There’s a lot to get to with the running back, so let’s jump right in:
Grab these guys:
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jax: He tweaked his ankle this past weekend, but don’t worry. He’s going to go off this season. Jones-Drew had a down year in 07, but look for the run-oriented offense in Jacksonville to feature him often. And when Fred Taylor goes down with a groin pull in Week 2, look for Jones-Drew to become a Westbrook-like producer.
Reggie Bush, NO: The critics piled on Bush last season when the former Trojan struggled in a full-time gig. But with McAllister back and a capable backup Pierre Thomas waiting in the wings, Bush will return to his 06 form, when he rushed for 565 yards, caught 88 balls for 742 yards and scored eight TDs. Expect a little more in the rushing numbers and maybe a few less catches (700/700/10).
Marion Barber III, Dal: This has become a no-brainer. He runs hard, he scores touchdowns and he’s going to get the ball a lot. With Julius Jones gone, and rookie Felix Jones in his stead, Barber will get a bump in his carries this season. Barber had 204 carries for 975 yards and 10 TDs last season, look for him to gain about 70-100 carries and 400-500 yards and 3-4 TDs. If he can duplicate his receiving numbers (44/282/2), he’s a top-7 pick that is going around picks No. 10-12 in most drafts.
DeAngelo Williams, Car.: I’m a big fan of the Panthers this season. And word out of Charlotte is that Williams is making quite an impression at camp. He rushed for 101 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown in their third preseason game. Apparently Carolina is going to rotate series with Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart, but I’ll see it when I believe it. Stewart was injury prone in the Pac-10, what’s going to happen to him when his toe gets sat on by the likes of Ted Washington. Expect Williams to start most of the games and get 75-percent of the teams carries in ’08, which could mean 275 carries and 40 catches. That means based on last season’s splits he could post numbers like this: 1,400/300/9 TDs. Wow.
Avoid these bums:
Joseph Addai, Ind.: I can’t shake it, but I don’t like the Colts this season. Peyton Manning’s injury is starting to get worrisome and the Colts play in a stacked division. First reason I don’t like Addai: He isn’t the toughest running back in the league. Second: Did you know Addai failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark in the final eight games last season. Not good. Don’t overpay for him.
Willie Parker, Pitt.: Another team I don’t like. Something seems amiss. I could see them going 6-10 this season. The magic’s gone … and so is All-Pro Alan Faneca. Which is bad news for Parker. The addition of Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t help. Parker will not match his numbers from a year ago (1,316/164/2). More like: 850/100/1. Not good.
Thomas Jones, NYJ: Before you-know-who happened upon the Jets, I was luke-warm on Jones. Now … no thanks. The Jets are going to let Favre fling the ball around the Meadowlands and that’s going to mean lesser numbers for Jones. Throw in the fact he turned 30 a few days ago and look for Jones’ numbers to dip. Expect guys like Jesse Chatman and Leon Washington to poach more than a few carries from Jones this season. The biggest reason I put him here because many people are picking him to be a sleeper and choosing him in the high third round. Don’t believe it.
Chris Perry: Apparently Cincinnati is shopping Rudi Johnson, so the job is wide open. They’re doing this because they like Perry. The former Michigan running back is finally healthy and he’s playing well in the preseason. His main upside: he catches balls out of the backfield, something Johnson never could get down. In the Bengals’ offense, Perry could post big numbers (a guess: 1,100/450/8). Of course Kenny Watson is there, so temper your expectations a little.
Kevin Jones, Chi.: The former Lion has been cleared to play and the Bears seem to think he can contribute. Matt Forte, a rookie, is cemented as the starter, but you know how many times first-year guys with promise get hit for the first time on Week 1, hear the bells, see the stars and can’t keep it up. My guess is Forte is backing up Jones by Week 3. And Jones, who put up good numbers in Martz’s pass-happy offense over the past two years, could post modest numbers in an anemic Bears’ offense. My guess: 950/375/8
Steve Slaton, Hou.: The rookie is day-to-day with a turf toe, but before he got injured he was impressing coaches. The Texans have two retreads in Ahman Green and Chris Brown who are very injury prone. Slaton, who has run for 44, 57 and 37 yards in three preseason games, leading Houston in two of those games. The Texans may be better this season and head coach Gary Kubiak is a fan of decisive running backs. Slaton could be the breakout RB of the year and you should be able to get him real late.
A few links to check out
Peter King’s take on Mike Holmgren. A very interesting read for Seahawks fans.(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/peter_king/08/24/mmqb/index.html) By the way, I love how everybody says Seattle is the North Pole. Really?!? C’mon. Just stupid. I thought it was interesting that Holmgren said he’s really open to coaching or being involved somehow with another franchise, even as soon as next year.
The 49ers named J.T. O’Sullivan their starting quarterback over Alex Smith and Shaun Hill (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/22/SPTO12GNCS.DTL). Not a big surprise, considering Smith and Hill are terrible. I forgot to mention in my QB preview, but O’Sullivan could be a nice last-round pick. A lot of people have been pooh-poohing O’Sullivan, and for good reason, but you never know when somebody is guiding a Mike Martz offense (remember Jon Kitna). Plus O’Sullivan played well in the third preseason game against the Bears’ starters, completing 7 of 8 passes for 126 yards and a TD.