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Mining your way to fantasy gold - NFC East RBs edition

Now that the quarterbacks are out of the way, I'll stay in the backfield and focus on the running backs of the NFC East.  Each team in the division has had some success running the ball in recent years, and 2009 looks to provide much of the same.  There is some uncertainty in the division, regarding the health of a certain fantasy stud's ankle and the impact of running back committees.  Let's take a look and see how the RBs shake down.

NFC East RBs

  1. Brian Westbrook PHI
  2. Clinton Portis WAS
  3. Brandon Jacobs NYG
  4. Marion Barber DAL
  5. Felix Jones DAL
  6. LeSean McCoy PHI
  7. Ahmad Bradshaw NYG
  8. Ladell Betts WAS

After the jump, walk with me as I breakdown the RBs of the East...

Brian Westbrook

A lot of people may disagree with me on this one, but I still think Westbrook is the best fantasy option in the East at RB.  Yes, he had offseason ankle surgery, and yes, the Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy; however, Westbrook has done nothing but score TDs and rack up all-purpose yards.  Westbrook has just recently begun practicing with the team, appearing fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery.  Another alarming fact is that Westbrook is turning the dreaded 30 in September, an age in which RBs decline noticeably.   With the all the new toys in the Philadelphia offense, I just cannot envision Westbrook having a poor season.  He's always been nicked up and battling injuries, so I expect good things in 2009.  Westbrook is still a top 10 pick in most leagues, and he'll produce like it.  Fantasy Forecast: 1600 total yards, 12 total TDs

Clinton Portis

Portis had some ups and downs in 2008, clashing with head coach Jim Zorn at times.  However, the former Miami Hurricane still had a fantastic season which say him rush for over 100 yards in 5 straight contests (week 4 - week 8).  Through weeks 9 - 14, Portis only rushed for 100 yards once, and had just 20+ carries once.  Prior to that, Portis had at least 20 carries in each game; luckily he finished the final 3 games of 2008 with 20+ carries in each contest.  Another downer about Portis' season was his smallish TD total of 9, and Portis has yet to top 11 total TDs since joining Washington (in Denver he scored 31 TDs in 2 seasons).  The recent news of Ladell Betts stealing third down opportunities doesn't necessarily take away from Portis' TD opportunities, but it doesn't help him either.  Portis is notorious for being a workhorse, and won't be 30 until 2011.  Therefore, taking Portis in the top 20 isn't a shame at all.  Fantasy Forecast: 1500 total yards, 10 total TDs

Brandon Jacobs

Earth, Wind and Fire officially broke up when Derrick Ward went to Tampa Bay, potentially creating more carries for the bruising Brandon Jacobs.  I wouldn't bet the farm on Jacobs getting much more than the 219 carries he saw last season, only because his style of running isn't really recommended in 300 carry-doses.  Jacobs averages around 5 yards per carry, and is a load to bring down; anything north of 250 carries is asking for trouble.  The Giants still have a capable RB stable with Ahmad Bradshaw, but Andre Brown's ruptured Achilles' Tendon almost boost Jacobs value.  In 2008, the beast had five multi-TD games en route to a career high 15 TDs.  Jacobs should see 200+ carries in 2009, and it will take an injury to keep this monster from scoring at least 10 TDs.  Taking Jacobs in the top 20 isn't a bad plan, just keep in mind he may miss a few games during the season because of his punishing running style.  Fantasy Forecast: 1100 total yards, 16 total TDs

Marion Barber

I'll get this out of the way quick: a friend tells me Felix Jones is going to unseat Marion the Barbarian as Dallas' number 1 RB by season's end.  To be quite honest, I don't see Dallas as a team that will have a clear cut #1 runner.  Barber has been successful in Dallas when he's in a committee, having scored 42 Total TDs in his four seasons with Dallas (which includes just 5 in his rookie year).  The Dallas RB dipped in production in the later part of 2008, netting just 13 carries (18 total touches) in the season's final four games (he missed one).   I still believe Barber is an effective NFL runner, but I'm doubting his reliability as a weekly fantasy starter.  I would wait until after pick 30 to select Barber.  Fantasy Forecast: 1100 total yards, 8 total TDs


The Back-Ups

Felix Jones

It will be likely that you'll need to invest a pick in the 80s to land Felix Jones in your draft, if not higher.  Jones only played in 6 games during 2008, but scored 3 TDs and had 266 yards rushing.  Not the most impressive numbers in the world, but considering his workload was shared with Barber, it's certainly not terrible.  In most drafts, I would try to land Felix Jones before Marion Barber's owner can.  Like McCoy, Jones makes an excellent hand-cuff to Barber, but he comes at a higher price.  His potential to receive a fair amount of carries in 2009 make him an intriguing selection.  Jones will most likely have the best fantasy numbers out of all the "back"-ups, making him a reasonable choice on draft day.  Fantasy Forecast: 900 total yards, 6 total TDs


LeSean McCoy

I've got McCoy ranked as one of the highest "back"-up in this division because of his potential, not because I expect him to explode.  Brian Westbrook is the man, but should he go down to injury, McCoy is a similar style all-purpose back, and the Eagles likely would use him the same.  In other words, McCoy could produce like Westbrook produces, should he be given the rock on a steady basis.  Expecting Westbrook to miss a few games isn't unrealistic, so if you've got Westbrook, I would try to land McCoy as a hand-cuff.  Certainly a pick in the 120s would be ideal, but don't rule out having to spend a pick in the lower 100s on the rookie.  Fantasy Forecast: Games Started 3

Ahmad Bradshaw

Bradshaw stands to see a few more carries in 2009, due to Ward's departure and Brown's injury.  Considering Brandon Jacobs likely won't start in all 16 games also makes Bradshaw an intriguing option.  Investing a draft selection in the Giants RB after pick 120 isn't a huge risk at all.  In 2008, Derrick Ward had 182 carries for the Giants, while Bradshaw had 67.  I don't expect Bradshaw to get a guaranteed 182 carries, but I expect at least 130.  Like McCoy, Bradshaw stands to start some games if Jacobs' healthy can't hold up for a full slate of games.  Fantasy Forecast: 140 carries, 2 games started 

Ladell Betts

Betts is the Washington Redskins third down back heading into 2009, but I don't expect him to be much value for fantasy purposes unless Portis gets injured.  It's almost a guarantee that you'll be able to find Betts undrafted or after pick 150 in your fantasy leagues.  I don't expect much production from soon-to-be 30 year old, even as the Redskins third down specialist.  Betts has shown the ability in the past to be a good all-purpose back (see: 2006), but with a healthy Portis hogging carries, Betts is going to need a huge amount of receptions to be of any value.  Fantasy Forecast: Undrafted Free Agent at best  

* all fantasy stats are based on 2007-2008 Yahoo! Standard Public league scoring