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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

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 .

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Player News
Sammy Watkins risky in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) The Bills haven't had a bonafide No. 1 receiver since the days of Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, but rookie Sammy Watkins has the talent to be their best wide receiver since the franchise's Super Bowl era. Sure, Eric Moulds, Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson were fine, but with the right quarterback, Watkins can be special.

Unfortunately, Watkins will be catching passes from second-year signal caller EJ Manuel. The team seems to have little confidence in Manuel being the answer at quarterback just one year after drafting him in the first round. Kyle Orton was pulled out of retirement and handed a pricy one-year deal, and one can easily picture the scenario where he's starting games for the team in November and December.

Will Manuel respond to the job-security threat with elevated play? His best shot is to feed his star rookie early and often. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has made a career off shutting down No. 1 receivers, but he's not the same player at 33 as he was at 25. While he was a plus in coverage as recently as 2012, Tillman struggled on the field between injuries last year. If Watkins had a top-16 quarterback delivering the ball, I'd like him for a big game in Week 1. As it is, Fantasy owners would be best holding off on starting Watkins until the quarterback situation plays itself out for better or for worse.


Fred Jackson may have trouble finding running room in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:04 am ET) Bills running back Fred Jackson will face a Bears team in Week 1 that did a terrible job at defending the run last season. However, his Week 1 success may not be as pre-ordained as that of running mate, C.J. Spiller.

Unlike Spiller, Jackson does much of his work without the benefit of big plays, grinding out his numbers by taking what the defense gives rather than providing a home-run threat on any down. While most of the members of the Bears back seven that was responsible for surrendering so many big plays has returned, the team has overhauled the defense line, signing three new defensive ends and drafting two rotational defensive tackles.

Two of those free-agent additions are Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the two players that graded out as the best 4-3 defensive ends in run stop percentage last season, per Pro Football Focus. With those two players in tow and second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson taking up space in the middle, Jackson could have difficulty converting on short-yardage or goal-line situations.

It's also fair to wonder how many long scoring drives the Bills will be able to put together if Jackson and the offensive line can't stymie the line's potentially improved rush defense. EJ Manuel hasn't done enough at this point in his career to trust his ability to pick defenses apart with his arm. If the Bills have trouble finding the red zone, Jackson could wind up being a Week 1 Flex option Fantasy owners come to regret.


C.J. Spiller could ride big plays to productive Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:39 am ET) Bills running back C.J. Spiller has feasted on big plays ever since emerging as a Fantasy weapon. In 2012, he was third in the league in breakaway percentage, a statistic tracked by Pro Football Focus that determines how much of a player's rushing yardage total is accrued on plays of at least 15 yards. Spiller topped the league in the category last season. Clearly, if he can find a seam, he has the ability to wrea havoc on a defense.

Spiller will be squaring off with the Bears on Sunday. Last season, the Bears turned in by far the worst run defense performance in the league. They surrendered 2,583 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per rush, both marks placing them last in the league. They overhauled the defensive line in the offseason as a result, drafting two rotational defensive tackles and signing three defensive ends.

But if those players can't keep Spiller bottled up at the line all game, he's a threat to break a long touchdown or two. While the Bears run defense was obviously porous as a unit, the back seven was particularly offensive, ranking last in Football Outsiders' second-level yardage and open-field yardage statistics. The Bears didn't do much to upgrade those two levels of the defense either, meaning plenty of broken tackles and long gains are there for the taking if Spiller can find a little daylight. He's a trustworthy RB2 in Week 1 and a must-use in any Flex conversations.


EJ Manuel will look to conquer road woes Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Bills quarterback EJ Manuel endured what could at best be described as an uneven rookie season last year. Going 4-6 as a starter, Manuel particularly struggled on the road, where he turned in poor performances against the Jets, Browns, Steelers and Buccaneers before turning in a quality performance against the Jaguars in Week 14, his last game of the season.

Manuel opens this season on the road as well, heading to Soldier Field to take on the Bears Sunday. He'll be facing a new-look Chicago defensive line, rebuilt after the Bears defense struggled to generate a pass rush last season. Whether that pass rush can be effective could be the key to Manuel's success; the quarterback averaged 6.9 yards per attempt when under no pressure last season, but just 5.0 yards per attempt when faced with pressure.

Is there a good reason to start Manuel in Week 1? Not really. Every Fantasy team should be looking at a healthy roster heading into the beginning of the season, and there are anywhere from 14 to 20 QBs worth using over Manuel no matter the matchup. But a good performance in an unfavorable environment against a potentially improved pass rush would go a long way towards making the second-year player Fantasy relevant in 2014.


Patriots claim Don Jones off waivers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Patriots have been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins and waived offensive lineman Chris Barker in a corresponding move.

The Patriots will likely be looking for some extra insight on their Week 1 opponent after bringing the former Dolphin into the fold. The move leaves the Patriots with six safeties on the roster.


Jets release Ellis Lankster, re-sign A.J. Edds
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Jets released cornerback Ellis Lankster and re-signed inside linebacker A.J. Edds Monday.

Report: Chris Conte to start if medically cleared
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Bears safety Chris Conte will be the team's starting free safety in Sunday's season opener against the Bills, provided he's medically cleared to play, ESPN reports.

Conte has been locked in a position battle with rookie Brock Vereen, and despite suffering a concussion during the team's third preseason game, he's done enough to be named the starter. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen overtake Conte in the starting lineup, with the latter grading out as a below-average starter, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who particularly struggles in run support.


Report: Raiders going with Derek Carr over Matt Schaub
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Raiders players have been told the team will start rookie Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback, reports Fox Sports. Carr threw three touchdown passes in last Thursday's preseason finale while Schaub has battled elbow problems.

Oakland opens the season Sunday at the Jets.


Emmanuel Sanders a strong flex option Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Assuming Wes Welker returns from his concussion and plays Week 1, teammate Emmanuel Sanders still will be a strong flex option. Colts-Broncos is a guaranteed shootout -- the over/under is a whopping 55, highest on the board -- and Peyton Manning can support three productive Fantasy receivers with ease.

Plus, Manning has taken a liking to Sanders. When Sanders debuted in the third preseason game, the duo hooked up for 67- and 29-yard touchdowns in the first half.

"You just throw it as far as you can, and it's hard to outthrow that guy," Manning told the team's website.

Sanders finished with five catches for 128 yards on eight first-half targets, doing most of that before Welker got concussed. Sanders was not 100 percent for that game; he had just come back from a quad injury.

Now Sanders, who started building chemistry with Manning at informal Duke University workouts, "looks ready for the big stage," the website said.

"Peyton puts it on the money," Sanders said. "He takes pride in throwing the perfect football. He takes pride in being perfect all around, in general. He makes my job easy."

Manning is going to help Sanders reach a level he has not hit before, starting Sunday night.

Redskins complete practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Redskins filled out their 10-man practice squad by signing safety Akeem Davis and linebacker Chaz Sutton, reports the Washington Post.

 
 
 
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