|Stay sharp grasshopper. Stevan Ridley has become the apple of Bill Belichick's eye. (ESPN.com)|
Guess who's back? The running backs.
We were supposed to be entering the decade of the quarterback. Guys throwing the ball 50 times a game and racking up more 5,000 yard passing seasons in a year than had previously ever existed. Oh, if only Dan Marino were still around. Hell, maybe this would be promising if Don Majkowski were still around.
But, poof, just like that we've returned to the seemingly bygone era of running back heavy football, and needing those players to carry our fantasy squads.
This past week, 16 rushers had more than 15 attempts carrying the rock, and two of them - Jamaal Charles and Ahmad Bradshaw - reached the 30 carry mark. They also ran for 200 and 140 yards respectively.
|What could have been for the Majik Man.|
Ten teams thus far are averaging over 30 rush Att/G. Of those ten teams that average over 30 rushes per game, only Kansas City has outright fallen on their face. Washington and Miami have losing records, but have exceeded expectations to this point, and the rest of the teams have winning records, including the top two teams in rush attempts - New England and Houston - who are both candidates for best team in football.
What's been the cause of this? Well there are a couple of factors that jump out after 5 weeks.
1. Two Back System
What started as the perceived as the death nail for 30 carry per game rushers, the two back system has become all but mandatory in today's NFL. For every running back no matter how elite, there needs to be a more than qualified back-up to keep the top RB on the depth chart rested, healthy, and keep the offense moving for the team. Even Arian Foster, who just signed a monster deal to stay in Houston, has Ben Tate backing him up. If Tate was traded tomorrow and given the lion's share of the carries, he'd be a top 10 back, easily.
2. New Blood
There have been a lot of impact running backs this year, that were injured, ineffective, or not even in the league in 2011. Guys like Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, Doug Martin, and Mikel Leshoure have all turned teams with limited run presence into run threats. Aside from Leshoure who just returned form injury, all have helped fantasy teams as well.
3. Offensive Line Value
While manning the o-line will hardly ever be glamorous, it's without a doubt that teams are focusing more and more on developing and paying these players. Pass and run protection are key, and as Michael Lewis pointed out in The Blind Side (it's not just about Michael Oher) that the players on the offensive line are as important as ever. While his initial take is about the development of the left tackle, you can see how every position has increased in significance.
If your team loses a center, all you hear about is the fret and concern about pass protection calls, snapping the ball cleanly to the quarterback, knowing the audibles and everything else that goes into running a smooth offense. Well, with this increased value in the o-line, wouldn't it make sense that players develop and embrace this role more? Become better players at run and pass blocking?
We've yet to have a dominant batch of offensive linemen in a draft class, but there have been linemen emerging on a year to year basis. Last year I had never heard of Josh Sitton, but commentators were talking about him like he's the best player in football.
4. Old Dogs Learning New Tricks
The main reason this is happening is due to two of the most stubborn coaches in the NFL. Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan have both learned to love the run game and one running back. How this happened I have no idea. In all of Belichick's hubris did he choose to zig with the run game when everyone thought he'd zag and throw the ball 50 times a game? Perhaps his offensive line's trouble pass blocking for Tom Brady made running the ball more of a necessity to keep teams at bay. Maybe Aaron Hernandez's injury caused a dramatic shift in strategy, when it appeared BB was looking to unleash Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on unlucky defenses. For whatever reason, he found Ridley/Brandon Bolden/Shane Vereen/Danny Woodhead and he's trudging along.
The bigger shocker is Shanahan. He's never stuck with a RB like this since Clinton Portis. Alfred Morris has been a beast thus far. With Robert Griffin III getting dinged up, you would imagine Shanahan would rely on Morris even more this week if RGIII can't go. Has Shanahan finally bought in to a running back? Is this his last ploy to suck all fantasy owners in only to have him pull the rug out from under us one more time? Get out of my head Mike Shanahan, get out!
And yes, I know I picked Morris as a stay away in Week 2. If you added him, then hey, you definitely got value. He's even getting the Terrell Davis comparisons I joked about! As far as a season long player, I need two more weeks. If he does that, I'll throw in the towel on Alfred.
|Can Alex Green get the Packers' offense back on track? (Andy Lyons/Getty)|
Those waiver picks are getting slimmer and slimmer. Time to look at some players with $$ signs in our eyes.
Brandon Bolden, RB - NE (47% owned)
It'd kind of kill the momentum of the article if I didn't suggest a running back add this week. Bolden is clearly behind Ridley in carries, but he has the ability and the opportunity to emerge any given week. He's more of a straight line back than Ridley, so he's not going to break out on a lot of long runs, but with Ridley's potential fumbling issues, Bolden could sneak his was in as a goal line back. Sort of a Kevin Faulk/BenJarvus Green-Ellis hybrid player.
Davone Bess, WR - MIA (32%)
For all the Brian Hartline love that was going around last week, I feel that Bess is the better play in Miami. If you had the will power to pass on Hartline, you should invest in Bess. With Ryan Tannehill getting more and more comfortable, he'll be throwing a lot more, and I would look for the Dolphins to increase their play action pass plays with Reggie Bush running so well. He'd be a WR3 start for me this week in St. Louis.
Alex Green, RB - GB (10%)
Let's not get all Brandon Jackson 2.0 over here. With Cedric Benson injuring his foot, he could be out 6 weeks in the cheese state. Some things to keep in mind is that the Packers are having trouble running the ball, and on top of that they aren't much of a run team. However, with their recent struggles and a clear need for a change in mentality among the offensive players, the 2nd year man Green could take this opportunity to impress. He was a yards per carry beast, leading NCAA Division 1-A with 8.2 YPC in 2010, and in his first limited action last week, he pulled off runs at a 6.1 average (granted with a 41 yard run thrown in). He looks to be tough to bring down, and the Pack just may look to feature him a bit more.
PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED
Santana Moss, WR - WAS (33%)
Is he really owned in a third of leagues? He's the 3rd WR on the Redskins when everyone is healthy, and there's nothing to look forward to here as far as upside. With the lack of chemistry he's created with RGIII along with doubts Kirk Cousins will be throwing many more 77 yard TD's, this is a stay away. Many better wide receivers to click on for your roster needs.
Josh Gordon, WR - CLE (2%)
I'm filing this one under the "Someone has to Catch Passes" corollary. It's Cleveland. Someone has to catch passes! Brandon Weeden has been sneaky not terrible since his Week 1 fiasco, complete with getting sacked by the American flag. I wouldn't look to much into a 2 catch day against the weak Giants secondary as a coming out party, but he can serve as a big play threat for the Browns.