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2014 Draft Prep: Scouting the second-year RBs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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By nature, Fantasy owners see a player have a good season and immediately assume they'll have another one just like it. Look, optimism is great but the reality is that players go from boom to bust more often than not. Think of all the one-year wonders that have fizzled out over the years -- even if you're relatively new to Fantasy Football you've probably drafted a player who had big expectations but didn't come close to sniffing them.

There's a growing sense that second-year running backs are becoming dangerous Fantasy options. Many have given owners hope for another big season and then underwhelmed and/or got hurt. Doug Martin and Trent Richardson are among those from 2013 and there are countless others who have disappointed. Some of them were overworked as rookies and couldn't keep up the pace the following season, others suffered career-changing injuries. Some had both.

However, it's crazy to simply slap a label on every rookie running back who had a big first year and assume they'll get dragged into the Fantasy ditches the next season. Running backs, and really all football players, should be evaluated on their talent, their roles in the offense as determined by their coaches, their red flags and that's it. Correlations between what second-year backs will do in 2014 and what completely different players on completely different teams did in completely different years creates myth.

Let's make better use of your time. Here are the basics on every second-year running back this season along with the red flags that relate to each individual.

Eddie Lacy, Packers
Talent: Physical, violent rusher with better-than-advertised hands. Way more of a grinder than a speedster but did rip off three runs of 35-plus yards last year (everything else was 19 yards or fewer, but did contribute three catches of 20-plus yards).
Expected role in the offense: Primary back for the Packers, which is wonderful since he should rarely see more than seven defenders in the box given the potent Green Bay passing game.
Red flags: Lacy has a major injury history including issues with his knees, hamstring and big toe. He was concussed last year, missing a game, and played through some other minor injuries. This is the biggest, and the only, strike against Lacy.
Latest projection: 14 games, 269 carries for 1,148 yards, 34 catches for 231 yards, 10 total touchdowns

Montee Ball, Broncos
Talent: Good, not great, prototypical running back. Ball doesn't have speed but is nimble in tight space and has enough physicality to his game to be effective between the tackles and cash in at the goal line. His pass protection needs improvement but his hands are solid.
Expected role in the offense: Primary back for the Broncos, which is pretty much the golden ticket to the Fantasy kingdom. Playing alongside Peyton Manning has turned mediocre running backs into very productive ones (the latest example being Knowshon Moreno) so as long as Ball is in that spot, he's going to exploit pass-fearing defenses. The Broncos' backup running backs aren't considered major threats to his playing time.
Red flags: We just don't know how much pull he's got with the coaching staff. Keep in mind that this is the same group of men who barely mentioned positives about Knowshon Moreno last summer and wound up giving him the big-time opportunity. If Ball fumbles or struggles in any way he could lose a lot of work, particularly since an early August appendectomy opened the door for Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to show off what they can do.
Latest projection: 16 games, 247 carries for 1,075 yards, 33 catches for 306 yards, 10 total touchdowns

Giovani Bernard, Bengals
Talent: Quick, shifty runner with great hands and a nice second-gear. Though he lacks in size he is fully capable of running between the tackles as well as working at the goal line.
Expected role in the offense: Marvin Lewis admitted this offseason that he held Bernard back from taking on too much work. He also said he anticipates a Ray Rice-like arc in terms of touches and production. That suggests Gio picks up a heavy dose of the rushing workload and gets the chance to exceed the 1,209 total yards he had as a rookie.
Red flags: The biggest problem might be the rookie the Bengals drafted this year, Jeremy Hill. Considered a physical inside rusher, Hill could easily take 10 touches per week away from Bernard and also bowl over defenders for short touchdowns. ACL injury from 2010 a very small issue.
Latest projection: 16 games, 252 carries for 1,038 yards, 50 catches for 406 yards, eight total touchdowns

