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06 Jul 2005

New Generation of Backs Ready To Join NFL Elite

by Aaron Schatz

With minicamps now over, NFL coaches and reporters finally get to take a vacation until the end of July. But there's no break for fervent NFL fans, because the fantasy football season is just beginning.

Dozens of fantasy football magazines have just hit newsstands, while numerous websites have stepped up advertising to prospective players. Each one promises to give a leg up on the competition with the most accurate list of which players will gain the most yards and score the most touchdowns in 2005. No position is more important in fantasy football than running back, so this is where accurate projection of player improvement and decline is most important.

Almost every forecaster expects the list of 2005's top running backs to be a mix of the top names from 2003 and 2004, despite the fact that there is substantial turnover on the list of the NFL's top rushers nearly every season. And a phalanx of promising youngsters means that this season, turnover is even more likely.

Only once in the past seven seasons (2003) have more than five running backs made the top ten in rushing yards for two straight years. During the period from 1999-2004, only seven backs appeared in the top ten for three consecutive seasons, and only three of those backs -- Marshall Faulk, Clinton Portis, and LaDainian Tomlinson -- appeared in the top eight for three consecutive seasons.

Why so much change? Significant injuries are common at all NFL positions, but running backs are more likely to be injured the more they carry the ball. And of course, the players with the most carries usually gain the most yards. The effect builds up over multiple seasons, which is why running backs peak earlier than any other and generally stay at their peak for a shorter period of time, ending around age 28.

New names among the NFL's top running backs are generally younger players on the rise. But last year was a significant exception. When 2003's top five running backs all fell out of 2004's top five, the five backs that replaced them each had at least five years of experience. In the past 20 years, only six players have set a career high with at least 1250 rushing yards at age 29 or older, and half of these seasons came last year: Curtis Martin of the Jets, Tiki Barber of the Giants, and Corey Dillon of the Patriots.

All three are now in their thirties, as is another running back who many are projecting among this year's league leaders, Priest Holmes of Kansas City. But only 19 times since 1978 has a running back in his thirties appeared among the NFL's top ten rushers.

These trends need not worry Giants fans, as Barber just turned 30, and his 2004 total of 322 carries was a reasonable eighth in the NFL. But Jets fans beware: Martin, more than any other runner, is poised for a fall. He didn't just break records in yards and carries for a running back over age 30; he shattered them. 371 carries at age 31 will probably lead to nagging injuries that will trouble Martin all season, limiting his effectiveness compared to years past. The Jets made their best move of the off-season when they signed free agent Derrick Blaylock to provide an experienced (but still young) backup as an insurance policy for their aging star.

When the leading rushers of 2004 decline, the leading rushers of 2003 are not likely to return to prominence. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis was overused with 387 carries that season, and has battled injuries since, while Ahman Green watched Green Bay's two best offensive linemen leave in free agency.

Who will replace these veterans in the NFL's rushing elite? According to projections from our forthcoming book Pro Football Prospectus 2005, four young running backs should finish among this year's top ten runners (barring major injury):

Domanick Davis, Houston: Davis emerged as the Texans' starter midway through his rookie season, but last year he spent the first two months struggling with a sprained ankle and then a bruised thigh. In Weeks 1-8, he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and only scored three touchdowns. But in the last nine weeks of the year, finally healthy, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, 99 yards per game, and scored ten touchdowns. The Texans play in a division where the Titans and Colts struggle to stop the run, and they get to play the weak NFC West as well.

Julius Jones, Dallas: Last year Dallas coach Bill Parcells held Jones out of the lineup for the first half of the season so the rookie could work on picking up blitzes and learning the intricacies of the NFL game. After he finally entered the starting lineup in Week 11, he was a workhorse, averaging 115 yards and a touchdown per game with at least 20 carries in all seven his starts and at least 80 yards in six of them. Improvements to the Dallas defense should lead to more games where Parcells repeatedly hands the ball to Jones late to grind time off the clock.

Correction: Parcells held Jones out of the starting lineup for the first two games .so the rookie could work on picking up blitzes and learning the intricacies of the NFL game. In limited action in Week 2, he broke his shoulder, and that injury cost him half his season. However, it is unlikely that injury cost Jones more than a couple weeks as the starter, because Parcells, at least publicly, stated that Jones was not ready to be an NFL starter.

Kevin Jones, Detroit: Jones is another young running back who was significantly hobbled by injury in the first half of 2004, a high ankle sprain that kept him to just six carries during a four-week period from mid-September to mid-October. Once he was healthy at mid-season, he blossomed. 911 of his 1,133 yards came in the final eight weeks, an average of 114 per game. Jones overcame mediocre Detroit blocking by maximizing every opportunity he had in the open field -- no other running back gained a higher percentage of his yards on double-digit runs -- so any small improvement in Detroit's offensive line this season will see its effect on Jones's numbers magnified. A passing game featuring Detroit's last three first-round draft picks will also keep defenses from stacking the line against Jones.

Willis McGahee, Buffalo: McGahee is the one young back who is being touted by most magazines as one of this season's top runners. He averaged 88 yards per game last year after taking over as Buffalo's starter in Week 6, and he should improve now that his infamous 2003 Fiesta Bowl knee injury is a year further in the past. But the Buffalo line must overcome the loss of left tackle Jonas Jennings, who signed with San Francisco in free agency. Last year, McGahee averaged 6.0 yards on runs left end or left tackle, 3.8 yards on all other runs.

