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Del Pilar's Digest: Running back busts

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Recent posts by William Del Pilar

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Posted Aug. 24, 2011 @ 11:43 p.m. ET
By William Del Pilar

After draft day, running backs are nonexistent. In most cases, you have to wait for an injury to find one. Knowing the little details — a player's role, any new signees that threaten his touches, the offense around him — is a big advantage. Anything that gives you an edge and helps you avoid adding a bust is crucial because you simply can't afford too many mistakes at the RB position.

NOTE: ADP means average draft position, an average of where players go by position and overall using hundreds of drafts with the same scoring rules.


Jahvid Best, Lions
Position ADP: 27
Overall ADP: 58 (Round Six in a 12-team league)

I love Best, but let's look at one fact that is undeniable — he's injury-prone. The team drafted Mikel Leshoure to share the load because Best has a history of injuries. He already has suffered a concussion in the preseason. It's too bad. His potential is Barry Sanderesque — if that's a word. I say that with respect to the greatest Lions running back ever! However, I don't think he can make it through a full 16-game season.

At 5-10, 199 pounds, he is not a big back. The punishment in a physical division like the NFC North does not bode well for him. If you draft him, make sure it's as your No. 3 fantasy back.

Joseph Addai, Colts
Position ADP: 32
Overall ADP: 80 (Round Seven in a 12-team league)

It's not good news when Colts QB Peyton Manning isn't practicing and the team has a gaping hole at the position. I say hole because I have yet to see the Colts field a No. 2 quarterback who can help the team win even one game.

What do the Colts do if Manning isn't ready Week One? They sign the NFL's best fill-in quarterback in Kerry Collins. Collins has played for five teams and is a game manager. To think he can come in, learn a pass-first offense and direct it in three weeks is overly optimistic. This offense is built around Manning and without him, the Colts will struggle.

One would think adding Collins would put a bigger load on the rushing attack. Yes it will, but I don't think Addai can carry that load.

Addai is the goal-line back, a solid pass receiver and has the trust of Manning. Those skills will keep him in the starter's role with a new $14 million contract over the next three years.

However, in five NFL seasons, he has been healthy for a full 16-game season only once, his rookie year. Delone Carter was added via the draft and he's a bruiser whom I see taking the goal-line carries from Addai, or at least sharing the role. Carter already has passed Donald Brown on the depth chart as the No. 2 back.

If Manning doesn't play, taking Addai would be a wasted pick because this team does not run well and will be shut down if the quarterback can't keep them honest. I like Addai but he gets too nicked up. Because of that, I like him only in a bye-week or injury fill-in role. Regardless, he's going to disappoint again.

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Position ADP: 30
Overall ADP: 68 (Round Six in a 12-team league)

I am not a Lynch fan and his play last year in Seattle showed the world why. I just don't believe he's a good NFL running back. In 2009, he gained 3.8 yards per carry for the Bills and when he got to Seattle in 2010 after a trade, he gained 3.5 yards per carry. Sure, he needs a fair shot but bad offensive line or not, he has been too inconsistent for me as a fantasy owner.

This Seahawks team has a new quarterback who's not very good and a new No. 1 wideout who's injury-prone. Add a new West Coast offense to implement and this team has a learning curve that will take some time. Don't forget about fellow RBs Justin Forsett and Leon Washington, who will steal a few carries every game. Forsett will handle third downs and is a solid pass-receiving back who can pick up the blitz. Washington is mostly a return threat leaving Lynch as the first-down, second-down and goal-line back. 

There are two positives for Lynch:

  • He's the goal-line back.
  • This West Coast offense is built around the running back.

Lynch can look great with highlight runs but then he will disappear for stretches. Last season, he never eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the regular season. In games with 15 or more attempts he only hit 4.0 yards per carry once. You can say he hasn't really had a great opportunity in Seattle but I don't see the Seahawks as a great fit for him while they're in rebuilding mode. 

C.J. Spiller, Bills
Position ADP: 46
Overall ADP: 122 (Round 11 in a 12-team league)

I never liked Spiller coming out and still don't. I just don't think he's anything more than a third-down, change-of-pace back. He's not featured-back material and, after tanking it in the second preseason game with 10 yards on six carries, he lost the starting job to Fred Jackson, who will start the third preseason game.

What bothers me about Spiller is that he has not shown himself to be consistent or even adapt to the NFL from college. I'm not a scout but it's obvious to me he's not an NFL-caliber running back. Add in the Bills' poor offensive line and I see no upside to him.

Ryan Mathews
Position ADP: 17
Overall ADP: 33 (Round Three in a 12-team league)

Despite injuries and inconsistent play, Mathews did look sharp at times last season as a rookie. However, the season belonged to FB Mike Tolbert. He showed enough for the Chargers to realize they have a solid 1-2 punch. 

Tolbert's the physical presence and goal-line back on this team. He also is a better pass protector than Mathews and that will limit Mathews' time on the field — until he improves. While Mathews, technically, will be the featured back, Tolbert is making this a committee versus a complementary role.

You also have an offense that runs through QB Philip Rivers, who has a stable of talented wideouts led by TE Antonio Gates and WR Vincent Jackson.

