Last year's rookie running back class was special, wasn't it?
Trent Richardson and Doug Martin, the first two rushers taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, helped out Fantasy owners big time with massive seasons. Another rookie broke out in Washington, though he was the 173rd player taken. Still, Alfred Morris' name is right up there with Richardson's and Martin's as top-flight players worth a Top 12 pick in drafts.
This year's rookie running back class doesn't seem to be as special. For the first time since 1963 no back was taken in the first round. And of the first four taken in Round 2, only one opened camp with a clean path to the starting job (and he got hurt!). But it's not to suggest this class is low on talent -- in fact some very prolific runners will make the jump from college to the pros. It's just that some won't have much 20-touch potential on a weekly basis.
Here's our look at the nine running backs taken within the first 150 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft -- along with a couple of bonus backs. These should be the contenders to make an impact in Fantasy formats either this year or next.
Drafted 37th overall: Giovani Bernard, Bengals | Prospect profile
The Bengals obviously scouted plenty of running backs and had the chance to take anyone they wanted in Round 2. They made Bernard the first back off the board. That suggests they thought he was the best fit for their scheme (West Coast offense), and it's hard to think otherwise after a two-year career that saw him total 3,333 yards from scrimmage with over 90 catches and 31 touchdowns. The Bengals couldn't have been happy with their 24th-ranked run game last season: No one stepped up as a complementary back to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who underwhelmed despite a career-high 1,094 rush yards. Bernard should not only take a cut of the rushing workload off of Green-Ellis' plate but also eventually overtake him as the primary threat in the offense because of his versatility -- he's a solid pass catcher. This could happen as soon as Week 1 given Bernard's progress, though it's more likely he'll have to earn his role during the season. I've been outspoken about Green-Ellis for years but it's clear Bernard is the best, most unique back on the Bengals roster.
My current 2013 projection: 884 rush yards, six rushing TDs; 229 receiving yards, one receiving TD -- and a better stat line than Green-Ellis
I'd take him: 45-55 overall in standard and PPR leagues, 40-50 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, Top 3 in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 48th overall: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers | Prospect profile
To call last season's Steelers run game bad is insulting to the word "bad." According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the 1,537 yards they totaled were the second-worst in franchise history since the league moved to 16 games. Well, after Bell hurt his foot in a preseason game, 2013 might not be much better. All reports indicate Bell could be back by October (perhaps after the Steelers' Week 5 bye) but suddenly he's not as appealing as he once was. Before the foot sprain Bell was a versatile, physical runner who had everything except long speed. Hopes were high as the Steelers viewed him as a three-down back. Those plans are scrapped now, at least until Bell proves to be healthy and effective, something that might take longer than a Week 5 debut suggests. The Steelers will go with a painful collaboration at running back highlighted by Isaac Redman to begin the season -- it's mostly the same group that sludged their way to the dubious stats last season. Bell is a benchwarmer for Fantasy for the time being, his upside zapped by his foot problem.
My current 2013 projection: 514 rush yards, five rushing TDs; 96 receiving yards (it was 1,039 rush yards, six TDs)
I'd take him: 100-120 overall in standard leagues (a little later in PPR), 85-95 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, 10-20 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 58th overall: Montee Ball, Broncos | Prospect profile
The very minute Denver made Ball its second-round pick the Fantasy chatter on him went into hyper-speed. After all, the running back behind Peyton Manning typically puts up quality production. Last season, Denver running backs totaled nine games with at least 10 Fantasy points. Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno averaged over 10 Fantasy points per game. Ball enters the league with 924 collegiate carries over four seasons -- including 663 over his last two years -- but he also averaged a cool 5.6 yards per carry over his four seasons at Wisconsin and only once had fewer than 18 scores from scrimmage in his last three seasons. The offseason has been good to him as he's received nice reviews from his practice field work and the Broncos axed McGahee in mid-June, presumably because they want to go with Ball more. John Fox has never been a proponent of leaning on one back at a time unless the back is exceptional. He seems to prefer rotating backs on a possession-by-possession basis. We should see Ball get into the swing of the offense with Ronnie Hillman to begin the season but eventually be the Broncos' lead back and a 20-touch candidate. Though he hasn't been special, he hasn't fumbled the ball like Hillman has. He's clearly the Broncos rusher to get.