These four young running backs have both talent and opportunity, but there are numerous young running backs who have the talent to join them if circumstances change slightly. Second-year back Steven Jackson averaged 5.0 yards per carry for the Rams last year and would be projected to finish among this year's top ten rushers, except that the Rams still plan on giving veteran Marshall Faulk significant carries to keep Jackson fresh. Tatum Bell of Denver averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2004, but while he will probably start, he will lose carries to other members of the crowded Broncos backfield. Miami rookie Ronnie Brown finished eleventh in my rushing projections -- until it became clear that Ricky Williams would return and share the load for the Dolphins.

Player Team Yards Player Team Yards
Curtis Martin NYJ 1697 Kevin Jones DET 1605
Shaun Alexander SEA 1696 Julius Jones DAL 1584
Corey Dillon NE 1635 Shaun Alexander SEA 1547
Edgerrin James IND 1548 LaDainian Tomlinson SD 1532
Tiki Barber NYG 1518 Willis McGahee BUF 1505
Rudi Johnson CIN 1454 Rudi Johnson CIN 1485
LaDainian Tomlinson SD 1335 Tiki Barber NYG 1474
Clinton Portis WAS 1315 Clinton Portis WAS 1466
Reuben Droughns DEN 1240 Domanick Davis HOU 1429
Fred Taylor JAC 1224 Edgerrin James IND 1412

*Based on the KUBIAK projection system from Pro Football Prospectus 2005, available in early August. Click here to find out more about our book; click here to find out how you can get our fantasy projections in a spreadsheet before the book hits stores. Note: Top projected rushers are not necessarily top projected running backs for fantasy purposes.

This article appeared in Friday's edition of the New York Sun.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 06 Jul 2005

81 comments, Last at 03 Aug 2005, 4:23pm by jimmy jimmerson


by json (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 6:31pm

"Last year Dallas coach Bill Parcells held Jones out of the lineup for the first half of the season so the rookie could work on picking up blitzes and learning the intricacies of the NFL game."

Actually he was held out due to a shoulder injury that he sustained vs Cleveland early in the year. No question Parcells doesn't like to rely on rookies too much. Considering the way Eddie George was running, blitz pickups had nothing to do w/ why JJ was held out.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 6:37pm

Only once in the past seven seasons (2003) have more than five running backs made the top ten in rushing yards for two straight years.

Interesting that the projected list has six rushers carrying over from 2004 (Edge, Alexander, Barber, Johnson, Tomlinson, & Portis), and three of those (Alexander, Portis, Tomlinson) were also in the 2003 top ten. This seems like more consistency than past years would indicate.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 6:40pm

That Carl wasn't the real Carl. Go Wilder!

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 6:42pm

By the way, Aaron, weren't you a little tempted to put a (fill in the blank, Denver) on the top 10?

Not that the position of "feature" back is fungible...

by senser81 (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 6:50pm

I would be interested in seeing who the top 10 projected RBs for 2004 were.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 7:29pm

I'd question whether Alexander will do as well outside of Seattle, depending on where he ends up. He's had a hell of a line to run behind these last few years.

by Carl (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 7:57pm

"The Jets made their best move of the off-season when they signed free agent Derrick Blaylock to provide an experienced (but still young) backup as an insurance policy for their aging star."

Uhhh, didn't the Jets have a stud named Lamont Jordan who seemed poised for a real breakout if he got some playing time and, anyway, outperformed the aging Martin when he got the chance?

He was a guy I would have wanted to sign. In a perfect world, they would have found a way to move Martin and kept Jordan.

by cjm (aka that other Carl) (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 9:09pm

re #3 - hey, let's not have any realness issues here. I was posting on FO before you came along, just not nearly as frequently. No worries, though, I'll cede the nick to the louder Carl...

by Matt (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 9:59pm

It's interesting that postseason carries are always forgotten about when calculating workloads. I guess this is because postseason stats don't 'count', so we forget about them. But obviously the wear and tear of the carries is the same. Some workloads that become especially high when you add postseason totes:

Dillon - 409
Martin - 408
Tomlinson - 365
James - 364

LT and Edge come in on the high side of reasonable, likely not a problem for work. But check those totals for 30-year old Dillon and 32-year old C-Mart. Eye-popping. I would be hesitant to take either on draft day.

by thatguy (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 10:53pm

I see Tatum Bell finishing in the top 8 (maybe top 5). This is, of course, assuming he can stay healthy. A lot of writers say he'll be hurt by sharing carries with Griffin, Anderson, Clarett, Dayne, and company, but I'll bet he avereges ~20 carries/game. The broncos don't take the "running back by committee" approach, and will only do it if forced to (i.e. if Bell can't handle the load). I think Bell has the potential to put up numbers comparable to Portis's numbers in Denver. He's just as quick, has better straight line speed, good vision, and is deceptively strong.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:29am

Really, because I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Anderson gain back his RB spot. He's in contention, and seeing him in his rookie season I was so impressed. I always wondered why they never moved him back to RB. I think he's much more dominating (not necessarily better) than Portis and definitely better than anyone else the Broncos have at the position. His 251 yard, 4 TD game against the Saints in 2000 was probably the best rushing performance I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. The guy was running on a hand and a foot because he had two guys clutching onto his leg for one of those TDs. It was amazing. I'd love to see him gain back the RB spot.

by thatguy (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:52am

Well, IMO, Anderson was very much a product of the system (as most Denver backs are). It's also hard to predict how his injury (and to a lesser degree his age) will affect him. I realize he's only been around for five years, but he is 31.

