Evaluating the injury-prone running back

Brian Westbrook hasn't caught less than 54 balls in the last five years.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of the most difficult situations facing the fantasy owner on Draft Day is determining how to evaluate the injury-prone star running backs. If they stay healthy for a full season, they are easily worthy of a first or second-round selections, but their past has shown that to be an unlikely event.

So how to we assess the fantasy value of Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs, Reggie Bush and Joseph Addai?

Let's start with Jackson, because when healthy he could be, and has been, a top-three running back. In 2006, Jackson put together a season that few have matched - running for 1,528 yards, catching 90 balls for another 806 yards and scoring 16 times. Unfortunately, in the two preceding years and the two years since, Jackson has not been able to play a full schedule. Given that fact and the fact that his team's offense is no longer as dynamic as it once was, I can't see paying the top-five pick it will take to get him.

Early "RapidDraft ADP" reports show that Jackson as an Average Draft Position of 5.3 and I can't pull the trigger on a running back, no matter how high the potential, given an 80% chance that he won't be on the field every week.

It's tough enough to be on the field for all 16 weeks when you enter the season at 100%, so the fact that Westbrook will start training camp trying to recover from ankle surgery doesn't bode well for his prospects of starting all 16 games. In Westbrook's entire seven-year career, he's never played in 16 games, so why would we think that starting the season at less than completely healthy will help him produce first-round statistics?

Westbrook will be 30-years-old when the season begins and add in Eagles first- round pick LeSean McCoy and you have the makings for a big drop in production. He'll still be good in PPR leagues because he hasn't caught less than 54 balls in the last five years, but I'd be careful picking Westbrook in the top-15. Given his "RapidDraft ADP" of 5.7, Westbrook won't be on my team this season (which hurts as an Eagles fan).

Jacobs has averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry over the past two seasons and scored 21 TDs in 24 games. Unfortunately, his team has played 32 games in that span. With the Giants likely to emphasize the running game due to the lack of a star pass receiver, a healthy Jacobs could be a 1,500-yard, 15 TD producer. He'll need to carry the ball 300+ times to get that done, but it's not as big a gamble as Jackson or Westbrook touching it that many times.

With Jacobs' "RapidDraft ADP" of 13.8, I think he's worth the early second- round gamble.

When Bush was drafted out of USC, we all though he had the potential to run for 100 yards-a-game and catch 100 yards-a-game. But what we have seen is that even when healthy, the Saints can't get him the ball enough to hit either the rushing or passing yardage bonus. So he ends up getting about 50 yards on the ground and another 50 through the air. He's great in the New Orleans offense, but as a fantasy player he's a disappointment. Still, his flashy open field running gets him on "SportsCenter" and keeps his image high. That's the only reason I can see for his "RapidDraft ADP" being 28.5.

The Saints have too many offensive weapons to get Bush the ball enough to warrant a second or third-round pick. Plus he's played in just 22 games in the past two seasons. Let someone else's dream get crushed.

Replacing Edgerrin James in the Indianapolis backfield, we all had such high hopes for Addai. Between 2003-06 James averaged 1,808 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Addai has averaged just 1,197 and 10 TDs. After producing just 544 yards on the ground last year (in 12 games), the Colts drafted Donald Brown with the 27th overall pick. This could end up being a shared backfield, although Addai has probably earned one last chance to start the season as No.1.

Last year, Addai was a top-six pick in most leagues and ended up being one of the most disappointing fantasy players. His early "RapidDraft ADP" in 2009 is 25.6. Given Addai's propensity for injury and the addition of Brown, I can't recommend spending a third-round selection on him.

2008 Selected Running Back Statistics
Player Team RuAtt RuYards RuTDs Rec RecYards RecTDs
Steve Jackson STL 253 1,042 7 40 379 1
Brian Westbrook PHI 233 936 9 54 402 5
Brandon Jacobs NYG 219 1,089 15 6 36 0
Reggie Bush NO 106 404 2 52 440 4
Joseph Addai IND 155 544 5 25 206 2

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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