The extreme volatility of Running Backs

Steve Slaton went from a rookie third-round draft choice to fantasy star.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One day you're a top-10 fantasy pick on Draft Day, and the next you're being released. Just ask Brian Westbrook (2009 RapidDraft ADP 7.6) or LaDainian Tomlinson (ADP 8). But the extreme ups-and- downs of a fantasy running back goes further than just those two guys.

There were on the average 14 running backs chosen in the first two rounds of last year's football draft and six of them (42.9%) performed so badly that they likely won't be drafted in the first five rounds next season.

In addition to Westbrook and Tomlinson, Steve Slaton (ADP 13.5), Clinton Portis (14.1), Brandon Jacobs (14.4) and Marion Barber III (18.1) were all highly coveted in 2009 and will be much less so in your 2010 draft.

Westbrook and Tomlinson have both indicated that they still think they have "something left in the tank" and will look for a roster spot in 2010. Both will likely land a backup role, or at best a shared backfield situation next season and obviously won't be drafted very high.

Slaton was a newcomer to the ranks of an "elite" running back after a 2008 in which he exploded onto the scene out of nowhere. He went from a rookie third-round draft choice out of West Virginia to fantasy star after injuries left Houston coach Gary Kubiak no other options. Slaton responded with a 1,659 yards from scrimmage, 10 touchdown season and became a darling in last season's draft.

Unfortunately, he couldn't continue to perform because he couldn't hold onto the football this year. He was ultimately benched in favor of Arian Foster who averaged 108 yards a game over the final two as a starter. The running back situation in Houston, at least at the beginning of the year, will likely be shared between Foster, Slaton, Chris Brown and Ryan Moats.

Portis (ADP 14.1) had one of the best schedules to run against in the league last year, but injuries have finally slowed the former star to a pedestrian level. Although new Washington head coach Mike Shanahan has declared Portis the team's starting running back, that might change when he realizes he's not the same guy he coached in Denver until 2003. Portis ran for just 494 yards in eight games last season and it would not surprise me if the Redskins drafted a stud running back.

Jacobs (ADP 14.1) spent most of the year dealing with a knee injury which finally forced him on the IR in Week 17. Even though Ahmad Bradshaw played well in his absence, if Jacobs can get healthy, he's only 28, he might have the best chance of these six running backs to return to form.

Barber and fantasy owners everywhere thought it was a good thing when Dallas starting running back Julius Jones went to Seattle after the 2007 season. However, things haven't worked out for Barber who has seen his numbers, both yards and TDs, drop since that point. Felix Jones appears to be the No.1 guy in Dallas and certainly has the support of owner Jerry Jones who "fought" for more opportunities for the former Arkansas Razorback.

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

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