In short, though, I think Bell is as skilled as Portis (or very close) and since Portis beat out Anderson, I have to believe Bell will do the same. The thing that struck me about Bell last season is how incredibly fast he is. He hit the hole so fast and was into the second level before you could blink. Also, despite his small stature, he has a great leg drive and is, like I said, deceptively powerful.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:45am

Haha, Aaron, the "KUBIAK" projection system isn't, perchance, named for Gary Kubiak, designer of a certain offense reasonably well known for churning out league leading rushers, is it?

Re #11: "Really, because I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike Anderson gain back his RB spot. He’s in contention, and seeing him in his rookie season I was so impressed. I always wondered why they never moved him back to RB. I think he’s much more dominating (not necessarily better) than Portis and definitely better than anyone else the Broncos have at the position. His 251 yard, 4 TD game against the Saints in 2000 was probably the best rushing performance I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. The guy was running on a hand and a foot because he had two guys clutching onto his leg for one of those TDs. It was amazing. I’d love to see him gain back the RB spot."

I strongly agree. I fully expected Anderson to win the starting job last season before he got injured, and in the end it wound up going to a back in the Anderson mold (Droughns). I've always held that Denver's blocking system most benefits big strong bruising backs with great vision and great between-the-tackles running. Yes, Clinton Portis was all-world in Denver, and he's characteristically a shifty back, but he was the exception rather than the rule. First, he was extremely underrated between the tackles, where he could hit the smallest holes I'd ever seen a back take. Second, name another speedy outside guy Denver's had success with. Even Quentin Griffin isn't a burner as much as he is just elusive and hard to bring down in traffic.

Atlanta sort of verified this system. I had said all season last year that Duckett would outperform Dunn. DVOA bears this out, as Duckett finished 6th to Dunn's 28th. The zone-blocking scheme just prefers a between-the-tackles sort of guy.

Now, before everyone points out that Bell is rated as the #2 back, according to DVOA, I have to offer the disclaimer that I didn't get to see him play very much, since I live in Florida and can't get Direct TV. He might very well be great between the tackles. Still, Denver's system loves a power guy, and Anderson has the experience and the skill set. I'm avoiding Denver's RB situation like the plague, except to swoop in and pick up Anderson extremely late in drafts after Clarett, Bell, and Griffin are all gone.

Re #12: "Well, IMO, Anderson was very much a product of the system (as most Denver backs are). It’s also hard to predict how his injury (and to a lesser degree his age) will affect him. I realize he’s only been around for five years, but he is 31.

In short, though, I think Bell is as skilled as Portis (or very close) and since Portis beat out Anderson, I have to believe Bell will do the same. The thing that struck me about Bell last season is how incredibly fast he is. He hit the hole so fast and was into the second level before you could blink. Also, despite his small stature, he has a great leg drive and is, like I said, deceptively powerful."

I don't think Bell is anywhere near as skilled as Portis. I mean, I think Portis is an all-world, once-in-a-lifetime kind of back who got put in the worst situation possible last year (except perhaps for Chicago). Look at his stats. In Denver, he averaged NFL RB records for yards per carry, yards per game, and yards per start. Absolutely unbelievable. Bell may be fast like Portis, but that doesn't mean he's almost as skilled as Portis.

Remember, too, that when Portis "beat out" Anderson, Anderson was already the starting FB, and was in FB shape as a result. I don't think he ever competed against Anderson when Anderson was in RB shape. I still think he would have won, but it bears mentioning.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:15am

By this point, Curtis deserves the benefit of the doubt- the man has put up ten straight 1,000 yard seasons, after all. You'd think that it would catch up to him, but he stayed remarkably injury free last year and actually got a significant reduction in his workload in the second half of the season as Lamont started getting more carries.

No love for Chris Brown? True, he can't stay healthy, but he was very impressive during the first half of last year before the injuries piled up.

by Aaron (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 10:36am

I'll wait and answer questions about this and other book-related things when the book comes out and we do some book-response mailbags. But yes, the system is named after Gary Kubiak, with a wink and a nod to the system our baseball partners named after an old Kansas City utility infielder. And in response to the Alexander comment, we can't really project based on how players would do if by some slim chance they were traded. Players are unhappy with their franchise tender all the time, and very rarely do trades actually take place, especially in July or August.

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:07am

Ok, Aaron, spill it. Why did you name it after Kubiak?

Let's see other interesting names could have been:
* Very Interesting Chart 'K
* Buncha Ratings And Darned Yummy
* Man Aaron Needs New Interesting Numbers Guys

Everybody play along :-)

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:07am

I tend to agree with Sean that Curtis Martin is probably something special, and that for some reason he's not actually going to decline simply because of his workload. If there had been a Football Outsiders in the early-mid 90's, it would have predicted a down year for Emmitt Smith on an annual basis based on workload. But that never came to pass because Emmitt is the king of town, and C-Mart has shown the kind of durability over his career that, among his contemporaries, only Emmitt shares. So while I don't intend to bet my fantasy team that Martin will duplicate last season, neither do I expect him to totally flame out.

by Aaron (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:16am

Used to hang out with my buddies from Denver, Jason (the cartoonist) and Jordy, and we always thought his name sounded like one of those 50s computers. ENIAC... UNIVAC... KUBIAK!

by Led (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:47am

Re: durability and longevity, there's some reason to believe that a full-time off-season conditioning program helps. Martin as well as Jerry Rice, the BALCO-free Bay Area poster child for late career production, are legendary workers in the off-season. Whether their workouts are legendary because they're so durable or they're so durable because of their legendary workouts, I don't know. The latter, however, is a reasonable possibility. Aaron, Carl (or anyone else that studies these things), do you have any views on this?

by lafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:51am

Even if I'm not sure the 3-receiver set is the best formation for Jordan, I'm sure he'll have fun to rush through KC D-line and former Browns D-line recomposed in Denver.
It makes at least four 100 yards games for him this season.

by lafcadio (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:56am

I've just checked the schedule and I think there will be a funny game on week 14. I fear Green people could cry...

by Jerry Garcia (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:04pm

Re #7, Don't forget it's all about the $$$. Lamont wanted a lot more $$ than the Jets will pay Blaylock. & I believe that most of Lamont's success was due to Kevin Mawae & co.
Remeber how successful Chad Morton was on the Jets? Then he wanted more $$, he left the team, and virtually disappeard from sight. Now I'm not saying that Jordan will also become insignificant, but there is a chance that he won't excel as a feature running back in the Raider's system.
The Jets' offensive line consistently makes these backs succeed. On almost every one of Curtis martin's runs, Mawae is about 10 yards in front of him clearing the way. As a center, Kevin Mawae runs more yards than Curtis Martin does on every running play. He is unbelievable.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:05pm

"No worries, though, I’ll cede the nick to the louder Carl…"

Hey! I'm not LOUD!

Actually, I'll be in Iraq for the next year, far away from my favorite locker rooms, press boxes or interviewees.

Sniff, sniff, I'll miss you Warren Sapp, ya big lug.

You can take my name, just remember to pay homage to my faves -- Herschell Walker, James Wilder (only the 1984, 1985 and 1986 versions), Jerry Porter, Lamont Jordan, Faulk, Polian, James -- every once in awhile so that the tag still has some street cred.

Randomly throwing in the virtues of some punters or virtually unknown special teams' coaches helps, too.

by G Kubiak (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:11pm

Expect a call from my lawyer.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:27pm

Re: #16,

Your second one spells out BRADY on purpose doesn't it! I demand a system that spells out MANNING as well! :D

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:30pm

I agree with the Kubiak computer thing. He was an interesting player. I always thought he could have been a starter for a few teams but he was content to be Elway's backup his entire career.

by Parker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:32pm

RE: 25

Wait for it...

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 1:21pm

re #25

That same post as ones that spell out Vick and Manning as well. :-)

Here's another one: MCNABB
More Crazy Numbers And Brain Busters

by thatguy (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 2:44pm

re: 13

You say you didn't see much of Bell last season, then you go on to say there's no way he's as skilled as Portis. Maybe you should see more of him before making that assumption.

I've seen them both play a lot. Bell is not fast like Portis, he's faster. He's quick, instinctive, and strong. He's very, very good.

Portis--an all worldy back?--come on, really? Yes, he avereged 5.5 yards per carry. Davis avereged around 5 for his career (until injuries plagued him). Anderson avereged 5 his rookie year. What made Portis's average higher is that he's faster and broke more long runs. Bell, too, will break long runs. Bell avereged 5.3 ypc, despite being injured for much of that period. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bell carried the ball 75 times to Clinton's almost 600 (over two seasons). Time will tell, but if he stays healthy, he will be Denver's starter and he will excel. His numbers will be similar to Clinton's. Mark my words. If I'm wrong, you can spoon feed them to me.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:06pm

Chris Brown: 1067 yards in less than 11 games and 4.9 avg... despite how he has been criticized, I have been very impressed with his running. This browser wont let me get to the stats, cant see his DVOA... thing was that last year his short runs didnt hurt the team so much it felt like because McNair was converting the longer downs anyways... At least, thats how I felt watching the games.

I think there were two or three games where Brown had 100 yards at halftime last year.

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:20pm

. I always thought he could have been a starter for a few teams but he was content to be Elway’s backup his entire career.

Did he choose that, or was that chosen on him in the days before true free agency?

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:29pm

Does anybody know who the top-10 RB's in rushing yards for an entire season are (indluding playoff yardage)? How about passing and receiving yardage leaders?

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:42pm

Lack of Free Agency may have been a part of it. He never complained to the press about being the backup. I think he was content with is role.

by charles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:50pm

RE: 30
The thing that made brown so good was that he was 6'3 probably the tallest back last year and had long arms to match his frame. Last year nobody could tackle him in the open because he would stiff arm everybody in the secondary. I remember in the preseason when roy williams tried to horse collar him but got mushed to the ground and brown ran for a touchdown. I also remember the green bay mnf game where he did have over 100 yards running he stiff armed sharper for both of his touchdown runs. Some coach will probably say hey why don't i get a tall rb with long arms that could stiff arm everybody one day.

You have to worry about bell staying healthy for the entire year, but he should have a good season. But i'm surprised nobody mentioned larry johson of kc yet. he had 4.8 ypc and 9 touchdowns in five games and outplayed bell when kc and den met late in the year.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:15pm

Yes, Brown was good last year. My fantasy team ended up being set up perfectly, as I had Brown and Julius Jones as two of my three backs, so Jones slid in just as Brown was petering out (and the other back was Curtis Martin who, needless to say, did not peter out).

For whoever said that Lamont isn't going to be effective, I don't know what you've been smoking. Yes, the Jets offensive line is good, but Jordan is a tremendous talent. He's big, he's fast, he's decisive with his cuts, and he can even catch the ball a little bit. The Raiders offensive line should be much better, and thanks to the trio of Moss, Porter and Ronald Curry (who probably had the best year of the three) and he'll almost never have to contend with an eighth man in the box.

