2006 Fantasy Running Backs : Ranking Analysis

As your fantasy draft approaches, we break down the top ranked fantasy running backs in the NFL.

ELITE
Larry Johnson - Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City may or may not still have the best offensive 
line in football, but they're close.  Prior to the 
emergence of of Johnson, Priest Holmes was perhaps the 
best fantasy back in football...and much of it was due to 
the KC line and propensity to run the football.  New head
coach Herman Edwards was recently quoted to say "We expect 
to run the football 550 times this season".  Bottom line 
for fantasy owners is this...Larry Johnson is a throwback 
style running back capable of carrying a huge load in a 
proven offense that will run, run, and run some more.  If 
it weren't for splitting carries with Priest Holmes 
through the first several games of 2005 (until Holmes was 
injured), LJ's numbers would be sick.  Johnson finished 
the last 9 games of the season with 16 TDs and every game
over 100 yards (2 over 200 yds.).  LJ was the most 
dominant player in fantasy football through the last half
of 2005 - and he'll continue to dominate in 2006.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1750     Rec yds-343     TDs–21 


Shaun Alexander - Seattle Seahawks
After a lengthy contract dispute last off-season, Shaun 
Alexander was back with the Seahawks for at least one more 
year.  Alexander had put up superior numbers since his 
second year in the league (2001) and was determined to 
prove his worth for a long-term contract with Seattle.  
Always a workhorse, "Alex the Great" responded with 28 TDs
and had only 2 games where he failed to score.  To put his
'05 numbers in perspective, Alexander doubled the TD total
of Edge (who finished 4th of all RBs).  Shaun Alexander's 
2005 performance took him and his fantasy owners to the 
Superbowl...and he will continue to be the focal point of 
Seattle's offense in 2006.  If Alex gets even half of his
'05 production, he'll still be in an elite fantasy class!

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1880     Rec yds-78      TDs–28        


LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego Chargers
LT2 started off the '05 season with a whirl and showed he
could do it all.  He not only rushed and caught balls for
TDs, he actually passed for 3!  But, Tomlinson finished 
the season with nagging injuries and scored only 1 TD in 
his final 5 games...and none of which were over 100 yards 
(and this during the fantasy football playoffs).  
Regardless, Tomlinson is an all-around elite fantasy back
capable of leading the league this year in fantasy stats.
But, the plaguing injuries toward the end of last season 
and the change to Philip Rivers at QB in San Diego for 
2006 keeps us from boosting him above 3rd in our rankings.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1462     Rec yds-370     TDs–23 


ROCK SOLID
Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams
"The Greatest Show on Turf" is now a memory with the 
departure of Mike Martz and arrival of new head coach 
Scott Linehan.  The Rams were last in rushing yards and
attempts over the last 4 years, but that all changes under
Linehan.  Steven Jackson is a 231-pound bull that runs 
with a vengeance and knows how to hit, but Jackson was 
victim to a system that failed to use their running backs 
with conviction.  Jackson recently stated that he feels  
2006 will be his breakout year and is looking forward to 
doing it all without having to leave the game...and we 
believe him!  The Rams have a solid line and with a strong 
offensive cast.  And Linehan's plan to give Jackson 20+ 
carries per game should boost SJax to fantasy stardom 
provided he stays healthy.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1046     Rec yds-320     TDs–10 


Edgerrin James - Arizona Cardinals
The only thing that kept Edgerrin James from more yards 
and TDs last season was lack of playing time towards the 
end of the regular season (yes, it's possible to have a 
player on an NFL team that is too dominant during your 
fantasy playoffs)...but we don't see that as a problem 
this season.  The Colts wanted to keep Edge, but they just 
couldn't afford his contract demands with the presence of 
Manning, Harrison, and Wayne.  Fast forward to Arizona.
Edge is one of the top RBs in the NFL, in his prime, and
running well...but the move to AZ is a changed environment 
that may not bode as well for fantasy statistics.  We're 
not saying that he won't finish near the top of all 
fantasy RBs (we have him 5th), but with Edge's new gig 
there is a bit more of a risk - largely due to a weaker
offensive line and the unlikelihood of QB Kurt Warner to 
stay healthy.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1506     Rec yds-337     TDs–14 


