Eric Mack: Playoff workloads a dangerous tax on running backs - Sports Illustrated

Heavy playoff workloads risk fantasy futures for running backs

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Last year's Super Bowl running backs, Pierre Thomas and Joseph Addai, are fantasy cautionary tales. Hold your breath keeper-league owners.

Every breath leaves you one less to your last (Dream Theater: Pull Me Under). Depressing lyric, but it can be something important to download for later use in fantasy.

It goes for football players, too. There is only so much tread on the tire, especially when you're talking about the running back position.

If you're holding Jamaal Charles or Ray Rice in your keeper league, you are doing so like this writer: with bated breath. We have these guys held over for next year and we don't want them wearing down the treads for next year's championship.

The average lifespan of an NFL running back is four-to-six years. And those years shorten when you're talking about the added beating of the NFL postseason. Like a fantasy baseball pitcher going over 200 innings before a full playoff run, the juice from a running back's legs tends to disappear after a season of 300-plus carries.

Rice hit that plateau for the first time this year (308 carries), while Charles still hasn't come close. It would take four games of around 18 carries per for Charles to hit that number. (There is no way the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl, though.)

But both just happen to be finishing their third seasons in the league, by the way. This has to be stated because that was the tenure of last year's Super Bowl winner, in fact: Thomas. The title game's other RB combatant, Addai, was in Year 5.

How did season 2010 go for them? Gonzo, the bad kind of gonzo.

While Addai is finally playing again, Thomas was placed on IR this week and is now out for the season, having totaled just 269 yards (that's yards, not carries) and two touchdowns as a big-time fantasy bust in the early rounds. It wasn't like he was heavily used last postseason, or for his career (411 carries) -- not like Rice or Charles will be ridden by their teams for as long as they're playing games.

In their cases, you cannot hope for an early exit either; they are playing each other. One of them is getting to get blasted by linebackers and strong safeties in the conference semis.

If your keeper running back going into his fourth year exceeds 300 carries (Rice, and that's not to mention the added pounding he took on his 63 pass receptions), and then gets whipped like a donkey in the playoffs, you might consider dealing him for a lower-impact position player like a quarterback or a wide receiver this offseason. Charles gets a pass because of fewer touches and less likelihood of advancing.

Those prime-aged fantasy stars mean far more to their teams' chances than the Saints' Thomas or Colts' Addai ever did, because of the top QBs on their teams. Let's hope your keeper back saves those legs for September-December. Otherwise, the 2011 first round is going to go through some changes in the next few weeks.

Let's take a look at the players trying to work through the pain this weekend. The Saints didn't just lose Thomas, they also placed another running back, Chris Ivory, on IR with a Lisfranc injury. That's a bad one if you have been following fantasy football injuries for backs the last few years.

You cannot name one who has overcome that injury and amounted to anything in fantasy. Have we mentioned running backs take a beating and have short career-spans?

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts

QB Mark Sanchez (shoulder) -- Hmm, quarterbacks with bad shoulders. Not good. He will play through torn cartilage, but his numbers dropped precipitously after Week 11. He might have gotten hurt then, but he didn't get the reported MRI until after the Steelers game.

WR Santonio Holmes (groin) -- He is fine.

RB Joseph Addai (neck) -- He is not on the injury report and should be fine.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

TE Jeremy Shockey (groin) -- Has he ever been 100 percent?

TE Jimmy Graham (ankle) -- The Saints TEs should take the week off in this rout-to-be in Seattle.

WR Marques Colston (knee) -- He is fine.

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs

WR Derrick Mason (abdomen) -- He is fine.

WR Dwayne Bowe (illness) -- He will be fine.

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles

QB Michael Vick (quadriceps) -- You would have to remove his leg to keep him out this week.

Here are some statuses of the most notable injured NBAers. These guys are in much better shape than Dallas' Caron Butler, who is now out for the season after surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon.

PF Dirk Nowitzki (knee), DAL -- Expect him to return in one of the weekend home games before a four-game road trip, starting next Wednesday.

PF Kevin Garnett (calf), BOS -- He is shooting now, but the Celtics tend to be cautious during the regular season with their eyes on the larger prize. Don't use Garnett next week.

PF Paul Millsap (hip), UTA -- He might try to play Friday, but it doesn't sound like he will be 100 percent. Track his progress through the weekend.

SF Andre Iguodala (Achilles'), PHI -- He was targeting a Jan. 11 return, but the 76ers play just two games during the week Jan. 10-16. Let him prove healthy and productive before using him.

SG Stephen Jackson (knee), CHA -- He had his knee drained, although there is no structural damage. He is day to day, but you need to see him play Saturday because his team has four games next week. You would like to have him active for that.

SF Gerald Wallace (ankle), CHA -- He has had this issue for awhile now and he looks too risky to trust next week, despite four games on tap.

PG Aaron Brooks (ankle), HOU -- This is the same injury that kept him out awhile. You need to see him play Friday and/or Saturday, because they have four games next week.

January tends to be a time for baseball teams to push ticket sales with caravans and such, but the most notable activity this month is mini-camps. They are voluntary and start next week.

We care about these in fantasy because it is the first contact teams have with most of its players since departing last fall. We get status updates on injured players, most importantly.

You will see a periodic uptick in baseball news items and features. It could be the last wave before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. We will dive into the figure heads and news more next week.

Eric Mack writes contributes weekly for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.