Saturday, January 31, 2009

Running Backs Second Tier

The guys in this tier would make a great complement to your first tier back. They have too many questions, or too difficult a schedule to be picked in the first round, but you could make an argument to pick one of them in the second round. Preferably you're finishing up your starting back set in the third round with one of these backs.

9. Frank Gore-49ers 2008: 17th
Gore should make a solid bump in his production as his schedule is significantly easier. I said in a previous post that it might be the best running schedule in the NFC. Moreover, the Niners appear to be on an upswing. I'm counting specifically on an improved defense, leading obviously to more second half running from Gore. Their passing game also looked better at the end of the year. Gore should be more productive as long as he's on the field. The question that keeps him out of the first tier is his history on injuries. The bottom line is that Gore put up numbers back when they were the worst team in the league. He'l put them up when they reach the heights of mediocrity and face a welcoming schedule of run defenses.

10. Steven Jackson-Rams 2008: 14th
As with Gore, the only concern here is health. His health is a little spottier than Gore's and it seems he may never play a full season. While the risk is a bit higher, the reward might be as well. The Rams can only improve on their 2008 performance, and Jackson managed to finish 14th while missing 4 games. They have the same increase in schedule quality as the Niners so the signs are pointing towards Jackson winding up in the top 10.

11. Mershawn Lynch-Bills 2008: 15th
Lynch is too consistent not to take here. While his schedule is tougher than last year, its not too tough. This is your ideal 2d-3rd round low risk pick. I said this tier is full of questions but Lynch is the exception there. The only spot on him is what looks like a very low ceiling for a second tier guy.

12. DeAngelo Williams-Panthers 2008: 1st
This may seem shockingly low after his 2008 performance. It's safe to say I won't end up drafting Williams in any leagues next year. Even if you viewed him as high as 7 or 8 you still won't get him because someone will take him in the top 3. When looked at objectively that is fairly ridiculous. This is a guy that's in a comittee and isn't the goal line back. This is a guy that is facing an absolutely brutal schedule. As I mentioned in the schedule post, there are few games in which you'll be happy starting Williams. And even in 2008 when he torched all other ballcarriers in fantasy points, he had quite a few bust games in which Stewart got the touchdowns. I think he has an acceptable year but it's just not a safe pick at all. Unless what you want is someone that lets you down with 2 point games and then explodes for four tds on your bench.

13. Marion Barber III-Cowboys 2008: 19th
Barber finds himself in the situation that Jacobs was in a year ago. He has two backs on his team behind him that have a lot of potential. This caused Jacobs to fall in drafts and in the end, he got the majorrity of fantasy points, making him a steal. We don't know this will happen with Barber, but we do know that at the least he will be the goal line back of a highpowered offense. The question is his role.

14. Joseph Addai-Colts 2008: 35th
Like Barber, this pick is starting to up the risk factor. Addai had a terrible year. The offensive line destructed in the preseason and Addai had picked up injuries by the time the line was back in form. The questions here are huge. But the rewards are just as tremendous. Addai was atop 5 pick just a year ago and he is again healthy and the line intact. Moreover, he has an incredible schedule of opponents coming up. There is no reason to think that his role with the best offense in the league will be any different. He should rebound strongly, but the questions raised in 2008 are too much to take him in the first round.

15. Steve Slaton-Texans 2008: 10th
The question with Slaton in 2009 is role. I can't see the Texans going into 2009 without adding a back. If they don't Slaton has a great schedule and should have success against it. If he's in a committe, he won't be the goal line guy. He's not even the goal line guy now. He could rack up a lot of yards without a lot of tds. Slaton has a great chance to put up solid 2nd rb points, but he's not a sure enough thing to be a first rounder yet.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Running Back First Tier and Overall Strategy

It's a bit early, and we don't know who will be where, but I'm going to rank running backs now. As I've said before, I want this to be set while 2008 is still fresh on my mind. Now that I have the schedule difficulties laid out, I can come up with preliminary rankings. Then I can adjust them as offseason developments occur.