Rivers has turned a dominant rushing attack over the years into a balanced offense that will pass first without question. This change was part of Rivers' process in becoming an elite NFL quarterback. Between Tolbert, Rivers and the wideouts, Mathews' ADP is way too high. He will produce but will be a disappointment if you take him in the third round.

Cedric Benson
Position ADP: 28
Overall ADP: 63 (Round Six in a 12-team league)

I feel bad for Benson as he has been a hard worker trying to overcome his reputation of being a selfish player, tentative runner and locker-room cancer. Sure he has had a few setbacks but hold off on the hate emails, the point here is he's changing. So when he fails this season, you can't blame him because the Bungles will be one of the worst teams in the league.

The Bengals have a new West Coast offense to implement, a rookie quarterback, and a rookie wideout who's Cincy's No. 1 receiver. This team will go through offensive growing pains and will lean on Benson. I just don't see any strength around him to keep his rushing numbers high. Opponents will stack the line and dare the passing attack to beat them. While the offensive line is solid, the passing attack will struggle and thus, so will Benson.



Chris Johnson, Titans
Position ADP: 3
Overall ADP: 3 (Round One in a 12-team league)

Johnson is still holding out but if he can get into camp at least a week before the season, I believe he won't lose too much value. However, remember that this team is in rebuilding mode. While he's a stud, his 2008 and '10 season stats are who he is more than his 2,006-yard season in '09. That's where you have to look at to gauge his value, you need to look at '08 and '10.

Last season, the top 11 rushers in yardage averaged 300 attempts, 1,326 yards and nine touchdowns. Johnson's numbers last season, 316 attempts, 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns is similar. If you average his first and third seasons, it comes out to 284 attempts, 1,296 yards and 10 touchdowns. There are other backs with similar numbers to grab in the first round. We're overthinking CJ and focusing on his 2K season too much. Throw that season out, he's holding out, there's a new head coach, new offense coordinator (though the same playbook with tweaks), new quarterbacks and he has too many questions to go No. 3 overall.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Position ADP: 6
Overall ADP: 7 (Round One in a 12-team league)

The team is resting MJD this preseason after he was sidelined for the last two games lin 2010. The kid has heart but despite a strong 4.4 yards per carry his injury came at the worst time for owners, fantasy championship week!

The past two seasons he has averaged 306 rush attempts and 44 receptions. His receptions dropped by 19 in '10, from 53 to 34 and this slippage might continue the season. The team's tight ends, led by Marcedes Lewis, continue their maturation and backup RB Rashad Jennings' role is set to increase.

Despite being a run-first offense, if starting QB David Garrard falters, the team will bring rookie Blaine Gabbert into a game. That will do nothing but give MJD even more problems as defenses will stack the line of scrimmage. More important is the wear and tear of the past two seasons. Once wear-and-tear injuries begin, they tend to accumulate, and MJD is no different. I will pass on him and believe his numbers will continue to dip as his tread wears faster and faster.

Michael Turner
Position ADP: 9
Overall ADP: 10 (Round 1 in a 12-team league)

Turner's a beast, but his Falcons team is becoming more and more balanced. Plus, he's two years removed from his monster 2008 season — 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also, his limitations as a receiver hurt his value. The team re-signed Jason Snelling as his primary backup and the third-down role shifts to rookie Jacquizz Rodgers. There might be too many backs to feed and they will distribute the touches to keep Turner healthy. The team also wants to open up the passing game and added Julio Jones as a vertical threat.

Turner is not a bust, but owners are overvaluing him based on where he's going. I'll pass on a one-dimensional back in the first round who finally might dip below the 4.0 yards per carry mark for the first time in his career. However, if he drops out of the first round, then you should rethink him because every player eventually hits a slot where the pick is a value pick. 

Peyton Hillis, Browns
Position ADP: 15
Overall ADP: 16 (Round Two in a 12-team league)

I love Hillis, as does most of America. He's a great example of what working hard and never giving up can do. I love saying that because I love the opportunity America brings. However, I also believe he's playing well above his talent. I'm not sure he can continue the magical run like last season though I believe he can be an above-average West Coast offense back.

He has hands, power and agility to go through or around defenders. He did see 347 utilizations (rush attempts plus targets) and that wore him down. The team overused him as general manager Tom Heckert stated. Add that with the following strikes and it's going to be a long season for him.

  • New head coach/offensive coordinator
  • New West Coast offense
  • Additional running backs will compete for carries — Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty

I don't see Hillis achieving his ADP expectations but if he drops, I'll reconsider him.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
Position ADP: 21
Overall ADP: 47 (Round Four in a 12-team league)

Since 2008, Williams has not played a full season and has made it through two 16-game seasons in five years. As the team struggled with it's quarterback play, teams would just stack the line, knowing they could go off on the running backs with minimal concern of the pass. That will continue.

Will Williams, after receiving a big contract — $21 million of the $43 million guaranteed — become fat and happy? I don't see that happening but I see potential for another injury without a quality quarterback to create balance.

Time-sharing is an issue and not just with Jonathan Stewart but Mike Goodson, who will handle some third-down duties. Williams is also not the goal-line back, Stewart is. New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski wants to establish a wide-open passing offense, and that doesn't help Williams.

Many are taking Williams as their No. 2 fantasy rusher and if he had a half-decent quarterback instead of a rookie or second-year player, I'd say go for it. He doesn't, so I'll pass.

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