- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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When you're the Super Bowl champs, you can try some new things with your offense and get away with it. I mean, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, so who can say going to a running back committee at least three deep in 2008 is wrong?
We have seen running back platoons or timeshares -- whatever you want to call them -- over the years, including during the 2007 season. It makes sense, too, to give multiple deserving running backs enough carries to motivate them and keep each other healthy, though fantasy owners abhor this, since it means fewer statistics. The Jaguars and Vikings jump to mind. If only the unrelated Fred Taylor and Chester Taylor had been out of the way last season, who knows how good Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson could have been, right? As it was, they weren't bad.
Of course, the reality is coaches couldn't care less about your fantasy teams. Giants coach Tom Coughlin -- make that Super Bowl-winning Giants coach Tom Coughlin -- entrusts his offense to coordinator Kevin Gilbride, and this tasty little morsel about a committee system came out of Giants camp earlier this week on the team's Web site: "Each of [the running backs] has their strengths and areas that you like to take advantage of," Gilbride said, referring to Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward. "They really serve as a nice complement to each other."
To Giants fans, still celebrating a shocking championship, it probably doesn't matter who carries the football. To fantasy owners, it matters a great deal. All three of these guys played key roles in the title-winning season; Ward was among the NFL's leading rushers into October, Bradshaw was critical in the final weeks and in January, and Jacobs, of course, led the team in rushing and should be the team's prime fantasy star. We shouldn't overreact to this news, because riding the hot hand could still mean Jacobs gets 20 carries per week and scores double-digit touchdowns, but it could also make each week a guessing game to fantasy owners, not knowing which running back will be featured.
Jacobs remains a bit of a tease to fantasy owners because he has the size and speed to be a top-10 running back. He has a knack for the end zone and is difficult to tackle. Then again, durability has been a problem, and the Giants hardly relied on Jacobs during their Super Bowl run. Bradshaw played a major role, and his carries could have gone to Ward had he not broken his leg in Week 13. Jacobs ended up topping 1,000 yards and averaging 5.0 yards per carry, while Ward averaged 4.8 yards per rush. Bradshaw, thanks to 151 rushing yards in Week 16 at Buffalo, averaged 8.3 yards per carry. As a team, the Giants were fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, behind only the Vikings, Jaguars and Steelers. Is it coincidence two of those teams had shared running back situations, and the Steelers are likely going to this strategy this season? No, it is not, and it could be the wave of the future.
Those few of you holding on to Reuben Droughns in keeper leagues can probably move on. Speculation from Giants camp is that he might not even stick with the team. In theory, going three deep with regular running backs would ease the load on those guys and mean the team's fourth running back wouldn't need to be such an experienced player. The Giants can save money on their fourth running back since he figures to rarely see the field.
So far in mock drafts I've participated in Jacobs has been the first Giant off the board, as he should be, generally in round three. However, if there is any threat of a timeshare, it would be difficult to select him in this round moving forward, since you'd have to rely on him to start each week to justify that pick. Bradshaw and Ward are normally drafted as well, but far later. Personally, I think Bradshaw has the edge over Ward and could be an important fantasy option, maybe the Chester Taylor of this team. Fantasy owners would have to upgrade each of the supposed backups in case they play a larger role. Jacobs would be hard-pressed to pile on the yards if his carries are cut into, but the Giants would likely stick with him near the goal line.
Coaches say crazy things every July, so who really knows if the running back committee will come to fruition, but let's just say if you're drafting next week, and Jacobs is on the board in the third round, you might want to consider letting someone else deal with this situation. Nobody ever seems to target Edgerrin James, for example, but is he sharing carries?
Maybe Peyton Manning is a quick healer, and his recent knee surgery won't cause him to miss any regular season games or be rusty early in the season. But shouldn't we at least consider the possibility Manning either isn't ready or struggles? Colleague Christopher Harris touched on this topic in this space a week ago and said he wouldn't drop Manning down his draft list at all, and injury expert Stephania Bell doesn't seem too worried about Manning's short-term fantasy status, so I won't worry either, but fantasy owners should keep an eye on his progress. The Colts signed Jared Lorenzen and Quinn Gray -- that's Super Bowl-winning backup Jared Lorenzen to you and me -- to one-year contracts this week, though it's unclear if either will threaten Jim Sorgi for the No. 2 QB job. Everyone in the fantasy community hopes it doesn't matter who the No. 2 QB is, because it doesn't merely affect Manning, but the entire offense.
Unhappy wide receiver Anquan Boldin has broken off contract negotiations with the Cardinals, and his plan is to find a new team to play for when his current deal ends. So, is it one more year? Um, no. Two years? Boldin's deal ends after the 2010 season! Fantasy owners need not worry about Boldin, but it's a good thing he'll be plenty motivated not just this season, but for the next three.
Devin Hester is holding out of Chicago Bears training camp because he will earn a paltry $445,000 this season, and wants to be paid like a wide receiver, not a kick returner. It's tough to sympathize with the guy, though Hester was set to run with the first-team offense and become a lot more fantasy relevant. "I have to make a statement," Hester said of his holdout. "I just felt like they weren't taking it seriously that I wanted a new deal. I can't go out and play this year making $445,000. Come on, man." Yeah, really, come on, man, $445,000 is just whack. Anyway, most holdout situations eventually get worked out, and Hester has a lot to gain from being in camp, like learning how to play wide receiver. Hester is currently being drafted as the 40th wide receiver in ESPN live drafts. If we knew he had a full camp and would start, you'd have to move him up draft lists.
Washington Redskins rookie Devin Thomas, arguably the top wide receiver in the recent draft, was carted off the practice field Thursday with a right hamstring injury. Since the Redskins' top wide receivers have dealt with injuries as well, Thomas has opportunity this season, but missing the next few weeks will give others, like fellow rook Malcolm Kelly, a chance to pass him. Jason Campbell needs all the weapons he can get, especially in this West Coast offense new coach Jim Zorn brings with him.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall hasn't had the cleanest offseason, that's for sure, but he's talented and currently being drafted in the top 50. Would you still draft him in round six if you knew he'd miss the first month of the season serving a suspension? It's just speculation, of course, but Marshall, who has been arrested numerous times, could be suspended due to the league's conduct policy. Just something to watch.
Eric Karabell is a senior fantasy writer for ESPN.com. You can contact him here.
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