Sunday, August 12, 2007

Touchdown vultures for '07

Inspired by the ESPN commercial with Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, I decided to come up with a list of players this season who could annoy fantasy football owners everywhere by stealing TDs from their favorite RBs. A TD vulture is a player who doesn't receive that many looks or carries during normal plays during a game, but he usually ends up making big catches or tough runs in short yardage situations to get the ball into the endzone.

Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp, RBs, Denver Broncos -- Travis Henry is slated to be the feature back for the Broncos offense this year, but many fantasy football owners know that Mike Shanahan loves to employ his running back by committee philosophy whenever possible. Henry should and probably will receive the bulk of the carries barring an injury, but inside the red zone, Bell or Sapp may receive some carries to punch the ball in the end zone. Over the past several years, it's been tough to trust any single running back.

Ladell Betts and Mike Sellers, RBs, Washington Redskins -- The Redskins hope that Portis will be back to full strength this year, but just in case he isn't, they're well prepared. Betts showed last season that he can handle a full workload (except for a few costly fumbles) and be the feature back if Portis goes down with another injury. If Portis does manage to stay healthy, he will still be sharing a few carries with Betts, especially on 3rd downs when Betts is usually in the game anyway for his pass catching abilities. Also, as a Redskins fan, I've seen how this team has struggled mightily when trying to score in the red zone. Portis never seems to be able cross the goal line inside the 5, and that's when Sellers may get a few more chances. The Redskins also started throwing the ball more often inside the 20 as defenders usually stacked the lines daring them to pass.

Najeh Davenport, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Willie Parker has been outstanding the last couple years, and there's no reason why he shouldn't repeat another strong performance this season as the team's #1 running back. Davenport, though, may steal some carries on short yardage situations in the red zone where the Steelers need to score. Parker should have a great year in yardage numbers, but he may lose a few TDs to Davenport this season.

Brian Leonard, RB, St. Louis Rams -- This addition may be a little premature, but I believe that Leonard will receive many chances inside the red zone this year and get a few TDs. Steven Jackson should have another outstanding season with both rushing and receiving totals, but with the additions in the receiving corps of Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael and the selection of Leonard in the draft, don't be surprised if Jackson gets a few less opportunities to score points this year.

Anthony Thomas, RB, Buffalo Bills -- Marshawn Lynch is highly thought of by the Bills, and they actually had him rated higher in their draft than Adrian Peterson in the draft. That's saying something. Lynch looks like he'll be a solid player, but the A-Train is the best bet to steal carries from Lynch inside the red zone.

Correll Buckhalter, Tony Hunt, RBs, Philadelphia Eagles -- Brian Westbrook may be the NFL's most versatile running back next to LaDainian Tomlinson, but he usually struggles when it comes to picking up tough yards in crunch time. He's an excellent running back, but he occasionally loses touches and opportunities to score a couple touchdowns every year. Buckhalter is currently positioned as the #2 running back option, but the rookie Hunt may soon overtake him.

It's important to recognize not only who a solid running back's backup is, but also who may get a few TDs from him later. Certainly, someone would never bench Steven Jackson, LT, or Larry Johnson or certain elite RBs. But if Lynch or Portis were going up against tough rush defenses, they may not only lose total rushing yards, but also TDs since they probably won't get too many short yardage carries if there's a better option on the team.

There's really nothing you can do if a running back loses the occasional touchdown to another player, but it can be valuable down the road to know what may happen against a certain match up.

At the very least, you'll know the names of some players who may annoy you this season now that Alstott is gone.

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