Dallas, Marion Barber is a low RB I, his foot injury is healed, he averaged almost 5 yards a carry in 2008, he averaged 3.7 in 2007, handcuff Tashard Choice to him to be safe, he ran effectively while filling in for Barber, he had 90 yards and scored against the Ravens week 16. Felix Jones has all the tools but has a durability problem, He is at 43 on my board, he has greater value in point per reception leagues, Jason Garrett has him working some at wide receiver.
Giants, Brandon Jacobs missed three games in 2008 and has not played a full season since his rookie year. He remains a low RB I, he scored fifteen touchdowns last year but you know he will miss starts, he will be drafted late in the first or high in the second round, if you select him you must take Ahmad Bradshaw who is at 47 on my board and to be safe even use a late pick on Danny Ware who will battle Bradshaw in camp to start when Jacobs sits.
Eagles, Brian Westbrook as of now is at 7 on my board, making him a middle RB I, he is there because of his talent, on the downside he has had multiple surgeries and will be 30 in early September. If you draft Westbrook you must handcuff rookie LeSean McCoy, as of now he is 56 on the board and would start if Westbrook misses any games.
Washington, Clinton Portis is a middle RB I, he would have even greater value if there was better play at quarterback, he would get more scoring chances. He had a total of 370 touches in 2008, Jim Zorn probably wants him to have less of a workload but he remains their offense, if he stays healthy he should score more than the nine touchdowns he had last year. You will probably have to use a late first or early second pick to get him, so you must handcuff the reliable Ladell Betts.
Chicago, Matt Forte broke the Bears team record for receptions by a rookie and running back with sixty three in 2008, and remember Hall of Famer Gale Sayers was rookie of the year in 1965 at running back . He is an elite back who has been drafted first overall in some early point per reception leagues. He is a high RB I and will have more scoring chances this year with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Camp will decide who you need to handcuff with Forte, former Lion Kevin Jones or the other Adrian Peterson.
Lions, Kevin Smith is low RB II who finished strong last year with two hundere ninety one yards in his last three games and scored in each of those games. The offensive line will not be much better this year and Smith again will be counted on in the passing game, he had thirty nine receptions in 2008. Veteran former Seahawk Maurice Morris will get work on some third downs as a receiver and as a change of pace back for Smith who is 53 on my board.
Green Bay, Ryan Grant was very high on most boards last year coming into the 2008 draft, but he missed the first week of training camp then suffered a pulled hamstring, he fumbled more last year than he did in 2007 and had six runs of 20 yards or more in 2008 compared to 11 in 2007. He was not the same back, because of that he has fallen this year to a high RB II, the high level of play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers will give him plenty of scoring chances. Brandon Jackson will be the third down back, he is a solid receiver but because he lacks blocking skills he has no chance to take the starting spot from Grant, he is 59 on the board. If Grant suffers an injury that would force him to miss multiple games, DeShawn Wynn would move into the starting position, he and not Jackson should be handcuffed if you draft Grant.
Vikings, Adrian Peterson is a high RB I and you can make a strong argument that he deserves to be the first over all selection in just about every draft. I have not made my decision yet on that, rankings coming in the next couple of weeks. He will be selected first or second but there are some chinks so to speak in his armor. First though the positives, he averaged more than a half a yard a carry more in November and December than he did in September and October, he got stronger as the year went on, he answered the bell about his durability and most importantly he is the most talented runner in the NFL. He does give away touches to Chester Taylor who must be handcuffed with Peterson if you select him, Taylor had forty five receptions in 2008 and is one of the best pass blocking backs in the NFL. Peterson who had twenty one receptions is not a great receiver out of the back field. If Brett Favre becomes the Vikings quarterback, we could see more of Taylor because Favre’s staple play is the screen pass. Peterson actually could lose some value with Favre. On the other side Peterson could have more scoring chances with Favre instead of Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson. In any case he will be selected first or second.
