Whether it’s via the rookie draft or the free-agent market, the month of April could go a long way toward determining the fantasy value of several high-profile running backs in 2009.
Here are 10 backs to watch:
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis: The Colts haven’t re-signed Dominic Rhodes, so Chad Simpson and Mike Hart are the current favorites to back up Addai next season. If the team adds a viable complement, Addai could land in a committee situation. Otherwise, his value could be back on the rise after what was an awful 2008 season.
Benson is the favorite to open next season atop the depth chart, at least for now. The Bengals are reportedly very high on Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno, and in-state collegiate standout Chris “Beanie” Wells is also an option. That makes Benson’s spot tedious at best once the NFL Draft rolls around.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati:
Edgerrin James, Arizona: The Cardinals are almost certain to take a running back in the draft (Connecticut’s Donald Brown or Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy are possibilities), so James could be released in the weeks to come. That would leave Tim Hightower to serve in a potential committee in the pass-laden Cardinals offense.
Brandon Jacobs, N.Y. Giants: Will the G-Men really use a prominent draft pick on a running back? NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche says yes in his recent mock draft. I’m not sure I buy it, but Jacobs has been very prone to injuries and is currently slated to see more carries after the Giants lost Derrick Ward to the Buccaneers.
Larry Johnson, Kansas City: The Chiefs won a ruling against Johnson this week and are no longer on the hook for his guaranteed salary or bonuses over the next two seasons. If the team releases L.J., Jamaal Charles would become an interesting sleeper candidate. This is certainly a situation that fantasy leaguers need to watch closely.
Jamal Lewis, Cleveland: Lewis, who turns 30 before the start of next season, is now on the downside of his career. However, he still has little competition for his starting role with only Jerome Harrison and Noah Herron in the mix. Look for the Browns to add some talent and create a potential committee situation in 2009.
Steve Slaton, Houston: Slaton was one of the biggest surprises in fantasy football last season, and his spot as the Texans’ top runner for next season is secure. There has been talk that the team will target a power runner to complement Slaton, however, so he could see fewer short-yardage and (more importantly) goal-line opportunities.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans: Coach Sean Payton has made his desire for a power back public this offseason, and rumors have the team interested in selecting Wells in Round 1 of the draft. If the Saints do land a back of Wells’ caliber, it would decimate the value of Thomas in 2009 drafts. Reggie Bush’s stock would remain unaffected.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego: The Chargers need offensive line and defensive help more than a running back of the future, but it might be hard to pass on someone like Moreno if he falls to them in the first round (No. 16 overall). If that scenario comes to fruition, L.T. could land in a committee with Moreno and Darren Sproles.
Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia: Westbrook, who turns 30 in September, could become the top option in a backfield committee if the Eagles land a superstar like Moreno or Wells in the draft. The team wants to find Westbrook’s heir apparent, so his value in fantasy football is almost destined to take a hit at Radio City Music Hall.
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