When Derrick Ward signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason, it was seen as a positive move in terms of his fantasy value. After all, he was coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his NFL career while serving as a No. 2 back behind Brandon Jacobs in New York. With the Bucs, Ward would have a chance to start and see more work.
Now come reports that he might find himself smack in the middle of another backfield committee.
According to coach Raheem Morris, Cadillac Williams will start the team's third preseason game (Aug. 27 vs. Miami) ahead of Ward and Earnest Graham. Morris also detailed how he plans to use the trio during the regular season.
The starter (projected to be Ward) will play the first two series, the No. 2 back (projected to be Graham) will play the following two series, and the No. 3 runner (projected to be Williams) will take the fifth.
While fantasy leaguers expected Ward to share some of the workload with Graham, Williams was not considered to be a major contributor in the backfield mix.
Coming off his second knee injury in two years, there were even reports that the veteran runner could wind up on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start this season. He sat out the team's first two preseason games as a precaution, but now he'll have a chance to showcase his skills while running on two repaired knees.
If Williams can display some of the skills that made him the 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year against the Dolphins, he'll be on his way to earning a role in the offense. That could make this whole situation a lot less attractive for fantasy leaguers. Ward does seem to have embraced this 2-2-1 format with Graham and Williams, though, which will be similar to the one he was in with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw while with the Giants.
"I wouldn't see why not," Ward said when asked if this format will work. "It'll keep us all fresh throughout the year, and hopefully we can keep that freshness throughout and make big plays. The defenses won't know what to adjust for, between me and Earnest (Graham) and Cadillac. It should work out just fine."
Of course, that's not exactly what owners were hoping for when Ward left the Big Apple for what was supposed to be a bigger role in Tampa Bay. Sure, Ward did post a solid 41 receptions with 1,409 scrimmage yards last season, but he scored a mere two touchdowns while Jacobs saw most of the short-yardage and goal-line work.
Morris won't designate a goal-list specialist, but it figures to be Graham or Williams. That would severely limit the statistical potential of Ward, who figures to see about 15 touches per game if the 2-2-1 format holds up for most of the season.
That sort of scenario would allow Ward a chance to duplicate his 2008 numbers, though he'd have to do it behind a less-formidable offensive line and with a quarterback (Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown) who won't scare defenses.
Unfortunately, for Ward, a one-time fantasy sleeper, he's the latest in a long line of talented running backs that will be sharing carries with one (or in this case two) other teammates. The committee is here for good, though, as much as it drives fantasy owners insane. It helps keep players healthier and fresher for what can be a long and punishing NFL season, and that's what coaches want for their backs.
As it stands, Ward still has added value in PPR formats but shouldn't be drafted as more than a low-end No. 2 fantasy runner in larger leagues.
News and notes
- » Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is dealing with a sprained toe, was able to participate in individual position drills on Thursday. He also ran a few routes and hauled in some passes from quarterbacks, but T.O. still isn't 100 percent. Owens, who has been ruled out for Saturday's preseason game in Pittsburgh, becomes more of a risk for fantasy leaguers with every practice and game he misses. He's no more than a No. 2 wideout.
- » The Nashville Tennessean is reporting that Titans wide receiver Nate Washington will miss "several weeks" of the regular season with a strained hamstring. A one-time viable sleeper in fantasy circles, Washington is now worth little more than a late-round draft and stash in most formats. Kenny Britt will now start opposite Justin Gage in Washington's absence, but the rookie's stock is limited to larger seasonal leagues.
- » Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is predicting that Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells will share carries throughout the season, saying that "everybody's doing the running back by committee." Hightower appears set to open the season as the starter, but Wells still has a chance to earn the goal-line work for coach Ken Whisenhunt. He also has far more upside overall and will be one of the first rookies taken in all fantasy formats.
- » The Newark Star-Ledger reports David Clowney practiced with the first-team offense this week and appears to have passed Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith on the Jets depth chart. Clowney has had a great preseason, but he has struggled with drops throughout his career and won't make much noise in an offense that will be based on the run. In a best-case scenario, Clowney will be worth a late-round flier in larger fantasy leagues.
- » Saints running back Pierre Thomas is dealing with a mild PCL sprain and could miss the rest of the preseason, but the ailment isn't considered so serious that it will affect his Week 1 status. He remains a viable No. 2 fantasy back and warrants a third- or fourth-round selection in drafts. Thomas' teammate, Reggie Bush, will be a game-time decision to face the Raiders. He hasn't played in a preseason contest to this point.