Marion Barber II – 238 att. 885 yds. 3.7 avg. 7 TDs
Felix Jones – 30 att. 266 yds. 8.9 avg. 3 TDs
Tashard Choice – 92 att. 472 yds. 5.1 avg. 2 TDs
The Cowboys have a plethora of quality backs, but it looks as though Barber will be the focus of the offense this season. Barber is a thumper who loves contact, and is an excellent closer in the fourth quarter, as well as receiver out of the backfield. Jones could be a major sleeper this year, and looked brilliant before he got hurt last season. Choice won’t be featured as much as Jones or Barber, but he could become valuable if one of them goes down again.
New York Giants:
Brandon Jacobs – 219 att. 1089 yds. 5.0 avg. 15 TDs
Ahmad Bradshaw – 67 att. 355 yds. 5.3 avg. 1 TD
The Giants boasted the best rushing attack in the NFL last season, and now Ahmad Bradshaw will look to assume the role the Derrick Ward had last season. Jacobs is just a beast, and should continue to put up big numbers, as long as he stays healthy. I personally believe Jacobs is going to have a big year, and Bradshaw, at this point, is a back up, but carries legitimate value in later rounds.
Brian Westbrook – 233 att. 936 yds. 4.0 avg. 9 TDs
LeSean McCoy (rookie)
If Westbrook can stay healthy, he is a legit top 5 fantasy running back because of his receiving ability out of the backfield. McCoy is the real deal, and was a workhorse for the University of Pittsburgh last season. Take a flier on McCoy until the later rounds of your draft, and hold onto him in case Westbrook gets banged up. I also expect the Eagles to give him some carries so Westbrook doesn’t take as much of a beating this year.
Clinton Portis – 342 att. 1487 yds. 4.3 avg. 9 TDs
Only Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson had more carries than Portis, and he joined both of them at the Pro Bowl. However, you could tell that Portis was fatigued down the stretch and his numbers in the second half of the season were nowhere near those in the first half. As Portis goes, the Redskins go, and they are hoping that Ladell Betts can regain his 2007 form in order to keep Portis fresh for the stretch run. As long as Portis stays healthy, he is a top ten, maybe even top five, fantasy running back.
Matt Forte – 316 att. 1238 yds. 3.9 avg. 8 TDs
Forte pretty much was the entire 2008 Chicago Bears offense, leading them in rushing and receptions, and led the team with 12 total TDs. Now with Jay Cutler in the fold, it takes some of the pressure off of Forte’s shoulders. Forte should be considered a first round fantasy pick this season, but it would be beneficial for the Bears to get him a quality back up so he doesn’t get too beaten down.
Kevin Smith – 238 att. 976 yds. 4.1 avg. 8 TDs
Maurice Morris – 132 att. 574 yds. 4.3 avg. 0 TD (w/ Seattle)
Smith had a very solid rookie year, and will look to follow it up with a 1,000 yard campaign in his sophomore season. Unfortunately, he won’t have a very good line blocking for him upfront. Morris is a solid yet unspectacular back who should do a good job spelling Smith, and is a capable starter if called upon. Smith shouldn’t be taken until the middle rounds, however, and you can do much better, as he does play for the Lions.
Green Bay Packers:
Ryan Grant – 312 att. 1203 yds. 3.9 avg. 4 TDs
Grant probably had the quietest 1200 yard season I have ever witnessed, and I actually couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. I really like Grant this season, and an underrated pick up was the drafting of bruising LSU fullback Quinn Johnson who will open up holes for the elusive Grant. Grant is worth grabbing in the second or third round.
Adrian Peterson – 363 att. 1760 yds. 4.8 avg. 10 TDs
Chester Taylor – 101 att. 399 yds. 4.0 avg. 4 TDs
The Vikings boast a formidable one-two punch, and Peterson may just be the best back in the league. Most owners will not have a chance of picking up Peterson, unless they have a top three pick. Taylor, on the other hand, could be had in the middle to late rounds, and has some value because of his receiving ability and utilization on third down. It will be interesting to see if Percy Harvin takes away from some of Taylor’s touches because of his ability to line up in the backfield as well as at wide receiver.
