The third and final installment of the overrated fantasy player series featuring he running back position was probably the most challenging when it comes to listing six overrated fantasy players. As with the previous overrated articles, when looking at the QB and WR position the player had to play a majority of the games from 2005-2010. This alone thinned out the player pool. Also take into consideration that the running back position has shortest average career in the NFL at 2.81 years.
As with the other two positions (QB/WR), they are not bad players, but based on their fantasy ranking for the given year and their season ending statistics they were overrated. In some cases injury cut short the player’s season. Some of these players had a good (or a few good years), followed by very average performances based on their previous seasons.
RONNIE BROWN (MIA)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: Brown (Auburn) entered the 2005 NFL Draft, where the Miami Dolphins took him with the second overall pick. Listed as a Tier 3 RB his rookie campaign would get off to a slow start due to a contract dispute. He would finish the season with 907 yards, 4 TD.
Entering 2006 he would be listed as Tier 2 running back and would have his best statistics rushing the ball breaking 1000 yards (1008). He would show slight improvement with 5 TDs as well. Improvement on the ground was partially due to Ricky Williams being suspended for the entire season. Unfortunately Brown was not very consistent as the Dolphins struggled.
Listed as a Tier 3 running back in 2007 Brown got off to a very good start. In 7 games he rushed for 602 yards, 4 TDs and had put up his best numbers with 39 receptions and 389 yards. He would be lost for the season due to a knee injury.
Coming off injury in 2007, Ricky Williams was named the starter, but Ronnie would go on to have a season career best 10 TDs and 916 yards rushing after taking over the starting role in week three of the 2008 season. He would be named to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career. Due to his injury the previous season, he would slide in many fantasy drafts being listed as a Tier 4 RB.
His stock would not gain much value even after a Pro Bowl season in 2008; he would retain a Tier 4 ranking to start 2009. For the second time in 3 years, an injury (right foot) would cut his season short. He would play in only 9 games rushing for 648 yards and 8 TDs
By 2010 he was still listed as a Tier 4 running back as he resigned with the Dolphins. He would suffer some off field problems (arrest – DUI), but on the field he would play all 16 games as the starter. Brown would only rush for 734 yards, 5 TDs.
COMMENTS: His first two seasons would be his best rushing the ball as injuries would plague him over parts of the next 4 seasons. His lack of production could be placed on the ineffectiveness of the Dolphins offense. The two seasons he did get off to good starts were both cut short by injury. At 30 entering the 2011 season, his best seasons are now behind him and his value will continue to slide.
STEVEN JACKSON (STL)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: Jackson was drafted 1.24 in the 2004 NFL Draft out of Oregon State where he backed up Marshall Faulk in St. Louis, the following year Jackson was named the starting RB.
In his first year as a starter, playing 15 games he rushed for 1046 yards, 8 TDs. He also had 43 receptions for 320 yards, 2 TDs. He would be listed as a Tier 3 RB before the 2005 fantasy draft. His stock would rise and he would jump up to a Tier 2 RB before the 2006 fantasy draft, where he would experience his best season as a professional.
Unfortunately 2006 would set the bar very high for S Jax. He rushed for 1528 yards, 13 TDs, had 90 receptions for 806 yards and 3 TDs. His 2334 yards from scrimmage would lead the NFL and he would make the Pro Bowl for the first time and voted NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
By virtue of his 2006 performance it would be no surprise he would be a top tier running back going into the 2007 fantasy draft.
2007 would be a poor follow up to his 2006 season. He suffered groin, back and hip injuries, as well as issues with the Rams fans and choice of music that was played. He would play 12 games still rushing for 1002 yards, but only 5 TD. As a receiver his numbers suffered, 38-271, 1 TD. At the end of the season, he would hold out desiring a new contract before the start of 2008.
Upon the end of his holdout he would sign a new 6-year contract, but would be listed as a Tier 2 RB because of the question marks prior to the fantasy draft, but he would be the highest paid RB in the NFL.
