These rookies should be the workhorse runners out of the gate
for their teams.
The consensus top RB prospect heading in to the 2008 college season,
Beanie saw his star fall through another injury-plagued season
at Ohio State. Even though he still managed to rush for 1,200
yards at almost a 6 ypc clip, Wells was overshadowed in his own
conference by Shonn Greene and Javon Ringer, as well as Knowshon
Moreno nationally. A mixed bag of results at the Combine, headlined
by a relatively disappointing 4.59 40-yard dash time (although
he ran a sub 4.5 at his Pro Day), further questioned his status
as an elite prospect. All this was a blessing for the Cardinals,
who may have preferred Donald Brown, but still had to be thrilled
to find Wells there with the 31st pick in the draft.
Wells: A feature back if he can stay healthy.
While the Cardinals had the second-highest passing offense in
2008, they were the worst running offense. The veteran playmakers
at other skill positions and threat of the passing game provides
the ideal situation for a young RB. It is the perfect marriage
of talent and opportunity. Wells is my top rookie RB in redraft,
keeper, or dynasty leagues. With just 15 career receptions in
college, he will need to develop as a receiver, so that will limit
his exposure to some packages, but his big play ability will keep
him on the field even in many passing situations. I’m shocked
anyone is concerned about Tim
Hightower. Yes he had 10 TDs, but basically he was the right
warm body at the right place at the right time. With an uninspired
James producing unspectacular results, HC Ken Whisenhunt looked
for a spark from an effort guy and got it. Seven of Hightower’s
ten TDs were from one or two yards out with opponents hesitant
to stack the line against the league’s second-rated passing offense.
What Hightower did with his other carries was average just 2.8
yards and had one run over 20 yards, struggling most once he moved
in to the starting lineup. It’s a nice story, he served an important
purpose, and earned an opportunity to remain a role player this
year, but Hightower is clearly best as a complimentary player.
It appeared rookie HC Josh McDaniels was set to follow the Patriots
blueprint of building a committee of role players in the backfield
as the team collected three free agent running backs to go with
three already on the roster. Then an unforeseen chain of events
flipped the script. First came The Jay Cutler Situation, ending
with their star gunslinger leaving town and to be replaced with
a player who is a game manager. Now having a pass-first offense
was no longer a sustainable model. Next came the draft and the
mild surprise of no RB being off the board yet when their 12th
pick overall came up. Despite defense being an overwhelming need,
McDaniels and rookie GM Brian Xanders couldn’t pass on selecting
Moreno there. Extremely productive during his two seasons playing
for Georgia (he entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore), Moreno
is the complete package: a great natural runner with prototypical
size, good receiving skills, and a willing blocker.
Following the draft, some of the clutter was cleared out of the
backfield. Selvin Young and J.J. Arrington were released, and
although Darius Walker has been signed since, he is just practice
squad fodder. The fragile Ryan Torain is still coming back from
an ACL tear late last season and on the bubble. That still leaves
a solid trio of LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, and Peyton
Hillis, the Broncos leading rusher last year, competing for touches.
While this looks like a crowd, how it unfolds should not be a
surprise. After a rough start in Denver and investing their top
pick in a marquee skill position, McDaniels’ future already
seems tied to Moreno making an immediate impact. That isn’t
to say Moreno will be handed the job. He should separate himself
from the pack on his own by late August with his playmaking ability
and every-down skill set. At that point, there is more motivation
for McDaniels to allow Moreno to pile up numbers and generate
some positive headlines even in a loss. Then Buckhalter slots
in nicely as the back-up, excelling in a series or two each game
the way he did in Philly. Jordan remains the best short-yardage
option of the group, which potentially makes him a TD vulture.
The versatile Hillis can play a traditional fullback, but if McDaniels
is any kind of offensive “genius”, he won’t
ignore the production Hillis can bring as a runner and receiver
and find plays for him, as well. Scoring is the one area I’m
still confident will be spread around. While Moreno should have
the opportunity to rush for 1,000 yards, don’t look for
double-digit TDs. Even with more conservative projections of expectations
for greater sharing of carries, Moreno is a solid fantasy RB2,
with plenty of upside, in redraft leagues. In keeper and dynasty
leagues, he slots behind Wells and pushes him as the top rookie
RB in leagues with ppr.
These rookies have the skills to be fantasy stars, but are limited
by their circumstances…at least for 2009.
A fitness nut and workout warrior, Brown definitely passes the
eyeball test with an ideal size and build for a running back at
the next level. He has good lower body strength and excellent
vision, combined with a vicious stiff-arm. Not a very efficient
runner in the open field, some unnecessary movements. He could
use a track coach to refine his running style. What he definitely
has is outstanding burst through the line once he picks his hole.
That should be a nice fit for the stretch play and play action
runs the Colts favor, giving him time to pick a hole and blow
threw it. His receiving ability ensures he should at least be
the third down back.
