From Solo Act To Duet

Contributed by: Bill Enright
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2010 7:48 PM

  How are fantasy owners suppose to draft a “stud” running back, when most NFL teams employ the Running Back By Committee approach? With the recent signings of free agent Running Backs, there are only a handful of solo backs remaining. Fantasy Football Champs' Bill Enright, takes a look at  teams who had a one man rushing attack at the start of the 2010 off-season, but will now employ a two man method.

In 2009 the Jets were the Number One rushing team in the NFL. Their leading rusher, Thomas Jones, was 3rd in the league in rushing yards. Change of pace back, Leon Washington suffered a broken leg during the regular season, which gave the rookie Shonn Greene the opportunity to showcase his skills. Greene performed admirably in the regular season and blew up during the Jets postseason run to the AFC Championship game. In fact, he led all backs during the playoffs with 304 yards. After the NYJ cut Jones a week into the 2010 Free Agency period, many thought Greene would be the lone man in the backfield.

That all changed when LaDainian Tomlinson visited with team officials last week, which led to LT signing a two-year $5.2 million contract. Although LT's stats have significantly declined over the last two seasons, he'll still be a productive runner in NY because of the Jets powerful offensive line and his familiarity with Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense.  With the addition of Tomlinson, Shonn Greene's stock takes a hit. LT will likely be the 3rd down RB and may also steal some goal-line carries from the 5'11-235 pound Greene. However, because the Jets love running the ball so much, we still think Greene will be a top 15 back, just not the top 5 back he might have been if the job was his alone.

Larry Johnson was the man in the KC backfield for the last five seasons. And despite having a monopoly at the position for the Chiefs, he performed horribly both on and off the field in the last three years. LJ's “twitter tirade” led to his release midway through the '09 season and Jamaal Charles took over as the starter. Over the second half of the season Charles had more rushing yards than Chris Johnson, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored seven rushing touchdowns. Charles flew up the RB ranking list and was considered a Top Ten pick for 2010 fantasy drafts.

But Charles' stock took a dive when the Chiefs signed Thomas Jones. So instead of taking over where he left off last year (which was a 259 yard-2td performance in Week 17), Charles will split carries with TJ. The good news is the two backs have completely different running styles. Charles is a speed demon, four of his TD's came from carries of 40 yards or more. Jones is more of a punishing back and will be excellent in the short yardage game. Charles will likely lose out on some goal-line carries, but given his inclination to score from long distance, fantasy owners shouldn't panic. Just don't have a panic attack every time the Chiefs are on the 1-yard line and Jones is lined up in the backfield and Charles is on the bench. 

The Redskins had four different Running Backs start for them last season (Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, Quinton Ganther). But the Skins cleared house in the off-season by cutting all of their RB's except Clinton Portis. Despite suffering a season ending concussion, experts said Portis would be fine for the start of the 2010 season. The Redskins hired Head Coach Mike Shanahan, whose zone blocking scheme helped Portis put together back-to-back seasons of 1,500 rushing yards while playing for Denver in 2002-2003. Many predicted the two could rekindle their success and Portis would return to an elite level back.

But that theory ended with the Skins' signing of RB Larry Johnson. Given Portis' familiarity with Shanahan's offense, his chemistry with QB Jason Campbell/offensive line, one would think Portis is the clear starter. Apparently nothing could be further from the truth. LJ's former coaches Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards both predict Johnson will take over as the starter. Plus Shanahan told the media he “loves” position battles. So maybe it will be LJ who returns to elite status and not Portis, maybe the two split carries in an attempt to keep each other fresh and healthy, or maybe neither return to elite status and the backups backup takes over as the starter-just like last year.

The Bears were the 4th worst rushing team in '09. Their offensive line was terrible and RB Matt Forte averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Forte was one of the biggest disappointments of the fantasy season. He was drafted by many in the first round but failed to rush for 1,00 yards and scored just four rushing TDs.

Although the Bears have yet to make any offensive line improvements (except for cutting Tackle Orlando Pace), the Bears did sign RB Chester Taylor and hired Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz. Taylor and Forte have similar skill sets, both excel at catching the ball (2009 receptions: Forte 57 - Taylor 44) and can move well in the open field, making them perfect fits for Martz's offense. But unless the offensive line improves dramatically, it won't matter whose running the ball. Forte's stats were bad enough in '09 when he had the job all to himself, expect similar numbers this year. On the other hand, Taylor is use to splitting time, so if anything, his stats will stay consistent or could see an increase, if he proves to be the better back. 

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