Since this is a fantasy column, it's worth discussing whether or not the whole drafting running backs in the first and/or second round thing is overrated. I've always tended to think it was, and this article seems to bear that out. If you are good about spotting rising talent, you're probably better off using your first round pick to grab a Manning or an Owens, especiallly if you are picking in the 8-10 range. As I said, last year I was picking tenth, I grabbed Manning and Torry Holt back to back, then waited for the 3-4 picks to grab Brown and Martin. There are backs who figure to last reasonably late that could still be effective.

by Aaron (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:17pm

I apologize for the mistake on Julius Jones's injury, and a correction has been added above. I will say, though, looking at places where people have linked to this article (or others on this site) it is astonishing how people will write off any analysis that contains a misspelling or factual error, as if human beings were supposed to be infallible. Calm down, people. We're pretty good about acknowledging our mistakes around here, and we don't make errors because we hate you personally.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:19pm

I can see taking a QB in the early rounds, espicially if the QB is Manning, but I don't think taking a WR early is a good idea. If there's a WR you want to take and his teams QB is still on the board, you should take the QB and get the WR later.

by Jerry garcia (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:38pm

Jordan is a "tremendous talent."

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Let's see how he performs as a featured, starting running back. The jury is still out on this one. We will know if he is truly a "tremendous talent" sometime in October and/or November, I dont think we should put him in the hall of fame yet. So far he only comes into the game when the defense has already been on the field all day.. we really don't know how he is going to do as a starter every week until he starts, every week.

I had to laugh when I read that he's a "tremendous talent" because he "can catch the ball a little bit."

by thatguy (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 5:05pm


Also, I don't agree that Denver's system caters to big power backs. Any back that hits the hole quick will succeed in Denver. In fact, I think fast backs will generally have more success, at least as far as YPC and TD's go, because Denver's o line opens up gaping holes. Fast backs are more likely to turn 15 or 20 yard gains into 60 yard gains. Maybe big backs will convert more often in short yardage (maybe, but from what I saw last year, Bell is about as powerful as Droughns--I mean this). I guess you have to ask if you'd rather have more big plays or more sustained drives. I'll take the big plays.

On a side note, Portis is an arrogant cry baby. When things are good, it's because he's a God (KC game two years ago). When they're bad it's because his line sucks, his coach can't call plays, and the opposing team has ESP (most of last season).

by El Angelo (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 5:39pm

Given this chart of RBs with potential, I'm curious to see how the beginnings of most fantasy drafts unfold. My instinct is that the Top 5 will be some combo of Tomlinson, Manning, Alexander, McGahee, and Dillon (not necessarily in that order), despite these projections. A bunch of those guys will be available in 2nd or 3rd round of 12 team leagues.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 6:21pm

But Bell doesnt run the same way as Droughns I assume.

FO stats indicate NYJ as having one of the leagues best offensive lines last year when it came to the ground game: 4.17 line yards (2), 87% power success (1), but they ranked 30th in 10+

Da Raidas on the other hand were nearly league average in most of those areas.

What to make of all this... Jordan put up better numbers, but only played at times. Ill call it a tie. Raiders line should be improving with the continued development of Gallery, right? Further, their numbers were probably hurt by the people behind them: Amos Zeroue, Tyrone Wheatley, Zack Crocket, whereas NYJ had a RB notching his tenth 1000 yard season or something, with a maybe even stronger backup.

Oakland's strong passing protection and talented passing trio should also help their running game... I would guess that they move up to one of the top ten rushing attacks this year.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 6:24pm

I'm still holding out hope, for the sake of sports journalism, that TO is traded to the Raiders so he can play alongside Randy Moss.

And with Kerry Collins throwing to them! And Warren Sapp lining up, sometimes, as a tight end!

You can't make reality television better than that!

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 6:35pm

Sorry double post... I meant a tie between Martin and Jordan in terms of how we could evaluate their skills from last season.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 7:40pm

I'd have rather seen the projection system named after Dan Strzynski ... side note: shouldn't it be Kubiak, not KUBIAK? Unless you really did come up with an acronym for it ...

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 7:56pm

Re #31: I heard that he had a chance to leave Denver, but he chose to stay and be Elway's backup because he was comfortable and happy with his position.

Re #39: Also, I don’t agree that Denver’s system caters to big power backs. Any back that hits the hole quick will succeed in Denver. In fact, I think fast backs will generally have more success, at least as far as YPC and TD’s go, because Denver’s o line opens up gaping holes. Fast backs are more likely to turn 15 or 20 yard gains into 60 yard gains. Maybe big backs will convert more often in short yardage (maybe, but from what I saw last year, Bell is about as powerful as Droughns–I mean this). I guess you have to ask if you’d rather have more big plays or more sustained drives. I’ll take the big plays.
Fast backs may be able to turn 15-20 yarders into 60 yarders, but it's the powerful guys who turn 4 yarders into 10-15 yarders. The blocking scheme may open big holes, but you still have to get past the LBs before you're in the second level, which isn't easy unless you're playing KC. Watch how Droughns and Davis ran. They'd get through the hole, take the 2 yards, and then power their way through LBs for more yards. Davis ran incredibly low to the ground, with an unbelievable power. Droughns fought harder for every yard than any back I've seen other than Duce Staley. That's why they work in the system. Ultimately, a 60 yard run is cool, but a 62 yard run and 19 2 yard runs (100 yards, 5 ypc) is substantially worse for the team than 20 consecutive 5 yard carries. A 62 yard run and 19 2 yard runs will give you a TD and 6 killed drives (and horrible field position on defense as a result). 20 consecutive 5 yard carries will result in multiple touchdowns, multiple sustained drives, and great field position for the defense when it has to take the field. Besides, Denver's entire offense is built around sustained drives, not big plays. It needs a back that sustains drives, not one that gets big plays.