Rudi Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
Rudi Johnson scored only 2 TDs in his first 8 games of 
2005 (and had only one 100 yard performance), but he then 
busted it for some big yardage and TDs in the last half of
the season.  Once he kicked it in, Johnson was a strong 
and consistent performer.  We expect more of the same from
Johnson as Cincinnati finds their stride.  The Bengals 
should be leading most of their games late and giving the
ball to Rudi to pound it with his North-South style.  The
Cincinnati offense has experimented with running backs 
like Chris Perry and others that are a bit more nimble 
(and better receivers), but they likely won't cut any more 
into Johnson's numbers than last season.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1458     Rec yds-90      TDs–12 


Tiki Barber - New York Giants
When it comes to touches and versatility, Tiki's the Man!
Barber put up 2390 total yards last year (most in NFL) and
was like a 2-for-1 in yardage based leagues.  Tiki had a 
strong TD number in 11 (9/2) to tie for seventh of all 
running backs, but that's what concerns us a little.  
Barber has gone on record to say he wouldn't be used in 
goal-line situations this season (will likely be 
Brandon Jacobs)...which has to be considered when drafting him.  
Barber is a small framed 200-pound back that is 31 years 
old, but we're not suggesting he is winding down.  Barber 
takes care of his body with precision and he'll be ready 
for 2006.  Tiki will get his touches and produce once 
again, but his TD performance won't be enough to boost him
into the top 5 on our board.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1860     Rec yds-530     TDs–11 


Carnell Williams - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cadillac Williams is an extremely talented back with speed
as his main asset.  Williams jumped off to a huge start in
2005 with 434 yards in his first 3 games.  But Cadillac
wore down and suffered a foot injury that kept him from 2 
games and lingered through the season.  If Williams can 
stay on the field in '06, he'll be a monster...but that is
a huge question mark since Cadillac has never had to 
shoulder the load by himself.  Other fantasy concerns are
that he won't carry the ball at the goal-line and he isn't
yet much of a receiver.  Bottom line, however, is that 
Cadillac did bust through defenses as a rookie...and we
believe he'll continue in Tampa Bay's offense (we just 
don't know how long he'll last).

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1178     Rec yds-81      TDs–6 


Ronnie Brown - Miami Dolphins
Ronnie Brown performed nearly as well as Cadillac in his
2005 rookie season, and he did it  while sharing the load 
with Ricky Williams.  In fact, Ricky had over 800 total 
yards last season with 6 rushing TDs (imagine those totals
added to Brown!).  Brown has such a huge upside, he could 
break into the elite of fantasy running backs with enough 
touches.  But there are still a few questions in Miami...
one of those being Daunte Culpepper. C-pepp may or may not
be the perfect fit for Brown and the Miami offense, but 
he's a QB upgrade from last season that may give Miami a 
decent passing attack to support their running game.  
Ronnie Brown is also an adept receiver and will be used in
some goal-line situations, but Brown has always had help 
as a runner.  Miami head coach Nick Saban may limit Brown
while young to keep him fresh (see Williams above), which 
would likely limit his fantasy production.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-907      Rec yds-232     TDs–5 


Clinton Portis - Washington Redskins
Similar to Rudi Johnson, Portis looked like a poetntial 
early 2005 bust with zero TDs in Washington's first 5 
games, but he then hooked up with consistenly big yardage 
and TDs for the remainder of the season.  In fact, Portis 
finished with a whopping 1732 total yards and 14 TDs (one
of them a pass!).  Portis' explosion as 2005 rolled on 
placed Portis in the top 5 on many boards going into 2006.
But a pre-season shoulder injury has Portis moving down 
the fantasy charts.  "Mum" was the word in Washington 
regarding the injury, but the Skins may have tipped their 
hand a bit with the recent trade for and signing of 
T.J. Duckett from Atlanta.  Although Portis is expected to play
in game 1, his shoulder injury may linger throughout the 
season.  The Duckett pick-up will surely take 4-6 TDs from
Portis' total as he is likely protected (esp. goal-line 
situations) from further injury.  We don't expect a RBBC 
in Washington, but Portis' shoulder and the Duckett (a 
smash-mouth fullback) pick-up places Portis at 10 in our 
RB rankings.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1516     Rec yds-216     TDs–14 


