Marshawn Lynch – 250 car. 1036 yds. 4.1 avg. 8 TDs
Fred Jackson – 130 car. 571 yds. 4.4 avg. 3 TDs
It will be up to Jackson and newcomer, Dominic Rhodes, to hold down the running duties until Lynch finishes serving his three game suspension. Lynch should be undervalued in this year’s drafts, but will have outstanding value if you can get him in the fourth or fifth round, just make sure you have a good reserve behind him. Jackson will be hyped up for the first three games, but he will be splitting carries with Rhodes, and I expect the Bills to be passing a lot.
Ronnie Brown – 214 att. 916 yds. 4.3 avg. 10 TDs
Ricky Williams – 160 att. 659 yds. 4.1 avg. 4 TDs
The Dolphins have a good thing going with their two back system of Brown and Williams. This way it allows Brown, who has struggled with injuries in the past, to not take as much of a beating. I expect the Dolphins to continue alternating backs, but may put more of a focus on Brown after a superb season. Williams is a nice reserve to have in case Brown gets hurt again, and should put up decent numbers.
New England Patriots:
Fred Taylor – 143 att. 556 yds. 3.9 avg. 1 TD
Sammy Morris – 156 att. 727 yds. 4.7 avg. 7 TDs
I am a believer that Fred Taylor still has a lot left in the tank, and the Patriots stole him as they do many supposedly washed up veterans. I truly believe that Taylor is going to have a big year for the Patriots, much like Corey Dillon did when he came to the Pats. The Patriots like to run the ball, but it is usually by committee, so Taylor or Morris are the only real players that you should look at drafting. Not to mention, with Brady back in the fold they should be airing it out more this year too.
New York Jets:
Thomas Jones – 290 att. 1312 yds. 4.5 avg 13 TDs
Leon Washington – 76 att. 448 yds. 5.9 avg. 6 TDs
Jones had another excellent season, but is not getting any younger, which is why the Jets are hesitant to give him a new contract, and actually drafted the promising Shonn Greene out of Iowa in the third round to be his eventual replacement. This could actually be a good thing for fantasy owners, as he will be out to prove that he still has it. Washington is a quality reserve, who is also upset over contract issues, but he is a game changer who can break off a huge run or reception. Keep an eye on Greene, if Jones for some reason goes down with an injury.
LeRon McClain – 232 att. 902 yds. 3.9 avg. 10 TDs
Willis McGahee – 170 att. 671 yds. 3.9 avg. 7 TDs
Ray Rice – 107 att. 454 yds. 4.2 avg. 0 TD
Rarely does a fullback lead his team in rushing, but McClain did just that for the Ravens last season. McClain moves very well for such a big man, and is reminiscent of Jerome Bettis. McGahee has somewhat fallen out of favour with the coaching staff, and should not be drafted. I believe the player to watch is Rice, who had a very good rookie season, and should have his role expanded more this season. McClain and Rice are both worth drafting, but it looks as though all three guys will share carries again this year.
Cedric Benson – 214 att. 747 yds. 3.5 avg. 2 TDs
Benson actually looked like the prospect the Bears drafted early in the first round at moments this season. Unfortunately, he wasn’t playing in a Bears’ uniform, rather the orange and black stripes of the Bengals. I don’t think the Bears will lose any sleep with Forte in the mix, but the Bengals may have found themselves a starting running back. Benson may be worth a look in the later rounds, and could have Rudi Johnson-like production in the Bengals offense.
Jamal Lewis – 279 att. 1002 yds. 3.6 avg. 4 TDs
Lewis is definitely in the twilight of his career, but he still managed to put up a 1,000 yard season, despite averaging a less than stellar 3.6 yards/carry. The Browns look as though they’re going to stick with Lewis for the near future, as there isn’t anyone on the roster behind him, and they didn’t take a running back until the sixth round in the draft. I think Lewis can have a better season if the passing game comes around, and the Browns line is pretty solid. As long as Ken Dorsey is not playing quarterback, Lewis will have a little more space to operate with the defense not being able to completely ignore the passing game.
Willie Parker – 210 att. 791 yds. 3.8 avg. 5 TDs
Mewelde Moore – 140 att. 588 yds. 4.2 avg. 5 TDs
Parker was on his way to a very nice season before going down with an injury midseason. His job may have been in limbo until he came back in the playoffs and ran all over the Chargers. Medenhall will have to wait his turn, while Moore will be their third down running back. The running game will be centered around Parker this season, and he should have a very good year as long as he stays healthy.