Seriously, if there was a running back who could get you 3.5 yards on EVERY SINGLE CARRY, no matter what, every time, then he would go down in history as the greatest running back to ever play the game. And he'd only have a 3.5 ypc average. If there was an RB who would get a TD every 10th time he touched the ball, but would get stuffed for no yardage the rest of the time, he would be a liability to his team, even if he WAS averaging 6+ yards per carry.

by thatguy (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 8:19pm

Kibbles, I think we're destined to disagree on this subject. But, as I said, time will tell. And one of us will eat our words.

by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 9:43pm

Re:38 Relax, Jerry. No one is putting him in the Hall of Fame. But the argument that Jordan was nothing more than a product of the offensive line is silly.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 10:18pm

I just want to add that I wanted to call the KUBIAK rating system PISARCIK but no one asked my opinion

by jimmo (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 10:25pm

el angelo #40, I want in any league in which Dillon will be, at worst, the fifth pick!

by andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 12:33am

If you're naming it Kubiak after computer names, you gotta come up with an anagram or combination of words that it stands for (eg. UNIVAC = Universal Automatic Computer, ENIAC = Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer).

I think I'm pretty much resigned to spelling Computer with a K, but we could also put a 1000 on the end of it.

Komputerized Universal Ballgame Intelligent Analysis 1000?

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 4:41am

"On a side note, Portis is an arrogant cry baby. When things are good, it’s because he’s a God (KC game two years ago). When they’re bad it’s because his line sucks, his coach can’t call plays, and the opposing team has ESP (most of last season)."

You know what, we should debate who's the best RB - Curtis Martin, who just gets the job done year after year, plays smart, and is the ultimate team player, or Clinton Portis, who amazes with pure talent but whines about contracts and his teammates. For ease of debate, we shall refer to Martin as Brady and to Portis as Manning.

by Parker (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 10:21am

Basillicus, that is funny. I mean, that's really funny.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 10:44am

Basilicus, but who should we refer to as Vick?

by billvv (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 11:21am

Martin was ahead of Jordan for a reason. Jordan is a work in progress. Last year he finally stopped dancing and began to run over people. The Jets had to weigh production against cost for more players that they could hope to keep. I, for one, am glad they are giving Martin the chance to get another year of thousand yard production. He will be a Jet in the HOF. Any thought of moving him for Jordan would have been heartless.

by Carl (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 11:35am

I'm always amazed when I hear fans talk about the best "team players" or "locker room leaders." These determinations are invariably made without any visits to the locker rooms or talks with the players who, somehow, must be in thrall with a given star.

Portis is a respected player on his team. His coach is one of the best new minds in the game -- and he's not so good, he was an outstanding running back himself -- and speaks very highly of Portis as a guy who guts it out to win.

Just because a player has been on a team for awhile -- see Martin, Curtis -- doesn't mean he's universally beloved by his peers or that they think he's much of a "team player."

It's sometimes disheartening to see very outspoken players portrayed by writers or TV personalities as somehow working against "the team" when they hold out or stir up labor issues.

Many times, these players have nearly unanimous support on their squads, but not the PR rep for the team's owners. Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Jerry Porter (one of the smartest, nicest men in football) are guys who immediately come to mind.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 1:28pm


I recommend finding a running back that's had some phenomenal success, but appears to only be successful at one of many things that his position requires him to do, and receives far too much attention for his performance so far.

Hey! That sounds like Maurice Clarett!

by TheWes (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 3:08pm

Re: #56

Sounds like Westbrook. He's essentially a receiver in a running back's position.

by thatguy (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 3:38pm


Portis may be respected in Washinton, but he wasn't respected very highly in Denver. He took all the credit for his success and, well, it's apparent now that it wasn't all him. Team players give credit to the team. They don't masquerade in big flashy belts proclaiming themselves the best running back in the world.

Besides, being respected doesn't make him a team player. If he were a team player, he wouldn't place blame on anyone. But he does. Portis plays for Portis, not his team.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 7:13pm

Re #58:

Portis wasn't respected in Denver? Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith... all 3 of these guys had nothing but GREAT things to say about Portis. I don't recall them ever saying something negative about his work ethic, his drive, or his desire to win... and remember, Rod Smith has a history of calling his teammates out. All three of those guys were proven locker room leaders. They have said before that Clinton works incredibly hard at what he does, and this comes from a TE whose fitness regimine is legendary and a WR who has never once in his entire career missed a single minicamp, workout, or anything (a feat that Shanahan has said he's never seen duplicated).

Was Clinton loud and outspoken? Yes, of course he was. Was he arrogant and brash? Absolutely. Did he rub a lot of people the wrong way? Yup. You know what? So did Shannon Sharpe, but I've never heard anyone ever suggest that Sharpe was a cancer in the locker room, or a negative influence on the team. I've never heard anyone suggest JOE HORN is a negative influence on his team (although I don't follow the Saints that closely). Being outspoken isn't automatically a negative thing. If he wants to celebrate himself, I'm sure that's fine with his teammates, as long as he continues to produce.

I don't know if you remember, but in that infamous Chiefs game where he wore the championship belt on the sideline, Shannon Sharpe was participating just as much in the antics. Jake Plummer was in the huddle saying "let's kill clock" and Sharpe was saying "Nah, Portis, how about you just score another touchdown on this run".

Also, I would like to remind you of the time that Shannon Sharpe called the national guard to inform them that they were killing the Patriots.

