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The Workhorse Running Back isn't Dead

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The ultimate dream of every fantasy owner is to have two stud running backs in the backfield to go along with a Hall of Fame quarterback and a couple of star wide receivers. But lately, many fantasy owners have been complaining that the reliable 15+ carry-a-game running back is a thing of the past. I, however, am here to tell you that the "workhorse" running back isn't a dying breed, it's just that the backup running backs are getting more work.

How can both parts of that statement be true?

It's simply a matter of numbers if you note that there were 13% more carries last year than in 1990 (14,088 vs. 12,442) and 3% more than in 2000. The primary running back is now getting a lower percentage of the total carries, but not less carries. So he would still be a workhorse by 1990 standards.

In fact, 20 years ago there were 16 running backs with at least 200 carries and last year that list was 22 players long. There were also almost double the 1,000-yard rushers last year that there were in 1990 (15 vs. 8).

True, those numbers pale when compared to 2000 when the league produced 23 1,000-yard rushers and 24 running backs with 200+ carries, but it appears that the "death" of the workhorse running back has been greatly exaggerated by the media and the "running-back-by-committee" moniker.

This season there are at least 15 "workhorse" running backs worthy of your attention and that doesn't include two special running back tandems who are the equal to any workhorse back (DeAngelo Williams - Jonathan Stewart, Ronnie Brown - Ricky Williams).

Adrian Peterson - Adrian "All Day" Peterson is the very definition of a "workhorse" back as his 677 carries, 3,143 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns over the last two season prove. With Chester Taylor gone, another 350-carry season is almost a guarantee.

Chris Johnson - In 2009 Johnson was supposedly in a "shared backfield" with LenDale White. That didn't last much past Week 1 as Johnson posted 197 yards rushing against the Texans in Week 2 and added another 87 receiving. With White gone and only Javon Ringer or rookies Stafon Johnson and LaGarrette Blount as backup he should post another monster fantasy season.

Maurice Jones-Drew - Can you even name the Jaguars' backup running back? That would be Rashad Jennings, who rushed the ball 39 times in 15 games last season.

Ray Rice - Rice's pass-catching ability allows him to be on the field for almost every down. If he'll just be given the opportunity to score inside the five-yard line then he could be a top-three fantasy running back. His 78 receptions make him a PPR league favorite.

Rashard Mendenhall - Mendenhall has a lot of things going for him this season. Willie Parker is no longer in town, his backups are Mewelde Moore or rookie Jonathan Dwyer and the Steelers' starting quarterback won't play the first six weeks of the season. Sounds like a fine recipe for Mendenhall to improve upon last year's 242-carry, 1,108-yard season.

Ryan Mathews - The rookie out of Fresno State is in the perfect situation. The Chargers have a prolific passing game and Coach Norv Turner has already said he would like to get Mathews at least 250 carries this season. The other option is Darren Sproles, who is really just a third-down back and special teams star.

Steven Jackson - Jackson carries the ball 324 times for 1,416 yards last season on a team that didn't have a passing game. Even if rookie quarterback Sam Bradford isn't quite ready, could the situation be any worse than in 2009 when the quarterback options were Marc Bulger, Kyle Boller and Keith Null?

Frank Gore - The San Francisco 49ers seem to be putting together a nice passing game with Alex Smith, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree which should open things up for Gore. Backup Glen Coffee proved he wasn't ready to share the load last season, averaging just 2.7 yards-a-carry, which should mean 240+ carries for Gore.

Michael Turner - Turner was a "workhorse" in 2008 with 376 carries for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. But injuries, primarily a high ankle sprain, turned last season into a fantasy nightmare. Assuming he is healthy, he should return to stardom, though you shouldn't expect 375 carries. Still, 300 carries would be enough to make him a star running back.

Ryan Grant - Grant has averaged 297 carries a year over the past two seasons and over 1,200 yards. He added 11 touchdowns last year which made him a solid fantasy option. Beware, the Packers selected a big back in the sixth round, James Starks, who could become a goal line option down the road.

Cedric Benson - Benson finally came into his own last season and carried the ball 301 times in just 13 games. Now out of the shadow of a possible suspension, Benson should be the Bengals "workhorse." With plenty of attention on Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and the passing game, Benson should have another big season.

Shonn Greene - The Jets love to run the football as proven by their 607 rushing attempts versus 393 passing attempts. Greene showed in the playoffs that he can carry an offense, while backup LaDainian Tomlinson is way, way past his prime. By mid-season at the latest, the coaching staff will see that this is not a "shared backfield" situation and Greene will get the majority of the carries.

Chris Wells - In the first eight weeks of 2009, Wells carried the ball 57 times. Over the second eight weeks, he rushed the ball 113 times for 557 yards and six scores. Over the final five weeks of the season, as Wells was getting stronger, Tim Hightower ran the ball just 30 times. I'm expecting Wells to be the every down back and crack the 240+ carry mark while Hightower is the third-down back in passing situations and a goal line option.

Knowshon Moreno - As a rookie, Moreno carried the ball 247 times for 947 yards and seven scores. Though he didn't have a 100-yard game, he was over 80 yards six times. While backup Correll Buckhalter has had a nice career, he has trouble staying on the field due to injuries. Moreno should get closer to 280 carries this season and will crack the 100-yard mark more than once in 2010.

Jamaal Charles - Deciphering the Kansas City backfield situation will be one of the most important decisions in the 2010 fantasy season. Charles was the second-best running back in football over the second half of 2009 and from Week 14 through Week 17 posted 658 yards rushing and four scores. But the team added Thomas Jones to their roster in the off-season and Jones ran for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns last season in New York. If Charles is the every down back and Jones the short yardage and goal line back then Charles will get enough touches to qualify as a "workhorse." If it turns into a "shared situation" then neither will get enough carries to be a No.1 back. Only time will tell, but I'm favoring youth.

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


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