Now that the NFL Draft is behind us, we can start looking forward to a summer of training camps, news and injuries (they are bound to happen, sorry), mock drafts, and tons of research to prepare our player projections and rankings, all in anticipation of the greatest day(s) of the year – our fantasy football draft(s).
Some of the most debated players in fantasy football rankings every year tend to be the rookies. They are risky investments, but there are always a handful that deliver their first year and pay big dividends. For the next few weeks, I will focus on each skill position to identify the rookies that have the highest potential for a breakout freshman year.
Here are my post-NFL Draft Top 10 Rookie Running Backs.
With Chris Johnson’s departure to the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans had a need at RB. They addressed it drafting Bishop Sankey in round two as the first RB off the board. Much like the fantasy football community in general, it appears Tennessee wasn’t sold on Shonn Greene being their #1 RB. Outside of Greene, one threat to Sankey’s workload is Dexter McCluster stealing third downs or passing situations. However, running behind a huge O-line should allow Sankey to succeed as the main ball carrier from day one. Sankey is clearly the top RB available in rookie drafts based on talent plus immediate opportunity.
Drafted in the late third round to backup free agent signee and no stranger to the trainer’s room, Ben Tate, Terrance West could be in line for some major playing time in 2014 and possibly take over the starting role in 2015 as Tate’s contract is only two years. The Browns have shown success running the ball, putting West in the group of desirable handcuffs to own, even in redraft leagues.
Say goodbye BenJarvus Green-Ellis, hello Jeremy Hill! Many NFL Draft experts had Hill as the top back in the draft, so consider it a “steal” for Cincinnati he dropped to the bottom half of round two, and a luxury since they already have talented Giovanni Bernard entering his second season. Hill is a big back who will compliment Bernard very nicely. Hill is definitely capable to take over the top spot if Bernard doesn’t perform or if an injury occurs.
Carlos Hyde is a talented player, but drafted into a mess of running backs in San Francisco including Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore. Gore has lasted two years longer than many thought he would and turns 31 this month, so his time is close to running out. The guy to replace him is expected to be Lattimore. Hunter was once considered the heir apparent, but an Achilles injury is a major buzzkill for a RB and he now looks more like a JAG – just a guy. Of course, Lattimore red-shirted last season and there is some uncertainty how his rehab is progressing. Hyde could threaten Lattimore as Gore’s backup. RBBC in 2014 is slightly possible, but my guess is Hyde will have a significant role in 2015 after Gore’s and Hunter’s contracts expire.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers might seem to now have too many backfield options behind Doug Martin after Bobby Rainey and Mike James showed last season they can perform when given the chance. However, Sims should turn out to be the clear choice to take over with any injury to Martin. Matt Waldman had Sims ranked third amongst RB in his pre-draft Rookie Scouting Portfolio, indicating, “[Sims] has potential to become an every-down back sooner than later thanks to his hands and work in pass protection.”
Jacksonville Jaguars are an interesting team for Johnson to find a home. He will compete with Jordan Todman to backup Toby Gerhart, signed as a free agent from the Minnesota Vikings. Jacksonville is short on play makers, especially with Justin Blackmon not expected back anytime soon, so Johnson could struggle until Jacksonville develops outside weapons and someone that can threaten opposing defenses. Perhaps QB Blake Bortles is the first big piece in that puzzle. Gerhart is nothing special and has never topped 150 touches in a season. Keep Johnson on your fantasy radar.
Jacquizz Rodgers hasn’t proven himself as much as the Atlanta Falcons would have liked, thus drafting a back like Freeman to transition taking over for an aging Steven Jackson made a ton of sense for the team. Although Steven Jackson missed just two games with the St. Louis Rams from 2009-2012, the wear on the tires started to show and he missed four games last season. If Freeman can answer the bell, then he has a great opportunity to be a relevant fantasy contributor this season.
Seastrunk will compete with and should surpass Roy Helu to back up Alfred Morris. Seastrunk fell further in the draft than many fantasy experts expected, but he fits with Jay Gruden’s system as a small and quick back who can catch. Morris hasn’t shown much as a receiver in his two seasons, so there is an immediate third down role here.
Blue is a big back that could take over for Ben Tate in Houston. With Arian Foster showing significant wear last year after back-to-back-to-back 325+ touch seasons (he struggled through back, hamstring and calf injuries), Blue might see the field more than some are expecting. Former New York Giant Andre Brown was signed as a free agent and has first crack to backup Foster, but Brown missed half a season each of this two years with the G-Men.
Considering the depth chart behind Matt Forte was virtually non-existent prior to the NFL Draft, Carey walks into an immediate backup role with the team. Forte signed a four-year deal in 2012, so this year will be key in deciding if the Bears want to sign him to an extension beyond the 2015 season.
More Guys To Monitor:
Tre Mason, STL
St. Louis Rams RB depth chart is Zac Stacy, Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are still there, but as smaller, quick running backs, they aren’t built for a heavy workload. Off a productive rookie year, Stacy should open the season as the starter, but with Cunningham struggling to prove himself, Mason should step right in as the handcuff to Stacy.
Andre Williams, NYG
There are not many running backs of quality in New York. The Giants signed Rashad Jennings from the Oakland Raiders in free agency, and he is their go-to RB right now. It came as no surprise they added one in the NFL Draft, and that player was Andre Williams. Williams is a big, physical running back at 6’0″ and 230 pounds. Depending on David Wilson’s uncertain recovery from neck surgery, Williams may have an opportunity to contribute right away.
James White, NE
We all know the running back situation for the New England Patriots is like a non-stop carousel, so maybe, just maybe, James White could bust out and be the man the Pats are looking for. Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are free agents next year, so the time to see if White can perform is now.