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers
Talent: Very good physical runner with good size but not with a lot of speed. Averaged 3.5 yards per carry last season. He was money from the goal line. Proved to be a very good receiver (45 catches) and was especially adept at picking up the Steelers' no-huddle offense.
Expected role in the offense: Bell should work as Pittsburgh's primary back through the season. Not only is he a fully capable rushing threat but he can also work in any other down and distance, keeping the Steelers offense unpredictable.
Red flags: The Steelers brought in LeGarrette Blount to help Bell out. Many assume Blount will pick up less than 10 touches per game but if he gets hot like he did last season in New England then that number could tick up a little bit. Hand in hand with that is Bell's workload over the last two years: 382 carries and 32 catches in his last year at Michigan State and 244 carries and 45 catches last year. Might the Steelers aim to keep his workload lighter than it was last year?
Latest projection: 15 games, 257 carries for 1,096 yards, 41 catches for 319 yards, eight total touchdowns

Zac Stacy, Rams
Talent: Think Maurice Jones-Drew: Short, thick runner with good speed and very nice hands. Had six plays of 20-plus runs in effectively 12 games. Mangled several defenses without the benefit of a threatening passing attack for nine of those 12 games.
Expected role in the offense: Stacy should end up as the Rams' primary running back to begin the season. He averaged 20.8 carries per game in his 12 starts, partially because the team had no one else it trusted to carry the mail. That changed following the 2014 NFL Draft but Stacy should still figure to be a candidate for well over 15 carries per game and about 20 total touches per contest, save for the ones in which the Rams fall behind.
Red flags: The biggest one of all is the NFC West. Poor Stacy is the only back in the NFL that has to run against the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals defenses twice each! Stacy had eight or fewer Fantasy points in three of four divisional games in 2013 (he did torch the Seahawks at home for 134 rush yards). Stacy also has to fend off rookie Tre Mason from taking work away from him -- Mason was among college football's most prolific running backs at Auburn last season but isn't considered as complete a back as Stacy. There are minor injuries in the past (one major concussion in 2010) but that's about it.
Latest projection: 16 games, 270 carries for 1,164 yards, 27 catches for 153 yards, nine total touchdowns

Andre Ellington, Cardinals
Talent: Ellington has very good wheels but not a ton of size to go with it. Part of the reason why he went in the sixth round of last year's draft was because of his 5-foot-9 frame but he's since added about 10 pounds of good weight, according to general manager Steve Keim. Another positive is Ellington's hands -- he can decimate defenses when put in space (39 catches last season including three for 20-plus yards).
Expected role in the offense: The Cardinals have talked a good game, describing Ellington as a "bell cow." Analysts have considered him a big-touch running back even though he didn't have 20 touches once last season. Certain rushing downs roles including (and especially) short-yardage and goal-line work could go to someone else. But when the team is hustling in the no-huddle or in obvious passing situations, Ellington will be in there.
Red flags: Playing in the rough-and-tumble NFC West is a biggie, though he could make a bigger impact as a receiver against the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams. He also had two games with 10-plus points against division rivals in 2013. The reality that he won't be an every-down back is another issue. The Cardinals have Stepfan Taylor ready to go as a physical inside rusher when they need a couple of yards for a first down or a touchdown. Ellington had one touchdown from 6 yards out, his other three came from 15 or more yards out. Ellington does have a track record of minor injuries but as we wrote back in March it's not a big deal.
Latest projection: 14 games, 216 carries for 978 yards, 46 catches for 402 yards, six total touchdowns

Christine Michael, Seahawks
Talent: He's similar to Marshawn Lynch in many ways -- a physical grinder with size, though with slightly better quickness and long speed. He runs just as well inside as he does outside. Michael's blocking and hands have been issues -- it'll fall on the Seahawks coaches to really make strides with him on that.
Expected role in the offense: So long as Lynch is participating for the Seahawks, Michael will be wedged into a small-time role. Maybe six or seven touches per week. But if Lynch were to miss some playing time then Michael could evolve into the Seahawks' primary running back where he'd work with Robert Turbin.
Red flags: Well the fact he's not the starter is kind of a bummer. Michael also dealt with significant injuries in college (broken leg in 2010, torn ACL in 2011) as well as off-field concerns about work habits. Also, playing in the NFC West isn't a picnic.
Latest projection: 16 games (three starts), 138 carries for 595 yards, 14 catches for 98 yards, five total touchdowns

Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
Talent: Taylor's a big-bodied bruiser with little speed. He runs hard and can block well and even catch without issue, but he won't make many people miss.
Expected role in the offense: Taylor is all but locked into being Andre Ellington's running mate, albeit in a limited capacity. He could get close to 10 touches per game including goal-line work, but it would take an extended break from Ellington for Taylor to see a sizable increase in touches.
Red flags: Won't begin the year as the Cardinals' top back or even in a 50-50 timeshare. Might struggle to maintain a 4.0 yard average if given extensive snaps. He also had 787 carries in his last three years of college so he really needed a break from the heavy lifting last season. And, like Ellington, playing in the NFC West is a curse.
Latest projection: 16 games (two starts), 151 carries for 592 yards, 11 catches for 80 yards, four total touchdowns

More running backs to know

Knile Davis, Chiefs: Not just the insta-handcuff to Jamaal Charles but also a candidate for six or seven touches per game.

Marcus Lattimore, 49ers: Once a heralded sleeper, Lattimore has to earn his keep behind two running backs this summer.

Joseph Randle, Cowboys: Had some opportunities last season but struggled. Wouldn't be more than a part-time back even if DeMarco Murray got banged up.

Theo Riddick, Lions: A lot of buzz around Riddick, particularly when Joique Bell was down. A strong preseason could put him into Detroit's run game mix.

C.J. Anderson, Broncos: Battling to back up Montee Ball this summer. Lost weight and is fighting for his job.

Latavius Murray, Raiders: Is he in the coaches' good graces? Even if he is, he's stuck behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden

Mike James, Buccaneers: Could louse up the Bucs run game with a solid preseason. Chances are his reps will be minimal.

Michael Ford, Bears: Battling for a spot on the depth chart in camp.

Chris Thompson, Redskins: Came back from a shoulder injury to compete for a roster spot in camp.

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Player News
Broncos NT Sylvester Williams working to improve game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:45 pm ET) Broncos third-year defensive lineman Sylvester Williams has much to prove heading into the 2015 season. He must show he can play nose tackle and that he can fill the void left by the departure of Terrance Knighton.

Williams has been working toward accomplishing those goals. He stayed in the area during the offseason to better his game and remain in peak shape. He has emphasized diet and shedding body fat as well as film study in an attempt to learn of areas in his game that require improvement.

"I already went into this offseason with a lot of motivation from within," he told the Denver Post. "I put a lot on myself to get stronger this year and come back with a better year."

Williams started 13 games last year and contributed to 21 tackles.


Free agent LB Brandon Spikes visiting former Patriots team
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:51 pm ET) After just one season out of New England, linebacker Brandon Spikes could be coming back. The free agent is paying the Patriots a visit Wednesday, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Spikes' numbers took a hit in 2014 with the Bills. He played in all 16 games, but managed just 54 tackles and one sack. He had 92 and 86 tackles in the previous two years, respectively.


Disgruntled Seahawks DE Michael Bennett unlikely to be dealt
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Defensive end Michael Bennett wants out of Seattle after signing a four-year, $32 million contract last offseason to stay with the Seahawks. But the possibility of a trade appears unlikely, CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has reported.

"He's kinda sorta tried to say that he didn't really want to be dealt after all, but that's not flying anywhere," La Canfora wrote. "He and his agent have made it clear he'd rather not be back in Seattle and while the Seahawks aren't ones to back down, perhaps something emerges that makes sense for all parties prior to the start of the regular season.

"Kind of odd not to be so happy in a franchise that competes for the Lombardi Trophy, and until or unless the Seahaws put out explicit word that Bennett has permission to speak to other teams, I don't see any clubs nibbling in this era of hyper-sensitivity over tampering regulations. But there's a lot of time between now and September for something to perhaps change."

Bennett contributed to 38 tackles a year ago and added seven sacks.


Jets linebacker Quinton Coples expects to rush passer more this year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:26 pm ET) Jets linebacker Quinton Coples is excited about the changes in New York this season. Coples expects to see a role change in New York's defensive scheme with new coach Todd Bowles at the helm, according to NJ.com.

"Well, I won't be jamming receivers," Coples said, comparing Bowles' defense to former coach Rex Ryan's system. "I won't be guarding the No. 1 receiver. That's a big change. Other than that, a lot more rushing. I'll be going against the quarterback a lot. I will be dropping [into pass coverage] a little bit, as well, but a lot more going forward [with rushing the quarterback]. They don't need me in coverage anymore, as you guys can tell."

