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Running backs: Ram tough?

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We continue our position-by-position tour with the all-important running backs. Though the uniforms may change, the importance of a strong backfield cannot be discounted in the fantasy realm. A number of past fantasy heroes have joined new squads. We welcome rookie backs in several cities. And, of course, we haven't even started the season and we're looking at injury replacements.

The top names have carried forward from 2004, with the king of the hill still residing in Southern California. That's where we'll begin our review of this position, with the all-world back from San Diego.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD
The rise of a passing game with Drew Brees and Antonio Gates in 2004 helped take some of the pressure off Tomlinson. But, it's not like opposing defenses were able to contain him in the prior three seasons. He publicly has stated his desire to amass 2,000 rushing yards, and I'm certainly not going to argue. Tomlinson hits another level once he reaches the defensive backfield, offers a great receiving option and wills his way into the end zone even when hurt. He piled up 18 total touchdowns last season despite playing with a groin injury. Without question, he's the No. 1 pick on draft day.

2. Shaun Alexander, Sea
He’s a touchdown machine, racking up 15 or more in four straight seasons. Last year, Alexander rolled up 20 total touchdowns with 1,696 rushing yards. And if you want to talk about a motivated player, there may be none more so than Alexander. He lost the rushing title by a single yard to Curtis Martin in 2004 and is playing for another contract. The offensive line is stellar, and with question marks in the receiving corps behind Darrell Jackson, Mike Holmgren will pound the rock with Alexander.

3. Priest Holmes, KC
You couldn't complain with the fantasy digits put up in the first half of the 2004 season by Kansas City's star tailback (15 total touchdowns before leaving the eighth game of the year with an injury). However, if you hadn't drafted both Derrick Blaylock and/or Larry Johnson, the second half of the year was likely a difficult road to hoe. When last Holmes returned from a significant injury, he rolled to 27 touchdowns. Remember, he has been a starting tailback for only five years, and he doesn't have the mileage on the treads that accompany most 32-year-old backs. The emergence of Johnson down the stretch means that Dick Vermeil likely will look to give Johnson several carries per game and reduce the reps and wear and tear on Holmes. As such, Holmes will remain fresh for the stretch run and a dominant fantasy force.

4. Edgerrin James, Ind
James no doubt will continue to be overshadowed by the aerial assault of Peyton Manning. Lost in the TD heroics of Manning was the fact that James tallied 1,589 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Like Alexander, James is playing for a new contract in 2006; look for him to make the most of every touch. Additionally, he has missed only three games since returning from his season-ending surgery in 2001. The only downside to his game is that while James will catch his fair share of passes, he hasn't been on the receiving end of a TD pass in two years. Look for double-digit touchdowns and another 1,500 rushing yards from James.

5. Deuce McAllister, NO
The Saints have made no secret of their desire to get back to the ground game, directly tying their success/failure to the legs of McAllister. He has worked himself back into shape after being hampered with ankle concerns last year. Additionally, McAllister will be more of a factor in goal-line scenarios. He still topped 1,000 rushing yards despite a reduced workload in 2004 but watched his number of receptions drop. The Saints rebuilt their offensive line this offseason, which should spell big things for McAllister.

6. Domanick Davis, Hou
His diminutive frame continues to cause concern among fantasy owners, as he has been bothered by nagging ankle and shoulder injuries. However, with the lack of a second receiving threat behind Andre Johnson, Davis figures to be even more involved in the passing game this season. In fact, the offensive line issues that have caused David Carr to be sacked 140 times over three seasons may force Davis to be more involved. He's great in goal-line situations and possesses a nice combination of power and speed. I've seen him go as high as fourth in leagues awarding a point per reception.

7. Corey Dillon, NE
He isn't glamorous with tremendous upside, but neither is the Patriots offense. All this guy does is pile up yards and touchdowns year after year. Dillon left all the talking in Cincinnati and just went to work for the Pats last year, rolling up 1,635 yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns. He was rewarded with a huge contract extension and will be the focal point of the attack. The only downside is that he isn't a factor in the passing game, but when you amass nine 100-yard rushing games, that difference is negligible.