Falcons, If Adrian Peterson is not the first over all selection then it has to be Michael Turner. He had 376 carries for 1,699 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in 2008. The fact that he played as a back up in San Diego where he did not get many touches helps him in Atlanta, although he had all those carries last year, he remained healthy, and is capable of handling that type of workload again, but you will not see 17 touchdowns again, he will lose goal line scores to new TE Tony Gonzalez. Handcuff Jerious Norwood with Turner, who will be gone by the second pick. Norwood averaged 5 yards a carry and scored twice on receptions, he is a big play running back and is 43 on the board.
Panthers, The Panthers have the best pair of fantasy running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in football. Between them they accounted for 2,300 rushing yards and thirty total touchdowns. Williams had more carries, yards, and scores and that should stay the same for 2009. Williams is a low RB I and Stewart is a RB III. Both are great runners but their fantasy production will be lower in 2009, not because of talent but quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith should bounce back from off seasons in 2008. They will take yardage and scores from them but both remain high caliber fantasy backs.
Saints, This is the toughest team to rate as far as fantasy value of their running backs. Reggie Bush is a threat to score with every touch and has higher value in point per reception leagues, he had 52 catches with 4 touchdowns in 2008. He does not run well between the tackles and had knee surgery this off season, he had 106 carries, just over 400 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in 2008. If healthy he will score a few but not many more fantasy points in 2009. With Deuce McAllister gone, Pierre Thomas will get most of the carries. He led the team in 2008 with one hundred and twenty nine carries for over six hundred yards and nine touchdowns, he accomplished this while being third on the depth chart. Thomas’ scoring will be much higher in 2009, both Thomas and Bush are middle RB II’s with Thomas having more value. Mike Bell would fill in for Thomas if he gets injured, Bell is worth a late choice if you select Thomas.
Buccaneers, at first it appeared that this was a running back by committee with Derrick Ward who came over from the Giants and Earnest Graham a battering ram type of runner. Both will see carries, but Ward will see 70% or more of the backfield touches as of now and could be more, his receiving ability will give him more playing time, we need to see how camp develops for them. Ward is a low RB II and Graham has fallen to 41 on the board among RB’s.
Cardinals, The Cardinals were last in rushing in 2008. It will be a close battle in camp to see who will get the most touches, rookie Chris Wells or Tim Hightower. Wells is the better runner but Hightower proved himself at the goal line and as a receiver. I see it this way, Wells gets more carries and rushing yards, Hightower will play on passing downs and will catch 40 plus passes, Kurt Warner relied on Hightower late last season and during their playoff run as a valuable receiver out of the backfield, and will get most of the goal line work. Russ Grimm takes over as running game coordinator as well as being assistant head coach and offensive line coach, if they improve here they will contend again for the NFC championship. Both Wells and Hightower are low RB III’s with Wells having slightly more value.
St. Louis, Steven Jackson became the first Ram running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 4 straight seasons. In 2008 he gained more than 1400 combined yards, scored 8 touchdowns all while missing 4 games with a hamstring injury. He also missed almost 4 weeks of training camp due to a holdout. The Rams will not be a good team in 2009 but everything points to Steven Jackson having an elite fantasy season if healthy. The new offensive scheme should have him catching more passes, he is an every down back who will only take a few plays off a game for a rest. He is low RB I, there will be a battle in camp between Brian Leonard, Antonio Pittman, rookie Chris Ogbonnaya, and Samkon Gado to be Jackson’s back up, you have to handcuff the winner of this with Jackson.
San Francisco, Frank Gore gained a combined 1400 yards and scored 8 touchdowns in 2008. He still has not been able to match his huge 2006 season when he gained 1,695 rushing yards. He has the chance this season, the key, fullback Moran Norris, Norris was released last year but was signed for 2009, Gore said he has high comfort level with Norris blocking for him. Gore should be able to score more fantasy points in 2009, besides Norris, a steady Shaun Hill at quarterback for a full season should be able to move the 49ers in a defense soft division, Gore is a high RB II. Handcuff Michael Robinson with Gore in case of injury, Robinson has been an effective goal line runner and word is he will see more action this year.