The position of running back for a fantasy football team is where you look to find the most overall production. Most leagues allow you two running backs in their games, and with their amount of touches they have the ability to rack up the points for you on a weekly basis. You also have to account that in today’s NFL, many teams employ two-back systems or share the carries. In extreme terms, like the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, you could have any of four running backs handling the ball in any given game. With all of that, how do you go about ranking the top backs in the NFL? How do you even know if you’ve got the right back?
A couple of pieces of advice for you before I put my rankings up. You want to make sure that you have at least 3 solid RB’s on your team. This is neccessary because you want to be able to cover your bye weeks as well as have a third option in case one of your backs is matched up against a better run defense or is hampered by minor or major injuries. Second, be wary of the rookie RBs. They are a lot of times merely a mirage. You may think they’ll do well, but the truth is for every Cadillac Williams, there are 5 RBs who don’t contribute fantasy-wise to teams. (see. Arrington, J.J.)
That being said, we can go to my top 10 fantasy RBs for 2006.
Top 10 Fantasy RBs
(tie) 10.) Domanick Davis, Houston Texans & Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
Davis: 976 yards, 4.2 yard avg., 2 TDs, 1 Fum., 29 receptions, 337 yards, 8.6 yard avg., 4 TDs
Brown: 907 yards, 4.4 yard avg., 4 TDs, 3 Fum., 32 rec., 232 yards, 7.3 yard avg., 1 TDs
Notes: I couldn’t pick one. Everytime I thought of leaving one out, I thought of some reason to keep him in. So I decided that I would just rank both running backs in a tie for 10th. There are different reasons though. I believe that Domanick Davis is one of the more underrated RBs in the league. I realize that is a damning label, but it’s true. He’s buried in a unsuccessful team and has been overshadowed most of this offseson with the Reggie Bush/Mario Williams story. Davis is solid in all aspects of the game, a small runner who’s very powerful and can hit a hole with great force. Another thing you have to like about Davis is his ability to catch the ball and his running after the catch ability. He’ll be important for the Texans this year, but will be given a little more space with the acquisition of Eric Moulds. That will take the pressure off Davis a bit. Brown, meanwhile, gets credit for being on a rising team and having the proper skills to contribute to a team looking to contend in the AFC East. Brown doesn’t have to worry about having Ricky Williams behind him, and with Daunte Culpepper still recovering from injurt, he’ll be counted on early in the season to carry the team. Brown is a agile runner who goes north-south with his running, but can make you miss. Considered more of a dancer than power runner, he’s deceptive with that ability to run between the tackles. Will contribute minimally in the passing game.
9.) Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2005 Stats: 1,178 yards, 4.1 yard avg., 6 TDs, 3 Fum., 20 rec., 81 yards, 4.1 yard avg., 0 TDs
Notes: Williams broke out early and maintained a regular role with the Bucs in their playoff run. With a quarterback situation that still hasn’t fully stablized itself, they may be leaning on Williams even more this season. And Williams will be up for the challenge. Some people will agrue that he died down a bit late in the season, but those people underestimate the change from 11 or 12 games to 16 games in a season, with a postseason game mixed in. Cadillac has been resting this offseason, taking parts in workouts but also taking it easy, trying to make sure he stays fresh for this upcoming season. For his part, Williams is a strong runner who will take on the toughest players on the defensive side of the ball. He isn’t going to try and use a fancy move to break a tackle because more often than not he’ll power his way by you, but he’s got that capability. Don’t look for much of a contribution in the passing game, which is what limits him from moving higher on this list.
8.) Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
2005 Stats: 1,054 yards, 4.1 yard avg., 8 TDs, 3 Fum., 43 Rec., 320 yards, 7.4 yard avg., 2 TDs
Notes: Jackson will benefit statistically from having Marshall Faulk stick around. People think otherwise, but this is my reasoning. Faulk isn’t a top running back anymore, and he’s going to get his reps in as a third-down back or maybe even lined up in the slot as a receiver. This will help because Jackson will see the majority of the carries on first and second down while getting the ability to not have to play so hard on third-down situations knowing that the team will be looking at Faulk for that role as well. It will benefit Jackson and still not take away from the carries that he should see as the undisputed #1 running back. One of new coach Scott Linehan’s main tasks is to develop the running game that has been lacking under Mike Martz over the past few years, and Jacksno will probably see imporved numbers for Jackson. Jackson is a big back, but don’t let that deceive you. They’ll be burned by his speed and agility. Look for Jackson to provide passing game benefits for you as well.
