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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
Vikes hold out Teddy Bridgewater
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:51 pm ET) Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater missed practice for the second straight day with his sprained ankle. Minnesota will hold a walkthrough Wednesday, a day before it visits the Packers on Thursday Night Football.

If Bridgewater can't play, Christian Ponder would get the start.

Browns DST facing solid matchup in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:50 pm ET) The Browns DST unit has not had an impressive start to the season, scoring double figures in just one of their first three games before the bye. However, they could be worth a look for Fantasy purposes in Week 5, with the Titans on the schedule.

The Colts notched just their second double-digit scoring effort of the season last week against the Titans, with an assist to backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst started in Jake Locker's place last week, and though Locker is expected back this Sunday, the Browns might still find some success on defense against him.

Opposing DST units have racked up at least 12 points in three of four games against the Titans, including each of Locker's two starts. The Titans have had trouble protecting the quarterback, so the Browns will look to feast in Week 5. Consider them a solid weekly fill-in.  


Ben Tate expected to start Week 5
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:48 pm ET) Browns running back Ben Tate is expected to start Sunday at Tennessee, assuming his knee responds well to practice this week, reports ESPNCleveland.com. Tate sprained his knee in the season opener and hasn't played since.

He rushed six times for 41 yards against the Steelers, suffering the injury on a 25-yard run. Tate said he might play with a brace on his knee Sunday.


Lions worth an add this week
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:40 pm ET) With the Bills and newly minted starting quarterback Kyle Orton on the schedule, Jamey Eisenberg has the Lions as his top waiver-wire add among DST units for Week 5.

Opposing DST units have enjoyed solid success against the Bills in recent weeks, with the Chargers and Texans both scoring in double figures. A big part of that was the subpar play of quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw a pick-six to the Texans a week ago. Whether Orton, who has started just one game since 2011, will be an improvement is still to be seen, however the Lions' pass rush has been dominant at times this season, and could make life hard on Orton. 

The Lions should be worth starting in Week 5, given how well they are playing right now.  


Falcons add Cameron Bradfield in flurry of moves
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:35 pm ET) Beset by offensive line injuries, the Falcons signed former Jaguars tackle Cameron Bradfield, reports Pro Football Talk. Atlanta also promoted guard Harland Gunn and safety Sean Baker from the practice squad.

Taking a look at the tight end waiver wire
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) With key players like Vernon Davis (back), Niles Paul (concussion), Jordan Reed (hamstring) and Tyler Eifert (elbow) dealing with injuries, finding help on the waiver wire might be the key to success at the tight end position. Here are some of Jamey Eisenberg's thoughts on the best pickups for this week.

Larry Donnell of the Giants and Travis Kelce are likely to be the most-added tight ends when waivers run Wednesday morning, and Jamey admits to being "torn" on which he prefers. Dwayne Allen of the Colts, Garrett Graham of the Texans and Reed round out the top-five, while Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Clay Harbor and Jace Amaro are sleeper adds for deep leagues.

Charles Clay of the Dolphins and Ladarius Green of the Chargers are considered drop-worthy, if you need a roster spot. 


Falcons put Joe Hawley, Lamar Holmes on IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:29 pm ET) The Falcons put center Joe Hawley and right tackle Lamar Holmes on injured reserve, ending their seasons. Hawley tore his ACL in the Week 4 loss at Minnesota, and Holmes suffered a foot injury.

William Moore goes on short-term IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:25 pm ET) The Falcons put safety William Moore on injured reserve/designated for return with a shoulder injury. He's eligible to return Week 13 against the Cardinals.

Which receivers are worth adding this week?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal has been targeted at least six times in every game so far this season, and his big performance in recent weeks is enough to convince Jamey Eisenberg to put him at the top of his waiver-wire priority list ahead of week five.

Additionally, Jamey tabs Brian Quick of the Rams, Rueben Randle of the Giants, Malcom Floyd of the Chargers and Andrew Hawkins of the Browns rounds out the top five at wide receiver, with Odell Beckham of the Giants, Davante Adams of the Packers and Brandon LaFell of the Patriots possible sleepers.

If you need to clear a spot on your roster for any moves this week, consider parting ways with Kendall Wright, Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and Riley Cooper


Prioritizing running backs on the waiver wire
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:09 pm ET) The running back position has been a tough one to pin down for Fantasy owners this season, with so many big names struggling -- if they aren't out of action entirely. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to hit on your waiver-wire pickups. Jamey Eisenberg's top waiver-wire targets at the running back position are as follows:

The Vikings' Jerick McKinnon, The Ravens' Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro, the Browns' Isaiah Crowell and the Texans' Alfred Blue. Additionally, Andre Williams of the Giants, Darrin Reaves of the Panthers and Denard Robinson of the Jaguars are mentioned as possible options worth targeting.

If you need a roster spot, consider dropping Adrian Peterson, DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden this week. 


 
 
 
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