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2012 Draft Prep: Assessing runners with risk

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Training camp is in full swing and preseason games have kicked off. Pretty soon everyone in the Fantasy universe will begin drafting their teams. While there's some stability at other positions, running back rank lists are changing by the week. And there's no question that the majority of questions we get this time of year are focused on running backs.

Here are five individuals who will undoubtedly make many owners think twice on Drafy Day.

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Trent Richardson, Browns: Richardson got harder to handicap after he underwent what Browns coach Pat Shurmur said was a "simple routine arthroscopic procedure" on his left knee exactly one month before the start of the season. This is the same knee he had arthroscopic surgery on in early February to repair a torn meniscus. Suddenly, the most talented rookie running back to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson has health concerns.

News on his rehab and recovery will come out in due time, but Shurmur believes Richardson will recover quickly and is "hopeful" that he'll play in Week 1 against the Eagles. Chances are his preseason is shot. Obviously the longer he's sidelined, the longer it might take him to get acclimated to playing in the pros after dominating college with a 5.8 rushing average, a 10.7 receiving average and 42 total touchdowns in three years at Alabama.

At a time when running backs are becoming devalued in the NFL, the Browns saw Richardson as a once-in-a-decade talent, a back with the abilities to do everything and anything. He can run inside, run outside, catch passes and pass block. He's just as much a hard charger as he is a fleet-of-foot speedster (he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day). Simply put, the Browns gave their offense an identity with this guy, much like the Vikings did with Peterson when he came out. Early reports were that the Browns would lean heavily on him, which is understandable given the relative youth spread across their offense. Twenty touches per week would not have been out of the question -- and they're still not once he gets into the swing of things.

Admittedly, the success rate of first-round running backs in Fantasy isn't great. And we've never recommended taking a running back as early as we're suggesting taking Richardson. Red flags? You be the judge.

2008
Player When we said to draft him Where he finished Games played
Darren McFadden Early- to mid-round pick 43rd among RBs (85 FPTS) 13
Jonathan Stewart Mid-round pick 24th among RBs (135 FPTS) 16
Felix Jones Mid- to late-round pick 64th among RBs (36 FPTS) 6
Chris Johnson Mid-round pick 11th among RBs (190 FPTS) 15
2009
Player When we said to draft him Where he finished Games played
Knowshon Moreno Mid-round pick 17th among RBs (147 FPTS) 16
Donald Brown Mid-round pick 57th among RBs (47 FPTS) 11
Beanie Wells Mid-round pick 31st among RBs (115 FPTS) 16
2010
Player When we said to draft him Where he finished Games played
C.J. Spiller Mid-round pick 67th among RBs (27 FPTS) 14
Ryan Mathews Early- to mid-round pick 32nd among RBs (103 FPTS) 12
Jahvid Best Early- to mid-round pick 23rd among RBs (124 FPTS) 16
2011
Player When we said to draft him Where he finished Games played
Mark Ingram Early- to mid-round pick 42nd among RBs (75 FPTS) 10

The biggest problem these rookie rushers faced wasn't necessarily the change to the NFL game, but staying on the field -- a problem most running backs have to face. Only five first-round backs played in 15 or more games as a rookie, and they were the only ones who put up helpful Fantasy numbers, averaging 142.2 Fantasy standard-scoring points over the course of a season. Not surprisingly, they were the five highest scoring among fellow top-round picks. So the bet might not be on Richardson to adjust his game to the next level or produce in a previously unproductive Browns offense, but to stay healthy for 16 games. With his knee fresh off of the operating table, that might be tough to expect. Cleveland would be wise to protect their rich investment and ease him into the game over the first four weeks of the season, assuming Montario Hardesty or one of their other backs can work effectively with him. While it does put a damper into his potential, Richardson's skills and ability can't be ignored. He could be a major factor still once his knee feels fine. He's OK to draft as a No. 2 running back with a pick around 15th overall if you're so inclined.

Latest Richardson projection: 1,171 rush yards, eight rushing touchdowns; 209 receiving yards

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: Murray's second year figures to be more productive than his first if only because he'll play more often. Injuries bookended his rookie season as a hamstring sidelined him for training camp and a broken ankle ended his season prematurely. But from Week 7 until Week 14 he was a fantastic player for the Cowboys, earning five 20-carry games -- unheard of in the Jason Garrett play-calling era. Even if you take away his ridiculous game against the Rams (253 yards and a touchdown), Murray averaged 104.4 total yards in his final seven games, including his short-lived Week 14 matchup against the Giants.