7.) Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
2005 Stats: 1,458 yards, 4.3 yard avg., 12 TDs, 1 Fum., 23 rec., 90 yards, 3.9 yards, 0 TDs
Notes: Lost in the Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson whirlwind that took the NFL by storm last season is the fact that Rudi Johnson is quickly becoming one of the best backs in the league. It does help having those two around to take the attention away from them, but a lot of things that he did are his doing as well. After having been behind Corey Dillion for the first part of his career, he broke out once Dillon was sent to New England. Johnson is a solid back who’s got great hands, rarely lets the ball hit the grass, and can punish people for trying to tackle him with their hands. Of course, you’ve got you throw into the mix the fact that he’s got a great FB in front of him in Jeremi Johnson. The one thing is that you won’t get much from Johnson in the passing game as Chris Perry has become the third-down/passing option out of the backfield and will take most of those catches away from Johnson. But as long as Johnson puts up 12 TDs a season, that’s okay.
6.) Edgerrin James, Arizona Cardinals
2005 Stats: (with Indianapolis) 1,506 yards, 4.2 yard avg., 13 TDs, 2 Fum., 44 rec., 337 yards, 7.7 yard avg., 1 TD
Notes: The only back on my top ten that has changed teams. I usually favor running backs who stay with their team from the season before as you’ll get a lot of familiarity with his teammates and the system, but James becomes the one exception of my list. He’ll go into Arizona and mesh well with all the weapons there and also fits right in to Denny Green’s system. Kurt Warner is still a solid quarterback who will make the plays downfield to the receivers, but will now see improvement on the offense with the solidifying force that James provides. James makes opposing defenses respect the run, but he will still benefit from defenses staying close to the receivers. Warner may also use James a as dumpoff back to prevent sacks, which will increase his receiving numbers.
5.) Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
2005 Stats: 1,516 yards, 4.3 yard avg., 11 TDs, 3 Fum., 30 rec., 216 yards, 7.2 yar davg., 0 TDs
Notes: Portis cracks the top five more on the merit of the surrounding pieces than on his own, but he does a lot of that work on his own. Portis is a great runner who has had four great seasons in the NFL and is consistent in his production. But you add to this mix Al Saunders from Kansas City, who was the guru behind the high-powered running attack of Priest Holmes and last season with Larry Johnson. Portis should see some new running plays that will use his skills wisely, and there are a lot of skills to use. He’s insanely agile and will be able to make most average defenders miss on the first attempt to tackle, so he’ll get a lot of extra yards. He’s a great receiver and will probably see some more open looks with the additions of Antaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd. If Brunell regresses, he could have more inflated running stats.
4.) Tiki Barber, New York Giants
2005 Stats: 1,860 yards, 5.2 yard avg., 9 TDs, 1 Fum., 54 rec., 530 yards, 9.8 yard avg., 2 TDs
Notes: One of the best all-purpose backs in the league, Tiki Barber took another step forward last season. He limited the amount of fumbles he had, only letting the ball drop once. Barber had an MVP season last year, but Shaun Alexander’s record-breaking season trumped him in the end. That doesn’t take away from the awesome season that Barber had, and it doesn’t take away from the prospects of the 2006. He’s in a vastly improving offense and with the weapons all around him, he should be able to get some openings to continue to produce. Expect Eli Manning to mature a lot, and look for him to see Shockey and especially Barber more in the dump off roles when he gets in trouble. TIki has the openings to run through mostly because of the weapons located on the outsides with their two top receivers and with Jeremy Shockey at tight end. And when he gets some space, Tiki is as dangerous as they come.
