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2014 Draft Prep: RBs ripe for a breakdown?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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This is the story you don't want to read about Adrian Peterson. The one that's been years and years in the making ... maybe since he was a superstar running back at Oklahoma.

You see, Peterson is getting old. Old in terms of the NFL and in terms of how much work he can take on without slowing down or getting hurt. Not old in terms of real-life old. He's still very much young in that regard.

For several years, we've tracked how many carries and catches a running back gets and have found a correlation between when the touches pass a certain threshold and when a player begins to suffer injury. It has nothing to do with the exact age of a player -- saying a guy is 30 years old and therefore worthless is irresponsible. But ... many players from the past entered the NFL at age 21 or 22, put up eight solid seasons of work and totaled well over 2,000 carries before falling off the proverbial cliff. Their numbers went down the drain and their careers followed soon thereafter.

That threshold used to be 2,400 carries, but two years ago we changed the formula because backs were running a little less and catching a little more. So we made up a "Total Evaluation Number" based on the number of carries and catches a back had. Simply put, we totaled a player's receptions, divided by three and added it to the player's carries totals (including playoffs but not the preseason) to come up with the number. The new number to watch out for? 2,100 -- and Peterson passed it last season.

Now this is the same monster who came back from a torn ACL in less than nine months and steamrolled the NFL for 2,097 yards. He also has scored at least 10 touchdowns every year of his seven seasons. It's clear he's a rare breed. But even if we judge Peterson by our old criteria for running backs, which doesn't take receptions into consideration whatsoever, he's due for one more big year. And then ... man, I don't even want to type it. I can put that off for another year.

Here are the running backs carrying risk for becoming a physical liability to his NFL team and your Fantasy team.

Running back Career carries Career rec. Total evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Frank Gore 2,327 349 2,443 31
Fred Jackson 1,688 256 1,773 33
Steven Jackson 2,571 443 2,718   31
Maurice Jones-Drew 1,818 342 1,932 29
Adrian Peterson 2,126 210 2196 29
Darren Sproles 497 522 671 31
DeAngelo Williams 1,387 174 1,445   31

What happened last year?

A year ago we tested the theory against two tried-and-true Fantasy stallions in Steven Jackson and Frank Gore. Gore had just crossed the 2,100 barrier during the Super Bowl and Jackson had long blown past it. Gore had seen his carries decline for three straight years previously but got a bump up to 17.3 carries per game during the regular season and did very well with them. Jackson wasn't as fortunate, getting hurt in Week 2 and missing a big chunk of the season before coming back. He struggled to maintain a good rushing average but was able to still be a factor at the goal line. Long story short: Gore did well, Jackson didn't.

While one might suggest that every back is different and shouldn't be judged on a system created by an over-zealous Fantasy writer, one could also say Jackson had it coming while Gore might have gotten by because he barely topped the Total Evaluation Number heading into 2013 and the Niners did a very good job maintaining him. We'd be shocked if either guy had big seasons this year now that Gore has crossed over fully into red-flag territory with more than 2,300 career carries and Jackson now has a staggering evaluation number of 2,718.

Risky runners

Fred Jackson and Maurice Jones-Drew also are getting close to the 2,100 mark for adjusted touches and are considered risky running backs. Jackson's NFL carries don't make up all of his work -- he used to play indoor football and after much research we got a hold of just how many touches he had. Even with them and at the ripe old age of 33, he still has enough left in the tank for one or two more seasons, especially if the Bills can lighten his load and limit him to passing downs/two-minute drill/goal-line work. Don't expect another big year from him but he could provide decent depth and work as an insurance policy for C.J. Spiller.

Jones-Drew isn't much better off even if he's the best back on the Raiders. After messing up his foot in 2012 Jones-Drew struggled in 2013 to get even 1,100 total yards with five scores. It wasn't that long ago he led the NFL in rushing! With 1,818 career carries and an evaluation number of 1,932, Jones-Drew is a candidate to keep struggling to stay healthy this season. He's less than 200 carries from hitting the red-flag mark, and he'll only get there faster if he's involved in the Raiders passing game. That doesn't even take into account the team he's on or the fact that he'll split carries with Darren McFadden (while he's healthy). No one should aim to have MJD on their Fantasy team this season unless it's as a flex or a backup.