Michael Turner – 376 att. 1699 yds. 4.5 avg. 17 TDs
Jerious Norwood – 95 att. 489 yds. 5.1 avg. 4 TDs
Turner answered all of the questions of whether or not he could step out of LT’s shadow and make a name for himself. The Falcons leaned on him heavily to take pressure off of their rookie starting QB, and he delivered. Don’t expect him to reach that kind of production this season, but he should still be considered a top end starter, and high first round pick. Norwood, on the other hand, is a borderline starter and quality back up because of his added ability as a receiver out of the backfield.
DeAngelo Williams – 273 att. 1515 yds. 5.5 avg. 18 TDs
Johnathan Stewart – 184 att. 836 yds. 4.5 avg. 10 TDs
Williams burst onto the scene this year with a monster season, and forms one of the top rushing tandems in the league with Johnathan Stewart. I was one of the unfortunate souls who gave up on Williams after a slow start, and paid for it dearly. Expect a drop in production for Williams, while Stewart’s production should increase, and I would not at all be surprised if both of them surpassed 1,000 yards and 10 TDs each. I would give an edge to Stewart as he will get the majority of touches in the red zone.
New Orleans Saints:
Pierre Thomas – 129 att. 625 yds. 4.8 avg. 9 TDs
Reggie Bush – 106 att. 404 yds. 3.8 avg. 2 TDs
The Deuce McAllister era has come to an end in New Orleans, after the fan favourite was released this offseason. However, Thomas came on strong down the stretch and has earned a shot at the starting spot after being very patient. Get on Thomas now because I believe he is the next back to come out of nowhere and have a big year. With Thomas handling the rushing duties, expect Bush to be utilized more in the passing and return game, where he is most effective. I personally wouldn’t touch Bush until the mid to late rounds, but there will be people who buy into the hype and take him early.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Earnest Graham -132 att. 563 yds. 4.3 avg. 4 TDs
Derrick Ward – 182 att. 1025 yds. 5.6 avg. 2 TDs
Graham was having a nice season until he went down with a season ending injury. He is a quality back up, but not quite starting material with the signing of Derrick Ward. I wasn’t a big believer in Derrick Ward until I re-watched the NFC divisional game against the Eagles. The Giants used Ward almost exclusively when they were trying to come back down the stretch, and he showed elusiveness, as well as good hands out of the backfield. I’m expecting a solid year from Ward running behind a very good Buccaneer offensive line.
Tim Hightower – 143 att. 399 yds. 2.8 avg. 10 TDs
Chris Wells (rookie)
Hightower had a nice rookie year, from a TD perspective, but he still doesn’t have what it takes to be an every down back. Wells, on the other hand, has all the ability in the world to be a very good starter, if he stays healthy. Whisenhunt has said that they will have a competition for the starting spot in training camp and in the preseason, so keep an eye on the situation before you draft either. I would give the edge to Wells, but he seems to get hurt a lot, so Hightower could become valuable at some point during the season. The Cards love to throw the football, but I think Whisenhunt wants to establish more of a running game, like they had in the postseason, to create balance.
St. Louis Rams:
Steven Jackson – 253 att. 1042 yds. 4.1 avg. 7 TDs
I personally believe Jackson will be one of, if not the best fantasy back this season, and I am looking at him as my first round pick. Jackson got off to a slow start after missing training camp while holding out over a contract dispute. He never really found his groove until the end of the year, as is what happens to most backs who hold out. However, with a full training camp and preseason, not to mention extra motivation of having a disappointing year, I expect a very big year.
San Francisco 49ers:
Frank Gore – 240 att. 1036 yds. 4.3 avg. 6 TDs
Gore did not have a very good season, and the wear and tear of being leaned on so heavily in 2007 caught up to him. The Niners drafted Glen Coffee to help take some of the load off of Gore’s shoulders, so hopefully that keeps him more fresh. If the Niners are too win the division and make the playoffs, look for Gore to have a big year, but if he misses any extensive time with injuries it will be tough for them. Gore remains a risky pick, but a solid fantasy starter when healthy.
Julius Jones – 158 att. 698 yds. 4.4 avg. 2 TDs
T.J. Duckett – 62 att. 172 yds. 2.8 avg. 8 TDs
With Maurice Morris no longer on the roster it is up Jones to carry the load in the running game this season. Look for his yards to go up, but he will never put up double digit TD numbers with Duckett on the roster. Duckett quietly had a come back year as the Seahawks’ short yardage and goal line back. Although 8 TDs are impressive, Duckett cannot be considered a starter, but is a solid back up.