Originally created 08/08/03

Fantasy football: Running backs make the difference

Everybody wants to win his fantasy football league.

Just think of the glory you could achieve with a Super Bowl win - bragging rights for an entire year, the sense of satisfaction that your team was the best, and hey, who doesn't love a winner?

However, if you're going to climb the mountain to success, it'd be wise to have a strong horse to get you to the top. In this case, that horse has to be a great running back.

Undoubtedly, the most valued position in virtually all fantasy leagues is the running back. Week after week, the majority of games are decided by an extra 10 rushing yards or that last-second goal-line plunge.

This season there's no shortage of outstanding backs that could carry you up that mountain.

There's a dreadlocked Longhorn in Miami who's set for another magnificent season. The lightning bolt in San Diego is ready to make another charge for the league rushing title. In St. Louis, there's a back determined to show he's ram tough after an injury-plagued season. New Orleans has a bayou blazer to help that team to the playoffs, and how could you go wrong with choosing a priest in Kansas City to play for you on Sundays?

The quality of rushing candidates is stunning this season, which is why owners should go for a top back early and often. You can always pick up a decent quarterback in the middle rounds. If you come up with two productive backs, they'll offset any minuses if you do come up with a substandard quarterback.

Here's a look at the top 10 running backs heading into the season:

1. Ricky Williams, Miami: Everybody saw what he was capable of last season. Expect more of the same as the Dolphins make a push toward the Super Bowl.

2. Marshall Faulk, St. Louis: He's healthy, he's got a better offensive line (even more so when Orlando Pace finally signs) and he's the best pass-catching back in the league. He'll make a lot of owners happy.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego: With the addition of wide receiver David Boston, defenses will have to stop the eight-man fronts, which will give Tomlinson another outstanding year.

4. Priest Holmes, Kansas City: The leading touchdown scorer from last year is coming off a serious injury to his hip. If he can come back strong, he should have the same kind of season in the Chiefs' high-powered offense.

5. Clinton Portis, Denver: The Broncos always find a quality running back to make up for injuries to previous stars. Portis' rookie season was phenomenal, and he's got a great line to run behind.

6. Shaun Alexander, Seattle: He had the game of the season against Minnesota last year when he scored six touchdowns. Expect another fantastic year.

7. Edgerrin James, Indianapolis: He finally looks healthy after a knee injury ended his season two years ago.

8. Deuce McAllister, New Orleans: Equally deadly running through the defense and coming out of the backfield, he should have another super season in the Superdome.

9. Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: With the departure of goal-line vulture Stacey Mack to Houston, Taylor should get even more touchdowns this year.

10. Ahman Green, Green Bay: The Packers' offensive line was atrocious against the Chiefs in the first preseason game, but Green will have another good year} if he can stay healthy.

Reach Raymond Beasock at (706) 823-3221 or raymond.beasock@augustachronicle.com.


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