New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians says of Willie Parker, "I don't wanthim on the bench unless he's tired." That's good news for fantasy owners.The 209-pound Parker will give up some carries to 247-pound NajehDavenport--but not necessarily at the goal line. Parker had 10¬†touchdownruns from inside the five last year; Davenport had one. Carey Davis, athird-year player from Illinois, is the front-runner for the third spot.
Projected split:PARKER, 80%; DAVENPORT, 15%; DAVIS, 5%
With the departure of Thomas Jones to the Jets, Cedric Benson will get thechance to carry the load the way he did at Texas--but has yet to do in two NFLseasons. Here's a promising sign: In camp Benson showed previously untappedability as a receiver. Backup Adrian Peterson, despite averaging 4.7¬†yardsover his five-year career, should see only spot duty, while Garrett Wolfe, aspeedy third-round pick out of Northern Illinois, isn't expected to play asignificant role in the rotation.
Projected split:BENSON, 80%; PETERSON, 12%; WOLFE, 8%
The coaching staff hopes to limit Frank Gore (right) to just 25 touches a gamethis season, but they may have trouble doing it, given what he means to theiroffense. A broken right hand, which he suffered early in training camp, mightlimit the third-year player early, but over the season Gore--the best thing tohappen to San¬†Francisco in years--is still a lock to dominate the ball.Second-year man Michael Robinson, the converted Penn State quarterback, willcome in to provide a different look.
Projected split:GORE, 90%; ROBINSON, 10%
Michael Turner gained 6.3 yards per carry as a backup in 2006 and could starton most teams. But he's stuck behind LaDainian Tomlinson (above), who set theNFL TD mark last year with 31. Sure, there has been talk that new coach NorvTurner will implement a two-back set, but that's just talk. As for an injurythat might open the door for Turner, LT hasn't missed a game for health reasonsin his six seasons.
Projected split:TOMLINSON, 85%; TURNER, 15%
In 2006 Larry Johnson set the NFL record for carries with 416 and had thehighest percentage of rushes (88.5) among his team's backs in the AFC. ShouldJohnson settle the contract dispute that has kept him out of training camp, hewill near those heights again; the rest of the touches will go to fifth-roundpick Kolby Smith, a perimeter runner out of Louisville, and burner MichaelBennett. Priest Holmes, attempting to return from a neck injury at 33, would bemore of a factor if this were 2003.
Projected split:JOHNSON, 75%; SMITH, 15%; BENNETT, 10%
It hasn't been a platoon system as much as coach Andy Reid's pass-firstphilosophy that has held down Brian Westbrook's attempts. But Reid discoveredthe virtues of the running game last year after QB Donovan McNabb'sseason-ending injury in Game 10, and Westbrook, 27, should get more work thanever. Correll Buckhalter is a clear backup. If there's a wild card, it'sthird-round choice Tony Hunt from Penn State, a strong inside runner who couldbe a candidate for goal line carries.
Projected split:WESTBROOK, 85%; BUCKHALTER, 12%; HUNT, 3%
As the backup to Dominic Rhodes in 2006, Joseph Addai became the first rusherto surpass 1,000 yards without starting a single game. Now Rhodes is inOakland, and Addai is the only back on the Indianapolis roster with an NFLcarry. Coach Tony Dungy will again feature two backs, but this time Addai isthe clear No.¬†1, and DeDe Dorsey, a special teams player in '06, is hiswingman. Rookies Kenton Keith of New Mexico State and Luke Lawton from McNeeseState will fight for scraps.
Projected split:ADDAI, 70%; DORSEY, 25%; KEITH/LAWTON, 5%
Shaun Alexander will be 30 this season and had a broken left foot last year,but that's not going to stop coach Mike Holmgren from giving him the ball 350times this season--his average number of rushing attempts between 2003 and '05.When healthy, Alexander has been a model of consistency; even his capableunderstudy, Maurice Morris, would probably choose Shaun for his fantasyteam.