There's one more name on the list -- DeAngelo Williams. He's 31 but has been used rather sparingly throughout his career (at least compared to other backs). Williams isn't scary in terms of breaking down because he hasn't been overused -- he's scary to use for Fantasy because you just don't know how much work he'll get from week to week. Williams is a backup Fantasy rusher who could keep going until he's 33 or 34 thanks to his lack of work when he was younger.

What to watch out for

This year we should see one popular running back get to our warning level for a break down with another three get close. It's something to keep in mind if you're in long-term formats or just thinking about the future of well-known running backs.

Running back Career carries Career rec. Total evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Ahmad Bradshaw 1,073 159 1,126 28
Reggie Bush 1,228 451 1,378 29
Matt Forte 1,593 354 1,711   28
Arian Foster 1,236 216 1,308 27
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1,074 59 1,093   29
Rashad Jennings 387 97 419 29
Chris Johnson 1,753 273 1,844   28
Marshawn Lynch 1,877 207 1,946   28
Ray Rice 1,618 406 1,753   27
Pierre Thomas 818 301 918   29

Marshawn Lynch is the one who is going to be ripe for a breakdown in 2015 -- if it doesn't happen in 2014 first. Lynch is not only coming off of a Super Bowl run, typically the precursor to a back slowing down, but he also took on more than 400 touches last season if you include the playoffs. He also has 1,002 carries over the last three seasons. These are all dangerous numbers -- eventually backs who take on this much work start to crack. The hunch here is that Lynch doesn't quite hold up to expectations. Christine Michael has been rumored all offseason to be the guy who will get a bump in work even if Lynch stays healthy this season.

Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice are the ones to keep an eye on, but their respective workloads don't make them high-risk players for the injury report. At least not yet. While Johnson and Rice have other issues around them that keep them from being appealing Fantasy choices, Forte is in a perfect situation where he won't share the ball too much and should contend for 10 or more touchdowns. You might think he's been overworked but he has just 740 carries and 170 catches over the last three seasons. By comparison, Johnson (817 carries, 135 catches) and Rice (887 carries, 208 catches) have had more.

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Player News
Texans' Louis Nix 'trying to move forward' in sophomore season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Texans nose tackle Louis Nix spoke about his lost rookie season this week in OTAs, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"A lot went on my first year here. It was a lot to deal with," said Nix, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason and eventually was placed on season-ending injured reserve. "It was difficult to maintain it with all the issues. But I'm happy about now, and that's what I'm worried about. I'm just trying to move forward and do the best I can."

Coach Bill O'Brien expressed frustration with Nix earlier this offseason.

"Bill is Bill. He challenges everybody," Nix said. "Sometimes you guys make it more than what it is. … He wants guys to be better. I take no offense to it. I know he just wants me to be the best player that I can be. He sees potential, and I see it in myself. I'm starting to get back in a groove of things. I'm just going to keep trying to do the best I can."

Nix is finally healthy and working his way into game shape.

"Make it through a practice, man," Nix said. "That's my goal."


Eagles' Earl Wolff, Marcus Smith limited in OTAs with injuries
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Eagles safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Marcus Smith were limited in OTAs with injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Wolff is recovering from knee surgery. Coach Chip Kelly said the safety has been cleared to return, and the team is waiting for him to reach full participation in OTAs. Smith has been dealing with a pulled leg muscle.


Packers' Casey Hayward dealing with foot injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Packers cornerback Casey Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and doesn't expect to return to action until training camp, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I’ll probably take it easy into camp right now," Hayward said. "I have a minor foot thing right now. We’ll probably take it easy into camp."

Hayward said the foot "flared up" on him earlier in the offseason. He finished with 42 tackles and three interceptions last season.


Ravens' Terrence Brooks running, 'doing really well'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks is running after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee in December, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard."

Brooks is expected to open the season on the PUP list and could make his return this season.

"We're just hoping for the best, trying to get back as soon as possible," Brooks said. "We're taking precautious. We definitely don't want to rush back too fast. If you do get cleared, playing this year is definitely a goal. You don't want to rush it. For the most part, you have to be cautious and take it easy. After we get off of the PUP list, we'll see where we're at. I definitely want to get back into it, but we're taking our time. I have high hopes of being ready."


Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


 
 
 
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