3.) LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
2005 Stats: 1,462 yards, 4.3 yard avg., 18 TDs, 2 Fum., 51 rec., 370 yards, 7.3 yard avg., 2 TDs
Notes: LT third? Well, I had to give the props to the reigning MVP and the young gun who looks unstoppable, so by default he dropped to my third spot. Although I’m sure in any draft you’d be happy to have LT fall to third. Can I just say now that the Chargers got the better of the deal with the Falcons in the 2001 draft, even though Drew Brees left. Tomlinson is the most versatile back in the NFL. He’ll beat you on the ground, he’ll beat you through the air, he’ll even beat you with the occasional pass. Tomlinson will benefit most from having a new quarterback who will need his support. Early in the season as the Chargers will have to get used to each other in the passing game, Phillip Rivers and Co. will lean on Tomlinson more than ever. And this will only help your fantasy cause.
2.) Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks
2005 Stats: 1,880 yards, 5.1 yard avg., 27 TDs, 5 Fum., 15 rec., 78 yards., 5.2 yard avg., 1 TD
Notes: The 2005 MVP drops to number two only cause I love the number one back so much, but like Tomlinson, being ‘stuck’ with Alexander still would bode well for your team. Let’s look at it this way, people, Alexander broke the single season scoring record last season with 27 rushing TDs. He rushed for over 1,800 yards and plays for one of the strongest teams in the NFC. He still has one of the best blocking fullbacks in front of him and although his offensive line loses Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson, Alexander still has a solid line in front of him. With Nate Burleson added to the receiving corp, defenses will have to focus on th passing game as much as the running game, which should free up Alexander for similar numbers. I don’t expect him to score 27 TDs on the ground again… but who knows what he’s capable of.
1.) Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
2005 Stats: 1,750 yards, 5.2 yard avg., 20 TDs, 5 Fum., 33 rec., 343 yards, 10.4 yard avg., 1 TD
Notes: Important note about Larry Johnson. He only started 10 games this season. If he had played all 16 games, Johnson could have realistically ran for 2,000 yards and even scored as many touchdowns as Shaun Alexander. Johnson now has the ability to run as the undisputed #1 in K.C. Johnson is a gifted runner who is hard to stop. If you try and arm tackle him, he’ll power right through you. If you try and take him straight on, he could very well give you a move and get by you. In the end, he’ll be a force this season and will challenge every rushing mark in the book. That’s right, I’m calling my shot. Johnson benefits from the Chiefs having only average receivers at best, and will actually be further assisted by new coach Herm Edwards and his focus on the running game. Look for him to exceed all the expectations.
Moving on Up
-Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints
I realize I just advised people to stay away from rookie running backs, but Bush is going to bea force for a team that could have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Bush will not only be a second running back to former All-Pro Deuce McAllister, but can contribute as a slot receiver and a returner as well. Look for new coach Sean Payton to use Bush on the field as much as possible and in every possible way. He could be one of the few rookies to take a chance on, but don’t count on him being one of the top RBs in the league, at least not in his first year.
-Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Parker will be the feature back in the Steel town. Duce Staley will share the load, but you see even last year that Parker was taking over, especially with his hot start to last season. It will be upto Parker to not fade towards the end of the season and to remain strong for the entire campaign, but with Staley taking some of the load from him he’ll get the opportunity to contribute and not fade. If he doesn’t, look for these next two years or so to be breakout years.
-Tatum Bell, Denver Broncos
People keep waiting for him to break out, but I truly believe that he may not ever get that far. Bell is a solid running back but the star back they expect out of him and the top producer may not be in there after all. And with that, you’ve got to believe that the Broncos will struggle with him as their #1 back. He’s got fast feet and good moves, but I don’t know if he’s durable enough to last for the entire season. I have questions about his strength and whether or not he can be effective in close. He’s going to be solid just because of the Denver system, but that will be his ceiling.
-Corey Dillon, New England Patriots
Hot rookie waiting in the wings, a decline last season… everyone’s looking at 2006 as either a return to excellence for Dillon or further proof that he might be in a class with Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes. Either way, I don’t expect too much from Dillon. QB Tom Brady took over the season and the team with his passing prowess and look for that to continue and limit Dillon’s role with the team. Dillon has injury problems last season and although he’s been a solidifying factor for the Pats, I just think he’s working his way to retirement and the end of his playing days. This might be the pivotal season.