L.T. disappoints; Turner, Williams lead all fantasy backs in 2008

A running back who records 52 receptions, 1,536 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns is enough to make most fantasy owners smile.

Of course, that doesn't apply when that running back's name is LaDainian Tomlinson.

Tomlinson was the consensus No. 1 overall selection in most drafts. The unquestioned king of the fantasy mountain was coming off a season that saw him record close to 2,000 scrimmage yards and 18 touchdowns. Of course, his record-breaking 30 total scores in 2006 was fresh in the minds of fantasy leaguers as well.

Sure, Tom Brady was coming off a ridiculous season with 50 touchdown passes, but most of us didn't think he could duplicate those totals. So it was L.T. who's name was called first in most cases.

Much like Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes before him, however, Tomlinson failed to meet expectations as he entered the latter stages of his career.

Tomlinson, who turned 29 in June, rushed for 100 or more yards just twice in 2008. He reached that mark 16 times in the previous two seasons. His 13 total touchdowns were his lowest total since his rookie season. Tomlinson was so inconsistent and unreliable during the season that benching him had become a viable option. He had become a sort of tug-of-war player in the minds of owners because despite his lack of production at times, he was still LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Chargers runner would finish the fantasy season 12th in fantasy points on NFL.com. Based on reports about the seriousness of his current groin ailment, not to mention the fact that he'll be 30 next season, Tomlinson could slide from the top spot in drafts to out of the first round altogether in 2009.

Of course, the same won't be said for DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner.

Williams, who wasn't even considered the best fantasy back on his own team after the Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart, came out of nowhere to rush for over 1,500 yards and score 20 touchdowns. He rushed 16 touchdowns in his final nine games and recorded 100-plus yards on the ground in seven of those contests. Williams also scored four times in two of his final five games, including a monster 108-yard, four-touchdown performance in fantasy's championship week.

Turner, who in an ironic twist was far better than Tomlinson (who he previously backed up in San Diego), finished with close to 1,700 rushing yards and 17 scores. Much of his success came at the Georgia Dome, where he rushed for 1,032 yards and 14 scores. Turner was also very consistent -- he finished the season with a 200-yard game and ended the season with a 200-yard game. Much like Williams, Turner is certain to be a first-round pick next season.

With the emergence of these two studs, not to mention several rookies, running backs re-established themselves as the cream of the fantasy crop in 2008.

Matt Forte, Steve Slaton and Chris Johnson were all tremendous draft values, as all three rushed for better than 1,000 yards and a combined 26 touchdowns. Another rookie, Kevin Smith, showed real flashes of potential and could be as much as a second-round pick next season. Fantasy leaguers also saw little-known backs such as Peyton Hillis, Le'Ron McClain, Mewelde Moore and Pierre Thomas all make a significant impact.

Veterans like Thomas Jones, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Maurice Jones-Drew and Brandon Jacobs also finished with solid numbers. Injuries hurt the stat lines of Marion Barber, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, but this trio still made some noise when between the white lines.

While the position did see an overall rise in value, backfield committees still made life difficult.

Teams like the Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Dolphins, Patriots, Raiders, Ravens and Seahawks (to name a few) utilized two or more backs in an effort to establish the run. These situations were a major cause of frustration, but committees weren't statistical death sentences in all cases.

Johnson and LenDale White found success with the Titans, McClain was able to make in Baltimore even with Willis McGahee and Ray Rice in the mix, and of course, Williams and Stewart both had solid numbers for the Panthers.

Aside from Tomlinson, the biggest disappointments at the position included Joseph Addai, Edgerrin James, Larry Johnson, Jamal Lewis and Darren McFadden. Addai dealt with injuries and the re-emergence of Dominic Rhodes in Indianapolis, while James and Lewis succumbed to age and careers filled with countless carries. McFadden, who some wanted to compare to Peterson in the preseason, found himself injured and in a committee in Oakland.

Despite some of the backs who failed to meet expectations, the running back position still experienced an overall surge in value. With the parallel decrease in value among wide receivers, fantasy leaguers will be clamoring for backs at a major rate.

In fact, I'd look for runners to liter the first and second rounds of almost all seasonal drafts in 2009.

Awards

Player of the year -- Williams. He was the top scoring back in all fantasy leagues. But can he do it again?
Bust of the year -- Addai. He cost most owners a first-round pick, but Addai couldn't avoid injuries all season.
Breakout of the year -- Turner. Williams broke out as well, but the Burner made close to the same sort of impact.
Sleeper of the year -- Forte. This kid is the real deal. He'll be a fantasy superstar for season to come. Bank on it.
Top player for 2009 -- Peterson. He's talented, has a great offensive line and still hasn't hit his statistical ceiling.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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