which running backs are due to break down?

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Once upon a time there was a running back who took the NFL by storm named LaDainian Tomlinson. From the first moment he stepped on an NFL field as a rookie, he made defenses look silly and went on several end-zone trips (he even scored twice in his first game against the Redskins in September of 2001). Tomlinson became not just an all-time great with his team, the Chargers, but a rock-solid cornerstone in the Fantasy Football universe.

But then something happened to L.T. on his way through the NFL: he got older. And as he got older, his production tailed off a little bit at a time. It took a while with Tomlinson thanks to his tremendous skills and ability to stay healthy, but even the team that drafted him and gave him a home for nine seasons saw his diminished talent and cut him.

This year, in his second season with the Jets, Tomlinson will follow in the footsteps of noble running backs before him -- such as Walter Payton and Marshall Faulk -- and take a backseat. He'll work passing downs while Shonn Greene works in the starter's role. Tomlinson will probably get a couple of token touchdowns, but he won't be a sensational Fantasy superhero.

But Tomlinson is not in that secondary role just because of his age (33). It's because of the amount of work he's taken on over his career. That's what has really slowed him down, and it's one of two things that we believe takes great athletic talent away from running backs. The other impact issue? Injuries, of course, and the two go hand-in-hand.

We specifically subscribe to these three factors when evaluating when a running back will decline:

• Significant lower-body injury

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

• The equivalent of eight full seasons registering a high amount of carries, especially when those seasons are consecutive

At-risk rushers for '11

When studying these factors and not the age of a running back, we can figure out when it's time to let an unsuspecting owner draft a veteran. The following running backs are considered "at-risk" running backs, and any one of them with two or more red flags should be avoided for Fantasy purposes for the upcoming season.

Running back Near/over 2,400
career carries
Major
injury
Eight seasons
of work
Age as of
Week 1
Ronnie Brown 1,140   29 (30 in Dec.)
Correll Buckhalter 713   32
Kevin Faulk 935   35
Fred Jackson 647     30
Julius Jones 1,320     30
Thomas Jones 2,650   33
Willis McGahee 1,616   29 (30 in Oct.)
Maurice Morris 829     31
Sammy Morris 709   34
Willie Parker 1,380   30
Clinton Portis 2,300   30
Chester Taylor 1,176     31
Fred Taylor 2,663 35
LaDainian Tomlinson 3,230   32
Derrick Ward 518   31
Brian Westbrook 1,514   32
Ricky Williams 2,333   34

Judging by our criteria, veteran rushers like Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee aren't at risk of losing their productivity based on physical factors. But they could always see their numbers dip due to not being utilized as much in their offenses.

That's an important factor to bring up. Nowadays most teams use two or even three rushers to handle their run game while leaning on the pass a little more than before. While that tends to water down the stats of running backs impacted, it does extend careers. That makes it even more dangerous to discount running backs just because they're 30! Fred Jackson is a perfect example: A late start to his pro career combined with his reps being limited off and on through five seasons makes Jackson a reasonably safe rusher to trust in Fantasy, not a guy to avoid because he's of a certain age.

In addition, because running backs are sharing the work, the days of one guy taking on the "full workload" that makes up part of our evaluation are dwindling. That also means that these guys aren't accumulating carries as quickly as before. A good example of how this trend is taking shape is on display when checking out the players that are a year away from turning 30.

Running back Near/over 2,400
career carries
Major
injury
Eight seasons
of work
Date of 30th
birthday
Cedric Benson 1,315     Dec. 12, 2012
Ryan Grant 841   Dec. 9, 2012
Brandon Jacobs 1,009     July 6, 2012
Mewelde Moore 484     July 24, 2012
Michael Turner 1,190     Feb. 13, 2012
Cadillac Williams 986   April 21, 2012

Point is, measuring running backs based on eight years of full work and 2,400 career carries could become obsolete. We might have to punt on those categories in a year or two, though there are some running backs that might touch that 2,400 carry total within the next three or four seasons.

Player Career carries Player Career carries
Joseph Addai 1,135 Steven Jackson 1,897
Marion Barber 1,083 Maurice Jones-Drew 1,155
Frank Gore 1,371 Adrian Peterson 1,269

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
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


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(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


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(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Boldin had at least one bad drop in the game and was unable to find much room to work downfield. He came into the week average 12.4 yards per reception but managed just 7.1 YPC against the Broncos. Boldin has collected 39 receptions for 447 yards and one touchdown in seven games. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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