8. Willis McGahee, Buf
McGahee seemingly came from nowhere to post monster totals after an injury to Travis Henry left the door open. He rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 starts. McGahee reached the 100-yard mark on seven occasions and logged five multi-TD games. It will be interesting to watch his development another year removed from his knee injury and whether his speed returns to that of his University of Miami days. There are two main areas of concern. First, will a lack of depth on the offensive line thwart his ability to rush to big totals again? Second, will the insertion of J.P. Losman at QB allow opponents to stack eight men in the box? McGahee and the offense will be helped by a superior defense and solid special teams. Look for McGahee to be more involved in the passing game this year, and for Mike Mularkey to ride his young tailback's legs to aid the development of first-year starter Losman.

9. Kevin Jones, Det
Jones led all rookies with 1,133 rushing yards last year, despite battling hamstring and ankle injuries and an ineffective Lions passing game. The Lions have a talented receiving corps and added Marcus Pollard from the Colts this offseason. The first-string offense has moved the ball well all preseason but has struggled to score. However, part of that falls on Steve Mariucci's decision to limit Jones' work this summer. Jones possesses a tremendous combination of power and speed that will allow him to post numbers regardless of Harrington's successes or failures. There is some concern that Mariucci will look to his talented receiving corps around the goal line, allowing Roy Williams and Mike Williams to dominate jump-ball situations. I expect Jones to rush for 1,500 yards and record 8 to 10 touchdowns.

10. Rudi Johnson, Cin
Since Johnson burst onto the scene in ‘03, he has been a stud in the red zone, piling up 21 touchdowns. Johnson pushed into the upper tiers of running backs a season ago with his 1,454 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He rushed for more than 89 yards on nine occasions last season, including his 202-yard, two-TD day against Cleveland. The further development of Carson Palmer and his talented receiving corps should ease the pressure on Johnson. The Bengals expect to work second-year back Chris Perry into the mix this year, but his role will be limited to giving Johnson a breather and, of course, serving as injury insurance.

11. Julius Jones, Dal
The Cowboys relied heavily on Jones (to the tune of 30-plus touches each week) after he returned from his early-season shoulder injury. He had his big coming-out party in a monster performance at Seattle on a Monday night. Bill Parcells expects to pound the rock with Jones again, but durability has been a concern going back to his college days. The Cowboys acquired former 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Thomas to back up Jones.

12. Jamal Lewis, Bal
With the education of Kyle Boller an ongoing project for the Ravens, look for a rededicated and refocused Lewis to get back to the fantasy elite. He's motivated to prove that his 2,000-yard effort in 2003 was no fluke and wants to put the embarrassment of his offseason prison stay behind him. Despite his injuries in 04 and receiving no help from the passing game (in part because Todd Heap missed nine games due to injury), Lewis still topped 1,000 yards and scored seven touchdowns. I look for him to get back over 1,500 yards and find the end zone 10-12 times.

13. Tiki Barber, NYG
His low touchdown total in 2003 made Barber a draft-day bargain in 2004. Barber responded with career-highs of 1,518 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. To aid in the development of second-year QB Eli Manning, Barber undoubtedly will continue to rack up receptions and receiving yards. Plaxico Burress joins the receiving corps, which should help open running room for Barber. He scored 11 of his touchdowns from within the 5-yard line. There is concern that rookie Brandon Jacobs will vulture goal-line carries from Barber and reduce his touchdown total in 05.

14. Ahman Green, GB
The loss of offensive linemen Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle pulls down the ceiling on Green's numbers for ‘05. Green battled injury to post his least productive season in Green Bay after a monster 20-TD season in 2003. Combined with the changes on the line, Najeh Davenport's role continues to expand, particularly in the red zone. The Packers will reduce Green's touches to keep him fresh for the stretch run. Additionally, Tony Fisher has become a vital cog in the passing game, thus reducing Green's receiving totals. Green is another back in a contract season who will be looking to make things happen with every touch. Brett Favre's presence and the explosive passing game certainly will keep defenses from stacking up against the run, which should make for a decent rebound for Green..

15. Clinton Portis, Was
Fantasy owners were disappointed with Portis' numbers in 04 after two brilliant seasons in Denver. Despite the loss of Jon Jansen during the preseason, Portis still piled up more than 1,300 rushing yards in 2004. The return of Jansen and the addition of Casey Rabach should help give QB Patrick Ramsey time to operate and allow the passing game to find some success.

