2005 player ratings: Running backs
By Matt Pitzer, Sports Weekly
In a time of increasingly liberalized passing rules, running backs easily get overlooked. But this also has emerged as a time of nearly unmatched prosperity for running backs. While the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, retired this offseason, Nos. 4 and 5 on the list ?Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis? are still going strong.
Jerome Bettis' resurgent 2004, in which he had at least 100 yards in each of the six games he started and scored a career-high 13 TDs, convinced him to return to Pittsburgh. The 33-year-old Bettis, the fifth all-time leading rusher, could retire after this season, his 13th.
Under the radar
Pittsburgh's Duce Staley has a strong start in 2004 with an average of 101 yards in his first seven games before being derailed by a hamstring injury and overshadowed by Bettis. If Staley got through a season healthy, his value would be clear.
On the rise
As the Steelers' offense becomes more physical and more ground-oriented, some credit has to go to Dan Kreider, one of the game's best lead blockers. The Steelers don't ask him to do much else and have little reason to do so.
It is nice to see Dan Kreider get some attention. He plays very well and never really gets much media attention.
2005 player ratings: Kickers and punters
By Howard Balzer, Sports Weekly
Sure, they're often the punchline of locker room jokes, but ask any member of the Patriots how valuable Adam Vinatieri is. The New England kicker has hit the game-winning field goal during all three of the team's Super Bowl wins, two of the kicks coming on the game's final play. Punters can be just as valuable, albeit less noticeable, as teams vie for precious field position game in and game out. The Sports Xchange sorted kickers and punters into six categories: Elite, A Notch Below, Rock Solid, On the Rise, On the Rebound and Setting Sun.
Jeff Reed has become clockwork for Pittsburgh and should be their kicker for years to come. He was 28-for-33 in 2004 (84.8%) and was perfect on two attempts from 50 yards or longer.