Murray has one significant flaw, keeping him from being a Top 10 pick candidate: He gets hurt often. Murray had multiple knee and hamstring issues in college, mostly late in the season. Last year he was hurt twice as we mentioned. If he holds up through the preseason we'll be happy but because he has this injury history, it's tough to draft him with huge expectations. Of course, not many running backs can be taken with even very good expectations so when one comes along with great potential (over 100 total yards per game qualifies), you gravitate toward it.

For Murray to succeed he'll need his coach to let him run like he did last year. Garrett's track record is to typically lean on his quarterback, Tony Romo, and not his running back, but then again Garrett leaned on Murray last year with those 20-carry outings. Tack on Murray not playing in front of a reliable backup rusher and he could easily get that role. The work will be there which means the production will be there. The only question: Will Murray be there every week? Drafting him early on and grabbing his handcuff (Felix Jones) with a late-round pick is the only way to really be safe.

Latest Murray projection: 1,103 rush yards, seven rushing touchdowns; 327 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: Which Lynch will Fantasy owners get in 2012? The one who rumbled for touchdowns in nine straight games while posting career highs in carries, yardage and touchdowns, or the one who misses time because of a suspension stemming from a July DUI arrest, potentially harpooning his season?

Let's address the off-field issue first: Lynch plans to fight the DUI charge, which means it's unlikely for the league to hand down a suspension until a guilty plea is filed or found. For now, he has a mid-August court date to determine if a charge will even be filed. Assuming a verdict isn't determined then, he'll stay on the field. Lynch has been arrested and suspended by the league in the past, taking on a three-game suspension in 2009 following a series of violations of the personal conduct policy. But his DUI arrest falls under the substance abuse policy, and because it's his first time violating that particular policy he could wind up not missing much time. Roger Goodell hasn't been entirely predictable with his discipline so there's no certainty which direction Lynch's future could go.

In terms of football, Lynch is ready to roll. He's healthy, he's got a freshly minted contract and remains the focal point of a Seahawks offense that added "improvements" in the form of Matt Flynn, Kellen Winslow and Terrell Owens. Why do we like Lynch's chances to keep playing well? When he's been given the opportunity, he's never completely disappointed. In three seasons with at least 200 carries, he's run for at least 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns and totaled at least 1,299 yards. He's nowhere close to "old" as he's been in the NFL for just five years and is only 26 with just over 1,100 career carries. Even his rushing average is decent, as he provided Fantasy owners a 4.2 rushing average last year and has topped 4.0 in three of five seasons. Plus he can catch -- he had 28 receptions last season and has had at least 22 per season since his rookie season, including 47 catches in 2008.

How many running backs are reliable to the degree Lynch has been when given the opportunity? Not many, which is why Lynch is still worth a Top 15 pick even in the face of a possible suspension. Because Goodell's sentence might not come until later in the year (if at all this year), your best move is to take Seahawks rookie rusher Robert Turbin with a late-round pick as insurance for if Lynch misses time because of a suspension. Best-case scenario? Lynch forgets about the money he just made and uses the July arrest as motivation to prove he's not a punk and is still the Seahawks' best playmaker. It only helps that his O-line is healthier.

Latest Lynch projection: 1,235 rush yards, nine rushing touchdowns; 228 receiving yards

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: It seems like yesterday Charles was decimating NFL defenses by averaging 120.9 yards per game and being a major player for Kansas City, despite not even leading his own team in carries. Well, if that all went down yesterday then he tore his ACL three hours ago and is just now coming back from all of his rehab as you read this sentence.

Charles lost a year off his career after ripping up his knee in Week 2 last season, sidelining not only one of the NFL's slickest rushers but a first-round Fantasy pick. With 10 months of rehab, Charles opened camp without incident and reports have come in suggesting he's rounding into his old form. As recently as early August Charles was spotted making cuts in a scrimmage against the Cardinals and racing past defenders for a touchdown.

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When it comes to ACL recoveries, the biggest issue is whether or not a player can regain his flexibility. Big backs tend to play like people are used to seeing after the knee injury because they're not nimble to begin with. Racers like Charles aren't always locks to get back to where they once were because the knee has been altered permanently. This is something to watch over the next couple of weeks. But the simple fact that he's back without incident should invoke some confidence.

