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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I provided a brief overview of the rookie TE landing spots. Today we turn to running backs.To start, check out the 2014 pre-draft composite rookie RB rankings. You can also find all of our RB related content here.

Running back is both more difficult, and easier to project than the other skill positions. It’s difficult because teams employ different running backs for different purposes, and the injury prone nature of the position results in a lot of turmoil. It’s easier because the primary factor is opportunity to play; in a good situation, most running backs can be fantasy relevant. What follows is just my immediate post draft reactions. I encourage you to respond in the comments if you have disagreements. 1

If you want to generate some projections for any of these backs, head over to the Prospect Lab or the RB Simulator.

Let’s get to it.

Rookie RBs

Player
Pick
Rank
Team
Blocked By
Opportunity
Bishop Sankey541TitansShonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Leon Washington,Excellent
Jeremy Hill554BengalsBJGE, Gio Bernard, Rex Burkhead,Excellent
Carlos Hyde57549ersFrank Gore, Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael JamesPoor
Charles Sims699BuccaneersDoug Martin, Bobby Rainey, Mike JamesPoor
Tre Mason752RamsZac Stacy, Isaiah Pead, Benny Cunningham, Daryl RichardsonFair
Terrance West946BrownsBen Tate, Dion Lewis, Chris OgbonnayaExcellent
Jerick McKinnon9611VikingsAdrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Joe BanyardGood
Dri Archer9720SteelersLe'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Alvester AlexanderExcellent
Devonta Freeman10314FalconsSteven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone SmithGood
Andre Williams1133GiantsRashad Jennings, Da'Rel Scott, Peyton Hillis, David WilsonExcellent
Ka'Deem Carey1177BearsMatt Forte, Michael Ford, Tony FlamettaExcellent
De'Anthony Thomas12426ChiefsJamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Cyrus GrayPoor
James White13019PatriotsStevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon BoldenPoor
Lorenzo Taliaferro13815RavensRay Rice, Bernard Pierce, Cierre Woods, Justin ForsettFair
Alfred Blue18142TexansArian Foster, Andre Brown, Dennis Johnson, Deji Karim, Jonathan GrimesPoor
Lache Seastrunk1868RedskinsAlfred Morris, Roy Helu, Evan RoysterPoor
Marion Grice20118ChargersRyan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald BrownPoor
Tyler Gaffney20412PanthersDeangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike TolbertGood
Storm Johnson22213JaguarsToby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Denard RobinsonPoor

Commentary

Bishop Sankey, Titans: Our top overall RB from a talent perspective. Sankey has ridiculous comparables, and profiles as someone who’s capable of being a workhorse. The only RB of note in Tennessee is Shonn Greene, who just had knee surgery. Tennessee invested heavily in their offensive line in the draft, but not in their WR corps. Add to that the fact that Jake Locker may not be the world’s best passing QB, and you’ve got a recipe for heavy RB usage.

Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Hill is actually a better prospect than Carlos Hyde, and lands in a good usage situation in Cincinnati. Hill’s draft stock fell a lot in our most recent pre draft mock, but expect that value to climb if people figure out he’s likely a BJGE replacement.

Carlos Hyde, 49ers: So maybe Hyde is an older Beanie Wells? Is that a good thing? Hyde fares poorly compared to other “lesser” prospects, but his production can’t be entirely ignored. The biggest problem for Hyde, in my opinion, is his landing spot. The 49ers already have the ageless Frank Gore, competent Kendall Hunter, and redshirt Marcus Lattimore. Is Hyde better than those guys? When will those guys move on? When they do, will Hyde get a shot, or will the 49ers just keep drafting a RB every year? I suppose if his fantasy draft stock falls far enough he’s a value.

Charles Sims, Buccaneers: He could be the next DeMarco Murray, and projects as an excellent pass catcher. There could be some opportunity, as multiple reports suggest  the Bucs are looking to use a 1-2 combo at RB. On the other hand, Jeff Tedford hasn’t historically used RBs much in the pass game. There’s also the presence of Bobby Rainey and Mike James to worry about. Neither is a stud of course, but both have played well at times. I like Sims’ potential if the Bucs relieve their backfield logjam.

