Originally created 08/19/04

Fantasy Football: Running back changes leave roster quandaries



Now that just about everyone is done taking their pot shots at former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, it's time to pay attention to who'll be on the field this year.

Some important changes hit the running back position in the off-season.

Three big-name backs wound up with different addresses. Cincinnati rerouted the disgruntled Corey Dillon to New England, Washington pulled off a blockbuster trade with Denver for Clinton Portis and Eddie George departed for Dallas.

They weren't the only backs to find new homes this year. Garrison Hearst left San Francisco for Denver, Charlie Garner rejoined old coach Jon Gruden in Tampa, Duce Staley stayed in state to join Pittsburgh and Antowain Smith is hoping Tennessee can put some life back in his up-and-down career.

So what do some of these changes mean?

In Cincinnati, there's no longer a controversy as Rudi Johnson is now the main attraction. This could move Johnson into a top-round selection in some drafts as running backs often go quickly.

Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid's got a decision to make between Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook. One that could give you a splitting headache if one doesn't pull away from the pack in preseason.

The Eagles' dilemma, along with the situations in Denver and Pittsburgh will have to be monitored closely if you're looking at a back from there. The Steelers still have Jerome Bettis, who might only be used sparingly this year, but could turn into a goal-line vulture. The Broncos have plenty of backs in line to take Portis' spot, including Hearst, Quentin Griffin, Mike Anderson and rookie Tatum Bell.

Also be wary of the situation in Buffalo. Willis McGahee, coming off a horrendous knee injury, will take points away from Travis Henry. Despite Henry's 1,356 yards and 10 touchdowns, he has been known to put the ball on the ground, fumbling 23 times in the past three years. This could open the door for McGahee and shove Henry out.

If you're looking to take a chance on rookies, there's two to really keep an eye on.

Detroit could find itself in good hands with Kevin Jones, who has two promising receivers and a blossoming quarterback around him.

St. Louis needed insurance for the oft-injured Marshall Faulk, and if he suffers another setback, look for Stephen Jackson to make an impact.

With all the turmoil, and there was plenty more that wasn't covered, the top backs have pretty much remained the same. These are the sure-to-be first drafted, the ones that could carry you to your league title.

1. Priest Holmes, Kansas City: The man is a scoring machine having seen the paint 48 times in the past two years, including an NFL record 27 times last year.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego: He proved he didn't need an effective quarterback to have a breakthrough year. He wound up third in the league in rushing and was a threat catching the ball as well.

3. Jamal Lewis, Baltimore: His legal troubles aside, and they are until February, Lewis showed what his value was last year with a league-leading 2,066 yards and 15 touchdowns.

4. Ahman Green, Green Bay: He proved he's a top 5 back with 1,883 yards and 20 combined touchdowns last year.

5. Shaun Alexander, Seattle: Helped carry Seattle into the playoffs for the first time under coach Mike Holmgren. Could be poised for another great year.

6. Corey Dillon, New England: If you don't believe Dillon isn't happy to be out of Cincinnati, watch him run over defenses behind the Patriots' offensive line.

7. Clinton Portis, Washington: A colleague of mine made a good point the other day. He's not facing the soft defenses of the AFC West anymore.

8. Edgerrin James, Indianapolis: Could be the next great running back in Miami. He's a free agent after this year and he'll show the Dolphins, or anyone else who's interested, how much he's worth.

9. Stephen Davis, Carolina: Has proven a top commodity if he can stay healthy.

10. Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: Doesn't score a lot of touchdowns, but he's a threat every time he touches the ball.

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