SOLID
Brian Westbrook - Philadelphia Eagles
The 'Best of the Rest' has Brian Westbrook fronting the 
list.  Westbrook is an all-around RB that is as much of a
wide receiver as he is a running back.  In fact, his total
2005 yardage production of 1233 was split almost exactly 
down the middle between rushing and receiving.  The big 
question in Philly is regarding the offense and who the 
talented Donovan McNabb is going to throw to.  We believe 
that Westbrook may get the bulk of the passes (he had 73 
receptions in '04 and 61 in '05!) and reward owners in 
leagues that give points to touches.  Regardless, 
Westbrook is Philly's best back and their best receiver.
He'll get his numbers and be a quality fantasy performer
...it highly depends upon the Eagle supporting cast and 
their effectiveness to take pressure from Westbrook to 
enhance his numbers from last season. 

2005 Stats     Rush yds-617      Rec yds-616     TDs–7


Domanick Davis - Houston Texans
The only reason Davis is still on anyone's list is because
the Texans passed on Reggie Bush.  The good thing for 
Davis is that it gives him another year to prove he is 
worthy of holding down the starting job.  After putting up
a total of 1776 total yards and 14 TDs in 2004, he was 
part of an anemic offensive last year and was ultimately  
injured...causing him to miss 5 games and have minor off-
season surgery.  The hope for Davis is a revamped offense
under Gary Kubiak (who should put together a system that
has Davis shining), but Kubiak could also find relief for
Davis just the same.  We're not saying to pass on Davis 
and his mere 2 rushing TDs from a year ago, but keep 
advised that he may be as likely to repeat his numbers 
from 2005 as he is to put up 2004 type numbers.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-976      Rec yds-337     TDs–6 


LaMont Jordan - Oakland Raiders
LaMont Jordan put up some really strong fantasy numbers in
2005 and is lighting up the fantasy boards of many owners
in their top ten...but not ours.  Jordan's 11 TDs have him
tied at 7th from last year and his his nearly 1600 total 
yards were beyond expectations.  But Jordan comes with 
some concerns.  Rarely does a back perform so well on a 
losing team...and a 3.8 yards per carry average is at the
bottom of every back on our board (due largely to a poor
offensive line that shows little improvement).  So why are
owners so high on Jordan this season?  It's because he put
up top ten fantasy totals last year (incl. 70 receptions), 
he plays nearly every down to the tune of well over 300 
carries (incl. goal-line), and the Raiders plan to run 
more.  But a run-based offense means less receptions for
Jordan.  It will also be interesting to see how a losing 
team (with a low ypc) is planning on more of a running 
offense.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1025     Rec yds-563     TDs–11 


Reggie Bush - New Orleans Saints
Anyone who saw Reggie Bush in college or in any of the 
Saints' pre-season games will have a tough time ranking
him below 15 on their draft board.  Bush is truly a "great
one" and will be for years to come.  The problem, however,
is knowing when he'll start producing.  Many forget that
Deuce McAllister isn't a pushover and is still capable of
great things at running back.  As of now, McAllister is
the starter until injured or until the Saints falter to 
the point of making the switch for the future.  Even 
though we love Bush, it's still difficult to place a 
rookie in the top 15 knowing most of his contributions 
will likely come on 3rd down and on special teams...but 
we did it anyway.

2005 Stats     Rush yds- NA      Rec yds- NA     TDs– NA 


Willie Parker - Pittsburgh Steelers
"Fast Willie Parker" was a phenom in 2005 as Jerome Bettis
morphed into the primary goal-line back.  The un-drafted 
free-agent seemingly came out of nowhere to shock nearly 
everyone with his quickness and elusiveness...and all the 
way to the Superbowl 40 title.  But 2006 is a new season.
Parker comes into the year as the top Pittsburgh running 
back, but he'll likely have most of his success in mid-
field and be replaced in goal-line situations.  Parker 
caught a mere 18 passes last season and doesn't add much 
to the passing game.  Although "Fast Willie" makes our top 
15, he'll need to stay on his game to keep his job in 
Pittsburgh.

2005 Stats     Rush yds-1202     Rec yds-218     TDs–5 

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