A quad injury reported as “minor” and “uncomfortable” saw Jackson miss time during the season (4 games, Oct.-Nov.). Even playing 12 games (for the second season in a row) he would put up 1042 yards, improve to 7 rushing TDs. There would be slight improvement with 40 receptions, 379 yards and 1 TD.
In 2009 he would retain his Tier 2 ranking but would vastly improve on the ground. He would play 15 games, rush for 1416 yards as well as catch 51 balls for 322 yards. The downside to 2009, 4 total TDs. He would be rewarded with his second trip to the Pro Bowl.
2010 would be only the second time in his career he would start all 16 games. While he would slide a bit prior to the draft, he was still a (low) Tier 2 running back. Jackson would have the most carries since his 2006 season with 330 for 1241 yards, off his 2009 pace, but rush for 6 TDs. His role as a receiver was unimpressive 46-383 yards, no TDs. With that said, he made the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career.
COMMENTS: I’ll consider myself lucky that S Jax was my RB in 2006, when he had his best NFL season. He has been a very durable RB, but I find it very hard to draft him because of his lack of TD production. He IS a #1 RB for STL, yet his TDs have only hit double digits in 2005 and 2006 (combined). Jackson is a workhorse based on 300+ carries the last 2 years and 6 consecutive 1000+ yard rushing seasons. He will usually end up going in the first two rounds, but based on his performance he has been overrated since 2006. I can’t consider him a #1 fantasy back until he could get start scoring more.
WILLIS MCGAHEE (BUF/BAL)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: McGahee was drafted in 2004 by Buffalo after he slipped in the draft due to a knee injury. During the season he would win the starting job from Travis Henry, who rushed for 1300+ yards in 2003. Willis would go on to arguably his best season as a professional; 1128 yards, 13 TDs.
He would start the 2005 season listed as a Tier 2 running back, starting 15 games. His 325 carries would be good for 1247 yards, but his YPC would struggle at 3.8, to go with only 5 TD. He would retain a Tier 2 ranking (low) prior to the 2006 season.
Injuries and concerns got the best of Willis in 2006, after back to back 1000+ season, he would struggle in 14 games. He would fall short of 1000 yards (990) to go with 6 TDs. As a team, the Bills rushing attack struggled, which led to McGahee’s career lows.
Prior to the 2007 season, McGahee was traded to Baltimore and replaced Jamal Lewis as the starter. After a poor 2006 season his stock slipped and he would start the season listed as a Tier 3 RB, but fantasy owners would get some good numbers out of McGahee. He would go on to make the Pro Bowl playing in 15 games, rushing for 1207 yards and 7 TDs (also 1 TD receiving). Unfortunately a cracked rib would see him struggle late in the year.
McGahee was expected to be the starter in 2008 but due to various injuries, fullback LeRon McClain would end up with the majority of the work. Despite this fact, McGahee did play in 13 games and rush for 671 yards, 7 TD.
In 2009 McGahee came back “stronger and faster” but second year RB, Ray Rice would be named the Baltimore starter. McGahee would see limited carries during the season, but would score 12 TDs (2 TD receiving), the most since his rookie season in 2004. As a result he would rush for 544 yards on the season with a 5.0 YPC. He would be seen as a “steal” as a Tier 4 RB prior to the start of the year.
He opted to stay with Baltimore in 2010 and his workload was further reduced, with Ray Rice as the starting running back, it would be McGahee as the goal line player. He would only see 100 carries for 380 yards and 5 TDs on the season. He would retain a Tier 4 value.
COMMENTS: His career started strong with back to back 1000 yard season, but an off season in 2006 and a drastic decrease in TD performance the next two years saw his value slide. After his 2007 Pro Bowl season and his move to Baltimore his role changed and workload decreased. I think 2009 was the “exception” and not the norm for McGahee. After last season Baltimore have him looking elsewhere for work since they won’t pay his $6 million salary. At 29, he has one final shot at being an impact type running back. Wherever he lands he will need to see an increase workload in order to make him a more viable fantasy player to finish his career.
