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Mining your way to fantasy gold - AFC East RBs edition

The running backs in the AFC East pose quite a difficult challenge when putting together a list of rankings.  First, Buffalo's star running back will miss the first three regular season games; second, the rest of the AFC East is a mixed bag of runners.  While Buffalo has a capable back-up filling in, only Miami has a bona-fide starter from week 1.  New England has more running backs at their disposal, and the Jets have a sticky situation with their top RB unhappy.  Let's see how the ranking shake down.

AFC East RBs

  1. Marshawn Lynch BUF
  2. Ronnie Brown MIA
  3. Leon Washington NYJ
  4. Thomas Jones NYJ
  5. Fred Jackson BUF
  6. The Rowdy Patriots Crowd NE
  7. Ricky Williams MIA

After the jump I forecast what will happen in 2009, with this certainly uncertain group of RBs...

Marshawn Lynch

Despite the fact that Lynch will miss the first three games of 2009 doesn't hold him back from being the top RB in the AFC East.  Last season, Lynch amassed 1338 total yards and added 9 total TDs, participating in 15 games.  Believe it or not, I expect Lynch to surpass his 2008 yardage totals, despite being out of action for three games.  Buffalo's offensive attack should open up running lanes for Lynch as defenses will try to remain honest in an attempt not to get torched by Terrell Owens and Lee Evans.  Considering that Lynch is going in the 40s at this point makes him a pretty good bargain.  Try to shore up the services of Fred Jackson, if you don't have 2 solid RBs to rely on in Lynch's absence.  Fantasy Forecast: 1450 total yards, 8 total TDs

Ronnie Brown

Brown had quite the productive 2008 season, mainly attributed to Miami's Wildcat introduction.  The Auburn product scored 10 TDs; however, 4 of those TDs came in week 3 versus the Patriots in the debut of the Wildcat formation.  After week 3, Brown scored just 5 TDs the remainder of the way and rushed for over 100 yards just twice.  During that span, he also only had 20 or more carries twice, although he did have five games with 3 or more receptions.  Another 10 TD performance isn't likely out of Brown; in his first three seasons he scored 5 TDs each year.  Despite Ricky Williams' age, he's still likely to be a factor in the Dolphins ground game.  Brown should be productive, but draft him as a reserve RB instead of a primary starter.  Fantasy Forecast: 1200 total yards, 6 total TDs

Leon Washington

Washington is a sexy pick, and 2008 should be the sign of things to come out of the Jets back.  During last season, Washington had nine games with 3 or more receptions and scored an impressive 8 total TDs.  It appears that New York will be gameplanning to use Washington as their receiving threat out of the backfield, meaning he'll see the field more often in 2009.  While Jones is still a very good runner, Washington is younger, faster and the better receiver (not to say Jones is a slouch with 36 receptions).  Look for Washington to be utilized in third down situations, and receive a fair share of carries as well.  Rex Ryan comes from Baltimore, where the Ravens were masters of using multiple running backs.  Draft Washington, as he could simply explode in 2009.  Fantasy Forecast:  900 total yards, 9 total TDs     

Thomas Jones

This is where the rankings got tricky, as Jones was the AFC East's top fantasy performer in 2008.  The Jets running back was an absolute stud, scoring 15 total TDs with 1519 total yards.  Over the course of the season, Jones had 6 games with 20 or more carries, five 100-yard rushing performances and three multi-TD games.  With the presence of game-breaking Leon Washington, I fully expect Jones touches to decrease, and thus his fantasy performance to drop off.  During the offseason, Jones was unhappy with his contract situation, although it appears now he is ready to play under his deal.  If you're thinking about taking Jones, use the same philosophy as I suggested with Brown:  he'll be a better reserve than starter.  Fantasy Forecast:  1000 total yards, 5 total TDs

Fred Jackson   

I've got Jackson ahead of New England's running backs because he serves great purpose as a hand-cuff to Lynch and as a week-to-week starter for the first 3 games of the season.  By then, we may not even know who the horse in the Patriots stable will be, so consider Jackson here because we know what we'll get from him.  Jackson opens up 2009 with match-ups @NE, vs.TB and vs.NO; not the most promising match-ups, but he should be able to find some production as Buffalo's starter.  Jackson had seven games that saw him total 3 or more receptions in 2008, a promising stat heading into 2009.  In Jackson's week 17 start, he rushed for 136 yards versus a New England team hungry for the playoffs.  I'd say Jackson is someone you should target to hand-cuff to Lynch, but also to target as a decent RB2 in the first three weeks of the season.  Fantasy Forecast:  850 total yards, 3 total TDs

The New England Crew

This is extremely tough, last season four New England running backs had 70 or more rushing attempts.  Laurence Maroney was hurt, and Sammy Morris stepped in adequately leading the way with 156 carries, 727 rushing yards and 7 TDs.  Kevin Faulk was a modest all-purpose back rushing for 507 yards and also adding 58 receptions, scoring 6 total TDs.  Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis played in 9 games, scoring 5 TDs that included a stretch of four consecutive games with a TD (and one 100-yard performance as well).  The Patriots added the savvy Fred Taylor to the mix this offseason, and that just makes for an absolute mess in the New England backfield.  I'm really not sure what to expect, Laurence Maroney could surprise everyone with a healthy, productive 2009 (yeah right).  Sammy Morris is probably the safest back to draft, and taking Fred Taylor late, in hopes of a Corey Dillon-like Patriot debut, isn't completely silly.  Fantasy Forecast:  Four RBs with 70 or more carries, each of them plunging in for 5 TDs a piece. 

Ricky Williams

Williams is 32 years old, and has to be running out of smoke steam, right?  Last year, Williams put up decent numbers scoring 5 total TDs and 978 total yards.  I'm going to keep this short and sweet:  I don't see that happening again in 2009.  I also don't recommend drafting Wililams unless you are in a deep league, or have somehow managed to trade 2 pretty good fantasy RBs for 3 WRs (Brendan, you know what I'm talking about).  Expect Williams to drop off in fantasy production, but still damper Ronnie Brown's overall production.  Fantasy Forecast:  600 total yards, 3 total TDs   

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

*-100th selection = 10th pick round 10 (10 man); 6th pick round 9 (12 man); 3rd pick round 8 (14 man)