Projected split:ALEXANDER, 80%; MORRIS, 20%
New coach Ken Whisenhunt is committed to running the ball, and his offensecould generate as many as 500¬†team carries--Arizona's 2006 total of 419was 26th in the league. Edgerrin James should get about 300 of those attempts,but if the ground game moves the chains the way the former Steelers coordinatorenvisions, backups Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington will get plenty of chancestoo.
Projected split:JAMES, 60%; SHIPP, 25%; ARRINGTON, 15%
In an effort to keep new acquisition Willis McGahee fresh--Brian Billickusually gives his lead backs in the neighborhood of 300 carries--the Ravenscoach will distribute the workload among Musa Smith and, in short-yardagesituations, Mike Anderson. Still, McGahee is so good on sweeps, he'll remainthe runner of choice in the red zone. Also, he's the best receiver of thebunch.
Projected split:MCGAHEE, 75%; SMITH, 15%; ANDERSON, 10%
A Jamal Lewis fan would explain the running back's decline in Baltimore bypointing out that he lacked a fullback and split carries with Chester Taylorfor two years. Here Lewis won't have to share the rock much, and he'll getblocking from the talented Lawrence Vickers. Even if Lewis struggles, he won'tlikely lose many touches to fourth-year back Jason Wright, who hasn't made muchof his limited opportunities.
Projected split:LEWIS, 80%; WRIGHT, 10%; VICKERS, 10%
Cam Cameron was never one to spread carries around when he was inSan¬†Diego, where he served as offensive coordinator from 2002 to '06. InMiami, the rookie coach will ask Ronnie Brown (left) to fill the LaDainianTomlinson role, which should result in 400¬†carries and 40¬†receptionsfor the third-year back. Cameron will deploy small-but-quick rookie LorenzoBooker, a third-round pick from Florida State, in a relief role, much as heused Michael Turner while he was with the Chargers.
Projected split:BROWN, 80%; BOOKER, 20%
Since Corey Dillon left Cincinnati three years ago, Rudi Johnson (left) hasbeen the man, getting 87% of the RB carries. The Bengals had hoped to mix it upmore this year after finishing 26th in rushing in 2006, but a preseason ACLinjury to second-round pick Kenny Irons has complicated those plans. VeteranKenny Watson will still get third-down work, while practice-squadder QuincyWilson now seems the likely option for the third slot.
Projected split:JOHNSON, 75%; OTHERS, 25%
Steven Jackson proved last year that he's a genuine workhorse, carrying theball 346¬†times, catching 90¬†passes, scoring 16 TDs and missing onlypart of one game. This year coach Scott Linehan will ask Jackson to shouldermuch the same load; expect Brian Leonard, a second-round pick out of Rutgers,to be used primarily as a blocker and pass catcher in two-back sets, spellingJackson only on rare occasions.
Projected split:JACKSON, 90%; LEONARD, 10%
Be smart and steerclear of these highly problematic rotations
The league's most confounding platoon of 2006 won't be any easier to read in'07. Last year Marion Barber took away starter Julius Jones's third-down andshort-yardage carries while scoring 16 touchdowns--including an NFC-leading 14rushing TDs. In '07 he will get more looks on first and second downs. Bothbacks will put up decent season stats, but as long as they're dividing thecarries, owners will run the week-to-week risk of getting burned.
Projected split:JONES, 60%; BARBER, 40%
It's a fantasy nightmare: The oft-injured, 31-year-old Fred Taylor returns toclaim the starting job once again. How long before Maurice Jones-Drew, thesuperior receiver and the greater goal line threat, takes over? A change couldcome in Week¬†2--or Week¬†17. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetterpromises to throw more too, so there will be fewer carries to go around. Andfullback Greg Jones, after missing all of 2006 with a knee injury, is back todevalue everyone else in the red zone.
