Courtesy: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Outside of first round choices, predicting the production of a running back is one of the biggest challenges in fantasy football. Anticipating the statistical outcome of a rookie running back is even more difficult. It all comes down to who has the biggest upside.
Doug Martin and Alfred Morris shocked fantasy owners everywhere in 2012 with their performances. Martin finished as the second ranked running back in standard scoring leagues, while Morris wasn’t far behind at No. 5. Trent Richardson was supposed to be the prized prospect entering the season but was overshadowed despite rushing for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Another fantasy football season is upon us as September is less than a month away. Training camps are live and filled with competition for that coveted starting spot on a roster. While a tailback will fight for the number one spot, it may not be the end of the world if they’re the second option to start the season. With most rookies, this is precisely the case.
I’ve comprised a ranking of some first year running backs any fantasy owner should consider in a fantasy football draft. With each name will be the position on a roster that athlete should fall (RB1, RB2, etc.) to avoid misconceptions on where they should be drafted. Case in point, if anybody is going to erupt onto the scene in 2013, these rookies have the best chance to do so.
No. 1: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, RB1/RB2
This one was easy. Bell continues to work through camp slated to be the starter for day one and throughout the season. He’s the only guaranteed back in the 2013 draft class to ensure minutes and a heavy workload. With Mendenhall now in Arizona and subpar performances from Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer last season, the Steelers had no other option but to snag Bell in the second round of the NFL Draft.
A big reason he could be the top running back for a fantasy team is his familiarity with a zone-blocking scheme. The Steelers have converted to that style of offense, and Bell has plenty of experience with it from his days at Michigan State, where he gained 1,740 yards from scrimmage in 2012.
The best option for Bell on your squad is not to have too much faith in the young gun. Don’t hop all over him too early in the draft because at this point he is still unproven. Given time, however, Bell has everything working in his favor to be a RB1 in a 12 team league, or a second option for leagues with less teams.
No. 2: Montee Ball, Denver Broncos, RB3
A running back succeeding in a Peyton Manning offense, it’s a rarity but in Denver it will happen. Montee Ball will have all the opportunity he can ask for this season, even with Ronnie Hillman competing for time. Say he does split time with Hillman, Ball is still a touchdown machine and will be given the rock in the redzone.
He holds the all-time NCAA record for touchdowns and not without reason. He has excellent patience with a quick burst to get through tacklers. His knowledge and understanding of the game is also what puts him a step ahead of his rookie contenders.
Ball will spend the majority of his field time protecting Peyton Manning. He said himself in an interview with the Denver Post, “Honestly, it’s 60 percent pass protection, 40 percent running the ball. In the NFL, it’s no secret: It’s a passing league. And on this team, when you have a great quarterback like we have, you’ve got to protect him.” Luckily for the former Badger, he is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield.
No. 3: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers, RB3
Before the Green Bay Packers scrimmage this past weekend, I was skeptical. A picture surfaced on the Packers website and Lacy looked, well, fat. It was alarming to say the least.
Then, Lacy proved he still has that Alabama charm by busting heads and working his way to 65 yards on eight carries Sunday during the team scrimmage. If anything, Lacy now has more power as tacklers just bounce of that big body of his. He isn’t worried about the extra weight gain, but the question of his stamina may come into question.
He’s competing with Alex Green and fourth round draft pick Jonathan Franklin. He has a good chance to start from day one and help a team with slightly more than 1,700 yards rushing last season. The Packers will still primarily pass the ball, but if anyone is taking the ball from Aaron Rodgers, it’s Eddie Lacy.
LOOK-OUT LIST: Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
When it comes to a late season pickup, or who to have on a constant watch list, Giovani Bernard tops the list. In most leagues, Bernard can go undrafted and probably be unheard of with your competition. He sits behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the depth chart and unless he turns heads during the preseason, it will remain that way.
As the season goes on, Bernard will see his carries increase. Green-Ellis has never had a problem with injuries, but does have a problem with consistency year in and year out. He also isn’t much of a pass catching threat, having only 48 receptions in his five seasons. That’s where Bernard steps in.
Giovani Bernard had 47 receptions alone last year at North Carolina, where he averaged 10.4 yards per catch. He adds a different style running back than the Bengals are used to in recent years. They’ve been a primarily power-back team with Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson prior to that. I’d say that at midseason Bernard is seeing the majority of the playing time at the running back position and can make a difference on any fantasy roster.
MAN TO WATCH: Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
Drafted in the fifth round of this past April’s NFL Draft, Zac Stacy would seem to be a far-fetched player to make a fantasy roster. He played at Vanderbilt, stands 5’8”, and a hefty 222 pounds at the start of training camp. However, Stacy has honed his athleticism into perhaps the perfect combination for a successful fantasy flex man.
As the preseason gets under way, look out for Zac Stacy. He is competing with two second year players in Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead in hopes to fulfill a gap left by Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson. His size provides an element neither Pead or Richardson possess, and he has the burst to break loose in open field.
He ran a bleak 4.55 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, average I know. But have you already forgotten what Alfred Morris did his rookie season despite a lackluster 4.67 40-time just a year before? Doubtful. Stacy has a huge leg up on Morris as well in that he is a natural catching passes out of the backfield. He has small, but excellent hands and good vision.
Stacy will go undrafted in nearly all fantasy leagues as of right now. As the preseason goes on, he could make noise to raise his stock. Either way, Stacy lands as a “Man to Watch” this fantasy season at running back due to his raw athleticism and ability to fly under the radar.