The large shadow of Peyton Hillis, however, puts a cap on just how impactful Charles will be. In the early stages of camp Charles said he expected the Chiefs to lean on Hillis just like they did with Thomas Jones during Charles' breakout season. That year, Jones had 15 more carries and one more rushing touchdown than Charles. The difference between Jones then and Hillis now, however, is that Hillis is expected to do better than Jones did (3.7 yards per carry). So even if Charles is back to his old self, questions about exactly how much work he'll ultimately get should keep Fantasy owners grounded. Of course, Charles being back to his old self would generate enough interest in him for his draft stock to climb into the third round of drafts as a solid No. 2 rusher.

Latest Charles projection: 958 rush yards, five rushing touchdowns; 265 receiving yards, receiving touchdown

Stevan Ridley, Patriots: We saw this one coming a year ago when the Patriots snagged Ridley in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. At the time BenJarvus Green-Ellis was entering a contract year and the two had similar running styles. Green-Ellis dominated playing time and left Ridley with limited opportunity, but a year later "The Law Firm" signed with the Bengals and Ridley is the only experienced true power back left on the Patriots roster.

The first assumption was that Ridley would take over in Green-Ellis' role as the "running downs" back in New England. That would open the door for him to post some moderate stats and find maybe as many touchdowns as Green-Ellis had over each of the last two seasons (13 in 2010, 11 in 2011).

Then once camp got underway in New England it was evident that Ridley was consistently the team's best back. Fellow second-year rusher Shane Vereen got off to a slow start and no one else was really opening eyes. In fact veteran Joseph Addai, who could have taken reps from Ridley, was cut early on. The guy behind Ridley on the depth chart now is undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, a capable back but not someone expected to be a threat to Ridley.

But this is still New England and the Patriots will pass a ton. That will take touches away from Ridley as it did Green-Ellis, who averaged 12.8 carries per game over his last two seasons. Questions about the Patriots' offensive line also persist as camp rolls on -- the team is missing several starters. But Ridley's fumble issues are at the forefront -- he had two fumbles, one in Week 17 and another in the Divisional Playoffs, and didn't sniff the field after that. Ridley's said he's aware how important it is to not put the ball on the ground and has worked this offseason to try and do what Green-Ellis never did while with the Patriots: cough up the rock.

Ridley should prove to be an upgrade over Green-Ellis in the New England offense and in the event the Patriots can't find an acceptable consistent running back for passing downs, Ridley could see a bump in playing time even though he's not nearly as accomplished as a receiver (three catches last year, 10 catches last preseason, 17 receptions in college). This seems to be a case of low risk: So long as Ridley keeps the ball in his possession, he might turn out to be one of this season's mid-round gems. Drafting him as a low-end No. 2 running back is fine but getting him as your third running option is fantastic.

Latest Ridley projection: 817 rush yards, eight rushing touchdowns; 88 receiving yards -- and just one fumble

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Stephen Tulloch out for season due to knee injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:28 pm ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell announced Monday linebacker Stephen Tulloch will be placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL Sunday against the Packers. Tulloch was injured during a post-play celebration.

Sources: Jason Kelce likely needs surgery for sports hernia
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Eagles center Jason Kelce has a sports hernia injury and likely needs surgery, NFL sources told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Kelce could miss up to two months or more, but additional tests will help determine the length of his absence.

Dan Bailey sets Cowboys record for consecutive FGs made
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:54 am ET) Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey extended his streak of consecutive field goals made to 28 during a 34-31 win Week 3 at St. Louis, which set a new franchise record. The previous mark was set by his former kicking coach, Chris Boniol, in 1996. 

"Knowing him, I know he’ll be happy for me, but he’ll also be telling me to keep stringing 'em together," Bailey said, per ESPN.


Report: Bears optimistic injured WRs play Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) The Bears remain optimistic wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and Brandon Marshall (ankle) will play Monday against the Jets, barring any surprise setbacks, according to The Chicago Tribune. Both players are listed as questionable for Week 3.

Trent Richardson's playing time eclipses Ahmad Bradshaw's
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:43 am ET) For the first time all season, Trent Richardson saw the field more than Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 3 against the Jaguars, according to StampedeBlue.com, a Colts blog.