16. Curtis Martin, NYJ
Martin led the NFL in rushing for the first time in 2004, narrowly edging Shaun Alexander. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons, averaging more than 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Martin got off to a hot start and was aided by the injury to Chad Pennington that forced the Jets rely even more on Martin. Much like Tiki Barber, fantasy owners stayed away from Martin in ‘04 after his low TD total in ‘03. Pennington is healthy, which should allow the Jets to achieve more balance in the attack and take the strain off Martin. That said, he is a solid contributor to the passing game (41 receptions in ‘04) and will remain the heart of the offense. Additionally, the potential for LaMont Jordan to steal carries around the goal-line disappeared with his acquisition by the Raiders. Look for another 1,300-yard season out of Martin, with several of those touchdowns lost to the passing attack.

17. LaMont Jordan, Oak
After four years as Curtis Martin's backup in New York, Jordan heads to the opposite coast and joins the Oakland Raiders. He certainly doesn't have the mileage of most fifth-year backs, and he's eager to prove that he can be a legitimate No. 1 option. He set career highs in rushing yards (479) and carries (93) in the run-happy Jets attack in 2004. The Raiders have built a strong offensive line whose primary focus will be to keep defenders off Kerry Collins, allowing him time to make use of his multiple receiving toys (Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry). However, they also will be able to run-block, and coach Norv Turner knows something about creating space for running backs. With the attention afforded to the receivers Jordan will find space to run, and he hits holes with authority. Lest we forget, he has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his limited duty for the Jets. Jordan will make fantasy owners happy this year as their second back.

18. Steven Jackson, StL
The Rams handed the powerful Jackson the starting tailback job this offseason, with long-time NFL superstar and fantasy legend Marshall Faulk taking a backseat to the second-year pro. Jackson's bruising running style evokes images of running backs past but leaves some concern about his durability. He did miss two games with a bruised knee after rushing the ball a season-high 26 times. Jackson rambled for 108 yards and a touchdown in Monday's preseason victory over the Lions, including an early 64-yard burst. He's able to move the pile (five yards per carry in 2004) and will be a force near the goal line. The big downside is Mike Martz's tendency to get enamored with the next passing play on his chart and forgetting about his backs.

19. Brian Westbrook, Phi
Westbrook is not a guy who will carry the ball 25 times per game. However, he's going to get his share of touches via the passing game. With Philadelphia still working to find consistency at wide receiver behind Terrell Owens, Westbrook will pile up catches again. Last season, his 73 catches for 703 yards and six receiving touchdowns accounted for much of his fantasy value. Rookie Ryan Moats is expected to pick up the goal-line carries for the injured Correll Buckhalter, but the loss of those touches is nothing new for Westbrook. He has the speed and strength to get himself into the end zone – he’s scored 22 time in his last 28 games.

20. Warrick Dunn, Atl
The lack of a true No. 1 receiver again makes Dunn a vital cog in the Falcons' attack. He will continue to split carries with T.J. Duckett, obviously ceding touches to Duckett around the goal line. Dunn rushed for 1,106 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns for the NFL's top rushing team in’04. He also carried the ball a career-high 265 times, showing good durability after missing five games in ‘03.

21. Fred Taylor, Jac
Taylor missed the final preseason game against Dallas, purely as a precautionary move to keep him ready for the regular season. There is an outside chance that LaBrandon Toefield pilfers some carries early in the season to let Taylor work his surgically repaired knee back to full strength. Despite the "fragile" tag that he can't escape, Taylor has missed only two games the past three years. He enjoyed his fifth 1,000-yard season a year ago but found the end zone only three times (two rushing). Taylor is a factor in the passing game (44 catches per game) and will benefit greatly if Byron Leftwich takes a step forward this year and the defense picks up where it left off in the second half. Taylor likely will lose out on carries around the goal line to Toefield, but he's a solid choice for a No. 3 tailback.

22. Chris Brown, Ten
If only you got bonus points for yards at halftime, or could substitute backs at halftime, then Brown would be an All-Pro candidate. Instead, he became one of fantasy football's biggest headaches in ‘04. And, with a nice start to the ‘05 preseason, a tweaked ankle came almost on queue. The Titans brought in Travis Henry to safeguard against Brown's injury woes, but he's been sidelined by turf toe and missed the preseason finale. The Titans expect to use the upright-running Brown in much the same fashion as last year, with the added wrinkle of sending him out in pass patterns. However, a healthy Henry likely will snag carries in the red zone. If you dive into the Tennessee backfield with a selection of Brown, be sure to snag Henry a round or two later.