Projected split:TAYLOR, 50%; JONES-DREW, 40%; JONES, 10%
Neither DeShaun Foster (above) nor DeAngelo Williams has put together a1,000-yard season, and it's unlikely that either one will in 2007. Foster, afive-year veteran, tops the depth chart and will have the bulk of the carriesas the season begins, but by midseason the balance could easily tip towardWilliams, a second-year player who cuts better and should excel in Carolina'snew zone-blocking scheme.
Projected split:FOSTER, 60%; WILLIAMS, 40%
This doesn't look like fun. Incumbent Chester Taylor and rookie Adrian Petersonshould divide the duties fairly equally--although Peterson is expected to getmore work close to the goal line, where Taylor (six TDs) was unspectacular lastyear. Mewelde Moore, who caught 46¬†balls in 2006, will also compete fortime. With so much uncertainty, the best hope for fantasy owners is that theVikings become this year's Saints, who had two strong and reasonably consistentfantasy running backs in '06.
Projected split:TAYLOR, 45%; PETERSON, 45%; MOORE, 10%
Coach Dick Jauron has said time and again during the off-season that he'scommitted to using a committee. Just what fantasy players love to hear.Marshawn Lynch, the 12th pick out of Cal, will get first crack at the top spot.If he stumbles, Jauron will give more work to Anthony Thomas, whom he coachedfor three decent seasons in Chicago (and a less-than-decent one in Buffalo lastyear). Rookie Dwayne Wright, a fourth-round pick from Fresno State, will fillin as a short-yardage specialist.
Projected split:LYNCH, 60%; THOMAS, 30%; WRIGHT, 10%
Predicting Atlanta's platoon promised to be difficult even before Warrick Dunninjured his back, keeping him out of training camp; he's due to return foropening week. With Dunn, the projected starter, in his 11th season, sidelined,flashy second-year back Jerious Norwood has received the bulk of the reps infirst-year coach Bobby Petrino's offense--putting Norwood in position to gobbleup even more of Dunn's carries.
Projected split:DUNN, 60%; NORWOOD, 40%
Where to start? Or better yet, whom to start? The short-term answer is simple:LaMont Jordan will bear the load while Dominic Rhodes serves a four-gamesuspension. And when Rhodes is back? New coach Lane Kiffin will employ thedreaded one-two punch, giving more carries to whoever's hotter. Rhodes's returnwill also push aside rookie Michael Bush from Louisville and veteran JustinFargas.
Projected split:JORDAN, 45%; RHODES, 40%; FARGAS, 10%; BUSH, 5%
The starter's job is LenDale White's to lose--and there's a strong chance he'lllose it. Coach Jeff Fisher prefers to ride one back, and White fits his styleperfectly. But there are questions about White's weight, health (he tweaked ahamstring in May) and practice habits. Behind White is Chris Brown, aninjury-prone veteran, and second-round pick Chris Henry from Arizona, who hadfewer than 200¬†carries in college.
Projected split:WHITE, 65%; BROWN, 25%; HENRY, 10%
Vernand Morency was set to be the guy here, but by missing camp with a kneeinjury he has given Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick from Nebraska, achance to impress coaches--and to cloud the picture for fantasy owners. So farthe 5' 10", 212-pound Jackson has simply looked better around the goalline. Noah Herron will earn playing time because he catches well and is thebest pass blocker of the three.
Projected split:MORENCY, 60%; JACKSON, 25%; HERRON, 15%
These platoonsaren't terrible--or terribly predictable, either
Say this about Brandon Jacobs: He's one starter who won't be replaced aroundthe goal line. After being New York's short-yardage back for the past two yearsbehind now-retired Tiki Barber, the 264-pound Jacobs will have a chance to showwhat he can do in the feature role. But Reuben Droughns, picked up fromCleveland after two years as a starter there, will be a more active relieverthan Jacobs's fantasy owners might like.