I think these should be the first eight guys off the board. I would not draft another position until all of these first tier backs are gone. There is enough of a gap between them and the second tier that getting one of these guys is a must. Coupled with the facts that there are solid seven receivers without a clear favorite(future post) and my already revealed preference for a second tier qb, and the drafting strategy becomes clear. You need a first tier rb. Since someone will definitely take another position in the first round and most likely take a back I don't feel is worthy, you should be safe in getting one unless you are drafting near the end of a large league. (I assume in this strategy a standard 10 person league.) In the second round you should be looking at one of the seven receivers. Unless you are at the very end, one will be there. In the third, since the first tier of a qbs and wrs should have come off the board, you do well to select one of the remaining second tier backs. If you draft late in the third, it could be one of the last few, but some should most likely remain. That should leave you in perfect position to grab one of those 3 second tier qbs in the 4th. This builds a very solid team without assuming any truly clueless drafters. You have a few rounds in the middle to stock up on receivers and will feel comfortable enough with your roster to take fliers on high risk guys at the end.

1. Adrian Peterson-Vikings 2008: 4th
This is barely a decision. I think there is more difference between 1 and 2 than between 2 and 8 in 2009. Peterson played all year, putting to rest some of the concerns about his injury risk. He has a solid line in front of him and a very good schedule. There isn't too much to say here. High ceiling, high floor, anything you can want in a first round pick.

2. Matt Forte-Bears 2008: 5th
Forte may have the lowest floor west of Peyton Manning. He is the feature back in Chicago, running on a ball control, defense oriented team, gets the goal line carries, has a great schedule and has no history on injuries. This is a very safe pick. I don't see too much difference between 2 and 8, so you may want a lower pick this year, but if you have the second pick, I think Forte is the guy. You most likely will be able to get Forte with a lower first round pick anyways. It may turn some heads, but later in the season you could be sitting comfortably in the playoffs while Turner or DWilliams butts heads against a difficult string of opponents. And its not like Forte would have been available in the next round.

3. Chris Johnson-Titans 2008:12th
This is a big jump, but think on this, Johnson finished 12th his points his rookie year with Lendale White taking all the goal line carries. He finished 12th facing off against a more difficult schedule. What will he do against the most ideal schedules in the league? What will he do if White scores only 6 or 7 of those TDS? I think he'll finish in the top 5. He has a great line and is a big part of the passing game. Luckily he may slip to you at the bottom of the top 10. If it is possible for you to trade duringthe draft, I would trade down from picking 2, 3 or 4 and try to get Forte or Johnson on the slide.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew-Jaguars 2008: 8th
Speaking as a Jones-Drew owner, it feels like he had a bad year in 2008. It was frequently frustrating. His offensive line was injured in the preseason, and never played well all year. They were never ahead in games, always passing to catch up. And after that, he finished 8th in points. He tends to score in bunches but against next year's schedule you should feel comfortable playing him all the time. The oline should be healthier and the team should be better. All the points sign to finishing higher than 8th. Oh and, this is a truly fantastic schedule.

5. Michael Turner-Falcons 2008: 2nd
As much as I maligned Turner's schedule, he remains a very solid, low floor pick. He is a star running back on a good offense, he'll put up some numbers. I think he ends up 5th or 6th at the end of the season. There is a good chance he puts up a great season that doesn't look so good in conventional stats because of the defenses he faces. Against an average schedule, he gives Peterson a run for the number one pick. Against this schedule he falls to the middle of the first tier.

6. Brian Westbrook-Eagles 2008: 6th
I've said before, I expect a typical Brian Westbrook season. He missed a few games in 2008, faced a tough schedule and finished 6th. I have no doubt he'll miss a few games in 2009 against a similarly difficult schedule and still wind up around 6th. The Eagles still have another year or two in them, and their defense has never looked better than at the end of 2008.