23. Mike Anderson, Den
He currently sits ahead of Tatum Bell in the race for the No. 1 spot in the much-heralded Denver offense. Anderson missed all of last season with a groin injury and hasn't been the top option for a full campaign since his 1,500-yard, 15-TD monster campaign in 2000. We know the Denver system always will produce a 1,000-yard rusher. It's just a question as to whether Anderson will be able to hold off the talented second-year back for an entire campaign. Anderson certainly tried to make his case last Saturday with a huge 159-yard, two-TD performance against Indianapolis. I like Anderson's potential for a solid 2005 contribution, but you'll need to spend another pick on Tatum Bell to protect yourself.

24. Carnell Williams, TB
Jon Gruden wants to make Williams the first back to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the Bucs since Warrick Dunn accomplished the feat in 2000. Williams is a shifty runner who can power the ball in around the goal line, and with Mike Alstott returning from injury to serve as his lead blocker, the rookie certainly will have running room. There are some concerns about his durability, having broken his collarbone and left fibula in the past, but the frequency with which Williams found the end zone in college (despite the presence of Ronnie Brown) cannot be denied. Williams enters the season as a No. 3 fantasy running back with a shot at cracking the starting lineup should Gruden follow through on his plans to pound the rock 20-25 times per game with Williams.

25. J.J. Arrington, Ari
Dennis Green is positively enamored with the speedy rookie, despite some fumble problems in the preseason. Arrington was the NCAA's only 2,000-yard rusher in 2004, while averaging seven yards per carry. The key to Arrington's success will be the degree to which Kurt Warner and the retooled passing game are able to stretch the field. Additionally, as he stands only 5-foot-9, there is some concern about durability and some concern that Green may opt to utilize Marcel Shipp in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Arrington begins the season as a No. 3 fantasy back with great upside if the passing attack clicks.

26. Ronnie Brown, Mia
After failing to sign a contract and get to camp on time, Brown finally got on the field last week. He rushed for 20 yards on six attempts and lost a fumble. Despite his short time in camp, he's the unopposed starter for the first four weeks as Ricky Williams serves his four-game suspension to start the year. Williams is expected to play a role in the Miami backfield upon his return unless Brown absolutely tears it. Struggles in the passing game and some concerns about the offensive line will limit both players' effectiveness.

27. Mewelde Moore, Min
He ascends to the top spot in Minnesota with yet another injury to Michael Bennett but is limping a bit himself after spraining an ankle. Moore expects to be ready for the season opener. He has breakaway speed and will benefit from Daunte Culpepper's love of the vertical passing game. The Minnesota backfield always has at least three heads, so none of these players will push to the top of the draft board. However, the sweet feet of Moore and the expectations for piling on points once again certainly make him a solid mid-round pick.

28. Kevan Barlow, SF
Barlow was slowed by a miserable 49ers offense in 2004. The passing game still is a work in progress, meaning that opposing defenses will continue to stack up to stop him. Barlow saw his rushing average drop more than a full yard per carry to 3.9 from his lofty 5.1 average in 2003 as the backup to Garrison Hearst. He still did find the end zone seven times. Don't expect huge production from Barlow, but he will see the ball at least 20 times per game to start the season.

29. Jerome Bettis, Pit
Bettis left the Steelers' last preseason game with a calf injury and is expected to miss the season opener. Bettis will continue his role as the goal-line back, where owners hope he'll be able to put forth double-digit touchdowns again. We know Bill Cowher loves to soften opposing defenses with his powerful running backs. Once Duce Staley returns from his surgery, they'll split carries. But Staley's recent injury history along with Bettis' drive to end his career in Detroit (site of Super Bowl XL) and his knack for finding the end zone make Bettis hard to ignore on draft day.

30. DeShaun Foster, Car
The return of Stephen Davis from micro-fracture surgery and Foster's own injury history slip him down the list. He has home-run speed when sound and can catch the ball (26 catches in limited duty behind Davis in 2003). The Panthers likely will employ the thunder-lightning combination package to keep their two top backs on the field and avoid the litany of injuries that slowed them during the first half of ‘04.

31. Thomas Jones, Chi
His stock slips on the news that Cedric Benson finally signed a deal and joined the team. Jones caught 56 passes last year to set a team record, and he will be utilized in much the same capacity this season, even with Benson's addition. The lack of a strong QB (Kyle Orton is the starter) means whomever lines up in the backfield will face eight-man fronts with regularity.