My current 2013 projection: 745 rush yards, seven rushing TDs; 197 receiving yards
I'd take him: 50-60 overall in standard and PPR leagues, 40-50 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, Top 5 in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 61st overall: Eddie Lacy, Packers | Prospect profile
Lacy's medical history is far from perfect as he has banged up his knee, ankle, chest, big toe, elbow, left hand, knee (again) and hamstring over the last few years, that also includes at least two surgeries. That's why Lacy fell into the Packers' lap in the second round. At 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Lacy is a nasty, violent runner who averaged 6.5 yards per carry as a senior with 17 touchdowns. There's no question what kind of player he is but there are questions about whether or not he can handle the rigors of an NFL season. We're going to find out though -- the Packers lost DuJuan Harris to a season-ending knee injury in August and fellow Packers rookie Johnathan Franklin hasn't stepped up this summer. That means Lacy will be pressed into handling a huge portion of snaps from week to week. The potential for a big season from Lacy can't be ignored.
My current 2013 projection: 994 rush yards, seven rushing TDs; 128 receiving yards over 13 games
I'd take him: 40-50 overall in standard and dynasty/keeper leagues (about 10 picks later in PPR), Top 3 in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 62nd overall: Christine Michael, Seahawks | Prospect profile
It was a surprise when the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on Michael, particularly since the team already had Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. But Seahawks general manager John Schneider made it clear he loved Michael's talents and wouldn't pass him up just because they were set at running back. It paints the picture that Michael will spend at least the 2013 season as a backup, likely fighting uphill for carries all year long unless Lynch misses time. Michael is a good fit for the Seahawks' zone-blocking scheme and has incredible flash and speed to go with his compact size. Too bad we might not see it consistently for a while.
My current 2013 projection: 522 rush yards, three rushing TDs; 20 receiving yards
I'd take him: 115-125 overall in standard, PPR and dynasty/keeper leagues, 15-25 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 96th overall: Knile Davis, Chiefs | Prospect profile
Andy Reid's track record for drafting running backs isn't too bad -- he plucked Brian Westbrook in Round 3, LeSean McCoy in Round 2 and Bryce Brown in Round 7 (just don't ask about Dion Lewis, Bruce Perry or Ryan Moats). Davis is the next in line and in a word, he's fast. The 4.35-second time he had at the NFL Combine shows up in any game film you watch of him, and he has pretty good size (6-foot, 227 pounds) to go with it. He does have a history of ankle issues going back to high school and has some technique issues to work out, but this is a player with some excellent potential to put up big numbers in the NFL. And this is where we cry because for the time being he's buried on the depth chart behind Jamaal Charles. Sure, there could be some work in store for him this season but so long as Charles is upright, Davis is going to be a role player. The future is bright for him if he can get out of Charles' shadow.
My current 2013 projection: 504 rush yards, three rushing TDs; 115 receiving yards
I'd take him: 130-140 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, 20-30 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 125th overall: Johnathan Franklin, Packers | Prospect profile
Franklin stood out at the Senior Bowl as the top running back in the group but hasn't done as well in the pros. A prolific rusher in college, Franklin has struggled with many details of the pro game and hasn't seen much time with the starters. In fact the Packers have looked into using Franklin on special teams, a sign they're not thrilled with his potential in the offense. Maybe that changes through the season and Franklin gets the chance to pick up some passing down reps from Lacy. Until then, he's almost not worth trusting this year. Expect him to make a jump in his second season.
