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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
Andrew Hawkins nearing a breakout
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is still unowned in 45 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues heading into Week 4, and that number needs to shrink.

Fantasy production is all about opportunities, and few receivers have had as many as Hawkins this season. He is currently in a three-way tie for third place in the NFL with 33 targets, and Hawkins has hauled in 63.6 percent of the passes thrown his way thus far. He has yet to find the end zone, but that should come with time -- he scored once every 20 targets in 2012, the only season he received anything like a full workload. He has already been pulled down five times in the red zone this season. 

The Browns have a decidedly vanilla offense, but Hawkins has earned the trust of quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has thrown 34.7 percent of his passes Hawkins' way. His massive workload should pay dividends soon enough, and you will want to be there when Hawkins starts finding the end zone. 


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
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Freese has converted just 43 percent of his field goal attempts (3 for 7) through three games. All four of his misses have come from 40-49 yards.


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(11:20 am ET) Redskins tight end Niles Paul entered this season with 14 receptions through his first 44 NFL games, so his ascension to the top of the tight end ranks has been a huge surprise, to say the least. Can he keep it up?

Washington has thrown the ball around a ton this season, as the team's 121 passing attempts through three games ranks fifth in the NFL. 24 of those passes have gone Paul's way, and he has hauled in 18 of them for 253 yards, landing him squarely in the top-10 in receiving yards so far. Only Jimmy Graham has more yards than Paul, among tight ends.

Unfortunately, one player looms large with the potential to derail Paul's breakout season. Fellow tight end Jordan Reed has not played or practiced since leaving Week 1's game with a hamstring injury, but he was supposed to be the team's big breakout candidate this season. If he gets back to health, Paul's time in the spotlight could come to an end.

Fortunately for Paul's Fantasy owners, Reed's recovery from his injury has been extremely slow. Paul looks like a must-start Fantasy option, at least as long as Reed is out, so watch those practice reports. 


Coach confident DeMarco Murray will fix fumbling issue
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(11:13 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is off to a great start in 2014. He's rushed for more than 100 yards and has a rushing touchdown in each of the first three games.

However, it hasn't been all positives for Murray, who has also lost a fumble in each game this season.

"It’s very disappointing," Murray said of his fumbling issues, per ESPN. "I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the utmost confidence in Murray correcting his fumbling problems.

"We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right," Garrett said. "He’s going to get it right."


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by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:09 am ET) With do-everything running back Danny Woodhead reportedly out for an extensive period of time, the Chargers find themselves looking to plug some major holes in the backfield. Though Donald Brown did a serviceable Ryan Mathews impression while carrying a truly massive load in Week 3 against the Bills, Woodhead's absence leaves the team searching for another dimension.

Among the players on the depth chart, neither Brown nor reserve Branden Oliver seems likely to replicate Woodhead's skillset -- few players in the NFL can. Brown's career-high in receptions came a year ago, when he hauled in 27 passes for the Colts -- that's about four good games of work from Woodhead. Oiliver is likely to see a larger role than the three carries he received in Week 3, and he might be the nearest thing the team has to what Woodhead leaves behind. 

Oliver had just 25 receptions as a senior at the University of Buffalo, but was a much more productive receiver earlier in his career. He hauled in 38 passes for 365 yards as a sophomore in 2011, good for third on the team in both categories, so he has some skills as a receiver.

With just three carries and no receptions under his belt in his NFL career, Oliver is very much an unknown quantity at this point. You won't want to rush out and add him this week, but keep an eye on how the team utilizes him in Week 4 against the Jaguars, a matchup which could get him plenty of work.  


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(11:06 am ET) Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts played all 60 snaps Sunday against the Colts after missing the first two games due to a hamstring injury. He was targeted 10 times, hauling in five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.

"I felt good," Shorts said, per ESPN. "I tell you what, our training staff and our strength staff does a great job. They got me back real fast. It felt good to be back out there with the guys." 


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Owen Daniels to step into larger role
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(10:47 am ET) With Dennis Pitta going down with another hip injury, Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is likely to be thrust into a larger role than he has had the first three games, and it is one he should be well-suited to fill.

It is easy to forget, but Daniels was considered a borderline No. 1 tight end last season, before he suffering through a season of Matt Schaub's quarterbacking and a fractured fibula. In 2012, he finished 8th among tight ends in Fantasy scoring -- just two points behind Pitta. Daniels caught 60.2 percent of passes thrown his way to finish the season with 62 receptions for 716 yards that season, and could put up similar numbers the rest of the way.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco likes to throw to his tight ends, as Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark and Pitta combined for 128 targets a year ago. With Daniels the best receiving option left among the team's tight ends, expect most of the looks to go his way, and he already showed in Week 2 he can be a solid red-zone target for Flacco.

Daniels is still unowned in three-quarters of CBSSports.com leagues, but should be worth targeting if you lost Pitta or are otherwise looking for help this week. 


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Hurns has shown an impressive ability, thus far, to get open down the field. Even during his 2-catch, 13-yard stinker against Washington, he was open downfield and dropped a sure-fire long touchdown. Chad Henne might have lost faith in Hurns after that, as he failed to target him once in Week 3, but newly appointed starter Bortles looked Hurns way three times in the second half of Sunday's game, with the duo eventually hooking up for a 63-yard score.

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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was not happy following his team's 19-7 loss Sunday against the Lions. Cobb totaled only three catches for 29 yards, and the entire offense struggled against a Lions defense that was decimated by injury.

"Our defense played their butts off tonight," Cobb said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We did nothing for them. It was kind of embarrassing as an offense, embarrassing myself the way I played."

Although Cobb had two touchdowns Week 2 and three on the season, he has just 14 catches for 126 yards through three games. He also has just one catch of 20-plus yards.

"I have to do more, I have to give this team more," he said. "I have to look in the mirror first and see where it is that I can do more to help this team out."


 
 
 
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