Brown is this year’s version of Matt Forte, a great physical
package who came out of relative obscurity at a mid-major to post
incredible numbers far beyond the solid, but unspectacular, production
he had prior to his final season. However, he won’t be able to
replicate the extent of Forte’s success as a rookie because Brown
fell in a brutal situation for redraft leagues. Regardless of
how you think the carries will break down between he and Joseph
Addai, it will be hard to collect both without getting them in
back-to-back rounds. Even if you do handcuff them, good luck figuring
out who will be the better fantasy producer week-to-week. New
HC Jim Caldwell has indicated Addai remains the nominal starter,
but he needs to earn on the field in camp. Addai missed time last
year with a shoulder injury and had his knee scoped this spring.
If Addai isn’t 100% to start the season, Brown’s redraft value
shoots up. In dynasty leagues, Brown is a top 5 rookie pick.
Opportunity in Philadelphia makes McCoy
a valued rookie RB.
Shady’s stock began to drop after he had to bow out of performing
Combine drills due to a rough battle with the flu. He had a solid,
but unspectacular Pro Day a month later, but it was apparent he
had lost ground to some of the other consensus top runners in
the class. Once viewed as a potential first-round pick, McCoy
fell late into the second round. However, he rocketed back up
fantasy rankings because of where he fell – Philly. In the Eagles
high-powered offense with Brian
Westbrook turning 30 before the season starts while coming
off a left knee scope in February and a cleaning of his right
ankle in June, McCoy falls in to one of the best back-up situations
available. It’s too soon to write-off Westbrook, but HC Andy Reid’s
offense spreads the ball around, so McCoy should have some opportunities
out of the gate and is a must-have handcuff to the starter. Going
forward, McCoy has a bright dynasty future with the skill set
to eventually replace Westbrook directly.
With his football future in jeopardy after losing his scholarship
in 2007 due to grades, Greene worked his way back and became one
of the most unexpected success stories of 2008. He was the only
FBS player to rush for 100 yards in every game on his way to pulling
in all the major conference and national awards for a running
back. A bruising runner who is rarely brought down on first contact,
Greene usually buries his head in the first defender who squares
up on him and flattens him. The tendency to put his head down
could be a problem at this level. It limits his vision, so even
if he breaks the tackle, he isn’t viewing the field, and
the second and third man in get there a lot faster in the NFL.
Something else he’ll need to work on taking the handoff
and holding the ball. He keeps two hands on the ball for a step
or two longer than most RBs after accepting it from the QB, even
when he heads outside, where the unnatural movement slows him
from getting to full speed quicker. A non-factor in the passing
game in college, Greene needs to make some strides there, at least
as blocker. Nothing will get him off the field faster than a missed
block allowing a defender to tee-off on fellow rookie, and future
franchise QB, Mark Sanchez.
New HC Rex Ryan likely had visions of a player he’s very familiar
with, Jamal Lewis, when Greene was sitting there in the third
round. Greene is exactly the type of punishing north-south runner
who can move the chains and eat clock that a defensive-minded
coach wants as the tip of the spear on his offense. However, Thomas
Jones is still in the picture, at least for this year. Greene
should see some opportunities, but his redraft value is low even
with Jones expected to see a decreased workload, because multi-talented
Washington is expected to be involved more. Jones is in the
last year of his contract, so Greene should be the workhorse next
year, sharing touches with Washington.
These rookies don’t have the same talent level as those
previous discussed and look to be solid back-ups with a chance
to surprise if injuries give them an opportunity.
After a ridiculously productive senior season that saw him lead
the nation in carries and FBS in scoring, Ringer paid the price.
With a history of knee problems, he underwent a procedure in January.
It caused him to miss the Senior Bowl and probably impacted his
disappointing Combine about a month later. He helped himself at
his Pro Day, but still fell to the fifth round amid concerns about
his size and durability. An undersized RB who thrives on running
inside isn’t a good blueprint for success in the NFL, but Ringer
is a versatile threat who displayed an indomitable will in college.
He has a place in this league, but not as a feature back. He’ll
probably push workout warrior Chris
Henry off the roster, but there is a chance Ringer would not
even make the final roster. He won’t last long on a practice squad,
someone would scoop him up, which might ultimately be a better
redraft opportunity than he’ll have behind Chris
Johnson and LenDale
Brown is an appealing size/speed combo who has shown he can be
a bruiser between the tackles and find another gear in the open
field. He is a project with the measurables and potential to be
a feature back, but significant doubts about his consistency and
durability lead to me to believe he’ll never achieve it.
He has a history of inconsistency, usually related to a seemingly
minor injury, that raise questions about what he’ll be able
to play through in the NFL. Little to no redraft value, but worth
stashing on a dynasty roster if you don’t reach for him
or at the expense of a better prospect.
Johnson gained national recognition after one of the greatest
performances by a running back ever in the New Mexico Bowl. A
strong Shrine Game performance kept his momentum going through
solid workouts and eventually a fourth-round pick by the Chargers.
He is a nice back-up, but not the replacement for LT2, and will
have a limited role with Darren Sproles as the number 2.
