Commentary

Addai, Brown fight for playing time

Updated: August 25, 2009, 12:13 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

32 Questions

Will either Indy running back be a viable No. 2 fantasy back if both stay healthy?

Mark Costello wrote this really good novel called "Big If." It's about Secret Service protecting the vice president, and a game developer who's created this immensely popular and violent online world called (you guessed it) Big If, and I totally, utterly and absolutely recommend it. (Plus, I once met Mark Costello, and he seemed like a nice and totally decent dude.) But with all apologies to Mr. Costello, if he was going to write a book with that title, it really should've been about the Colts' backfield.

Because if both Joseph Addai and Donald Brown stay healthy, Indianapolis may have a one-two punch to rival any combo in the league. But that is, as they say, a mighty Big If.

Addai was the No. 3 or No. 4 overall pick in a heck of a lot of 2008 fantasy drafts, on the heels of a season in which he scored 15 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, he amassed just 544 rushing yards and seven scores last season while basically playing in only 10 games because of hamstring and shoulder issues. He now carries a stigma of "always being hurt," despite the fact that he was healthy throughout both '06 and '07, and as such he's sinking like a stone in fantasy drafts. At last check, Addai was going 50th overall in the average ESPN.com draft, and 22nd among running backs. That's truly a fall from grace, and a legit one. Anyone who owned Addai last year as a first-rounder has to be mighty gun shy, and the Colts themselves seem a little tired of Addai, having drafted Brown in the first round in April.

Joseph Addai & Donald Brown
AP Photo/Darron CummingsRookie Donald Brown (left) may cut into Joseph Addai's workload this season.

So clearly, if you believe in the Indy running game, your leading strategy is going to be to try to get both of these guys. That's not a huge leap. Even if you believe in Addai enough to want to own him and potentially start him, you nevertheless know that Brown is a very significant handcuff. If Addai gets hurt, Brown is the kind of all-around player with good (not great) shiftiness, good (not great) speed and good (not great) hands who'd do a fine job as an NFL leading man, especially with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Boom. You're covered in the event of an Addai injury.

But let's back up a minute. What if Addai doesn't get hurt? Should you have talked yourself into wanting to own him in the first place? After all, Brown isn't going anywhere. Each guy is a first-rounder. Each guy can do a multitude of things well. And each guy is under age 27. The Colts seem to envision a platoon of sorts, in which Addai is kept fresh enough not to repeat his disastrous and injury-ravaged '08. If that comes to fruition, will Addai be startable in fantasy leagues?

I'm kind of sticking my finger in the wind here, but I think he will. Two years ago, the knock against Addai was that he had only a 22 percent conversion rate on goal-line carries. Then, in the '07 season, he produced nine rushing touchdowns from inside the opponent's 10, and seven inside the opponent's 5. He also blasted in four of his five '08 rushing scores from inside the 3. In other words, I don't think this part of Addai's game is really in question any longer. He's a good close-in touchdown maker.

To me, that means even if he's splitting the backfield job with Brown, Addai is going to get first, second and third crack at finishing off drives with scores. And that's really what I care about if these guys are splitting the gig: Who's getting the touchdowns? Will there be weeks when the Colts don't need a goal-line back, and Addai rushes 12 times for 55 yards and no scores? Probably. But that's what happens to No. 2 fantasy rushers. If they were more consistent, they'd be No. 1 fantasy rushers. And in good weeks, even if he's not carrying the mail to the tune of 20-plus carries, he'll score once or twice, and all will be smiles.

Now, none of this is to say I love Addai this year, or that taking him is risk-free. I mean, he had a woeful 3.5 yards-per-carry average last year. Plus the Colts' offensive line has been banged up in training camp and has several question marks, not least of which is whether the two real remaining anchors (Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem) can improve on last year's so-so performances, and whether any of the kids (Charlie Johnson, Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak, Daniel Federkeil) can emerge. And besides, it's always scary having to wait to take your handcuff, and if by some happenstance someone takes Brown a couple of picks ahead of you, you could wind up a tortured soul.

But if you're able to get both rushers, my best guess is that whether Addai gets hurt or not, you'll be in relatively decent shape. If he's injured all season, well, you're probably using Brown, and feeling pretty good about it. And if he's not -- and remember, Addai's best year ('07) came when he played 15 games, had "only" 261 carries while ceding about one-third of his carries to Dominic Rhodes, and was healthy all year -- I'm guessing that the Colts use him to share carries between the 20s and to finish at goal line. That means his average draft position (to refresh, 22nd among running backs) is just about right. As a result, I think Addai just might be a legit option for the legion of fantasy owners who are threatening to take two receivers in the first two or three rounds of their drafts.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can find him at www.facebook.com/writerboy.