CLINTON PORTIS (DEN/WAS)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: Drafted by Denver in the 2002 NFL Draft in round two, Portis made an immediate impact on the Broncos running game. His 1508 yards and 15 TDs were great numbers, but were not good enough to lead the conference or the NFL. The following year he duplicated his 1500 yards rushing effort (1591) with 14 TDs and a NFL leading 5.5 YPC (for the second year in a row).
Before the 2004 season Shanahan traded Portis to Washington for Champ Bailey. There was also a change of running philosophy with Joe Gibbs, it was all about a power running game. Portis had an “off year” as he started 15 games and exceeded 300 carries (343) and rushed for 1315 yards, but only 5 TDs.
Heading into the 2005 season, Portis would be a (low) Tier 2 RB, but would go on to have a very good year. For the third time in his career he rushed for over 1500 yards (1516) and scored 11 TD. He would retain his Tier 2 status prior to the start of the 2006 NFL season.
The 2006 season got off to a rocky start, as Portis dislocated his should in the first pre-season game. He would return to start the season against the Vikings, but his problems would get worse. During week 9 Portis would leave the game with a hand injury and later be diagnosed with a broken hand, which ended his season. After 8 games played he would finish the season on 523 yards with 7 TDs.
The following year (2007) he would be listed as a Tier 3 RB and fantasy owners would be rewarded with a solid comeback year by Portis. He would go on to lead the NFL in attempts (325), 1262 yards and 11 TD. This performance would push him back to Tier 2 prior to the start of the 2008 season.
Portis got off to a good start in 2008 with 5 consecutive games in which he rushed for over 120 yards. Unfortunately nagging injuries slowed him down near the end of the season and he fell short of 1500 yards (1487) for the season to go with 9 TD.
In 2009 Portis would only play in 8 games and while leading the team (494) in rushing and 1 TD, but harsh criticism of his new head coach prevented him from putting up better fantasy numbers. As a Tier 2 RB in 2009, owners would be frustrated with him all season long.
Things went from bad to worse for Portis who would drop to a Tier 4 RB prior to 2010, he would sustain a concussion in Week 9, requiring him to leave the game. He would then miss the next 4 games. He would finish the season on the IR after 5 games and 227 yards, 2 TD.
COMMENTS: Portis might not seem like a worthwhile candidate, especially being very effective in his early years (2002-2005), but injuries in 2006, 2009 and 2010 have had some negative effect on his value over the years. When he was healthy, he was a very dominate running back, but injuries, even those he played through to finish a season would impact his fantasy ranking. At 30 heading into the 2011 season, Portis may struggle to find a team to pick up his contract, which will pay him $8.254 this season.
BRIAN WESTBROOK (PHI/SF)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: Prior to the 202 draft teams were hesitant to draft Westbrook because of his size, injury history and fact he did not play college football at a NCAA Division I school. The Eagles took Westbrook in round 3 (pick 91), where he would back up Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter his first two years.
In 2004 he would be named the Eagles starting RB and while he would rush for 812 yards, 3 TD, he would carry some good value as a receiver with 73 receptions for 703 yards, 6 TDs. He would make the Pro Bowl.
Prior to the 2005 fantasy draft he would be a Tier 3 running back. After 12 games, Westbrook has combined for 1200 yards, 7 TDs. In a 42-0 loss to the Seahawks, Westbrook would be lost for the season due to a foot injury.
Westbrook would continue being a productive running back. Prior to the 2006 draft he would be a high Tier 3 running back and would finish the season playing 14 games. He would go on to put up career best numbers rushing for 1333 yards, 7 TDs, while catching 77 balls for 699 yards, 4 TDs. He would finish the season with 1916 yards from scrimmage.