Steve Slaton – 268 att. 1282 yds. 4.8 avg. 9 TDs
Slaton was just another outstanding back from the 2008 draft class, along with Chris Johnson and Matt Forte, amongst others. He emerged as the perfect back for the Texans zone blocking system with his one cut and go style. The worry with Slaton is how long he can stay healthy, as he is not the biggest back, and the fact that there isn’t really a capable back up behind him. Slaton is a very solid fantasy starter, and should even improve on his rookie numbers.
Joseph Addai – 155 att. 544 yds. 3.5 avg. 5 TDs
Donald Brown (rookie)
Addai never got to full strength all season as he was banged up for pretty much the entire year. The Colts offense still managed to win 12 games, even with the second worst running game in the league, which is just scary. However, the Colts drafted Brown in order to give themselves a solid rushing duo, and to take some of the pounding off of Addai. I like Addai going into this year, and he would be a very solid mid round pick, while Brown will go in the later rounds.
Maurice Jones-Drew – 197 att. 824 yds. 4.2 avg. 12 TDs
Fred Taylor has been released, and all of the rushing duties now fall on the shoulders of Jones-Drew. Look for him to have a big year running behind a revamped offensive line, and he is a dual threat in both the running and passing games. If you’re looking for a sleeper, maybe take a look at Greg Jones, who should get a lot of goal line carries. Jones-Drew will be a first round pick in most fantasy leagues this year.
Chris Johnson – 251 att. 1228 yds. 4.9 avg. 9 TDs
Lendale White – 200 att. 773 yds. 3.9 avg. 15 TDs
Johnson was a Pro Bowl rookie, while Lendale White broke out with 15 rushing touchdowns. Johnson looks like he is going to be a star for years to come. He has electric speed, with outstanding moves, and is a virtual lock to beat any would be tackler one on one in space. White seems determined to not lose all of his carries to Johnson, and has reported to camp lighter and in excellent shape. You can’t go wrong drafting either one of these guys as the Titans love to run the ball, but I would give the edge to Johnson.
Knowshon Moreno (rookie)
Peyton Hillis – 68 att. 343 yds. 5.0 avg. 5 TDs
With the drafting of Moreno 12th overall, it looks as though he will be the feature back in the Broncos offense this year. Moreno has all of the qualities of a starting running back, in that he can run, catch, pass block, and has an incredible motor and work ethic. Hillis had some nice games after coming in as the third injury replacement, but he will be used as more of a lead blocker this year. Ryan Torain is a sleeper, and fantasy players should keep an eye on him in the preseason.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Larry Johnson – 193 att. 874 yds. 4.5 avg. 5 TDs
Jamaal Charles – 67 att. 357 yds. 5.3 avg. 0 TD
If new coach Todd Haley can light a fire under Johnson, he could have a very nice season. Johnson has voiced his displeasure numerous times over the last couple of offseasons and has demanded trades, but so far nothing has happened. Unfortunately, the Chiefs line is a mess, which doesn’t bode well for the running game. If Johnson struggles, Haley won’t hesitate to go to Charles, but he can be had on the waiver wire.
Justin Fargas – 218 att. 853 yds. 3.9 avg. 1 TD
Darren McFadden – 113 att. 499 yds. 4.4 avg. 4 TDs
Michael Bush – 95 att. 421 yds. 4.4 avg. 3 TDs
McFadden struggled with some nagging injuries in his rookie season, and will look to take it to the next level this year. I’m still not sold on him as an every down back, but the Raiders are going to look to get the ball in his hands as much as possible this year. The player that intrigues me the most is Michael Bush. He should get the majority of the goal line carries, and is a thumper who can run between the tackles, where as McFadden is better off the edge. Fargas is starting to be slowly phased out of the offense and is no longer draftable.
San Diego Chargers:
LaDanian Tomlinson – 292 att. 1110 yds. 3.8 avg. 11 TDs
Darren Sproles – 61 att. 330 yds. 5.4 avg. 1 TD
Call me a homer, but I still believe LT has a lot left in the tank, and will have a bounce back year after what was a disappointing year, for his standards. Tomlinson has extra motivation as he feels like he is being slowly pushed out the door by management. If you can get him in the second or third round, I believe that it could be a major steal. Sproles will get a lot of touches as well this year, but isn’t as good between the tackles, and will more be used as a receiver out of the backfield.