Felix Jones, Jonathan Stewart, and Matt Forte are arguably 3 of the most talented young runners in the NFL, yet they are all in a dreaded RBBC (running back by committee) situation. Stewart and Forte have shown superstar capabilities throughout a whole season. Jones has flashed an intriguing skill set that has made him look like an elite talent, albeit in short bursts. The question on fantasy football owners minds is, when is the right time to take a chance on one of these potential studs?
Matt Forte was nothing short of brilliant in 2008. The rookie out of Tulane took the NFL by storm with 1715 yards from scrimmage including 63 receptions and 12 total touchdowns. Everyone took notice last year, as he was a top 5 pick in nearly every fantasy football draft. His ’09 season was labeled a huge bust, as his touchdown numbers dipped to 4, and his fumbles increased from 1 to 6. He also really struggled in short yardage situations, converting only 12 of 23 opportunities. Many seem to think that Forte’s real problems were from the Bears offensive line, which was often over-matched.
The Bears were concerned enough to sign veteran runner Chester Taylor to a free agent deal. Taylor, like Forte, is an excellent receiver, a huge asset in the new Mike Martz offense. His only season as a featured back was in 2006 for the Vikings. Since that time he has played a 3rd down, change of pace role for Minnesota.
The key question, is how will these carries and catches be split among the two backs? Look for Forte to be more of a 1st and 2nd down back, and Taylor to spell him on 3rd downs, or even have both in the backfield at once. Taylor is probably better suited for a more limited role, allowing Forte to be an excellent fantasy football bargain this year in the 4th round or later.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams form the best running back duo in the NFL. They became the first tandem in league history to each eclipse 1,100 yards rushing last year. When Williams got hurt and missed three games in 2009, Stewart was absolute money, rushing for 120, 206, and 125 yards, with a touchdown in all 3 games.
Stewart also runs behind one of the top lines in the NFL. The Panthers have run for 48 touchdowns over the last two seasons. In 2009, when both backs played, Carolina seemed to favor Williams slightly more than Stewart, with something close to a 60/40 split.
That should change this year. The Panthers have talked of going to a true 50/50 split amongst the two backs. Stewart could even earn a larger share than that; Williams is in a contract year, and Carolina may want to see what “The Daily Show” can do for them in a lead role. Fantasy football owners should too. Stewart is being drafted as late as the 3rd round, and a full 10-15 spots behind his teammate in early 2010 drafts.
Felix Jones has not had the success of Forte or Stewart, yet. He has not really had the same opportunity to showcase his talent in a starting role, yet. Enter 2010, where the talk out of Dallas was moving Felix into the featured, starting running back role, and returning Marion Barber to his closers role that he was so productive with in 2006 and 2007.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and indeed all of the fantasy football world has been begging to see what the blazing Felix Jones could do with 20 carries per game. He has shown phenomenal speed, scoring from distances of 98 (on a kick return), 60, 33, 46, and 49 yards out.
One main reason for Jones’ limited carries has been his tendency to get hurt. In anticipation of an expanded role, he has packed 12 pounds of muscle onto his upper body; Jones now outweighs Marion Barber. But, how many times have we heard this story: NFL runner packs on weight in anticipation of an increased pounding, only to lose the speed and burst that were responsible for the opportunity?[ad#TS 120X60 Left]
Over the last week, the momentum seems to be switching back towards Barber’s way. It has been said that his burst, lacking the past two years as a featured back, has returned. The likely scenario for the Cowboys to use is to have Jones start games, and carry the ball 10-15 times, but to have Barber be the 3rd down back, and short yardage specialist. In early 2010 fantasy draft ADP’s, Jones is being selected with the 54th pick, while Barber is a full 30 spots later. It seems the bargain here may be to pass on the potential, and wait for the touchdowns.