Projected split:JACOBS, 70%; DROUGHNS, 30%
If Ahman Green is too old (30) or too injury-prone (13 missed games in twoyears) to take on the 25 carries per game expected of him in Houston, he isn'tshowing it. Signed as a free agent from the Packers, Green has been naggingcoach Gary Kubiak all summer long to practice during both halves of the team'stwo-a-day practices, which not all vets do there. Even if Green provesreinvigorated, 245-pound Ron Dayne will take some of the goal line carries, andWali Lundy and Samkon Gado are slated for mop-up duty.
Projected split:GREEN, 60%; DAYNE, 25%; LUNDY, 10%; GADO, 5%
Can one backfield support two strong fantasy backs in Deuce McAllister andReggie Bush (above)? This is the rare case where the answer is yes, in largepart because Bush, who had 88 catches last year, does so well in the passinggame. Only the backs' fluctuating production from week to week keeps this frombeing a dream scenario. The duo will share time much as they did last year,with either veteran Aaron Stecker or rookie Antonio Pittman from Ohio Statepicking up the slack.
Projected split:MCALLISTER, 50%; BUSH, 45%; STECKER/PITTMAN, 5%
Thomas Jones shared many fantasy owners' frustrations over his time-share inChicago. Now he's in New York, where no back had more than 35% of the team'scarries in 2006. Jones will again be the lead rusher, but he'll give up somecarries to backup Leon Washington. After showing an impressive burst in hisfirst season, Washington is the lone holdover from the Jets' three-back attacklast year. Undrafted rookie Alvin Banks, a power runner from James Madison,will inherit some of the departed Cedric Houston's goal line carries.
Projected split:JONES, 65%; WASHINGTON, 30%; BANKS, 5%
Roles have been clarified in New¬†England, but buyer beware. The exit ofCorey Dillon has cleared the way for Laurence Maroney, but the second-year backis recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Behind Maroney are SammyMorris, the capable former Dolphin, and skilled receiver Kevin Faulk, afavorite of coach Bill Belichick's. Who really knows which one Belichick willcall on from game to game.
Projected split:MARONEY, 65%; MORRIS, 20%; FAULK, 10%; HEATH EVANS, 5%
Tatum Bell, acquired from the Broncos in a trade, will be the main guy, butthis backfield became complicated with the arrival of veteran T.J. Duckett, whooutweighs Bell by 41 pounds and will get the call near the end zone. Thenthere's Kevin Jones, last year's starter, who, to muddy the situation further,is recovering from foot surgery and may or may not be ready when the seasonbegins.
Projected split:BELL, 60%; JONES, 25%; DUCKETT, 15%
At first glance it looks as if Travis Henry is set to become the sort ofstalwart back that Denver hasn't had since 2003--he's a straight-ahead runnerwho can excel in the team's zone-blocking scheme. Ah, but here's the rub: MikeBell, who took only 37% of the Broncos' handoffs last season but accounted for80% of their backs' rushing TDs. And in camp Cecil Sapp has been working someas the No. 2 back.
Projected split:HENRY, 80%; BELL, 10%; SAPP, 10%
The good news is that Cadillac Williams is clearly the main back, despite hisdrop-off in production. Michael Pittman will remain in his reserve role, andB.J. Askew will get only occasional goal line carries. The problem is thatTampa simply doesn't commit to the ground game, making Williams a risky play.Last year he had fewer than 20 carries in 10 of his 14 starts.
Projected split:WILLIAMS, 75%; PITTMAN, 20%, ASKEW 5%
Coach Joe Gibbs wants to lean heavily on Clinton Portis. But Portis (left), whomissed eight games last season with a separated shoulder and a broken hand, isnow coping with knee tendinitis and it's hard to believe that he'll be readyfor that kind of pounding. Ladell Betts, who was so good in relief toward theend of 2006 and gained 1,154 yards last season, will continue to get carries,and fullback Mike Sellers will be used for short yardage.
Projected split:PORTIS, 70%; BETTS, 25%; SELLERS, 5%
TED S. WARREN/AP
GEOFF BURKE/US PRESSWIRE