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Despite injury concerns, Brown could be a draft bargain

If there was ever a poster child for a risk-reward player in fantasy drafts, it's Ronnie Brown.

It all started during the 2007 season, when he was on pace to catch 89 passes for 889 yards, rush for 1,389 yards and score a combined 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Brown tore up his knee in a loss to the New England Patriots in Week 7 and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. He returned to play in all 16 games in 2008, posting 33 receptions, 1,170 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns and re-emerging as a regular fantasy starter.

He had also started to find quite a bit of success out of the Wildcat formation, which was all the rage around the league. With a one full year under his belt after reconstructive knee surgery, fantasy leaguers were expecting Brown to once again become one of the better players at his position. And through the first nine contests of 2009, he appeared destined to re-gain that sort of status.

Brown was on pace to rush for better than 1,150 yards and a career-high 14 touchdowns. But once again the injury bug stung the Auburn product, as he suffered a foot ailment against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that cost him the final seven weeks. In his absence, Ricky Williams rushed for 100-plus yards three times, scored a combined six touchdowns and re-captured the form that made him a fantasy superstar earlier in his career.

Fast forward to the here and now, where countless fantasy owners will have to make that difficult decision - to draft Brown, or not to draft him?

To this point, all reports on Brown's health have been completely positive. He told the Miami Herald that his knee "feels great," and the foot injury he suffered last season is now "a non issue."

Brown, to his benefit, has been very optimistic about the upcoming season.

"These last few years, I've had a couple of injuries I've had to deal with," Brown told the Herald. "Hopefully that's behind me. The good part is coming into this training camp I actually feel a little bit better than I have the last two or three years. I'm in a little bit better shape and hope I can continue to build on that and see what happens."

Despite the success Williams had at the end of last year, there are still a lot of reasons to like Brown from a fantasy perspective. First and foremost, he's still the top running back for coach Tony Sparano. That was evident in the disbursement of offensive carries last season. During the first nine games before Brown was injured, he averaged 16.3 carries and was on pace to finish with 261 attempts. On the flip side, Williams averaged just 11.6 carries and was on pace for 187 attempts.

It's still a committee situation to be certain, but Brown was clearly closer to being a featured back in the rotation.

The addition of Brandon Marshall to what should be an improved passing game will also limit the number of defenders opposing teams can commit to stopping the run, which is good news for both backs. The x-factor in this equation is that Brown is in a contract year, so he'll be even more motivated to produce at a high level. Whether he returns to the Dolphins or ends up with a new team down the road, Brown, 28, needs to play well if he's to have any chance at what will be the last substantial contract of his career.

The final reason to like Brown is the fact that he's not going to cost you an early-round draft pick.

Not even close.

In fact, his current average draft position (ADP) on NFL.com is 76.33. That means he's not going until Round 8 of a 10-team league and Round 7 of a 12 teamer. So if you decide to take just one runner in the first six to seven rounds and instead focus on the other offensive skill positions, you can still land Brown to be your No. 2 fantasy running back. If you're in a smaller league, you might even be able to nab him as a potential flex starter.

While there are still no guarantees with Brown, right now the reward seems greater than the risk.

Notes

» The 49ers have announced the retirement of RB Glen Coffee, which was a shock considering he was only entering his second NFL season. In his absence, the team will turn to Anthony Dixon to fill the No. 2 spot. The rookie now appears to be the favorite fantasy handcuff for owners who land Frank Gore in Round 1.

» Fantasy owners looking for a few deep sleepers should keep tabs on the Patriots this preseason. Brandon Tate and Aaron Hernandez are both earning rave reviews in camp and could see more prominent roles on offense. Tate could push to play in three-receiver sets with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, while Hernandez has a chance to see work in the red zone.

» The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Chargers have sent a letter to Vincent Jackson, stating their intention to place him on the Roster Exempt List if he fails to sign his tender by Aug. 20. That would make him ineligible to play for three games after the day he signs. Jackson, who is looking for a new contract, is becoming an even greater risk in fantasy leagues. At this point, you can't even draft him until the middle rounds.

» Chiefs RB Thomas Jones might be atop the team's current depth chart, but Jamaal Charles is also seeing "plenty of snaps" with the first-team offense during training camp. While some fantasy owners might be concerned about Charles with Jones now in the mix, he's clearly the team's best running back and should still be drafted in the second round in most leagues. Jones should be seen as more of a middle rounder.

» According to a report in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is "plotting" a running back committee with Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Portis has received some positive words from Shanahan during camp, but he's clearly past his prime and a risk to break down. You shouldn't be looking to add him until the late middle rounds - there's no reason to use Portis in a prominent fantasy role this season.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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