Thursday, July 2, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steve Slaton



Slaton is another back who people are either very high on or very wary of.

Questions about him are many: Is he too small to carry the load (ala Maurice Jones-Drew)? Will he lose carries to a second back (ala Joseph Addai)? Will he have issues if (maybe when) quarterback Matt Schaub or wide receiver Andre Johnson go down?

Let's take a look at these very valid concerns and see if they hold up and if so (or if not), what that truly means.

First of all, size. While I have been researching an article on Jones-Drew, I've taken a hard look at the sizes and weights of many NFL running backs. Slaton is a tad on the short side, although at 5'-9 I still think that's not a huge concern.

What might be a concern is his weight. Slaton rolls in as a trim (maybe slight is a better term) 203 pounds. While he isn't Darren Sproles (5-6, 181lbs!) the thin frame is worrisome.

Even Slaton knew this - that's why he added about nine pounds of muscle to help with the pounding. That pulls him closer to some of the slightly taller backs (in the 5-10 to 5-11 range) and help him with his short yardage work.

Now, as we're concerned with size, it would stand to reason the Texans would be as well. But they didn't bring in a power back to cut into Slaton's carries at all. In fact, the backs behind him consist of a fragile runner, an underperforming back who runs like Slaton, a pair of rookies and a perennial camp body.

Not really a group striking fear into Slaton's heart. Of them, most likely to succeed in any way is rookie Arian Foster, who impressed in OTAs and at 6-1, 225 pounds can fulfill the power back role. This might harm Slaton's overall touchdown total as an awful lot of his TDs were short yardage - four were a yard or less and a fifth was just two yards.

Two thoughts - one, Slaton sure seemed to be ok going short yardage and not only was he effective on the goal line, but he played well getting first downs. Could it be that Houston didn't acquire a full-on short yardage back because they believe Slaton can do it, with Brown (or now Foster) spelling him?

Alternatively, you have to be concerned that if he does loose his goal-line attempts, his touchdown totals are decimated.

Slaton did have about seven 40+ runs, though, including one over 71 yards which resulted in a touchdown. He can break away from tacklers and if the offense is more consistent, that could offset any loss in the short yardage game.

Still, most of his ten touchdowns were short yardage. So it definitely could be a problem.

Finally, there is the concern that if Johnson or Schaub goes down with an injury, Slaton could face too many defenses selling out to stop him.

Well, with Schaub on the bench injured and Sage Rosenfels striking fear into the hearts of nobody, Slaton performed pretty well for the most part last season.

While the depth behind Schaub is even more shaky this year (Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman - WOO HOO!), I still expect Slaton to play as well as he did last year and with another year under his belt, have the potential to be even better.

Overall, Slaton ran the ball well throughout the 2008 season. He had some good games against good run defenses (Minnesota), some ok run defenses (Jacksonville) and some bad run defenses (Detroit, Green Bay & Indianapolis).

He also had some disappointing games against poor run defenses (Cleveland) and some great run defenses (Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore). That's to be expected from a rookie. This year he needs a little more consistency before he is considered a true stud.

Overall, I like Slaton quite a bit this year.

I think he will not lose much in the way of carries or targets and has already said he feels like he knows what his coaches want and how to achieve it. I think he has no more or less questions than any back in front or behind him, has no real challengers for carries and I believe the offensive line has continued to improve over time.

His questions are very real, however, and must be considered when drafting him.

If Slaton stays healthy and the offense plays well, he has the opportunity to not only crack the top ten again, but potentially the top five as well.

The risk is; with just one season to look over we don't know if last year was the rule - or the exception.

And that risk will keep him from the top of a lot of people's Fantasy Draft boards.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: DeAngelo Williams


DeAngelo Williams

How can I NOT have him earlier will be the cry - and it doesn't matter where he ranks. If it isn't top 3, it won't matter. Some folks will be bent out of shape.

Those cries have a case - Williams finally exploded last season and Carolina Head Coach John Fox loves his veterans - usually to the point of benching a more talented rookie.

He might not even have to even make that choice this year as Williams seems to be poised for potentially another great season while second year RB Jonathan Stewart hasn’t stepped up yet to become lead back. And wow is that offensive line adept at opening holes for Panther backs to run through.

Yet even though the offense runs the ball a lot (504 attempts last season) will they duplicate the amount of carries from 2008 in 2009?

Stewart pitched in with 10 touchdowns and even while battling an early injury he played well last season. Rookie Mike Goodson might see some work too. As much as they do run there still should be plenty to go around but it also means they will need to spell Williams. How much? And if they don't will he burn out after two heavy carry seasons?

Finally, we have to wonder: was what we saw last year the reality - or a one shot deal?
Will he be able to repeat his 2008 performance? We've had one year wonders before - and many teams who grabbed them too early in the first regretted it later in the season.

I like Williams, don't get me wrong. But I'm not sure I like him enough to take him with a top five pick like many are suggesting.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Matt Forte


Matt Forte
Another guy who people will argue should/could be in the top 3 but I can't go there.

Yes, fantastic first year. And the offense looks like it is about to step it up. But that doesn't mean Forte will get even better.

Why? Well, for several reasons. First of all, his YPC was a pedestrian 3.9 and he'll need to improve that to continue to put up numbers, especially since his carries will probably drop as Cutler throws more than Orton did.

