The Cardinals expected the worst when rookie running back Ryan Williams went down in the team’s first preseason game and their fears were realized. The team’s 2nd round selection in this year’s draft suffered a ruptured patella tendon that will cause him to miss the 2011 season and he was placed on injured reserve.
Dissatisfied with the platoon of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, Arizona had traded up in the 2nd round to acquire Williams. The former Virginia Tech star had performed well enough in training camp that the Cardinals were comfortable enough with their running back depth chart to trade Hightower to the Redskins.
With Williams out, diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling becomes the team’s top backup with a number of undrafted rookie free agents after him on the depth chart. That has to be a concern for Cardinals management given Wells well-documented injury history at Ohio State and last year in Arizona when he missed time due to torn meniscus in his knee.
A number of veteran free agent running backs remain unsigned and it seems likely that the Cardinals will look to replenish their running back depth chart at some point during the preseason.
Wells becomes the lead man in Arizona with an outside chance of becoming one of the few workhorse backs in the league. There is little proven talent behind him and of the veteran running backs currently available in the free agent market, none are likely to come to Arizona and steal his job.
That means Beanie is likely in line for a significant workload (approaching the 300-carry mark) in 2011 provided he can stay healthy – something that’s been difficult for him to do.
He came to the NFL with the injury prone label and appeared to shake that off in his rookie season by playing in all 16 games. However, he missed three games last season and most of another contest with some reports indicating the team felt he was taking too long to get back in the line-up.
So what can we expect from Wells? A breakout season is unlikely given it is quarterback Kevin Kolb’s first year as an NFL starter as well as his first year in Arizona and the state of the team’s offensive line.
A more realistic scenario would Wells emerging as a solid RB2 but his injury history wouldn’t make this a comfortable proposition for his fantasy owners either. Consider Wells a great option as one of the first RB3’s off your draft board.
As for LaRod Stephens-Howling, he clearly gets the biggest uptick in fantasy value going from being undraftable to the top backup behind an injury prone player. That scenario plays out if the Cardinals don’t add a veteran running back.
If a draft were being held today, Stephens-Howling would be worth a late round pick given the likelihood of the Cardinals acquiring another player to challenge him. Whoever is Wells’ backup figures to get a decent amount of work considering how head coach Ken Whisenhunt has rotated the team’s running backs over the past few seasons.