32. Larry Johnson, KC
Johnson shone brightly when given the opportunity to shoulder the load after Priest Holmes was injured in ‘04. The last time Holmes was counted out, he put up two straight monster years, which may signal fewer opportunities for Johnson this year. However, if you draft Holmes, be prepared to select Johnson a round or two earlier than you might think; the owners in your league would like nothing more than to break up that marriage in your backfield.

33. Tatum Bell, Den
He enters the season as the backup to Mike Anderson but certainly showed tremendous power and speed during his opportunities last year (396 yards on 75 carries). As always, if you dive into the Denver backfield, be prepared to use at least two roster spots, as Mike Shanahan likes to make use of all his weapons.

34. Lee Suggs, Cle
Suggs likely enters the season in a platoon situation with offseason acquisition Reuben Droughns. Suggs has been hampered by injuries throughout his career and battled former coach Butch Davis favorite William Green for playing time (Suggs rushed for 744 yards and three touchdowns). The Browns have upgraded the offensive line and should be more formidable under new coach Romeo Crennel, but how big a fantasy impact any single player will make remains to be seen among the tough defenses of the AFC North.

35. Michael Bennett, Min
Bennett's propensity for injuries has already claimed him for Week 1. Mewelde Moore slides into the top spot and may not look back. However, Mike Tice is a fan of Bennett.. And there's always goal-line vulture Moe Williams to contend with. The acquisition of a Minnesota tailback always carries significant risk.

36. T.J. Duckett, Atl
He hasn't put up monster yardage totals (averaging about 600 per year), but he has a knack around the goal line. With the receiving corps still a work in progress, Jim Mora will continue to rely heavily on Dunn and Duckett. He knows how to move the pile (4.9 yards per carry) and may be counted on to contribute in the passing game. With that said, he's not a weekly starter, but his TD production makes him a strong bye-week replacement.

37. Stephen Davis, Car
Davis is back on the map and may upend DeShaun Foster for the top spot before long. Of course, Davis still is on the road to recovery from what many believed to be a career-ending injury, so there is risk involved. The Panthers should be able to move the ball and put up points, meaning there is value in the backfield. However, if you step into this situation, be prepared to grab both backs.

38. Travis Henry, Ten
He has been slowed by turf toe (is there something in the water provided to Tennessee running backs?) but is expected to split time with Chris Brown as the season progresses. And given Brown's inability to complete games, Henry has tremendous upside. After all, he did post two straight seasons with more than 1,300 rushing yards before injuries and that McGahee character pushed him off the charts in ‘04.

39. Marshall Faulk, StL
Faulk surrendered the top tailback spot to Steven Jackson in the offseason, but don't think for a minute that he won't still be a valuable component of the Rams’ attack. Faulk will see a handful of touches each game and will be a factor in the passing game. The veteran still has some tread on the tires and can perform at a high level if pressed into action by an injury to Jackson.

40. Reuben Droughns, Cle
Fantasy owners have determined that it was the "system" in Denver rather than the player, pushing Droughns down the board in ‘05 drafts despite his huge ‘04 campaign. He's facing a possible three-man system in Cleveland, which certainly cripples his fantasy value.

41. Cedric Benson, Chi
He finally arrived in camp at the start of the week. It's expected that he'll steal carries from Thomas Jones in the short term and overtake him for the top spot by midseason. Don't expect anything from him early, but there's a chance that most of the owners in your league will dismiss him entirely.

42. Duce Staley, Pit
Staley opens the season on the shelf after knee surgery, and it's not likely that he returns to the field before the Steelers' bye week (Week 4). He always is a threat to pile up yardage, as he did in 2004, but super vulture Jerome Bettis will be there to steal goal-line carries after he returns from his calf woes.

43. Ryan Moats, Phi
The loss of Correll Buckhalter for the season vaults Moats into the short-yardage and goal-line role. He's a tough runner to be picked up as insurance for Brian Westbrook owners and may be of great value in touchdown leagues. Be warned that Dorsey Levens has suited up with the Eagles yet again and may factor into the equation.

44. Brandon Jacobs, NYG
Jacobs has been the talk of Giants camp, running over would-be tacklers and showing great footwork between the tackles. Look for Tom Coughlin to use him in short-yardage situations and around the goal line to keep Tiki Barber fresh. Jacobs will be expected to fill the role that Ron Dayne couldn't a year ago.

