Fantasy Football Week 1: 5 Rookie Running Backs to Watch

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIISeptember 3, 2012

Fantasy Football Week 1: 5 Rookie Running Backs to Watch

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    Defying the conventional wisdom of the recent de-valuation of the NFL running back, three collegiate rushers were drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    Two of the three were drafted by teams who traded up in the draft to select them. Sounds like the running back still has a prominent place in today’s NFL.

    In fantasy football, the influx of rookie rushers to their respective backfield situations makes for more difficult decisions on whom to start on a weekly basis. Only one looks to begin his career as a true featured back (Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns), but he has only practiced once since early August (from Tom Withers, Associated Press).

    We will soon learn how this year’s rookie class of RBs affects the fantasy football game. We can only hope that one (or more) of them turns out to be as dynamic as DeMarco Murray was in his rookie campaign.

    Here is how I expect the currently fantasy-relevant among them to fare compared to one another in Week 1.

5. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins

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    Morris recorded an impressive 107 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown in Week 3 of the preseason against Indianapolis. He didn’t carry the ball in the fourth preseason game in typical starter’s fashion, but he is not a recommended fantasy start for one reason only.

    He plays for Mike Shanahan’s Washington Redskins.

    Mike Shanahan knows who his Week 1 starter will be. But, according to Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk, we don’t.

    Even if we did, there’s absolutely no guarantee that the starter plays just the first one or two series and gives way to another running back on the roster.

4. David Wilson, New York Giants

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    Wilson also impressed in the third week of the preseason, gaining 49 yards on just five carries in addition to two receptions for 26 yards.

    His preseason Week 4 numbers were less attractive—eight carries and one reception for 22 total yards. His yards-per-carry average was not desirable, but he did participate with the Giants’ starters in Ahmad Bradshaw’s absence.

    Brandon Jacobs left New York for San Francisco in the offseason, vacating the opportunity for about 10 carries per game in the Giants’ offense. Wilson should be able to take those carries and do something productive with them as early as Week 1 against the Cowboys.

    If Bradshaw suffers another injury this season (or a setback with his current hand issue), Wilson will ascend on this list in a hurry.

3. Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks

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    With Marshawn Lynch sidelined by a back injury, Turbin carried the ball 14 times for 93 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 of the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    He’s played himself into consideration for carries during the regular season, especially given that Lynch probably won’t be 100 percent healthy heading into the Seahawks’ Week 1 tilt with the Arizona Cardinals.

    Arizona was 21st in the NFL in defending against the run last season and allowed the second-most yards on the ground this preseason. The Cardinals have also been so unimpressive that Turbin may be worth a fantasy start on the basis of potential “garbage-time” carries in the fourth quarter.

2. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

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    Richardson has finally returned to practice and seems ready to work toward a start in Week 1 against the Eagles. He didn’t take a single preseason carry, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he gets himself acclimated to the speed of the NFL.

    Philadelphia’s run defense should be better than it was in 2011. But if he is healthy, Richardson should be the lone rookie featured back going into the season.

    In this time of uncertainty with fantasy running backs, a back that should be able to take 20-plus carries per game in addition to receiving the ball is likely worth a start regardless of opponent.

1. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Despite the fact that he may be sharing carries with LeGarrette Blount to begin the year, Doug Martin is the rookie runner who is most worth a look as an opening-week fantasy starter.

    He’s been touted all summer as a three-down back, like Richardson, but the Buccaneers’ passing game is more of a threat than is the Browns’ aerial attack. He also has what should be a more favorable matchup in the Carolina Panthers than Richardson’s meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Martin recorded 13 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown along with three catches for 12 yards receiving in his team’s third preseason game against the Patriots. The dual-threat back in Tampa is the best fantasy threat among rookie running backs as the 2012 season begins.