Coples totaled 35 tackles in 2014 with 6 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble.


Denzel Perryman to provide depth at inside linebacker for Chagers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) New Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman has high expectations on his plate heading into his rookie season, according to ESPN.com.

Perry, a second-round draft pick out of Miami (FL.), will be utilized as an inside linebacker and on special teams early on with the Chargers, according to defensive coordinator John Pagano.

"He's mean," Pagano said. "He's tough. He tackles. He's somebody that's going to hit you. He's not just going to try and tackle you. He's trying to run through you, and that's something that every defense is looking for. He's got great instincts, and that makes up for the so-called lack of speed. He plays faster than he's timed."

Perryman totaled 218 tackles with 3 1/2 sacks in his final two seasons in college.


Browns' Ekpre-Olomu (knee) needs 7-10 months of rehab
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Browns cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said on a conference call with media members Wednesday that he suffered a knee dislocation in addition to his torn ACL in December, ESPN reports.

Ekpre-Olomu, who was selected in the seventh round of this year's draft, said he was told he needed seven-to-10 months of rehab on the injured knee. He's been rehabbing five days a week for 3 1/2 hours a day and things are going well, the Akron Beacon-Journal reports.

At one time considered a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu missed the College Football Playoff due to the injury and figures to open the season on the PUP list.


Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse signs RFA tender
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse signed his restricted free-agent tender on Tuesday, reportedly worth $2.356 million, according to ESPN.com.

Kearse had his best season as a pro in 2014 with 38 receptions for 537 yards and one touchdown.


Bears sign Kevin White, Eddie Goldman to four-year deals
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:04 pm ET) The Bears have agreed to terms with first-round pick Kevin White from West Virginia and second-round pick Eddie Goldman from Florida State, the team announced.

Both players agreed to four-year deals with the team. White was selected with the seventh overall pick. He had 109 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season for West Virginia.

"I know I spoke to you about getting impact players in the draft, especially when you're picking in the top 10, and that's exactly what Kevin White is," general manager Ryan Pace said after picking White.

"This guy's dynamic, he's big, he's strong and he's ultra-competitive. If I could stress one word for this player, he's competitive. You see it after the catch. You see it in the way he attacks the ball in the air. This is a dynamic playmaker for our offense."

Goldman recorded 35 tackles with four sacks in 2014 for the Seminoles.


Deflategate report finds Patriots QB Tom Brady 'generally aware'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:27 pm ET) Attorney Ted Wells, who headed the investigation into the Deflategate scandal involving the Patriots, has concluded that "it is more probable than not" that team personnel "deliberately violated playing rules" by deflating game balls for their AFC Championship rout of Indianapolis.

>> Latest on Wells Report: CBS News

Wells went on to express his belief that Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski deliberately released air from the balls after they had been examined by the referee.

The 243-page report vindicated the upper echelon of the organization, but not quarterback Tom Brady, who declined to hand over his phone to Wells, according to the report.

"We do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, (coach) Bill Belichick or other Pats coach," it read. "...It also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady ... was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."

The NFL, which now has the report, is considering discipline against Brady, McNally and Jastremski, a source close to the investigation has told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Meanwhile, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is sticking with his sentiment that the organization did nothing wrong and that the investigation lacked evidence.

"I was convinced that Ted Wells' investigation would find the same factual evidence supported by both scientific formala and independent research as we did and would ultimately exonerate the Patriots," Kraft wrote. "Based on the explanations I have heard and the studies that have been done, I don't know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definite evidence."


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez expects to compete for starting job
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:10 pm ET) Despite the assumption of many that the Eagles traded for quarterback Sam Bradford to make him the automatic starter, fellow signal-caller Mark Sanchez doesn't perceive the situation the same way.

Sanchez believes there will be an open competition in camp, which is why he signed a two-year deal worth $9 million to return to Philadelphia.

"Absolutely," he told NFL.com. "That's the way I understand it. ... Just talking with coach (Chip) Kelly and knowing I'm comng with the opportunity to compete for the starting job. That was important to me."

Sanchez completed 64 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the Eagles a year ago.


 
 
 
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