7. Brandon Jacobs-Giants 2008: 9th
Like the pick above and the one below, this is a solid safe pick. There isn't tremendous upside here, he isn't likely to greatly improve on his 2008 statline, but he is a sure as it gets to come close. He is still in a quasi committee but he is the lead guy and the goal line guy. Coming into last year, his role was unclear after the playoff performances of Ward and Bradshaw. Now his position is clear.

8. Clinton Portis-Redskins 2008:10th
Has anyone been more dependable over the past 5 years than Clinton Portis? Fantasy owners should be able to continue to depend on him in 2009. He is only 27 and should have at least two more years as a first tier back. The ceiling isn't much higher than this, I don't expect a revelatory performance but I do expect what he has always given us: solid top ten numbers.

The Tweener-LaDainian Tomlinson
I can't tell you what to think of Tomlinson. It all depends on whether there is a fork in his back or not. When running backs go, they go. If you expect a bounce back year, he moves up to 5th or so. He finished 13th in what was widely considered a disaster of a year. It's possible he turns an improved team and a return from injury into a return to the top 3. Or you may think he's finished and delight in one of your opponents taking him early. What I can tell you is this, his schedule is slightly harder next year. Not much, not enough to effect his totals. Additionally, I don't take risks with first round picks. I'd hope someone takes him highly and saves me the decision in the end of the first round. It's not a place to gamble, and even if it stings you, you're better off letting someone else gamble here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NFC Schedules

2 5 star--5 4 star-- 4 3 star--4 2 star--1 1 star
Pretty good schedule for the star they don't have. Still a decent schedule for a committee back that gets the goal line touches. If that's Earnest Graham, he's a solid pick that could could slide in your draft and excel against 7 likable matchups. If Dunn is gone, Graham will be very draftable. They get the Packers in addition to avoiding their own defense in their divisional games so this is easily the best schedule in the NFCS. Bucs backs could be sleepers in this summer's drafts.

1 5 star--4 4 star--3 3 star--5 2 star--3 1 star
This doesn't look good for Turner. He might be entering the draft as the top overall choice but his schedule is not conducive to a year of lighting up fantasy sheets. There will be 8 weeks in which you will hesitate to play him. You will probably end up still playing him, but you are much better off with Peterson, and I'd consider taking another member of the first tier with a better slate of opponents.

3 5 star--4 4 star--2 3 star--5 2 star--2 1 star
This is isn't a promising schedule for what looks like a big year for Pierre Thomas. He's being talked up for next year but he will still be splitting carries with Bush and as long as they're both on the field, they should keep each other from getting big numbers. There are seven good matchups that you could play either of them in, but they might go too high to pick them as a 7 matchup type of guy. If you're lucky Thomas slips to a position where he might be a steal. If the seemingly inevitable Bush happens, Thomas becomes a play in an additional seven games.

1 5 star--5 4 star--2 3 star--6 2 star--2 1 star
This isn't pretty. As impressive as D Williams was this year, I don't see him repeating his fantasy success. I see Stewart getting a larger portion of the fantasy points this year, with both putting up solid if not spectacular numbers. This schedule is simply brutal, contributing to the decline in fantasy points, even as his actual performance remains spectacular. There are 8 unfavorable matchups for a rb that is in a comittee, even if its a great comittee. In this situation, I don't feel comfortable drafting Williams as high as someone else will.

4 5 star--3 4 star--5 3 star--3 2 star--1 1 star
Very juicy schedule for Stephen Jackson so your only concern in drafting him should be his health. I'm putting him just outside the first tier as every rb has some injury risk. This schedule is better than last years and very good overall. Jackson is a solid play in 12 games and really playable in all but one.

5 5 star--4 4 star--3 3 star--2 2 star--2 1 star
Like all NFCW teams, the Niners face an easier schedule than they did this year. Swapping the NFCS for the NFCE will do that. This is possibly the best schedule in the NFC. I can't see Gore not having a great year if he stays healthy. Too many solid matchups here and this schedule would be great for a feature back or a lower tier guy.