Tre Mason, Rams: He’s our second-ranked rookie RB by talent, and has two solid seasons of collegiate production. He also boasts above average explosion. While the Rams seem likely to run a lot, there are other worthy contenders in their backfield. Last year’s RotoViz darling Zac Stacy leads the way, but there’s also Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Benny Cunningham. If you plug Mason’s measurables and final year production into the Prospect Lab, he does sport some interesting comps, like Andre Brown, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, and Cadillac Williams. On the other hand his comps also include Garrett Wolfe, Daniel Thomas and…Isaiah Pead. Still, his overall score of 57 makes him a better prospect than Stacy was (40). Stacy’s ability to produce last year counts for a lot, though. Heading over to the RB Sim Lab, we see Stacy also gets a Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams comp. He also boasts a solid fantasy projectionMason could definitely win the Rams RB gig. But he could also definitely not. Personally, in leagues where I own Stacy I’ll try to acquire Mason as well. If I own neither I’d target whichever is cheaper. 

Terrance West, Browns: Both Fantasy Gumshoe and Rich Hribar posted articles yesterday about Terrance West. Both concluded he’s a better candidate in the Brown’s backfield than Isaiah Crowell, and Lord Reebs compared him very favorably to presumptive starter Ben Tate. Depending on his ADP, West is a guy I’ll be targeting. The Browns seem destined to run a lot, Tate is neither durable nor clearly more talented, and Crowell seems undeservingly overvalued.

Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: McKinnon is incredibly explosive, and could be a cheaper version of Christine Michael. Furthermore, Adrian Peterson is aging (theoretically), and there’s not a lot of competition in Minnesota’s backfield. On the other hand, he’s a converted QB. This isn’t an exhaustive study, but let’s think about QBs that did, or should have, changed positions. Recently, Tim Tebow and Terrelle Pryor come to mind. Neither made the change, but I wouldn’t have been interested even if they had. Then I found this article that shows the “top ten QBs to switch positions.” I’ll give you the top three: Brian Mitchell, Freddie Solomon, Antwaan Randle El. I might grab McKinnon if he’s sitting on waivers, but I’m not spending any draft capital.

Dri Archer, Steelers: Most of our analysis focused on Archer as a receiver, but he’s been drafted as a RB. That’s fine- he profiles as an exceptional small RB prospect, a discount Darren Sproles, and a rookie draft winning sleeper. He won’t take Le’Veon Bell’s job as the workhorse back, but he’s really got no competition for the change of pace/third down role.

Devonta Freeman, Falcons: Here’s a tough one. The opportunity seems great- Steven Jackson can’t play forever2, and Atlanta has a good offense and upgraded their offensive line in the draft as well. The problem is that there are significant red flags, including his size and relative inefficiency in college. We only ranked him as our 14th best rookie RB, but perhaps the opportunity compensates for some of that. If he’s drafted highly, I’ll be passing.

Andre Williams, Giants: One of the best backs in the class from a physical talent perspective, with a great set of comparable players. No really, they’re pretty good. His lack of pass catching ability is definitely an issue, but his landing spot is pretty good. Rashad Jennings can probably hold him off this season, but I don’t think Da’Rel Scott and Peyton Hillis will. Also worth mentioning is the presence of Michael Cox and David Wilson. Wilson may or may not return to action. We do however like Cox; see why Matthew Freedman thinks he could be the next Ahmad Bradshaw. Even if Wilson returns, his a different style back that shouldn’t threaten Williams. Cox however is another big, athletic, workhorse type back. This is the camp battle to watch. Cox has some NFL experience, but Williams has youth. I’d expect the winner to play right away as Jennings’ backup, which puts him just an injury or a Tom Coughlin doghouse3 away from starting.  

Ka’Deem Carey, Bears: The landing spot is ideal; there’s no real long term backup to Matt Forte on the roster, which puts Carey in a position to play right away, with great usage upside if Forte were to be injured. Although smaller, perhaps an Ahmad Bradshaw comp works for Carey. The red flag is his athleticism. But given the high flying nature of the Bears offense, I’ll gladly acquire Carey.

De’Anthony Thomas, Chiefs: Feels like a smaller LaMichael James. Jamaal Charles doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, and Knile Davis looks to be a good backup and heir apparent. Pass.

