Week One Running Back Rankings
Brian Westbrook may cause some match-up issues in Week One. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
1. Frank Gore vs. Cardinals – Despite only receiving 27 total carries against the Cardinals last season, Gore averaged 128 total yards and two touchdowns per game. Assuming the touches go up, 150 total yards and two scores seems conservative.
2. Willie Parker @ Browns – Not to be outdone by Gore, last year, Parker averaged 143 total yards and 1.5 scores per contest against the Browns. Those numbers look about right, although there is worry the Steelers play a bit more wide open this season.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Bears – Yes, it’s the Bears, but it’s also Tomlinson, so I put him down only a couple slots. The man has scored in five of his six season openers, so even if the yardage numbers are down a bit, the touchdowns will be there. Expect 100 total yards and two scores.
4. Steven Jackson vs. Panthers – The Panthers aren’t a great matchup for Jackson, but his talent should make up for it. Expect good receiving numbers which will boost the average running statistics. I see 125 total yards and a score.
5. Joseph Addai vs. Saints – Early in the preseason, I was ready to call Addai a bust this year. I had my statistics and trends and definitive argument. (The dude had two good games all year.) But then something funny happened. I reconsidered. I looked at the yards per carry, and it was a solid 4.8. I saw he only had three games with 20 or more carries, and he played well enough in those contests. That being said, I am still skeptical. So go and prove me wrong, Joe. Go ahead and give me 125 total yards and a score.
6. Brian Westbrook @ Packers – Few players in the NFL cause more match-up issues than Westbrook does. If the Eagles find themselves in a tight spot, it’s Westbrook who needs to step up and make a play, not Donovan McNabb. So when he finishes with 150 yards and maybe a score, don’t think too poorly of the Packers defense, it’s really not their fault.
7. Deuce McAllister @ Colts – Reggie Bush is being ranked ahead of McAllister on most expert lists, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Unfortunately for Bush owners, “experts” don’t make the depth charts. Until I see otherwise, I will assume McAllister will get the carries and Bush will see the receptions. And against the Colts “defense,” the carries will equal 100 yards and one or two touchdowns.
8. Larry Johnson @ Texans – As down as Derek and I are on Johnson (and we’re very worried about him), we’re not stupid. The Texans are known for passing on Bush and sucking. Johnson may not average more than 3.8 yards per carry, but he should get 90 yards and one or two scores. Don’t worry, I probably won’t rank him this high again the rest of the season.
9. Willis McGahee @ Bengals – It might as well be April in Baltimore because rebirth is in the air. McGahee just seems happy, which is reason to be optimistic from a fantasy perspective. The Bengals don’t have the most stout defense, which means 125 yards and a touchdown appears likely.
10. Reggie Bush @ Colts – He may not get the majority of the carries, but something tells me there will be plenty of offense to go around in this contest. Also, NBC will pay the Colts to let him run around on a couple plays, so I’ll go with 120 total yards and a score.
11. Travis Henry @ Bills – Everyone knows that the Broncos’ running game can succeed with just about anyone carrying the ball (Olandis Gary, people). Now Travis Henry, a 1,200-yard rusher with the Titans last season, faces a Bills defense that allows plenty of rushing statistics. Henry’s ceiling this week is inside the top 10, but I’ll be conservative and say he’s be good for 120 yards and a touchdown against his old team.
12. Laurence Maroney @ Jets – While most experts are in awe of the shiny new toys Tom Brady will target this season, the cold truth is that the Patriots have been a run-first squad when the running game is working. Maroney will be working, which means 115 total yards and a score.
13. Rudi Johnson vs. Ravens – Rudi has always had something of a solid, unspectactular history against the Ravens. In fact, he tends to have that kind of history against every team. Anyway, we pretty much know what to expect here. You’re going to get 90 total yards and one crossing of the stripe if you start the Bengals back.
14. Edgerrin James @ 49ers – Few offensive line coaches get as many props as Russ Grim has gotten in the preseason for the Cardinals. No one wants the praise to be justified more than James, who found out running behind the worst line in the NFL isn’t, well, fun. Assuming the blocking is better, I’ll go with 120 total yards with a potential score for James.
15. Clinton Portis vs. Dolphins – Portis may be the most forgotten player this season in the NFL. Fantasy owners can often find him sitting around in the third round with Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones. Well, his injuries last season were more freak injuries, so I haven’t lost faith quite yet. Yes, Ladell Betts stands to steal a few carries, but Portis has the most talent of any other back on the field. He’ll get 110 total yards with the chance at a touchdown.
16. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Titans – It is, frankly, impossible to rank Jones-Drew. He’s always liable to travel 100 yards and get two scores on two plays. Still, being behind Fred Taylor (Why!? So stupid! Argh!) means we can’t be overconfident. I rank him here because it’s an average of what could happen, which will be either 160 yards and two scores, or 70 yards and no scores.
17. Ronnie Brown @ Redskins – There’s hope for Brown because of the coaching change in Miami. Unfortunately, Cam Cameron hasn’t shown the most confidence in the former Auburn runner. If he gets 20 carries, he should finish with 90 yards and maybe a score.
18. Shaun Alexander vs. Bucs – Alexander has a lot to prove to skeptical fantasy prognosticators like myself. If he can get his yards per carry back above four, then he could move up these rankings. I don’t see that happening, so 80 total yards and maybe a touchdown are all I’d expect.
19. Marshawn Lynch vs. Broncos – Lynch has shown absolutely nothing this preseason, which has to worry even the most diehard fan just a little bit. The Broncos don’t exactly have the worst run defense in the NFL either. It will be an uphill battle, but 75 yards and a potential score seems safe.
20. Brandon Jackson vs. Eagles – I’m expecting a nice year from Jackson, as he’s my sleeper back this season. The Packers offense is built to run the ball, which should suit Jackson just fine. The only question left is how he can do catching the ball out of the backfield. Still, 125 total yards sounds about right. Just don’t expect a touchdown.
21. LaMont Jordan vs. Lions – Jordan has seen his stock rise as the preseason has worn on. I’m not really sure why, since nothing in his situation has changed, but them’s the breaks. Those looking for a sneaky start don’t have to look much past this guy. He has a decent shot at 100 total yards.
22. Thomas Jones vs. Patriots – Someone please wake me up when Jones becomes more than just a placeholder. Yes, he could go for 100 total yards, I suppose. Yes, he could sneak in a cheap touchdown. But that’s not the point. He’s got the lowest ceiling of anyone taken as a starting back, and I’m bitter.
23. DeShaun Foster @ Rams – For some reason, John Fox has a man-crush on Foster. There’s very little reason as to why Foster should be starting over DeAngelo Williams, but that’s all right. Why would we want a dynamic young back getting 20 carries a game? It would just spoil us, of course. Oh well, you can still get 85 total yards from Foster. Woo.
24. Ahman Green vs. Chiefs – Green might actually be something of a sneaky start this week. I have him ranked down here because there’s no way of knowing if Matt Schaub won’t be a complete and utter disaster. If you like rolling the dice, though, Green does have an upside of 100 total yards and a score.
25. Jamal Lewis vs. Steelers – I’ve always had a soft spot for Lewis. In his prime, he was, perhaps, one of the most talented running backs in NFL history. I’m not sure I could name three other players with his combination of size, power, and speed. But he was abused during his 2,000-yard season and he’s never been the same back. I’m just stalling because this is a terrible matchup for a washed up back.
26. Cedric Benson @ Chargers – Talking about bad matchups, Benson faces one of the best run defenses in the league. And that defense won’t be worried too much about the running game. Benson could get a cheap score, of course, but as a matter of course, I wouldn’t rush him into the starting lineup. There will be other weeks for that.
27. Brandon Jacobs @ Cowboys – We are now entering the section of the rankings where I need to see something before I go ahead and give the starting nod to a guy. Jacobs has potential, but the turmoil in Gotham is already starting to mount. Show me a touchdown this week, and we’ll talk next week, Mr. Jacobs.
28. Carnell Williams @ Seahawks – If Williams can handle 20 carries without getting banged up, then I would consider starting him next week. Until then, it’s just not worth the risk.
29. Tatum Bell @ Raiders – Lots of people have Bell pegged as a sneaky start, and maybe he can go for 100 yards. Sadly, the Lions will be passing more than running, and I’m not sure Bell can be a factor in that aspect of the game. If he proves useful to Jon Kitna, I’d start him next week.
30. Adrian Peterson vs. Falcons – If Chester Taylor gets hurt, then I’d start Peterson immediately. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a rush to run Taylor out of town, so neither back can be trusted yet.