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.
Where do you draft Clinton Portis, or Ladell Betts, for that matter?
Hail to the Redskins.
Braves on the Warpath.
Fight for ol' D.C.
Those are the words they sing when the Redskins score a touchdown and by "they" I really mean "me." I've been a fan since I was 5, will still be one when I die and in 2006 I sang the song seven times in the first eight Redskins games after Clinton Portis scored a touchdown. The yards were down, but Portis was scoring, so folks were generally happy with their Portis draft pick.
Then, he was out for the year and Ladell Betts took over as the starter and was a lot better than Portis. Now, we head into 2007 with a bunch of questions about the Redskins' backfield, specifically: How early do you draft Clinton Portis this year?
This question is all Ladell Betts' fault. He finished the season with 1,599 total yards and five touchdowns. His 4.7 yards per carry was a lot better than Portis' 4.1. In fact, it was better than all but nine fantasy running backs (I'm not counting Michael Vick, Vince Young, Jerious Norwood or Michael Turner).
And Betts finished strong. After Portis went down, Betts became the every-down back people weren't sure he could become. In the last eight games, Betts had 1,093 total yards and four touchdowns and carried a lot of fantasy teams in the second half of the season. ESPN Fantasy Football Hall of Fame worthy, no?
Like his fantasy owners, the Redskins liked what they saw and signed him to a big deal in the offseason, leading to speculation that Portis would be traded. Well, it didn't happen, so in addition to more wacky outfits from Portis, we also have a running back by committee. Yes, make no mistake, Portis is the starter, but they didn't give $11 million to Betts to have him be a third-down back. Expect a lot of two-back sets, splitting of carries and lots of frustration.
So what do you do with Portis? The talent is unquestioned, but he's played all 16 games in a season only twice in a five year career. There are questions at the quarterback position with Jason Campbell's relative inexperience. And there's the whole Betts thing.
So, let's write Portis off, shall we? Well, not so fast, cowboy.
The questions at quarterback are actually a benefit to Portis, as the Redskins will want to run more to take pressure off Campbell. And that before you include the fact that Gibbs always has (or at least tries to have) a strong run game. An improved offensive line and another year in an Al Saunders offense bode well for a Portis bounce back. Forty-five of the Redskins' 75 red zone touchdowns over the last three years were scored by running backs, so Portis certainly will get some looks inside the 20. Especially because he holds on to the ball a lot better than Betts. Portis has coughed it up only once every 86 attempts, while Betts lays it down once every 63 attempts.
Portis is also the better fit for the attacking Saunders offense as he is much more of a big-play threat. Betts is more of a grinder, whereas Portis is a threat to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball. A game breaker, if you will.
All that said, however, one fact remains constant. Success in fantasy is about minimizing risk. You take your fliers in the middle rounds, but with your first two picks you want to play it as safe as possible. To get Portis this year, you're probably going to need to take him sometime toward the end of the second round. There are way too many question marks for Portis coming into this season to warrant taking him as your No. 2.
Ladell Betts, however, makes a great value pick. He lasted until the sixth round in the 12-team ESPN mock draft we held for the magazine, and unless you owned him, you didn't realize just how dominant Betts was down the stretch. Despite his being a full-time back for only half of the season, there were only 11 running backs with more rushing yards in all of last year and, with more work, Betts actually improved his YPC to 4.8 in that span
Marion Barber, Maurice Jones-Drew, Laurence Maroney, Joseph Addai, Deuce McAllister were all drafted as the "second" running back from their team last year (and in the case of Jones-Drew, not even drafted at all). They more or less all ended up being better fantasy options that their teammates.
The bottom line: Betts should be one of the first "back-up" running backs taken and if you can get Betts in sixth round this year, he is going to return terrific value.
And then you too can sing along.
Hail to the Redskins ...