James White, Patriots: James White is the arbitrage play on Ka’Deem Carey. He also profiles as one of the better receiving RBs in this class, which perhaps makes him a discount Giovani Bernard. On the other hand, he doesn’t really fit any of the draftable RB profiles. But I don’t think I’ll be pursuing him. A big part of that has to do with the fact that Stephen Houston4 also landed in New England as an UDFA. Houston is extremely explosive; a 40″ vertical and an 11′ broad jump. He’s also got good size at 5’10”, 225 pounds. Plug their measurables and stats into the RB Prospect Lab, and they get similar scores. Even though Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are in contract years, I don’t feel very confident trying to predict what a Bill Belichick backfield is going to look like.5 I’d monitor to see which if either seems to have a leg up, but if I were to pursue either, it’d be the cheaper.

Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens: Taliaferro is probably who we wish Andre Williams was. He also boasts some pretty favorable comparisons, and his small school pedigree might actually be a good thing. The situation is pretty good, too. Ray Rice looked to be in decline last season and Bernard Pierce is coming off injury. If his ADP remains lower than the other higher drafted big backs, I’ll be looking to acquire him.

Alfred Blue, Texans: Lo siento no entiendo la pregunta. We haven’t covered him at all, which is in itself probably a way of summarizing our thoughts about him. Arian Foster may or may not bounce back, but Andre Brown and Jonathan Grimes are capable backups. I wouldn’t expect much of anything from Mr. Blue.

Lache Seastrunk, Racial Slurs: A very agile RB, and an explosive one. Think Discount David Wilson. It’s concerning that he’s got little history of pass game invovlement, and unseating either Alfred Morris or Roy Helu seems like a longshot.

Marion Grice, Chargers: Grice has solid collegiate production, but doesn’t end up in an ideal situation. Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown form a solid RB rotation that Grice would seem to have difficulty cracking.

Tyler Gaffney, Panthers: He’s under the radar, but has all pro comps. He also placed second in three different categories for rookie RBs. Most impressive.6 And his landing spot isn’t as bad as it first appears. He’s stuck behind salary cap anchors DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for now. That likely depresses his ADP though, and if you think both Williams and Stewart are nearing the end of the line, Gaffney is the obvious long term beneficiary.

Storm Johnson, Jaguars: Color us not impressed. Despite a strong pedigree, Rich Hribar makes the case for Tim Cornett instead, and frankly, Cornett’s situation in Arizona is pretty favorable too. Toby Gerhart may not be Adrian Peterson, but he is going to get the opportunity to be Jacksonville’s lead back. Behind him is the capable Jordan Todman. Johnson may see some situational usage, but the upside doesn’t seem to be there long term.

Conclusion

You could probably say that the scenario for any of these RBs is better or worse than I’ve described it.7 That’s the beauty of fantasy football. An important thing to remember is the devaluation of RBs at the NFL level. Teams are increasingly willing to play “the best” RB regardless of contract situation. So we can assume that their judgment will to some large degree be based on talent, which we can analyze. This article is really just about compiling and synthesizing our talent-analysis of the rookie RBs. The opportunity part of the equation will always be in constant flux. To that end, think Zero RB, and have more fun drafting.

 

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4 comments
SwitchAres
SwitchAres

So who is the guy to own - Zach Line or Jerick McKinnon? Future committee in development, perhaps?

TomPaine22
TomPaine22

I'm definitely on board the Gaffney train.  My one concern would be the salary issues of Williams and Stewart..according to Over the Cap it looks like it would be hard to cut both until 2 years down the road which would make Gaffney a 26 or 27 year old with his first real shot, barring injury(not an insignificant worry either).


As far as McKinnon, did any of those other QBs-turned-something else play running back like McKinnon? I suppose Denard Robinson is a decent comp situationally, but his landing spot is the most interesting to me

mefreedman
mefreedman

@SwitchAres I guess I'll take this is as the resident "Zach Line guy" -- McKinnon was drafted higher and is much more athletic. He'll certainly be costlier to acquire, but I think that enhanced cost is probably worth the risk. If you have space for only one, McKinnon would probably be the guy to own. I think he'd get first shot at the job if AD were injured, and I think McKinnon is talented enough to stick if given that opportunity.

Mad Wren
Mad Wren

@TomPaine22  Though to be fair, all Gaffney needs is for one of those RB to be cut or get injured to have a clear path to decent playing time.  At the right price (which I think is late third/early fourth round), it's a pure upside pick. 


Michael Robinson and Brian Mitchell were the QBs that turned into RBs. Robinson, of course, primarily became a fullback after his second or third year, which has to be one of the odder position switches.