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Old 06-11-2005, 04:43 PM   #4
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2005 Fantasy Football RB Busts

by Brian Murphy

Good fantasy running backs are like fancy sports cars: Getting one will cost you a pretty penny. And no matter if you are rolling on 22" rims with four monitors in the back, if those horses under the hood break down, you are screwed. So, I am here to help you spend your money (or draft picks) wisely. In no particular order, here are some stallions of the gridiron that you should shy away from on draft day.

Curtis Martin, NY Jets: To plainly state the extremely obvious, it is very unusual for any NFL running back to follow up the worst season of his decade-long career with his best season. Even more, these players are not supposed to set a personal record for carries in a season at the age of 31. But, this is exactly what Curtis Martin accomplished in 2004. For a guy who was selected in the third or fourth round of many drafts last year, it just goes to show how underrated this guy really is�and I am not going to change that at all. Part of me says that 2004 was a pretty big fluke year for Martin. I like to compare it to a devastating earthquake. It comes without warning and causes massive destruction. But, after a minute, it will stop and everything will begin to return to normal. Now at 32, I just do not see Martin putting up another awesome year, especially after he toted the rock a career-high 371 times. And that does not even include the 41 passes that Martin hauled in. This type of workload usually means bad things for the player in the following season and that brings up the following study: There were 24 occasions where a running back carried the ball at least 370 times in a single season up through 2003. In 14 of those cases, the player's production noticeably dropped off the next year. And one of those 24 cases was Ricky Williams' 392 carries in 2003 and we do not know what he did the following season because he "retired." Also, Eric Dickerson falls into his own category. He is responsible for four of those 24 seasons and in every one, he did the same or better in the following year. That is just not realistic. Without those five cases, that is a 74% chance (14/19) where Martin's numbers will see some sort of visible drop off in 2005. They say the numbers never lie.

Michael Bennett, Minnesota: By now, we should never be caught off guard by anything in Minnesota. As expected, on Tuesday, the NFL officially suspended Bennett's backup, Onterrio Smith, for the entire 2005 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy for the third time. As expected, head coach Mike Tice named Bennett as the Vikings' starting running back for the upcoming season. And in a few months, there will be another event that shouldn't shock you: Bennett limping off the Metrodome turf. Bennett has sprinter speed, but he seems to get injured just as quickly. Since his Pro Bowl season in 2002, Bennett has missed 13 games in two seasons with an assortment of knee and foot ailments. And in the rare occasion that he can play, Bennett is not worth the 3rd or 4th round pick he is being used for in most drafts. In those other 19 games, Bennett has gathered under 1,100 total yards with just four TDs. If/when Bennett does break another bone in his foot and has to have surgery, look for Mewelde Moore to fill in, a very good dual-purpose back. While he should not be picked before Bennett in drafts (Michael IS the starter right now, of course), I would not be surprised to see Mewelde put up the better numbers of the two RBs by the end of the season.

Chris Brown, Tennessee: Here is another running back who is as fragile as a spider's web. Brown began to make Titan fans forget about Eddie George quickly in 2004. In his first five games, the Colorado alum hit the 100-yard mark four times and also notched his first four career touchdowns. But, after the season's first half, Brown only played in three games for the rest of the year because of reoccurring bouts of turf toe. This came after struggling with a sprained ankle and a strained hamstring in his rookie year of 2003. And just a couple of weeks ago, Brown fractured his right hand on a teammate's helmet during a mini-camp drill. At this rate, the man will be in a body cast by 27. Scouts have worried that Brown's up-and-down running style would leave his body prone to big hits and consequently, big injuries. Well, nothing truly severe yet, but this could be a precursor to something worse. With the constant injuries and the rumors that the Titans are very interested in Travis Henry, I would much rather go with someone like LaMont Jordan or Tatum Bell as my second RB over this ticking time bomb.

Brian Westbrook, Eagles: Last preseason, as soon as Correll Buckhalter was lost for the entire season with a torn right patella tendon, Westbrook's value skyrocketed. Without Buckhalter, there would be no platoon. Brian would take all the carries. Thus, Westbrook became a very likable 2nd running back and he ended up rewarding his owners with a career-high in total yards. From weeks 10 through 15, Westbrook was arguably the best fantasy RB around. But, it is a new year, patella tendons do heal with surgery and Buckhalter is back in the mix in Philly. What does this mean? At 5'10", 205 pounds, Westbrook is not a prototypical NFL back. His small frame makes him vulnerable to injuries. Of course, the Eagles know this and that is where Buckhalter enters. Twenty pounds bigger than Westbrook, Buckhalter is a change of pace back that helps keep Westbrook fresh. Most importantly, Buckhalter will most likely handle the goal line touches, stealing all those valuable TDs from Westbrook. And this might be might be more than a two-man job. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said earlier this week that rookie Ryan Moats may play a sizeable role in the offense, depending on how fast Moats learns the system. Brian is still a respectable 2nd back in most leagues because he is such an accomplished pass catcher, but the backfield is getting crowded quickly. I would not expect another 1,500 yard season from Brian and 9 TDs may be a little too much to ask for as well.

Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: I was reading some material on Freddie today and I was a little stunned to learn that he is only 29 years old. I do not think I am alone here. With as many injuries as Taylor has been though, I just assumed he was already in his mid-thirties. In the fall, there were certain events that we just wrote off as automatic. They were part of the universe's heartbeat. The foliage changes color. Schools re-open. Fred Taylor's body disintegrates. It was expected. But, to his credit, Taylor had been working off the "Fragile Freddy" moniker. In the past three seasons, Taylor played in all but two games and he was starting to look like a solid #2 fantasy back. Then, his touchdown total plummeted in 2004 and now it seems that Taylor is up to his old tricks. Back in January, Taylor underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to fix the left MCL that he tore at the end of last season. At first, he would be out a couple months. Then, we heard he wouldn't be back until June at the earliest. Now, there are whispers that Taylor's entire season may be in jeopardy. Knowing his history and his penchant for getting hurt, I have a really hard time figuring why people are still taking him in the 3rd round, on average, .in 12-team mock drafts, according to This is a guy that I would avoid at all costs. If anything else, take a look at LaBrandon Toefield later on in the draft. He would be Taylor's main back up and the Jags' offensive coordinator Carl Smith really likes him.
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