I would also like to remind you that before the 2003 season, Priest Holmes dubbed himself the best RB in the NFL and told every fantasy owner with the #1 overall pick that they would regret it if they passed on him. Is he suddenly not respected in KC, now?

by thatguy (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 7:33pm

re: kibbles

I don't like Sharpe at all, jfyi. Nothing he says can be taken too seriously. But he did say "WE are killing the Patiots (WE being the keyword, in case the bold didn't give it away). By the way, a lot of people work incredibly hard at what they do, and a lot of people get quoted as saying "so and so works really hard," so yeah, great point.

Portis was respected for much of his time, not for who he was, but for what he did on the field. When it became clear he would hold out and he had serious maturity issues, it ended. And... the person whose respect it's most important to earn, you know, the coache's, well, he lost that. You can believe what you want about all of the "GREAT" things that were said about him. I'll believe what I want to believe. Fair?

As for Holmes, who cares? This isn't about him. But, I will say that Holmes didn't let fantasy owners down, did he? However, had Portis made a similar statement, well...

Kibbles, guess what? We disagree. So, keep arguing with everything I say if it will help you sleep at night. Otherwise, agree to disagree.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 8:41am

Anyone who believes that Denver, of all teams, would pay a running back big money deserves to have to go to Washington.

And as a Broncos fan, I hope Anderson starts.

by gabe (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 10:41am

While this site produces some great articles at times, it is mind boggling how they sometimes come up with such non sense as this article.
First of all the writer of this article is confused between real football stats and fantasy projections, while adding a lot of self promotion in trying to sell their so called prospectus.
What starts out as a good articles suddenly turns itno a peice of self promotion without any true football facts attached to it. This top 10 list of projections is about as arbitrarily arranged as I've ever seen one, not to mention that there is no way in the world anyone could project the actual yards produced by a back before the season even started.
Following in the media hype, the writer proceeds to jump on a bandwagon of "young backs are hot while curtis martin and other proven backs are washed up." what is really a big fraud is the fact that sooner or later you will be right. Considering that C-mart has been considered washed up for the last 4 years or so before the start of each season, you ar ebound to get it right sometime in this decade.I will not attempt to argue with you as to who should be in the top ten this upcoming year, as I do not see it fit to argue with the ABSURD.

P.S. As it is customary on this site I will quickly be warned that I will be banned and my article will be erased if I don't stop any criticizing immediatelly.

BTW: good job on the d-line article. stick with that!!!

by ZasZ (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 1:27pm


*Based on the KUBIAK projection system from Pro Football Prospectus 2005, available in early August. Click here to find out more about our book; click here to find out how you can get our fantasy projections in a spreadsheet before the book hits stores. Note: Top projected rushers are not necessarily top projected running backs for fantasy purpoes. [from the end of the article]

The projection system is not arbitrary. It seems so, because Aaron has not shared his method. I understand his motives ("Buy my book!"), and that's perfectly fine with me. You might want to read the article in its entirety before making such harsh criticism.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 2:12pm


Aaron has used a system to come up with this...that's one of the great things about this site - they try a lot of new statistical ways of looking at things...some of them work, some don't. As for the "old backs get worse" assertion, well, old backs do, you know, get worse. Aaron and folks in the past have ran studies on this and they've written about their theories on this before, so they have actually done work on figuring out markers and early predictors on this effect. Furthermore, I don't mind Aaron unabashedly giving shout-outs to his book. It seems that he suffered through a decent amount of risk and hard work back when this site wasn't yet popular to make this whole thing work, so if Aaron worked as hard on the book as he has in the past on this site, then he fully deserves to take advantage of what opportunities he has to try to get the book on its feet and accepted into the mainstream.

by Carl (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 4:20pm

Along some of these lines, but not all, Hunter S. Thompson has spoken. Substitute talk of hypocritical drug policies (federal or league) for the sort of rushing a player does when acquired by a franchise, and, well, you get the picture:

"All he did was take the ball and run every time they called his
number -- which came to be more and more often, and in the Super Bowl Thomas
was the whole show. But the season is now over; the purse is safe in the
vault; and Duane Thomas is facing two to twenty for possession. Nobody really
expects him to serve time, but nobody seems to think he'll be playing for
Dallas next year either, and a few sporting people who claim to know how the
NFL works say he won't be playing for ANYBODY next year; that the Commissioner
is outraged at this mockery of all those Government-sponsored 'Beware of Dope'
TV shots that dressed up the screen last autumn.
We all enjoyed those spots, but not everyone found them convincing.
Here was a White House directive saying several million dollars would be spent
to drill dozens of Name Players to stare at the camera and try to stop grinding
their teeth long enough to say they hate drugs of any kind... and then the best
running back in the world turns out to be a goddamn uncontrollable drugsucker.
But not for long. There is not much room for freaks in the National
Football League. Joe Namath was saved by the simple blind luck of getting
drafted by a team in New York City, a place where social outlaws are not
always viewed as criminals. But Namath would have had a very different trip
if he'd been drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals."

Suffice it to say, Edgerrin James might have had a very different trip had he been drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.

by Zac (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 12:38am

Two questions:

1. At what date did the book go to press?
2. Is there any chance that you will update your FF projections to keep up with current happenings? I'd gladly pay $10 for updated projections just before the season starts.

As opposed to those teams who draft in July, my league drafts as late as possible. So late that we sometimes have to figure out what to do about that opening Thursday game.

I've already bought the book, can't wait for it to get here. And I'd love to take the information football outsiders provides and use it in a fantasy perspective. But your projections aren't going to be as worthwhile to me as they would be to the early drafters, just because they will be (depending on your answer to question 1) something like 2 months old, correct?

