Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Just like most any other person in society, our professional sports heroes like to be recognized for their work. In the sports "arena" there are only two real ways to get this recognition - winning championships and signing big contracts.
And how do you get a bigger salary? Perform your job at a high level. At the skill positions, doing so also makes you a better fantasy player, so let's see who at the running back position will be playing for a fat new contract in 2009.
Ronnie Brown, Miami - Except for a monster game against New England in Week 3 (113 yards, 4 TDs), Brown really had a pedestrian season. His totals for 16 games were 916 yards and 10 scores, but subtracting the Week 3 aberration means Brown averaged just 53.5 yards-per-game and less than half a touchdown. The good news is that Brown will be two years removed from major knee surgery. The bad news is that unless Ricky Williams heads back to Canada or to another team, he'll still take rushing attempts away from Brown.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh - Parker has been great at racking up the yards, but he doesn't get into the endzone enough to be a fantasy superstar. The last time Parker had more than five TDs in a season was 2006 when he scored 16 times (13 rushing, 3 receiving). The team will get Rashard Mendenhall back from injury and Mewelde Moore (908 combined yards, 6 TDs) played pretty good when called upon last season.
LenDale White, Tennessee - White was a touchdown-scoring machine in 2008, reaching paydirt 15 times. He also rushed for 773 yards and cracked the 100- yards mark twice. He was part of the best running back tandem in the NFL with Chris Johnson. It's possible that White might want to move out of Nashville to see if he could be a team's primary ball carrier. If so, then a big 2009 would help bring in a lot of offers and make him a valuable fantasy property.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans - With the team bypassing a running back during this past draft, Thomas becomes the Saints' primary ball carrier. Yes, Reggie Bush will still get all the publicity on AND off the field, but Thomas had a top-10 type second half last year. In the Saints' prolific offense he should get plenty of opportunities again this season. Despite not contributing much until Week 11 (224 combined yards and 3 TDs thru Week 10), Thomas finished the year with 909 combined yards and 12 TDs. He might get less catches through the air if Bush is healthy, but now that Deuce McAllister is gone, he'll get all the significant rushing yards.
Chris Brown, Houston - If Brown could only stay healthy, he would be a 1,000- yard rusher. Alas, he hasn't been on the field much over the past two years and he now sits behind possible first-round fantasy selection Steve Slaton. The Texan's website says Brown is 100-percent healthy, but at this time he's only good to "handcuff" with Slaton as "insurance."
Le'Ron McClain, Baltimore - McClain was one of the huge surprises in 2008 and his 1,025 yards and 11 TDs were a complete surprise to anyone who drafted him or picked him up after the injuries to Willis McGahee and Ray Rice. Unfortunately, it looks like McClain will return to the traditional role of a fullback (he reportedly added 20 pounds to his playing weight over the offseason) and will leave the rushing yards the "smaller" guys. Unless injury strikes again, he's not likely to have much fantasy value in 2009.
Other "contract year" running backs include: Ricky Williams, Kevin Faulk and Jerious Norwood. Norwood has always had a great yards-per-carry average (never less than 5.1 yards), but doesn't look like an every down back and thus doesn't have much fantasy value unless something happens to Michael Turner.