There is perhaps no position in all of sports that is more physically demanding than that of the running back. While the job of carrying the football may sound simple, the hard hits from all angles can quickly and suddenly take a large toll. It seems every season at least one young, talented running back is lost for the season due to injury. The start of the next season offers the toughest questions to fans and fantasy owners. The largest concern is the player's ability to return at the same level of performance he had prior to the injury. Returning to action too early could result in aggravating the ailment. Before drafting a player on the mend it is important to evaluate the timetable for their return and their potential for the upcoming season.
New car smell
After being selected fifth overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, running back Cadillac Williams quickly exploded onto the scene, posting three consecutive 100-yard games to start his career, an NFL first. Cadillac rushed for 434 yards in those first three games, the most rushing yards in league history to begin a rookie campaign. Despite the early success, some were worried about the heavy workload head coach John Gruden was putting on his young rookie.
Williams had carried the ball 88 times in the historic three-game span; he had developed foot as well as hamstring issues in Week 4, keeping him out of the next two games and rendering him ineffective for the following three. In the remaining seven regular season games, Williams would exceed 100 yards in three games and post at least 80 rushing yards in all but one. Williams was hampered by injuries, but he finished the regular season with six 100-yard games and led all rookies with 1,178 rushing yards, securing him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Up on blocks
The following two seasons would be far from kind to Cadillac. In 2006, he would struggle again with injury and also played behind a less effective offensive line. Williams managed just two 100-yard games, and missed the final two weeks, finishing his disappointing sophomore season with only 798 yards rushing. Things only became worse in 2007, as in Week 4 Williams would suffer a season-ending knee injury. Williams sustained a torn patella tendon in his right leg, which is worse than the more common anterior cruciate ligament tear. The injury was thought to be career-threatening when it occurred, but it now appears to be more a question of when, not if, Williams will resume his career.
Williams is currently working his way back onto the field, but his ability to contribute this season remains questionable. The Buccaneers have made moves this offseason that indicate they are not going to rush Williams back. Veteran running back Michael Bennett was re-signed and halfback Warrick Dunn signed as a free agent. Meanwhile, projected starting running back Earnest Graham is discussing a contract extension with the club. With a depth chart full of healthy backs, it's very possible Williams will open the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which would mean no practicing or playing with the team for the first six weeks of the season. Placing Williams on the PUP would allow him more time to heal without the more drastic step of putting him on Injured Reserve, which would end his season immediately.
Fantasy football outlook
Come draft day, those in single-year leagues should bypass Williams entirely. His injury is simply too devastating to assume he'll be ready to contribute this season. The Buccaneers have made plans to do without him in 2008, and fantasy owners need to do the same. Even if he does return to the field this season, Williams still figures to face a lot of competition for carries, primarily from Graham, who is coming off an impressive year. However, while he should be ignored in single-year leagues, Williams remains a viable option in keeper leagues that have full retention.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.
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