There's a lot to like about Ahmad Bradshaw. He's only 25 years old. He's coming off a breakout season during which he surprisingly won the Giants' starting tailback job from Brandon Jacobs in training camp and mostly held onto it all year, racking up 1,549 yards from scrimmage and eight TDs. And he plays for a team that (despite the fact that Eli Manning has thrown for 4,000 yards in back-to-back years) likes to pound the football.
But Bradshaw, who re-signed with the Giants Monday after shopping his wares around the NFL as a free agent, should be regarded as little more than a mid-level No. 2 fantasy RB. Why is that?
First off, there are the injuries. He's had multiple stress fractures in his feet, and this winter had surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle. I guess you might say the dude is an old 25, or at least his lower legs are. Fantasy owners made it through 2010 with Bradshaw staying mostly healthy, but relying on that to happen again after he easily eclipsed his prior high-usage season may be playing with fire.
Next, there's the fumbling. Bradshaw was benched for parts of a couple games in November last year for dropping the football; he wound up with seven fumbles, which was second-most among all running backs last year, and he lost six of those, which was the most of any RB. We all know Tom Coughlin is an old-school type who likes to send messages to players he believes can do better. Bradshaw must hold onto the ball to guarantee a high workload again this season.
Finally, there's Jacobs himself. The big backup will return with the Giants in '11 and is favored to get his share of the short-yardage work again. Now, Bradshaw does sometimes stay in during TD-rich situations. He got 12 carries inside an opponent's 5 last season, converting five of those for scores. But Jacobs had 11 carries from that same short distance and also converted five, and frankly, if that big body of his is good for anything, it's good for shielding the smaller Bradshaw from the car crashes that come on an opponent's goal line. Plus, Jacobs probably has a better overall handle on his role in '11, and will be less likely to pitch fits as he did early in 2010; if I had to guess, I'd say Bradshaw will probably fall short of the whopping 323 touches from scrimmage he managed last year.
Now, none of this is to say you shouldn't draft Bradshaw on your fantasy team. You should. He's a dynamic player, and I have a feeling that the formerly-aging Giants O-line will be better this year. David Diehl looked cooked at left tackle at the end of last season and will play guard this season, as William Beatty takes over Manning's blind side; Chris Snee is one of the best guards around and David Baas is a big upgrade at center. But as I say, Bradshaw isn't a No. 1 fantasy back, and he's not without substantial risk. Pump the brakes on your excitement over this re-signing, and team him with a more week-to-week reliable No. 1 back in your draft later this month.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy, and follow him on Twitter at @writerboyESPN.