45. Ricky Williams, Mia
He'll miss the first four games but should be in full game shape and back near his original playing weight by the time he returns to action. Miami expects to run him in the same backfield with Ronnie Brown upon Williams' return but would love nothing more than to find a suitor in need of a back later in the season.

46. Willie Parker, Pit
Parker has caused a buzz this preseason for Pittsburgh. He's taken the Week 1 carries with Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley sidelined. He has tremendous speed and runs well between the tackles. He’ll be on the roster to start the campaign but likely will be relegated to third-down carries once the top two backs return.

47. Marcel Shipp, Ari
Shipp continues his recovery from the broken leg that sidelined him for all of 2004, when he was expected to factor into the running game alongside Emmitt Smith. The current talk is that Shipp will see time on third-down and short-yardage situations behind rookie J.J. Arrington. If Arrington struggles early or the fumble problems continue, Shipp will enjoy working behind an improved passing game.

48. Michael Pittman, TB
Though Carnell Williams will be the man in Tampa, Pittman long has been part of a dual running back situation, and there is some question about durability. Pittman put together a solid season in 2004 after serving a three-game suspension (1,300 total yards and six touchdowns). He is a solid receiver out of the backfield and will continue to be a factor in the offense.

49. LaBrandon Toefield, Jac
Continuing concerns about Fred Taylor's knee boosts Toefield's value and makes him a must-have insurance policy for Taylor owners. He's been solid in limited work during his first two NFL seasons and is fighting off Greg Jones and rookie Alvin Pearman for the first backup role.

50. Frank Gore, SF
Gore has shown a tremendous knack for recovering from injury (two reconstructive knee surgeries in the last three years) but has yet to make a splash in the preseason, leaving Kevan Barlow as the man in San Francisco. The 49ers have revamped the entire system under Mike Nolan, which should improve the performance of the always outspoken Barlow. Gore has value as a late-round pick because Nolan will not hesitate to pull the trigger should Barlow struggle out of the gate.

51. Chester Taylor, Bal
Taylor has looked good in the preseason while substituting for Jamal Lewis. He rushed for an impressive 714 yards while filling in for Lewis a season ago. Though Lewis will be ready for the season opener against Indianapolis, the specter of injury means that the procurement of Taylor in the later stages of the draft would be wise.

52. Najeh Davenport, GB
Davenport averaged a tremendous 5.1 yards per carry in 2004 and will increase his role in the Packers attack. He is, at the minimum, a solid insurance pick to back up Ahman Green, who continues to have fumbling problems.

53. Chris Perry, Cin
Perry missed all of last season with a groin injury but has returned strong in 2005. He'll be the No. 2 man behind Rudi Johnson in what is expected to be a strong Cincinnati offense.

54. Moe Williams, Min
The Vikings' backfield is an ever-changing and often mysterious world. One thing is for certain – Mike Tice likes to use Williams down low. In leagues with heavy emphasis on touchdowns, Williams needs to be on the radar, and he has the capability of filling in if the injuries to Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett force extended absences.

55. Derrick Blaylock, NYJ
Blaylock joins the Jets to back up veteran star Curtis Martin. He obviously has the goods, as evidenced by his productivity in Kansas City. In New York, he'll offer a great receiving option for Pennington and a third-down option. Martin owners should grab Blaylock as insurance. Though Martin shows no sign of slowing down, he's hitting that area (age 32) where backs begin to witness a drop-off in production.

56. Dominic Rhodes, Ind: Owners of Edgerrin James have to look Rhodes' way toward the end of the draft. He's a tough runner who averages near to five yards per carry and can shoulder the load if the Edge misses time.

57. Zack Crockett, Oak
LaMont Jordan enters Oakland as the every-down back, but the specter of Crockett is there for short-yardage and goal-line carries. Crockett is little more than a goal-line terror, but an effective one at that.

58. Ladell Betts, Was
Clinton Portis is the man in Washington, but Betts has been impressive in limited opportunities. He likely will contribute as a third-down back this year and could be a pleasant surprise off the waiver wire if Portis misses time due to the weakness of the O-Line.

59. Maurice Morris, Sea
Morris won't see the field much but certainly would run behind one of the best lines in the game if Shaun Alexander were to miss time. That hasn't happened yet, but as we know, there's no predicting those things. Alexander owners would be wise to stash him on the bench.

60. Nick Goings, Car
Rookie Eric Shelton has disappointed Carolina coaches, making last year's surprise top rusher the third option behind DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis.

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