Speaking of Cutler - while his arm will open things up for the run game (even with mediocre wide receivers) a ton of Forte's 63 receptions were checkdowns by the quarterback. Cutler doesn't play that way - he much more often forces a throw down-field.

So I think it is hard to expect close to the receiving numbers He threw just 61 TARGETS to backs in 2008. Not receptions - TARGETS. (In fairness to the 'numbers' game - he threw at running backs 81 times in 2007.)

The Bears' offensive line is not as good as Denver's, his receivers aren't close and the defense should keep it close. Still, they didn't trade the house for Cutler to hand Forte the ball, regardless of the young RB's talent.

Once again, this points to at least a slight dip in Forte's production. I just don't know how big it goes.

If the Bears defense cannot hold the line, it could be a big dip as Cutler throws to his less-than-stud receivers to come from behind. Or it could just be a little regression as the team transitions into a more passing team.

But until I see the offense in action - and by action I don't mean t-shirts and shorts - I can't say what it will look like. So I don't want to invest a huge risk by grabbing him before some of the guys prior to him on the list.

He'll land in the top 10. I just don't expect a repeat of his top 3 ranking from 2008.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Maurice Jones-Drew


Maurice Jones-Drew
One of the most divisive backs in fantasy right now, Maurice Jones-Drew is a fantastic athlete whose strength and speed belies his size.

But questions still plague him.

He’s never carried the rock as the feature back, not even in college. And as much as he is tough, will he wear down if the Titans do use him as the bell cow? Or conversely, will they spell him a bunch with Greg Jones and Rashard Jennings?

MJD should put up nice numbers, especially in a PPR league but he’s going as the second – in some cases FIRST – Rb off the board in some drafts.

I haven’t even gotten to the revamped offensive line, though I think it will be healthy and capable this season. But they'll be rolling out a pair of rookies and while some of that could be merely for depth, they really collapsed fast in 2008.

In their defense, you can't have what they went through happen and not collapse. Once Richard Collier was shot and paralyzed, the fact they even pulled it together when they did is pretty gutty.

The passing attack appears to also be a big question mark at first glance. But Tory Holt alone is better than anyone on the roster last year, save the departed Matt Jones. And the two draft picks of Jake Dillard and Mike Thomas have looked good enough in tees and shorts to allow Dennis Northcutt to be traded.

Still, Garrard seemed to plateau last season and if he cannot get a little more going on, MJD might start finding his running lanes clogged.

While I think Jones-Drew has the talent, there are many questions I have about him. To many to take him earlier than where he is at five.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Steven Jackson


Steven Jackson
I have decided that Jackson is the perfect Fantasy Football Illusion. We all treat him as if he’s a stud and yet he’s only been in the top 10 fantasy-wise once in his five year career.

So what exactly is keeping him ranked this high year after year? Well for starters he DOES produce well despite missing games and suffering through terrible offensive lines and injured QBs. He can catch the ball, break a big run and fight for hard yards.

But the risk is he has only finished a full season once – in 2006 which was the year he was a top fantasy player. That’s telling – but so is how much he’s been hurt.

He’s also facing another season with a questionable Oline and now has a very young and/or inexperienced wide receivers for a weakening Bulger to throw to.

Jackson once again is a back with a ton of potential – but will it be reached or is it merely an illusion we chase every season?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Ladainian Tomlinson


CURVE BALL. Instead of the number three back, I pull out old LT2 who I think is NOT dead yet.

Here's why:

Ladainian Tomlinson
I always love movies where some guy is counted out - be it in the boxing ring, a classroom, a board room - the comeback story is a favorite.

Maybe that's why I'm higher on LT than many others. I think Tomlinson has another year - at least - in him and will put up solid numbers this year.

By all reports he's healthy, so he won't be starting the season banged up as he did last year. Now staying healthy - that's the trick and at LT's age, it might be no mean feat. Also a question is the play of the offensive line, which was borderline criminal last season and left LT, Darren Sproles and Phillip Rivers exposed to mad abuse.

That certainly didn't help Tomlinson's numbers.

A lack of a pure blocking fullback hurt as well. That also remains a question mark though Jacob Hester's blocking improved as last season wore on.

Still I believe LT has at least one last hurrah in him and in fact will benefit in getting spelled for some carries by Sproles. He's on the mat, bruised and battered by the pundits and I think the story ends with him getting up one last time and sending those pundits to the mat.

Running Back Blurb Breakdown: Michael Turner



Michael Turner

Turner is a good news/bad news guy.

Good News: Tony Gonzalez is here to stretch the defense and add his skills for third downs.

Bad News: Tony Gonzalez is here to steal red zone TDs and third down yardage.

In other (potential) bad news, you also have to assume he won’t repeat the 377 carries which could dip his numbers. If they try to run him that often again, I would worry about burn-out and injury.

Some of that depends upon how he spent his off-season. If he got some rest while working to stay in shape, he should be good to go. But if he pushed too hard and didn't give his body time to recover, last season may hurt him a bit.

Still in a non-ppr league, he’ll put up great numbers. He drops in a PPR league, though as he gets no catches. Don't believe me? Last season he hit his career total – of 6.

He’s still a top back, but in point per reception leagues he won’t put up quite the numbers Jackson or a few other backs would.

But in standard scoring leagues, Turner is a solid bet to end up in the top five.