Richardson has shown signs of life over the last few games, and the team rewarded him with 38 of the team's 74 offensive plays. Bradshaw, on the other hand, was limited to just 25 snaps, despite averaging more yards per rush and reception. Entering Week 3, Bradshaw had played 29 more snaps than Richardson through the first two games.

The Colts are heavily invested in Richardson finding his way, and if Sunday's game is any reflection, the team is starting to reflect that in the workload. Keep an eye on this moving forward, Fantasy owners.  


Andrew Hawkins nearing a breakout
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is still unowned in 45 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues heading into Week 4, and that number needs to shrink.

Fantasy production is all about opportunities, and few receivers have had as many as Hawkins this season. He is currently in a three-way tie for third place in the NFL with 33 targets, and Hawkins has hauled in 63.6 percent of the passes thrown his way thus far. He has yet to find the end zone, but that should come with time -- he scored once every 20 targets in 2012, the only season he received anything like a full workload. He has already been pulled down five times in the red zone this season. 

The Browns have a decidedly vanilla offense, but Hawkins has earned the trust of quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has thrown 34.7 percent of his passes Hawkins' way. His massive workload should pay dividends soon enough, and you will want to be there when Hawkins starts finding the end zone. 


Report: Lions ready to make a change at kicker
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Lions are going to make a change at kicker, according to the Detroit Free Press. Detroit is planning to sign former Eagles kicker Alex Henery after kicker Nate Freese missed another field goal attempt Week 3.

Freese has converted just 43 percent of his field goal attempts (3 for 7) through three games. All four of his misses have come from 40-49 yards.


Niles Paul taking advantage of Jordan Reed's absence
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Redskins tight end Niles Paul entered this season with 14 receptions through his first 44 NFL games, so his ascension to the top of the tight end ranks has been a huge surprise, to say the least. Can he keep it up?

Washington has thrown the ball around a ton this season, as the team's 121 passing attempts through three games ranks fifth in the NFL. 24 of those passes have gone Paul's way, and he has hauled in 18 of them for 253 yards, landing him squarely in the top-10 in receiving yards so far. Only Jimmy Graham has more yards than Paul, among tight ends.

Unfortunately, one player looms large with the potential to derail Paul's breakout season. Fellow tight end Jordan Reed has not played or practiced since leaving Week 1's game with a hamstring injury, but he was supposed to be the team's big breakout candidate this season. If he gets back to health, Paul's time in the spotlight could come to an end.

Fortunately for Paul's Fantasy owners, Reed's recovery from his injury has been extremely slow. Paul looks like a must-start Fantasy option, at least as long as Reed is out, so watch those practice reports. 


Coach confident DeMarco Murray will fix fumbling issue
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(11:13 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is off to a great start in 2014. He's rushed for more than 100 yards and has a rushing touchdown in each of the first three games.

However, it hasn't been all positives for Murray, who has also lost a fumble in each game this season.

"It’s very disappointing," Murray said of his fumbling issues, per ESPN. "I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the utmost confidence in Murray correcting his fumbling problems.

"We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right," Garrett said. "He’s going to get it right."


How will the Chargers replace Danny Woodhead?
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(11:09 am ET) With do-everything running back Danny Woodhead reportedly out for an extensive period of time, the Chargers find themselves looking to plug some major holes in the backfield. Though Donald Brown did a serviceable Ryan Mathews impression while carrying a truly massive load in Week 3 against the Bills, Woodhead's absence leaves the team searching for another dimension.

Among the players on the depth chart, neither Brown nor reserve Branden Oliver seems likely to replicate Woodhead's skillset -- few players in the NFL can. Brown's career-high in receptions came a year ago, when he hauled in 27 passes for the Colts -- that's about four good games of work from Woodhead. Oiliver is likely to see a larger role than the three carries he received in Week 3, and he might be the nearest thing the team has to what Woodhead leaves behind. 

Oliver had just 25 receptions as a senior at the University of Buffalo, but was a much more productive receiver earlier in his career. He hauled in 38 passes for 365 yards as a sophomore in 2011, good for third on the team in both categories, so he has some skills as a receiver.

With just three carries and no receptions under his belt in his NFL career, Oliver is very much an unknown quantity at this point. You won't want to rush out and add him this week, but keep an eye on how the team utilizes him in Week 4 against the Jaguars, a matchup which could get him plenty of work.  


 
 
 
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