The most promising sub-FBS prospect at RB since Brandon Jacobs
in 2005 who impressed at the Senior Bowl, he still showed the
challenges in perception small school players face as he fell
to the supplementary pick level of the last round. He falls in
to a situation in flux at Jacksonville as the team is transitioning
the feature role to Maurice
Jones-Drew. I still like Chauncey Washington a bit more, but
if they consider Greg
Jones a fullback, Jennings fits in the roster. An amazing
physical specimen, he is very raw and can no longer get by on
superior athleticism like he did in the FCS.
Poster boy for jack-of-all-trades who does many things well, but
nothing exceptional. I have concerns about Coffee’s upside
because he could just have been a product of the system in college
and he runs tall without good pad level or displaying natural
instincts. He falls in to a good situation behind Frank Gore who
tends to get dinged up and seems overdue for a significant injury.
The 49ers had been ignoring the situation behind Gore for a few
years and despite my questions about his potential, Coffee easily
has the most talent after Gore. In the long run though, I don’t
see him as the replacement workhorse.
He shocked a lot of people with his Combine performance, particularly
his speed, which was the best among running backs. Pundits rushed
to shoot him up draft boards, but Peerman is ultimately a guy
with the punishing running style and mentality of a big back in
a package too small to perform that way at the next level. He
doesn’t have the agility or quickness to get to the open
field and capitalize on his speed. That is why he lasted until
the sixth round. The Running Reverend does add value with nifty
hands, good blocking skills, and leadership. He should be an instant
favorite and positive influence in the locker room, intangibles
are probably his best quality, with just enough talent and value
on special teams to be worth a roster spot as the third RB. I
don’t see him ultimately as a threat to Ray Rice, who is
the future feature back on that roster.
Intriguing players whose role is uncertain and value could surprise.
Readers of my college RB prospect reports are familiar with my
affinity for Goodson from before he was on the radar of most pundits.
This is an extremely talented player who struggled through injuries,
a number of coaching changes, and the “student” part
of being a student-athlete. The result was the 2006 Big XII Freshman
of the Year saw his career go in reverse before declaring early.
Regardless, the Panthers were impressed enough with the flashes
they saw on film and between the Combine and his Pro Day to grab
Goodson in the fourth round despite already having two young studs
in the backfield.
Goodson immediately impressed at their OTAs, particularly with
his receiving skills. He is built more like a WR than a RB and
that is one way the team will look to utilize him, working him
in as the slot receiver because, let’s face it, there won’t
be many carries available while DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan
Stewart are both there. Carolina is already looking outside the
box in how they will use him and I only expect them to get more
creative: returner, trick plays, etc. Unfortunately, that type
of sporadic and inconsistent use isn’t of much fantasy value.
If Williams and Stewart are healthy, it’s hard to envision
a week in 2009 where you’d ever start Goodson. Barring injuries,
he should have little to no value in redrafts. He has sneaky potential
in dynasty and a good guy to get cheap now if you have either
or both of Williams and Stewart.
Davis and Clemson came in to the 2008 season with huge expectations
and both struggled through a disappointing season together. Regarded
as one of the top senior prospects entering the season, turmoil
on offense and a coaching change resulted in few opportunities
for Davis who was already sharing carries with the mega-talented
C.J. Spiller. He failed to separate himself from the pack through
the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, ending up going to Cleveland
in the late sixth round. However, that is about a good a landing
spot as he could have hoped for. Jamal Lewis turns 30 this month
and has put a lot of hard mileage on in his career. Behind him
is a budding talent in Jerome Harrison who looks to have a bigger
role this year and ultimately could combine with Davis for a solid
RBBC. I really like Davis and think he could surprise down the
road. He has little competition to be the third RB and for the
future, he might have the opportunity to form a new dynamic duo
in the backfield with Harrison.
Some players come to the league with baggage, but Scott brings
his on a flatbed truck. After moving around Middle America trying
to find a football home between off-field issues, Scott was able
string together a couple amazing seasons at DII Abilene Christian.
The Bengals, apparently not willing to learn from their mistakes
with troubled players, took a chance on him in the sixth round.
There is no question about his talent, he has already impressed
in OTAs, and he falls in to a situation behind a player in Cedric
Benson who already has strike one in his own career. This backfield
could have a cataclysmic meltdown if both players blow up together.
However, if Scott can keep it together, he is a nice immediate
compliment with a situation to get a feature runner opportunity
In addition to battling injury problems and a brief suspension
in his years following being the 2005 MWC Freshman of the Year,
Brown’s production was impeded by playing in an offense
predicated on spreading the ball around in the backfield. Regardless,
I was shocked when he didn’t receive a Combine invite and,
due to that, not as surprised when he fell to the sixth round
to the Lions. Brown has the ideal skill set for a third-down back.
He is an excellent receiver (actually built more like one than
a running back) and can split out to run routes. He also was one
of the top kick returners in the nation. Special teams will get
him a place on the team, but he has upside to do more. Watch for
updates from their training camp, Brown could quickly ascend that
uninspiring depth chart.