4 5 star--2 4 star--5 3 star--4 2 star--1 1 star
While this schedule would be ideal for a stud rb, it's pretty good for anyone. You may not be drafting anyone from Seattle, but keep an eye out during the first few weeks for someone getting the bulk of the carries. There will be matchups to exploit if any back turns out to be the man for the Seahawks.

6 5 star--1 4 star--5 3 star--2 2 star--2 1 star
That is 6 top flight matchups for the Cards. Someone should be worth a late round pick here. But it may be that no one is. The downside to the Cards rbs is that, they largely can't take advantage of their running schedule. The value in Hightower and others is that the passing offense gets them down to the goal line, negating the value in playing weak run defenses. Still, if they picked up anyone decent (Tashard Choice?) he would be worth a flier.

2 5 star--4 4 star--2 3 star--5 2 star--3 1 star
Another year, another brutal schedule for the NFCE teams. I wouldn't read too much into it. The Eagles and their divisional brethren had a tough schedule this year as well. While this year's is marginally more difficult, I would assume that the NFCE backs will put up roughly what they did this year. Their aren't a lot of premium matchups here but Westbrook is always solid. He has the same durability issues as always so feel free to treat him as Westbrook as usual.

2 5 star--6 4 star--0 3 star--5 2 star--3 1 star
Most of what was written about the Eagles applies here. The situation is a little better with two extra 4 star games. Jacobs will still go in the first tier, and you'll still play him all year. Ward is in a better position than Buckhalter should either of the stars go down because of those two games.

4 5 star--4 4 star--1 3 star--4 2 star--3 1 star
Not a great schedule but better than the Giants or Eagles thanks to those extra matchups against the Lions and Rams. Portis will the guy as always. He slowed down at the end of 2008 but there's no reason for him not to duplicate his performance in 2009. A top tier rb year after year and very likable in 13 matchups this year.

3 5 star--5 4 star--1 3 star--4 2 star--3 1 star
Thanks to the drop from 1st to 3rd place, the Cowboys are the one NFCE team whose schedule is just as good if not better than last year. Barber is still the first back off the board, but he finds himself in the same situation Jacobs was in last year. He has two backs behind him that look very good. Jacobs dropped on boards and pleasantly surprised his owners when he took the bulk of the carries. As Barber is still the goal line guy, he could do just as well. Since we don't know how many carries will go to Choice and Jones, its tough to take Barber in the first tier. But there's still 8 good matchups if Barber is heading up a committee. More should develop here before the season.

5 5 star--1 4 star--1 3 star--7 2 star--2 1 star
Ryan Grant had a very quiet year in 2008. He didn't put up big numbers even though he started every game. On the other hand, he established himself as the feature back for the Packers. He should retain that role in 09 and put up better fantasy results. I wouldn't expect stellar numbers against this schedule but if you grab him in the mid rounds he should be reliable in 6 starts. That's what you're looking for there so he fits the bill.

3 5 star--4 4 star--1 3 star--6 2 star--2 1 star
Kevin Smith has gotten press going into next year as a top back but I don't see it with this schedule. This is such an obvious case of a tough schedule; he has four games against the Vikings and Bears. There's not a lot of upside here. He should put up solid points but not like what some are expecting. If he slips to the midrounds, he has the same approximate value as Grant, even though his schedule is a bit tougher. Just don't get carried away by the hype.

5 5 star--3 4 star--2 3 star--4 2 star--2 1 star
This is a very solid schedule. Good at the top, with 5 primo matchups, and good to the bottom, with only two 1 star games. You're going to play Peterson every week, and ith the schedule you'll be happy about abll but those two games. This lineup of games given to a back of Peterson's caliber makes him the obvious number one choice. Should something happen, Taylor is a solid play no matter what and those 8 quality matchups make him very attractive.

5 5 star--4 4 star--1 3 star--3 2 star--3 1 star
I really like Forte against this schedule. He may have the highest floor of any back for 2009. Low injury risk, solid oline and defense. Forte is the feature back, he's the goal line back and he's got a good lineup of opponents. He will definitley play in 13 matchups, possibly all of them and he'll likely finish in the top 5. He's probably my second choice in next year's draft.