My current 2013 projection: 389 rush yards, two rushing TDs; 144 receiving yards, one receiving TD
I'd take him: 125-135 overall in standard, PPR and dynasty/keeper leagues, 15-25 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 131st overall: Marcus Lattimore, 49ers | Prospect profile
Had Lattimore been healthy he would have not only been the first running back taken in this year's draft but potentially a first-round pick. As a freshman at South Carolina, he totaled 1,609 yards from scrimmage and scored 19 touchdowns in 2010. He was on his way to a similar stat line in 2011 when he tore his left ACL, ending his season after seven games. In those seven games he had 1,000 total yards and seven touchdowns. Lattimore managed to come back from the mid-October injury in time for the start of the 2012 campaign, playing nine games before suffering a major right knee injury that included three torn ligaments. Lattimore had 835 total yards and 11 scores when he got hurt again. The 49ers have no major need for him in 2013, meaning he'll sit out the season. If the rehab goes as planned and he puts a little more muscle on his frame Lattimore could be a phenomenal contributor going forward. Even though the two knee injuries might scare off some people, you can't help but like how he came back from the first one and be optimistic about his chances with plenty of time on his side.
My current 2013 projection: Zero games played, on NFI list for 2013 season
I'd take him: 115-125 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, 10-20 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 140th overall: Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals | Prospect profile
Everything is great about Taylor -- his size, hands, pass protection skills and toughness -- except his speed. Watch his games from college and you can see it takes him time to break away from defenders. It doesn't mean he can't be a productive player, but it probably does mean he'd have to get a ton of carries in order for his Fantasy numbers to be solid. In Arizona he'll battle for reps with Alfonso Smith, Ryan Williams and fellow rookie Andre Ellington. Taylor was running third fiddle as recently as the Cards' third preseason game. Even though Taylor put in extra time this offseason to get the offense down, he faces an uphill battle to be a reliable runner this season. His outlook could be improved depending on the direction of the Cards run game a year from now.
My current 2013 projection: 304 rush yards, two rushing TDs; 30 receiving yards
I'd take him: 150-160 overall in standard and dynasty/keeper leagues, 20-30 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 151st overall: Joseph Randle, Cowboys | Prospect profile
If the Cowboys were looking for a passing downs candidate at running back, they did a great job by taking Randle. Armed with quick feet, particularly for a tall running back, Randle caught 108 passes over three college seasons and averaged 8.5 yards per grab. Of course, his rushing skills were more impressive as he put up over 3,000 yards over three seasons and never had worse than 5.2 yards per carry in a single year. He scored 24 rushing scores in 2011 and another 14 in 2012. Randle had two surgeries on his thumb this offseason, keeping him off the practice field for the start of camp, but he has put on 10 pounds in advance of the season (he was rather lean looking in college). Randle might not start the year as the back up DeMarco Murray but it doesn't mean he won't be there eventually. That's a pretty good spot to be in considering Murray has missed playing time in each of his first two NFL seasons (nine games total). His long-term future is obviously tied to Murray's status.
My current 2013 projection: 252 rush yards, one rush TD; 110 receiving yards
I'd take him: 145-155 overall in standard and PPR leagues, 130-140 in dynasty/keeper leagues, 20-30 overall in rookie-only leagues
Drafted 160th overall: Zac Stacy, Rams | Prospect profile
Stacy was one of my favorite rookie rushers and is definitely a long-term sleeper. Picked by the Rams after consecutive 1,100-plus-yard rushing seasons at Vanderbilt, Stacy is a solid downhill runner in a compact but thick frame. He's not a burner but should be able to put up good totals given the opportunity. But that's the problem for Stacy as he's not likely to receive many opportunities to begin this season. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are seemingly way ahead of him on the depth chart. That makes Stacy one to wait for.
My current 2013 projection: 390 rush yards, two rushing TDs; 60 receiving yards
I'd take him: 110-120 overall in standard leagues (a little later in PPR), 105-115 overall in dynasty/keeper leagues, 10-20 overall in rookie-only leagues