Also RE: 35. A guy on a fantasy football message board I was on last year made this spreadsheet that could figure out how you should draft in the first six rounds, assuming you needed 2 RBs, 1 QB, and 3 WRs. The idea behind it was to maximize your total points among your starters at those positions. I also made a version that changed it to 2 WRs and a TE, but I lost that one at some point.

Anyway, to get it to work, you had to have projections that you trusted, and you also had to guess how many players in each position were going to go in each round. You can see a screenshot of it by clicking my name. If anyone wants a copy, they can e-mail at zhinz1@gmail.com and ask for it.

by Aaron (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 1:35am

Ah. A response.

1) I don't jump on any bandwagons. I drive my own bandwagon. Actually, I drive my own little Japanese car, trust me, it doesn't have room for anyone else to jump on it.

2) It isn't a "so called prospectus." The book really is called Pro Football Prospectus. Says so on the cover.

3) Yes, I do a lot of self promotion. I have a mortgage and a kid to feed. How much food did you give my daughter so that you could read this article? Speaking of which...

4) If I could really brainwash unknowing but well meaning fans, I would brainwash them into sending me $500 apiece for my fantasy projections, not $10.

5) Also, will someone please go tell the Dallas and Detroit fans about all the love we're giving their players here? The Detroit fans could always use some good news.

6) Hmmm. One more round of projections the week before the season starts? An interesting idea I shall ponder. Final edits on the book were finished in the two hours between when the Chiefs signed Az Hakim and when the Chiefs unsigned Az Hakim. (That's not a joke -- I re-wrote and then un-re-wrote Hakim's comment.)

7) I can't believe I misspelled the word "purposes." I'll go fix that now. It's that kind of thing that causes NFL fans on message boards around the country to agree: Football Outsiders sucks.

(at spell-checking)

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 3:30am

Aaron, you want me to send your kid food? Couldn't that be kind of creepy? You know, your kid opens a cardboard box scrawled on in illegible blue marker and finds a couple of rotten heads of lettuce inside? Just sayin'.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 1:42am

Not that I'm going to try personally, but I'm waiting for one of you acronym whizzes out there to come up with a system called ROETHLISBERGER. Just throwing it out there.

by Vig (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 7:08am

I cannot see how one of the KC RBs did not make this season's top ten list. The Chiefs running game has been devastating over the past few seasons. In every game Priest Holmes started, he ran for over 100 yards and scored at least one TD. Larry Johnson also threw up very good numbers behind that o-line. In fact, if the total numbers of Blaylock, Holmes and LJ were combined and split directly in half, both would be top ten RBs. I don't see a predisposition of Vermeil towards splitting carries, so to leave the KC backfield out of the top ten is a major oversight.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 12:08pm

I'm willing to bet the problem with a KC back is that Holmes is the starter and thus was the subject of the analysis. Holmes of course is over 30 years old with the wear and tear associated with that. He's already started missing games so it seems likely that he's in decline. I'm curious if Blaylock would project the best out of the KC backs and I wonder if this is the season LJ finally gets a chance to get out of the diapers for good.

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 12:11pm

re 69: You asked for it. ;-)

BEing a

by Dan L (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 1:38pm

Re: 57

You mean, like Marshall Faulk? Westbrook isn't as skilled as Faulk used to be, but they both play the same type of game. And I can't think of any recievers in the league that could run the way he does between the tackles. By the way, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are really wide recievers, Ed Reed is really a cornerback, and Michael Vick is really a running back. The game of football isn't played out on a depth chart.

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 2:41pm

Re: 73

The game of football isn’t played out on a depth chart.

Noooooo! My whole world is coming apart.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 5:34pm

Was there something about Blaylock to Jets?

by Zac (not verified) :: Mon, 07/11/2005 - 8:57pm

Yeah, I haven't really been paying attention, but I think Blaylock went to the Jets to backup Curtis Martin, because LaMont Jordan went to Oakland where he will probably end up starting, because both of their highest rushers last year, Amos Zereoue and Tyrone Wheatley are gone, and unsigned. Now, Justin Fargas is still in Oakland. His father, Antonio Fargas, is best known for playing "Huggy Bear" on Starsky & Hutch. Of course, in the 2004 remake of Starsky & Hutch, Huggy Bear was played by rapper Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg appeared in 1998's "I Got The Hookup", which also had an appearance by fellow rapper Ice Cube. Ice Cube started in both "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2". In Barbershop 2, Queen Latifah joined the cast as Gina. She reprised her role as Gina in "Beauty Shop", which had a small cameo by none other than Kevin Bacon.

Blaylock to Kevin Bacon in 11 names.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 9:53am

Although you could have done it in eight, by cutting out blurb. I've always thought that game would actually be better with Bill Paxton instead of Kevin Bacon. Besides the fact that he's been in at least as much pointless junk, he's just much cooler.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 10:39am

"I thought she would end up with the annoying boob, ably played by Bill Paxton."
"It's Bill Pullman, you idiot."

by Parker (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 11:56am

Bill Pullman is NOT cooler than Kevin Bacon.

by Furps (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 2:19pm

Aaron: Is there any worth to simply using a similar projection system to Tangotiger's "Marcel" approach?

IIRC, it's a 3-2-1 weightng of the last 3 years' results with some tweaking for age?

by jimmy jimmerson (not verified) :: Wed, 08/03/2005 - 4:23pm

what rounds should i expect to see these guys be drafted in:
kev jones
ju jones
s jackson
l jordan
kev barlow
tj ducks
ced benson
ron brown
dom davis
willy mcgahee

TX appreciate feedback.