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2013 Draft Prep: Scouting the rookie RBs, 2.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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.

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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

2013 rookie RB rankings
Player Team
Eddie Lacy Packers
Giovani Bernard Bengals
Montee Ball Broncos
Le'Veon Bell Steelers
Knile Davis Chiefs
Christine Michael Seahawks
Johnathan Franklin Packers
Denard Robinson Jaguars
Stepfan Taylor Cardinals
Zac Stacy Rams
Joseph Randle Cowboys

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

2013 rookie RB dynasty rankings
Player Team
Giovani Bernard Bengals
Eddie Lacy Packers
Montee Ball Broncos
Le'Veon Bell Steelers
Marcus Lattimore 49ers
Christine Michael Seahawks
Johnathan Franklin Packers
Zac Stacy Rams
Joseph Randle Cowboys
Knile Davis Chiefs
Stepfan Taylor Cardinals

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

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Player News
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


49ers' Phil Dawson makes 1-of-2 field-goal attempts in Week 7
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree held to 27 yards in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Boldin had at least one bad drop in the game and was unable to find much room to work downfield. He came into the week average 12.4 yards per reception but managed just 7.1 YPC against the Broncos. Boldin has collected 39 receptions for 447 yards and one touchdown in seven games. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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