Westbrook would break into Tier 2 based off his 2006 performance. Because of his versatility as a RB he would continue to be very production, building off a strong campaign the season before. He would go on to rush for a new career high, 1333 yards and 7 TDs. He would also have 90 receptions for 771 yards, 5 TDs and go on to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2104. His performance was rewarded with his second trip to the Pro Bowl.
Coming off back to back 1000+ seasons rushing Westy would retain his Tier 2 ranking, but would miss 2 games and be well off his 2007 and 2008 seasons. He would miss out on 1000 yards (936), but increase his rushing TDs to 9. He also scored 5 TDs on 54 receptions (402), but would end up well short of his 2007 season.
2009 would be his final season in Philadelphia and at age 30 the Eagles would draft LeSean McCoy. Fully recovered from his injuries, Westbrook would suffer a concussion in week 7, which would see him miss playing time. A second concussion in week 10 would see him used sparingly. He would play in 8 games and have his worst numbers since his rookie year, 274 yards rushing, 1 TD. During the off season he would be traded to San Francisco.
In 2010 Westbrook signed a 1 year contract with the 49ers and became the starting RB after a hip fracture to Frank Gore finish his season. He played in 14 games, starting 5 of those games. His numbers would be well off previous years, 340 yards rushing, 4 TDs.
COMMENTS: At 32 and entering his 9th year, Westbrook is not the same player he was in Philadelphia. As a RB in San Francisco, he will play a back up roll to Frank Gore. His only value is that as a handcuff on draft day.
CARNELL WILLIAMS (TB)
CAREER SYNOPSIS: Another overrated RB to come out of Auburn in 2005 (same year as Ronnie Brown) was Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (listed as a Tier 3). Drafted 5th overall by the Tampa Bays Bucs, the rookie showed good promise in 2005. His first few games in the NFL were outstanding putting up very good numbers, but he was beset with injuries that caused him to miss a few games and upon returning to the field was not putting up the sort of numbers he did early on. he would go on to rush for 1178 yards, 6 TD and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Unfortunately that would be as good as it got for “Cadillac” to date. Listed as a Tier 2 running back in 2006 Williams never could really get going, scoring 1 TD in the first month of the season, but failing to find the end zone the remainder of the year. Nagging injuries caused him to miss a few games and a ineffective offense saw Williams finish the season well off his 2006 pace (798 yards).
Based on his lack of production in 2006 he would drop to a Tier 4 running back. Only 4 games into his 3rd season with the Bucs, Williams would tear his patellar tendon in his right knee and be lost for the season. His performance to that point had improved from the previous year, scoring 3 TD and rushing for 208 yards.
After 14 months of rehabilitating, Williams came off the PUP list and took the field against Detroit. He would go on to score in the next 2 of 3 games before suffering another blow, this time it was the patellar tendon in his left knee after scoring 2 TDs against the Raiders and would finish the season with 233 yards, 4 TD.
He would make a strong case for Comeback Player of the Year in 2009 (listed Tier 4) after rushing for 823 yards and 4 TDs in 15 games. He would split time and carries with Earnest Graham, but still put up his best numbers since his rookie year in 2005.
His long road back only got longer in 2010, he would continue to be listed as a Tier 4 RB but Tampa Bay would sign undrafted rookie, LaGarrette Blount. Used as the primary back in the early part of the season, Williams was not able to get in stride. With the emergence of Blount, Cadillac was relegated to third down back duties during the second half of the season. He was unable to build upon his 2009 campaign and would finish 2010 with 436, 2 TD (and 1 TD receiving).
COMMENTS: One of the requirements to make the overrated list is the play a majority of the games, his injuries put him as a borderline candidate on this list. Owners who drafted Cadillac the last few years have been very frustrated with his performance. His unfortunate knee issues are what are what eventually led to his fall from grace. Based on his collegiate career and rookie campaign, he had the talent to be an NFL superstar, but after spending 2 years rehabilitating the knee. While the Bucs will look to resign him for 2011, the ball will be in the hands of Blount now.