Following on from Monday's fantasy football summary of running back committees in the AFC, it's time to turn attention to the NFC, where it looks like there will only be eight teams splitting carries to worry about.
It does help fantasy players that with backs such as Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson around there is much less of a likelihood of running (pun not intended) into a committee on that side of the NFL divide.
So let's get to it!
In the East:
Cowboys: With an offensive line that declined in performance during the latter half of the 2008 season, Dallas is looking to take the pressure off quarterback Tony Romo and utilize their capable tailback resources with the trio of hard-nosed Marion Barber, quick as lightning Felix Jones and all round talent Tashard Choice. Barber, with the early injury to Jones, found the full time role tough on his body last year and looks to return to a more specified role (generally short yardage situations and in the fourth quarter) and he could produce more consistent numbers as a result in 2009. Even with doubts over his number of carries MBIII still warrants a high second round selection. Jones, who averaged an astonishing 8.9 YPC in his first six NFL games will light up games, but might suffer on occasion from a lack of workload.
VERDICT: Barber is assured of many a TD, but Felix Jones' potential has moved him as high as the 6th round in 12 team drafts. Taking both is not a necessity, but keep an eye on injury reports in order to jump on Choice off the waiver wire.
Eagles: Philadelphia's selection of Pittsburgh back LeSean McCoy in the second round of this year's draft showed an intention to not only use the lightning fast back straight away, but also to spell veteran Brian Westbrook, who turns 30 during the regular season and has already showed signs of breaking down. McCoy ran the 'Wildcat' for the Panthers and is capable out of the backfield, but while healthy Westbrook will hog the statlines.
VERDICT: Westbrook is dropping into the 2nd round of many drafts and could turn into huge value. Taking McCoy in the 9th as a handcuff is a must.
Giants: It is not often a franchise produces two 1,000 yard running backs in the same season, but that's what the New York Giants did last year. Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward (now in Tampa) and even third back Ahmad Bradshaw all finished with a YPC higher than 5. Bruising back Jacobs hogged the touchdown column but did miss 3 games with injuries and is a clear number one runner when healthy. A lot of the credit should go the G-Men's offensive line, but how the unit deals with the absence of Mr Shoot-from-the-Hip Plaxico Burress will be interesting to follow. Bradshaw is favored to see a good portion of the carries, but faces a challenge from rookie Andre Brown in camp.
VERDICT: As above, Jacobs could represent huge value in the 2nd round and taking Bradshaw in the 9th or 10th is very much recommended, unless you hear otherwise on Brown.
In the North:
The presence of Peterson, Forte, Ryan Grant and Kevin Smith means there's not much a of a look in for anyone else!
In the West:
Cardinals: In the West, pass-happy Arizona was a team to steer clear of in terms of finding usable running backs in 2008, with neither Edgerrin James nor rookie Tim Hightower wowing fantasy leaguers. With with the selection of first rounder Chris 'Beanie' Wells fantasy players should still be wary of spending too high a pick on the big back as the Cards will still be a throw-first, throw-last kind of team. It is mooted too that Hightower will still start, at least at the beginning of the year and he will also be used prominently out of the backfield.
VERDICT: Wells should be drafted first, although not by much of a margin and expectations should be tempered despite the possibilities. Hightower could slide and turn into value.
Seahawks: The Seattle backfield in 2009 seems to the be fashion equivalent of corduroy pants in fantasy land. Led by underwhelming back Julius Jones (who has averaged a passable 4.0 career YPC with just 4 TDs per season) and the underwhelming goal-line hog T.J. Duckett, this backfield committee is so unfancied as to represent potentially big value in drafts. Jones, while a limited runner, should see the majority of the carries in Jim Mora's run first scheme and with a hopefully healthy Matt Hasselbeck throwing the ball to newly acquired wideout T.J. Houshmazouzahado, there could be space enough for him to thrive. Sort of. Duckett will take points away from him however.
VERDICT: Jones can be pocketed as late as the 8th round and while there's little need to draft Duckett it might be an idea to have him on your opening day roster.
In the South:
Buccaneers: The off-season addition of free agent Derrick Ward has given the Tampa Bay running game added pep going into the new year. In tandem with Earnest Graham the Bucs now have two legitimate fantasy runners, but after last year's defensive collapse and with a big question mark at QB it remains to be seen what their potential output is. Ward, who posted big numbers on limited carries as the Giants number two back, should hog the carries, but as a draft option there are worries over his touchdown output and that's where Graham figures to earn his corn. Former offensive rookie of the year Cadillac Williams is coming off the back of another knee injury but will return and eat into carries in 2009.
VERDICT: If Ward falls to you in the fifth eat him up. Pairing him with Graham in the middle-late rounds could prove to be a smart move. Pay attention to Cadillac's rehab reports.
Panthers: The Carolina committee in 2008 proved RBBC is not all bad for fantasy owners with DeAngelo Williams breaking out in a big way to lead the RB point charts with 1,736 total yards and 20 TDs. His "backup", rookie Jonathan Stewart (the 'Smash' part of "Smash and Dash") pummeled his way to a fraction under half that total. While Williams should still finish the season as an RB1 a tough schedule and a fresh Stewart should keep him from repeating last year's totals. In fact, he is arguably not even a lock first round pick.
VERDICT: Watch for news in Charlotte as to how the Panthers are splitting reps in training camp. Stewart could turn into a steal if he drops to the 6th round.
Saints: Can you go wrong in 2009 with a Saints running back? As New Orleans has failed (or should that be declined?) to add a power runner Pierre Thomas looks to be the primary back, at least in terms of running plays up the middle and on key short-yard downs. If Reggie Bush remains free of injuries he figures to average at least 80 yards per game (the majority of them receiving!) and looks a threat every time he touches the football. Both are clear RB2s in standard scoring leagues.
VERDICT: Provided the Saints do not add a veteran such as Edgerrin James, Thomas should be the better option for fantasy owners. Bush will be gone by the time you pick next.
-- Ross Mooring