The addition of Brandon Marshall should help open the run game for the Dolphins, who ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2009 and sport a strong offensive line. The big question is whether Ronnie Brown, who’ll be motivated to earn a new contract, or the ageless Ricky Williams will reap the most benefits this season.
Ronnie Brown, RB – Brown has been feast-or-famine over the last four years, capable of single-handedly winning any game or crushing your season. In 2006, he had his only 1,000-yard rushing campaign (1,008 in 13 games), and in 2008, he made the Pro Bowl while amassing 1,170 yards from scrimmage and 10 rushing TDs (eighth in the league). But in 2007, Brown suffered a knee injury that cost him the final eight games of the season, right as he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Last year, he was fourth in the league in rushing TDs (8) and 11th in rushing yards until a Lisfranc fracture ended his season in Week 10. Consider that the last star running back who suffered a similar foot injury was Larry Johnson in 2007, who made the Pro Bowl the previous year but hasn’t been the same since (3.3 yards per carry in 2009).
Hate him or love him, Brown has scored 5 TDs in 9 career games against the rival Jets.
A consensus second-round pick in 2009, Brown is being drafted as the 22rd RB and 45th overall (10 spots ahead of Williams) in ESPN leagues. While he can no longer be counted upon as a number one RB, he’s a solid second back or flex option because he’s always a threat score out of the Wildcat. He could even end up being the steal of the draft if he can manage to stay healthy — the key word, of course, being “if.” As someone who’s been burned by Brown, who will turn 29 in December, on two occasions, I’m leaving him on the board for the bigger risk-takers anywhere before the fifth round.
2009 Statistics: 648 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards, 8 TDs (9 games)
2010 Prediction: 893 rushing yards, 135 receiving yards, 7 TDs
Ricky Williams, RB – Last season, Williams improbably rushed for 1,121 yards, setting an NFL record for longest time-span between 1,000-yard seasons (6 years), and totaled 13 TDs. With Brown out of the picture, he averaged 99.8 rushing yards per game in Weeks 10 through 15 before getting slowed down by minor injuries. Yes, he’s 33 years old, but thanks to Ricky’s “extra-curricular activities,” he has only 575 carries in the NFL over the last five years – about a third as many as Ladanian Thomlinson, Clinton Portis, Steven Jackson, and Thomas Jones.
Still, expectations need to be held in check. In 2005 and 2008, his previous two full seasons, Williams had 168 and 160 carries, respectively, and isn’t likely to approach the 241 he had on a heavily run-oriented Dolphins team in 2009. He’s won’t reach 1,000 yards in what’s supposedly his final NFL season, but given Brown’s injury history, it’ll be impossible for Miami to not give Williams significant work all year long. It wouldn’t be a stretch to take Ricky as the first Dolphins RB off the board, and ahead far less consistent players such as Pierre Thomas, Matt Forte, and Joseph Addai.
2009 Statistics: 1,121 rushing yards, 264 receiving yards, 13 TDs
2010 Prediction: 906 rushing yards, 211 receiving yards, 9 TDs
Get used to the WildCobb...
Patrick Cobbs, RB - Cobbs began the season as Miami’s third running back, but suffered a knee injury in Week 5 that cost him the rest of the season. In 2008, Cobbs averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 275 yards and two TDs, and is a deep sleeper in 2010 if he’s fully healthy. Cobbs could replace Pat White in Wildcat formations, giving him more scoring opportunities, and has even more value in leagues that count punt and kickoff return yards since he’ll see increased special teams work with Ted Ginn Jr. in San Francisco. Cobbs is worth a late-round flier, especially as a handcuff for owners of either Brown or Williams (or both).
2009 Statistics: 36 rushing yards, 23 receiving yards, 0 TDs (5 games)
2010 Prediction: 319 rushing yards, 295 receiving yards, 3 TDs
Lex Hilliard, RB - As Williams’ primary backup, Hilliard totaled more than twice as many receiving yards (158) than rushing yards (89), catching a team-high nine passes for 74 yards in Week 16, and vultured a couple of goal-line TDs. But as the team’s number four RB, his role in the offense will be far too limited to justify a fantasy roster spot.
2009 Statistics: 89 rushing yards, 158 receiving yards, 3 TDs
2010 Prediction: 56 rushing yards, 91 receiving yards, 1 TDs
Kory Sheets, RB – Both the Dolphins and your fantasy team are in serious trouble if they’re counting on fifth-stringer Sheets, who had one carry for five yards last season and should only be a factor on special teams in 2010.
Coming soon: The biggest fantasy question of the year: which Dolphins’ Tight End is worth drafting as your team’s backup?