Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
What is Ronnie Brown's fantasy value this season?
Last year, Brown scored 146 fantasy points in ESPN.com leagues, which was 25th-best at his position. Brown missed three games because of a hand injury, played behind a very shaky offensive line and often faced extra defensive attention because of the lack of a quality passing game in Miami.
This season, Brown projects to be a high second-round pick in many yearly fantasy leagues. Brown's high draft position can be attributed to his considerable upside and the fact that he will be playing in an improved and more balanced offense under new head coach Cam Cameron. Brown shared playing time with Ricky Williams in his first pro season and dealt with much adversity in 2006. His outlook is definitely brighter in 2007. He could, in fact, be one of the best running backs in fantasy football this year, but he won't be an elite guy yet.
Brown averaged more than four yards per carry last year, and now Cameron will design more ways to plays that advantage of his skills. Brown is a power runner who works best with a blocking fullback, and Cameron loves to feature the power-run game in his offense. Newly-acquired fullback Cory Schlesinger should be able to provide decent lead blocking for Brown.
The Dolphins intend to revamp the offensive line with the tutelage of O-line coach Hudson Houck, who is widely considered one of the best in the business. Vernon Carey, a good run blocker, should start at left tackle, but right tackle L.J. Shelton is far from reliable. Rex Hadnot, who could play right guard, is decent, but not outstanding. Rookie Samson Satele (center) was working with the first team in recent team activities. Ex-Cardinal Chris Liwienski should be a stopgap at left guard.
This unit is far from impressive and likely prevents Brown from being an elite running back. Moreover, Schlesinger's best years are behind him, even though he can still be effective when healthy. Even with that group, Brown should be OK. He went over 1,000 rushing yards in 13 games last season, in spite of inconsistent play from his O-line. He will also benefit from Cameron's creative play-calling.
Brown has never proved he can carry a full workload, but Cameron will likely give him the opportunity to do so, while using rookie Lorenzo Booker enough to keep Brown from getting fatigued. Let's not forget that Brown is finally playing with a respectable veteran quarterback, who can also take advantage of the running back's potential as a pass-catcher. Trent Green should get the ball to Brown on short passes more than Miami's quarterbacks did last season.
The acquisition of Green certainly boosts Brown's appeal. Not only does a respectable quarterback prevent defenses from focusing too heavily on the ground game, but the offense should also operate more efficiently and get into scoring position more often. Brown, who scored five touchdowns last year, should finish off more scoring drives in Miami this season. With added balance to the Dolphins offense in 2007, he can easily rush for seven or more scores while adding a receiving touchdown or two.
It's not going to be easy for Brown every week behind the less-than-stellar offensive line, but he does battle hard for his yardage, and working behind a dependable lead blocker can certainly help. Brown had 10 double-figure fantasy performances in ESPN leagues last year, and the offense is certain to improve with Cameron and Green. Brown finished the 2006 season with a pair of 100-yard games; the future is certainly pointing up for him in that category.
Overall, 1,300 rushing yards and well over 300 receiving yards are certainly attainable goals for Brown. Although he occasionally will sputter as the Dolphins abandon the run game when playing from behind, he should be a very good fantasy player for the full season.
Brown is certainly a top 15 running back as 2007 fantasy drafts approach. I had him at 13th in my most recent personal rankings. For Brown to become a true top-10 guy this year Miami's offensive line must exceed expectations and he has to play a full schedule. That could be asking just a bit much. He is going to show many more signs of promise this season -- look for him to be more dependable this year. For the time being, it looks as though 2008 will be Brown's breakthrough campaign.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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