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2012 Draft Prep: RBs with breakdown potential

Senior Fantasy Writer
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For several years we've done some serious studying on when a running back will break down. We began on our mission because we thought it was myth that a running back who turned 30 was suddenly ripe for disaster. That proved to be the case -- it is a myth. The number of career carries combined with a consistent heavy workload over a period of time along with the impact of major leg injuries better signaled when a back would slow down, not his age.

But the criteria could be changing. As you probably know, there's a major change in how teams view running backs across the league. They are bailing out on them much sooner than they used to for fear of catching runners with no tread left on their proverbial tires. So in the past we'd see several backs with well over 2,000 career carries but now there is only one back -- Steven Jackson -- over that threshold. Willis McGahee is second closest with 1,901 carries (this includes the postseason).

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So the new "warning level" on career carries should definitely come down, and perhaps receptions should play a role. Granted, a catch and a carry don't quite wear on a running back the same way since there's a little less bumping on a reception than on a carry between the tackles. But work is work.

The "warning level" on number of years shouldering the workload should also come down. Hardly any running backs get eight straight seasons with at least 250 carries per year -- again Jackson is the only guy closest to that mark after seven years in a row with a big total.

Major injuries to running backs remain relevant for obvious reasons.

So here's the latest theory on when a running back could be due to break down:

• The number of consistent heavy workload seasons are basically irrelevant. If a player regularly gets 250 carries per season, it's just part of the total number of carries he gets. We're throwing out that part.

• Major injuries, especially lower-body injuries, matter and speed up the slow-down process.

• Wear and tear based on the total number of touches is still a major factor. Carries count as normal, but the total amount of receptions divided by three will be added to the number of carries to create a total "touch evaluation number." The thinking here is that on average a running back suffers the same amount of wear and tear on three receptions as he does one carry. Because running backs are catching the ball a little more often than in the past, this part of the study will be subject to change in the future, but for now it's at least easy enough to make sense of. Running backs whose total evaluation number is at least 2,100 will be considered at-risk for a breakdown. For a back with a major injury, their at-risk number is more like 1,900.

We strongly feel age has nothing to do with when a back is set to slow down. To prove it, we've included some 29-year old runners in this year's study. Based on our criteria, some of them have at least two seasons left before any sort of regression in production takes place.

Career carries Career rec. Total evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Cedric Benson 1,595 113 1,633   29 (30 in Dec.)
Ronnie Brown 1,199 190 1,262 30
Frank Gore 1,682 300 1,782 29
Fred Jackson 1,367 244 1,448   31
Steven Jackson 2,157 372 2,281   29
Brandon Jacobs 1,198 88 1,227   30
Willis McGahee 1,901 186 1,963 30
Darren Sproles 389 267 478   29
Michael Turner 1,506 54 1,524   30
DeAngelo Williams 1,008 135 1,053   29

Steven Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb on the list. It bears repeating that he's the only active player in the NFL with 2,000-plus carries and is turning 30 next July. And if he stays healthy he'll also top 2,400 career carries this season, which is our old warning level for workhorse backs to break down. I ran into Jackson this summer and he looked nothing like a worn down old football player, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt this season. It's next season where I could see him sputtering.

Willis McGahee is another risk, but that's nothing new for him. After a major knee injury ended his college career, McGahee missed his rookie season and has generally been considered an injury concern every year. But he's been productive in six of his nine seasons. The Broncos drafted Ronnie Hillman with the idea of infusing him in the Denver offense but he's missed plenty of camp with hamstring issues. McGahee continues to plow right along. He should still be effective in his 10th NFL season.

Fred Jackson's number might look a little confusing. He has 817 career carries in the NFL but had another 550 in the United Indoor Football League. Should they count the same as NFL carries? We think so -- while the players in the UIFL aren't the same kind of hard hitters as in the NFL, there is no out of bounds, so he got hit on every single carry. It counts.

Looking ahead

Because our study is breaking some new ground we thought we'd take a gander at running backs who are starting to accumulate carries and be considered for the study in a few seasons. These are not guys to worry about breaking down because of their career workloads but rather just to keep your eyes on starting this season.

Career carries Career rec. Total evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Matt Forte 1,056 236 1,135   26
Chris Johnson 1,198 195 1,263   26
Maurice Jones-Drew 1,498 285 1,593   27
Marshawn Lynch 1,160 143 1,208   26
Adrian Peterson 1,477 140 1,524 27
Ray Rice 1,063 279 1,156   25

Perhaps the names who aren't on this list are the ones Fantasy owners should feel better about. Arian Foster (710 carries, 135 catches), LeSean McCoy (652 carries, 171 catches), Darren McFadden (553 carries, 116 catches), Ahmad Bradshaw (811 carries, 129 catches), Jamaal Charles (508 carries, 118 catches) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (557 carries, 31 catches) are all established veterans without a heavy history of work. It never hurts to target fresher running backs since the chances of them slowing aren't as high as those who have already put in the time.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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