All eyes are on the rookie running back class of 2009. After what the class of 2008 did, there are a lot of expectations.
In a standard-scoring league, five of the Top 24 running backs from last year were rookies in Matt Forte (No. 3), Steve Slaton (No. 7), Chris Johnson (No. 12), Kevin Smith (No. 19) and Jonathan Stewart (No. 24). In the Top 50, Tim Hightower (No. 33), Darren McFadden (No. 44) and Peyton Hillis (No. 49) also crack the list. And at times last year Fantasy owners were starting Ray Rice, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, Jamaal Charles and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
This year's class is highlighted by Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown and Beanie Wells. Some other rookies to keep an eye on are LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene, Andre Brown, Glen Coffee, James Davis, Rashad Jennings and Bernard Scott. But who is the best of the bunch? Who will be this year's Forte?
The prediction here is Wells will be the No. 1 rookie running back.
Wells will enter training camp in a competition with Hightower for the starting job, but Wells should win this battle. Last year, Hightower struggled when he was given a chance to start in place of Edgerrin James. He started seven games and had 86 carries for 243 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and 13 catches for 78 receiving yards. Those aren't good stats.
Hightower is better suited as a backup. He will still get his share of touches and could work at the goal line, but Wells (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) is bigger than Hightower (6-foot, 222 pounds) so don't assume Wells is coming out when the Cardinals have a chance to score.
Hightower did a good job catching the ball last year with 34 grabs for 237 yards, and being a receiver out of the backfield is important with Arizona's passing game. Wells knows that and has worked hard this offseason on that aspect of his game.
|Wisconsin (10/4)||22 car., 168 yds., one TD|
|Penn State (10/25)||22 car., 55 yds.|
|Northwestern (11/8)||28 car., 140 yds., two TDs|
|Michigan (11/22)||15 car., 134 yds., one TD|
|Texas (1/5)||16 car., 106 yds.|
"It's going to be a big part of playing with the Cardinals since we throw the ball a lot," said Wells, who played at Ohio State. "It's something I feel that I can do. I just didn't do it a lot in college, but I'm excited about it."
Wells is also looking forward to the competition with Hightower for the starting job. But Wells expects to be a big factor this season.
"That's definitely my plan from Day 1 is to get in there and learn as much as I can and eventually take over that starting job and become very productive," Wells said. "I just want to play my role and be a dominant force on offense."
I like when players are confident, and Wells should do just fine. The same goes for Moreno and Brown, but Wells just has a better situation and the most upside for Fantasy owners this year.
Moreno is expected to start right away, but he's going to lose carries to Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan. Peyton Hillis also might still be the best receiver out of the backfield. The Denver Post said "Moreno is expected to have a big rookie season," but the paper also qualified that by saying Moreno has to deal with being part of coach Josh McDaniels' complicated passing offense.
The story said "a big year for Moreno, though, could be 800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. McDaniels' offense, remember, will predominantly operate out of the shotgun. Not many shotgun-oriented teams have 25-carry-a-game tailbacks." I'm not sold that Moreno can even attain those numbers, and Buckhalter and Jordan are proven veterans, who should be better in pass protection and likely favored by McDaniels, a Bill Belichick disciple. We've seen Belichick favor veteran running backs throughout his tenure in New England, and McDaniels could do the same thing.
As for Brown, his status is tied to Joseph Addai. If Addai can rebound from last year's disappointing season and stay healthy -- which is a question coming off knee surgery this offseason -- he will remain the No. 1 option. Brown will get playing time and be successful, but he might not be as productive as Wells.
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Greene and McCoy could challenge for the No. 1 spot as well, but they have less of an opportunity for carries this year. Greene has to deal with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, and McCoy will only thrive if Brian Westbrook doesn't recover at 100 percent from his offseason ankle surgery or gets hurt again.
It's hard to predict rookie performances, and last year I pegged Stewart as the top rookie running back. Forte and Slaton came out of nowhere, but I was right on McFadden not being a great Fantasy option in his first year.
We'll see if Wells can live up to the hype. But based on his situation and comparison to the rest of his class, he should finish as the No. 1 rookie running back.
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