- Ken Daube, Fantasy Football
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If you are one of the roughly 20 percent of fantasy footballers who can claim participation in a title game this week, I offer my congratulations to you. While this season has been primarily a success for yours truly (hello plasma TV!), I believe that this time of the year offers the perfect opportunity for some reflection on this season.
To that end, I've ranked all 32 teams by fantasy points-per-game derived on the ground. Without scrolling down, see if you can name the top five. I tried to do it before crunching the numbers and was correct on only two of the five. That type of miss, in my book, points to the conclusion that assumptions need to be revisited and proved true or false. Otherwise, misconceptions will continue to foster and will therefore negatively impact preseason evaluations for 2008.
Minnesota Vikings: While there will be a segment of the fantasy community that will push for Adrian Peterson to be the No. 1 overall pick next season, there are many things that need to happen for it to be the wise choice. First, the Vikings have to not go out and get a more reliable option at quarterback (read: Donovan McNabb) and they will have to cut or trade Chester Taylor.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor is now the only person ranked in the top 49 in career rushing yardage to never make a Pro Bowl (he's 17th). Taylor deserved to go this year and is a major reason why the Jaguars rushing attack has been so prolific this season. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Taylor shares a backfield with Maurice Jones-Drew.
San Diego Chargers: Two words. LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tennessee Titans:This was the most surprising team of the bunch. Behind the stalwart trio of Chris Brown, Chris Henry and LenDale White, aided by the mobile Vince Young, the Titans produce the fourth-highest fantasy points via the running game. If Brown is let go at the end of the season, look for the Henry and White tandem to produce on a similar level as Taylor and Jones-Drew. The benefit for you will be that you can wait an extra round or two to grab a Titan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Earnest Graham is a fantasy stud. I can't believe I wrote that anymore than you can believe that you just read it. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the past six weeks.
Indianapolis Colts: Joseph Addai's ascension to the elite level of running backs may not be as complete as some would expect. While his current fantasy point production screams elite, his 3.1 yards per carry in his past six games is cause for concern and could lead the Colts to consider going back to a time-share next season.
New York Giants: While Brandon Jacobs hasn't been the model of health, his yards-per-carry average is impressive. Reuben Droughns has been fantastic in short yardage situations. Couple those two with Derrick Ward showing signs of being an all-around back and it's clear that the G-Men have three solid options with which to roll next season. Good for the Giants, bad for fantasy.
Oakland Raiders: How amazing is it that a team that has featured LaMont Jordan and Justin Fargas is among the top teams in the league is this metric? Next season, this job is likely to belong is Michael Bush. He'll likely be pimped by many next year simply because he'll be the presumptive starter, he should be pimped because of how good the running opportunities will be in Oakland.
New England Patriots: For as frustrating as Laurence Maroney has been to fantasy owners, Sammy Morris was one of the biggest surprises of the year. While I believe that it's highly unlikely that the Patriots will select Darren McFadden with the first round pick they acquired from the San Francisco 49ers, if by some chance they do, look for McFadden to have an "All Day" Adrian Peterson-type of impact.
Philadelphia Eagles: While Brian Westbrook's decision to fall down at the one may have been the single biggest smart-real-life-play to impact the fantasy world, Westbrook owners should count their blessings for having him this season. Remember, he likely was drafted after Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, Shaun Alexander and Frank Gore. If one of them had slipped to you, you likely would have considered yourself "fortunate."
Dallas Cowboys: While many expect the Cowboys to finally move to a one-back system next year, those thoughts are premature. Julius Jones has performed well and Marion Barber hasn't been steady enough to allow for this Super Bowl contender to overhaul their offensive philosophy.
Cleveland Browns: I've loved Jamal Lewis all season long and I'm not about to back off of it now. He was smart by signing a one-year deal that now essentially forces Cleveland to resign him. Look for his leverage in upcoming negotiations to only increase during the next two weeks as he shreds the defensively inept Bengals and 49ers.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Parker may be the one of the biggest fantasy enigmas in a long time. He ranks as the 12th-highest scoring running back, but owners expected much more than the two touchdowns he has provided. Parker figures to be slotted into a "between the 10s"- type of running back next season.
Washington Redskins: Did everyone catch that Ladell Betts sighting on Sunday night? Not exactly the season that most projected for him. With Joe Gibbs set to return, look for Clinton Portis to be a top-15 running back again next season.
Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan plus Travis Henry was supposed to equal fantasy greatness. Instead, Shanahan ran his favorite play: start the unknown and ride him instead. Someday we'll all learn. But hey, you got to like Selvin Young next year, right?
Miami Dolphins: The loss of Ronnie Brown turned into the loss of fantasy production for the Miami running game. While Brown will likely be the starter on opening day next season, remember that it normally takes more than a full year for a player to completely rehab from the type of injury that Brown suffered. Allow someone else to overpay for a player who won't be 100 percent next season.
Baltimore Ravens: Willis McGahee ran with purpose all season and rewarded those who took him by posting double-digit scores every week except one. Look for the Ravens to bring it another veteran quarterback to get the offense and for McGahee to build on this year's success.
New Orleans Saints: Since his biggest plus is his receiving skills, fantasy owners should ignore this metric when it comes to evaluating Reggie Bush.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills spent their first round pick on Marshawn Lynch and figure to finish in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing production.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers signed undrafted free agent Ryan Grant and figure to finish in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing production. And that's why NFL teams shouldn't invest high picks in running backs.
Detroit Lions: Did anyone expect a Mike Martz-guided offense who opened the season with Tatum Bell as its starting running back to really feature a good rushing attack?
Cincinnati Bengals: Fantasy bust: thy name is Rudi Johnson. It'll be interesting to see if Rudi is back in orange and black next year. While most would expect it to be a no-brainer that he would be, intense media pressure exists in Cincy for the team to turn to Kenny Irons.
New York Jets: Thomas Jones has 17 rushes inside the opponent's five-yard line and just one touchdown. Maybe the Chicago Bears knew what they were doing when they traded him to the Jets. Yeah, I know, that seems unrealistic, but I did say maybe.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore has touchdowns in just three games this season. I think that says it all.
Arizona Cardinals: The injury to Matt Leinart forced the Cards to turn to Kurt Warner which allowed them to open up their offensive attack. While Edgerrin James has been solid, his value will be limited if Warner returns next season as the starting quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks: While some consider Maurice Morris as a pleasant surprise, the Seattle offense this year has been all Matt Hasselbeck and his crew of receivers du jour. Unless Shaun Alexander has a miraculous recovery from what has been ailing him, look for more of the same next season.
St. Louis Rams: It was a lost season for the Rams rushing attack. I know others live by the handcuff-your-studs theory; however, what good is it if there's nothing positive to be gained? Brian Leonard is a nice player; loved him at Rutgers. But in terms of fantasy relevance, he's no Steven Jackson.
Atlanta Falcons: Last season, the Falcons ranked first in the league by averaging 183 rushing yards per game. This season, they average 92 yards per game. Say what you want about his lack of passing skills, but Michael Vick's impact at quarterback was significant.
Chicago Bears: Remember all those clamoring for Adrian Peterson
to surpass Cedric Benson? I'm guessing you won't get this update from them: In his past two games Peterson is averaging 2.3 yards per carry. Benson isn't good enough to be a starter, but neither is Peterson.
Kansas City Chiefs: No Larry Johnson equaled no fantasy production from the Chiefs' running game.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for espn.com.
Ken Daube looks at which teams offered the most fantasy rushing production on the ground this season, and what it means for next season's potential running-back draftees.